There were 16 of us who traveled on the Carnival Miracle sailing Feb. 27-March 6 to the Southern Caribbean. Our ports of call were Saint Maarten, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts. Most of the people in our group flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise (most of us live in the midwest) in case of bad weather and flight delays. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Airport/Cruiseport South. The hotel was very nice, although it was going through some renovations at the time. It has a beautiful pool area, poolside grill and bar, and breakfast bar in the morning. We chose this hotel because of the free shuttle to the port. We checked into the hotel at about 1pm and requested the 10:45 shuttle to the port for the next day. They took us to the port in a charter bus, which was full. We arrived at the port at 11:15 and was on the ship by 12:15.
Embarkation: For the most part, embarkation went very smoothly. It took exactly one hour from the time we arrived in line till the time we stepped foot on the ship. It could have been faster since there was not that many people in line, but the embarkation staff was rather unorganized and we encountered several workers who were acting as though it was their first day on the job and they had never done it before! They would tell us to go to one line, and then another person would tell us we were in the wrong place and we had to go back to where we came from! It could have been worse though. When we got on the ship, our rooms were not ready, so we went up to Horatio's on the Lido deck where we had lunch. The place was packed and it was hard to find a place to sit, especially with all of the passengers still hauling around their luggage
Ports of Call: Saint Maarten- This island is absolutely beautiful! We all had been to this island before on our last Carnival cruise and it was the main reason for choosing the Southern Caribbean itinerary again. The water is so blue and beautiful. We did some shopping on Front Street (lots of shopping on this island...if you can't find what you are looking for on this island, you won't find it on the others either). In the afternoon, some members of our group took a taxi to Maho Beach, we bargained for $8 a person round trip for 10 of us. Maho Beach is a very small beach that is a 20 minute drive from the port that sits at edge of the runway of the Princess Juliana airport in Saint Maarten. You have got to go to this beach and see the planes land just feet above your head! We went to this beach last time, and it was just as much fun the second time around! On the way back to the port, I rode with some of our other group members on 4 wheelers they rented at the port for $85 a rental. For this price, they had the 4 wheelers the whole day as compared to 3 hours for the 4 wheeler shore excursion through the cruise line for the same price. We went on some off roads into the hills and saw some breathtaking views of the island and ship. This was by far the highlight and most exciting part of the trip, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Riding the 4 wheelers on the island was perfectly safe as they are street legal, and the locals give way to you. Saint Lucia- We were really looking forward to this island, as we were told by our Carnival Vacation Planner that this was a new port for Carnival that everyone was wanting to come to. We arrived in port on a Sunday and walked into town hoping to find a beach and some shopping. All we found was a bunch of bums haggling us for a taxi, and even one man who wanted to sell us Cuban cigars and drugs on the street! I have been on 6 cruises, and have never been to an island where I have been haggled so much in my life. We were starting to get so frustrated by the locals that we started to walk back to the ship for the day. The walk into town was about 10 minutes. All we found was a very small open market with junk. There was a few shops right at the port where we docked that were very nice, but that is all the shopping we found. We ended up picking up a taxi at the port for a 1.5 hour island tour for $10 a person round trip, which we bargained for (if you are going to take a taxi on this island, get one at the port, not in town, the ones in the port are much cleaner and more trustworthy!). The tour was just ok. We saw some pretty cool sights from up in the hills and learned a lot about the island, but I still was not impressed. At the end of the tour, he took us to a beach for a brief stop. The beach was near a resort, but it was still one of the crappiest resort beaches I had ever seen. I am not sure that I would ever come back to this island, or maybe we just did not see the great parts that everyone talks about. Also, I think maybe things might have been a little bit different had we not been in port on a Sunday. Saint Kitts- We did not know much about this island when we arrived here, so we were not expecting much. We were very pleasantly surprised. There is quite a bit of nice shopping right at the port, and that is mainly where we stayed. We walked through the shopping center to the main street of town, but it did not seem very touristy. We thought about taking a taxi island tour, but opted not to after the disappointment in Saint Lucia. I would consider going back some day to explore the island more. It looked like they were in the process of doing some developing at the port, so expect even more in the future. After the shopping, some of us headed back to the ship early for some fun in the sun, while others continued shopping, and some went on a snorkeling shore excursion. I was told the snorkeling was good, and they saw quite a bit of fish, and even an octopus, but there was not much coral like they had seen in other islands.
Dining- The food on the lido deck was always good, there was lots of variety. This is where we ate breakfast and lunch each day. The sandwiches and wraps at the deli were always good, as well as the burgers at the grill. The pizza was still a disappointment for me, it used to be so much better years ago when Carnival first started doing the 24 hour pizza. The food in the dining room was probably the best that we have had on any of our 6 Carnival cruises. I usually had some kind of steak each night and always found that it was overcooked. I had to order a medium steak to get a medium-well steak. The steaks always had good flavor though. I really like that they have the alternative dining menu now, especially since I am so picky! The desserts were wonderful as well, especially the chocolate melting cake that was on the menu each night. The dining room service was a different story. The service on this cruise was probably the worst out of any cruise we have been on. We would sit for 20 minutes with empty water glasses, and one night we sat for 20 minutes waiting for our main course to come after we had finished our salads. Our waiter came up and said there was a long line in the kitchen, but yet the other tables were getting their food just fine. The assistant maitre'd came over and talked to us after we complained, but never followed up the following night. Things did improve a bit, though. Our waiter and assistant waiter did not seem to work as a team too well. They did not talk to us much and kind of seemed to be overwhelmed with their jobs even though they only had 2 tables of 8 (all of our group) and a table of 4. We did not let this ruin the dining room experience though.
Entertainment: We normally go to every show in the lounge, but did not go to many on this cruise for two reasons. The first reason was because we had seen a few of the same exact shows on the Carnival Legend 4 years earlier. The second reason was because they have now moved a lot of the shows to before dinner if you are eating at the late seating. This rushed us too much. The reason why we choose the late seating is so that we can have more time outside during the day and not have to rush to get ready for dinner. We did not like the idea of getting ready for a show at 7:00. I really hate that they changed this, or was is just this ship? I really wish they would change the showtime back to after dinner. We did go to the Beatles tribute show "Ticket to Ride" and thought it was one of the best shows we had ever seen on a cruise, even though I don't really care for the Beatles. I highly recommend that you see this show! The night life on the ship was pretty dull compared to our other cruises on Carnival, mainly because it was an older crowd of people, mostly senior citizens. In our group there were 7 of us between the ages of 22 and 26, and we found it hard to find something to do at night with people our age since there was not many people our age on this cruise. We did go to Frankie and Johnnie's a few times and listed to Music Unlimited. This band is awesome! The disco was empty nearly every night, a sight I had never seen on any other Carnival cruise. Finally towards the end of the cruise, a few people came out so we had people to dance and party with. We did go to karaoke most nights after dinner where there was a small crowd each night, but it was still lots of fun. Maybe it was just the time of year we went, but the nightlife was a huge disappointment for us. There was one night after one of our ports where there was absolutely nothing to do. There was no karaoke, Music Unlimited took the night off, and no one was in the disco.
Crew: The entire crew was very friendly. Anytime you walked past a crew member, they always greeted you with a smile and said hello. We especially enjoyed talking to a getting to know Kirsty, the karaoke host. She was a lot of fun! The cruise director Brent Mitchell also seemed very nice and did a great job. Our room steward Justin was one of the best we have had, and was always smiling, joking around with us, and greeting us by name.
Disembarkation: Early self-assist started at 7:30, then they started letting everyone else off by number starting at 9:00. We were at the very end and were called off the ship at about 9:45. We claimed our luggage and was to the airport by 10:45. We got a private shuttle to the airport prior to leaving home through South Florida Shuttles for $8.40 per person including all gratuities.
Overall: Overall, the cruise was excellent as usual. Even though there was a few disappointments, I will still keep cruising Carnival. It is the only cruise line I have ever cruised with and will continue to do so! We are all already looking forward to our next cruise!