Recently, The Crabby Old Guy and I decided to take a cruise on Carnival Cruise Line's ship the Miracle. In the past I had cruised on another Carnival ship with my two daughters and grandson and unfortunately had several bad experiences on that voyage. Just to give you an idea, a young woman who was quite inebriated decided to remove her bikini top and parade on center stage on the pool deck (mid-afternoon) in front of all the young children and families. No one made the slightest move to remove this woman, not even the Cruise Director who was standing right there, and she finally slithered off the stage only to smack her head into a pole and lay unconscious on the deck. Neither her friends nor the ships staff or security sought to remove her or assist her. Actually, my family and I watched in shock as her friends stepped over her and moved on to their next adventure. Did we blame Carnival for this woman's actions? No, people do stupid things all the time but we did think that someone from Carnival should have addressed the situation as it was happening.
Over the years and many, many cruises I have come to realize that you just can't judge a Cruise Line by just one ship in their fleet or even just one voyage. I have many friends who have cruised with Carnival and have been totally satisfied with their services. So once again, we decided to give Carnival a try and see if my first cruise was perhaps a fluke and I actually would enjoy this cruise, besides "Crabby" and I are adventuresome. We boarded the Miracle with no great expectations but were definitely open to having an enjoyable time. Embarkation went quite smoothly and we immediately went up to the Lido deck for the arrival buffet. Much to our surprise the food was very good; we thought it was even better than Royal Caribbean's standard fare. Oddly enough on another RCI cruise we had taken on The Liberty of The Seas, I had overheard a fellow passenger, who also happened to be a cruise travel agent, remark that the quality of food on RCI had gone down and Carnival's food quality had gone up...well maybe.
After lunch The Crabby Old Guy and I decided to go to our cabin and drop off our things. As we were walking to the cabin trying to find our room we realized we were on the wrong side of the ship. We turned around and lo and behold who was standing behind us but my hubby's cousins from Buffalo, New York, who I haven't seen since the day we were married (about 6000 years ago). What are the odds of being on the same ship with relatives you haven't seen in years? But odder still was the fact that with the thousands of people on the ship there they were standing right behind us within the first two hours of boarding. The fickle finger of fate...who knows but it sure was a fabulous surprise. Pat and Tony and their friends Rubie and Arlene were delightful companions throughout the cruise. Once again I was reminded that cruising with relatives (the good kind, LOL!) and friends are one of the things that great memories are made of.
We were nicely surprised by a very spacious cabin with a balcony; so far, so good. Later that evening we met up with our relatives and unfortunately they were not very happy with their cabins. They had booked their reservations nine months in advance and requested two cabins with balconies only to find out that their travel agent had booked them balconies with an obscured view (which means you have to stand up and look over the life boat to see the water) without informing them. That is one of the reasons why The Crabby Old Guy always checks out our cabin on the ship's schematic on the Internet, usually while he has the booking agent on the line - this way if he sees something he doesn't like he gets it taken care of when the agent is most motivated, before they get paid. Just to again show how important dealing with a cruise-savvy travel agent is let me relate another little story from this voyage. We also met a very nice 40-something couple from California on this trip who were totally mortified because their travel agent informed them that all dining on Carnival was casual attire and there were no real formal nights - wrong. All they had were tropical clothes and they felt totally out of place on the formal evenings. These folks had done a bit of traveling but this was only their first cruise. Once again, be very careful when selecting a travel agent or agency... try to deal only with reputable and knowledgeable ones that do a lot of cruise business and train their agents well.
The Miracle's staff and crew were friendly and eager to please. But it was hard not to notice that the attention to service detail that you see on most other ships was definitely missing. What I found fascinating, in an odd sort of way, was the ship's dEcor. The Bacchus Dinning Room was well laid out and comfortable but it had huge purple globe grapes plastered all over the ceiling when I saw it I felt like I was waiting for Big Bird to arrive any minute. Hubby thought it reminded him of a Mardi Gras theme but only more overstated. In the Centrum Hall there was a huge Carving of Medusa resplendent with snakes; hmmm, not exactly my cup of tea but...Ok. This should give you a bit of an idea about the main public areas but then there were the hallways to the cabins. Somehow they took a different theme...they were filled with images of 1940's movie stars done in a purplish/mauve sort of sepia style imprint. Maybe the interior decorator was having a bad day, or rather maybe even a bad month trying to figure out just what the motif of the ship would be. One of our friends, Rubie, said the dEcor reminded her of that old saying, "What am I going to be when I grow up?" Ok, so I was not crazy about the decor in the Miracle, but what was there was at least well executed and maintained.
The demographics on the ship seemed to be heavy with first-time cruisers and families. I must admit I had to chuckle after overhearing a conversation between three young women on the elevator. Apparently, they were in total awe of the ship as they raved about the grandeur of the Miracle. Finally one woman turned to the other and said "Wow, this is really different than our normal entertainment of taking the pick-up into town on a Saturday night!" Another passenger, I guess a little amused, asked them where they were from and they said they lived on a farm in Canada. All I could think of was that refrain from a very old song "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" No, The Savvy Old Lady is not being catty here; just pointing out that for first time cruisers this type of ship is wonderful. And I think that is great; as these cruisers get more experience cruising there are options for them for even grander adventures if they like. Carnival, the corporation, has several other lines in their family to help keep cruisers happy for decades of enjoyment and different adventures. That is smart business ...now if the aces in charge of such things can just see the wisdom of having their loyalty program apply across their brands to keep cruisers in the Carnival family then that would be Savvy Business.
One evening the two of us decided to try the up-scale extra-fee Nick and Nora's Supper Club. It was beautifully decorated and quite spacious. The style was a smart looking take off on a 1950s style supper club (or so I imagine from photos I have seen of these - I'm not that old you know). They also had live music which was very well executed and not that loud, can't-hear-yourself-talk music you sometimes have to suffer through. There was a $30 surcharge per person at this restaurant but believe me it was worth every penny of it. My husband had the steak and said it was one of the best he's ever had (and he has eaten in most of the fine land based steakhouses on two continents) and I thoroughly enjoyed the lobster tail. The Crabby Old Guy did chuckle a bit though that the servers, while attentive enough, obviously had memorized the script about the foods and didn't really have any true understanding about the menu or the wine list. We both agreed that Nick and Nora's is one of the best 'specialty' restaurants on the seas today.
As for activities aboard ship, plenty. Carnival touts their ships to be "Fun Ships" and I must say they have quite an unusual assortment of activities from Bathrobe Bingo to Bathrobe and Beer Deck Parties to the showing of the movie Animal House. Now if you think The Savvy Old Lady would be looking at all these things differently if she were a tad bit younger...maybe you're right. However, my five adult children all seem to agree with me that Carnival is a bit more over done and loud compared to other cruise lines. By the by, The Crabby Old Guy did volunteer for one research job here; Carnival is (or should I say was) noted for having a "topless" sunbathing area on the very top deck near the smoke stacks. "Crabby", bad knees and all, volunteered to diligently trek up to this little oasis twice a day to see if it was being used by anyone other than some weird looking man in a raincoat. However, after reminding him that his annual physical exam was due when he got home, I convinced him it wouldn't be a good idea. Tee Hee! I did hear, by the way, that Carnival has done away with the "topless" sunbathing deck...oh well.
One afternoon, as we were walking around the ship, we happened to pass Carnival's pre-cruise booking lounge and decided to stop in and get some information regarding their Vacation Club program. What was of interest to us was the points you received could be transferred over to other cruise lines owned by Carnival (Princess, HAL, etc.), well that is a good start, we thought. We were informed that we could come back the next day for a full presentation of their program. Hmmm, no "one on one" discussions...now my curiosity was really tweaked. The next day we showed up and found ourselves sitting with twenty other passengers listening attentively to the women's presentation. From what we could gather, if we signed up for the program we would basically be paying up front for cruises for the next five years. Yes, they were slightly discounted, but unless you chose an inside cabin on a Carnival ship it wasn't much of a bargain if any. Now the bit about using points on other ships in the Carnival category. One point on a Carnival ship was worth much less on a Holland America ship. And when you figured all this out (which of course Crabby did while she was presenting), turns out that the minute you switched points to another cruise line there seemed to be no discount at all. So all you seemed to be doing was letting Carnival Corp. hold on to your money for five years or so. Finally the discussion started to switch to other subjects regarding Carnival Cruise Line, mostly designed to tell us prospects how great Carnival ships are. The Savvy Old Lady happened to mention that she found it rather odd that Carnival was the first ship she had cruised on in the past six months (4 cruises) that didn't have Purell stations anyplace on the ship. Smugly, the woman replied that Carnival didn't have a problem with the Norovirus; no foolin', that is precisely what she said; Crabby and I were flabbergasted that she would say such a thing. She made a point of telling us that Holland America was the cruise line that had the problem with the virus and she had all the inside information since she had dated the Captain on one of Carnival's ships. I swear I almost choked when she pulled out a box of Purell wipes and explained that they were in the lounge for Carnival Vacation members to use and used this as a selling point. Oh well, as we left the lounge not one passenger remained to register. I had to laugh as one passenger said Carnival could keep their memberships and Purell perks, since she would now be cruising with Princess Lines. A bit of a drastic reaction but understandable.
In my opinion, the Carnival ships tend to be a little noisier and more "party" oriented then some of the other mid-tier lines and that's fine; potential cruisers just need to understand this so they know what environment they will be cruising in. Still, isn't it wonderful that we have so many different Cruise Lines and ships to choose from? I think if you're looking for an inexpensive cruise and a fun time and don't mind or are looking for a bit of a boisterous and over the top atmosphere Carnival may be perfect for you and your friends and family. Will I take another Carnival Cruise?...Who knows where The Savvy Old Lady will turn up again, but be assured she will be looking for adventures and memories where ever she goes. Happy Sailing!
Hugs, The Savvy Old Lady(c) www.thesavvyoldlady.com