* Background Information I booked this cruise as part of a Mystical Group that was having special events during the cruise including workshops and lectures on 2 sea days, a Mystical Marketplace on the 3rd sea day and a special event on the last sea day.
*Embarkation This was my first time sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive early and find a smooth well oiled machine in function even though this was only the ship's second embarkation at this port. The line moved quickly and efficiently and before I knew it I was stepping into the atrium and on my way to Lido for lunch, I was very impressed.
* Ship Info I've sailed with Carnival many times but this was my first time on the Miracle and Spirit class ships, I had done plenty of advance research so I was very familiar with decor, lounges, layout, tips and tricks, etc and felt very comfortable with it.
Being one of the few experienced cruisers in a group of mostly cruise newbies, this information came in handy as I felt like a purser for weeks in advance and the first couple of days onboard.
Having prepared in advance I wasn't surprised by anything I saw with the exception of the atrium which I originally felt to be too small but found to be a pretty good size.
I also liked the size of the ship and have determined that mid-sized is my favorite type of ship, I liked the Miracle better than the Destiny class ships, my previous favorite.
* Stateroom We had a starboard side balcony on Panorama deck 8, we were convenient to the elevators but we didn't hear any elevator noise. That didn't mean that the cabin was quiet though, almost every morning I was awaken by fellow neighbors slamming their cabin doors constantly, not nice at all.
The cabin itself was nice and comfortable, very clean with the exception of the sofa where the top of the back portion of it looked like it could use a session with the rug doctor.
The bathroom, although still small, felt more comfortable than other ships and had plenty of counter space. The shower had very nice temperature and water pressure.
The TV worked fine but the remote was temperamental at times, not a big deal since I only used it for the ship's cam and didn't need to do any channel surfing.
* Activities Our group had various activities planned but we still had plenty of time to participate in ship activities. Even though I recognized many traditional "fun ship" activities, it somehow felt like there was less to do than in previous cruises. That wasn't particularly a problem for me as I can entertain myself easily but having late seating dinner I found that the 2 hours prior to dinner when half of the ship is eating are very boring. I can only do so much shopping and drinking at the bar for 2 hours everyday.
* Service Service was very good but in general not outstanding with the exception of the dining team who were exceptional, details on that in the dining section.
The staff was all very nice and friendly but I didn't see as many of them going out of their way for people as I'm used to, they still provided good service.
The cabin steward and assistant were very nice and efficient at their job but they didn't go out of their way. In fact we didn't get towel animals on 2 separate nights, something small but my friend who was new to cruising loved and was disappointed by. In previous cruises I was used to collecting a small towel zoo by the end of the week but this wasn't an option this time around because the towel animals were kidnapped by our cabin steward the next day :-(
It felt like the bar waiters were more aggressive on pushing drinks, specially at Lido deck. I got exceptional service from the dining room bar waiter and I didn't have to present my SS card every night like on other cruises.
* Dining I was assigned to a half empty table by the window on the first floor of the dining room, I enjoyed the cozy location. The service team was exceptional, they took pride in their work and did everything in their power to satisfy us. I really saw them being put to the test by our very picky tablemate who returned at least one course every night, usually more than one (one night he went through 4 entrees before he was satisfied). They proved to handle the situation rather well and were wonderful to me and my friend.
The food quality wasn't consistent though. We no longer had bread baskets on the table, instead the bar waiter would do one bread round and you had to call them if you wanted more.
I can be a picky eater but I always found something to eat on previous cruises. This time around I found myself having to rely on the alternate selections a couple of times. The food was always good but not always excellent with the exception of the prime rib on the last night which was particularly delicious.
Dining on Lido deck was slightly disappointing, once again, good food but not exceptional. I found a hard time finding something I liked at lunch and ended up having sandwiches at the grill more than once because I didn't see anything appetizing at the main buffet.
The pizza service was a little slow but attentive once they finally came out of the door. The pizza quality was a hit or miss, sometimes it was truly delicious and other times it was old and chewy.
Each day they had a different theme for the food, it was usually a country theme but one day it was chocolate, that's fine for the majority of people that like chocolate but I fall in the minority that don't and found myself stuck choosing between pizza, hot dogs or burgers on that day.
It's still not possible to starve on a cruise although I almost felt like it on some days when arriving back from port and discovering that all of the lido stations had closed except for the pizza and grill, not much to choose from and a long line of hungry and grumpy passengers.
* Entertainment I found the 2 hours before late sitting dinner to be rather boring, sometimes there would be jazz but not for long and not always, other than that my options were walking around aimlessly, watching tv (which I don't do), shopping (this is the most I've ever shopped onboard ever) or drinking.
After dinner though it was a different picture. I found something to do every night even if it felt like I had less choices than in previous cruises.
The 2 Vegas shows were pretty good although as a former dancer I found myself overly critical over the lack of synchronization of the dancers on the first show, I still enjoyed them though.
The comedian at the welcome aboard show was so-so so I skipped his midnight shows.
The motown show was lost on many people and seem to only be enjoyed by middle + aged African Americans.
The Piano guy was so horrible that it felt like torture just to sit outside the bar. Music Manila on the other hand was very good, they may not be the best but they sure had lots of energy and had fun with what they were doing and that was conveyed to the audience, I looked forward to hearing them every night.
I went to the disco a couple of nights but the DJ wasn't very good, most of the time he played songs that appealed only to young African Americans (as evidenced by the only people on the dance floor) and other times he played stuff that nobody at all danced to, rather disappointing.
* Shore Excursions I did my own thing while in Panama and had a private tour with the Mystical Group in Belize so the only port where I took a tour was in Costa Rica, I booked the Canopy Adventure Tour with the cruise line and it was very good. It's a long drive to the rain forest but it was scenic and informational. The ziplining was tons of fun, this coming from someone that is afraid of heights, and involved an interesting nature hike. I would do it again.
* Disembarkation Not as smooth as embarkation that's for sure. It seemed to start a little later than usual but that was fine by me. The luggage area was the same zoo I remember it to be, it was a hassle to find a porter and when we finally did he had horrible attitude and starting cursing at being delayed because I had gone over my customs allowance, the customs officer on my line was new on the job and was not letting anybody slide on even a penny.
Walking out of the terminal was a worse zoo with buses, crowds and total chaos, the entertainment of the day was a Broward Sheriff's officer that was a stroke waiting to happen as he screamed at everybody for everything. That shuttle couldn't pick me up fast enough and that ended up being delayed thanks to the officer that wouldn't let it pullover. Yikes.
* Summary Despite weather issues when we outran tropical storm Noel and encountered rough seas on the second formal night. I managed to fare rather well despite being prone to sea sickness and not taking any remedies whatsoever. It was cloudy on most sea days, probably a bad thing for the sun worshipers but perfect for me to enjoy leisurely strolls outside since my skin get along well with the sun.
This was not my best cruise ever, but it wasn't the worst either. To some people some of my experiences may be enough to ruin their whole cruise and/or give a negative review but my personality is such that when life throws me lemons I buy tequila and make margaritas so I make the best out of the worst situations. I still managed to have a very good time, even when people were reaching for the white bags at the elevator banks.