Since I paid close attention to these boards and others, I eagerly anticipated our time on the Miracle. I booked the cruise way back in June of last year, so I had six months to look forward to. For all of you who are doing the same, I hope this review helps out some. Let me know if you have any questions, and I will do my best to answer them. I also know that fellow cruiser Beans (Kevin) is writing a professional review which I am sure will be a blockbuster, but I wanted to give my impressions too.
We arrived at the port of Tampa on Sunday morning, around 11 a.m., and there were not many people there yet. We walked right up to the customs window (I had already completed my FunPass on line) and it took all of 30 seconds to drop off the luggage and be on our way to the waiting area. I believe it was around 12:30 or so when they began boarding. It was fast and easy, and my wife and I walked around the ship first before heading for Horatio's for lunch. My first impression was that it was extremely clean, and very classy. It was not overly large in the atrium as some other ships, but the artwork and the glass elevators made for a nice show. There was a representative from Nick and Nora's right as you came into the atrium, so I signed up immediately for Tuesday night. Tampa was very chilly and windy that day, so we all wore our sweatshirts on board. I believe that the heat was on, because the smell reminded me of the first time you turn your furnace on in the winter.
At 1:30, we went down to our cabin, and were pleasantly surprised at the room. The bathroom in an 8C was plenty big enough to get around, and they had lots of shelves to put stuff. The shower was semi-circle, the water pressure was excellent and the device to control the temperature was pretty neat. There was also lots of closet space -- three closets with two for hanging stuff and one with shelves. There was also a large mirror on the desk and a little stool under it so that the ladies could primp there if they wanted to. Above that to the right was the TV and on the TV was a GPS of our ship at all times which was pretty cool, a forward camera and an aft camera. There were some New York stations on also, but we didn't watch too much TV on this trip. The balcony was large and had two plastic chairs and a plastic table. One of the chairs folded back some so you could lounge in the sun. Since the balcony doors were not sliding, and with the wind sometimes in excess of 30 mph especially at sea, an annoying thing was having neighbors doors slamming at all hours (even 1 or 2 a.m.) and it would wake me up. Also, a few times the window washer up above would come on and spray water all over the balcony without warning ... need to look out for that. Having said all that, I think the balcony was my favorite place ... great memories of sunrises and sunsets and coming into ports and seeing last minute cruisers running frantically to the ship as fellow passengers cheer them on. I could write a book about how this was one of the best vacations I have ever had, how that the Miracle was an awesome ship etc., so I will try to keep this as brief as I can.
The food in Bachus was good, not great. I thought the beef was not the best I have ever had, but my wife liked the lobster and quail. I did enjoy the wait staff, but did not like the stupid dancing that they had to do. The appearance of the Bachus was a bit overdone, but I appreciate the effort ... it was different for sure. The food and service in Nick and Nora's was one of the best I have ever had, and I have had a lot. The whole experience lasted 2 1/2 hours, including five courses I think, great service, great music and dancing and an unbelievable atmosphere. You gotta do N & N even if it does put you back $50.
The cruise director Steve was great and I thought funny. He had a lot of energy, and interacted with us cruisers a lot. Karl with a K was a clown in a positive way, very funny, wore those stupid big clown ties and very animated. The female cruise assistants were Candace and Ally the Aussie. Both of them were nice and Candace seemed very polished. They hosted all the crazy shows like Win, Lose and Draw, The Not So Newlywed Game, The Match Game, etc. There was also a Hairy Chest contest at the pool area, which was very funny.
The buffet is called Horatio's and there were four main food stations and the food here was good. Breakfast they had made to order omelets which I like. The coffee wasn't too good, so I usually bought some from the Coffee Shop right there next to the buffet. There is a full blown coffee shop on deck 2, with the best desserts. Many times Horatio's seemed crowded, but we always found a place to sit, and the lines weren't terrible. One night, instead of eating at Bachus, we went to the buffet and they have a nice salad bar and I had pizza ... they have around six varieties of pizza which is okay, not great. One thing which was great and unique was the chocolate fountain on the last day at sea between noon and 2 p.m. They dipped pineapple, rum cake, etc into the chocolate, and boy was it good. Somehow during the entire cruise I never got hungry.
As far as the excursions, I did not book with Carnival. I did some research ahead of time with these fellow Cruise Critics, and am glad I did. In Grand Cayman, I booked a Catamaran to snorkel and go to Stingray City. There were only around 14 of us on this vessel, called Capt. Bryans. We had plenty of room, they served drinks and gave us lots of attention. The seas were rough in the Caymans, and I got a few good mouthful's of sea water which almost made me drown. But it was all worth it. The Carnival excursion looked like a bunch of sardines crammed into a two story boat. I was happy I took the advice. In Costa Maya, we took a cab for $3 to a small town called Majahul, and that was interesting. It is an old Mexican sea town turned into a road full of vendors. Kind of reminded me of flea markets back home, Mexican style. They even had horses tied up right on the beach that you could rent. Massages were $20 for 1/2 hour under a tent and on a real massage table. I didn't get one, but they looked like they were doing a good job. I heard that Tapas was the place to go, but they had just filled their last table, so I went next door to Ernesto's and they got us a table with umbrella and a lounger for the beach for me and my wife. It was great. Coronas for two bucks, fajitas grilled right there in the open for $8 and served when we were ready. There were a few musicians also, who would play for each table for a small tip. If you wanted to snorkel, you could go out on a small boat to the reef around a mile out and the cost was very reasonable (I am thinking $20 for one hour). Costa Maya was really fun. When we made it back to the cruise ship complex there was a wild party going on at the bar. We stayed for one drink, then headed back to the ship for a nap. Next stop was Cozumel, and we went in to Chankaanab Park. We had pre arranged to have a dolphin encounter and a sea lion encounter. I was told to do the dolphin swim, which did look like a lot of fun, but the encounter was great also. The dolphin would "kiss" each person, you would pet him, feel his fins etc., and get a movie made about the whole experience. However, I enjoyed the Sea Lion experience even more, as there were only the four of us with the trainer and sea lion. Sea lions are very funny creatures, and we laughed until we got sick. The park itself is also a nice place to just walk around and see the gardens or sit on the beach or go snorkeling. The water in Cozumel is unbelievably clear, and I was very impressed with the cleanliness and cheerfulness of the Cozumel people.
Next we sailed to Belize, and I booked a cave tubing deal with Extreme Cave Tubing. I was a little nervous about this at first because I was going alone (my wife chickened out) and also when I arrived at the port there were only eight of us total (and 180 people going on the Carnival one). Our guide, Richard, was around 15 minutes late, and I let him know it, and he assured me that he would safely get us to the caves and back in plenty of time. If not, he said, he would allow us to stay at his home, and have his wife give us massages (she is a professional masseuse). It took around 45 minutes to get to the six mile, very bumpy rocky road that takes you to the caves, but Richard made the time fly by with his interesting stories, and his information about places and Belize. He was brought up there, and has been doing this for many years. Carnival does one cave, but Extreme does two, so we walked a while, just the eight of us, and Richard took the time to point out different trees native to Belize that were good for medicine or food until we came to our cave. Two of us dove in (around 10 to 15 feet off the cliff) into the 15 feet cool water. Then we started downstream on our adventure. It was one of the great experiences of my life, and I would encourage anyone to do this. We went through dark caves, big caves, fast caves and slow caves. We even went over bumpy rocky rivers (butts up) and the rapids were a blast. Disney could never duplicate this. We returned to Belize City, which was rather Third World in the downtown area.
The shows on the Miracle were in a word outstanding. The singers and dancers were great, and the two main shows called Legends and Ticket to Ride were really good. The other shows, Miracle Idol and the hypnotist were just okay. The last night was very good with a tremendous female singer who got my wife up on stage to sing with her. The comedians were also funny.
All in all it was a great time except for those loud balcony doors. There were two nights when the wind was very high, around 30 mph, so the ship would rock some. I noticed quite a few people with small patches on the back of their necks, but my wife and I did fine without it. Met some great people from all over, and especially my Windsor, Canada, friends who kept calling me Sean as in Sean Penn.
The debarkation went smooth despite the fact that we went to a cargo area and then took buses back to the port. They will need to work this out in the future to make it a bit smoother. I would definitely sail the Miracle again. She is a great ship with a great staff that will take good care of you and if you do not have fun, you have problems.