This was our 8th cruise (5 on RCI, 1 on =X= and 1 on Chandris line back in 1987). DH and I are in our mid 40s, kids are 20 and 16 and it was their 6th cruise. Let me start off by saying that on a whole Carnival met and exceeded any expectations especially because we've always heard mixed reviews throughout the years. We're accustomed to leaving out of the northeast since that's where we live. CCL made all the arrangements for us, flights to Florida and transfers. Since we had to cancel our RCI cruise last minute due to a family medical emergency, having someone handle all the details made it easy. We arrived in Florida and were greeted by friendly CCL staff, escorted to a (cabana coach co.) bus where we proceeded to go to the next terminal to pick up more pax. CCL staff advised the driver to take us without waiting for the others since they were waiting on their luggage and CCL didn't want to hold us up. We appreciated the gesture and decision very much. Boarding was a breeze, the terminal was empty, and they were waiting for us with happy, welcoming faces. We boarded and went directly to our cabins on the Empress Deck- deck 6, Cabins 6194 and 6212, both balcony cabins. We met our Cabin stewards who DID ask us to sign that we had met him. The moment was hurried but he didn't mention we were signing to ok the condition of the cabins, although he did ask if we had already been in our cabins (so even tho he asked us to sign that we met him, Im not 100% why we signed- if cabins were acceptable condition and cleanliness as others have mentioned or if it was merely that we met like he indicated). I swear we were the last to embark b/c it seemed like muster was shortly thereafter! After muster we had our kids bring back the vests and meet us at the Orpheus Bar aft Lido deck for our Unofficial Meet & mingle from Roll call. Being new to the CCL boards I am STILL unsure if CCL would have hosted a formal M&M like RCI does- If roll call members register. (if any CCL reps can enlighten me on this it would be great). Roll call met up, it was great to put faces to names and see some around while on board! (and wondered and hoped if some we hadn't met made it on board safely!)
The first thing we noticed was Miracle is smaller than we're used to. DH and I enjoy smaller vessels, so we were happy. (yes we knew it was, what I mean is that we felt the difference and liked it) Muster was quick and painless. I never did find out if the ship was at full capacity, but we weren't often crammed into an elevator and we never waited too long for one.
We were seated at Table 333(late seating), at a booth for 4. Our waiter and asst. were very good and quickly caught on that we were not newbie cruisers. After the first evening they always had a large bottle of water waiting on the table for us and the bar waitress knew what soda the kids wanted (until they switched to ginger ale b/c we hoped even the tiny amount of ginger something would help the tiny bit of nausea from the motion of the ship). We have heard mostly positive critiques, but have heard a small handful of folks that were not pleased with the food. We can compare to RCI- we were very pleased with everything about the food in the dining room. We were happy to see that CCL still maintains the charm of classic pretty (heavy) china plates- on our last 2 RCI cruises they were cheesy. Let me first say that my husband and I are both foodies and critical of food quality. Knowing banquet preparation is very different from fine-fresh dining this is our critique on the food. Presentation of all of our food was excellent- choices were plenty, most everything we ordered was tasty and properly cooked. We do not like anchovies and they are minced into the Caesar dressing, therefore after a couple days of Caesar we just had to pass. They could have had more salad choices. Our daughter is a chilled soup connoisseur; she did not like the chilled peach soup and said it tasted like watered down peach yogurt. My husband and I ordered filet one night both medium rare and they came well so we sent them back. They were very apologetic and quickly brought out what we ordered. Other than those instances, there is nothing we can say wasn't excellent. Service wasn't slow, but also wasn't rushed, it was a perfect flow for us. Our son is allergic to nuts and had a personal dining consultant, as the kids called her, stop by every evening to take his order for the following night (they prepared it separately) and she was very nice. The majority of people were well dressed in the MDR. An announcement was made the night before Cruise Elegant on what attire they would not allow in. We did not see any shorts or jeans or t shirts. We did see tuxedos, and most men were wearing suits. Very few wore casual khakis and a polo shirt. Women spanned the gamut from gowns to cocktail dresses to chiffon pants and one woman wore a very short red santa dress with boa trim. She looked like she was wearing a costume or a very tacky bedroom outfit from Fredricks; it didn't belong on a cruise ship (but she was a body builder most likely on steroids). I will end the review of the MDR with, 'we thought we died and went to heaven when we tasted the chocolate melting cake"........My daughter already has the recipe!
We had 2 balcony cabins, 6194 and 6212. Both were about the same as on RCI. CCL has more closet space which we liked, but the bathroom was just the slightest bit smaller, NO biggie at all. We all agreed the shower tube was also somewhat bigger on CCL. The balconies are noticeably smaller on CCL but we managed. ? We don't like the placement of the balcony lights though....one of our neighbors used it as a nightlight and it was very bothersome. When we wanted to relax on the balcony at night it was like being in a brightly lit city and we were blinded by the light from his balcony. Our Steward spoke with him and (lied) and told him that he had to keep the light off unless he was using the balcony b/c.....and I honestly forgot what he told him, but when he told us he was laughing and saying how he had to lie to the man. A day (night) later my husband knocked on his cabin door b/c they still had the light on that night- the man said his wife is afraid of the dark cabin so they use it as a nightlight. My husband offered the idea that if he keep the bathroom light on or the few stage lights on the desk mirror that would work too. We never saw their balcony light on at night again. We like the sliding doors on RCI much better than the regular doors CCL have 'because'... no one including my husband holds the door to shut it. Therefore when you're out on your balcony you hear an awful lot of slamming doors.
Cards and safes....and soda cards...So many cards!! Why? Cant we consolidate CCL? Use a 'shape' hole-punch for pax who purchase a soda card. A trained eye will easily notice a triangle or something different to the card. As for the magnetic-strip operated safe I guess nothing can be done about having to use a separate card, but CCL you can step it up, the process seems archaic to say the least. Having smart boards near guest relations and the excursion desk is a great idea but we didn't see many folks use it.
As for Miracles function, we thought she did a superb job at navigating us on the mighty seas!! Before we left there was so much negativity on the boards regarding the poor functioning (right) azipod and rumor that the stabilizers were not working at all. Im not an engineer but if you're a seasoned cruiser and wake- watcher you could tell that one azipod was weak, but still functioning. When we just sailed along we were at 17+ knots and there really didn't seem to be difficulties. We have sailed in December before and the seas are never like glass. April out of Florida to GC, Jamaica were more choppy on a larger ship, so we didn't notice any extra rocking n rolling that was anything even remotely out of the ordinary. As for the stabilizers, hmmm, never really saw anyone walking side to side and from the small amount of rock n roll they were not 'needed'. As for the high winds, you can't control mother nature. I don't remember a cruise ever not being windy on the top decks. Why do folks complain about the wind but still cruise?
(I am interjecting a comment on galley and food prep on CCL. I just rec'd an email from a friend overseas who does hiring for the upper cruise lines. (ie: seabourn and silversea, regent type lines). She said she was not surprised to hear the food was top notch because lately "the galley reviews of Royal have been bad", but surprisingly the "frequently criticized CCL culinary dept has become rather opulent. They must be investing more time and money in the galley area using good quality and fresh products". That is inside trade information.)
Shops on Board, we didn't find any unique jewelry ? Other shops didn't carry simple things like pepto (son needed it) or body lotion (they had one brand but I opted for the other shop with the good stuff!). I don't cruise for these reasons but I thought it was worth the mention. The casino could use better ventilation. I am an x-smoker and I thought the casino was very smokey.
The SUSHI!! Okay, here goes. Its nice to have a little spot that they open from around 5pm to 8:30 (not all days). It is the best attempt to date for presenting on board Sushi and it was nice that they rolled it in front of you instead of having pre-plattered sliced items. The sushi offered was cooked. You did not find delicacies like tuna (bluefin or ahi) and salmon (yes there was salmon but it was lox not raw uncooked). The tuna was seared and very good, the salmon (lox) was good, nothing was great or outstanding and some was downright uneatable. (mackerel was one, I don't recall the other icky rolls). One night there was a roll with cooked shrimp. Presentation was very good, including pickled ginger and wasabi and chop sticks. You were able to purchase Saki but we didn't enquire. Do NOT get excited if you're a Sushi snob, but if you need a 'fix', go for the tuna! Debarking and embarking the Miracle to and from islands was smooth. They could honestly use more security measures. There are many parents that allow their teens to walk around the islands unsupervised. The teens purchase clear alcohol and pour it into water bottles. CCL you need to step it up a notch and check the kids water bottles. Most nights the young teens are walking around 3/4s trashed. I admit that CCL does well with having security around the ship but what are they really doing I wonder? My best guess is they are there to make sure fights to not break out and kids do not get rowdy, but I tend to think they turn their heads on drunk kids or they have zero training to notice. We also noticed 2 gentlemen handing over their 8 bottles of boxed alcohol but security didn't notice their 'opened' backpack with 4 clanking bottles of wine sticking out. Just saying.....
Entertainment; a tough comment so I will compare. We think it was merely entertaining. Good enough to watch, sometimes I fell asleep, somewhat cheesy but you could notice excellent effort. Jazz moves were simplistic, we expect more if we have expectations. We missed the Motown Classics, I was kind of sad b/c I like Motown. Guitar Music (Scott) in the Gotham Lounge MUST be missed. He had to know someone for them to hire him, he was beyond awful. Maybe he should stick to playing guitar and NOT singing. Your ears hurt just walking by listening. Folks raved about the Beatles Tribute....why in the world would dancers be dressed in mexican garb doing the weirdest moves to Hey Jude....some of it was very good, but 'most' was lacking any cohesiveness- the dance and costume should be tied to the song. It was so confusing and annoying to the eye and ear. Enough said. The Newlywed (Love & Marriage) show left little to be desired. The CD didn't know how to get out of a sticky situation and instead of having the right age brackets on stage he had the senior couple, the newlyweds married about 2 months and then a cpl like in their early 60s or something. The middle couple probably should have been married 25ish years. It almost mirrored Royal Caribbeans game but Royals is BY FAR more entertaining, each and every time! It is "interactive" whereas CCLs is not. Again a comparison. We loved the Hypnotist, he was excellent! The scavenger hunts were great. I wouldn't fathom doing arts and crafts while on board but I could imagine instructing them in my senior years (then we can live on board). ? Not many used the Water Slide when it was opened, but we enjoyed it, wind and all! The wind did not deter us.
The Captains Welcome party was very nice. We didn't want to stay long, we were meeting friends, but we ended up staying a bit and having a cocktail. Always enjoy listening to the Captain, I just wish he'd speak for even longer. ?
Pools, we only went to the Orpheus pool which is supposedly Adults only. I finally arrived where both my kids are old enough for us to enjoy the area and there were little ones there too. It honestly didn't bother me at all, the handful there were well behaved and pretty unnoticeable, just a mention. The hot tub back there is smaller than mine at home. It does mention in the Caper, do not save chairs for long periods of time, but they do not have any signs on deck. Chair hogs were out in full force! The first sea day we opted for lounges on the sun deck, easy to find any time. The wind was minimal. The second or third sea day my husband and I got to the Lido deck Orpheus pool at 8AM and EVERY chair was taken by a towel, tee shirt or book. Very few were occupied by people. We finally found two chairs together near the rail and got comfy. Next to my husband was 3 chairs taken by 'the tee shirts" and next to me were 2 chairs taken one by a book one a towel. At around 10:30 a lady comes to the 3 chairs just as our daughter is arriving, she offers one of the three lounges to us then goes on to say if we need another one, she really only needed one. Funny, as this was happening, my son arrived and we needed her second lounge. Then she only stayed for 30 minutes and left. (anyone reading this, don't do this, its so disrespectful to your fellow pax. Sorry had to say it.) A little before 1pm the two chairs next to me were still the way they were at 8am...no one ever came and it started to rain, we left. I just don't get it.
Oops, I almost forgot about Horatios and other food options! We had room service every morning, coffee and croissants. They always came early, which was kind of unexpected, but after 3 mornings we knew their schedule and adjusted the time. The coffee is very good. I do not like (will not drink more than a morning sip) Seattles best on board RCI so I was VERY happy to have coffee I liked. We only ordered room service one other time and tried the shrimp salad, it was very good. I will compare Horatios dining experience to the Windjammer (Voyager Class/RCI, most recently ExOS- 25 days total on board). Breakfast; past Explorer cruises the bacon was unrecognizable. Everyone we were with thought the same and it was an ongoing joke. The food is typically never really hot, it is always lukewarm to warm. You kind of just go on to justify it by saying, "well it is buffet food and kept warm, it isn't straight from the oven". We eat omelets and toast and avoided the rubbery pancakes and nasty tasting sausage and the 'what is that bacon. On CCL we were pleasantly surprised that the bacon looked like bacon, wasn't laying in grease and was easily taken with tongs from the tray and not all gunked together. The turkey sausage was very good, the omelets very good, the only complaint is CCL get some REAL good whole wheat bread, please ?. The whole wheat was mostly white w/ traces of ww flour. Anyway, it is hard to find anything bad about breakfast at Horatios. Onto lunch, on Explorer I stuck to salads, they seemed to be the only freshest thing to eat. The first day we do the greasy burger thing but not again the whole cruise! The rest of the hot foods can only be rated as eh. At Horatios you can always find good pannini and wraps. Always excellent pizza 24/7 too. They offered Taste of the Nations including Mexico, Indian, France, Caribbean, America and Mediterranean. Horatios has a grill grilling burgers and hot dogs (vs. WJ where they lay out sitting on fat and pax pick and pull at them and throw them around). I did like the layout of this area for the most part...kids didn't. I think they pack whatever they can into one long area in WJ and I liked the different sections in Horatios. The last day they had a continual afternoon Chocolate corner. A chocolate fountain dipping anything you can think of. This was the ONLY time I ever saw a line all afternoon. (note, the line went quickly but there was a line all afternoon). I did not like their salad bar ? We also didn't like the Caesar because it had bits of anchovies, just not our thing. Two afternoons (or more?) they had make your own sundaes out on deck by the ice cream and frozen yogurt stations.
Itinerary, we booked St Maarten, St Lucia, St Kitts. St Lucia was dropped and we went to Grand Turk. I was okay with this, as I hadn't been to either and I had always heard the water in Turks and Caicos was beautiful. We didn't do any excursions. This was the first time we decided to 'wing it' and just go to the beaches. In St Maarten we took the water taxi over to the beach/shopping area, a 2 minute ride across the bay. If you're in decent shape you can easily walk it but it will take a little longer. We met folks who we knew from our Explorer 2007 holiday cruise, the Dad hung out with us most of the day on the beach and it was great talking and comparing cruises. The kids were so excited to see each other, they kept in touch throughout the year and looked forward to all being together for the 2008 Explorer cruise again, then we had to cancel....so running into them and being able to spend time was very memorable. My kids both enjoyed Jet Skiing. It was very easy to find Jet skiis to rent, they were all over!! We were thrilled to see them! It was tough getting this kind of info before we left for some reason. In case anyone is interested it cost $50 for 30 minutes for one and $55 if two ride.
2 Lounges and an umbrella runs $10.00, some have deals with 2 beers, if you drink beer! Read the signs. We didn't shop other than designer sunglasses for the kids. (part of their Holiday gift). St Kitts- last year we went to So Frigate bay this year I wanted to go to Cockleshell beach....it was raining and we ended up walking the town of St Kitts instead of going to the beach. We had a great day! Grand Turk the water was as everyone says......beautiful to swim in and hang out in all day. The way I feel about Bermuda and GC. Id love to go back and see a different area of the island though. The majority of folks got off and stayed at Margaritaville, carnival cruise center beach area. I wanted to walk down to before the pier to Jacks Shack, we made it 3/4s and I didn't feel good so we laid our towels in the sand and enjoyed the water where we were. Our kids walked down but didn't see anything at all, other than a seemingly closed dive shack. I think later in the day something opened that had lounge chairs to rent, but at that point we were heading back to Margaritaville. It was a nice day.....2 ships right there in port as you swim, kind of interesting...I think I rather see a different area of the island if there is one.
We wouldn't hesitate sailing Carnival again. I think it would be a different experience out of the northeast, but knowing Miracle sails from here spring/summer months is another option now for us, we live in NJ and NY is very convenient.
I hope I didn't miss anything, I covered a lot, hope the info is helpful. Feel Free to contact me at email@example.com and remember... **Every cruise is a different experience, even on the same ship! **