Following almost a year of anticipation, my family of 4 boarded the Carnival Miracle on December 24th for a 9 day sailing of the Caribbean. This was our 4th consecutive Holiday cruise - our third on a Carnival Ship. The boys are 21 and 17, and for us, cruising has been a wonderful way to give everyone some freedom to do what they want as well as encourage some quality family time at mealtimes and doing excursions together.
Embarkation was probably the easiest we've experienced. We arrived somewhat early at the pier having spent 3 days in Florida prior to the cruise. Luggage was dropped off at the terminal and the rental car was returned to a depot close by which offered shuttle service back to the port. Line-ups moved quickly and check-in was efficient and well organized. Rooms were not yet ready, so we sipped champagne in the lobby while waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. Headed straight for the Nick and Nora's reservation desk. This was something I had tried to look after pre-cruise by contacting customer service. I was told that reservations could only be made on the ship (not beforehand), so I was somewhat surprised to learn that New Year's eve was completely sold out from Internet bookings. Obviously I was not given the right information by Carnival customer service. We booked for the 2nd sea day knowing the first would be the formal night. Lunched on the Lido and got the all clear to drop our carry-ons at the cabin by 1:30 p.m. Luggage was delivered shortly thereafter.
We normally book a balcony with an inside across the hall for the boys. Again, this was something I had questioned Customer Service about to ensure that our doors faced one another. I was assured that they did, but I should have twigged into the fact that one cabin was even numbered and the other odd. Needless to say, our cabin was on one side of the ship and the boys on the other. Not terrible, given they are self sufficient, but it would have been nice to know ahead of time.
We were fortunate to be travelling with a number of families that we knew, and had requested a table for 8 in order to dine with my sister and her family. We were delighted to be accommodated at a large round table. The dining room was at capacity on this sailing. With the number of families on board, quad cabins increase substantially, which drives up the total number of passengers. You could tell additional tables had been added, and maneuvering was tricky - especially for the waiters who literally had to squeeze around chairs. Frankly, our service was probably the worst we have ever experienced. Most evenings our main courses arrived around 10:00 (dinner started at 8:15). Although we tend not to get too excited when things don't always go perfectly, it became increasingly frustrating when we observed tables around us eating their desserts when we were still on our appetizers. The kitchen got blamed, the assistant waiter got blamed, and reference was made to a new menu that they were trying to work the kinks out of. The bottom line was, our waiter simply had too many people in his section and couldn't handle it. On past cruises, we've always had a separate wine steward, however, this time, the waiter assumed that role as well. An extra trip to the cellar and time to open a bottle that could have been better spent on food related matters. In hindsight we probably should have gone to the Maitre'd and voiced our concerns more strongly.
Although our weather was picture perfect, the second sea day saw the ocean churn up and for the first time (after 7 cruises), I experienced my first bout of sea sickness. With Nick and Nora's booked that evening I was determined to overcome the nausea, but in the end, the rest of my family enjoyed a wonderful meal while I spent the evening in the cabin. My husband immediately waitlisted for another opportunity to take me. In the end, my brother-in-law's persistence paid off, despite being told numerous times that they were fully booked. He literally stood at the desk waiting for a cancellation and snagged it - so much for a waitlist! Nick and Nora's is a must, and certainly worth the premium.
Having cruised the Caribbean several times, we duplicated a few of the ports we have previously been to. We were perfectly content to hit the beach and spend a few hours browsing the shops. My son graduates from University in June, so we were on a mission to find him a watch as a gift. He had done his research, and we were pleased to find exactly what he wanted at a significant savings over the mainland price. The ship stayed on Eastern Standard Time the entire cruise while our ports were one hour ahead. The only time this became an issue for us was in Tortola. I had done my research and wanted to take the ferry to Virgin Gorda to see the Baths. According to the ferry schedule, there was one at 8:50 a.m. - our ship was due in at 8:00. When we realized that our ship would in fact arrive at 9:00 local time, we weren't sure if it was still do able. The next ferry departed 12:30 p.m. (11:30 our time). When we inquired at the port, we basically told it wasn't an option, and that we should spend the day at Cane Garden Bay and transportation could be arranged. I had shared our plans with my sister, and she chose to ignore what was said at the port and took the ferry and had plenty of time at the Baths and returned to the ship well before our scheduled 6:00 (7:00 local time) departure. I question sometimes how cruise passengers are manipulated, and it would seem to me that this was a ploy to keep tourists on the island and keep the dollars on Tortola, rather than have them ferry off to Virgin Gorda. Obviously timing is always an issue - you certainly don't want to miss the boat, but I should have persisted and done what we really wanted to do.
We've always enjoyed our late dinners followed by the show and possibly some time in the casino. Schedules were changed on several nights and the late diners' showtime was pre-dinner. Personally I found this rushed and infringed on a nightly cocktail gathering with friends. The shows that we did see were ok - not great. No one particular performer was outstanding.
The casino was extremely smoky. I love to play Let it Ride. There was only one table and I couldn't bear to sit there having smoke blown in my face the entire time. There was a non-smoking blackjack table and a small area of non-smoking slots. On a Holland America cruise last year, they designated certain nights as completely non-smoking, and I thought this was a great idea - one that Carnival might consider using as well.
The sunbathing decks were crowded due to our wonderful weather. If you weren't out by 9:00 you had little chance of getting cots. It's become typical on most cruises, and something I've just come to expect. Saw one fight break out, but most people were pretty civil about it.
Overall, I'm just happy being on holidays and using the time to relax, spend time with friends and family, catch up on some reading, and have someone else take care of me. Was this one of my best vacations? - probably not. There were certainly some disappointments along the way. But then again, I feel so fortunate to be able afford to take my family away, and no one can ever ruin that experience.