Embarkation- New York was clearly much less efficient than Port Canaveral. Most of us stood in line for several hours...Carnival personnel could have explained what was going on.
Stateroom- We signed up for an "obstructed view" balcony and prior to the cruise we had difficulty determining what this meant. On the Miracle there are Lifeboats and Lifeboat/Tenders that obstruct your view. Unfortunately for us we had a Lifeboat/Tender in front of our balcony which is taller than the Lifeboat. The top of the Tender came just below the balcony railing and is a fairly large boat which extends out about ten feet. You can't look down at the water and you can't see much if you are sitting in a chair. You can look straight out if you stand. Obviously there is a cost saving but you have to decide if that obstruction is acceptable.
The Miracle staff take great pride in all aspects of the ship operation. We heard this again and again from the staff. They work very hard on this ship, but everyone seems to enjoy working on the Miracle. The bottom line is that even for Carnival, the Miracle sets high standards.
San Juan, particularly the Old Town, is very beautiful and worth the time to visit and photograph. One problem is that the Miracle schedule makes it difficult to visit some of the historic sites as they close around 5PM.
St. Thomas- We decided on the Ocean Racing excursion and it was fabulous. Some points, however...the info talks about sailing a Farr 65 but you sail a Farr 40. Big difference and we might not have signed up if we knew it was going to be on a Farr 40. However, there is plenty to enjoy..the Farr 40 is a super fast, high performance, boat that races with a crew of eleven so our group of six plus two crew had a lot to handle. We raced against another Farr 40 crewed by two professional captains and although we won the race we were all suspicious that it was a "customers game" and the pros threw the race. Lots of fun...highly recommended.
Tortola- We took the Carnival tour to the Baths. I personally would go with the Carnival tour even if it is more expensive because the timing is tight as the ship leaves early. The Baths are spectacular but the real adventure was following the treacherous path over, under, and through large boulders to Devil's Beach. The literature says something like a challenging walk...you have no idea...they are not kidding. If you are a big person or a former middle linebacker I would recommend staying on the Bath beach. I think we left a few wedged in the rocks. The Devils Beach is beautiful and has great snorkeling a few feet off the beach. Much better than our snorkeling experience in Mexico. Bring your own equipment because there is no commercial vender on the beach.
Formal Night- I am not sure the new Carnival dress policy has made much of a difference. There is still a wide range of dress formality..I dress up in tux and sport jackets for non formal nights...I am not alone but most men are less formal...women are more formally dressed. The point is that I don't think you should feel that any one degree of formality is appropriate...just dress to please yourself.
The Staff- I think the heart of our Carnival cruise experience has been getting to know some of the people who work on the ship. It is a rare opportunity to learn about other cultures and to understand how fortunate most of us are.
One Element of Poor Ship Design- If you were designing a ship would it occur to you that putting the basketball court on top of the room in the spa used for Yoga, Aerobics, stretching, etc. was a bad idea? Like a parade of elephants over your head.
The Gym- Fighting to keep excess pounds off leads to the gym and the Miracle gym has two excellent fitness experts on board, Gavin and Paul. Just a tip...they run a rigorous Spin Class for those interested.
Total Experience- Although we have only cruised twice on Carnival, we continually are impressed with the management. There are always little things to complain about..like why they have the classical trio always playing in the noisiest, highest traffic, venues..but all in all it is a great way to spend a vacation.