Carnival Miracle, Western Caribbean - November 6 to November 13, 2005
This was the first cruise for the four of us, Brother & Sister-in-Law, Wife & me. They live near London, England; we live near Toronto, Canada.
The purpose in going on a cruise was two-fold. Firstly, my wife has always wanted to go, but I have always preferred an active holiday (that is until I stopped being so active), secondly I wanted a relaxing vacation, with lots of romantic sunsets (I actually saw more romantic sunrises than sunsets), lots of sun and sea, a chance to visit some places Ive never been to before, & maybe some time before I would visit them again, and we had a few anniversaries to celebrate.
We all enjoyed the cruise, we felt it provided value for money (with some little niggles), and we are all planning to go on another one. I found it quite expensive when you include the airfares and the before & after cost, but within the amount we had budgeted, so we have some saving to do we wont be going again until 2007. Next year we are going to England and Germany to stay with family and friends.
We usually travel independently, normally travelling overseas every year or so, therefore we are not in a position to judge how a cruise compares to a land based vacation, either in terms of enjoyment or cost.
However, part of the enjoyment, for me, comes in not having to worry about what you are spending when you are on vacation, unless it is the wife going shopping. I like to make sure that we have most of the cost accounted for before we go away and to keep within the budget without stinting oneself.
We were looking for a 7 day cruise for our first sea going experience. We felt that a 10 day cruise would have been to long in case we didnt like the experience and a 3, 4 or 5 day cruise too short in case we did. The short cruises would probably be too rowdy and there would be too many young children. In addition we wouldnt get a full enough experience with a shorter cruise.
We didnt want to go on a Southern Caribbean cruise out of San Juan due to the length of flight getting there, the language and the likelihood of having the Dominican Republic or Jamaica as one of the ports of call. The Eastern Caribbean seemed to be all beaches and no ancient history, while the Western Caribbean had both (having read the Cruise Critic (CC) boards this is now open to debate there is always next time).
We tried to plan a week not too near to Christmas or too close to the Hurricane season, and to miss the US thanksgiving weekend (as it turned out we were lucky with the Hurricanes as the season really dragged on this fall), in addition any later in the year would get us into possible bad weather and flight delays.
We also decided that, all things being equal, that we would like to leave from Tampa as we would be spending a post cruise vacation in the area.
We picked Carnival and the Miracle because it fit the bill, and we knew of someone who had sailed on the Miracle, and someone who had sailed the Western Caribbean, with a different cruise line, both the year before and who had enjoyed themselves.
Pre Cruise (Saturday November 5, 2005)
Pre-cruise started on the Saturday. I was up at 5:30am, the wife at 6:30am. We finished the last 10% of the packing not completed the night before. We left the house at 8:20am, stopped for coffee at the local Tim Hortons drive through, but still made it to the airport by 9:15am thanks to judicious driving by our son (the airport is about 60km/40 miles from where we live).
Checking in for the plane was a breeze, they didnt even weigh in our luggage, and it took an hour to clear US immigration (we pre-clear US customs & immigration before we leave Canada as the flight lands at the domestic gates in the US). We bought a bottle of ice wine at the duty free as a thank you gift for the friends we would be staying with in Tampa.
The flight on Westjet (similar to Southwest or Ryanair) was ok, left on time & arrived on time. The only drawback in flying this budget airline is that they only have one flight a day to Tampa. Time would have been tight if we had to catch the Sunday flight.
We took a cab to the hotel (Sheraton Riverside, down town Tampa, relatively close to cruise pier, the cab fare was $20.00 with a $5.00 tip, we also tipped bellboy who took our luggage up to room $5.00).
The hotel had just been redecorated, the room was fine, but I think that the Marriott may have been a better choice, even though it cost more. The in-laws had wanted to stay there but I overruled them, hope that they dont remember. We met up with our in-laws for a chat, which continued in the hotel bar (which was rather small) and then in their room. There was a convention in the hotel so it was a little crowded. The hotel cost $149.00 per night, per room, taxes extra (I had never even heard of Priceline then).
My Brother and Sister in-law had arrived the day earlier (Friday) after having taken a direct flight from London Gatwick to Tampa and they had already done some exploring. The thing about downtown Tampa is that it is as dead as a dodo outside of office hours (no shops and only a few bars & restaurants).
They had eaten in the hotel dining room the night before (which they said wasnt bad), so we opted for a meal a block away at the Hyatt hotel (great meal), then back to the hotel for an early (10:30pm) night.
It had been a long day for all of us, and as it takes some time to get over the jet lag it was a good idea to get there a day or two early to unwind before the cruise.
Embarkation Day (Sunday November 6, 2005)
I woke up at 5:00am on Sunday, but managed to sleep in until 7:30am. We had breakfast in the hotel dining room at 9:00am, buffet style with a nice omelette. Our in-laws were still affected by jet lag & I am always up early.
I lost out in my attempt to get to the ship early as I was out voted, we will have to wait to see how this turns out!! We left the hotel just after noon, took the free hotel shuttle (a minivan/people mover) to the cruise. We needed the minivan for all of our luggage, but we didnt have to book the ride in advance. It took 5 minutes to reach the cruise terminal, where we unloaded and handed our luggage to a stevedore (3 suitcases plus 2 carryons for each couple, tipped driver $5.00 and stevedore $6.00).
Embarkation went very smoothly, the line ups moved quickly through security, registration, pictures, and we were on board by 12:45pm. - we had filled out our fun pass on line some time before which helped speed up the process. We were in group 25 to be called for boarding, so we could have arrived earlier (CCs you were right again)!! Had our picture taken before boarding the only thing worse than having your picture taken was the fact that we bought it.
My brother-in-law brought a bottle of duty free scotch on board, but no one was interested in it even when he tried to declare it (it was to be a present for the post cruise friends). We had wine and water in our carry on and a couple of opened water bottles in our checked luggage but again no one was interested, and no bags were searched.
If Carnival have a policy regarding alcohol and quantities of wine they do not seem to enforce it (Sometimes the rules are there to be broken there is a strict policy that can be enforced if it becomes necessary, but if people are reasonable, and dont abuse the rules, than they are led to believe that they have gotten away with something).
We found our cabins (4157 & 4159, both with balcony, on the starboard side of the ship, just behind the main bank of elevators/lifts on the Main Deck); we dumped our hand luggage and went off to search for food.
It was crowded on the Lido deck and Total Eclipse were playing Caribbean music (much too noisy as the only table we could find was next to the band no wonder that it was empty); we eventually found a table in Horatios and had the buffet lunch no idea what we ate, just needed to replenish the engine.
After lunch we took a few pictures, explored, enjoyed the shade on Lido Deck 9, at the rear of Horatios, close to the Orpheus Bar. We tried the ice cream, (it comes in a Dairy Queen/Taste Freeze soft ice cream machine) but I found it to be very watery or not very creamy, depending on your point of view. I had to try it again later on in the week just to make sure.
The buffet consists of a number of different food stations that serve grilled food (hamburgers & hotdogs), deli sandwiches, pizza, Chinese, and one that changes every day, there is also fresh fruit, dessert and salad bars, with tea/coffee/iced tea/juice. Mostly we tried salad and Chinese food we were usually too full to tackle anything with greater substance. We also found that if you added lemonade to the iced tea it tasted just fine, couldnt do much for the coffee though.
The Buffet lunch is available from noon and closes down promptly at 2:30pm, except for the Deli (11:00am to 11:00pm), the Grille (11:00am to 6:00pm) and the Pizza bar (24hours); Buffet Dinner is available from 6:00pm until 9:30pm; and for those that prefer a liquid lunch, alcoholic drinks are available from 9:00am to1:00am at various locations around the ship.
Had to be at lifeboat muster stations by 4:00pm to try out our new lifejackets, it went smoothly, with everyone taking it seriously (as they should), but do come late in order to line up at or near to the front as it gets a little crowded. One of our cases arrived at our cabin by 4:00pm and the other two by 7:00pm. On the Monday we received a notice that one piece of luggage had gone missing. This was not bad considering the amount of luggage brought onboard except, of course, if it was your luggage that had gone missing, and then it could be quite catastrophic.
We watched the line up for the early dinner from the comfort of the Jeeves Bar on Deck 2, which is just outside the Dining Room, listening to John play his guitar, synthesizer and trombone. The dining room line up took 10 to 15 minutes to clear. We then went up to Deck 12, the Sky Deck, to watch as we went under the Tampa Bay Bridge. It looked like we only cleared it by a few inches, when in fact we cleared the bridge deck by almost 6 inches. It actually takes around 2 to 3 hours from the dock to reach the Skyway Bridge.
Interestingly this was the topless deck but this was the first and last time I saw it when I sunbathe Im not taking my shirt off for anyone no matter what the sign says!!
After all of the comments on the CC boards about bar prices and bringing supplies onboard we didnt find the bar or wine prices out of line with what we would pay back home in a bar or restaurant we also found the bar prices in the Sheraton hotel quite cheap by our usual standards. Consequently we didnt touch our own supplies. The one annoying niggle here was the fact that we had to pay the 15% gratuity when we ordered wine from our waiter at dinner.
Bar prices were as follows: - a Planters Punch cost $3.95, a Pina Colada $4.95, House liquor $4.25, Budweiser $3.25 while real Beer was $3.75 & $4.25; soft drinks in cans were $1.50 and in 20oz. bottles $2.50, and was $1.00 as a drink mix. The drink of the day cost $6.25 in a souvenir glass and $2.95 in a regular glass.
They had a good selection of wines, we tried a different one every night, however a couple of the wines did not live up to their descriptions & price doesnt necessarily determine quality. We found the prices reasonable e.g. they charged $25.00 for a bottle of Bill Blass Yellow Label, a South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, which would cost me $17.00 in our local liquor store plus the $10.00 and up mark-up in a restaurant.
We turned up for dinner at 8:25pm for the late sitting and there was still a line up, but it soon cleared; turning up a few minutes late every evening for dinner worked out all right. We had tried to find out which table we had been assigned prior to dining but had been unable to do so.
We were assigned a table for four upstairs on the third level; we had a booth on the right side front just by the balcony overlooking the lower dining room. In addition the menus are posted inside the dining room doors so it is not easy to decide in advance what to eat, no problem as selecting what to eat was all part of the fun.
Generally all of our meals were good, up to the standard of the local restaurants we frequent when we are at home (two diamond rating by AAA, dinner entrees from $12.00 to $30.00) but not the culinary event the Carnival brochure talks about. The portions were a little on the small side by North American standards, but we never left hungry (probably due in no small part to all of the other food we consumed during the day and to the lack of effort we made to undo the damage it had caused); I even tried the cheese plate with coffee on a number of evenings.
One disappointment was the bland and very basic salads they served just lettuce with a few tomatoes not much of a variety and on the first evening they only had our third choice of wine available, due, we were told, to the fact that not all of the supplies had been sorted out yet. Another disappointment was the deserts, well, actually one desert in particular. On the Sunday I had the Caramelized Lemon Custard, it was indeed custard with a lemon flavour. On Monday I had the Tiramisu big mistake as this was a reincarnation of the Lemon Custard of the previous evening, and nothing like a traditional Tiramisu. On Tuesday I had the Raspberry Lemon Verbena Crème Brule bigger mistake as this was the second reincarnation of the Lemon Custard, with a raspberry on top, but nothing like a traditional Crème Brule, in fact it was so lemon custardardy that I couldnt eat it, it had curdled. By the way I am not a big fan of crème caramel, which was a close relative to this desert, but my wife, who is a fan, finished it for me and she seemed to enjoy it, but than she had eaten different deserts on the two previous evenings.
Our waiters were Valentine, from Jamaica, and Mashane, from Botswana (both had a cheerful demeanour). Dinner was completed by 10:30pm, but by that time there were not many people left in the dining room. We like our food and the company so there was no need to hurry the experience. Except for one day (Belize) we had all gone on different excursions and dinner gave us a good opportunity to catch up on what each of us had done that day.
Interestingly enough even though it was a full ship a number of people never showed up for dinner in the restaurant the whole week, presumably some people preferring to have their meals at other times and in other locations.
We would have liked to have been seated on a larger table in order to get to know our fellow travellers a little better. However one surprise in sitting at a table for four was that we were still all talking to each other at the weeks end.
Shorts were acceptable attire this first evening not everyone had received their luggage yet.
We found the DEcor in the Bacchus dining room very kitsch, over the top, garish, cheap looking. and that was the positive review - looking like the Daleks from Dr. Who, something from the Triffids (cheap, sorry I meant low budget, science fiction television shows), or illuminated smarties joined together by thick electric cables (the grapes and the vines) I guess that I just dont have any imagination, it became even worse when one of the smarties started pulsating..
Notwithstanding other CCs opinions regarding the artwork we had no complaints, we didnt really notice it, felt that the pictures were understated, tasteful and in keeping with the period they generally depicted. It also looked like they had been borrowed from the local art gallery, but hadnt been arranged very well by the curator.
The vases in the niches in the stair wells were a nice touch I noticed that the niches were protected by locked glass doors. We recognised most of the fictional characters that lined the walls of the stateroom corridors
The stateroom dEcor was somewhat bland (or you could call this restful) but the soundproofing worked very well; you had to open the door to hear the cruise directors announcements. This was good as the Cruise Directors (Mark Hawkins) announcements were another of our little niggles.
There was adequate storage space for all of our clothes, with room under the beds for our luggage. We did bring our own hangers to supplement those provided; we didnt need any of the extra supplies suggested by CC for our room.
There was no clock (we brought our own) or radio in the room; bathroom supplies (the freebies) were not replenished during the week; the soap and shampoo containers in the shower were refilled; the room temperature was difficult to regulate as there were no temperature markings on the thermostat dial.
In addition we couldnt keep balcony door open as no place to hook bungee cord onto (I guess that we could have hooked it onto the railings), but didnt have a need to keep the door open all night. There is a clothes line in the shower for drying clothes, spare tissue paper (Kleenex) & toilet paper, the shower was large for a cubicle, and the water hot and plentiful the shower had a temperature control which you could set and leave.
One of the wardrobes could be converted from shelving to hanging space if needed. There is a TV in the room and they show some movies (saw Home Alone and the Famous Four), and videos of the cruise activities from the Phantom Lounge as well as having some stations via satellite feed, they also have a live cam showing the front and rear of the ship, as well as the wedding lounge. Didnt spend much time watching TV, but you could check out your sale and sign purchases, which we did the evening prior to leaving to make sure that it was correct which it was.
Our stateroom steward was Than Thanoporn who, together with her assistant kept our rooms clean and tidy. In fact we only saw them twice the whole week, once when we arrived and they introduced themselves and once on the last night. We were low maintenance passengers. The stateroom steward had a business card which she put into a holder on the wall between the door and the bathroom
The show tonight at 10:30pm was the welcome aboard show with comedian Pete Michael missed that one, we didnt finish dinner until 10:30pm. We wondered around until 11:15pm, taking in the sights and atmosphere, then bed. Several nights they had a midnight adults only comedy show, which we didnt get to.
First Sea Day (Monday November 7, 2005)
Woke up at 4:30am (it takes me sometime to unwind from the rigours of the office). We had breakfast in the dining room at 9:00am. Had Eggs Benedict, which I must admit were quite nice. Open seating, sat at a table for four with two ladies from Atlanta.
Sunning on deck until lunch time, drinks in the Gotham Lounge on Level 3, where the Montreal Jazz Trio played, booked Wallace River/Altun Ha trip for Belize and booked Nick & Noras but only able to get in for Saturday didnt want to book for a port day as thought we would be too tired and too much of a rush.
Back in the sunshine after lunch, or at least in the shade, until 5:00pm, it became very hot sitting in the sun and the sea was very calm. I was surprised at both the high temperatures and the high humidity levels for this time of the year, I had always thought that they would have been lower in November could have been why there had been so many hurricanes this year.
We attended the Captains cocktail party in the Phantom Lounge at 7:15pm, and the first formal night in the Dining Room. Most people were very nicely attired.
After dinner went to the Phantom Lounge for the Generations show (hit songs through the decades must be getting old I could sing along with most of them, well most of the newer ones), the show lasted one hour (early seating show at 8:45pm, late seating show at 10:30pm), then to bed at 11:45pm.
First Port of Call Grand Cayman (Tuesday November 8, 2005)
I got up at 6:00am, the wife was up at 6:30am, and we had breakfast by 7:00am. Its tuff having fun!!
The procedure for leaving the ship was that if you are on a Carnival organized trip you meet up in the Phantom Lounge at the time on your ticket, and they escort you to the tender. If, like us, you are on your own you just go down to Level 1 to the tender and line up. Off the ship at 8:00am for the 8:10am tender (no real schedule they just go one after the other), took 20minutes before the boat was full and 2minutes to ride to port. Grand Cayman is on same time as the ship.
We had booked the Rays, Reef and Rum Point tour, over the internet, with Nativeway Water Sports, based on the recommendations on the CC Board (cost $55.00 incl. lunch plus a $10.00 tip). The guy from Nativeway was there to meet us at the docks. We waited for the other tourists to join us (there was a Disney ship in port at the same time as us) and then a short walk to the parking lot where we got on a bus, for about 15 people. The bus took us north along Seven Mile Beach, than east, which took us to the east shore of the sound where we caught the boat.
The first stop was at the reef, there were 2 moray eels and 2 nurse sharks. However we found that our glasses do not fit into the masks very well so rather than swim blindly we chose to stay on board. The next stop was the sand bar and the sting rays, were we stopped for 45minutes, lots more fun for us (both sites were busy with lots of boats coming and going but not crowded lots of sand bar and sting rays to keep us all happy). You go off the back of the boat or climb down the steps into waist/chest deep water (the depth depends where the boat parks and the height of the waves). The water was very clear and we played with the sting rays, a bit nervous at first but they soon settled down.
Then we were off to Rum Point Beach, a word of caution, the boat travels very fast, if you dont want to get soaked (from the spray or from the backwash if the boat stops quickly) dont sit in the open part of the boat!! We arrived at the beach at 12:15pm and stayed until 1:45pm, and back at the mooring by 2:20pm and then the 5m bus ride into town. On the boat they give you the menu for lunch, from the Wreck Bar and Grille at Rum Point Beach, and you choose what you want to eat and drink (ice tea or pop), they call ahead to place the order and it was ready when we arrived (e.g. Grilled chicken sandwich was Cay$8.50 or US$10.65). The beach was a little crowded, but we found a spot to sun & snooze for an hour before having to head back. The trip back from Rum Point to the east shore across the North Sound was quite spectacular I dont know if we were running late but it sure went quickly (the ferry takes about 40minutes and we went a lot quicker) . We paid on the return journey; they accepted cash MasterCard and Visa.
We took the bus back to George Town where we did a little shopping for tourist items tee-shirt, coffee mug, postcards - went into some of the air conditioned shops to cool down after the sun and caught the 3:30pm tender back to the ship. Grand Cayman is a little on the expensive side. All of the stores quoted prices in US$, Cayman $ are 1.25 US$.
During the security check in getting back onto the ship one person was taken away, never to be seen from again, presumably to be searched, and one couple had some disagreement with security, presumably with bringing back duty free and it being kept until the end of the voyage. I, for one, appreciated the level of security provided.
Once back we showered & changed and had coffee & cake in the Fountainhead Coffee Shop, on the Promenade Deck, Deck 2, one slice of cake between the two of us was sufficient, and a drink in Sams Piano Bar, definitely no sharing here, while our wives bought necklaces and photographs. This exercise took up the couple of hours until it was time for dinner.
It is tough enjoying yourself on a days outing on the island; need a sea day tomorrow to catch up
The show tonight was Manual Zuniga, juggler, and Ronnie Bullard, a comedian (early at 7:00pm and late at 8:45pm. Once again dinner got in the way, wonder what we did after dinner!!
Second Sea Day (Wednesday November 9, 2005)
We woke up at 8:00am, the sun, sea and exercise seems to have worked I slept in. We ordered a pot of tea from room service, it arrived within 5minutes. Tea on the balcony goes well with the first cigarette of the day. This was the wrong type of tea for me not strong enough. We enjoyed having the balcony it did become a rather expensive ash tray (the wife smokes), but it kept the peace. It was pleasant to go out there and read, watch the sea, get some sun, etc.
We had breakfast in the dining room, they put on a table for four again, but the other couple didnt like the table location and left us their loss. On deck in the shade, too much sun. Lunch in Horatios at 2:00pm, tried some hot & sour soup and some Indian dishes (today India was the featured country) geared to North American taste buds but not mine (not hot/spicy enough). Did some shopping along The Yellow Brick Road (looked in the shops) and had a snooze.
They have a duty free store on board that sells liquor, the prices are quite good ($10.00 for a 1 litre bottle of rum, vodka, scotch, Kahlua) but the selection is limited; however the selection here was still better than at Tampa airport.
It rained quite heavily this afternoon. Wife had coffee & drink unfortunately they do not know how to make a Caesar, nor do they have Pims, so had to stick with Pina Coladas.
Two of us had the roast lamb for dinner. Next niggle the lamb was uncooked in the middle. I like my meat blue, but both of the lamb dishes had to be returned as they were uncooked. We had Beef Wellington instead. Continuing niggles we could only get the Beef Wellington medium rare or medium well, go figure!! The medium rare was medium rare, however, the medium well was well done to death. If you cant cook a dish to order it probably means that the food has been precooked. Funny because the prime rib which we had on two nights, and the fillet mignon, could be cooked however you liked it (not quite up to the fine dining claims made in the Carnival Brochure).
Further niggles; in the dining room the maitre d, or whomever, has to tell us how the inter-team contest is going (the dining room is split up into three teams and points are scored by team members competing in various social events during the day) and signing off with Kissee, Kissee, this may be part of the fun but not part of the fine. Again in the dining room on two evenings the wait staff have to do a song and dance routine, and on one night the diners have to reciprocate, again this may be part of the fun but is definitely not part of the fine. Unfortunately in the dining room you are a captive audience and couldnt escape it. This also usually happened before we had our desert or coffee, and service stopped during this time.
This is more like the Butlins holiday camp atmosphere of old, but thankfully these announcements were restricted otherwise they would be downright annoying. (Remember this is my money we are talking about & I choose how I want to spend it and this is my opinion, which may not be yours remember the posting guidelines). Carnival Legends show at 10:30pm, which I missed, but which the others saw, than to Sams, with David at the piano, for a nightcap before bed.
This was to be the day we visited Cozumel, but due to hurricane Wilma we had an extra day at sea. We had planned a beach day at Cozumel so an extra sea day was not unwelcome. In addition we were given a $25.00 credit per passenger on our sail and sign card (contractually I dont believe that Carnival had to do anything).
Second Port of Call Belize (Thursday November 10, 2005)
Breakfast just after 7:00am in the Bacchus Dining Room, Eggs Benedict again I thought that this was one of the better ones that I had eaten. We were seated at a larger table this time so that we were able to chat with our fellow diners. Next niggle, some of the wait staff need to be a little more proficient in both English and in knowing their menus, e.g. knowing what they had on the menu and in knowing the terminology used in the menus. Although they all seemed to be cheerful, some more so than others, they didnt always wait for a reply to be given to the general questions they asked not very sincere.
Today we went on a tour booked through Carnival. We had to meet in the Phantom Lounge at 8:15am for an 8:30am departure. We actually left at 8:45am on the tender to the port of Belize. After walking through the shopping arcade we split into two groups, the first to go via bus on the Altun Ha portion of the tour and the second, the group that we were on, to go on the river portion of the tour. We left on an open boat across the estuary and up the Wallace River. On the trip we saw iguanas, birds, monkeys and a few smallish crocodiles. We had lunch at the switch over-point at 11:30am (chicken with rice, beans & salad, cost for two $10.00 plus pop at $3.00) and the wife did some shopping (necklace and bracelet) before we took the bus on to the Altun Ha site.
We had a quick tour of the site and then back on the bus, arriving back at the port by 3:00pm. Had a quick look at the shops in the arcade and then on the 3:30pm tender back to the ship. The tour cost $59.00 per person (tip $10.00 to the tour guides and $2.00 to the boat driver, nothing to the bus driver). I would have thought for that price lunch would have been included.
In addition Carnival make a big point of promoting their, as opposed to independent, tours. However when you receive your tickets Carnival make a point that they are not responsible for anything that may happen as all of the tour operators are independent contractors (its lucky that I am not a lawyer - I could have had a field day here). It was quite a nice tour, but not nice enough to do again, the ruins part of the tour was rushed.
This is one day when we covered ourselves with DEET (Deep Woods Off 95% DEET) to fend off the insects. But you put the bug spray or the sunscreen on first. Other people complained about getting bitten but we didnt have any problem. This stuff is not very nice and doesnt taste too good but it removes paint quite effectively, and does work.
The first thing we did when we were back onboard was to have a shower to get the stuff off. Then we went straight to the pizza bar to try their delights and to sample their Caesar salad, after all we had eaten an early lunch. The pizza was cooked to order, there was a limited choice but it was adequate, the Deli and grill was also open. We never tried the food from the Deli or grille, but it was always a popular place to eat.
Had a good dinner tonight, filet mignon served just how everyone liked it, from blue to medium rare. After dinner my wife went to Mr. Luckys Casino to try the slots to see how quickly she could lose $20.00 not long - and she lost it all on her own, I decided I wasnt going to watch.
The show tonight consisted of a singer, Christine Machado and a comedian, Carl Faulkenberry, (early show at 7:00pm, late show at 8:45pm). Do not know if this show was good or not as we didnt see it
Third Port of Call Costa Maya (Friday November 11, 2005)
Today was Remembrance/Veterans day, but the only announcement came at dinner and I thought it could have been done better.
Had an early start to the day again, with breakfast in Horatios omelette. Walked off the ship at 8:15am along the pier to the tourist village and took a taxi to town (purchased two tickets at $3.00ea plus a $1.00 tip to the driver). We had a short walk to the Cats Meow, the starting point for our tour to the Chacchoben ruins. We were met at the restaurant by David, and we also met the Canadian Owner of the place.
We had a quick walk down Mahauals main street and then back to meet Ivan to start the tour. It took 45 minutes to reach the site, 2 ½ hours for the tour and another 45 minutes to get back to the tourist village, which we did by 2:00pm.
We had a great tour, one I can heartily recommend, Ivan is very passionate about this area and his heritage and this passion comes out in the commentary he provided us. We ended up knowing all about Ivan and his family, the history of the site and of Mayan culture, and the history behind the port and village of Mahahual and his views of the future.
This was a much better tour than the Altun Ha tour of the previous day (tipped him $10.00). Another couple of CC members were on this tour (mommy to 2 girls & raceroc).
Interestingly we almost bumped into Larry the Lamb (Kelynj a CC member) on the first evening while departing Tampa, but she was being protected from the cold wind by a big strong guy and we didnt want to intrude. Surprisingly our paths never crossed again. I know that it is a large ship with over 2,000 people on board but it is amazing that it didnt feel overcrowded and that we didnt bump into the same people over and over again. I even had trouble finding the rest of my family when I, supposedly, knew where they were walkietalkies are only good when you have them with you, and when they are turned on.
After the tour we went back on board for lunch, then back to the tourist village for a quick look around and a beer by the pool. Back on board by 3:45pm. Coffee in Horatios until 5:15pm. as we watched as the ship left port. RCls Rhapsody of the Sea was also in port that day from 9:00am until 4:00pm
Second formal night was tonight, I must admit that the guys in their tuxedos looked sharp, and I didnt look to shabby in my suit, nor for that matter did the ladies in their gowns. We had the prime rib again and it was good. Tipped Valentine and Mcshane $20.0 each from the four of us, in addition to the standard service gratuity, as we would be at Nick and Noras the following evening.
We went to the Beatles show Ticket to Ride at 7:00pm before dinner (the show for the early seating was later at 8:45pm), and to Frankie & Johnnies after dinner. The brass section of the Miracle orchestra joined Music Unlimited for a set in Frankie & Johnnies. The volume of the room wasnt designed to take so many decibels, that and the strobe lights nearly did me in (party pooper that I am).
We went to look at the layout for the Friday night gala buffet, but didnt partake - too much food already to try the midnight buffet, and in bed by 12:30am.
Third Sea Day (Saturday November 12, 2005)
This morning, late breakfast in Horatios at 9:30am and relaxing in a deck chair on deck 9 until 11:00am. We then went to the Phantom Theatre to hear the Cruise Director explain the disembarkation process. We, along with all of the other foreign guests, have to be in the Mad Hatters Lounge by 6:15am Sunday to clear US Customs. What is all this about - we are supposed to be on vacation!!
We all had lunch in Horatios at 2:00pm and then spent the afternoon on deck.
For supper we were all going to Nick & Noras. Our reservation was for 8:00pm, and of course we arrived on time, with all of us smartly dressed. The meal took 3 hours, with 2 bottles of wine. We selected the first bottle, which lasted for the first starters and salad courses, and then the Sommelier suggested a different bottle for our main course.
Before accepting the Sommeliers suggestion we checked the wine list and found that it was quite reasonably priced and tasted just as good as the first bottle. We left a $10.00 tip per couple. The room wasnt very full, understandably as it was the last night of the cruise, but we never felt rushed and we had a great meal, cooked as requested, well presented and served, which together with the romantic music, provided a great ambience. It was definitely fine dining and a large step up from the Bacchus dining room.
We had been debating before hand whether we should go at all; after all we had already paid for all of our meals, so why should we pay extra for this one. If you assume that the regular dining room meals were the equivalent quality of a steakhouse chain, than the premium you paid for the meal at Nick & Noras was well worth it, although the $30.00 nominal charge was a little more than I would call nominal
We had to have our luggage outside our stateroom between 7:00pm to 11:00pm that evening to be picked up. We managed to get back after supper, change, finish our packing, and still have time to get our luggage to our front door in time to be picked up
Disembarkation Day (Sunday November 13, 2005)
This is were you suffer from having fun on Saturday night. We were up at 6:00am and at The Mad Hatters Lounge by 6:30am to present ourselves to US Customs. We actually landed just before 6:00am, so we missed seeing the ship enter harbour. The first good thing was that it was a breeze and we were out of there by 7:00am it always happens like this when I dont have anything with me that I shouldnt have. The second good thing was that US citizens had to clear customs at 6:30am.
Had breakfast, then back to the rooms by 8:15am to clear up. Early disembarkation took place at 7:30am for early flights and for help yourself; general disembarkation took place at 8:30am. Note that only US citizens were allowed to help themselves. So we all took it easy and left after the general rush around 9:30am. Went down to collect our luggage with out any problem and departed.
Friends were picking us up at the pier, and we also had to pick up a rental car at the airport. We parked our luggage and our wives at the coffee shop just around the corner while the two guys took our carry on luggage and a shuttle to the airport. We picked up our rental car, than found that our friends car wouldnt hold the entire luggage. Trunks on North American cars do not hold a lot of luggage, neither do European cars, however European cars look a lot smaller on the outside than North American cars.
A point to note the cab fare is a fixed $20.00 one way from the airport to the cruise pier, similarly with the return journey. The shuttle is $9.00 one way per person .We should have waited for a mini van cab in order that we could have all travelled together, with out wasting so much time. Four people, with luggage $20.00 in a cab, $36.00 with the shuttle
We also had to settle our sign and sail card bill.
We are well travelled, low maintenance customers we didnt require any special treatment nor did we expect to receive any - consequently we found that the level of service was adequate & the staff performed their duties to the levels expected, in other word they did their jobs, and we received value for money.
Notwithstanding that, we still tipped both the dining room and the stateroom staff at the end of the week even though they didnt do anything special to warrant this. We worked it out that with 2,124 guests and 930 staff the mandatory service gratuity came to a total of $148,680.00 for the week or an average of $160.00 for each staff member, not counting the 15% on top of the liquor bills.
I appreciate that the service staff are low paid by North American standards (but not necessarily by the staffs standards or by their country of origins standards), that they work very long hours, live for eight months at a tine on board ship in cramped quarters, probably send most of their wages home to help care for their families and that minimum wages probably dont apply on board ship (even if they are mandated to do so they probably get around them by charging for uniforms, board and lodging, laundry, etc). However, that is Carnivals concern with regard to their wage policies and to the staff accepting them (not necessarily both on an equal footing here) and not mine.
Carnival set the prices which I accept (I would prefer that the price I pay be more inclusive so that a tip becomes a reward for outstanding service and not part of someones wages, although I realise that this is not going to happen anytime soon), but, even though Carnival may be at the low end of cruise line prices, I dont like to be nickeled and dimed to death.
I consider myself to be an average tipper, I dont throw nickels around like they are manhole covers neither do I tip 20% of the bill regardless of the level of service I received, nor do I believe in pre-tipping. For the record, when I go to a restaurant I usually tip 15% of the bill, before taxes are added. I did, however, find it tacky in the extreme, at the disembarkation talk, to have the staff all parade before us and for the cruise director to tell us to tip the maitre d, and to tell us that the staff members progress depends on the passengers favourable review of their performance (In other words be careful how you respond when filling out your comment card, say something nasty and the staff member gets fired I guess Carnival do not monitor or supervise their own staff or have a quality control programme, etc). If every passenger tipped the Maitre d $1.00 this would add up to over $2,000.00 for a weeks work, on top of his salary I wonder if he would share that with anyone) I never made it to the sushi bar went past it quite a few times but was always too full (not the sushi bar, me), never made it to the midnight buffet either (I was usually in bed by then, and if I was still up I was definitely too full).
Somewhat disappointed with the swimming pools - none of them were large enough to actually swim laps in them; maybe the other ships have a better choice.
I am not sure what Carnival mean in their brochure about having three bands and orchestras with spectacular Las Vegas style shows, and comedy acts and international singers (well they werent American so the international part was true must learn to read the small print). I went because the shows were there, and considering the limitations of working on a ship they werent bad, in fact they were quite enjoyable, sort of like your local repertory/summer stock theatre but not like Broadway/West End theatre. You have to remember that in Las Vegas, for the amount you pay for the tickets, you expect to get a Las Vegas show, with all of the trimmings.
It was like the dinner menu if it mentioned an item in the singular you received one of them, if it referred to an item in the plural you received two of them, however you could order more than one item if you so chose, or even two of the same item, and no one battered an eyelid.
We didnt attend any of the Port shopping talks and we didnt attend any of the briefings on the Ports of Call.
The sports bar has a very limited selection of sports, read no Premiership football, they didnt get Fox Sports channel, usually showing main stream North American sports on ESPN.
The ship will post your cards and letters from the ports of call, worked fine for Grand Cayman, except wouldnt accept mail for any of the other port nor for Tampa go figure.
The walkie-talkies we had worked well, just need to make sure no one else is using the channel you are on. Of course they work well when you have them turned on. Used them in Costa Maya and they worked well.
Before cruising one of our concerns had been the rowdy behaviour and the number of small children onboard. This turned into a non event, as either there were no rowdy adults or obnoxious children on board or we never noticed.
The Cruise line excursions were ok, but the privately arranged ones were better, both in quality and price. We arranged our excursion over the internet, based on CC members recommendations and found the people we dealt with very courteous and quick to respond to our requests for information.
The library was a little light on books & I am not sure that the ones they had saw much of the light of day. We brought our own books - I read three during the week.
We liked the towel animals that were waiting for us each afternoon when we returned to our cabins, we particularly liked the monkey swinging from the curtain rail.
Our Sail & Sign charges came to $730.00 (Nick & Noras = $97.00 incl. wine, Excursions = $146.00, Photos = $58.00, Jewellery = $89.00, Drinks = $200.00, Service Gratuity = $140.00). We are still waiting to receive our Visa bill
We didnt go to the Art Auction, I would have had no idea what I was buying, who the artists were, or if the prints were a bargain, I guess that I would pay up to a few hundred dollars for a print that fits in with our dEcor at home, but more than that and I would want to know chapter and verse about the print; I didnt make any major purchases either from the ships shops or from the port shops for the same reasons.
I also didnt need to do things I could have done back home, so I didnt bring my lap top computer or connect to the internet. If work cannot do without me, or I without them, for a week or two than one of us has a problem. I also thought that the internet charges were high.
We did carry our cell phones with us in case of emergencies, more by habit than anything else at the ports of call you could link up with the local service if you phone had the correct calling plan.
Every day the ship publishes the Carnival Capers which provides you with the entire goings on for the day, from 6:00am to past midnight; it arrives in your stateroom the evening before. It will tell you when you arrive, when the last tender leaves and when the ship departs the port, and what time you are on (ships or island time). It tells you when and where all of the music and dancing is, when and where you can eat, where to go to have fun, where you can get a drink, and all of the other activities for the day.
At every port we were told (through Capers) to keep our watches on ships time, which we did, and they published the time of the last tender back to the ship and when the ship sailed (an hour after the last tender). Generally the tours we booked advised us that the tour would start one hour after the ship docked, or at 9:00am Eastern time or 9:00am Central time (for the time period of our cruise Grand Cayman was on Eastern Standard time, Costa Maya and Belize were on Central time). I kept track of the time, making sure that we were back at the docks half an hour before we needed to be, however, in all instances the tours brought us safely back to the docks with plenty of time to spare.
As I wrote at the beginning, we all enjoyed the cruise, it was very relaxing, we felt it provided value for money (in spite of some little niggles), it could easily have been a day or two longer, and we are all planning to go on another cruise.
Luckily we spent another week in the Tampa area doing much the same things we did on the Ship (not much of anything) which made the holiday just perfect.
I dont have a problem travelling with Carnival, or in sailing on Miracle, again, but all things being equal well probably consider another cruise line just to see how similar or dissimilar they are, and to be able to put this cruise experience into context. I will be looking at the CC boards with keen interest to see what I can learn.
These opinions regarding the cruise and the politics expressed therein are entirely my own and may not reflect anyone elses, it all depends on where you are coming from. The whole object of the cruise was to have a relaxing and enjoyable vacation, free from hassle and without having to think too much. We accomplished this to great effect so that the niggles I mentioned need to be put into context of the overall experience, which was favourable.
We found it interesting to read that other people on the same cruise as us have had such different experiences, but, as I said above, it all depends on where you are coming from, your experiences and expectations.
It is also interesting to read, from the CC Boards, that Carnival, apparently, seem to change the rules as to how they do things from cruise to cruise. Read Less