This was our seventh cruise, sixth with Carnival. My husband and I are in our late 40's and traveled with another couple the same age. I booked this cruise five months in advance finding the best deal on an Internet site and seeing which staterooms were available. I then called Carnival directly; told them what site I found the best deal at and they matched that price. Since there were two aft-extended balcony staterooms available next to each other I booked those, this would be our first time staying in an aft balcony stateroom which I heard so many good things about we figured it was a good opportunity since we wanted two extended balcony staterooms next to each other, more on our staterooms later. I booked our own air; flying into Fort Lauderdale a day early not wanting to take chances with our winter weather; we arrived at our scheduled time 6:30 PM on Feb.18. Called for our shuttle and they were there within minutes to pick us up.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed at the Ramada air/cruise port, which I found on the net; total cost for one night including taxes was $127.65 per room. I searched for a hotel that offered free shuttle for both the airport and cruise port which the Ramada offered also included was a good full hot breakfast buffet, I was impressed with their breakfast I was expecting the typical cereal / bagel fare, their breakfast was a unexpected bonus. The rooms were clean and looked like they were recently updated they had a beautiful outdoor pool / garden area. That evening we ate at the adjoined restaurant called Brewster's Grille; the food was great. One regret was that I should of called earlier in the day to reserve a earlier spot on their shuttle to the cruise ship in the morning; by the time we checked in at 7:30PM all the early shuttles were filled.
SAILING DAY: I wanted to be at the ship by 11:00 AM to beat the crowds but we had to settle for the 12:15 PM shuttle; we could of got a taxi but the hotel said we didn't have to check out till our shuttle left so we enjoyed sitting by the pool. Our shuttle was delayed and we didn't get to the port till 1:30 PM, which was brutal because this is the busiest time to get to the port. It took us 1½ hour till we boarded the ship. This was my fault since I didn't get our names on an early shuttle from the hotel. Lesson learned, call ahead to reserve an early shuttle at your hotel. It was 3:00 PM when we got to our stateroom. Between 1:00 - 3:00 lines are at their worst for 4:00 PM sailing. By 4:00 we received our bags. For some reason it was after 6:00 when we set sail we were already eating our evening meal in the main dining room.
OUR STATEROOM: Our stateroom numbers were # 4232 & 4241 on the main deck. I learned from past cruises staying on a higher deck isn't better; you definitely notice less motion in rough seas staying on a lower deck. These were wonderful staterooms the location was great being at the end of a hall it was very quiet yet near the elevators. Our aft stateroom had an extended balcony. I don't know about the other decks but on deck 4 no one could look down onto our balcony. We could have opened the divider between our balcony and our travel mates but ended up never having it opened. I believe the open section would of blocked half of our balcony from what I could tell and I rather have the full view on my balcony. On the Miracle we were above the second level of the dining room, which was handy, there was no problem with noise being above the dining room; one evening we went to bed early and didn't hear a thing from the late seating in the dining room. Also a few steps out of our cabin door are exits to the starboard and port sides of the ship so in a matter of a few seconds we could be outside on deck 3, which was also our muster station. Conveniently across the hall was a laundry room the public could use which also had an iron and ironing board, which came in handy when we needed to get the wrinkles out of our evening clothes. I never saw or heard anyone else using that laundry room. Our stateroom steward did an excellent job came and introduce himself when we got to our stateroom and said to just give him a call if we needed anything during our stay. Our stateroom was kept spotless; ice bucket always filled and a different towel animal waiting to greet us each night.
DINING: We had early dinner seating, which we requested with our travel mates and we were seated at a booth for the four of us. Yes the dining room is a very unique dEcor with the grape theme but it makes the Miracles dining room that much more memorable. Our waiter Dee and his assistant were very friendly and didn't take them long to know what each of our preferences were for dining. It took a long time to be served each evening but Dee's other tables I could see took him extra time there was a long table with two couples and six children that needed a lot of attention and also a table of seven older ladies he had to deal with. But he always had a big smile on his face. My husband and I ate every evening in the dining room. I enjoyed all but one meal, which was the New York sirloin, which was on the alternative dining on the menu. I recalled reading that other CC members did not enjoy their steak because of it being so tough and they were correct; our travel mate also had the steak and it was also very tough. But I didn't leave hungry because of the tough steak there was plenty of other good food to eat. But every other meal was great. I enjoy trying new things and my favorite was the jerk pork loin. Also enjoyed mahi mahi, whole roasted quail, veal parmigiana and of course some favorites being lobster, prawns and the comfort meal of lasagna. Our travel mates ate their evening meal a couple nights at the buffet and said it was very tasty. They couldn't handle the "Its Showtime.... shooooow time" each evening which was irritating every night for a week, we did skip our desert a couple of nights to avoid "show time." Most mornings we would eat at Horatio's and have an omelet or eggs made to order. During lunch hour the lines at the buffet were terrible and was difficult to find a table. The made to order deli sandwiches were delicious and there was never a line when they opened the deli at 11:30 AM, which was a half hour before they opened the lunch buffet at noon; we had no problem finding a table at that time. A salad and dessert would hit the spot mid afternoon again when there were no lines. We did not go to Nick and Nora's supper club. We enjoyed our food in the main dining room and rather spend the $60 for the two of us for a special meal when were back home. SHORE
EXCURSIONS: On this cruise itinerary our ports of call were: Colon, Panama - Limon, Costa Rica and Belize. We decided to book our shore excursions through the ship; cost is a little more but at least we had that peace of mind knowing the ship would not leave without us. All of our excursions were quite a distance from the ship and knowing their roads and vehicles are not in the best shape I didn't want to take a chance being stranded somewhere in a unfamiliar country. In Panama we booked the Two Oceans by Railroad tour. It was about a 1-½ hour drive to Panama City from Colon where the ship was ported. We boarded a bus, which did not have a bathroom having to pull over at a tollbooth with a bathroom for a few people that drank one too many coffees earlier that morning. Colon is a very busy town with deteriorating buildings and trash lying on the streets; the traffic is crazy. They did tell us it would not be a good idea to venture outside of the port area and I can see why; a scary looking place. It was an interesting drive to Panama City yet we were under the impression that it was a round trip train ride; our tour guide Amy was very informative of the country. We stopped at a marina over looking Panama City which had a few shops and bathrooms and we had a photo stop where we could take pictures of the Bridge of Americas that crosses the canal; police were visible everywhere carrying their machine guns. We then arrived at the Miraflores Locks; we were lucky to see two ships going through the locks while we were there. What an amazing thing to watch. We were told it cost the cargo ships $180,000 to go through and cruise ships cost $250,000. We were than brought to the waiting train traveling the Isthmian Railroad running parallel with the Panama Canal seeing Gatun Lake and passing through the rainforest; we had a small box lunch included on our one-hour train ride back to Colon. We enjoyed this tour and would recommend it. We had about an hour to spare when we arrived back to the port; they have stores for souvenirs and a grocery store there at the port where we picked up some coffee and vanilla to bring home and soda to enjoy on the ship.
In Limon, Costa Rica we did the Rainforest Canopy Adventure. It was a two-hour drive to a 1200-acre private reserve. On this tour we rode in a new bus with a bathroom. Our guide Randall made the ride go quickly as he talked about his country; it was interesting passing by many banana plantations and pineapple fields. We could see an active volcano in the far distance. We passed by two accidents involving semis; Randall explained this was a very busy road with many accidents due to many semis transporting cargo from ships that choose not to pay the high cost to go through the Panama Canal. When we arrived at our destination we were fitted with our gear and given a safety briefing before our short walk to our first platform. Our group had about a dozen people of all ages. The rest of the people on the bus were on the combo Zip line and Aerial Tram tour. This was our first time zip lining. We had a blast! But it went too quickly. I believe we had nine zips and were finished in 45 minutes. We took off our zip equipment and were bussed to a snack/ souvenir shop which was our only opportunity to purchase something from Costa Rica because there would be no time when we got back to port; I am happy we picked up a few things because there were no shops at the port where the ship was docked. We then went on a guided 45 minutes walking tour through the rainforest; we were warned about picking a flower which is fine to do but small snakes tend to hide in the flowers waiting for their next meal of insects or small birds. They had a recent guest that got more that she bargained for when she picked a flower to put in her hair. We saw a sloth, coatimundi, anteater and a toucan. We were given a small snack on our drive back to port.
Belize we did the Cave Tubing & Rainforest Exploration. In Belize we tendered. For this tour we were told to meet in the Phantom Lounge at 7:30 AM and our group was quickly called to the waiting tender. Our ship was quite a distance from shore due to the barrier reef. The tender ride was approximately one half hour. Our bus was waiting for us; again it had a bathroom. The bus ride was one hour and our guide was Henry who did a great job also very informative. We stopped to change into our tubing clothes we all wore our swimsuits, I wore some old shorts over the suit so I would have a pocket to put the locker key; the lockers which rent for $3 to keep your dry clothes and personal belongings in. I wore old sneakers for better grip for our hike to the river. They rented out water shoes and crocs. They suggested not wearing glasses if not necessary as they could easily slip off. I did bring along a waterproof pouch that could have been worn around my neck for our passports and cash but since we were with a ships tour I decided to keep everything in the locker; only brought along a waterproof camera. When I bought it I didn't realize it didn't have a flash so I couldn't take any photos inside the caves. We then went in a old bus for a short drive where we picked up our tubes, life jackets and lights we wore around our necks and hiked 45 minutes through the forest going through some caves; yes there are bats. I also saw a snake on our walk through the forest and you could hear the howler monkeys all around us. I'm thinking what did I get myself into. I was going to be cold and surrounded by creepy things in the dark. It didn't help when our guide said the water could get up to 40 feet deep in some spots in the cave; so I quickly put on the life jacket. But rest assured we had a great time the weather was great the water was fine; after the hike through the forest it felt nice jumping in the water. With our group my fears of creepy things went away; some people hooked up together on the tubes while many went solo. My husband and I stayed together until we were out of the dark caves; yet it's not so dark with everyone's lights on. And the lifejacket keeps you warm. You're in the water for 1-½ hours which goes by quickly. After we all returned our tubes and jumped on the bus for the short ride back to where the lockers are located to change into our dry clothes and enjoy a delicious meal of chicken, mashed potatoes and rice with punch to drink. We had 45 minutes to spare when we got back to the dock where our tenders were waiting giving us time to shop at the stores around the dock. This was the easiest tender I was ever on; no waiting.
SEA DAYS: We enjoyed four sea days on this cruise. We were lucky to have perfect weather and calm seas. Always found something to do; but mostly relax. I enjoyed my private balcony which I spent a lot of time. I would spend 1-½ hours in the gym on sea days. They have great equipment. My only gripe is the people overseeing the gym are not friendly like everyone else on the ship and should be helping guest. I observed when curious guest would come in the gym and have no idea what to do with any of the equipment but start pushing buttons or having no clue what to do on the weight machines, these guys should be there helping these guests usually older ladies showing them how to use the gym equipment instead of avoiding them; someone jumping on a weight machine having no clue what they are doing could really hurt themselves. On this cruise we never participated in any auctions, seminars or games, which meant no chance of winning a ship on a stick. They had plenty of activities to do throughout the ship during the sea days. We usually enjoy doing this on other cruises but never found time on this cruise; the weather was too beautiful to be inside and never sat by the main pool where all the activities took place, we preferred the quiet aft pool a peaceful location. We enjoyed the waterslide; make sure you hold your breath just before you hit bottom or you will get a nose full of saltwater. I did do the backstage tour which I never did before which was very interesting. They need a lot of props and costumes for these shows. A lot of work goes into these shows.
CASINO: My husband would visit the casino daily, we was lucky the first few days but not so lucky for the second half of the cruise. I did let Carnival Ocean Players Club know my husband would be cruising one week before we cruised and they had the chocolate dipped strawberries and a photo coupon waiting for us in our stateroom at embarkation. An unexpected treat.
SHOWS: We did not go to the first nights show, which was called the Welcome Aboard Show because it was at 10:30PM and we opted to turn in early. Second night was formal night, which was the captain's cocktail party with free drinks one hour before each dinner seating. The show was called Generations. Early dinner show was at 8:45 late dinner show was at 10:30; a not to be missed show. I thought the dancers and singers Carola Eriksson & Clint Butler did a great job at their shows. The orchestra was great. Third nights show was An Evening of Motown with Ron Joseph, which was great. The early diners show was at 8:45 & 7:00 for the late dinner guest. Forth night was Singin With the Big Band, which we did not go to because we were tired from our day in Panama and had an early tour the next day in Costa Rica. But I heard it was a not to miss show. Fifth night was the past guest party; the early dinner party was at 5:00. Tonight was a guest talent show, which only had one show at 10:30; since it was a sea day the next morning we decided to go to the show. The guest show is usually hit or miss and this one was nothing to stay up for. After the guest talent show there was a comedian David Sayh he was great and was worth staying up for. Sixth night was our second formal night. Tonight's show was my favorite; Ticket to Ride which was a tribute to the Beatles. Early dinner show was at 8:45 late dinner show was at 7:00. Don't miss this show! Seventh night show was The Village Idiots a juggling comedy act. It was better than I thought; children loved this show. Early dinner show was at 8:45 and late was at 7:00. Eighth night was Carnival Legends, which guest who spent a lot of time at the karaoke bar dressed up as famous singers with the Carnival dancers dancing around them. They had only one show at 10:30 and was worth seeing. As for other nightlife we watched the group Music Unlimited playing classic rock music. They were fun to listen and dance to. I can't tell you about any of the other music since we did not hear them play or sing.
DEBARKATION: We chose to do self-assist debarkation. We enjoyed breakfast in the main dining room then went back for our luggage in our stateroom and were able to walk right off the ship at 8:30 AM; debarkation which was the easiest I have ever done in my past cruises. We were able to walk right off quickly went through customs and straight to a taxi which brought us to the Fort Lauderdale airport. Check in was a breeze and our 12:30 PM flight was on schedule. We had a perfect vacation and are looking forward to our next cruise hopefully next winter.