This was our second trip on the Miracle. Our first was last year and our itinerary was changed at the last minute and we never got to go to Panama - so I thought we should try again.
This gives me a great chance to make comparisons. Firstly 8 days on a cruise ship is great. It is not too short, not too long and we seem to have had a much longer vacation than before.
We had flown to FL from England via Atlanta and although this took ages, it was smooth and comfortable thanks to Delta and the three of us saved over £350 rather than direct with Virgin to Miami.
We arrived a couple of nights early and chilled at the Hilton FL Beach. A fantastic pre-cruise choice. We also got to see Lionel Ritchie live at the Hard Rock. Sail On!
Boarding the ship was a nightmare! Last year we sat in seats and were called up in batches. Excellent. This year we stood in line, shuffling like penguins for nearly 2 hours in 80deg+ heat. Not great for some of the more senior citizens, but more about that later!
Balcony cabin was great, although we did feel the movement of the ship more on deck 8 than last year on deck 5, but it wasn't a problem. Our room steward Arif was superb and looked after us very well.
The Miracle is a great ship. A bit garish perhaps but the people flow really well and you can always find places where you are practically on your own.
Food is good at the buffet, better in the sit-down and superb in the Nick & Nora's Supper Club - which should revert to being a steakhouse and move up market. Not everything has to be downscale Carnival. We had Anytime dining and enjoyed it. However after the Austrian couple, the Gay Canadian couple and the Swiss lesbians, we decided that the crew had the Brits down as being the least 'redneck' of their guests and asked to dine on a table for two. I don't have any prejudices, it just makes conversation and finding common ground a bit difficult. Everybody was perfectly pleasant.
Ports of call. Panama was everything I expected. We did the Canal Tour. it's lengthy and probably not for kids. My 13yr old was bored, but that's only because the kids camp on the ship is awesome and he makes dozens of friends that he's always sad to leave behind. The docking port is well-named as Colon. It really is the sphincter of the world and I would advise moving swiftly on.
Costa Rica was next. A beautiful country with great people. It says a lot when a Central American country doesn't have an Army! We went white-water rafting and it was glorious. Not for the older or infirm as it was a hazardous trek to the boats and getting out at the bottom on a causeway of giant boulders in wet shoes was a magic act. However, blasting along a fantastic river on a red hot day in the central American jungle is something I will always remember. I got a bit enthusiastic at paddling so thanks to my crew member Kelly for keeping me in check. Limon is a far nicer port and we had a wander around and shopped.
Next up was Belize, the only Port we have seen before. i went ashore early with my son for a bit of shopping and then we joined afternoon Snorkel and Beach Break. We met some great people - Penny & Terry and Kelly came too. My wife and son roped Kelly and Terry into a spot of canoeing and I enjoyed the private beach chatting to Penny. The snorkeling was good but visibility wasn't the best as the day was cloudy. I'm not a good swimmer and it took me a while to get my confidence back, but can't wait to go again. The guides and tuition was excellent.
I had forgotten how good the Belize rum punch is. By the time we got back to the Miracle, the entire boat was singing and other trippers gave us jealous looks that they hadn't come with us. The security staff joined in the signing as we re-boarded. i can honestly say that this was the most fun day of the ship - and here is my only complaint.
Carnival has an image as the Fun Ship cruise line. It is aimed at families and younger people and is supposed to be loud, outgoing and tolerant of high spirits. Last year it was. This year I have never seen so many walking frames, motorised scooters and gallons of blue rinse in my life! Where were all the young people? We found 50 on our Belize tour but that was it!
All of the crew and table staff commented on it. The brilliant asst maitre'd was incredulous at the average age of his guests. The ship was quiet at night and we sought out the Karaoke bar as the only place to have a laugh and see some talented people sing.
It turns out that Carnival offered some fantastic deals to over 55s and Florida residents, so guess what? The boat was filled with Florida residents over 55! I enjoy the company of old people - some of my best friends are old people as the saying goes. But this wasn't the place for them. Use your marketing to steer them to HAL or Princess instead. Otherwise your younger or more outgoing crowd will defect to Ocean Village or Norwegian instead.
as a result of this profile, shipboard activities were lame. The cruise director Malcolm was good and individually very funny, but the activities on the ship were mediocre compared to last year and ultimately that's what he's there for.
Saying all that, we'll book again. Probably even in 2010 when the Miracle changes itinerary. I took the Behind the Fun tour which other CC members have commented on and it was brilliant. Actually worth the $95. I met the Captain and chatted with him for ages, most of the other officers, the head chef and grabbed the chance to serve my drinks waiter with a drink whilst he ate lunch - much to the amusement of his mates.
We'll be back Carnival. Do take take not to confuse your brands and keep the differentiation. If you want a quick solution a free glass of Belize Rum punch every night would liven things up.