We flew into Tampa a day early to avoid possible flight delays and missing the sailing time. A word to the wise...............NEVER fly and depart on the same day. The couple in front of us on the plane didn't make it to their destination of Fort Lauderdale in time, because of a missed connection, and the ship left without them. Spend the extra money, stay overnight, and be worry free.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Rocky Point Drive in Tampa. Close to the airport, but about 25 minutes from the port. A shuttle was easily arranged to the port the next day. The hotel was very nice, newly redecorated, and right on Tampa Bay. They have a complimentary continental buffet, which had a nice selection of breakfast foods. Right next door is The Bahama Breeze, a lovely restaurant, good food, and at night turned into a jumping place with music, etc.
EMBARKATION: Piece of cake! Last year at Fort Lauderdale, it was hectic. Tampa really knows how to do things. We got there early, around 11:30 or so, tipped the porters and entrusted them with our bags. Check in was really quick, then we took numbers and sat in the waiting area until our turn came. We didn't wait more than 10 minutes. By 12:30 we were aboard, and making our way to the Lido deck for the buffet. We like to get on the ship early, as this gives us time to find our way around, eat, etc. before sailing.
SAIL AWAY: Just a bit of disappoint here.........last year on Caribbean there was a big party on the Lido deck as we sailed away, with free drinks, Reggae music, conga lines, the whole nine yards. The Miracle slipped away from shore before we noticed it, almost.
THE SHIP: Much has been said about the decor of the Miracle. All of it negative. Let me just state here............it's all true! I really hated the decor, it was like a psychedelic explosion, loud, busy, nothing matched. Just too overdone, and gives the overall impression of making the ship seem like it's closing in on you. However, the Lido deck, pool area etc. were nice, attractive. The gym area was beautiful, with great views of the ocean as you worked out. The waterslide was fun. It's only open for specific hours, so check your Carnival Capers for times, so you won't miss out. People have commented that the pools were small and crowded, but that was not my impression. O.K., you can't do laps in the pool, but there is plenty of room, and there are nice fountains. There is one adults only pool, and the policy is enforced. One of our group, a 15 year old was there with his grandfather, and was asked to leave by staff. We found the layout of the ship easy to get familiar with, not much getting lost after the first day.
THE CABIN: We had a balcony room (upgraded to an extended balcony)on deck 7. The room was ample in size, and we loved the balcony. The door opens and shuts like a vacuum, though, we couldn't leave it open at night like we had planned. The bathroom was big enough, and it had a great shower, removable sprayer, and shampoo and body wash dispensers in the shower. Another nice touch was a bowl of little samples, like toothpaste, etc. That was really appreciated, since I had my toothpaste confiscated at the airport for being over 3 oz. The bed was SO comfortable, and nice big plumpy pillows. We had a little stocked fridge, but didn't use it. The safe operates with a swipe of a card with a strip. Don't use your Sail and Sign card to swipe...........it deactivates it. Any credit card will do. We loved the towel animal creations every night, and our room was always kept clean.
THE FOOD: Where to begin.........! We did breakfast every morning at the buffet in Horatios on the Lido deck. Here the food was a bit lacking in comparison with last year's cruise. Don't get me wrong, there was lots of food, and it was good. The difference was, that it was exactly the same selection every day, (only at breakfast) and it wasn't as diverse as the food on the Caribbean ship. Most of our family took advantage of the omelet station, having their favorite omelets created before their eyes every day. There are several stations, so this cuts down on wait time in the buffet line, things always ran very smoothly. Another pleasant surprise with Horatios dining area, was that there was plenty of seating, never once did we have to hunt down a place to sit. Lunch at Horatios was always good, nice selection. The pizza bar was good, and it was nice to have a free ice cream bar. Last year we had to pay for ice cream.
BACCHUS DINING ROOM: We had first seating, and were on the second floor. Lots of people comment that it is noisy up there, but we didn't find this to be a problem. However, with a table of nine, we made a bit of noise ourselves! The food was excellent, we all agreed. The Filet Mignon melted in your mouth, as did the Prime Rib. The lobster tail was huge (hubby ate two). The meat was always cooked the way we ordered it.......medium rare (medium raw, as the waiter called it). We all took different dishes, and picked in each others to get a taste of everything. The waiter kept bringing more food, and more food, urging us to try it, until we were all stuffed to capacity. Our waiters were full of personality, and never missed a beat in getting our food to us promptly. The little waiter shows at every meal were fun, I got pulled into the dining room conga line one evening. One waiter even danced on the tables in another part of the dining room. It was all lots of fun. The maitre'd mingled well, and spent lots of time talking with us. There were hugs for everybody on the last night, and sad goodbyes.
ACTIVITIES: With four ports, there wasn't too much "ship time". There was a belly flop contest that was a riot, as was the hairy chest contest. There were port shopping talks every day, which we didn't attend, as we weren't planning any big purchases. Would have done the Bingo, but it was way too expensive. It would be more fun if they had cheaper cards, and smaller, but more, prizes.
SHOWS: Here, Carnival really shines. The main shows every night were great. High energy, and fun, and some included audience participation (picture the whole audience standing up and doing "the jerk", "the monkey', etc). If you only see one show, make sure it's "Ticket To Ride". A tribute to the Beatles, it got a standing ovation. The whole audience was singing, and we all had light sticks (instead of lighters) to wave around. We felt like teenagers again! Don't miss it! If you've read lots of reviews, most of them complain about the last night's show, Legends, which is impersonations of singers by cruise ship passengers. Well, we must have had a talented passenger list, because the show was darn good, and funny.
EXCURSIONS: We booked our own excursions online. Do a little research on your own. Yes, it's true, you'll save a bundle by NOT booking thru the ship. And, you will probably get a better tour, with less people. Just be aware of the time differences in some ports. Keep your watches on "ship time" when you get off, so you don't get confused and miss your sail time.
PORTS: Grand Cayman. A tender port, but it was a breeze, no long wait. We did Sting Ray City with Moby Dick Tour Company. He has a very nice website. What an adventure! The tour guides are young and hip, and very professional. One of our party is wheelchair bound and he wanted to swim with the stingrays. We thought he would be refused, for insurance reasons, or whatever, but no........they welcomed him aboard, and he had a great time snorkeling, then interacting with the rays in the water. This is the adventure of a lifetime. Try it, don't be afraid, the rays are tame. We were all encouraged to kiss one, and came home with some pretty neat pictures puckering up to a huge ray.
Cozumel: We got to dock at Punta Lagosta Pier, didn't have to tender here. Had done lots of research on the best beaches in Cozumel. We decided on Paradise Beach, about a 20 minutes taxi ride away. Paradise Beach always gets good comments in reviews, and they are well deserved. It's beautiful. However the water here is not as clear as it could be, not good for snorkeling from shore. Also there are rocks in the water in some spots. If you go, enter the water by the iceberg, it's nice and smooth there. You can parasail for $55 USD. We enjoyed a few hours of sun here, then heading back to town for a bit of shopping. Took a horse and buggy ride. $30 for 1/2 hour. Pricey, but fun. Shop owners a bit independent here, don't bargain well. But, then, we stayed pretty much by the waterfront, so we expected that.
Belize: Belize really gets a bad rap in the reviews. Yes, it's a poor country. Yes, it can be a little intimidating if you don't know what to expect. But, for goodness sakes, DON'T stay on the ship. Take a tour.......get out and see the country a little. We did the highly popular cave tubing, and chose X-tream Cave Tubing Company because of it's high reviews. We weren't disappointed. What a hoot! You start with a 1 hr bus ride (we passed a checkpoint where the police had big guns), then hike 45 minutes through the jungle carrying your inner tube, then spend about 1-1/2 hours drifting through caves and down the river. It sounds strenuous, but it really isn't that bad. Our group ranged from 15 to 65 years old. I can't swim. We all loved it. There are other interesting tours to be had. It's worth getting off the ship. Oh, the ship docks 5 miles away from shore, but the tenders are really fast, and it was a fun ride.
Costa Maya: A whole different experience here. There is a loooong pier, which runs little trolleys back and forth so you don't have to walk. The cruise ship complex is lovely, big pools, lots of shops, live entertainment. Yes, it's Americanized. But, it's beautiful. If you want more of the "real" Mexico feel, take a cab and go to Majuahual, a little fishing village five minutes and a world away. Majuahual is basically a two mile stretch of dirt road, with vendor shops on one side and beach on the other. The vendors are very aggressive, but in a fun, friendly way, just say "no thanks" and keep walking until you are ready to shop. Good bargains here. The beach is very nice, clear water, sandy, can see the ships docked in the distance. There are tables, shade, hammocks everywhere that you can use, as long as you buy a drink or some food. Can get great massages right on the beach........I paid $15 for 1/2 hour. We loved our day in Costa Maya.
DEBARKATION: We did "self assist", you carry off your own luggage. Really like this option. We were off in no time, customs was a breeze.
SUMMARY: We liked the Miracle and all it had to offer. It was clean and well run, staff always helpful and friendly. Will definitely sail with Carnival again.