Summary: We had a wonderful time on our cruise. The ship and its employees were outstanding in almost every respect. The only negative thing I have to say is that it turned out that my family would have preferred more ports and fewer sea days, but that was due to my decision to sail out of New York to save air fare, and should not reflect badly on the cruise line. (We are two 40-somethings with teenaged kids, ages 13 and 17.) We liked it so much that we've booked a Carnival Western Caribbean cruise for next summer - seven days with four ports, so only two sea days.
Embarkation: We were kind of appalled to hear that the New York Passenger Terminal charges $30 a day for parking, but my DH and his friend located a private lot nearby that charged only $16/day. (The lot is Primary Parking, part of Icon Parking systems, located on 10th Ave, between 49th and 50th Streets. Google it and look up the online coupons.) So that helped pay for a few DOD's. After my DH returned from parking the car, he met up with us in the terminal (only took him 15-20 minutes). Embarkation lines looked long, but actually went very quickly and we were on board within a half hour.
Staterooms: Our staterooms were 8181 and 8183, two balconies on the starboard side. The rooms were available immediately when we checked in and our luggage was quick to arrive. For booking reasons (past guest discounts) we were at first booked with one parent in each room, but Guest Services was happy to issue extra keys Unfortunately, we did find that these rooms were somewhat noisy as they seem to be under the pool deck. Most of the noise was outside on the balconies as it was very audible when people dragged chairs around. The rooms were fairly quiet at night (once the chairs were put away for the night) but the noise did begin pretty early in the morning (7 am). However, it was not enough to wake me. Light sleepers might want to consider different rooms, though. As usual, the steward (Casey) did an outstanding job keeping our rooms attractive.
Public Rooms: Some people criticize Carnival's "over the top" style of decorating the public rooms, but I kind of like it. There's always something to see and amaze you. And the staterooms are pretty muted, so it makes a good contrast. The swimming pools were very crowded on this cruise because there were many children on board due to school being out of session. We only used the hot tubs a few times, and didn't really spend too much time lying out on deck. I don't like big crowds, but there were lots of chairs available away from the crowds if you walked away from the pool areas. Spirit-class ships like the Miracle also have many places indoor where you can get away from the crowds. There are lounges tucked all over the ship where one could go and take a book to read. On one of the sea days there was bad weather, so we stayed inside in a small lounge and played Scrabble, and it turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon.
Food: Virtually all of the food was really good, with very few "duds" throughout the week. (Best: the crab cake appetizer on the final night was the best I'd ever eaten; Worst: Spinach lasgana - not awful, just didn't do it for me.) We often ordered several appetizers because they were so good. The wait staff was excellent, but it did seem like all of the dining room waiters were busier than they were in our previous cruise on the Spirit last year. Not sure if Carnival is cutting back on service staff. I hope not because part of the experience is having a few moments to get to know your waiters because they come from such interesting places. The Lido buffets were also great. We did pizza a number of times. (You can get garlic bread and great calzones from them if you are willing to wait a few minutes.) DH and I also did a "date night" at the steakhouse one night and as usual the food was fabulous - it's worth the $30 charge. Room service was also very good - prompt and the food was hot. The only thing is you have to be very specific about what you want.
Entertainment: We went to several evening shows. Ticket to Ride was fantastic - definitely worth the time. The Rock Star Juggler was also very good, funny and talented. My son saw the ventriloquist's show and said it was great. Legends (a show featuring appearances by guests) was o.k., but not as good as the others IMHO. Malcom Burn, the cruise director was very funny and kept the audience entertained. One evening show had him doing a pantomime with passengers. It sounded sort of lame from the description, but turned out to be very funny. We also attended the Love and Marriage game in the afternoon, hosted by Malcolm. He was very funny and engaging when he was quizzing the couples about their marriages. We did bingo one sea-day afternoon, which was fun (although through a miscommunication with my husband, I at first thought the tickets were $5 each. Once I found out they were $20 each it became less fun).
Teen Programs: Both kids say the teen programs were fun. They tended to drop in and out of the daytime activities, but liked the after dinner stuff.
Excursions: As I said in my summary above, we found that as a family we are happier with stuff to do, which is why a cruise with four sea days may not have been the best choice for us. That said, the excursions were the high points of the cruise for us. Grand Turk: In Grand Turk we spent about an hour and a half at the Margaritaville pool. This is probably the nicest pool I've ever been in, and seriously you could easily just spend the whole day there. There are tons of lounge chairs in both sun and shade. The water in the pool is wonderful. There's a swim up bar featuring lots of types of margaritas as well as wandering wait staff. (But no one minds if you don't order anything.) There's also a Flow Rider wave surfing pool you can either ride, or just watch other people. We also went on the Catamaran Sail Away/Snorkeling Adventure at Grand Turk. Again, while this was a fun expedition, it may have been a mis-match for our family. I chose it because it included sailing (for DH, who is an avid catamaran sailor at home), snorkeling (for the kids) and the description mentioned that there would be rum punch served (which sounded pretty relaxing to me). Well, the snorkeling was a lot of fun - so much fun that we kind of wished we'd done a straight snorkel trip. Not so much sailing - the captain motored around with the sails up. The rum punch.... well that was very yummy... but in reality the trip was a bit of a booze cruise (not that that's a bad thing, just a mis-match for our family!) Still, everyone on the boat seemed to have a really good time.
Half Moon Cay: Yes, it really is as beautiful as everyone says. We did an early horseback riding session. (People booked on excursions get priority to tender over to the island.) The horseback riding was kind of hot during the first half of the ride through the trails, but once we got to ride into the water it totally made up for it. The horses seemed to enjoy racing each other once they were in the water. Definitely worth doing this excursion. Because we had enjoyed snorkeling so much at Grand Turk, we jumped onto another snorkel trip that still had openings at HMC. This was more our speed - they took us out to a reef that had tons of fish, gave us brief instruction and let us go.
Nassau: We did the Deep Water Swim/Aquadventure Atlantis combo. This is a very expensive excursion, but we decided it was a once in a lifetime sort of thing. The dolphin swim was very cool. You wear wet suits (the dolphin's lagoon is kept fairly cold) and they give you a mask and snorkel to keep. When you are in the water you use a hand held propulsion jet to swim alongside the dolphins. They also push you across the lagoon on a wakeboard and pose for pictures with you. Unfortunately, you can't take your own photos, and the professional photos are quite expensive (packages start at $60). Still, it is a very cool experience. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate for the later part of the afternoon. There was a thunderstorm that shut the water park down for about an hour during the time we wanted to go on rides. We did do the Rapids River a few times (very good ride) and DH and I did the Power Tower. (The signs on the line telling you how long until you can ride lie. It took significantly longer than we expected, causing me to worry about missing the last shuttle back to the ship.) The aquarium at Atlantis is also included in the package, and is very good. Food is expensive, but we found that the restaurant located on an island in the park was very good, if pricey.
Behind the Fun Tour: After having heard about the Behind the Fun Tour on Cruise Critic I really wanted to go on it. Since the number of spaces is very limited (two tours of sixteen people each) I jumped on the line at the excursion desk right after we embarked. (You can't reserve online.) This was another highlight of the cruise. After meeting with our tour guide, a very nice woman who is in charge of crew training on the Miracle, we then went backstage in the main theatre and talked to the dance captain, who showed us where all the props etc are kept. We then visited the photo processing area, the main galley where we met the head chef, the engine control room where we met the chief engineer, the store rooms (very big and very cold), the laundry (where they have huge machines to fold sheets and towels, the crew dining room and galley, and the crew lounge, the garbage processing facility (which was actually very clean and neat). The best part of the tour was visiting the bridge, where we took pictures with the captain, and spoke to the (very cute) third officer about ship's operations. Members of the tour are treated as VIPs for the day. They give you various Carnival souvenirs (a hat, a small back pack, a lanyard), but they also deliver the special photos with the head chef and captain to you at dinner, along with a special dessert. The chef also had plates of treats delivered to our rooms. I think it was worth the money ($95 per person) because it was again a once in a lifetime experience.
Debarkation: Ok, the only really negative thing I have to say about the cruise was that debarkation was not run very well. After vacating our staterooms we went to the dining room for breakfast and had the only less-than-excellent service of the week. I get the feeling that the wait staff is very busy and not thrilled about serving a sit down meal. After breakfast we were told to go sit in one of two locations. Both locations were very crowded, but people who tried to sit anywhere else were shooed away. It took about an hour and a half for us to be called, and there were still a lot of people after us yet to go. In the terminal the luggage was not arranged in an orderly way, making it hard to find our stuff. (This may not be Carnival's fault - it may be the way the port authority works.) Still, I think Carnival should put some thought into making debarkation smoother.