Cast of Characters (and that is quite an understatement):
DH - just semi retired
Two grandsons, ages 3 and 1
We had previously taken a transatlantic cruise with our son, DIL, and the oldest grandson when he was 18 months old. Emboldened by that great experience, we decided to do it again, only with two small children instead of one. Insane? You make the call.
We rented a car and drove from our home in Olympia, WA to Vancouver. We left early, not being sure about current custom practice, but we were over the border with no problem, found our car rental agency about two blocks from the Miracle, unloaded our luggage and children and were good to go.
Embarkation was fast and flawless. We were on board by about 1 p.m. and eating cheeseburgers on the Lido deck.
Our transatlantic cruise had been with Princess and an earlier European cruise had been with Royal Caribbean. I had read a lot of message boards about the Miracle in specific and Carnival in general so I was a little wary of what the level of services would be. Here is my general breakdown:
Food in the buffet: Because neither child was formal dining ready, we mostly ate in the buffet area. Earlier reviewers are correct, there is just much less food on offer and at time the only thing available is pizza. Chopsticks, which has gotten good reviews elsewhere but I did not care for, was only open for lunch. One night after gambling too much and missing dinner, I went searching for food about 10:30 and there was nothing open except pizza. I ended up ordering room service which was pretty good and arrived in, I swear, under 10 minutes.
Otherwise, I would give the food a C+ rating. We are not gourmets and not picky but there were some things that were inedible, principally various chicken dishes which had been badly overcooked. One night, I had the best porkchops ever, and they repeated later in the cruise. We found many desserts we liked and my DIL was inspired to change her mind about disliking fish after several enticing dishes. On the minus side was the pizza, the cheeseburgers with the cheese never melted and the Belgian waffles which had sat out so long they couldn't have been sawed through with a steak knife.
We went twice to the dining room, just my husband and DIL. It was a shame, because we had a window table, which we'd never had before. The food didn't seem different to me there than in the buffet. My husband did have one delicious steak and DIL raved about two shrimp dishes. Every bowl of soup I tried was insipid.
CABINS - we had a balcony on Deck 7 and they had an interior cabin on the same deck. I don't think they will do that again. Our passage to Hawaii and back again was rough and DIL reported that her queasiness seemed much worse when she couldn't see the horizon. Plus, once they got the crib in there there was no room to move around, and having a balcony for the baby to roam around on would really have helped. Our cabin was fine and as expected. They had trouble with their steward, who seemed not able to understand that children go to bed early and so arriving for a turndown at 7:30 just wasn't going to work. They also repeatedly asked for the bunk in the cabin to be pulled down and prepared for the evening and it never happened. The 3 year old slept either in their bed with them or in our room on our couch/bed.
ENTERTAINMENT - We only went to the Beatles tribute show although DH took the 3 year old to the juggler and the magic show. The Beatles show was very energetic but not very impressive.
OTHER STUFF OF NOTE: We won several trivia matches including the coveted ship on a stick, which will be going to my office tomorrow to adorn my bookshelf.
PORTS: We are really guilty of not doing a lot of planning. In Honolulu my DS's best friend lives there, so he shows DS, DH and the 3 year old the Pearl Harbor Memorial and beaches. DIL and I and the baby had a difficult time getting out of the port area (totally our fault though Carnival does not provide much information) and ended up going to Maui Divers just to get somewhere. (Online I had gotten the impression there was a HOHO bus but that has apparently gone out of business or is only seasonal.) From there we went to the huge shopping center and again waited for Maui Divers and interminable time. Several of their shuttles were either full or the driver just summarily wouldn't let us and several other ppl board. Finally, quite discouraged, we were picked up by a shuttle with a friendly driver on board who took us to the International Market and gave us directions to Waikiki. I love the Market and could have done the whole day there quite happily. We had shaved ice and headed across the street to Waikiki. We then met up with the others and DH and I and the kids returned to the boat and the young people went somewhere to carouse.
Maui - No planning again resulted in us taking the Hilo Hattie shopping shuttle to, essentially, a strip mall. From there we jumped ship and took the city bus. Unfortunately we went in the wrong direction and spent about an hour or more finding the place we wanted to be, a good snorkeling beach. We missed the last snorkeling opportunity but played on the beach with the kids. The 3 year old had the best time ever.
Kauai - DH and I took the Fern Grotto Carnival excursion. It was fine, though very warm, and somewhat marred by other passengers wandering off and making everyone wait. The kids found a HOHO bus and had a great day.
Kona - The kids bought a snorkeling excursion through Carnival. We were left with the babies. We went to Kona's version of the International Market, which was mostly closed though I bought a fabulous caftan. It was very hot there. DH and the 3 year old hiked around town to a church and palace and the baby and I mostly just sat in the shade or found some AC. The kids adored their excursion and said it was worth every penny.
Hilo - Because we had been so disorganized we contacted a tour company while we were in Kona and bought an excursion for the next day. Tina met us at the port and took us to all the major sights. Though it was advertised as a four hour tour she actually spent a little over six hours with us. It was probably the high point for me of the trip. We saw waterfalls, volcanos, sea turtles, the black sand beach. It was wonderful, she was full of stories about Hawaii and their traditions and myths.
Disembarkation: We've cruised Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian as well as Carnival and I have to say this was the smoothest embarkation we ever had. We walked our luggage off as usual and we were off the boat by a little after 8:30.
Summary: In general, I would say my expectations were met and maybe a little more. Carnival is not a luxury line and people sailing Carnival shouldn't expect it to be. We could never have afforded this kind of cruise on another line. Given that, I think it's a good value and would do it again. You just have to know, and have perspective, on what you're buying.
Final thought: we bought the soda package for me as I am quite addicted to diet soda. As well as gambling. At times, the only way I could actually seem to get a soda was to go to a bar and get it. Many times, more than five and maybe more than ten, I would order a soda from a passing waiter in the casino or by the pool and he would be very pleasant, repeat my order, disappear and never come back. As I was in the casino quite often, I spoke about it on several occasions to one of the hosts (who kind of roam around making small talk which I found annoying. My gambling is a solitary occupation, thank you). One morning I was literally 10 feet from the bar and had ordered a soda 15 minutes before. There were probably six other people in the casino. I don't understand why they do it, other than because I've already paid for the soda maybe they don't think I'll tip? Oh, and it also happened to me during the Beatles show. I ordered and soda and ppl got drinks all around us by mine never came despite DH saying something twice to different passing waiters. So...caveat emptor