Carnival Miracle: Back to Back Review November 15, 2007 Central America November 23, 2007 Southern Caribbean
My husband and I sailed aboard the Carnival Miracle beginning with the November 15, 2007 cruise to Central America. On November 23, 2007, we remained aboard the Miracle and went to ports in the Southern Caribbean. In all, we spent 16 days on the ship as I was leading two groups, one each cruise. We booked the cruise through two different agencies; as luck would have it, we were able to retain the same stateroom on both voyages. We enjoyed both weeks and came away having had a great vacation.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale the day before the first cruise and spent the night at a budget motel that provided a free shuttle to Port Everglades the morning of the cruise. The Days Inn was nothing remarkable, but simply a place to spend the night before our cruise. It was clean, though it was obvious the room was in need of a facelift. On Friday, November 23rd, we were dropped off by the hotel's shuttle around 10:30am, and we proceeded to check-in. Because we were Platinum level past guests, we were promptly escorted to the front of the check-in line and processed in under 5 minutes. Within 10 minutes, we were ready to go through security and board the ship; by 11:00am, we were dropping off our carry-on bags in our cabin and heading upstairs to lunch. In all, this was the earliest we have ever been able to board a cruise ship.
Our stateroom was located mid-ship on Deck 5. It was a standard Carnival double occupancy balcony stateroom; meaning it was large and comfortable with lots of storage. The balcony had two chairs and a small table. It was small, but very much appreciated. Our cabin had two beds made up as a queen, three small closets - two with hangers and one with shelves - and a large vanity. There was a cabinet that contained the room safe and TV and a wall storage unit with more shelves. We also had two night stands.
The beds were made up with crisp white sheets and duvet cover, a down comforter and four down pillows. The mattress on my husband's side was very uncomfortable, so we had to ask for additional padding and support, which made it better. My side of the bed was fine. The bathroom was equipped with lots of shelving and good sized white towels, however, some days, the towels placed in our room were very thin and worn. We were told that the newest and thickest towels were usually in suites.
Our room steward did a fine job in keeping our room clean and picked up, however, we were always pretty good about placing used plates outside the room for pick-up and making sure our personal belongings were always put away. It helps to nest your bags and to store them under your bed. Here are some helpful hints pertaining to your stateroom and cabin steward:
• Always unpack your bags and store tem under your bed. • Place all valuables into your in-room safe and keep it locked at all times. • Put into writing any special request you make. • Make note of your cabin steward's schedule. If you are not out of your cabin in time in the morning, don't expect your room to be cleaned. • Place all unwanted food items and dirty dishes on the floor outside of your stateroom.
The Miracle is a Spirit Class ship, similar to the Pride. We sailed on the Valor last year, which is a little bigger, but still very similar in design. The public areas of the ship were clean and tidy at all times. The overall design of the ship is typical of Carnival - somewhat over the top with lots of reproduced artwork. The furniture and dEcor were what we expected. Upon closer inspection, you saw more plastic than wood, but that's how most Carnival ships are. There were a few very nice pieces of art on display in the main stairwells that were worth checking out, but it's doubtful most people took the time to do so.
I found the two-level, formal dining room to be a bit much. Plastic gold leaf, busy grape motif wallpaper, and various shades of lavender and dark purple made up the dEcor. The purple grape lights were enough to give you a headache, yet we returned night after night!
There were basically three dining venues: Nick & Nora's alternative ($30pp) restaurant, the two story formal dining room and the Lido Deck buffet area, which consisted of numerous food stations. We did not try Nick & Nora's, as we have been to other alternative restaurants on several ships, and only once did we find the food and experience to be worth the extra money and effort.
The food in the formal dining room was slightly better than what was available up in the buffet. They served larger than average portions, had a good variety of choices on the menu, and seemed to satisfy most people. Both weeks our servers were excellent. The first week we found ourselves alone at our table. This was disappointing, but the people at the table next to ours adopted us, so we weren't alone after all. The second week was better as we shared a table with our lively friends.
The food quality at breakfast, lunch or dinner was hit or miss in the formal dining room; the steaks were tough but the deserts were excellent. Many of the appetizers were very good, but the salads nothing to write home about. The Eggs Benedict in the morning was simply the worst I have ever had. But the complementary Cappuccino and Espresso were very much appreciated. I always found something on the menu I liked, but at times it took ordering more than one entrEe to get it right.
The Lido Deck was best for breakfast. The made to order egg station was great. Although the items up for grabs at breakfast were pretty much the same everyday, I thought the food was fresher than what was being mass produced and served in the formal dining room. Lunch in either restaurant was just okay, though I found I preferred to go to the buffet where there was more selection.
Entertainment & Activities
The nightly entertainment was unremarkable. Mid-way through the first voyage we came to the conclusion that there wasn't much happening around the ship at night. There was a show in the main theater every night - one for early and one for late seating passengers. We went to a few and felt the talent was lacking and found that there wasn't much else to do besides go to the casino or make our own fun. There was a terrible piano/singer in one of the bars and although the dance band in the small showroom was pretty good, they played mostly oldies. There wasn't much variety in the entertainment offered. There were no big screen movies at night, no other dance bands and no other entertainers. This is something we have come to expect from Carnival, however, keep in mind this is all subjective. The live entertainment aboard the ship wasn't our cup of tea, but others we met had more good things to say. There was a Beatles Tribute show that involved the band from the small showroom that was worth seeing. And we were never short of things to do, as we often met up with friends to play cards and enjoy drinks. It's just that we cruise other cruise lines where entertainment is varied and more to our liking.
Like other cruise lines, Carnival tends to have a set formula when it comes to entertainment, so what you get on the Miracle is very much what you would get on any other Carnival ship. The caliber of entertainers seems very consistent with those we saw more recently aboard the Valor and the Pride in 2006; they aren't all that good, in my opinion. If you enjoyed the entertainment on other cruises on Carnival ships, I'm pretty sure you'll have no problems with the entertainment or daytime activities aboard the Miracle.
Things to do on days at sea revolve around the pool, the spa or the casino for the most part. You'll find the occasional bingo, beauty lecture or craft activity, as well as the gym at your disposal, so chances are good you won't be at a loss. That said, there weren't a lot of active things to do outdoors aboard the Miracle - another gripe I have with the cruise line and not necessarily with the Miracle. I know Carnival got rid of volleyball, for example, because so "few" people (or so I have been told) participated. The kid's program is still chock full of both competitive and non-competitive activities, so the teens and kids in your party should have plenty to keep them busy.
Both weeks aboard the Miracle had a much older crowd than what I was expecting. The first week's voyage ended the day after Thanksgiving so there were many multigenerational family groups on board the ship, and lots of couples over the age of 60. Another reason, I suspect, had to do with the itinerary; we visited Panama, Costa Rica and Belize. The second week tended to have a more active crowd in the mood to party with fewer kids and more middle aged couples. We came across very few young adults and teens during either voyage. The southern Caribbean itinerary the second week offered more opportunities to go to the beach, to participate in more active shore excursions like snorkeling and to party, so the passengers were definitely more active.
I have come to expect an older crowd on longer, more sea day intensive itineraries, so none of this came as a surprise. The cruise to Central America the first 8 days had four days at sea. I began each and every morning at sea in the gym. The rest of the days were spent reading my book, relaxing by the pool, or playing cards. Since I recently lost close to 30 pounds, the last thing I wanted to do is spend my cruise gaining back all the weight I had lost, so I was very determined to not over eat and to keep up with my demanding exercise regimen.
The Southern Caribbean itinerary also had four days at sea; that meant that by the end of the voyage my husband and I had spent 8 days at sea - a record for us! Because my group the second week consisted of scuba divers and people we knew, the days spent at sea the second week seemed to fly by and was a welcome respite from all the activity while in port. I have never been a fan of sea days, but I have gained a new appreciation for the art of relaxation.
The Ports of Call
As I said the first week we went to Panama, Costa Rica and Belize. We didn't make arrangements in advance to go anywhere while in Panama, and although I have no regrets in doing what we did, I am not sure I would be anxious to visit Panama again without having a tour lined up. We probably spent two hours in Panama shopping. After buying some local beer for 35 cents a bottle and imported Guinness Beer for 56 cents a can, two tee shirts and a wallet, we returned back to the ship. Panama was our first port of call, and one reason we made no plans was because none of the shore excursions being offered in port appealed to us.
We were not too anxious to go on a train ride, or to go through the canal. We really weren't interested in spending the day sitting in a bus, train or boat, so we opted to walk off the ship on our own. From what we have been told, Colon, Panama does not represent the real Panama. Panama City is supposed to be beautiful as is the rest of the country. But Colon is a crime infested city that is not tourist friendly. The small secure area at the port is relatively safe, but everyone is cautioned to not venture off on their own.
My husband and I went zip-lining on our own in Costa Rica. I booked our tour through ShoreTrips.com. We saved some money and had an awesome time. The tour operator met us at the port, transported us to the jungle, went for a swim at the beach and returned us back to the ship with no incident. Since our ship left port so early we didn't have time to do much else, but it was a trip of a lifetime. We managed to squeeze in a half an hour of shopping at the flea market at the port on the way back to the ship. If you decide to go zip-lining, here are some suggestions:
• As the jungles are infested with all kinds of bugs and mosquitoes, get some odorless bug spray and pre-treat all your clothes and rub bug repellent on the exposed parts of you body. We were the only ones on the tour who did not get eaten by the bugs. In fact, you could see the mosquitoes going away from us and sticking to everyone else's clothing. • Wear light weight long pants and shoes with socks. Wear a long sleeved sports top. • Take a back pack with a pair of shorts to change in before you leave the jungle and a bathing suit if your tour includes a beach visit. • DON'T drink the water - not even the stuff in bottles. Consume only sterile liquids like beer or soda pop. • I would also recommend NOT eating anything! We always make a habit of NOT eating in ports like this for the simple reason we know how easy it is to get sick. Not everyone heeded this advice while in Costa Rica, and many, many people had stomach distress to put it mildly! We had a banana after zip-lining and some beer at the beach. • If you buy coffee, do not get it at the flea market. We bought some in a grocery store by the beach, where they told us that the vendors will often repackage coffee and mix the beans of cheaper coffee with that of more expensive ones. Also, buy only vacuum packed whole beans, not ground, to insure freshness.
In Belize, we took a flight to Ambergris Cay and went scuba diving. As we have made several dive trips to Belize before, Ambergris Cay was one place we had never been. We booked this very expensive - I repeat very expensive - dive trip to Ambergris Cay though ShoreTrips.com as well. We cut our return to the ship very close, so unless you are really adventurous, I would recommend you consider diving closer to Belize City. That said, it was a great excursion; the low altitude flight over was amazing and the diving was very nice. Was it worth the amount of money we spent to do this - about $400? Maybe; but only if you're a diver who is willing to go to some trouble to see more than a shallow reef dive will show you. We saw nurse sharks, a healthy reef system and lots of fish. Had the visibility been a little better, I would have said it was worth every penny! But 70 feet visibility isn't bad - just not perfect!
Our second cruise was Cruise Critic's Annual Scuba Cruise. Our group consisted of both divers and non-divers, and each day in port was spent in the water. ShoreTrips.com put together our dive package that included transportation and a discounted group rate. It was about as hassle free as you can get. We visited St. Maarten, St. Lucia and St. Kitts. The best diving was in St. Lucia, but St. Kitts was also very good. And St. Maarten, where we had very low expectations, turned out to be a lot better than what we imagined. In fact, we went drift diving in St. Maarten along a very pretty wall, where we saw turtles and lots of fish. The visibility was around 70 feet - about the same as in Belize. In St. Kitts and in St. Lucia, we dove a wreck in each port. Although we have seen better conditions elsewhere, the diving at all three ports of call was not disappointing. If you plan to dive in only of these ports, I recommend you do so in St. Lucia.
Back to Back Process
After the first voyage, the people remaining on the ship the second week were escorted off the ship through US Immigration and back on after the last passengers were called to disembark. We had the same cabin both weeks, so we simply went about our business after returning to the ship. All liquor bought the week before in the ship's liquor store is delivered to your cabin the last day of the first week. We had stocked up as we had planned on a Bon Voyage Party in our cabin. But we also had no problems walking onto the ship with our alcohol purchases in port.
Although this cruise was not without a few issues, I have to say it exceeded our expectations and the people in the group BOTH WEEKS had nothing but good things to say about their vacation. I have been on only a handful of cruises where I could honestly say that there was no room for improvement, and many more that I would say were not nearly as good as this cruise aboard the Miracle! Vacations are what you make of them. Keep in mind that food quality and the quality of entertainment is subjective.
Carnival has never been my favorite. I tend to enjoy the entertainment and more activity like that available on larger Royal Caribbean ships. I also prefer Royal Caribbean's decor and past guest amenities. But the food quality and menu choices on Royal Caribbean's ships are not nearly as good as what Carnival offers. I also really like Princess, especially their anytime dining and their entertainment. Now if you could only combine the best features of all three cruise lines into ONE…