EMBARKATION—We departed from Port Everglades, Florida on this eight day cruise. Upon entering the terminal we found long longs everywhere. Since this was our first Carnival we could not take advantage of the "VIP" lines. We were routed to a line where there was only one cruise person checking in passengers. The line moved very slowly. Eventually four additional employees were added and the line moved a little faster. It appeared that every passenger was encountering some type of problem. Finally it was our turn and it wasn't long before we learned we had a problem. We were advised the credit card that we had used for preregistration could not be located in the system and the computer could not pull up the information at this time. Even though we produced papers showing we had submitted a valid credit card number, we found it necessary to provide that credit card number again. We noticed the number was handwritten on a credit card invoice (like from years ago). There is more to this thus the reason for mentioning the issue. We noticed the party next to us was having the same problem. About 6 hours later when we attempted to make a purchase aboard the ship I was told the credit card number "had not made it to the system". We went to the purser's desk and for the third time we presented the credit card and this time the cruise line apparently was able to retain the information that had been previously provided them. One of the other parties traveling with us was also advised the cruise line needed to have their credit card number since the data was "not available". This is annoying to say the least, especially on our first cruise with Carnival.
Debarkation—This was a total nightmare. We went to breakfast at 6:15AM and without a copy of our cabin statement. After breakfast we returned to the cabin where we found our statement. It was correct. We were advised that if we had only carry off baggage we could proceed to Deck 3 for an expedited debarkation. We never heard any orderly process being announced on the public address system. It is estimated that well over half the passengers were trying to carrying their baggage off the ship themselves. There were hundreds of passengers already on decks 2 and 3. Lines begin to form all the way into the ship. Some passengers were trying to lug 4 and 5 large suitcases and keep up with three children at the same time. It was a total mess. It took an hour for the line to start moving. Once we got off the ship the process through customs was quick. We then learned that the taxi cab drivers had gone on strike and there were no cabs. We managed to get the last three seats on a van going to the airport. As we left hundreds were on the docks trying to get some form or transportation.
THE SHIP-This is actually a very nice ship. Although it is a mega ship, we found getting around not to be a major issue as the ship was clean and appeared to be well maintained. We of course kept in mind this was just a four year old ship. The sailing through the Caribbean, even with some rough waves, was quite smooth. Getting off and on the ship at port stops was very easy. Carnival takes a photo of each passenger at the time of boarding with that photo matching one's cabin card. We did note that some passengers had problems with this. A trip to the purser's office could get this corrected so the cabin card and picture in the computer system will match.
THE CABIN—We were on Deck 8 with a balcony. The room was well appointed with nice colors. The main thing was that it was very clean as was the bathroom. The mattress was excellent. The amount of space was about average for this level of cabin. We found it very adequate. There was plenty of drawers and closet space. The cabin contained both a safe and mini bar which one could use for refrigeration. The cost of sodas in the mini bar was one of the lowest we have encountered anywhere in the travel industry ($1.95) per can. Lighting in the room was excellent. The door to the balcony worked well and opened easily. The cabin was always kept clean during our cruise. Upon entering the bathroom, one might be shocked at the various colors. The sink was green, the floor and shower dark blue and the shower walls light green. We got used to it after just one day. Everything in the room worked well including a TV set that had the most channels we have seen in a long time.
DINING—OK—we know you are dying to learn about the food. First there is a fee for meals at Nick & Nora's Supper Club. This is a nice restaurant on decks 11 & 12 serving excellent entrees. The Bacchus Restaurant located on the Promenade and Atlantic decks offers two seating in the main dining room. The service at our table was very good and the food very good. The early seating is somewhat difficult to obtain as many passengers opt for the early seating. The late seating starts at 8:15PM. There is also food service at Horatio's Restaurant on deck 9. Food service stations are located throughout the deck and we found the food better than many other similar cruise line self serve cafeteria style restaurants. Entrees were very good and the custom made sandwiches excellent. There is a pizza area, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips, etc. A self serve ice cream bar is available in several places also. In general the food aboard this Carnival ship is better than other cruise lines we have been on. This was one the pleasant surprises we found on the Carnival Miracle. There is excellent seating throughout the area or you may take your food to an outside area close to one of the pools. Avoid the crowds by going early or late for lunch, as 12 noon will be very busy. The lines move rather quickly.
Late Night Buffets-There are late night buffets starting at midnight. If you stay up late and afraid you are going to miss a meal between dinner and breakfast then by all means avail yourself of an excellent late night snack area. There is drink service by the wait staff which we found to be professional and accommodating. Bar drinks were reasonably priced with lemonade and tea being free at lunch. Dinner was much less crowded however not as many food service stations were open. Only one night did we eat there as menu was somewhat smaller than the menu found in the main dining room.
AFTERNOON TEA—This frankly, was a disaster as too many passengers showed up and it was not possible to accommodate each of them. We usually got our tea and hors d' eouvers and went to the Lido deck where we could find seating.
BARS & LOUNGES—There are many good places to meet and obtain a drink throughout the ship. There are 13 nightclubs and lounges throughout the ship. Finding seating space in at least one lounge ,each time we tried, was always success. The lounges and bars cater to the fun crown so don't expect quite solitude places in many sections of the ship. Wait staff was excellent.
PHOTOS—The snapshots were generally good with the photographers not too intrusive. We had several family portraits made at different locations on the ship and not one was suitable for purchase. Lighting was poor in some places, and the quality of the photos just left a lot to be desired. When getting a photo of your choice, look for an area that has "fill in lighting" available. That will be the large black reflectors. The reason, there just isn't enough light from the camera's flash to fill in shadows for you or anyone with you. Portraits were priced at approximately $21 depending upon the size. Some were of passable quality. We suggest purchasing one or two snapshots (they were $7.95) and leaving the portraits for a professional photo session back home. The staff was generally helpful and not too intrusive.
STORES & GIFT SHOP—Really very good, well stocked and reasonable prices. In addition we found helpful staff maintaining the areas. Many passengers seemed to want to stock up on cigarettes and liquor. Not knowing where these passengers came from we are unable to know if the prices were good for each of them. For us, the liquor was better priced back home. We are non-smokers however we know that our home state sells cigarettes at a better price then the ship's prices.
SWIMMING POOLS—All over the place and each very nice. Somewhat crowded on sea days when the weather was great. Some are for children and some primarily adults. Be prepared for a lot of rough play around the pools as the children were out of control most of the time. Kiddie pools had security close by thus small children fared much better.
SECURITY—I have never included a paragraph in any of my reviews about security. Have you ever been on a cruise ship when you wished there was security close by because someone was disorderly? This ship had visible security officers in various places on the ship and we were most appreciative. They were non-intrusive and very professional. This is a real plus for this ship. They just need to double or triple the size of the unit with all the rowdy kids on board.
CHILDREN'S AREA-This ship had many children aboard and the areas and actives offered for children of all ages appeared to be great. We saw many having a great time in supervised activities. We don't know full details as we don't have children on board.
THE CHAPEL—Very nice and large enough to accommodate several people. We did not witness any weddings while we were aboard, nor did we see any services being held in the chapel. It was always open when we passed by and could have been used for medication at any time.
THE LIBRARY—The library has limited open hours. While there were several books in the library, we have been on cruises with a better selection and more accommodating hours. There are also internet connections in the library. If you plan to read on a Carnival cruise-good luck. It may be hard to find a quite place.
INTERNET—As with many modern day ships there is limited internet service aboard. This just means that one should not expect the same level of service one might have back home. Service is highly dependent upon the weather and the ship's location. The service is expensive by today's standards with a short cruise we decided not to purchase the service. It was apparent that many others made that same decision as we never found the internet areas to be busy. There were hot spots throughout the ship but we seldom found any passengers with their laptops. Wait until you return home and enjoying being away from the internet for a week.
THE ISLANDS WE VISITED—St. Maarten—we passed on the shore tours for this stop and we are glad we did after seeing bus after bus packed like sardines with ship passengers. After many years of traveling we believe that for the most part the ship's tours are overpriced and repeatedly go to places where all the rest of the cruise ship passengers go. A much better alternative is to find other passengers willing to take an adventurous trip with a local driver. I know this is always a risk as you could end up with a driver that takes you to the same places as the ship's tours. We talked with several passengers that hired a local driver and van to cover some of the usual sights but additional sights not normally visited by others. We also learned that the cost was just a fraction of what it would cost individually on board ship. A word of caution at St. Marten. We reserved a car at Avis as we were told the rental car company was at the pier. At the pier we found several major rental companies; however Avis was not be found. We finally located Avis about a half mile from the pier and the vehicle offered us was not only rusted but in a deplorable condition. It was more a "Rent A Wreck" type vehicle. Then I was asked for a $500 deposit (to make certain I returned the car). I refused and was eventually told I could leave a $500 deposit on my credit card. I once again refused and cancelled the reservations. I went back to the pier and rental an almost new vehicle from Hertz for $10 less. Personally I will never again make reservations for St. Maarten since there were many cars available right at the pier for walk ups.
Driving in St. Maarten can be a challenge, therefore unless you are willing the take the chance you might be better off not renting in St. Maarten. Traffic is not bad in the outlying areas, however traffic in major towns is a nightmare. Expect constant stop and go traffic and expect to encounter a lot of local vehicle drivers that have little regard for traffic laws and traffic courtesies.
Renting a car in St.Lucia is at the airport which is located about a mile or so from the docks. The companies there are professional and if you make arrangement before docking most will pick you up at the cruise ship docks and return you at the end of the rental. A tipstay away from the cruise ship dock when ships arrive. The traffic is bumper to bumper and as in St. Maarten, there may be little regard for traffic regulations. We did find some of the drivers though to be very courteous. Out on the open road there are little of no center stripes, thus expect to meet oncoming vehicles on your side of the road or curve. In some areas you may encounter lots of people walking on the narrow roads. Be especially careful during school hours as hundreds of students will be walking on the roads.
In small villages you may be approached by locals begging, people appearing to be under some type of influence running in front of your car or even blocking the narrow street. I would strongly suggest that you not travel in these areas after dark. If you must drive at night, check with the rental car company or local authorities before making that decision . Note-a special driver's license is required in St. Lucia. Be sure and talk with your rental car company at the time you make your reservations as some rental companies may have the required license while others will send you a long distance to the local government office. Cost can be anywhere from $17 to $25 depending on fees added by the rental company.
St. Kitts has an excellent ship pier with lots of souvenir shopping. We did not rent a car at this location however people traveling with us hired a local driver and van to take them on a trip around the island. They were well pleased with the trip and cost which was $140 for eight people. They felt it was a bargain when compared with ship tour prices.
SHIP'S ENTERTAINMENT—The Phantom Lounge is the venue for the ship's entertainment. The Carnival singers and dancers are actually several notches above the usual on board entertainers that one finds on cruise ships. We found the sound system in the upstairs section to be deplorable. Not sure it is the equipment of the people responsible for the sound. Some of the single entertainers were okay however we didn't always stay until the end of the program. There are several other entertainment spots throughout the ship in other lounges. For example there was "classical music: in the Metropolis Lobby, Fun Music in the Gotham Lounge, Karaoke in the Mad Hatter's Ball, Rock, Pop & More in the Casino, Deck party Music on Lido Deck 9 and the Latest Party Music at Dr. Frankenstein's. A visit to Dr. Frankenstein's is worth the time to see this 20 foot giant. This is a "kids area" during a portion of the daylight time and a disco at night.
MOVIES—Movies are shown in the Phantom Lounge and in Mad Hatter's Ball however not on a regular basis. We found occasional listings in the ship's daily program. We never found any worth watching.
BINGO—Lots of bingo held at various times throughout the cruise. They did not appear to be a set time for each such event. You will have to review the daily Carnival Capers to see time and location. There also does not appear to be a systematic payout for winnings. Apparently Carnival keeps the entire sales and decides an amount to pay out on each game. CASINOThe busiest casino we have ever seen on a cruise ship. There is no doubt this is a very big moneymaker for Carnival. There were adequate tables for cards, craps and roulette, all of which were busy most of the four sea days of the cruise. There is also one automated Texas hold-em poker table and lots of slot machines. Going to a ship's casino is strictly for fun and entertainment. They are not going to lose and you are not going to win.
SUMMARY—If you don't mind the few negatives we have discussed then the Carnival Cruise Lines might be a real bargain. The prices are usually among the lowest in the cruise industry, the food was exceptional, the Miracle a very clean ship and service good. Would we travel again-probably but at a time when there is a better possibility that the kids will be in school. We really can't recommend this type cruise for those accustomed to Holland America and the more senior passengers. For honeymooners there are better alternatives. If you are party person then consider the Carnival cruises.