Travelers: DH (42), DD (21), Mom (upper 60s) and me (44).
We booked this cruise in late April 2009 right after Carnival released the 2010 schedule. We were an honorary member of a Group Cruise. Many of us chatted online for almost a year before we sailed and we felt like we were family/good friends. We spent quite a bit of time hanging out together during the cruise.
It took us just over an hour to get to the pier from our house in NJ. The limo dropped us right by the door. The porter took the bags and they all showed up safely a few hours later. We took the elevator up to the third level to get a wheelchair for Mom who cannot stand long. Embarkation took about 30 minutes in total. We then headed up to the Lido Deck to meet get some lunch and to meet the gang. This was the first of four planned meets. We had a Meet and Mingle arranged through Carnival in one of the lounges on our second day at sea. We had over 20 folks there and we exchanged little gifts with each other and had an hour of open bar. It was great fun as we had the Cruise Director, Malcom "Woo Hoo", and the Assistant Cruise Director, Sparkles, in attendance. They played Carnival trivia with us for glasses of champagne. I won four of them I think. We also had gatherings on the balconies of two of the other people from the group. Out of the nine cruises I have been on, this was by far the friendliest group of people we have ever met and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting, drinking and hanging out with them.
The seas during our sail down to Grand Turk were very smooth. The last three cruises out of NY were met with rough seas the first and last sea days. I did find that it was a bit chilly though early in our first sea day and most of our last sea day. We didn't pack a lot of warm clothing so we were a bit cold. Lesson learned for next year that it is still a bit chilly in Mid May.
The first sea day they offered a cooking demonstration in the Supper Club. It is not to be missed. They said to arrive early and I was so glad we did (over 30 minutes early). We got a seat at one of the tables on the side. They have chairs lined up in rows for everyone else to sit in. Not only did they demonstrate how to make four of the dishes from the supper club but we got to sample them. They had four chefs and gave a ship on a stick to the one who did the best presentation for us. We got to have Mushroom Cappuccino (chef's special side), Spinach salad with mushrooms and bacon, Chicken with potatoes and Mac and cheese, and Tiramisu. Well worth the time for the demonstration.
Casino: The casino was actually very kind to me during the cruise. I had two days where I lost money but I ended up ahead on the week. I even walked away ahead from roulette. The Casino bar has an entertainer there almost each night (I think he was off one night during the cruise). His name is Billy and he plays guitar and sings very popular songs. By the end of the cruise the bar was full of folks just coming to listen to him. He was that good. The bartenders at the casino bar were the best. They were some of the friendliest (and busiest) folks I seen on the ship. They did take the time though to talk and laugh with you.
Grand Turk was our first port. We arrived around 7 am but we didn't get off the ship till after 9. We had reserved a cabana at Margaritaville as a ship's excursion. The cost was $130 and included our own server. You need to take your tour ticket and go to the main desk at Margaritaville to get your cabana. The cabanas are located along the walkway that goes along the back end of Margaritaville. Several of them do have handicap access ramps so you need to arrive early to get one of them. The cabana has two couches and a table inside. The porch had two chaise lounges that were under the cover. The cabana is air conditioned and they give you a key so that you can lock up your stuff (you have to give a sail and sign card to get the key). There is a button inside the cabana to push to call your server.
Half Moon Cay. We had gotten to reserve the Oasis for 14 of us. When we were on the tender going over there, the skies opened up and it poured torrential rain. That was the start of what turned out to be a very cloudy, foggy, windy and rainy (cold rain) day. We were told it only rains there about five days a year (lots of other days with passing showers) and we were "lucky" enough to have one of those days. The Oasis was wonderful and you have your own bartender, cook and wait staff. They were there to cater to our every need. They even had warm beach towels for us. We ended up wrapping them around ourselves later to keep warm. It also includes chaise lounges, hot tub and private slide into the water. You can even arrange to have a massage there (must be arranged in advance). They say that the Oasis can hold up to 25 people but I think that it would be very crowded if you had that many folks there. We headed back to the ship before 3 pm as we were just too cold and wet to stand it anymore.
Nassau. We hired a driver from an online website for a four hour private island tour. We met our driver, Joseph, at the fountain across the street from the pier entrance. After discussing with us what we wanted to do (We wanted to see Atlantis, history of the island, tourist sights and what real life is like on the island.) He showed us where the government is for the islands how it runs. We then went to Fort Fincastle and then walked down the Queen's Staircase. We worked our way over to Atlantis where we were told that they really cracked down last weekend as to where non guests can go on the property (basically no outside areas). You had to show your room key to access them. Not sure if you gain some access if you buy a day or aquarium pass.
After that we were asked if we were squeamish and we said no, he stopped at a vegetable stand where he bought an onion, lime, orange and a hot pepper. We then went over to the boats where they had some conch shells. We were shown how they clean them and we were made a traditional conch salad that men eat. It was thinly sliced onion, the hot pepper, sliced conch that was cut in a crisscross pattern to tenderize it, and it was made into a ceviche with the orange and lime. The hot pepper wasn't too hot. It was delicious and we all ate at least two handfuls of it.
After a tour of Graycliff, we drove all over the island and got to see the new stadium they are building, the college, and the US Ambassadors house. Joseph was a very informative driver and we asked a lot of questions. He explained to us that lots of changes are coming for one area of Nassau. The area where the Wyndham and Sheraton are will be changed as part of a $2 billion dollar project that was just approved in the last two weeks. So don't be surprised when they close. At the end of the tour he dropped us off right at the pier area.
Sea Days: I spent a lot of time at the aft adult only pool. I did notice some chair hogs but we were always able to get chairs. The water in the pool was cold but very refreshing after baking in the sun. Another refreshing thing was being able to make an ice cream sundae with the toppings they put out at the ice cream bars. They put the toppings out around 3:30 and included cookies, mini M&MS, nuts, caramel and chocolate sauce to name a few. There was quite a bit of wait service back there so we were always able to get a drink. I did also see security out by the aft pool area making sure no little kids were there. Security was also present throughout the ship during the entire cruise.
Dining: I think that many folks chose assigned dining as they only had half of the top level of the dining room assigned as any time dining. The food in the dining room is pretty good on an overall basis. I wish some of the entrees would come out a bit hotter but they were not cold. My only complaint was that one evening what I ordered and what I got were different. I ordered the seafood Newburg which said it had shrimp and scallops in it (I have had it before and knew what to expect). The dish I got delivered had a fish filet in it and was topped with mussels and had a dark broth with it. I am allergic to mussels (only shellfish I am allergic to) and knew I could not touch it. I got the waiters attention and they immediately took it away and offered to get me something else. Unfortunately nothing else on the menu appealed to me. They even offered to go to the Lido Deck and get pizza for me if I wanted. I declined the offer but thanked them generously for making the offer. I got a hold of the Maitre D to let him know what happened (not to complain about the waiters but to express my dismay over the disparity of the menu and the food that was delivered). He immediately got the restaurant manager over. She brought the menu book over so I could make sure that I had something to eat each night for the remainder of the cruise. If there was a day that I was not able to eat, I could have put in a special request for my entrEe. There was no need for a special request. I did also find out that I could have requested to see the lunch menus and they could have done a special request if there was nothing I was able to eat for a particular day. The request just had to be made a day in advance.
We ate at Nick and Nora's the second elegant night. It is $30 a person but well worth the experience. You have a team of servers and they took excellent care of us. We brought a bottle of wine with us and were not charged a fee to uncork it. DD did not like any of the salad choices so they made her a custom salad with spinach, mushrooms and ranch dressing. They offered boneless rib eye as an entrEe choice that is not on the online menu. DH had that and it melted in his mouth. Two of us ordered lobster and DD had the Strip steak. They were excellent. I timed our meal so that we were able to watch the sunset and it was gorgeous. Two of us had the Chocolate sampler as dessert and we didn't like two of them (personal choice). Mom had a massive slice of cheesecake for dessert and DD had champagne sorbet and she said it was delicious.
DH and I are not buffet fans, but we agree that the buffet on the Miracle is great. We ate lunch there every day but one when we ate it in the dining room. They have freshly made chips, salsa, sour cream and guacamole daily. One day it is part of the main buffet and the other days they have the chips and salsa up at the hamburger grill. I ate something from the Chinese buffet each day (Love the garlic soy sauce) and I had the deli almost daily whether for lunch or a late night snack. Do not be afraid to customize the sandwiches that were listed. I can honestly say that I didn't have one slice of pizza on this cruise. DH and DD did and said it was good as it has been in the past.
Breakfast. We did a few breakfasts in the dining room and we had issues each time we asked for ketchup. One meal it took over 10 minutes to get it. In the past it was readily available but not now. This was surprising as it is a common breakfast condiment. We ate two breakfasts up on the Lido deck as we missed the dining room. I thought it was weird the one day when the guy put the filling on one side of the omelet and then flipped it over and tried putting the cheese on the other side. I asked him to flip it over and put the cheese with the other fillings. He gave me a strange look. The other mornings we ordered room service that was delivered promptly at the requested time.
Debarkation: Debarkation seemed a bit slow and disorganized. There was a long gap in between numbers and it took almost 40 minutes to get from group number 1 to 9 where we were. We were waiting in the area for the wheelchair assistance as Mom needed it. That area was full of folks that were self assist and others not in need of assistance. The luggage area in the terminal was a bit crazy and customs was a joke. We gave the guy the form and pointed and ourselves and gave him mom's and pointed at her. Then off we went to chase the guy who had our bags (we had to share a cart with another family). It was a bit insane.
We do all agree that this was the best cruise that we have ever been on. This was our 7th Carnival cruise and we have taken two on Princess. In fact, a number of us from the group booked for the same week next year, as the rates were posted when we were onboard.