Our first cruise was on the Carnival Triumph in May 2003, which went from New York City to St. John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Novascotia and back to NYC. We had a wonderful vacation on this north eastern trip. The next cruise was the beginning of a yearly tradition, and was on the Carnival Fascination in December 2006 that departed from Miami, FL and went to Key West, FL, then to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This too was a wonderful vacation and was perhaps my favorite ship thus far. The next cruise was on the Carnval Liberty in December 2007 that went from Fort Lauderdale, FL and went to Nassau, Bahamas, then to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and then to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and back to Florida. This trip was with my family, mother and father in laws and my parents.
We had so much fun on this trip that, when we returned, in January and February, I did two things: 1st because, I had enjoyed the Carnival Cruise Lines so much I purchased stock with my IRA (not such a good decision given the state of the economy now, but oh well. I still own the stock for now). 2nd, we decided to book our next Christmas 2008 cruise with Carnival again and decided to book an 8 day cruise on the Carnival Miracle that was "supposed" to go to the Panama Canal, Costa Rica and Belize departing and returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Now the bad: The cruise was scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale on December 15th 2008. We had 15 people that were all meeting in Fort Lauderdale on December 13th two days prior to the Cruise. My family left Virginia Friday night on December 12th and started driving toward Fort Lauderdale. Before, we left I checked my email and had a email from Coral Breezes cruise excursions that my itinerary had been changed and we were going to be in Belize on the 19th instead of the 20th. I thought this was odd, but thought maybe Carnival had decided to go to Belize first then continue to Costa Rica and the Panama canal.
We got to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday and we were all staying at the Ocean Sky Hotel and Resort. It is a nice beachside resort with a shuttle to the port everglades for $10 per person. We had stayed there last year and really enjoyed it, so we re-booked here. Again we enjoyed this hotel and stayed here the day we returned from the hotel as well. The hotel has nice beach access, a nice pool overlooking the beach, a Tiki bar, and free wireless internet.
When we got to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, I was shocked to find out the entire itinerary had been changed. Do to a problem with the propulsion system, Instead of going to Costa Rica and Panama we were going to go to Costa Maya, Mexico then to Cozumel Mexico, then to Belize City, Belize and finally to Roatan and then back to Fort Lauderdale. In lei of the sudden change in the itinerary, Carnival said it would provide $50 per state room in on ship credit. Everyone in my group was furious. I was a little embarrassed having set this whole vacation up, and many people were asking me and my wife to call and ask for a better compensation. My wife and I called and asked and Carnival told us that we were the only ones calling and that we could not cancel our reservations with a complete refund because the 24 hour period had passed already (we called on Sunday). I did not get a chance to check my email until Saturday at the hotel and the email had gone out late Friday night. None the less, we still probably would not have cancelled because we had all our hotel plans and flights reserved. Carnival was not interested in increasing the compensation. When we got to the embarkation area a fly was given to us stating that the compensation was going to be $25 per person. Also, just from talking with other passengers I realized that there was going to be a lot of unhappy people on this trip. Embarkation went smoothly, and we were on board. On the ship a posted new itinerary state that only $25 per state room would be the compensation. With three different versions of this updated itinerary, my first trip was to the Pursers desk, to find out which was correct. The Pursers desk was flooded with unhappy passengers. I did find out that that the ship was providing $25 per person, but also, interestingly, I found out that passengers that had booked through companies such as "Vacations made easy" were receiving even better compensations. One couple was receiving $100 per person compliments of vacations made easy, this was on top of the $25 from carnival. I personally believe that at least $100 per person would be more appropriate.
As far as the cruise goes, this was my least favorite carnival cruise. Tensions between passengers and crew members were high. I witnessed a bar tender (Bipul) slam a glass on the bar shattering it into pieces after getting mad at a passenger. This display of anger cause all to people at the bar to quickly scatter and leave the bar. I had never seen this on any Carnival cruise before. I think this was in McGuire's bar on the ship.
The ship, supposedly larger than the Fascination, but smaller than the Triumph or Liberty did not feel like a large ship. With the lay out I thought the Fascination felt like a more open ship compared to the Miracle. I liked the Comic book names of the rooms and the decorations on the ship, but still the Fascination is my favorite for decoration. There was only one dinning room (the Bacchus dinning room) this was a two story dinning room at the back of the ship. The Phantom Theatre was at the front of the ship on the same floor (floor 3). I thought there were quite a few obstructions if you did not get a seat up close. But overall the décor was pleasant. Unfortunately I think a lot of my opinions are biased due to the sudden change in the itinerary with little compensation.
Finally, we were scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on December 23rd. But on the day of the 22nd an announcement came out about a passenger being sick and needing immediate medical care and that our captain was going to increase the speed to make it back to Fort Lauderdale that night. Which is exactly what the captain did and we were back before 12 am, but was stilled schedule to debark at the normal debarkation time the next day. The fact that the ship was traveling at over 20 knots made us feel that perhaps there was really no problem with the propulsion system after all, but oh well. Out thoughts were with the passenger who was sick and their family.
Ports of Call:
Costa Maya: My daughter and I decided to explore this port by ourselves and did not book an excursion through the ship. Once off the ship, I found an individual from Shark Tours who told us about an ATV excursion that sounded interesting and was half the price from the cruise ship. We signed up for this tour and we loved this excursion. My daughter (8-years-old) had so much fun on the 4-wheelers. I really enjoyed it as well. For the tour we rode with 3 couples and our tour guides (2) south through this small fishing village and along a rode with beautiful mangroves on one side and beautiful views of the Caribbean ocean on the other side. Along the way back we stopped at a cute little beach that had gorgeous white sand, hammocks and chairs to relax in and a neat little family run restaurant. Here, my daughter looked at shells and we ate a neat little Mexican lunch. Water was bought for us by our guides. I order a burrito and nachos which only cost $8. After about an hour of relaxing at the beach we left and went back to the boat. Our guides were excellent, very friendly and knew the area well. We tipped each $15 for their guidance. We really enjoyed Shark tours and recommend this tour to the adventurous that wants to have fun on a 4-wheeler and enjoy a beautiful beach.
Cozumel: For this excursion, I booked at the last minute, Saturday night with Island Marketing Ltd. http://www.cozumelcruiseexcursions.com. This was my family's favorite tour of all the tours we did. What we booked was the Dune Buggy and Beach break tour. This was provided by Dune Buggy Tours. Two big notes though. 1st the tour operators meet you in downtown Cozumel at the Divers memorial and not right outside of the cruise terminal. 2nd the email we received said it was a 20 minute walk to the meeting point or a $7 cab ride for 4. Do the cab ride! We were walking for 10 minutes and probable only made it 1/3 to ¼ of the way when my daughter was tired and grumpy of walking, that we decided to get a cab. We should have done this to begin with. We got to the meeting point and we were 30 minutes early and the guide was not there. We were all a little nervous about meeting this guide in down town Cozumel, but we stayed there as the directions said and right on time, a guide with a Dune Buggy Tours polo shirt approached me and asked if I was Ron Tyler, yep I was. We then walked two blocks to this lot with cars and some dune buggys in it. I paid for the tour, we had 3 adults and one child ($89/adult and $44 for the child). You may notice that the dune buggy tour on board is $99 but trust me, you get a lot more with this tour. So we followed our guide (Antonio) who was driving a dune buggy like truck and we drove our dune buggy. Oh, also, In the back of the dune buggy were these built in coolers that had sodas, beer and water in the cooler. We left Cozumel and followed our guide to this cove for Scuba Diving. We stopped here and our guide outfitted us with scuba equipment. We went out swimming and our guide had fish food and he attracted fish around us as we dove looking at this beautiful coral and beautiful tropical fish. Our guide also had a guy with a underwater camera take pictures of us as we dived around looking at the fish. We had our own underwater camera and our guide took pictures of us with this as well. It was really awesome!!! After about an hour to 1.5 hours we left this cove and we followed our guide who took us to this small little Mayan Ruin, with several small shops and a statue celebrating the pig (a statue with a guy holding a pigs head on a platter on his head). This was a neat little stop. We hopped back in the buggy and were off and went to a little road side stand that sold coconuts. Our guide got us a coconut and took pictures of us drinking the coconut and got us outfitted with some weave hats and took pictures of us at this small stretch of rocky beach in the back ground. After here we were off again for our last and final stop "Lunch" that is included in the tour price. We pull up to this secluded beautiful beach called Playa bonita. This little beach has nothing around but white sands, this small empty cabana with small little wooden make shift chairs. Our guide pulled out a large ice chest and box and headed down to the beach. Our guide told us to play for a while and that lunch would be ready in 15 minutes. My family and I hung out on the beach enjoying the natural beauty. 15 minutes later, lunch was ready. We had tortillas with Rice, pico de gallo, grilled chicken (our guide teased us saying it was iguana but it was chicken). We had chips and guacamole. It was a beautiful lunch on a beautiful beach and a great way to end the day. We finished eating then we left for a 30 minute dive back to Cozumel. Because my wife and daughter were taking their own sweet time, despite my constant nagging that we had to go and go now! When we got back we had 15 minutes to get back to the ship. We tipped the guide $20 and caught a cab back to the pier for $7 for the four of us. We made it back to the ship with 5 minutes to spare. Just to caution everyone, while the tour was well worth it, it is imperative that you stay on schedule and I would recommend despite how much fun you are having on the beach that you leave to make it back with more time to spend than what we did. This is the effect of my wife and daughter getting away with spending to much time on the beach when it was time to go. If you miss the ship and you have booked a not ship sponsored tour, you will be paying airfare back to Fort Lauderdale or to the next port of call. So, make sure you stay on time and know how much time you have.
Belize: Cave tubing. For this excursion, we booked through Coral Breeze tours http://www.coralbreezetours.com For this tour, we met our driver outside of the Wet Lizard restaurant right next to the pier where the cruise tenders arrive. This was a great tour and my family really enjoyed this tour. This tour also included lunch and was half the price of the cave tubing excursion on the ship. Also, what was nice about this tour, the ship excursion required children to be 12-years-old for this excursion. But Coral Breeze tours allows for children as young as 6-years-old. My daughter was 8-years-old and really wanted to go cave tubing. I don't know why the age limit, because drifting down a river is not too difficult. Anyways, so we meet our driver who drives us in an air conditioned van to our the Branch River where we then walk with our tour guide Little Louis (little Louie) who was excellent. He is a 100% Mayan Indian and has a Master in Archeology from Penn State. He was very knowledgeable about the rainforest jungle and Mayan history. At the river, Little Louie had us get in the refreshing water and we all locked arms together (my family and another couple on the tour). We then all drifted through the caves and down the river together with Little Louie telling us about the things we were seeing. It was a great trip. At the end we got back in the van with our driver who stays at the van and watches all your personal items (since you just wear your bathing suite for the river floating). We got back in the van and we rode to a restaurant where this lady made us a traditional Belizian lunch with beans, rice, chicken, and potato salad. We then traveled back to the pier area and our driver gave us advice on shopping in the area and recommended shopping and bargaining with the street venders outside of the tourist complex area. We did a little shopping, bought a Mayan calendar and then went back to the tourist pier to board our boat with plenty of time 1-2 hours to spare.
Roatan: Canopy Zip Line tour. This was probably our second favorite tour and our favorite port of call. We absolutely loved Roatan. We booked a Canopy Tour with optional Beach break. I booked this tour with Island Marketing through http://www.roatancruiseexcursions.com/ through the South shore Canopy Zip line tour group. For this tour we met Theris Dixon with the company outside of the port. We paid Theris Dixon, who then sent us with Alexandro who led us to our van and driver Julio. They then took us to the zip lining tour, and took care of the payment and we were fitted with harnesses and then we were giving a brief safety instruction and demonstration. We were soon flying with the birds along the rainforest canopy. It was an excellent adventure and out tour guides took pictures of us as we traveled in the trees. After 13 or so rides we were at the bottom. At the bottom a van picked us up and we were all taken back to the top of the mountain where we picked up our back pack we had left and we were met by Julio and Alexandro. They then took us to a cute little beach with a restaurant in a cabana. I got a couple of beach chairs and was told by these two kids that the chairs were for rent for $5. Alexandro quickly told them that we were guests through the company and were not to be charged for renting the chairs. We stayed and relaxed at the beach for 1 to 1.5 hours. We had lunch and when Alexandro and Julio returned we were still eating lunch. I ask them to join us for lunch and bought them there food. The food was relatively cheep for the meal we got. We ate fried plantanes, beans, tortilla, rice, chicken, beef tacos, and some rum punch for me. It was a lot of fun. Julio and Alexandros then drove us back to the ship and we tipped each Julio and Alexandros $10 for the guidance and got back on board. Just a note, To me Roatan seemed a little like Jamaica in that you are bombarded with people trying to sell you stuff or asking for money. Though, I though Roatan seemed a little cleaner, though they both have beautiful plush forest and light blue Caribbean water. I found a neat little cigar shop owned by an American and bought a Cuban cigar while on shore. I smoked this back on the boat while traveling back to the US.
So, in summary we really did enjoy our new ports of call, but still wish we would have gotten the chance to see the Panama Canal. I guess another time. We have got our December 2009 Cruise scheduled. This time we have booked with Disney Cruise lines (despite my protest). My wife, daughter, and mother are going on this cruise. It is a 7 cruise on the Disney Magic leaving on the 19th of December and going to St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Cast Away Cay. Perhaps next time we will give Norweigian at try. I am not sure what I will do with my Carnival Stock. I still think they are a good company and really enjoy their hospitality. We will see.
Happy Cruising to all. Ron