- Background Information:
We are professionals (me 49, she 45) with two teenagers (18 & 16) who have traveled widely in the US and Canada, Europe and the West Indies (often to the Abacos in the Northeastern Bahamas where we have been vacationing for about 10 years). Abaco is about the furthest thing you can get from a cruise. There are only about 250 people on the whole island we visit (getting there costs more than this cruise) where we have a place (Man-O-War Cay) so cruising with around 2,000 is very different. We have cruised before getting our Abaco property and always loved it despite the crowds. I did however intentionally avoid the new super-massive RCL ships as I really do not want to do anything with 6,000 people; 2,000 on the Miracle is plenty. We were in Jamaica for our 20th anniversary back in May and saw the Oasis; what a sight. I'd love to tour the ship but embarking, dining or doing anything with 6,000 doesn't sound appealing. My brother is an executive with what is usually described as a "much more upscale and expensive big ship line" and he questioned my choice of Carnival at first but the reasons (and research, mostly on CC) leading to my choice of this ship proved true. I hoped that the food would be "better" than RCL and hopefully as edible as Disney, it was (far superior "Lido" food than either). I hoped there would be lots of teenagers on a Carnival Christmas Cruise so that my high school kids were happy, there were. I thought that I would really enjoy an Ocean Suite on Carnival for less $ than a regular cabin on RCL or Disney, I did, it was great. I wanted an itinerary that had at least two islands I'd never visited and that were interesting. We live at the Beach and I do not need purely beach ports of call. All in all, we were thrilled. My brother told me to keep my expectations low, I did, but we would cruise Carnival again in a heartbeat. We met several families who have cruised the Miracle over and over and I get it. After 6 days you know which way to turn when you exit the elevators.
- Hotel Info (N/A)
- Ship Info:
The Miracle is in good shape and well laid out. While it may not be as meticulously maintained as a Disney ship, our last cruise experience, it was nice. Very little wear and tear except for some sun bleaching on the lido and sun decks. The elevators deserve note as they are plentiful, fast and in excellent shape given their constant use. We NEVER waited more than a minute for an elevator and they were rarely full. Hallways were in good shape, even just prior to the coming refurbishment, and we never noticed any smells anywhere, except for the casino.
If you find yourself trying to track down your teenagers, you will walk many thousands of feet. This ship is plenty long and I felt like we covered an immense amount of space daily. This was ultimately a good thing given the sheer quantity of calories consumed.
The dÃ©cor takes a little getting used to, as does everything Joe Farcus has designed, unless you were raised in South Florida, but it is "fun" and the Phantom Theatre is actually quite impressive. We have no complaint with the dÃ©cor, it is what we expected but with better elevators.
If there were any downsides to the ship (and they didn't detract from our cruise), the pools and hot tubs, mostly the hot tubs, were small and ALWAYS filled with 6-10 year olds. It was like 8 year old kid stew. This age group was out of control in the hot tubs and despite repeated warnings from staff, they felt no need to dry off between exiting the hot tub and jumping into the elevator leaving a trail of water.
Yes there is an adults only pool/hot tub aft. It is the smallest and was always full. We called that pool the "smoking pool" as it seemed mandatory to smoke in that area and we never did anything more than pass through (and stop for ice cream of course). If you want a good view down the transom to the water and the prop wash, go down to deck 3 where the promenade deck wraps around aft. Spectacular views very close to the water and no one was ever there.
- Note on Smoking/Other Passengers:
Smoking was a big concern of ours prior to this trip. We almost never go anywhere there are smokers. We frequent a great casino in Ontario and smoking is not permitted in any public buildings anywhere in Canada so reports of constant smoke were a worry. We never see smoking in our restaurants or hotels in Charleston.
Well you could go on for pages on the topic of smoking. This is a quandary indeed. I GET smoking, I'm surprised I am not a smoker. My father was a Marine and he left Korea smoking and smoked until the mid 80's, I grew up in Winston-Salem, a tobacco town, and I understand compulsions; with smoking being a powerful compulsion. I understand the challenge that a cruise line faces in trying to balance the abilities of smokers to smoke and non-smokers not to breathe in smoke. I'd sure hate to own a casino and think I had to enforce a rule that would force my slot players to get up from their slot machines to smoke on the promenade deck instead of sitting there feeding that machine. This is a tough call for the cruise line and for cruisers, smokers and non-smokers alike.
I did have several conversations with the casino staff about smoking. None of them smoke and they said this cruise, with all the families, was a relief for them as they usually feel like they need to wear gas masks.
We do not know many smokers. I cannot recall the last time we were around anyone that smokes until this cruise but I did not encounter any smoker who was not obeying the smoking areas. It was fascinating seeing entire (adult) families chain smoking Newports on deck, my kids were amazed/amused. Not something you'd see in Charleston. I'd say about 15% of the passengers were of Asian American descent and unlike Asians from Asia, we never saw ANY of this group smoking. There were lots and lots of tattoos in this crowd, I think that is a Northern thing but in no way bothersome. As the teenage boys we met from SC noted, there is something to be said for an 18 year old girl with tattoos, lots of metal piercings who smokes and there were plenty of them.
Botton Line: It was not as bad as I feared. The Casino did smell, but you got used to it quickly.
- Activities: Plenty to do. You need to organize your day/evening a little. Bring a highlighter for your FunTimes schedule, it will give you something to do while you eat. Some of the lounges were surprisingly quiet on many nights (why couldn't all nights be like the last?) and I am not sure this ship would have garnered such good "activities" reviews from me if I did not like the casino.
- Service: Better than expected. It was "Fair" in the MDR but acceptable. Our last cruise was on Disney and while the quality of their food isn't much different (you are feeding 2,000, what do you expect) their service is far superior but I knew that in advance. Their waiters rotate with you from restaurant to restaurant, so what do you expect. The bar service was good, the casino service was excellent. Our room steward "Wasan" (short for a very, very long Indian name) was great!
- Port & Shore Excursions:
We were very happy overall with our three island ports of call. If there is anything truly useful in this overly long review of mine, it is this. Ports of Call ARE WHAT YOU MAKE OF THEM. Picture this. You are European and have never visited the USA. You finally get to visit on a Cruise which stops at Port Elizabeth (Newark), the busiest port on the East Coast. How would you report to your friends on your visit to the USA if you never went beyond walking distance of the ship at your dock in Newark?
Sint Maarten/St Martin:
This was our least favorite, but it's fine and I'd still happily go back. While this is maybe the best shopping port in the islands, if I want to shop I will drive into downtown Charleston, but St Maarten is a still a great "hang out at the beach island". Some people are shopping people, I like blackjack, I'm a guy, I do not shop recreationally so to each his own.
My complaint is that this island is overdeveloped and we made the mistake of going to Marigot for a nice French lunch like we had on our honeymoon visit 20 years ago. The traffic is very bad and very little break in it from the port to Marigot despite the fact that the road construction is complete. Our lunch in Marigot was fine but our cafÃ© overlooked . . . that's right, traffic. This island is fine but you need to plan carefully. Philipsburg looks better than it did 20 years ago but there is enough concrete in the "Boardwalk" area to make you think you are in Atlantic City. Our beaches at home don't have a lot of concrete and we appreciate that. With St Martin, make a plan and stick to it or sit in traffic. It can be a lovely destination but we get plenty of traffic at home.
If you do not venture beyond walking distance of the ship at the dock in Castries, you will hate St Lucia. I heard many people say they did not like this stop and none of them ventured beyond this rather industrial/business town. If you venture south, or anywhere away from the City, I think you will love it. This was the only port that we used a Carnival sponsored excursion (the land/sea combo to Soufriere) and it was great. You would have to fly to Hawaii to find a more spectacularly beautiful island. Absolutely breathtaking. We have good friends who vacation in the South of St Lucia every year and now I know why. Gorgeous. Amazing.
The high point of our trip, the low point for many. Again, the area within walking distance of this ship is like a second world outlet mall. Get beyond that and this island is great. Join every other passenger from the ship on Reggae Beach and come back and complain how crowded it was. We met our guides (two surfer dudes, one an amazingly multi-talented guy from Nova Scotia, the other a really nice guy and good surfer from California) and spent the morning watching our kids surf on Sandy Bank Bay with the mountains behind us and no one else in sight. These guys are with "Surfing St Kitts", we first discovered them on CC's St Kitts board and they were awesome. Mark made this visit the highlight of our cruise.
My son wasn't about to leave the surfing so Mark drove us all the way around the northern end of the island while Dan surfed with our son. Even though he is 18, I do not like him surfing alone even at home. We saw very black sand beaches, nice people, plenty of monkeys (in the wild I might add) and a breathtaking landscape that reminded us of Scotland, but a lot warmer.
My most astounding photos were taken during this visit. Of the three islands we visited, this is the one we would most likely travel back to by plane to stay at a land based resort. I would doubt that is true of many of the cruisers on this cruise.
- Travel To Port of Embarkation:
Access to the Pier at Port Everglades is easy. Parking is nearby. Price for 8 day cruise parking was $120. Parking and retrieving my car took a few minutes.
My wife and daughter flew to FLL from CHS. We all drove home. For anyone dealing with I-95 from FLL North (or South), it is a lot better than it used to be. The endless construction has largely been completed. It is three lanes most all of the 450+ miles to SC.
Embarkation was, as some have commented, kind of a disorganized mess. The terminal building is not an appealing structure, unlike Disney's which is downright impressive. We had VIP check-in but had it not been for these boards I would have never known how to find that line as no one could tell you anything. The check-in agents appeared to be volunteer retirees, they were nice enough but way over their heads. They were searching for our S&S cards in envelopes by hand, not being able to find them. I pointed out that they'd missed several stacks and searched other stacks twice and they finally found our two envelopes. I was waiting for the "Could it be under another name?" line. Scatterbrained as it seemed, we got on board in a reasonable amount of time.
Wonderful! Our Ocean Suite (6181) was superb. I cannot imagine being happier with a cabin on Seabourn or another high end line. It seemed huge compared to our kids' interior room across the hall. A/C worked perfectly although we were cold more often than hot. The dÃ©cor was also a lot better than a standard room; great tile work, nice granite on all four countertops (two in main room, one in dressing area and the two lavatory area in bathroom), the bed was perfect as was the shower/jacuzzi which was spacious and had great water flow. More storage than anyone would need for even a month long cruise and a huge balcony with two full length lounge chairs, two regular chairs and a small table. Was it worth the extra $$ for the OS? It was for us. As a ticket agent in NYC told me once when I asked him if the more expensive seats were worth the extra money, he said, "they are if you have it". Would I cruise if I couldn't afford the Ocean Suite? Yes, and I have every time but this one. In 8 cruises this is my first cabin with a balcony and my first suite. Fortunately, there are at least a few things that actually do improve as you get older and budget can be one of them. My first cabin on any ship was an interior cabin on the Festivale in 1986 when I went with my parents and it wasn't much bigger than my bathroom and dressing room on the Miracle, but I still had a great time.
Only one surprise. Horatio's (the Lido buffet area) was far better than our buffet experiences on past cruises. The Deli was my favorite. I like high quality deli sandwiches and they thin slice high quality meats right there. You might wait 5-10 minutes but it was worth it. The sandwiches they produced were as good as what you would pay $8 - $12 for in a good deli. The Asian station was very good with unusually crispy egg rolls. The Jamaican station (2-3 days) was great. Salads were edible. Omelettes were good. Scrambled eggs were marginally edible but not surprising. Pizza was as someone else remarked, like decent frozen. DO NOT expect Pizzeria quality pizza. If you eat at deli hours you have no excuse for settling for mediocre pizza. The pizza place was a big hang out for teens late at night and that was good. What is edible at age 17 is a lot different than at age 49.
Bacchus Main Dining Room. This was "hit and miss" to be kind as far as food quality (except for the desserts which were consistently better, my kids are sold on the Warm Choc Melting Cake), but none of this was surprising. Delivering food for 1,200 is never going to result in great food. We weren't expecting gourmet food. HOWEVER, it was nice enjoying the dining experience with our teenagers who usually don't have too much time for us and our servers were pleasant and competent enough to make it a good experience.
We were "ANYTIME" diners and I worried that this would seriously detract from our experience or cause us to wait long periods of time to be seated. Much to the credit of the (lovely and professional Hungarian female) hostess at the front, Deck 3 entrance, we were always seated promptly except once on the first night and on that night we waited exactly as long as she told us we would (15 minutes) and we had only two servers during the cruise so there was adequate consistency. We skipped Bacchus twice for Nick and Nora's.
The Steakhouse (Nick and Noras):
To make a long story short, we went back for a second visit after a kind of odd first visit. On the first visit (second night) we took our teens with us and they found it a lot more stuffy and weirdly quiet than the high end gourmet restaurants we frequent in Charleston. These Steakhouses seem to be operating on the 1980's concept of "fancy dining". Despite making reservations about two months in advance and with maybe two tables occupied, we were given a table for four with virtually no light whatsoever so with my 49 year old eyesight, I would have had to take my menu to the cabin to read it. We asked for a different table and it proved to be a strangely challenging request, particularly in light of the fact the place was nearly empty.
We went back without the kids (who declined our invite in order to eat in Bacchus with other teens, a request made possible by the lovely hostess whose name is escaping me) on the last night of the cruise and had a superb meal. Again the table choice was awkward and the service polite, kind but somewhat amateurish, but I've got to say that the Prime New York Strip was pretty amazing, and I've eaten at a lot of great steakhouses on some client's top dollar dime. I will say that before the amazing chocolate sampler dessert, I was ready to throw in the flag and quit eating. I am so glad I bought some nice new trousers with a very discreet expandable waist. We dressed appropriately for this restaurant and wish everyone did (a comment on other reviews as we did not see anyone in this restaurant who was not appropriately dressed).
- Children's Clubs:
At age 15 my sophomore daughter fell into the Club O2 group. It was sparsely attended. The problem is that the 15 -- 17 year olds want to dance with the 18-19 year olds in "Frankenstein's Lab" so they basically skip Club O2 and try sneaking in "the lab". Sometimes they got in, sometimes not. So my 18 year old son is old enough to dance in Frankenstein's "disco", not old enough to drink, but old enough to gamble. I don't see why they couldn't let younger teens in to dance as long as they enforce the drinking age. Clubs in Charleston will let the "under 21" set in as long as they pay a non-drinking surcharge. I will say that Tatiana, who led this teen club/group, was SUPERB! If my oldest had been 15, rather than 18, this would have been easier. There was however far more dancing going on in Frankensteins Lab than in Club O2, none of it in any way inappropriate for high school kids.
About what I expected. This is where Disney really shines of course (and they should). The Phantom Theatre is spectacular. The main shows were pretty good, Generations and the Beatles Tribute the high points of course. The "World's Best Juggler" was better than I expected, the ventriloquist was better than a mime I suppose, though I did start to fall asleep with this guy. The comedians were OK, one was pretty good, one fair, one not so much but at least they did swap out comics half way in the cruise.
The Casino. This was my favorite entertainment. I am a Blackjack player. The staff was excellent and very engaging. The game was good, only one rule makes it slightly less advantageous than the land based casinos I visit (dealer hits a soft 17). My only complaint was that this was the most smoking of all the areas on the ship and if you are a non-smoker with a decent sense of smell, the casino smells like an old fire pit for the first few minutes you walk in.
- Disembarkation: Excellent. Could not have been easier. We went from breakfast on the Lido deck, stopped by the room, off the ship, found our bags in about 2 minutes and were in the car in less than 30 minutes total.
So this somewhat skeptical, somewhat jaded group of travelers had a great time on this Carnival Cruise and we are thinking about doing it again.