We are big travelers in my family. We love nothing more than to gas up the van and take off for 8 weeks at a time. So, for our first cruise, we tried looking for something for everyone: It had to be long enough, it had to be full of things we'd never seen or done before, and - for me - this had to be super relaxing and no stress for Mom! The more sea days the better!
I would definitely say this cruise on the Miracle met all of our hopes and then some. When you can look around at your family every night and every single one of them has a big grin on their face, you know it was a success!
We live in Chicago and booked this cruise partially because it left out of New York. It would be the first visit there for my 17-year-old son (who was celebrating his high school graduation), and my 7-year-old daughter. Our 15-year-old daughter was thrilled to be leaving from there since NYC is her favorite place in the world! We flew in on our own two days before our cruise and stayed at the Embassy Suites in Battery Park. It was an excellent choice for our family. We were all extremely comfortable in one room and, though it was a bit far from the hustle and bustle of Times Square, we were actually happy to come back to a large room that was quiet and relaxing. The excellent (included) breakfast each morning was the best buffet we've ever had in an hotel. The subway wasn't far and even taking a cab to Times Square wasn't very pricey.
Unfortunately for us, it rained pretty heavily much of the time we were in NYC. But we didn't let that stop us, taking advantage of the hop-on, hop-off bus and tour to see as much of the city as we could possibly squeeze in. It was a perfect excitement builder for our cruise and I was really happy to play tourist at the pre- end of the cruise instead of the post- end.
It was cloudy the morning of our cruise and starting to rain when we grabbed a cab at around 11:30 for the terminal. By the time we got there, it was raining pretty hard and we joked we were going to be the first cruise in history to go to the Caribbean and see no sun at all! We were inside the terminal by around noon and found seats in the waiting area. Embarkation started within half an hour and we were on board before 1 p.m.
There is nothing like the first glimpse of your ship! My kids were overwhelmed and we all pointed out several things at the same time. The staff was wonderful and helped us find our way around. We headed up for the Lido deck and grabbed a bit of lunch and then explored. We figured out where our rooms were and, though he was still finishing them up, our room steward Jose was happy to meet us and let us put our things in the closets. We then found Camp Carnival and explored some more around the ship, making sure to stop at Nick and Nora's and make a reservation for later in the week. We went back up to the Lido deck where the rain had stopped and found a great spot for the sailaway. It was so beautiful to sail out of NY Harbor ... that was a very special experience for my kids and one I'm glad we shared. After the sailaway, we headed for our rooms. My husband and I had a balcony cabin and the kids were in a two-bunk room right across the hall. It was a perfect setup. I thought the rooms were very spacious with plenty of room for storage. The only thing I thought was weird was no outlet in the bathroom. Jose recommended just putting down one bunk in the inside room and that worked out great. It became the nest for my 7-year-old and she was thrilled with it.
The ship was beautiful and really sparkling the entire time. The staff was always friendly and helpful and never failed to greet you with a smile and hello.
We had main dining (5:45) which was a great time for our family. It was a little early for us, but it got my little one to Camp Carnival in time for their activities and gave my 17-year-old lots of time to feast on pizza at every opportunity! We thought the food was great and really appreciated the chance to encourage our kids to try things that were new and different. Well, other than the desert menu ... after one bite of chocolate melting cake they refused anything else!
We celebrated our 10-year anniversary on the second sea day with dinner at Nick & Nora's. All the praise is well deserved. They thoughtfully sit us at a window spot to see the sunset. The food was amazing and the staff quite attentive. My big mistake, however, was to get a little too much sun that day ... too much sun and too much champagne is not a good combination with such an excellent meal!!! I will look forward to trying N&N's when I am better prepared!!
Since my husband took me to N&N's, I surprised him by having our cabin decorated by the formalities shop. They were great: I stopped by in the morning and asked if it would be possible to be done that evening while we were at dinner and she did! It was awesome to see my husband's face when he opened the cabin door and saw the decorations and the chocolate covered strawberries and champagne on ice! Well worth it!
Our first port was San Juan. We hadn't made any specific plans there, which worked well for us. We grabbed a cab as soon as we got off the boat and for $100 he took our family to El Morro for half an hour and then toured us around part of the island. I think he lost patience with us when we wouldn't buy anything at the shops he kept trying to steer us toward. We were happy to be done with him after a couple of hours. He dropped us back at the boat and we then meandered back into OSJ. My son wanted to experience Senor Frog's, so we had an overpriced, not-very-good meal there. It was a fun experience for my kids, sort of. I would have loved it if I hadn't been wearing my "mom" hat, but ... Luckily, the San Juan food festival was going on so we were able to prowl through the street fare and listen to some good bands. That was fun. We got back on the ship in time for the Mexican buffet and party - which was fun until it got rained out!!
We were up early for St.Thomas and it was definitely our favorite stop of the trip. We signed up with Sunny Liston and had a blast! Yes, it poured here too but, as Sunny pointed out, if you're going to the beach, you're going to get wet. Who cares if it's rain wet, too?! His tour was so much fun. We poked around shopping for three hours and grabbed a quick delicious lunch at Cuzzins. Sunny suggested we go to Sapphire and that was a great choice. It was our first snorkeling expedition and we were thrilled at how easy it was and how we all took to it. A great, great day. Back to the cabin and another surprise: It was my birthday and our room steward surprised me with chocolate-covered strawberries and another bottle of champagne! Nice!
I think the stop in Tortola is way too short. And the Carnival excursion to the Baths is way too expensive for a family of five. We ended up piling into a cab for the thrill ride over the mountains and down to Cane Garden Bay. Since we were the only boat in town for the last week, there were lots of locals hoping to see us! We paid $15 for two chairs and an umbrella and $10 each for snorkeling equipment. OK, the snorkeling here was a bust (the best spots were too far out for us) but it was still a relaxing and beautiful day on the beach.
On the boat, we very much enjoyed the water slide and the pools. I don't know why there would be a problem with kids in the adult pool. Every time we went by there it didn't look like there would be room for kids! The center pool was often crowded, but we always found a table nearby and were able to eat lunch and watch the kids swim while enjoying the band. The people-watching alone was as much fun as anything else! Foodwise, the buffets at breakfast and lunch were fine for us. I loved having my family dress for dinner. We had an excellent table to ourselves by a window and watched the sunsets and flying fish and had a really nice meal every evening.
Camp Carnival was awesome for my daughter. There weren't as many kids as I thought there might be on this cruise (most schools, I gather, hadn't yet released for the summer) but she made some friends and got great attention from the counselors. We don't gamble and so didn't take advantage of the casino. We did go to most of the shows and they were ... OK. I wouldn't have paid extra for any of them, but we enjoyed ourselves and they were a pleasant-enough diversion. What was really excellent was the orchestra. We could have listened to them all night! We stopped by Frankie & Johnnie's and enjoyed that very much. Music Boardwalk was great. Honestly, we probably spent the most time hanging out on our balcony watching the water and the stars. I'll never cruise without a balcony!
The only complaint I had was for my teenagers. Club 02 is a joke. I understand they are just developing a dedicated area for the kids, but it seemed half-hearted. There was a nightly two-hour block in the disco for 12-14 year olds (which was deserted everytime we peeked in) but no time at all for those 15-18. It seems that this is a neglected age group ... it wouldn't be that hard to make the effort to create some excitement (if you can get adults to dress up like Elton John or do a belly flop or hump the floor in front of hundreds of strangers, you certainly can get teenagers to have some fun, too!).But that was a small complaint in eight days of great experiences.
We got up early to enjoy the sailback into New York. It was such an experience! I wish I had been a bit more relaxed about debarking. After we docked, we should have enjoyed long showers and relaxing for an hour. Instead, we hung out on the second floor lounge and waited to go. After the priority people all got off, the staff told us to just go ahead and get in line. We were off and out quickly and in our cab within half an hour!
Thanks to Carnival and to everyone at Cruise Critic who helped us prepare for our trip. It was amazing!