Carnival Miracle Ship I took an impromptu cruise to Panama Canal with my 13 year old daughter and my parents on October 28th. We picked this cruise based on great low prices, itinerary, and cheap air to Fort Lauderdale. I have sailed with Carnival 4 times in the past and I am usually disappointed with the food and activities. Surprisingly, I wasn't wrong for this ship as well.
We had a penthouse suite room- don't get all excited- it is larger but other than a balcony, small tub with jets and three closets, that is all the room offered. While my parents slept in the bed, and my daughter slept on a bunk over the couch, that left me to sleep on the leather sofa that they made up as a bed. (Not a pull out sofa sleeper) Our room steward was wonderful and kept everything neat and tidy for us.
This ship had the tackiest dEcor of any of the ships I have ever cruised with. The main dining room, Bacchus, is purple and buzzing with tackiness. You almost expect the Little Mermaid to emerge from the ceilings as it somewhat resembles "Under the Sea". The food was so-so, our head waiter was prompt and friendly (Gilford) and we enjoyed our dining experience and the songs they offered to entertain us. All in all, the service on Miracle was very impressive. We were catered to and never ignored and I felt the staff went out of their way to ensure us a good vacation. The food in the other areas was also mediocre but I did not like how all the food offered was in one little area, it was very confusing to many guests. There were also many times during the day when the bars (other than the pool burger joint) were closed. There was a room service menu but we did not order anything from it.
Entertainment, Carnival gets a big thumbs up for top notch entertainment. The theater, while not pretty in any way, hosted the Carnival singers and dancers and we thoroughly enjoyed them. The costumes were great and choreography well done. As far as onboard activities go, I was very disappointed that there were so few of them. There seems to be hours of the day when there is nothing to be entertained by other than shopping talks, art auctions and the dreadful bean bag toss. The cruise director Brent was not visible at all to us but Justin and Pip, two of the activities staff, were great. I think Carnival needs to offer more intellectual activities for free rather than try to nickel and dime everyone to death over each and every thing.
While on this subject, I will say that the soft drink/soda card was $42.36 on this ship...which included a 15% gratuity. If you have ever cruised before and purchased a drink card, you know that the staff doesn't want to wait on you and run for free drinks so it is hard to get service WITHOUT throwing in a gratuity. And who gets this gratuity anyway? Seems like a big rip off since I was told by someone at Coca Cola it costs 3 cents for a fountain soda.
The casino on this ship was spacious and payouts were good. I won some myself and saw many people win hundreds and even thousand + dollars.
Another highlight for my family was the spa. We did the spa tour on the first day and just loved the staff right away. We had hot stone massages, facials and body scrubs. I thought the prices weren't too expensive compared to other cruises and the money was well worth it. The spa uses Elemis and la Therapie products, two of my favorites. Ask for Ria, she is terrific! My 13 year old was afraid there would not be many children on board but Carnival did offer many fun activities for her age and she had a blast! From movie trivia, free arcade play, ping pong tournaments, dances, candy art, movies, shout it out!, blackjack tournaments and Wii activities, they keep the kids entertained and busy.
Lastly, we choose ship catered shore excursions and 1 was particularly noteworthy. The Hi There in Costa Rica was a zip line adventure as well as the aerial tram that went atop the rain forest. I had not zip-lined before but felt confident from the experienced guides and safety features. We did not have any rain at all and perfect weather all day. The roads in Costa Rica are also well suited for travel so the bus ride to the forest is tolerable. We really loved this excursion and this will be something we do in the future when cruising. In Panama, skip the Panama Canal tour or hire an outside company. The bus ride to Lake Gatun is long, bumpy and not one bit enjoyable and the misery doesn't stop there. After boarding a ferry, you go through the canal and eat lunch. It is no big deal other than to say "Been there, done that". The boat was very crowded and only the first couple buses of people on board could really see anything. The cost of that particular excursion was $189 and I think $59 or so would have been sufficient considering we rode all day and there was nothing fun about it.
To sum it all up, I will probably not cruise with Carnival in the future because I like the activities of RC and the subtle and simple look/feel of the Princess line, but Carnival does offer great trips for the price. Carnival has cruised for so many years that they make the boarding/purchasing very easy and it won't leave you frustrated if you are a first timer. However, something to consider, the price of the cruise will be the cheapest fee you have. After all the pictures ($8.99 for 5x7 and $22.99 for 8x10), drinks, spa, casino, souvenirs, liquor, coffee, fancy desserts, upscale restaurant, excursions, tips, arcade and work out fees, get the credit card ready! .