Background: This was a graduation cruise for my college roommate and I. We are both 22 and like to have fun, but are not the huge partiers that cause problems on spring break cruises. This was my 3rd cruise, but my first two were cruises to Canada and I felt like this was a completely different experience from sailing north.
Pre-Cruise: We drove from central Pennsylvania to Hyatt Place in Secaucus, New Jersey the afternoon on the day before the cruise. We booked a great rate at the hotel through Hotwire.com and found the rooms to be very modern and large. It was similar to a junior suite on a ship, but less cramped. The hotel is in an area with some shopping, many restaurants, and two movie theaters. The hotel even had a great continental breakfast.
We left the hotel at 8:30 am and traffic was moving along the main roads but became very heavy just before the Lincoln Tunnel. About 30 minutes later we finally made it over to Manhattan and traffic in the city was not too bad for a Monday morning. There was not line up of cars waiting to get to the Cruise Ship Terminal, so we quickly made our way up the ramp.
Embarkation: We arrived at the terminal around 9:30 am and the passengers from the previous cruise were still debarking. We had to take our luggage inside the terminal and give it to a porter at a desk because the other porters were still helping the debarking passengers. Once inside the terminal we were directed to seats where we were in the third row! Eventually they brought out water and began early check-in around 10:30 am.
All of the seats filled up by 11:00 am and early check-in continued until around 12:00 pm when the final passengers debarked from the previous cruise. After just a few more minutes waiting they began sending us through security, the embarkation photo, and they held us in the lines at the machines where they scan our S&S card for and take our photo for embarkation. We waited there for about five minutes as two weddings boarded and then we were on the ship by 12:30 pm.
The long embarkation process went smoothly for us as we knew there was nothing we could do to move the processes any faster. I did notice two things while I was waiting. If the area of the terminal before security was larger, Carnival would be able to do early check-in for more people or maybe move the entire check-in process before security. A lot of people just don't listen to the instructions or don't understand that passengers from the previous sailing need to get off the ship before we can get on. It would be helpful if Carnival had more embarkation reps or better signage to direct guests through this process. It seemed that they had to walk over to people and say the same things over and over again and a strategically placed sign or rep. would solve any problems.
The Ship: The Carnival Miracle was a great ship. I read about the dEcor before the cruise and thought it was all fine. I see why people comment on the dining, but I agree with those who think that the Miracle is a great ship. Passengers definitely talked about the dining room, but I did not hear anyone say they could not stand it. I was used to the Destiny Class since my first two cruises were on the Carnival Victory and I preferred the Spirit Class for a few reasons. It is longer and narrower, so it held a lot less passengers but still felt huge. The fact that it holds fewer passengers is very noticeable and gave the ship more a more intimate feel. There was not one long interior corridor so it felt like walking around each corner opened to a different space with a new surprise.
Near the dining room on both decks 2 and 3 there are lounges that out in the open with the walkway going right through them. It was great for sitting and waiting for dinner, but felt awkward when there was entertainment such as music or afternoon tea. The outside spaces were also great. The exterior promenade was very large and private. Since it wrapped around the aft end of the ship it also provided great views of the sea and sunsets. The lido deck is also laid out very well with two nearly identical pool areas midship and an aft adults-only pool area. The adults-only area was my favorite place to relax, and I noticed that there many loungers available all day long, but it became a little difficult to find many together after 10:30 am. The other pool areas became crowded before the aft area. The buffet on the lido is arranged by stations and spread out. I usually just got food from the first station I walked by and never waited in a line with more than four or five people before getting up to the food. The sandwich and pizza lines were usually a little longer than the others. We were not picky about where we sat to eat either and always found tables easily. Mini-golf is located at the front of the ship and even though they have the glass wind shields it was still very windy while at sea. The views however were spectacular while golfing. It was very easy to find the public areas at the front of the ship like the deck above the bridge. This was a great place to view land or just stand with the ocean air rushing by while at sea. Overall the Carnival Miracle is in great condition, but use a short dry-dock within the next year to clean up some bumps on the walls and normal wear.
Cabin: We booked an inside guarantee in December and was upgraded to category 4D. Cabin 7134 was an interior cabin on Verandah Deck 7. It was a typical inside Carnival cabin with two beds, two nightstands each with three drawers and a lamp. In front of the beds there was a mini-fridge that was stocked with overpriced cans of beer and the liquor that we just took out and placed next to the fridge. Above the fridge was a little counter with wine glasses, and the ice bucket. The safe was in a little cabinet above the counter, and the TV was above that. On the other side of the cabin were the three closets and vanity with an additional four drawers. One closet had shelves that could each fold up and be used to hang clothes. The bathroom, also typical for Carnival, was a green color with plenty of storage. There were three shelves on each side of the mirror and some additional storage space below the sink. The corridors appeared larger than on other ships because the rooms are set back a little with lighting on the ceiling rather than on the wall. Our cabin steward was Junior from Jamaica and he was excellent. Many times we saw him along the corridor where he greeted us by name and chatted. When we left notes or asked him for something, he always had it for us the next time he made up the room, or he got it for us immediately.
Food: We were seated at a 6 top in the center of the dining room. Our headwaiter was Bernardo from Costa Rica and our assistant was Ubonwan from China. They were a great team and even found some time to talk. The service was great, but it seemed like the wait staff was worked harder than on other cruises. I am neither a picky eater nor a food connoisseur so I always found something appetizing and it always tasted great. I never heard any negative comments about the food from other passengers so I guess it was good by most people's standards. I did hear some great reviews about Nick and Nora's, the supper club, but I did not eat there.
The Lido food was always great and served at the temperature it should be. Some of my favorites were the Caesar Salad, Sundae Bar, any carved meats, and "Taste of Nations" lunch buffet. We always dinner in the dining room so I do not know what the dinner buffet was like. Each evening there was a sushi cart from 5:00-8:00 that had the longest lines on formal night as passengers moved from the main lounge to the dining room. There was a Gala Midnight Buffet that was as amazing as always to view, but we did not want to wait in the humungous like to eat. The night leaving San Juan there was a Deck Party with a Mexican Buffet which I thought was odd because I try to avoid Mexican foods right before bed. Others were enjoying it though.
Activities: There were plenty of fun activities throughout the eight days of the cruise that catered to the various age groups. Since this was early June, there still were not many school-aged children. Some of the activities included the various trivia contests, Sea Feud, Name That Tune, Match Game, Harry Chest, Newlywed Game (called something else in the Capers), and a variety of Lido Deck games. We won the Amazing Race which earned me my first Ship-on-a-Stick! There were daily bean bag competitions in the atrium that were very well attended. The Cruise Director Brent was very good, but not seen very often other than the scheduled events in the main lounge. His assistant, "Big Sexy," was excellent and will make a great CD in the future. Social Hosts Amanda, Samantha, and Teresa were also very good at all of the events. The deck party was held the night we left San Juan at Midnight, but there was no celebration for sail away, so I though holding the party on another night would have been better since we got into St. Thomas at 7:00 am the next morning. The 80s party in the disco was great and included many of the staff coming to enjoy the party. There were kamikaze karaoke, big-hair, Michael Jackson dancing, and high school dance circle contests during the party. Again, this was held the night before a port day, but at least the port was San Juan and we would not be there until 3:00 pm.
I will mention here that Carnival was very accommodating of our roll call's requests. A member of our roll call followed the instructions to post on John Heald's blog to get a location for a meet-and-greet. The Capers stated that we were given Sam's Piano Bar from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm on the first sea day, which is exactly what we wanted. We then did a cabin crawl and visited a wide variety of cabin including all of the different suites. Once we decided to meet again on the final sea day, we were given Sam's Piano Bar again as well as 2 ship-on-a-sticks. It was great service, and I want to thank everyone involved who made the meets and the cabin crawl possible. It was great fun!
Entertainment: The various lounges had a great deal of high-quality musicians. Music Unlimited played nearly every night in a packed Frankie and Johnny's. The foursome knew all of the great songs from the 60s to the present. Roger in Sam's Piano Bar sang and played the piano well, but had a more limited play list than I have seen before and was more of a musician than an entertainer. He did involve the crowd in many songs and circulated through the lounge on his breaks. Kirsty, the Karaoke Host, was very welcoming to all singers, especially first-timers. Passengers seemed reluctant to sing or try out for the Legends show, but Kirsty did he best to encourage the crowd and it worked well. Randy at the Casino Bar played a great variety of music that added to an already great atmosphere of the casino. Throughout the day the piano player or classical trio in the atrium were excellent as always. The orchestra also preformed in the lounge outside of the dining before dinner.
There was a nice variety of shows in the main lounge at night. Both of the productions were good. The first was Generations, a revue show and was on par with Carnival's shows. Ticket to Ride, the second, was a Beatles revue and was excellent. On the third night, the ventriloquist, Michael Ziegfeld, was outstanding and both the passenger talent show and Legends were fun and entertaining. The two comedians, Marvin Bell and Jeff Laub were good, but not great. The Village Idiots, a juggling and comedy show, and Jerome Dabne singing Motown Classics were the other evening shows in the main lounge that I did not attend.
Casino: I go to Atlantic City many times a year and enjoy the gambling, so I did not feel the need to visit the casino much on board. I did like that the table limits are very low. On the first night the special is $3 limits and nearly every game had $5 limits the other days. It was very easy to find a spot at a table game, and the passengers were very friendly. I enjoy talkative dealers who add to the fun of the game even if I am losing money. In all of my experiences on past cruises and in land casinos I have never had more enjoyable dealers or pit bosses. The dealers were fun and the pit bosses even chatted and joked with both the players and dealers. There were also two slot tournaments and two blackjack tournaments spread out over the four sea days. I did not play the slots but I did see a few attendants filling out the tax forms meaning someone won over $1,200.
San Juan: Sailing into San Juan was a great experience. Above the bridge was lined with passengers seeing land for the first time in almost three days and the views of Old San Juan and the fort are very welcoming. The pier is located in a great location as a ferry, shopping, restaurants, and the forts can all be within walking distance. As everyone moved inside and waited for the announcement for general clearance a quick storm moved through that didn't cause many problems because we were waiting to debark inside the ship. Once off we walked around Old San Juan for an hour and a half before going back to the pier for our excursion.
We booked the Bioluminescent Bay excursion through the ship. We had an hour and a half bus ride out to the Fajardo Bio Bay with a stop at McDonalds for dinner. Once we arrived, our guide, Alvin with Paradise Seekers gave us instructions, and then we were off to the kayaks. We first had to paddle across an open bay to get to the mangroves on the other side. Paddling was an interesting experience as it was very dark and narrow. There were many young couples on this excursion and it is a great test, or maybe just a relationship ender for some as it is easy to get stuck on the side with trees and who knows what else reaching down onto you. After a half hour we were out in the bay where as we paddled we left a brilliant trail of blue glow in the water. Alvin, our guide told us about the bay, why it glows, and what is being done to protect the organisms. We could not swim in the water because it is protected, but since implementing this rule, the organisms have multiplying faster than ever before. That means the bay will continue to get brighter and brighter. Paddling back through the mangroves was much more difficult because we were against the current and the occasional group of kayaks going by in the opposite direction made for some periods of bumper boats where the stakes included running aground, getting turned around, or losing the glow stick on the tip of the kayak. We made it back and the guides helped us onto land where we were offered drinks and snacks. Many of us fell asleep on the bus ride back to the ship and we were on board again around 11:20 pm. If anyone is even remotely interested in seeing the Bioluminescent Bays in Puerto Rico, it truly is something that needs to be experienced at least once a lifetime. Alvin with Paradise Seekers was a great guide, and his assistants helped as needed along the way so I highly recommend this company for this tour.
The ship departed early and no names were announced, so I guess passengers did not get too banged up at Senor Frogs. Seeing San Juan fade away at night is nearly as stunning as watching it come into focus during the day.
St. Thomas: We arrived in St. Thomas at 7:00 am and here we had booked Captain Nautica's Snorkeling Excursion and bought Skyride tickets to Paradise Point through the ship.
With all ship excursions, we met at the dock and walked around to the power boats. The boats are made to hold 22, but we split into two groups of only twelve so it was a very comfortable and personal excursion. Our guides were Captain Lee and First Mate Megan and the excursion began with safety instructions followed by a fast and bumpy 4 mile ride out to a Buck Island, a protected island surrounded by great snorkeling. Our first 45 minute stop was at Turtle Cove where, naturally, sea turtles were easy to find in varying sizes. It was great to watch as they ate the turtle grass and swam to the surface for air. Closer to the island was a reef with a lot fire coral, sea urchins, and other reef fish. Yellow snappers were all over the place, and I even saw a line of about twelve squid swimming along the bottom. Towards the end of our first stop other excursions began to arrive to take advantage of the great snorkeling. Once back on the boat, we received fresh cut fruit as the guides told us more about the snorkeling and the island. We slowly moved to the other side of the island with more natural reefs near the shore and a shipwreck also serving as a reef. We kept the rinds from our fruit and fed them to the fish as we snorkeled. Upon entering the water, scores of yellow snappers where around, and although they came close, they did not snap as their name implies. There were great views of the reef near the island, and the midsection of the shipwreck was easily seen from near where our boat was waiting. Once our snorkeling concluded First Mate Megan served shrimp as both guides talked about what we saw. They were very knowledgeable. We rode back to the ship close to the shore to get great views of St. Thomas. This was another great excursion and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys snorkeling, or just wants to try it out for the first time.
We then returned to the ship, changed into another swimsuit, picked up dry beach towels, ate lunch, and went back out on land. We used our tickets to take the skyride up to Paradise Point for some great views of Charlotte Amalie and the surrounding areas. We just went up for the view, but there is some shopping, a restaurant, food, and a bird show open. After returning to sea level we boarded what I like to call a safari taxi for the scariest ride of my life to Magen's Bay. Traffic around the dock was heavy and we were the only ship in port. It was easy to forget that they drive on the left side of the road because our driver often rode in the right lane to avoid slower vehicles, even when oncoming cars came close. It is easy to see why nearly everything has a few dents and dings. Once we made it over to the mountain separating Charlotte Amalie from Megan's Bay the road became very steep with sharp turns. It was difficult enough to hold on as we ascended, but when we descended on the other side it was like a cartoon where the vehicle teeters on the edge of a cliff at each turn. For being such a beautiful beach, it was not very crowded. We were told that the afternoon is a better time to visit and if more than two or three ships are in port Megan's Bay should be avoided. We spent the afternoon in the water which was cooler than I expected before returning to the ship via another wild safari taxi. The taxi cost $8 per person each way and entrance to the beach was $4 per person. Restrooms, a bar, and a gift shop that rents loungers, lockers, and snorkeling equipment are located on the beach.
Tortola: We decided on excursions that held a small number of guests in the previous ports, but we really wanted to see the Baths on Virgin Gorda. After reading other reviews on this site we decided we needed to book the tour through Carnival since we departed at 2:00 pm and we did not want to chance missing the ship. This turned out to be a great idea because the ferry met us as we left the ship and it got us back at the end of the tour with less than an hour to spare, not enough time to catch a later ferry if we missed this one.
There were a lot of people on this tour and the 45 minute ferry ride was nearly full. We sat out side on the upper level which provided great views of the ship, Tortola, and other islands as we sailed to Virgin Gorda. Once on Virgin Gorda, we were packed into safari taxis for a short ride over to the Top of the Baths. The taxi rides here were fairly comfortable as the land was flat and speed bumps prevented the drivers from speeding. The path down to the baths was around 600 feet long and there are a few steps down on boulders and the entire trail is pretty rocky. The first beach that we get to is very beautiful and the rock formations add to the natural beauty. There is a path through the "cave" that leads to Devil's Bay. After 15 minutes, the guides blew a whistle and lead anyone through the caves who wanted to get to Devil's Bay. The major of the group wanted to go which caused the trek to be very long with periods of time where we were at a complete stand-still. Maneuvering through the caves requires bending down and walking as well as a little climbing over the rocks. Ropes and steps are available in some areas to help to help get over the rocks. The caves are definitely not to be missed, however people who waited until the masses cleared through enjoyed a more personal experience and were able to move around at their own pace. Devil's Bay on the other side of the cave was well worth the trip over. It is nestled between the huge rocks and the water crystal clear. There is a path from Devil's Bay leading back to the Top of the Baths so we could stay on this beach for a while. Once back near the vehicles we were given a choice of one drink, either a fruit punch or the fruit punch with some rum. Then it was just a short safari taxi ride back to the ferry. Since this was a morning excursion on our third consecutive port day, many people including myself fell asleep on the ferry ride back.
While the area Baths became crowded since so many passengers chose this tour, it is something that should be seen with this is a stop on your itinerary. I would also recommend booking the tour through the ship as the ferry schedule is as unpredictable and volatile as airline schedules. Tortola is a beautiful island that is not as developed or commercialized as St. Thomas so there was a lot more greenery and the water even seemed a different shade of blue.
Debarkation: I read that debarkation on the Miracle has been a nightmare lately. We arrived back in New York on time and we did not do self-assist. In fact once we woke up we met some new friends and went up on deck for breakfast and stayed there until our number was called. We wanted to avoid the mad house for as long as possible. Once it came close to our number, we went down to the Phantom Lounge where a lot of people were waiting, but we could not hear the announcements so we moved to the Fountainhead Lounge. It would be nice if there was a way to hear the announcements in the main lounge. We were 12, and once our number was called we made our way to the atrium where we were stopped because the line for customs began to back up too much. This was fine for us, but maybe they should only call one or two numbers at a time rather than five. After a few minutes we were in the terminal building on a fast moving line to the customs agents. I handed them my form, he swiped my passport, and I was off in less than 30 seconds. The luggage areas were clearly marked, but not in numerical order; again, not a problem for me, but a little strange. We picked up our bags and were outside by 11:00 am. The line for a taxi was long and unorganized. They need a designated area or something to handle this better. We took the taxi to Port Authority and waited until 12:30 pm for a bus to take us home. I wish we would have stuck to our original plans of having someone pick us up at the pier and I would not do the bus from port authority thing again. It was too difficult wheeling two stuffed suitcases and an extra "Duty-Free" box around that place.
Final Thoughts: After two cruises to Canada, this seemed like a completely different cruising experience because we were able to use the outer decks all the time. I really liked the layout of the ship, and since I enjoy being on the ship I liked that we had four full days at sea with three port days. It was great that we were the only ship in each port with the exception of New York when we debarked. As for the weather, we had about two minutes worth of a gentle shower as one small cloud rained in the morning of the second sea day. Soon after docking in San Juan on the fourth day, a quick storm rolled through but was gone by the time most passengers debarked. The near perfect weather helped the seas remain calm for the entire trip. On the way north as we steamed ahead at 23 knots the rocking motion was noticeable, but still nothing that would cause many problems. On this cruise the fellow passengers were all very pleasant, and the entertainment that I saw was consistently excellent throughout the entire cruise. I can see why the Miracle holds the EAGLE award often and how many people choose this as their favorite ship. I would highly recommend the ship and this itinerary as this cruise was a great way to relax and sample some of the most beautiful ports in the Caribbean.