The Carnival Miracle is currently running 8 night cruises from Manhattan Cruise Terminal to San Juan, St Thomas and Tortola. The Manhattan Cruise Terminal is pathetic. Carnival advised that boarding would commence at 12.30. We arrived at 12.35 and were penned in like sheep into a holding area by the check in staff. Check in and boarding took 2.5 hours, so we when we finally did get on board it was 3 p.m. Debarkation could only be considered better because the waiting time was spent sitting in the Gotham Lounge rather than being treated like a flock of sheep awaiting shearing. Having arriving passengers and departing passengers use the same level is disastrous as check in cannot commence until all passengers from the previous cruise have departed the terminal. Manhattan Cruise Terminal should be demolished and replaced as a matter of urgency. The Port Authority should redesign the terminal and learn the lessons of the airline industry. I feel that check in for a cruise should be as easy, quick and straight forward as check in for an international flight. I will never cruise from this terminal again.
The ship is quite beautiful. Joe Farcus has perfectly captured the tradition of decorating ocean liners in the fantasy style. The public rooms are all quite comfortable and of appropriate size. As a reader, I found that there were quite a few nooks and crannies where one could settle down with a good book. For example Gatsby's Garden, or any of the lounges when they're closed. The deck areas are spacious and well laid out. It is possible to find a comfortable spot even during windy conditions. Bacchus Dining Room was, as has been mentioned in other reviews decorated in a grape colored bacchanalian theme. Whilst I would not decorate my own dining room in this theme, it worked here. The Lido deck and Horatio's restaurant were decorated in an Horatio Hornblower theme, which I thought worked as well. The Metropolis Lobby was a nice place to have a cocktail in the evening whilst listening to the classical trio (piano, viola, violin). The Gotham lounge often had jazz during the cocktail hour as well. Later in the evening I would be found in Sam's Lounge for a post prandial libation and the singalong piano playing. I went to one show in the Phantom and one Karaoke session in Mad Hatters. I wished I'd done more Karaoke, but it was later in the evening and I tend to be early to bed and early to rise. The shows in the Phantom Lounge were not really to my taste. The casino was pretty much like every other casino I've been into, no natural light or clocks, and plenty of places to lose money (which I did, DH came out ahead).
I thought that the gym and spa area were very well laid out and equipped. I used the gym daily and found the equipment adequate to my needs. It does not compare to my gym in New York, but I hardly expect to find a 20,000 square foot gym equipped with the latest equipment on a cruise line. The gym had good quality Life Fitness equipment as well as some free weights. The men's locker room (and also the ladies' I'm led to believe) have power showers, a steam room and a dry sauna. If you are a morning work out person, you'll be well advised to throw your toiletries and change of clothes in a gym bag and have your morning shower in the gym.
I found the pool areas to be well laid out and used them most days. I preferred the forward pool, Sirens. Orpheus, the aft pool, was a little too crowded and exposed, the amidships Ulysses pool was always crowded, it was also the location of the pool area entertainment and tended to be very loud. I tried out the twister slide once, that was fun, but I didn't need to do it again.
Our cabin was excellent. It was roomy, clean when we arrived and had been arranged as a twin room. It is a balcony cabin, the downside of this is that the neighbors on both sides were chain smokers and so we would always end up as passive smokers if we used the balcony. It was nice to have however. There was plenty of closet space for our clothes, we overpacked as usual. The desk/dressing table area has two power outlets, one is 120v and one is 220v. I had packed a power strip so we had plenty of places to plug in appliances. The color TV has mono audio and video inputs so I was able to connect the portable DVD player I had brought with us. The cabin is close by the atrium with its glass elevators and also close by the launderette. Neither of these caused any noise, and their proximity was a great convenience.
Out stateroom steward, Francisco, had many of the qualities I look for in a steward, attentive, friendly and diligent without being intrusive. Our cabin was initially set up as twin (as one would expect given that we're two men). Francisco quickly worked out that we are a couple, and without our requesting it, the twins were joined to form a queen. If Francisco had an opinion on our domestic arrangements, he kept it to himself (as he should).
Our dining room waiter Igusti was excellent and attentive, as was his assistant Arnold. I found the evening meal in the dining room met my expectations for the price point of our cruise. DH was not that impressed, kept making references to the Four Seasons, but as I told him, we didn't pay Four Seasons prices. On my two previous cruises on P & O Australia, there would be a wine steward assigned to each table, each steward having several tables. This meant that s/he ensure that our wine was waiting for us and would be promptly opened and served, and would give us the opportunity at the end of the meal to order the wine for the following evening. On this ship, the drinks waiters took cocktail orders and wine by the glass orders, whilst Igusti took our bottle orders, with everything else he had to do, our wine would arrive later that we are used to. Bacchus has quite a lot of tables for two and four, so it seemed that there were not that many people seated in the traditional arrangement, there seemed to be a few groups aboard. DH and I had a table for two, which was fine. We ran into another gay male couple who had originally been assigned to a table of four, but when the two women who were to share their table saw them, they turned around and went to the Maitre D' to change their assignment.
We went to breakfast once in the dining room but weren't that impressed. Ditto for lunch. We usually took breakfast and lunch in Horatio's. This restaurant had been described by some as a lido deck buffet. I thought it was more like a food court, given that the food stations followed a theme and were closely supervised. At breakfast there are omelettes made to order, so are very fresh. At lunch there was always something I could find to eat, but none of the lunches will live in my memory as a great culinary experience.
DH and I are gay, professionals living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Carnival pitches its cruises at the price point of people who earn a lot less than we do, so it should have come as no surprise that we would have little in common with most of the rest of the passengers. Most of the rest of the passengers seem to be families from the suburbs and young singles and couples. I knew going on that there were at least two other gay couples, but it turned out that there were a few more, but not many. As a consequence DH and I did not really strike up any acquaintanceships aboard.
Pwas the practice of chaise hogging. I actually witnessed two men putting towels on chaises at 7.00 a.m. (I was jogging). One of those reservations was claimed by 9.30, the other group never appeared. As far as I am concerned, only the worst kind of riff raff reserves chaises in this way.
My harshest criticism is reserved for Brent Mitchell, the cruise director. In the Carnival Capers on embarkation day (where we stood for 2.5 hours penned like sheep) the one and only Friends of Dorothy meeting was advertised to take place at 11.30 p.m. in Sam's Lounge. I waited up, whilst DH went to bed, hoping to meet our fellow gay cruisers. At 11.30 I was the only one waiting for the meeting. Mr. Mitchell and some other cruise personnel gathered in a corner for their after work drinks. There was no further effort made to reach out to GLBT guests. This is at best a token effort, at worst a slap in the face for GLBT guests. I made this point in my comment card. It is clear to me that Carnival Cruise Lines and Mr. Mitchell have no intention of courting the pink dollar.
Ports of Call
I loved San Juan because I met DH's family for the first time. DH's brother picked us up from the ship (what a zoo at the terminal with two large ships arriving within minutes of each other). We did some shopping for a few things we were running out of, and adjourned to one of San Juan's gay bars at the Atlantic Hotel right on the beach. We had a beer here (it was pretty quiet on a Monday night), then met up with DH's cousin and her son and went to a local Argentinean restaurant for dinner, which was excellent. We stopped by the convention center at 8 p.m. to see the fountain display, which fires off in time to music. We adjourned to the ship and did some laundry and went to bed.
We shopped 'til we dropped. We went to a great jeweler and bought a diamond ring for DH and a diamond stud for me. The jeweler is not one of the ships recommended, but that's because they don't want to pay the 20% commission the ship takes on sales to passengers.
We took a local taxi to the beach ($6 each way cash only) and hired a couple of chaises and an umbrella. This is much better value than taking a shore excursion from the ship.
The Bottom Line
The decor of the ship and the service provided by the waiters and stewards were terrific. The cuisine was a little disappointing, but given the price we paid, was to be expected. The appalling embarkation and debarkation at New York, and the cruise director's and line's disregard for GLBT guests mean that it is highly unlikely that we will ever cruise with Carnival again, nor will we cruise from Manhattan Cruise Terminal again. When we cruise again, I will come to Cruise Critic before we book and do much more research to work out which lines and which ships will provide the dining, enrichment and camaraderie we would like to find in our ideal vacation. We picked this cruise mainly for its itinerary, the MS Carnival Miracle is one of the few ships sailing from New York and calling at San Juan, two important requirements for this vacation.