Our 'February Club' consists of our four best friends and my husband and me. Having been friends since the 60s, we're now in our 60s! Each February for the past several years, we have taken a vacation together - from skiing in the Austrian Alps to snowmobiling in Utah. This year, the couple in charge planned a Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Miracle. To say we were apprehensive was an understatement. My sister and brother-in-law have lately become passionate cruisers with only luxury lines and they were upset that our first cruise was going to be so 'downscale'. They thought it would turn us off cruising forever.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We drove to Fort Lauderdale from our home on an island in southwest Florida. Boarding the ship seemed like a bit of a cattle call, but again, we had no experience, and it didn't take more than an hour. Our friends were already on board and we were able to go to our cabins immediately.
We had talked everyone into getting balcony staterooms, and we were all delighted with them. Being used to our own boats (a series of cabin cruisers, some with multiple bedrooms and baths) we were amazed at the size of our room - just like a good hotel but with a lower ceiling.
People had told us that unpacking once was a luxury, but we never really processed this fact until actually underway. We are long time international travelers, having dragged our only son through Europe every summer from the time he was two, so we feel pretty comfortable knowing our way around and have been disdainful of anything but independent touring. Wrong again! Having everything at our fingertips without changing hotels and looking for restaurants was fabulous, to say nothing about it being the perfect situation for going with a group.
The food, the service, and the entertainment far exceeded any expectations we had.
Yes, the dining room is gaudy, but we were given an ideal table for six in a corner by a window. Every night we remarked on our good luck and also on the perfect service. The food ranged from good to very good, though we all preferred the seafood dishes to the red meat ones.
Each evening before dinner we gathered in an alternating cabin and had wine courtesy of the two bottles each couple was allowed to bring on board. We then drank water with dinner, so I can't comment on the wine choices or prices.
Since we all live in Florida, the pool wasn't much of a draw, but several of us walked each morning and the outside decks were delightful and spotless.
The ports were the thing for all of us. We booked ships' trips for all three, being first time cruisers and a bit timid about being independent. In Panama we took a bus that took us to the canal for a day cruise. It was long and a little uneventful, but we felt it was silly to go on a 'Panama Canal Cruise' and not do it. We've all been through lots of locks on our own, so this wasn't so thrilling and it was expensive - about $200 a head.
In Costa Rica, it was the opposite. We had a great ride on a vintage train through villages and a banana plantation, ending up at a resort where we took a river boat excursion through some amazing scenes - the foliage was like Florida on steroids!
Best of all was our Mayan ruin tour in Belize. We'd all like to go back there for a fishing trip.
All of us were inexperienced cruisers, but we thought Carnival - and I know the Miracle is one of its most popular ships - was terrific, and not just because it was so affordable. The people clearly came from all walks of life, and as diehard Democrats, that was great with us.
We are signed up for our next February on a Princess cruise of the eastern Caribbean. It had the itinerary we wanted, but Princess will have to go some to beat our experience on the Miracle!