Background: We sailed with carnival on the triumph back in 2006. This is our second cruise.
Hotel Info: Carnival arranged our whole package (air, hotel & transfers included)We stayed the night before the cruise at the Hilton Ft Lauderdale Airport; it was a beautiful property. The courtyard was nice and the rooms were modern and quite clean. The staff were all very pleasant to deal with. Carnival booked us into a room with two double beds, and upon check in, they were happy to upgrade us to a king room at no charge. I would absolutely stay there again in the future.
Embarkation: Our bus arrived at Port Everglades at 12pm, and the line was VERY long, but it moved so quickly, we were through security and checked in and were on the ship by 12:45pm. We were very impressed with the organization and efficiency of all the carnival staff . We were informed that our ports of call had switched dates, so we went to Costa Rica then Panama instead of the other way around. Which was fine with us, we didn't book any independent shore tours.
Stateroom: All of the hall ways leading to the staterooms were closed until about 2pm, but the rest of the ship was open to explore. We booked an extended balcony stateroom, which was over the lifeboats, but didn't obstruct the view. You couldn't even see the boats unless you were standing right at the rail looking straight down. The extra 50% balcony size was definitely a bonus. The room was very clean when we arrived, and our amenities were stocked for the week. Our last cruise was in an interior room, and it's true what they say: once you have a balcony, you can never go back.. I wouldn't be able to stay in anything else from now on. Having a private balcony was definitely a highlight.
The Ship: I had read many reviews from people who said that the entire dEcor of the ship was too over the top and gaudy. I have mixed feelings about different rooms on the ship. The atrium is nice, except there are these very weird lights hanging from the ceiling all over the ship that are just tacky. The phantom lounge looks nice as with most of the other lounges and rooms onboard. Mad Hatters Ball room was really not my favorite room, and the Dining room was extremely PURPLE and quite hokey. Overall, the ship was very clean and new looking. The public bathrooms were always really clean (with the exception of the mens room on the lido deck AFT. My BF went in there once and said it was gross, hadn't been cleaned in a while) I had also read that this ship had a very good layout and was easy to navigate. We actually preferred the layout of the triumph better. While the triumph has its faults (you can't get from FWD to AFT on certain decks without going up or down one floor first.) I didn't finally know my way around the Miracle until the last day on board. The Lido food stations on this ship are poorly set up too. The shops didn't seem as good on this ship as they were on the Triumph either.
Service: Overall the staff was really nice and helpful (with the odd exception, but you'll undoubtedly find that exception on any ship on any cruise line) the staff on the lido deck were very quick at getting tables cleaned off and ready for use. During the cruise, I noticed a charge on our sail & sign account that didn't belong to us and the agent at the pursers information desk was very helpful and looked into it. She advised me a day or two later that the charge has been reversed after looking through receipts to find that it wasn't our charge. Our stateroom steward was in and out and we rarely saw him, but he did a great job with our room, and made us really neat towel animals every night. At the end of the cruise, we tipped him extra because he was so hard working and did such a great job. We were pleased to find that there was always someone walking around the lido deck taking drink orders, throughout the entire cruise.
Dining: This part of the cruise, I have to say, did not hold up to our last cruise, on the Triumph. We only ate in the dining room 1 night (first formal night) and that one meal did seem on par with our dining room experience on the triumph. Last time, we were at a table of 4 (the other couple never came, so we were basically a table of two. We preferred it that way) This time we were at a table of 8, and everyone was there on formal night. We found it to be awkward dining with so many strangers. We also found that we didn't get the personalized service from our server with a table of 8. Last time, our server would chat with us, and tell us what was good, and what to stay away from. It was truly a fantastic experience that we didn't have this time. That's not to say that our server wasn't a good one (hard to tell after only 1 night). We were quite disappointed to find that if you didn't have dinner in the dining room, your options on Lido were very limited. Basically the only thing open during dinner was the pizzeria and the Rotisserie (I think the grill was open too, but hot dogs/hamburgers is more of a mid-afternoon meal, not so much a dinner). The overall quality of the food at the buffet stations was ok, but not great. But the pizzeria and the deli were always really good. The breakfast buffet was standard but good. I am IN LOVE with their Danishes. They are simply to die for. I ate 2-3 every morning (what the heck, I was on holidays) The omelet station was great. One of the guys doing omelets was super friendly and always remembered us each day. We ordered room service a few times and they were always very prompt and polite. The breakfast is only continental style, but still good. We enjoyed having our breakfast outside in the privacy of our own balcony. We ate at Nick and Nora's one night: The food was excellent. Their portions of meat ere HUGE! (24oz porterhouse steaks was one choice) The service was really great, but the singing entertainment was absolutely terrible. I tuned it out and didn't notice it but my BF couldn't ignore how bad they were.
Activities/Entertainment: We only went to a couple of shows, which were mostly good. The cruise director has a pretty good entertainment staff. If you're into going to the shows and activities, they were pretty funny.
Ports of Call: We went to Costa Rica, Panama and Belize. (All excursions booked through carnival) Costa Rica was FANTASTIC! We booked the Golden Bean Coffee Tour, which was quite interesting. The thing that Really made the tour wonderful was our tour guide. She was so friendly, and informative. It's a 2 hour drive each way from port to the coffee plantation and she talked to us all about this history of Costa Rica, their way of life, government, education, health care, politics. She told us all sorts of stories pertaining to their history. We also learned a lot about the banana plantations, growth and use of the sugar canes, etc... We learned so much from her and she made it so interesting. The driver stopped the bus every time he saw something that would be interesting for us; such as a sloth in the trees and a tree filled with nests of birds that are native to the region. The excursion to the coffee tour was interesting as well, and it is so cheap to buy coffee from their gift shop. (we stocked up) Panama - We booked the tour to Portobello and the Gatun Locks. This was interesting. We enjoyed walking through the old forts in Portobello, it was very picturesque. The Gatun Locks was also an interesting tour. We got to watch a freight liner go through the locks. The big downfall of our tour in Panama was our tour guide. He was not very good at all, so unfortunately it made all the difference in our experience in Panama. Belize - We booked the Sargeant's Cay Snorkel Adventure; that was really great. The waters of Belize are so clear and warm and wonderful. They picked us up from the ship and dropped us off back at the ship so we had to take another ferry to get into Belize city, but there were always ferries waiting to pick up and drop off. There is a nice little shopping area in Belize with lots of shops and a few restaurants and drink stands. I would love to go back to Costa Rica and Belize in the future.
Disembarkation: We chose not to do self assist debark this time around as we had a later flight and were in no hurry to get off the ship. We got off the ship around 9:30ish and the lines went quickly through customs. I'd say that their disembarkation was just as organized as their embarkation. It's too bad the same thing cannot be said for the Air Canada terminal at FLL, they should be ashamed of their whole operation there. (Last time, we flew with WestJet and they were SO MUCH BETTER all the way around)
Summary - While there were aspects of this cruise that didn't quite hold up to our cruise on the triumph, we still had an absolutely FANTASTIC time. It's always "WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT!" If you dwell on the negative, you're not going to enjoy the positive and you wont enjoy yourself. We plan on cruising again in the future and we absolutely would sail with Carnival again. We may decide to try one of their sister cruise lines such as Princess Cruises (it will depend on itineraries) but I will always recommend Carnival Cruises to anyone, they offer one heck of a vacation experience.