So we had been thinking about taking a cruise for a long time and finally decided to pull the trigger and actually go when we found a New Years cruise on the Carnival Miracle for a reasonable price that went to some exotic Southern Caribbean ports- St. Martin, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts. There are three of us, my wife and I as well as our 8 year old son. Overall we had an incredible time and would recommend Carnival to others, but we also weren't completely sold on all aspects of the experience and we'll probably try out a few other vacations before we go running back to another cruise.
Our trip down to Florida was a mess, but no one's fault really. Although it started with a limo pulling up in our driveway, the aftermath of the Dec 2010 Blizzard proceeded to wreak havoc with our flights. Instead of making it to Ft. Lauderdale the evening before our departure we arrived in West Palm Beach at 3am. Luckily the hotel we had booked, the Hampton Inn North Cruise Port held our room for us as we requested and our vacation would go much smoother from there on out. The Hampton Inn was a great place to stay as they had free shuttle service to the airport and the pier as well as a Wynn Dixie next door if you needed any last minute items. Embarkation was a little chaotic at first, but we were on the ship in about 45 minutes, so can't really complain about that.
The Carnival Miracle was a nice ship, although it didn't really blow you away with anything too fancy. Our balcony stateroom was a decent size, perfect for the 3 of us. I don't know how you can fit 4 in a room of that same size without driving everyone crazy though. Other than a very limited selection of TV channels I found the cabin to be perfect (we didn't go on vacation to watch TV, so who cares about that anyways).
There were numerous activities, especially on Sea Days. ranging from the ridiculous to more refined . We enjoyed an assortment of them. I was disappointed in the basketball court, they had a very low net hanging over it so you really could play without the net interfering with a normal shot. Silly complaint I know, but I like to play ball.
Camp Carnival was awesome. Our 8 year old son was a little unsure of whether he really wanted to spend much time there at the outset but by the end of the week it was hard to keep him away at times. They offered numerous parties with games, dancing, etc. that went well into the early morning hours and were well attended by the little ones on our New Years cruise. The $6 per hour after 10pm seemed like the biggest bargain of our vacation. On those late nights we were able to stay out and have some fun as adults and our son came back both tired and happy all of the time. I would recommend you carve out some mid-afternoon nap times if late night fun is on your agenda though, I think that helped us as much as it did our son.
The evening entertainment was a bit hit or miss. The comedians were quite good, one even great I would say. Carnival flew on a juggler/comedian for one of the evening shows and I walked away thinking I would have paid good money to see him back home. The standard performances by the Ships crew we largely found unimpressive though. We did enjoy these shows when we went, but they definitely were a step down from what I would consider the pros.
The food was largely quite good, but this was another area I would describe as a bit hit or miss. We loved that the pizza joint was always open, but unfortunately the pizza wasn't all that good. On the other hand the poolside grill was pretty good for a simple grill yet they were only open for very limited hours. Food and service in the Main Dining Room was also of varying quality. We used the anytime dining option which was very convenient. We did notice a wide range of service levels depending where we sat and who our wait staff was though. A few were absolutely incredible, while a few were just OK. We really enjoyed much of the food but we also were disappointed a bit in the menu. While it was fun to eat lamb, duck, lobster, etc. and the food was usually quite good we found some of the food pairing to be a bit odd and overdone. Sometimes simplicity is your friend. I am a picky eater and lover of Italian food though, which seemed oddly absent for most of the cruise, so take this with a grain of salt.
We spent one evening dining at Nick & Nora's Steakhouse, where both the food and service were spectacular. The steak was incredible and definitely worth the extra charge. The service and atmosphere was a little pretentious, but intentionally so and it helped to make everything feel a little extra special. The servers were eager to please and food was incredible, what more can you ask for?
Ports of call were fun, although this is where I slacked a bit on research so they could also be a bit infuriating at times. In St. Maarten we rented a car and drove around the island on our own. It was fun to explore and we managed to find a relatively secluded and incredibly beautiful beach to enjoy. In St. Lucia we took the Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons offered by Carnival. This was one of this highlights of our trip. Although we did not get on the island much, the coast of St. Lucia has some of the most beautiful terrain we had ever seen, we were able to swim at a black sand beach, and there was free rum punch and soft drinks. Finally, in St. Kitts we took a cab to Cockleshell Beach. The beach was OK, the beach bar was overpriced, and getting the cab was far more frustrating than it should have been. The scenery in St. Kitts is not to be missed however, the whole island appeared to be stunning.
Our final complaint about the Miracle was the chair hogs on the deck. It's hard to blame this on a specific party, but Carnival didn't really try much to enforce their 30-minute chair saving policy. On sea days it was frustrating to try and find a chair while walking past all of the empty but saved chairs. If you were flexible you could grab a chair and lug it to an empty spot on one of the top decks you could usually find a spot though, so it wasn't too bad.
Debarkation went smoothly, we were in one of the last zones to be called so we had to wait, but once were were called we walked off the ship and only had to wait in a short line at immigration before we were on our way to the airport and headed back towards the frigid North.
Overall our first cruise was a blast and we want to do it again. It wasn't perfect so we'll continue to try some different things on our vacations for now though. As long as you don't expect perfection in everything you should have a great time cruising on the Miracle.