My wife and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary, brought in 2011, enjoyed the college bowl games and visited 3 amazing islands along the way. This was our third cruise and second with Carnival. We chose Carnival because the atmosphere (for us) on Carnival truly is FUN and relaxing. In addition, the cost of this cruise compared to other New Year cruises was very affordable.
After getting quotes from a travel agent and checking various online travel sites, I booked this cruise online directly with Carnival and arranged our airline travel on my own. We were fortunate to have no travel issues as we flew in from the Midwest the day of embarkation. Upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL), we took a cab ($17 including tip for the both of us) for a 10 minute ride to the Port. We were impressed at how quickly and affordable it was to get from the airport to the port.
Embarkation went smoothly and took 30 - 45 minutes from the time we got out of the cab to stepping onto the ship. We were greeted on the ship with complimentary champagne (I assume for being a New Year Cruise).
Our stateroom was 5180, Category 7A Balcony. It was listed as partially obstructed view because of the lifeboat hanging below the balcony. We had no complaints of the view and enjoyed having a balcony; however, the only reason I spent the extra money for the balcony was that we were celebrating our anniversary and could enjoy some time alone outside. Any other time I do not believe it worth the increase cost. The room itself could use some updating as the dEcor reminded me of the 50's, but that may be in keeping with the comic book theme.
We chose "Your Time Dining" and enjoyed the flexibility of going to dinner anytime between 5:45 - 9:30. We did have to wait approximately 15 minutes to be seated one evening. We were issued a buzzer and passed the time in a nearby lounge. We found service depended on who your server was. Two nights we had quick service the other it took about 1 hour 45 minutes to finish the meal. Friends we met on the cruise invited to their assigned table for 6:00 dining. A couple that was assigned to that table ended up missing the cruise due to the weather. We met them and another coupe for dinner about four times. The service at our table was outstanding each night.
Days at Sea were packed with activities to do. We did not participate in many of them as were occupied with Anniversary, New Years, Bowl games, meeting new friends and relaxing.
Service was okay...nothing spectacular. We requested to have balcony and bathroom cleaned three times with no results. We ended up cleaning ourselves. ..not a huge issue. Other than that, everything seemed to be fine.
The equipment in the fitness center is in need of some major maintenance/renovations. Half of the treadmills were out of order and the mirrors in the weight room had to come from a carnival Fun House. The facility could be expanded as it did seem crowded.
Entertainment was exceptional. One of the comics on-board had a rough time; however, 3 other comics were outstanding. We had a juggler/comic that was very entertaining and the Piano Bar, with Greg, kept things going through the night. The shows were also very well done and provided good entertainment.
Being we ported on New Year's Day and the islands celebrate Carnival for ten days following Christmas, many of the shops were closed so shopping was pretty much limited to the port stores. St. Maarten was our first stop. I read good reviews about Orient Bay so we got a cab ($18 each way) and spent the afternoon at the beach. It was very windy and the surf was too rough to do much in the water. The beach and the bay was beautiful but seemed somewhat crowded. That evening we heard from several people that stayed at the beach/bay that we ported at and had a great day. The surf was much quieter than Orient Bay and most of the shops were open around the port.
St. Lucia was our next stop. After reading great reviews for Frank Tours, I made arrangements to go zip-lining with Frank prior to leaving the states. The port area was packed with cab/tour drivers and I was surprised and glad that we did find Frank among the crowd. Frank took us to Treetop Canopy Adventure near Dennery. Driving to Dennery, it became was very apparent the island was devastated by hurricane Thomas in October. Not booking this excursion through the cruise had some advantages. It was just the wife and I with Frank; we did not have a bus load of fellow cruisers on this excursion. When we got to the zip-line, we joined five individuals and there was no long wait to ride.
After the zip-line Frank took us on a small tour of the northern part of the island. To celebrate his birthday, he stopped at a roadside bar and bought us a few drinks. Along the way, we stopped at his house and met his family. We enjoyed the day and the time we spent with Frank. If you're looking for a great guide when you visit St. Lucia, I would recommend Frank Tours (http://www.stluciafrank.com/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 758-452-3510, cell number 758-719-3091).
Our last and favorite stop was St. Kitts. The port appeared to be fairly new and was very clean. This port was the least crowded. We joined a couple that we met on the cruise and took a tour to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (awesome) with tour guide Michael. Michael was very informative and allowed us to get a few drinks to take along. After visiting Brimstone Hill, he took us on a small tour of the southern point of the island and stayed with us as we enjoyed some beach time.
Disembarkation was just a smooth as embarkation. We were called to leave the ship around 9:45. It took us 30-45 minutes to get to the airport via cab from the time we stepped off the ship.
In conclusion, we had a great time on the Carnival Miracle and enjoyed the ports. Compared to other New Year cruises this was one of the most affordable. The entertainment we attended was great and the New Year celebration still hurts. Don't think we would go out of our way to book this ship again but will more than likely be back to a few of the ports.