We just returned from our family cruise on the Dec 3-10 sailing with the Miracle. We flew out from Chicago to Tampa in the middle of a snowstorm lull and allowed an extra day/night in Tampa in case of weather troubles. There were none so the flights were uneventful. We made it to the Springhill Suites and the hotel was a bit rundown, but the staff was very friendly, the free breakfast in the morning was delightful, and the complimentary shuttle to local shops/restaurants was very convenient.
We got to the port and everything went smoothly. We had all our documents ready, and since the rest of our large group was in suites (we had a balcony cabin) we were off on our own while they did VIP check in. There still wasn't much of a delay at all, and my toddler in his stroller caused no difficulties as there were plenty of elevators/helpful staff for those in strollers or wheelchair/walkers. Our number was quickly called and we were onboard. I think I can safely say that is the last thing that went smoothly.
I won't bore you with all the details, but we went not even 24 hours without a problem of some kind. It took multiple phone calls to get ice, sharps containers for our diabetic supplies, or the fridge unlocked for storing our medications and we didn't get handsoap until day 3. Requests to our steward in voice and writing about things in our cabin were greeted with smiles and nods and then disregarded. It is the least complaint but we only got 3 towel animals all week and we did ask for them for our son's sake. Instead we bought the book on how to make them and my HUSBAND started putting them on our bed for us. We did promptly get our portable crib for our son which was appreciated. Luggage was also delivered promptly. The cabin was nice and not too crowded. In fact I think our cabin was less crowded than the regular suite (not wraparound) that my father had purchased for more money. The closets and drawers were spacious and even with our toddler gear we had room for everything.
The ship decor was...too much. Most of the elements were pleasant individually, but crammed too closely together so that instead of a lovely ambience it was like walking into a closet filled with abstract art. Too loud, too busy and too much. Lovely Parrish prints were surrounded with glitzy Vegas lights, Impressionist art was laid side by side with Dali and Peter Maxx modern works for an overly garish feeling. The dining room suffered the most I think. Those grapes gave a heavy oppressive atmosphere.
The female hostess was very friendly and helpful. My son had bumped his head and so on first formal night he was not in a good mood and it was pretty much the only time we had to take him back to the cabin. She made sure the rest of my dinner got sent to my cabin. All other nights he was well-behaved but it was very nice to still get a good meal.
Room service was pretty prompt, but the sandwiches were pretty bland (very cheap quality meats) and tasteless. The salads were excellent though.
The dining room... hmmm, Let me start by saying my husband and I are food snobs. My toddler son eats homemade 3 cheese mac N cheese never from a box. Roulades are a common occurrence in our home, so we honestly did not expect to be impressed. We HOPED to enjoy the meals. Presentation and plating was impeccable, but inevitably the food's flavors rarely lived up to the menu descriptions or the appetizing visual display. There were memorable and delightful dishes to be sure, but they were often the starters (most of the soups were heavenly) or the desserts. The entrees reminded us more of institutional food than of fine dining. On the LIDO deck, the buffets were of a caliber closer to Denny's or Old Country Buffet than of cruise food. I will say that the taste of nations station was impressive though, with french, italian and caribbean treats that did impress us. Most breakfasts and lunches though were the same bland food every meal. The midnight buffet was visually stunning and the food was flavorless. The two formal nights were only so-so. My lobster was pretty tough as was the steak. Our servers were friendly but inevitably forgot 2/3rds of the items ordered for the three of us. Not even once did the three of us each receive water and rolls, but 2 of the 3 of us would have to share. They were mightily confused that we kept ordering off the regular menu instead of the children's menu for my toddler son. We paid full 3rd person fare for him and he enjoys good food as well as we do (he would often eat a full serving of the soups) so I was not going to relegate him to chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I heartily recommend the fresh fruit plates and steamed vegetables. They were my son's favorites during most dinners. I also recommend adults ordering the mac N cheese off the kid's menu. It is delightful. They did the sauce well though the pasta was overcooked.
The first thing we did the day after returning home was to choose one of our favorite restaurants. We missed good food so badly and I had actually lost weight.
The excursions were wonderful, though Carnival was so late and disorganized with tendering one day that it was 1:30p before I got onto the shore even though I left my cabin at 10:30a and got a tender ticket quickly. The beaches were fabulous. I am pregnant so we stuck to sightseeing, snorkeling and nature-oriented activities. The Bacab Eco-park in Belize was delightful and the wild wings butterfly exhibit there was quite nice. We also did the Butterfly farm on our own at Grand Cayman for $4 pp cab fare up the street, $15 pp entry and then a walk around the corner to the Royal Palms Beach Club. My husband (and sister and Dad) also greatly enjoyed the Mexican Cooking excursion in Cozumel.
At Costa Maya, the town shopping area was small and not very impressive, but we picked up some nice souvenirs and ate delicious food (chicken quesadillas) at the Cat's Meow and at the hole in the fence Chac-Chi beachfront. The water was too choppy for snorkeling that day but we waded a bit and our son by that point had become part fish and loved all the beaches.
The shows were a great deal of fun. Cruise director Chris did a delightful Belushi impression and the Blues Brothers show was great. We also enjoyed the Beatles show and the hilarious comedian Allyn Ball. There was a juggler as well that we found quite entertaining and funny. My family has always enjoyed trivia and games and we made it to as many of the trivia and games as possible. A lot of the trivia activities start on time or a little early and go quickly so be sure and be prompt if these are your cup of tea. My group was rowdy and light-hearted so were were pretty noticeable whenever we participated. The games and shows really made the at sea days fun. I would recommend if possible having more activities later in the evenings for those who have early dinner.
Camp Carnival truly dropped the ball with us though, and I was very disappointed. My son missed the 2 yr old age cutoff by a few weeks, but wasn't allowed to join in. So be it, not a big surprise. The first orientation though was during our dinner, so I went after dinner and no one was there. I went the next morning and asked the staff girl what I "needed to know to sign him up for after-hours babysitting" At no time was I informed of a sign-up sheet for the hours you intend to bring your child. Apparently if no one signs up then they send the babysitter off for the evening at 10:15pm. On our 15th anniversary celebration I went to take my son to Camp Carnival. At 11p I was all dressed and ready to drop off my toddler (already asleep and in his stroller) and was met with rudeness and no understanding. They kept quoting the "procedure manual" which I pointed out guests have no access to. The information they kept quoting was nowhere in the CC capers and wasn't told to me even when I requested info on how to use the babysitters. I would still not blame CC if I hadn't gone to the effort of inquiring and asking specifically "what do I need to know/do to use the babysitters?"
The director of CC was useless, less than polite and certainly unsympathetic for having ruined my anniversary celebration. I wasn't looking for a comp, just an apology, and got none. I spent the night all dressed up in my cabin alone with my son while hubby went to the midnight buffet and the shows without me. The director said she memo'd corporate to get the info added to capers telling folks of the advance notice required, but that does me no good as I doubt Carnival will ever get my business again.
We were a nice sized group cruising together, several suites (including wraparounds) + our balcony cabin, my whole family traveling together, and I just was singularly unimpressed with their level of (dis)service and (un)professionalism. Any comments made to the purser's desk were not really addressed except with an insipid "we're sorry you feel that way" type response. I think I would have forgotten and brushed off any one event or disappointment, but the constant small problems and the few big problems that would completely derail our planned fun just gave an overall feeling of disappointment with Carnival's unsympathetic incompetence in several key areas.