We are in our early 40's, not married and have no kids. We have been on 16 previous cruises most of which were to the Caribbean; 6 RCCL, 4 NCL, 2 Princess, 3 Carnival and 1 Celebrity. After reading countless reviews that others have taken the time to contribute, this is my second cruise review. Please keep in mind this is my opinion based on my experience.
Plans for this cruise were made shortly after completion of our cruise on the Carnival Liberty in February 2006. During the Liberty cruise we met so many great new friends after chatting online prior to the cruise. Many of us made plans to cruise together on the Carnival Miracle in February 2007. Since we started planning early and there were so many of us cruising together we were able to secure all the balcony cabins across the aft of a deck. This was my second aft balcony and I really enjoy them, the balconies are usually bigger and they aren't as windy.
Our 2007 adventure began Saturday February 10 when we flew from Minneapolis to Tampa via Midwest Airlines. Our flights were uneventful; we were somewhat concerned with only half an hour between connections in Milwaukee. There were no delays mechanical, weather or otherwise. We arrived in Tampa about noon; we found our luggage at the carousel then went to find the shuttle for the hotel.
We had booked a room at the Marriott Westshore directly through the Marriott website several months prior for $119 per night. We usually use Priceline or Hotwire to book our hotels, but found the best price on the Marriott website. The Marriott was a very nice property. The beds were the usual ultra plush and very comfortable. There was a large indoor/outdoor pool, with plenty of tables and chairs around the pool to catch up with our cruise friends the day prior to boarding the ship. The hotel had a restaurant/bar that was very slow and expensive; we found plenty of food and libation choices near the hotel and the Westshore Mall was about four blocks away. The hotel shuttle was also available to provide transportation to local restaurants until midnight. However, the shuttle is not allowed to drop passengers at the cruise port. We arranged for two vans to transport 22 people and luggage from the hotel to the port for about $100 per van, through Bay Area Shuttle, they were at the hotel at 10:30.
This was our first cruise out of Tampa. Embarkation at this port is extremely easy. After two short lines and a brief time in the waiting area we were on board before noon. We were to stay out of our rooms until 1:30, so we went up to the buffet and found some tables on the lido deck to enjoy our first meal on board and several buckets of beer and a variety of frozen drinks. During the afternoon we sent one representative from each of the aft cabins down to request the removal of the balcony partitions. We received most of our luggage before the muster drill and were all unpacked before we set sail. When sailing from Tampa, about two hours after leaving the pier the ship passes under the Sunshine Bridge. The ship clears the bridge by a narrow margin. We witnessed this on the top deck forward. By the time we passed under the bridge it was all but dark, but we could still see how close the ship comes to the bridge.
Not long after passing under the bridge it was time to get ready for dinner. We had late seating and most of our party was successful at cross referencing our reservations. We were seated at three tables next to each other tucked in a corner on the main floor of the dining room. Our waiter was Carlos and his assistant was Ary. I enjoyed all the meals I had in the dining room; the meat was always cooked to my liking and the portions very adequate. While I wouldn't say the service in the dining room was bad, I feel it wasn't quite up to the standard I have learned to expect while cruising. There were a few courses ordered and not served and other courses served to the wrong person between our tables. There was also an irritating incident concerning my wine. I often buy a bottle of wine at dinner and drink half the bottle and save the rest for the next day. After pouring my own wine throughout the meal and then indicating that I was done with it for the evening the assistant waiter filled both glasses from the bottle after we had finished coffee and dessert. The waiter offered to pour the wine back in the bottle, but the thought turned my stomach. As I stated the service wasn't horrible, but it was inattentive and inconsistent.
We woke to our first sea day and found a cloudy and drizzly day. Our plans of spending hours sunning at the pool would have to change. Even though the weather wasn't optimal the belly flop and hairy chest contests were held poolside. Our group was represented in each. The maintenance workers were to our room before noon to remove our balcony partitions. After the partitions were removed we were ready to take advantage of our merged balconies and did so until the rain got too heavy later in the afternoon.
Tonight was the first formal night. Ten of our group had decided to try Nick and Nora's, the specialty restaurant under the funnel. We enjoyed a martini at the bar while we waited for the rest of our party. We were seated at a large round table. We had impeccable service. I'm not sure if the number of servers is the norm there or if we enjoyed extra servers since most of the remaining tables in the restaurant were empty. The food was excellent and served in an elaborate and distinctive manner. I like to try specialty restaurant on each ship we sail, but prefer to do so as part of a group rather than an intimate dinner for two.
The next day brought us to our first port of Grand Cayman. It was a busy day in Grand Cayman with seven ships in port and finally the sun made an appearance. I had reservations to dive with two others from our group at Eden Rock dive shop. Eden Rock is a light blue building easily spotted to the right of the tendering area when coming ashore, just past the Hard Rock. The three of us joined three other divers and two dive masters. Our first dive was a wall dive to about 100 feet. We saw a sting ray and a sea turtle was waiting for us at the bottom of the anchor line. The second dive was a shallower reef dive where we saw hundreds of fish; in one spot we counted 24 barracuda. Both dives took place just off Seven Mile Beach. Seven Mile Beach was the destination of the divers significant others to meet up with the majority of the rest of the group. I have never spent the day at Seven Mile Beach while in Grand Cayman. On my next visit I may go for the day, but I will not go to the Hyatt. It was reported that the drinks at the Hyatt were very expensive and they refused to give change in US money. So we have some Caymanian dollars as souvenirs. Since there wasn't much time until the last tender after the return of the dive boat we went straight back to the ship. There is a snorkel area just behind Eden Rock dive shop, if the water isn't too rough it's is an easy snorkel spot to walk to from the tender area.
Our next port was Cozumel. Again there were seven ships in port and not enough pier space for them all unfortunately we had to tender. The sun was shining again; we were all signed up for a day at the all inclusive Coral Reef Resort. For $40 per person we could use their pool and beach and indulge in all the food and drink we desired. The beach was extremely rocky and chairs were hard to locate. After a short time on the beach we discovered a pool next to the children's play area that had a swim up bar and Dos XX on tap. For an extra charge while at the resort a few people went parasailing, a couple went diving and a couple more took advantage of the uncertified resort dive. The food was okay, but no better than the buffet at the ship. During our last visit to Cozumel we went to Paradise Beach. For future visits I would prefer to go back to Paradise Beach rather than the all inclusive. Paradise Beach was nice, there were plenty of chairs and buckets of beer rather then tap.
I woke just before sunrise the next day. We were slowly making our way to the anchoring area off the coast of Belize City, there were two ships following us in. To avoid hitting the reef the ship must go slowly back and forth along the designated path. Just when we got to the spot we would anchor a thick eerie fog rolled over us. At one point we could see the bow of one of the other ships behind us; we could hear the fog horns sounding on the ships. We had to wait for the ship sponsored excursion to leave first then we were on the tender headed toward shore through the fog. We were booked on a snorkeling excursion to the Coral Gardens and Shark Ray Alley, the we booked independently through Coral Breezes Tours. We found our guide and checked in, we had about an hour until the excursion left so we stopped for a Belikens Beer, the local brew, and looked in the shops at the tender area. It had been about five years since I had last been to Belize on a cruise and the tender area looked totally different. It used to be a few tents set up selling their fare, now it more closely resembles all other Caribbean ports of call. We ended up standing around waiting for others that finally showed up an hour late. Before we left the fog burned off and the sun was shining. We finally left the tender area and while crossing the bay area stopped to watch several dolphins playing and jumping around us. We continued on to the Coral Garden. We snorkeled through as a group, at one spot our guide was able to lure an eel out of hiding for us to view. Another guide was collecting conch shells and later harvested the inhabitants for dinner later. Then we stopped at Shark Ray Alley. The rays here are used to people and gently swim around you similar to Sting Ray City in Grand Cayman. The difference being the presence of nurse sharks when you arrive, but the sharks are scared by the people entering the water, so you don't get close to the sharks. After snorkeling we went to Caulker Cay for lunch. Lunch took so long we didn't have time to look around the island. We ordered the grilled chicken sandwich, but I would recommend the chicken burrito, it looked a lot better. Since we were so late leaving we were very late getting back, we made it back to the tender area with only ten minutes until the last tender, and needless to say I didn't have time to shop. Next time I will book through the ship to avoid the stress. Others in our group booked the zip line and cave tubing tour on their own. They enjoyed the tour but got back to the tender area even later than us. Back on board we spent time on the balconies as we made our slow trek back out through the labyrinth back out to sea, where we enjoyed a picture perfect sunset.
Our last port was Costa Maya and finally a pier no tendering but the clouds were back. We didn't have an excursion planned here. We just walked to the shopping area at the end of the pier and purchased vanilla, rum and coffee. Most of our group made it into town and reported that it was a quaint town.
Our last day started as cool and windy, but turned out to be a lovely afternoon spent with our friends finishing all remaining libations on the aft balcony. Our cabin steward was fabulous. He did a great job keeping our rooms in order and our coolers stocked. He was known as the Ice Man among us.
Our room was as expected with a lot of storage available and the usual goodies in the bathroom. We don't normally book balcony rooms. We would normally prefer to take two cruises in inside rooms than just one with a balcony, but we occasionally splurge on a balcony. The balcony is definitely worth it when you can open the partitions between several adjoining rooms. The rooms are also very sound proof; we never heard any sound through the walls while inside the room. A note about the corner suites, there were two booked within our group. We were on deck five. The suites on deck five were only one room. The same category rooms in the corner on higher decks are two room suites. We learned this the hard way. For our next cruise we currently have ten side by side balcony rooms booked and plenty of time to add more.
I was disappointed with the casino. We have always won on slot machines during our previous Carnival cruises, sometimes quite a bit. This time the slots were not good to us at all. Although I can say that some money was won at the black jack tables by one or two in our group.
Prior to the cruise I had heard some comment regarding the dEcor of the ship to be very gaudy, especially the dining room. I do admit that the dining room must have been less appealing when the 'grapes' were pink. Now they are purple and seem to fit the theme of the Bacchus dining room much better. As I mentioned earlier we were on the main floor back in the corner, so I really have no idea what it is like to sit in the middle of the dining room and I admit to doing a double take when I walked past the dining room doors on the upper floor and caught a glimpse of the grape chandeliers. In general I like the dEcor of the newer Carnival ships to the older ones that utilize so much neon. I prefer the painted murals in the atrium, the gold leaf and the colored glass.
During the cruise approximately one person of each couple ended up with perhaps some type of a norovirus. I had always read that a norovirus lasts three to four days, while our group was affected with a 24 hour variety. Some blamed the sushi I think the buffet can be blamed. I was not affected and I ate very little from the buffet. I would usually frequent the pizza counter, deli and grill where they served the food to you rather than allowing each passenger to serve themselves.
Many of us took advantage of the self assist debarkation. It was nice to avoid packing and putting out the luggage the last night. To participate in the self assist debarkation you must be a US citizen with nothing to claim above your allowance. We started lining up at a little after 7:00 and were off the ship before 8:00. We easily found vans waiting at the port to transport us to the airport.