After taking care of cruise due diligence, surfing the internet, and reading all the cruise critic reviews, I decided to book a cruise aboard the Carnival Miracle. I selected it because of it is a new ship and the rates were a bargain. I took advantage of my Mom being a senior to get a good discount, then selected a guaranteed balcony stateroom with obstructed view and hoped for an upgrade, which we received. I had only sailed on the Disney ships prior, so my cruise standards were high, and my cruise expectations (especially with regard to the ship) would be critical.
We drove from Orlando the morning of the cruise, and even though though all the Carnival literature said not to arrive prior to 1 p.m., I found it hard to believe that we couldn't get on the ship earlier. The cruise terminal is at the dead end of a long street, and even though the signage is plentiful, the arrival experience is pretty intimidating. You certainly need to pay close attention to all the security personnel as they try to direct you through the arrival pandemonium. The porter's are quick to arrive and take your luggage. If you weren't assigned a stateroom number, like us, you should try real hard to find out your stateroom number before you arrive and put it on your luggage tags. The grey TBA tags did no good and the porter made us feel stupid for not having our stateroom numbers already on our tags. Luckily, I had managed to find out the stateroom we had been assigned by going to Carnival's web site and selecting "Modify Your Reservation" the night before sailing. You get an error message but if you look carefully, you will see your stateroom number on the reservation message.
The valet was rude and when I said I was self parking, told me "well don't you want to listen to what I have to say first?". He told me if I didn't valet, I'd have to park on the top floor of the garage. Not even close to the truth. I was guided to the ground floor and got a prime space. The line inside the terminal was long but moved quickly. I was not impressed with the terminal itself, but the area outside includes an aquarium, theatre, and restaurants which was nice. The terminal was cramped and I felt like a sardine but the line seemed to move quickly. The agents were friendly and efficient. I had filled out all my information on-line, so all I had to do was sign a credit card voucher, get our stateroom key, and we were done. We waited another 10 minutes before we were called to board.
We got on the ship and were guided towards deck nine to have lunch. The buffet was confusing at first, and you were pretty much left on your own to figure it out. Unlike other ships, with long identical buffet lines, the Miracle had several small buffet lines that offered up something different at each. That was pretty much the rub for the whole cruise, you had to survey 4 buffet lines to find out what they were serving that day, and if you wanted an item from each buffet, you had to wait in line again and again. The sandwich grill was always popular. Pizza, caesar salad, and ice cream was served 24 hours in this area. Ice cream (soft serve) was great and made up for the desserts which were anything but exciting.
Carnival still insists on charging for soft drinks. I was fine with drinking tea and fruit punch for the duration, but it just seemed pretty cheap to charge for cold drinks. The dessert selection was limited to tarts and cheese cake. No cake, no donuts, no pie, no brownies, no pudding, no berries, and no whipped cream.
I read so much about the ship's decor, that it didn't even phase me. If you decide not cruise because of the over abundancy of grapes or the semi-nude artistry, you really need more than a vacation.
Dining on the ship was just fine. Some items were a hit, and some were a miss. The main dining room is at the rear of the ship over the propellers so there was always a rumble. I got used to sitting in the same spot for 7 nights looking across at the same people. By the end of the cruise, I would have given anything to have another view. We got used to the nightly interruption of our meal, which usually caused us a longer wait for our desserts, as the wait staff danced about the restaurant for your amusement.
Our cabin stewart did an excellent job, it was our second day before we actually got to meet him. When he discovered that I was traveling with my mother, he offered to divide the beds into 2 twins. My mother was diabetic, and she received her sharps container without having to ask. Our luggage was delivered prior to our early seating. I had brought some slacks to change into just in case. That didn't seem to matter, as the first night's dinner is pretty much a dress code free for all. The only dress code requirement at dinner was no hats, shorts, or t-shirts. Most obeyed, some did not. I never felt overdressed or underdressed for dinner.
My mom and I both enjoyed the entertainment. Those dancers worked their butts off in the Generations show. I was exhausted watching them. We loved the R-rated comedy shows. Shame on Carnival for building a theater with columns that obstruct the view from many seats.
I had read all the horror stories so I worried about my first "tendering" experience when we arrived in Grand Cayman, especially since we had decided at the last minute to book a shore excursion utilizing the TV in our room (very convenient). The tickets were delivered to our room that night as promised. It really wasn't that bad, with the exception that my mom has difficulty walking down stairs, and the elevators were restricted to stopping at the deck above the tendering station. We got to what they called the dock at Grand Cayman, a small covered pavilion surrounded by a chain link fence. Stuck on the poles around the small area, were small tattered signs indicating where to wait for your excursion. We waited 45 minutes with no place to sit while busses offering the same tour for half the price left every few minutes just steps away. When the time for our tour came, a single women grabbed the sign off the wall, and just walked away and we just followed the crowd several hundred yards to a pleasant shopping area with benches and trees to board our busses. Why we couldn't have waited there is beyond me. Our bus stopped at the Tortuga Rum Factory (tourist trap), then to Hell (another trap), pulled over to the side of the road in front of the governors home, and then to the Turtle Farm. We got to go inside the farm as part of the fee, which I was later told was not part of the cheaper tour offered by the same tour company for half the price. The Turtle Farm was the best part, but our tour was running late, so we had barely enough time to walk around the lagoon before we had to board our bus for the return trip. I'd recommend taking a taxi to the Turtle Farm and forget the city tour.
At Cozumel, we were lucky to dock at the pier, so there was no tendering necessary, but the long walk to the end of the pier, pretty much ended it for my mom so we didn't go much further than the open air mall immediately across the street. It was nice not being hassled by the locals at Grand Cayman, so the aggressive vendors were a real turn off here. The jewelry was pretty much junk, and when you asked them the price, they started at $300 and would end up yelling $20 when you walked out. It was just plain insulting.
Belize was our next stop, and required a long tender ride into the very small and quaint port. We found the shops there to be more authentic, and the prices were reasonable. The long line at the pharmacy was amusing. The shopping area is inside a gated area that reminded me of Jurassic Park, so the thought of venturing outside the compound was a bit too scary for us so we returned to the ship.
Costa Maya was a nice surprise, a small man made enclave that featured shopping, pools, and beach. Too bad the cruise line didn't tell us to bring our suits as I would liked to lay out by the pool. A tram was provided to ferry guests down the pier which made my mom happy.
The day at sea was a nice bookend for the trip and allowed a much needed day to decompress for the start and end of our vacation. I would think any fair minded person would find this cruise enjoyable. If you have unreasonably high standards you might want to look elsewhere. If you have cruised before, and know that cruising is a vacation meant to be savored, and not graded, then you will enjoy the Carnival Miracle.
I can't write this critique without a few of gripes for Carnival. For some reason, the designer of the Carnival Miracle, elected to have swinging doors leading to the verandahs on the outside of the ship. The door closers cause the doors to swing closed with a huge force, and a thunderous clap that echos from one side of the ship to the other. At times, it sounded like depth charges constantly exploding against the side of the ship as each guest let the doors slam behind them. Expect to be aroused from a sound sleep at least one or two times during your cruise by inconsiderate neighbors and a poorly engineered amenity. The in room safes require a credit card to close so I had to carry it all around the ship with me which defeats the purpose. I ended up breaking my American Express card in half as a result. I don't know why they don't let you use your cabin key card to lock them. The spa on board the Miracle is sub par. If you are expecting an elegant or luxurious spa experience, you can just forget it. Please just forget your dress code and your formal night if you aren't going to enforce it. If people want to dress up, they can reserve in the fine dining room.