Carnival Miracle, Tampa to West Caribbean, Feb 4, 2007
Just about the best of eight cruises we have taken, and by far and away the best of three cruises on Carnival. After our last cruise on the Carnival Holiday, we were thinking that cruises had lost their appeal for us, but this one absolutely turned things around. Being a newly retired guy, I'll be searching for more incredible deals in April or May.
Boarding. We purchased tickets four days before the cruise, and so drove twenty hours to Tampa. Our goal in driving was to be out of Atlanta before spending the night (we made it to northern Florida). People in Tampa don't seem to understand a round-about, so the last fifty feet to the dock is the most dangerous. Unloading car at the dock was easy, but be sure to have your stay-in-the-car stuff already out of the suitcases that will go on board. Valet parking staff warns of poor security at self-park garage (no problems for us). Signs that direct you from the dock to the parking garage are misleading. Check-in was the usual stampede, but took us about a half hour at 1:00. Safe was locked by previous occupant, and it took several phone calls to find someone to open it.
Ship. I really liked this ship. Maybe it's because we cruised on the nearly identical Costa Mediterranea last year. It was amazingly steady, even with a cabin near the rear (passengers on the Carnival Valor leaving from Miami the same day complained of a very sea-sicky voyage.) For the first time on a cruise, my wife didn't use a sea sick patch. Nice layout, easy to find things on the ship, and this ship has excellent signage. The only time it felt crowded was waiting in line when we got to dinner a few minutes early; even the lifeboat drill was uncrowded. We like to walk and refuse to use the elevators; our room on deck 5 was in the perfect location half way between the dining room on deck 2 and the pools on deck 9. The outside walk way on the third deck stops near the front - the walkway on the tenth deck was very windy, but it does go all the way around.
Cabin. We had an inexpensive inside cabin. I don't see any advantage to an outside cabin when it's too hot to sleep with the window or door open; but I would like some kind of light to come on when the sun rises [if you are listening, cruise ship operators]. Very clean where we could see, but in moving beds - we didn't meet the steward until Monday - we found trash under the beds. Nothing disgusting, just paper and a sock. Bathrooms were spotless. Room is a little on the small side when the twin beds are put together, but is almost spacious otherwise. Very quiet, we could tell that there were neighbors, but couldn't hear what they were saying.
Food. The dining room had the best ever food on a cruise ship. Truly. Even the lobster was excellent (I've quit eating most cruise line lobsters because they are rubbery and tasteless). And the service was incredible. Usually I would have gone at least once to the extra-charge restaurant, but there was no reason to leave the dining room (or maybe it was the $60 per couple charge to eat at the fancy place). The buffet food in the casual eating place was pretty poor (except the pizza is good), but the service was first rate for one couple (not us) who sat in the same place every day. Room service brought us a skimpy veggie platter, but my wife appreciated it more than did I. And by the way, the only tuxes on formal night were worn by the waiters.
Entertainment. So so. Two comedians, one was pretty good on his early show and the other had a funny late show. Juggler was good. Sword swallower appealed to the children in the audience. I passed on the hypnotist. The only acts they lacked were Topo Gigio and the plate spinner (that's for the folks who remember Ed Sullivan). The large dance troupe was pretty good. The band was more karaoke than live and sometimes couldn't keep time with their sound track, I really miss the band that was on the Carnival Inspiration a few years ago. The production show "Generations" was mediocre; they started out by ruining the Who song of that name. But the Beatles show was pretty darn entertaining, even when they confused music styles and costumes (watch the fun of Siamese-style choreography during "Norwegian Woods"). The passenger talent show was a nice combination of karaoke singers and decent ship dancers. The pool band was good background noise, but not all that worth listening to. The bar performers were nothing to write home about. Unlike other Carnival ships, the cruise director staff did not get on the public address system every hour to tout bingo and casino gambling, nor did they constantly insist that the only way to have fun was to play boring deck games.
Ports. My idea of a good port is one where I can see something most tourists don't get to. Some ships give advice on where to go and how much to pay for a cab. The Miracle's staff was no help - they seemed to not like the fact that our money wasn't being siphoned through their accounts. So if you want to see the area, do your research before you get on this ship. The good news for my cruise is that we actually made it to every port (your results may vary). The snorkeling beach in Grand Cayman next to where the tenders land hasn't recovered from the last hurricane, but the shopping area has doubled in the last few years. Rained hard in Cozumel, but the place we ducked into had dollar beers, so what the hey; and the ship tied up to the downtown dock, so we didn't need a cab. In Belize City we walked through the downtown area, but we stopped when there was no longer a cop on each corner; the five and dime stores reminded me of small town America in the early 60's. We took a "Jungle Beach" ship tour in Costa Maya and had an excellent day in the sun (last November, our cruise ship was not able to tie up to the pier and missed the port).
Fellow Passengers. If you read on the "professional" review page that most passengers are between 25 and 50, don't believe it. There were a lot of people in their 70's. There were people with walkers and wheel chairs and motor chairs. A couple of folks carried oxygen tanks. The 20's and 30's people didn't seem to be particularly hard core partiers. The 40's and 50's folks (including us) had a great time at the pools and hot tubs. There were passengers from several foreign countries and from all over the USA. I've cruised out of every port from Fort Lauderdale to Houston, and this ship had a better mixture of people than any of the others.
Children. The ship must be doing something right in keeping the kids entertained. We saw kids in the pools on the first day, then not again. The sword swallower show was full of children, but the other shows had nothing but a few babies. The cruise director said there were 500+ kids on board, but I never saw them.
Debarkation. We took advantage of the carry-your-own-luggage off the ship. I don't know why everyone who drives to the port doesn't do this - we've never gotten off a ship any easier. At 6:30, we went to pay our duty taxes (this took about twenty minutes). At 7:00, we had breakfast in the dining room. At 7:45 the announcement went out that we could leave. At 8:15 we were pulling out of the parking garage. The only customs check was to show passports and customs form to a person standing beside the gate leading to the world - no standing in line and getting quizzed by a customs agent in a booth, and no searching for our luggage in a huge pile of suitcases. Two other things if leaving by car: stop at Homosassa Springs state park, which is about 45 miles north and where you can see Manatee close up; and go to a fruit stand and pick up some delicious citrus for the folks back home.
I think you'll like this ship. I heard very few complaints. If you remember how much fun cruising used to be or if you want to start with the best, give this one a try.