This review is rather long, but I wanted to give as much detail as possible. First I will tell you a little about my cruise history:
I sailed on the Carnival Miracle on October 15, 2006. This was my 9th cruise, and 4th on Carnival. My previous cruises were to Alaska(2), Bahamas(1), and the Caribbean(5). I have sailed on Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Carnival. I also sailed on the Star Princess to Canada and New England six days after this cruise-I am writing a review on that cruise as well. I was a little hesitant about sailing on Carnival again for several reasons. First and foremost, I just completed my second season working for Princess Cruises in Alaska. I have also sailed on other lines, and as a general rule, once you sail on another line, you think twice about sailing on Carnival again. This experience changed my mind forever. I sailed with 2 friends, all 3 of us single guys between 27 and 31.
The ship sailed completely full, but you would never know with the exception of the Lido buffet during embarkation.
EMBARKATION A breeze! We arrived at the Port of Tampa at 11:30AM and were on the ship by 12:15. The line was very short, and the only delay was waiting for them to call our number to board. It took about 15 minutes for them to call our number, and we walked through a 2 minute security line, had our picture taken, and walked on to the ship. Our luggage was at our cabin by 5:30PM.
FIRST IMPRESSION We walked on to the ship and I would never guess I was on a Carnival ship. The usual glitzy neon was simply not there. The ship had a modern, but comfortable feel which was consistent throughout. Since we were on so early, were were told we would not be allowed into our cabin until 1PM. We were waived onto an elevator, and we snuck onto our deck. We checked out our cabin, but it was not ready yet, so we went up to the Lido deck to Horatio(the buffet). Finding a table was a challenge as it usually is during embarkation. The food was by far the best I have had on an embarkation day buffet-a sign of things to come.
CABIN We booked a category 8A(balcony) guarantee. We ended up with a category 8B. The cabin was your typical Carnival cabin-nicely decorated and comfortable, even for 3. Our balcony was about 40 square feet and had an unobstructed view if you look straight out. Down below were lifeboats and a fast rescue craft. Our cabin steward was sufficient, not the best I have had, but not the worst. He was not friendly like I have experienced in the past, but the cabin was cleaned well each day, and the Carnival signature towel animals were left on the bed each day.
DINING The food on this ship was simply impressive-unlike the previous Carnival ships I have sailed on. The meals in Horatio(Lido Buffet) were consistently good. Buffet breakfast was served until noon and included the usual fare, plus 8 omelette stations. We never had to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for an omelette, and they were very good. Lunch included Chinese, Italian, and American favorites. A deli grill offered panini sandwiches and great Rubens. There were plenty of tables available anytime you looked and the service was excellent. Drink carts passed every few minutes offering lemonade or fruit punch and water. Food was tasty, and considerably better than most if not all the shipboard buffets I have dined at. The 24 pizzeria was very good as well-not the best I have had, but not at all disappointing. We stopped in for pizza every night of the cruise sometime between 3 and 4AM. Most nights there were some crew members(casino, and dance team) enjoying pizza there. The calzone was excellent, and was served with an awesome pesto sauce. We made sure to visit every night. We had late seating. The food in the main dining room (Bacchus) varied. The decor in the dining room was downright annoying as you may have read in other reviews. The dining room is lined with purple "grapes" which are overwhelming. I understand that they used to be pink, and have been toned down-not enough in my opinion. Our waiter was excellent. The first night of the cruise, he asked everybody's name, and remembered each of us and our preferences each night. The menu varied each night. I am a picky eater admittedly. The appetizers were very good. They ranged from hot and cold soup to shrimp cocktail, and some exotic seafood choices. The first three nights of the cruise, there were a few different entrees that looked good, so I ordered one of each. The next two, I was not fond of the choices, so our waiter offered a Filet Mignon, which I gladly accepted. The remaining two nights, I liked only one of the choices, so I just had one. The desserts were about average for a cruise-they looked a lot better than they tasted most of the time, although they were good. The lobster was very good, and our waiter asked if anybody would like another lobster when we were done. The presentation was top notch for all of the food. From appetizers to desserts, it was a feast for the eyes as much as the palate. The waiters and assistant waiters danced each night before dessert. They did a great job getting the crowd to participate. The Midnight Gala buffet was a little disappointing. I have to say Royal Caribbean takes the cake in this department(no pun intended). It was nice, but not very impressive. I did not eat anything since dinner ended only 2 hours before the buffet was served. We ordered room service once. It was typical of the other cruises I had been on. Sandwiches and cookies were good.
The ship was excellent. The layout was very good. It was not at all difficult to get around. Some ships I have been on are simply annoying-having to walk up stairs to get somewhere on the deck you are on. The Miracle is just laid out well. Easy to get where you are going. The elevators were quick, and I never had to wait long. The lobby was very nice and wide open. The atrium rose several decks above and was definitely a great place to meet. The theater was very nice. It spans 3 decks like most Carnival ships. The sun decks were nice, and finding deck chairs did not seem difficult. Pools were good, and not overcrowded. I spent a lot of time in Mr. Lucky's Casino. The Casino was a little smaller than most Carnival ships, but was laid out well. Machines ranged from 1 cent to $5. The machines were pretty tight like most ships. 5 cent video poker (six play) machines paid only 500 coins per for a royal flush with no max bet bonus. The tables were as you would expect aboard a cruise. Double odds on Craps, and Shuffle Master continuous shuffle machines at Blackjack tables. A single Caribbean Stud table offered a huge $223,000 linked diamond royal flush jackpot (which hit on the Miracle on October 25 and reset to $25000). The casino offered a slot player rating system at all machines. For every $1.25 coin in, you earn 1 point. You then get $10 for every 1000 points. Very similar to most Vegas casinos. There is no ticket in ticket out, so coins can get annoying. There is an option to store your cashout on your shipboard card to use later, or redeem at the cage-a very convenient option. They also had a single Poker Pro Holdem table. The regular game was 4-8, but was negotiable depending on player consensus. They also offered $50 + 10 tournaments throughout the cruise. The casino staff was great, fun to chat with whether playing or not. Mad Hatters Ball was the smaller show lounge. I did not notice any events there the entire cruise, but it was definitely worth walking through. Frankensteins Lab was the club/disco. We spent a lot of time there. It was designated as teen only until 11PM. It usually picked up at about 12:30, and stayed open until 3 am, sometimes later. The 2 story club offered many types of music, as well as a great area to people watch upstairs and down below. They had a Halloween Party since we sailed a week before Halloween. The bar service was the best I had ever had. One waiter in particular remembered our name, folio number, and favorites after our first visit. He bought us a few rounds, actually, I would say more than a few. Maguires sports bar was cozy and featured a number of plasma TV's. There was a wide selection of games on at any given time. The Jazz club was slow the entire cruise. A show band played to a few people who generally only stayed a few minutes. Jeeves Lounge was simply a place to pass by on the way to the dining room. A (pretty bad) lounge singer insulted Billy Joel and Elton John each night to the peril of those having to hear him. This is pretty typical of the lounge singers found on ships from my experience. The duty free shops on board had the usual, from alcohol and cigarettes to logo wear and jewelry. They had the normal sundries, and other typical cruise souvenirs. I did not visit the spa, or Nick and Nora's (premium dining room).
PORTS OF CALL AND DAY AT SEA Since I am a veteran cruiser, we opted not purchase any shore excursions from the ship. You can usually get tours on your own for 1/3 to 1/2 the price, but you have to be careful of a few things, most importantly, getting back to the ship with plenty of time to spare.
DAY 2 Our first full day was at sea. There were plenty of activities available, but Mr. Luckys was our main activity while at sea.
DAY 3 GRAND CAYMAN Grand Cayman was a tender port. The tender service was provided by a company on the island using some nice sized fast boats. Lines to board the tender were surprisingly short. I have been to Grand Cayman several times, so we just walked around and had a few drinks. Grand Cayman is a good place to buy jewelry. Although expensive in some cases, it is the safest place to buy gold and high end watches.
DAY 4 COZUMEL The Miracle docked at International Pier. The is the pier that is away from downtown, and a taxi ride is required to get downtown. We decided to rent a Jeep and drive around ourselves. We haggled the Budget rent a car agent down to $60 including insurance for the day. We went to the ruins in Cozumel. Don't bother-it was just a bunch of rocks and roped off areas with lots of mosquitos. Then we went downtown and ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. We walked through the fake Rolex stores and the run of the mill souvenir shops. We stopped at Carlos and Charlies(my favorite crazy watering hole) and the Senor Frogs (same owners) but were disappointed to find few people at either place. We returned the truck and got back on board.
DAY 5 BELIZE Belize is another tender port that used a shoreside company to transport passengers to the island. This was my first time in Belize, so I did not know what to expect. I was warned by several members of the crew to be extremely careful in Belize, as it is not very safe outside of the port area. We arrived at the port to find the usual gift shops. My friend and I decided to walk around the outside of the port area. As we walked out, we saw fences surrounding the port buildings, with security guards all around. It was rather scary looking. We decided to walk back inside and look for a city tour. We opted for one of the independent tour guides. We paid $20 per person for a one hour taxi tour-regular rate was $30 but he liked us, so he gave us a break(yeah right). So there were four of us in this 8 passenger van. We left the port area and had to stop at a checkpoint. This is where a guard recorded the number of people leaving to ensure the same number of people returned to the port later! We passed through several areas, so of which were extremely poor and run down. We also passed through the downtown market are which was busy with people from all over the world. We saw the prime minister sitting in the lobby of his office building downtown. We then returned to the port where they checked us in. We ventured to the market across from the port where they had all types of crafts. We were offered drugs several times, but declined.
DAY 6 COSTA MAYA This was my first visit to Costa Maya. The port are contained several shops and a small market. There were also some pools and a nice beach there. Massages were offered on the beach for $15 for 15 minutes. We checked with the tour operators and chose a great tour to Tequila Beach. The tour included all you can drink beer and cocktails, all you can eat nachos and quesadillas, a 1 hour snorkel trip by boat, as well as transportation to and from the ship. All this for $25 per person-you couldn't beat it.
DAY 7 AT SEA After spending time in all the ports, and staying up till 4 or later every morning, day 7 was just simply relaxing. We slept in and went to our usual favorites on the ship one last time.
DISEMBARKATION Carnival now offers a carry your own luggage disembarkation option. Instead of having to put your bags out the night before, and searching for then after getting off the ship, you simply carry them off when they call for self disembarkation. At first I did not want to do it, but my friends convinced me to. I'm so glad they did. At 8AM we were leaving our cabin to go for breakfast when we heard the final call for disembarkation. We took our luggage and were off the ship in minutes. As a matter of fact, from the time we left our cabin, to the time we were through customs and out of the terminal building was less than 10 minutes! By far the best disembarkation process I have ever been through.
OTHER PASSENGERS The ship had passengers of all ages. There were few children, and they were seldom seen while at sea. There were many people our age, and meeting other singles was not too difficult. Frankensteins seemed to be the best hang out for our age group. We made several friends aboard, and I have kept in touch with some of them, something I have never had the opportunity to do before.
STAFF The staff aboard the Miracle was excellent. everybody was extremely friendly and fun. The cruise director and staff were seen regularly, and the cruise director made all of the announcements each day.
BAR PRICES Bar prices on board were about average. The soda card option was WAY overpriced at $42 plus tip, considering a can of soda was $1.75. Also, one thing typical of Carnival that became extremely annoying was the constant selling. When the Cruise Director made announcements, at least ten things he said were advertising something for sale, specials in the gift shop, Nick and Nora's restaurant, the spa, bingo, casino. Carnival has always been a nickel and dime you to death company, but this was way overboard. I know Carnival has some of the lowest cruise prices, so I guess they have to make it up somehow.
GRATUITIES Carnival now adds a $10 per person per day charge on to your shipboard account on the first day of your cruise. You can alter the amount if you wish. This amount is shared by all of the service staff on board-waiters, assistant waiters, and cabin stewards. We did not feel the need to tip the Maitre D' since he did not even make an appearance at our table. We did give our waiter additional money since he was excellent. He advised that he does split hi additional tips with the assistant waiter. We did not feel the need to give any extra to our cabin steward.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE Overall I was extremely surprised and happy with the cruise. Like I said at the start of my review, I was hesitant to sail Carnival, but I am very glad I did. I would have to say this cruise was the most fun of all 10 cruises I have been on. Carnival has come a long way from my first cruise with them in 1993. I would not hesitate to choose Carnival over Royal Caribbean, NCL or Princess. If you read my review of the Star Princess which I sailed on six days after this cruise, you will see why.