I'm 51 and my partner is 42. We have been on 8 Royal Caribbean cruises and 1 NCL cruise in the past few years, but this was our first try with Carnival. My travel agent, whom I trust, recommended that we give Carnival a try. Frankly, I had really heard nothing but negative comments from people I know who have sailed on Carnival, however; I have to admit that I have few friends who have sailed with them. I was pleasantly surprised by Carnival.
We arrived at the cruise terminal about noon. There were very few people there yet and check in took only moments. For some reason, my partner received a gold Sail and Sign Card indicating prior cruise experience with Carnival, which neither of us had. Anyway, the ship was not quite ready so we had to wait in the terminal for about 1/2 hour before we could board.
The boarding process went fairly smoothly. I have read the reviews of the decor on Miracle and I did not find it offensive. Granted, it's not nearly as subdued and elegant as RCCL, but it was pleasant none the less. I did notice that the ceilings seemed unusually low in the public areas which seemed odd. The ship was clean and well maintained.
Let's start with the cabins. They are very comfortable and the beds are great. We had a balcony cabin on deck 6 facing aft. It had a large balcony, but not as large as one would expect. The door to the balcony was not the sliding type buy rather like a regular door, only glass, which was difficult to open and slammed shut with some force. There was plenty of storage space and all the bags fit easily under the bed during the cruise. Our cabin attendant, I can't recall his name, was very friendly and efficient. We hardly ever saw him except to pass him in hallway on occasion. The bathroom was typical of most other ships we have been on, nothing spectacular, nothing negative, except I prefer the shower doors RCCL rather than the curtains on Carnival. Our bathroom floor frequently flooded when the curtain was not "tucked" in properly.
The first 2 days of the cruise were sea days which gave me a chance to explore the ship. The layout was easy to navigate. Everything was on decks 2, 3 and 9 except the cabins. I have read many people complain about the rowdy children on Carnival, but our cruise had very few children, so no problem there. I don't believe I ever a met a crew member who was not friendly and many went out of their way to exceed your expectations. For example, I had couple of drinks while laying out by the aft pool one afternoon, but did not go back there for 2 days. Tony, one of the waiters, not only remembered my name, but my account number, so I never even needed by Sail and Sign card on the aft pool deck.
Mary, our waitress, was also excellent. She made very good recommendations on dinner selections and we never had to send anything back. The food in the main dining room was surprisingly good. I would have say, a little better than RCCL, in my opinion. We dine out frequently at upscale restaurants and are a quite particular, and still I had few complaints about the food. I had the New York strip steak on our first night and while it was a little overcooked, it was good, not great, but much better than those on RCCL.
We dined at Nick and Nora's on 2 evenings. Only 2 complaints. They require that you dress formally on formal nights on the ship. RCCL allows you to dress casually on all nights in the alternative restaurants. I'm an attorney and have to wear a suit and tie almost every day. When on vacation, I don't like to have to wear a suit. I also thought the $30 per person sur charge was a little excessive. RCCL only charges $20 and the food is a little better. That being said, the service was amazing and food excellent by almost any standard. The only thing I didn't care for was the Ceasar salad. It had way too much anchovy taste in the dressing.
The ship stopped at 3 ports, St. Maarten, which is always a great stop. For the first time we went to Marigot on the French side. While the people were not as friendly, the food was great as was the shopping. I found St. Lucia and St. Kitts to be boring. We took our own tour on St. Lucia and hired a cab for $140 for 2 people for 3 and 1/2 hours. The island is lush, but not particularly interesting. Maybe we picked the wrong cabbie. On St. Kitts we chose the ship's Train Tour. It was mildly interesting, but too long. After the first hour I was over it, but we had another 2 to go. Although the ride is billed as inclusive, the waitress served us one drink and then disappeared for the rest of the 2 and 1/2 hours.
In summary, I would have to conclude that Carnival gives you a good value for the price. I did find bartenders did not free pour, but rather measured each shot so the drinks were pricer and less strong than RCCL where most bartenders free pour and if your tip, give you a lot more for your money. We would certainly cruise on Carnival again, but I still prefer RCCL.