Husband and I wanted a year off from Christmas celebrations: no tree, no lights, no gifts. Church, music, dinner would be missed, but not the shopping and sales. Holiday week cruises are usually sky-high, so when we found the Miracle at a reasonable price, we booked. An easy drive to Long Beach the morning of the cruise brought us to the parking structure (convenient but pricey at $17/day) and the terminal shortly after 11 a.m. It was confusing to roll through the winter carnival but pleasant to check in on the Queen Mary, then back out to the marina to wait near the water for just a short time. When we saw others walking into the terminal, we followed, and were waved in. We had no wait and were on board the ship within minutes.
A pleasant surprise in the Lido and on the Serenity Deck was waiters with trays of sparkling wine. We made ourselves at home in a cabana on the Serenity Deck and when we checked, our room was ready. Nice, sunny, clean and fresh air from the balcony. Friendly, efficient room stewards. We visited the Atrium bar en route to dinner and enjoyed live music. Our dining table was at the aft end of the room, and the rumbling from the engines was very distinct, so at the end of the meal we visited the maître d'hôtel station to request a change for the duration of the cruise. The next afternoon a card arrived in our room with a new table number.
Monday was a sea day. We visited the gym and spent the day on loungers on the Serenity Deck, joining with other passengers in whale and dolphin sightings. You could see the Baja coast most of the way down (both our cabin and our favorite section of the Serenity Deck were on the port side). The only disadvantage was proximity to the buffet. Someone would go into the dining area, emerge with a plate of something tasty looking, and others would follow. This led to quite a bit of recreational over-eating.
Fortunately for us, Tuesday was a Cabo day and we had booked a snorkel excursion through the ship so there were no delays getting a tender to the marina. A short walk to a catamaran and off we went across the water to enjoy whales spouting, fantailing and swimming about. We rode to Chileno Bay to snorkel from the boat, and enjoyed plentiful fish. We hoped the water would be a bit warmer in Puerto Vallarta, but it wasn't too cold. We saw more whales on our way back to the marina, and the crew amused everyone by dressing in wigs and pouring shots of tequila. On this excursion we got the closest we'd ever been to whales in the wild and it was awe inspiring.
Our new table at dinner was in the front center of the dining room, with great company and excellent waiters. Our four new dining companions were platinum Carnival cruisers and each evening brought all sorts of lively conversation and food sampling.
Wednesday there was no crowd pressure to tender to the marina, but we went at a reasonably early hour and walked ourselves down the sand to Lover's Beach for snorkeling. Others arrived via water taxi or catamaran, and a kayak vendor had brisk business. Entering the water from the sand with plenty of sun on the beach gave us snorkeling without a chill. We stopped at a café on our return to the ship to enjoy some Pacificos and a snack. We joked that we could have written a description of our do-it-yourself shore excursion and priced it at about $39. "Hiking, climbing, beach and snorkel adventure to Lover's Beach."
The ship kept the Christmas observances to a mild roar. There was a special show with Santa for families at 4 pm, but plenty of live music for jazz lovers elsewhere on the ship. We attended most of the big musical shows and also the adult comedy sets. Slightly raunchy, but each of the four comedians that week was a seasoned pro. We kept in shape by visiting the gym, walking laps on the deck, and swimming in the ocean on the three port days.
Thursday was Puerto Vallarta where we had booked another snorkel excursion, and off we went on a catamaran through the Bay of Banderas to the Marietas Islands. Many whales on our trips to and fro. The first stop was at a crowded atoll where we were to swim across a parking lot of large and small boats, then through a tunnel to a hidden beach. Imagine salmon swimming upstream with orange vests. Murky water and the danger of small craft starting engines as you made your way across the parking area. The second stop was almost all-to-ourselves, with excellent snorkeling in clear, warm water. Good food and drinks were served in the afternoon. It had rained early that morning in Vallarta but the clouds cleared as we steered across the bay and didn't return until we were almost back in port that afternoon. The seas were a little wavy on the trip across the bay and it occurred to me that maybe we weren't entirely safe out there as a wave swamped the entire front of the catamaran and soaked a lot of passengers' belongings, including my sneakers. But there were many smaller boats, including zodiac rafts, out looking for whales as well.
Now it's back to the ship for two sea days. Friday was sunny and warm on the Serenity Deck, Saturday not so much. We lounged, we exercised, we read, we chatted and jacuzzied with fellow cruisers and tried to limit our trips to the buffet. Going to brunch in the dining room was a good option. We had gone to tea time just once on Monday, which was pleasant, and we often visited the "Taste Bar" at around 5 pm for a pre-dinner snack. Always, there was pre-dinner live music in venues scattered across the lower decks of the ship. The main entertainment on the Lido deck was via DJ, and we only observed that as we made our way across the ship or while doing laps around the deck in the evening.
We slept very well in our bed beside the propped-open balcony door. Never any disturbances at night and very little cigarette smoking on neighboring balconies. I just read a review by a fellow passenger on this cruise whose cabin was on the 8th deck and who smelled cigarettes and garlic/onion cooking odors. I suspect that might be from the 9th deck smoking area beside the pool and from the buffet kitchens. That's something to remember when booking future cruises. We've always had balcony cabins on the 5th or 6th decks and not been bothered. And we're very glad no one near us chose to smoke cigars on a balcony.
Summary: an excellent cruise with near-perfect weather and very pleasant passengers. Great service from cabin stewards and dining room waiters. Variety of appetizers and entrees at dinner gave us plenty of choices and opportunities to taste, share, and not finish anything that wasn't worth the calories. Using the stairs, walking the decks, visiting the gym and snorkeling in the ocean for three days netted a gain of just about two pounds. All in all, a successful cruise.