CCL Miracle Cruise Review March 13, 2006 Itinerary: Tampa, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize, Costa Maya Links to Photos: http://community.webshots.com/user/bob42ca http://community.webshots.com/user/rob42ca
This was our 11th cruise, the third on Carnival, and our cruisemates 14th cruise. We arrived at Terminal 2 at noon by private car, and decided to use the $10 valet parking after the valet said wed have our car in 10 minutes on return. This turned out to be incorrect, you get your own car on return. The daily parking fee is $12, and the parkade is across the street from the terminal. So doing valet wasnt worth the fee, you might as well drop your people and luggage off at the ship porters, then park at the parkade and walk back across the street. On return, get your car while your people stay with your luggage in front of the parking building.
The process inside the terminal was ok, waited only a few minutes to get the ship card, then waited about half an hour in a seated area to be called to board. No escorts to the cabins, find your own way. Our luggage arrived about 4pm, our friends got theirs faster. Good lunch buffet, then went to the dining room to ask the maitred for a dining table change to a larger table, which he was later able to do. Fire muster drill at 3:30, sailaway after that.
The Miracle was built in 2004, and its very clean and new. The decorating is gaudy, loud, often tacky, kind of like a Vegas hotel gone wild. And the decorating themes seem unconnected. The dining room is a Bacchus (god of pleasure) theme, with pink flying saucer lights all over the walls, ceiling, and pillars that other reviewers have shaken their heads at, apparently meant to resemble bunches of grapes. Then in other areas of the ship the theme is characters such as Robin Hood, Captain Hook, famous detectives. Then in other areas its an Alice in Wonderland theme, all this with crazy loud dEcor, none of which seems to flow together. Even the huge atrium was garish. One area of the ship that was classy was Nick and Noras pay restaurant, $30 p.p. (no discounts offered all week). The location was lovely, nice views, more space between tables and quieter than the main dining room.
Ship design was also strange in some areas. They built a huge atrium extending to the top of the ship, and then put an overhang above the atrium that cuts off your view. And one side of the atrium had hardly any seating. Another design hassle was the very low ceiling in the upper level of the dining room, which we are guessing was the reason for it being so noisy, you have to raise your voice to be heard across the table. If you dont like it noisy you should request a table on the lower level. And there were no panoramic windows in the dining room, this was the only ship that we couldnt tell where the dining room was from the outside. The good design thing is its easy to find your way around, no roadblocks.
As usual, on sea days all the loungers around or above the pools are taken or saved by 9:30, but the good news is there are lots of extra stacks of loungers further astern on either side, so you can always find one, great if you dont mind a quiet place away from the action. And the loungers are great, a nice mesh, no more buggy straps. We love calypso bands, and were disappointed in the pool band, they played a strange mix, off beat reggae, no one dancing on the pool dance floor. The Asian band in Frankie and Johnnies bar was great, good rock and roll, etc.
The gym was good, adequate number of machines, nice to find some we use that arent often on ships, separate aerobics room (classes $10), good free weights, heated lounger area (overhead heater lamps), floor mats, nice views from the machines, nice rubberized jogging track on the top deck.
We booked an inside 4A guarantee which allows CCL to give us any 4A cabin or upgrade us to any higher category. We were delighted to get an upgrade 3 decks higher to an outside 5A obstructed view with balcony doors. No balcony, because of the life boat, but nice to see the weather, get some natural light, and stick our heads out to check the temp. Good sized cabin. Only 1 outlet in the cabin, bring a power bar if you have things to plug in. Great safe, no more numbers to punch in, just swipe any magnetic card, we used a drivers license. A fridge! Robes (required later for the bathrobes and beer party). Lots of storage, suitcases fit under the K bed. Duvet on the bed (but not on lower categories). Wendy loved it, too hot for me, got a blanket from the steward, then fine. Great shower, Niagara Falls, good temp control, hand wand, clothesline (bring clothes pins). Nice body wash soap and shampoo, no conditioner. Nice amenities in bathroom, Crest toothpaste, dental floss, Olay products, disposable razors, and a pull out magnifying mirror. Sofa and table were handy. Good hair dryer attached to vanity drawer.
We had some issues with the service, no biggies, no attitude probs, nice crew, just little buggy stuff. Cutlery tossed on the dinner table instead of being placed. Water glasses left empty. Sometimes buns/bread being offered twice, sometimes not. One of our cruisemates always requested the same item every night. On other cruises the staff usually remember this and bring it (teapot of hot water/lemon wedges) without being asked, but not this week. At one dinner late in the week the pot was requested but didnt come, so we built a tower of wine glasses with the lemon plate on top as a hint. But our Tower of Babel hint didnt work, so we re-ordered again. On the other hand, 2 of us kept getting asked if we wanted coffee every night when wed told them we dont drink it. But the wait staff were good fun, with helpful information to assist us in choosing courses wed like. The MaitreD and head waiter never came around to say hi, a first for that, but he did get us the table change we requested (larger table), so hes ok too.
We pre-tipped the cabin steward to keep the ice bucket full during the afternoons and evenings, which produced a big smile, and he was good at filling it before going off shift at 1pm, but a few times in the evening it was empty, so we went down the hall until we found a stewards dolly which has ice thermoses on them, and re-filled our bucket. And we had showed our steward that we had removed the ship items out of the fridge and into a closet to we could put our own stuff in the fridge, but he still put through a charge for us using one of the items. It took 3 trips to the Pursers Desk to get the charge reversed. If the key is missing from your fridge ask your steward for it so you can open it.
On the up side, one crew member saved the day for us, with service above and beyond. We had arranged to meet our cruisemates near the gangway to go on a private tour at a tendered port, Belize. Ship tour people get the first tenders, and others arent allowed down the gangway until the ship tours are gone. Our friends arrived early, and were able to get down to a lower level of the gangway. We arrived a bit later, but by then you couldnt get down without a tour sticker. When the meeting time passed, our friends were able to slip on a ship tour tender boat and get to shore so they could find our guide and get things ready to go. But we didnt know they had left, so we told our dilemma to a young lady doing passenger control duty, one of the floor show dancers. She scooted downstairs through all the people lined up to check the passenger control computer and found out that our friends had got off the ship. Knowing we were trying to make it to our private tour, she told us to stand behind her because she thought there would be some open seats on the next ship tour tender, which there was, and she snuck us on it. That saved us at least an hour. We gave her personal kudos on the cruise evaluation form, apparently the crew get perks like extra days off for that. Thanks Debbie! You dance great too!
The dining room food was up and down, largest lobster we ever had on a ship, perfectly done, but the risotto side dish was a gluey paste. Sometimes items were not very hot. Once the sirloin was not very tender. Generally the starters and entrees were interesting and good, no one went hungry, sometimes wed share a third entrEe to get a taste of both.
The Lido buffet was good, lots of selection, 4 main stations and other specialty stations, including pizza and deli. Happy to find real brown sugar for cereal. No smoked salmon at breakfast or lunch, although the deli would make a smoked salmon bagel sandwich, could have asked for just the salmon but didnt want to stand in another line for that. Nice Asian dishes at the Asian station. Great lemonade at the drink station.
Went to one midnight buffet, the grand gala, and it was pretty good, found one great curry dish that hadnt been on the menu before. Didnt find the desserts we were looking for, but there were several choices.
Nice sandwiches and wraps on the room service menu, order them before you get off in port if you want free snacks in your shore bag.
Most of the entertainment acts were good, and the audience participation ones are always fun, Biggest Liar, Newlywed and Not So Newlywed, Battle of Sexes (guys have lost 17 weeks in a row!) We often dont go to the song and dance floor shows, weve seen so many and were not really into them, but the Ticket To Ride Beatle tribute floor show was highly recommended, and it turned out to be the best weve ever seen on a ship, it could have been an entry level Vegas act. Wonderful props, choreography, skits, costumes, laser lights, terrific music from the orchestra, the Asian band doing several hits as a replica concert, complete with audience lighters (light sticks) and confetti. Everyone was singing along, huge standing ovation. Before the show, clips from old Beatles concerts and events were playing on the screen, very nostalgic for us over 40s. Throughout the day there were lots of activities all over the ship. After dinner each night there were waiter shows in the dining room, lots of people up dancing with the waiters.
OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS
This was a young crowd, lots of spring breakers, lots of action, but no probs, no drunks on deck, no running up and down the halls or lounges. But tons of old T-shirts and ball caps in the Lido buffet. The dining room has the usual no shorts or jeans rule, but they dont stop shorts or jeans from entering, and there were several of these every night, both men and women. They do ask for ball caps to be taken off.
On formal nights if you want to be with and see the dressed up people, hang out at the atrium before dinner where theyre getting their pictures taken by the various ship photographers, and also go to the captains cocktail party, no grubbies there. On other cruises most people keep their formal wear on for the evening, but on the last formal night everyone wanted to get back in their grubbies, and for the last theatre show we were the only 4 still dressed up, also walking back through the casino there was no one still dressed up.
Many were late for dinner, about half an hour, I dont think they realize it throws off the progression of courses set out in the galley, and keeps your table mates waiting between courses if you show up late and have to do catch-up. So at the end of the cruise someone in our area brought an artificial limb, the bottom part of a leg and foot, and put it on a latecomers chair. When she pulled it out she freaked out quite nicely. Then the foot got passed around to another table waiting for a latecomer, and about a half dozen of them got it that night, quite a hoot, the waiters loved it (payback time). By the time the last late one arrived everyone was watching the show, no one talking, staring at her as she went to her chair, she thought there was something wrong with her clothes, but she soon found out.
The ship anchors fairly close to the dock, so the tender boat ride is not long. Also, 2 gangways are used, speeding things up. We had done the stingrays before (excellent), and this time planned to snorkel a nearby wreck and then hit a resort for lunch and drinks around a pool.. Two wrecks are walkable, the Cali and the Gamma, and we picked the Gamma over the Cali because the Cali has been broken up, and its site can be crowded with ship tours.
We rented equipment including inflatable vests at Divers Down beside Hammerheads Bar, a 5 minute walk left of the dock (when facing inland). Then we walked 15 minutes further north to the Gamma which is at The Wharf restaurant, took the path at the right side of The Wharf down towards the beach, and then took the path along the beach through the trees to the Gamma freighter, some of it visible out of the water. Its visible from the ship if you have good eyes. Its about 25 yards off the beach, a stones throw, listing with one side above water and the other side submerged, which is the snorkeling part. The best entry point is a little square sandy beach with low concrete walls on the cruise ship side of the Gamma, which a dive or kayaking tour might also be using, and where they leave their water containers. This beach faces away from the wreck, so after entering you swim about 25 yards toward the cruise ships, then turn right and swim through a rocky channel (lots to look at there), and when out of the channel turn right again toward the wreck. Lots of interesting underwater sights on the way. There is no reason to swim around to the side of the wreck above water, nothing to see. The underwater side is interesting, parts shallow enough to stand on with your flippers if its calm enough, great for shots with a cheap $8 underwater camera from Wal-Mart. The ship sold them for $14, better than the $30 other ships used to charge. You can snorkel right into the middle of the wreck, but how close you get would depend on how calm the water is, you dont want waves pushing you against the wreck, you could get cut. A 2-3 foot barracuda watched us for a bit, then took off. We heard the prop is still in place, and we wanted to get a shot of us with it, but the stern was in the shadow of the sun, bad for a shot, and it looked to be more than 20 feet down, and we couldnt see the prop from the surface, so we gave that up. Took shots of each other along the wreck, easier to get down if you deflate the vest. It only takes 3 or 4 blows to re-inflate. Had lots of fun there.
We planned to have lunch and drinks at the Comfort Suites resort on 7 Mile Beach, who offer cruisers free day passes if ordering drinks, but we got shopping back in town and ran out of time (4pm sailing). Only stopped to eat the room service wraps we ordered before we debarked. Dont tell the room service kitchen youre taking food ashore, they say its illegal, but no one looks in any bags, its no prob.
Our ship tender boats used the Puerto Maya pier south of town. Sit on the right side of the tender boat for a good view and shots of the hurricane damage to the pier, huge concrete sections thrown all over. A section of the pier at the shore has been repaired enough for the tenders to use. For another good shot after getting off the tender, walk to the end of the pier, wreckage in the foreground and ships in the background. Cute little shopping area at the pier, looks new, probably built after the hurricane.
$6 cab to town. Going into town along the coast youll see lots of hurricane damage, buildings, many under repairs, some abandoned, lots of dead vegetation, stripped trees, broken and tossed around. But San Miguel looks good, pretty, trees replaced, everything repainted. Cheap internet, $1-2 per half hour everywhere. We planned to do the town in the morning and hit a resort in the afternoon. The Coral Princess is free for cruisers, the El Cid La Ceiba is $15 p.p. non-inclusive, the Fiesta Americana is $39 all-incl lunch and drinks all day, and a bunch of other ones are around $50 p.p. all-in. We picked the Fiesta but again ran out of time and didnt make it.
So we decided to have lunch in town, and wanted somewhere with a view of the ocean and boardwalk. We found a great place at the corner of the boardwalk and the huge ferry pier, lots of ocean view tables but busy at 12:30, we got the last table. Two good entrees and lemonade for $21. There are other cute sidewalk cafes off the boardwalk. Beers are $1-1.50 everywhere, $2-3 in better places. Lots of cute shops around the central plaza at the ferry pier. No insects of any kind, no need for spray.
Tendering in Belize was slow, only one gangway used. After going through the hassle described above, we snuck on a ship tour tender. If youre in a rush to get ashore for your private tour, wed suggest going to the gangway early, before 8, and try and hang around as close to the sign out station as you can. Then try and get on with the ship tour people, but first ask if the tender is going to the Tourism Village, and not a caye or some other tour location.
All the ships anchor far from shore, many sandbars, and you can hardly see Belize in the distance, but the tenders are speedboats, huge twin outboard motors, they really fly, so the ride is only 10-15 minutes. Sit on the right side for a nice shot of the pretty Tourism Village as you enter the harbor. Party bar and lots of chain shops on the dock, flea market stalls outside the dock. For local flavor exit the dock, turn left onto Fort Street, and go past the vendors a few blocks till you come to a yellow lift bridge on the left. You can get some nice shots of the quaint marina from the bridge, then cross it onto Albert Street, walk up Albert a few blocks, a local hubbub.
Belize is famous for huge limestone caves with crystal caverns, stalactites, etc, and the popular tour is rubber tubing through the caves. Weve done lots of tubing before at water parks, and preferred to walk the caves to get pictures and poke around, and get some exercise. So 4 of us reserved a cave walk of the St. Hermans Cave at Blue Hole National Park, through the Cave-Tubing.com company, run by Yhonny and his guides, for $60 p.p. plus $5 for a good lunch of chicken, rice, beans and lemonade at Cheers.
The park is a 1 hour 15 minute drive down a fairly good highway, bit bumpy at times, no prob. $4 p.p. park entrance fee, then a 10 minute easy walk through the lovely forest to the cave. We took bug spray but didnt even open it, only saw 2 lazy mosquitoes all day, and a few flies. This was the dry season, Dec-May. You can rent flashlights for a few bucks, but we brought our own. The caverns are huge, and its best to have the most powerful lights you can bring, to see all the crystalline features, side passages, the river beside the path, rock formations. If your group is not very physical your guide will take you halfway, but if they can handle it youll go to the end, some climbing over wet sandy or rocky spots, stooping for low ceilings, the end section is trickier. There is no walkable exit, so we then returned the way we came, often seeing things we missed the first time, or from a different perspective. Shots in the dark tunnel turned out well with both our digital and 35 mm cameras, the flashes were rated for 20 feet but went beyond that. We shined our flashlights on our shirts so the person taking the shot could make us out. Just make sure your camera can focus in the dark, some cant do that. The cave is about three quarters of a mile, and about halfway through we met some other cavers who had set up a lovely buffet on a white table cloth on a sandy area beside the underground river with candles, very exotic, Jake and his friends from Colorado.
There are 2 routes from the park station to the cave, the lowland easy path and the highland path with climbing and great views of the area. We took the highland path back to the parking lot at the station, and then drove a few minutes to the Blue Hole, a pretty sink hole pond in a jungle grotto with a small beach, where you can take a dip. After that we had lunch at Cheers on the way back, one of the most recommended cafes in the area, and it was good. We offered to buy our guide Tim a lunch, but this place gives guides with groups a free lunch. Tim was absolutely excellent, informative and entertaining, and we tipped him a quarter of the tour price. Yhonny was prompt and helpful in setting up the tour by email, explaining everything we wanted to know very well.
Finally a port with no more tendering. A free tram takes people from the ship down the long pier to the port entrance, where there is a center built for cruise passengers. It has shops, 2 swimming pools, bar, cafe, loungers on a sandy area, but no beach, all rocks. Rather expensive, $9 drinks, snacks $5-10. Both pools looked awful, cloudy murky brownish green water, you couldnt see 2 inches into it, wed never get in that. Local dancers do a folk dance in a small amphitheater, some audience participation.
To the right of the pier (your back toward the ocean) is the Chac-Chi resort, lovely beach, loungers, volley ball, cafe, bar, music, way cheaper than the cruise area. Youll see it on the right as you go up the pier. Guests were an assortment of locals, foreigners from the resorts and hotels, and cruise ship people, interesting group. The cruise lines have done everything to try and keep cruisers out of Chac-Chi, large concrete wall extending down to the water with signs not to enter, big metal fence going way up the road. There is a billboard above the fence on resort property welcoming cruisers and stating you can take a cab out around the highway to their main entrance. But there is also a shortcut, an 8 minute walk, that the locals and land resort people use. Go past the cruise shops, keep to the right, and exit into the taxi and bus area. Walk around the roundabout with the yellow concrete centerpiece, and down the right side of the street, to the first intersection, which will take 3-4 minutes. At the intersection turn right and you will see a white building with red lettering saying Comisariato, a local shopping place. Walk past this building and you will come to a wire gate. Lift up the broken right side of the gate and go through. Youll see other people on the road going there too. The wire is rather heavy, take turns holding it for each other. Then walk down the path past some junk, and turn right at the end onto another path through the forest, which takes you into the resort. From the intersection to the resort took 5 minutes, 8 total from the roundabout.
Im in education, and we wanted to take some supplies and gifts to the kids in the local school, weve done that before in impoverished areas. School is out at noon, so we had to get there in the morning. When the taxi dispatcher found out what we were trying to do, she got us both a taxi and a tour operator to be our guide/interpreter, Juan, no extra charge.
The school is at the far end of the village of Majahual, a block or so off the beach road. The entrance has old swing gates held closed with a drop bar. There were 2 small buildings, one with 2 rooms and the other 1 room. Juan talked to the teacher, Rosemaria, and found that the older kids in the 1 room bldg had gone on a day trip. Rosemarias class was about 20 7-9 year olds, and the other room had about 15 3-6 year olds, all in uniforms. Our gifts fit the 7-9s best, so we stayed there. There was a little 7 year old boy from Britain who was bilingual and did some interpreting for us. And there was also a little boy from Germany who spoke English. The room was very clean but had very few supplies, we didnt see any readers or activity kits, just a small set of shelves with a few things on it. When we arrived the kids were writing in notebooks. We asked Rosemaria to distribute the gifts at her discretion & pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, crayons, pencil crayons, chalk, notebooks, solar calculators, English/Spanish workbooks, balls, skipping ropes, toy cars, Frisbees, lollipops. The kids were very excited, Im afraid we wrecked the lesson for the day. The room had a dry erase board, and I wished wed brought dry erase pens. Rosemaria said the older class had a chalkboard and she would give them the chalk. Apparently there is a girl called BebeAnna in the older class who speaks English. She said she would give the older absent class some items that fit their age.
We took some lollipops to the class next door, where the teacher brought forward a little girl about 5 who said she was from Michigan and Colorado, and we had a little talk to her, she seemed proud to be the one dealing with the visitors. I told her to tell her parents when she got home that she met people from Ontario, next to Michigan, and that I was the best looking guy in Ontario. She had a look at me and a chuckle, Im not sure that she was convinced. We took a few pictures and then left, they were all outside waving goodbye until we got to the gate, and it was a highlight of our trip. The remote inland schools have even fewer supplies, a 2 hour drive each way, and David at The Native Way tour company will gladly deliver your gifts to them.
We then walked a block to the beach road, and strolled past the shops and cafes. The beach has nice sand, but some seaweed in the water and along the waters edge, which could be easily cleaned by running a tractor down the beach to drag it away. Not as clean as Chac-Chi. There is lots of water activity equipment for rent, and free loungers to use. We drank local water (ice cubes in lemonade) here at the Cats Meow cafe and the cafe in Cozumel with no problem. A cab from the dock to town is $3 p.p., and returning its $2 p.p., a 5 minute trip. Our cruisemates walked from the ship to town down the coast, which took them 20 minutes. In the cruise village area there is a boardwalk along the shore, but at the end of the property there is another concrete wall like at Chac-Chi. They walked around the wall in water up to their ankles, and continued into town. It was not a pretty walk, some garbage.
The debarkation process was a surprise, a first for us. Instead of debarking people by deck or color code, everyone gets off at the same time (except for VIPs). We thought that would be chaos, but it was a breeze. People are asked not to clog up the gangway area at the atrium, but to wait in a lounge or other common area until the announcement that the gangway was open, which most people did. What happens is that lots of people are still willing to stand and wait by the gangway, which our friends did, and when the ship is cleared for debarking they let those lined up get off before the general announcement (9:10 for them). So when its generally announced, there is no clog at the gangway, and we were off in 4 minutes (at 9:40). Those waiting on a different deck would of course take longer.
The ship is clean and new, the ports are great fun, we didnt have a drop of rain all week, and if the blips on the radar above dont bother you, youll have a great time. Hi to our shipmates Bill and Shelly! ... still the ironman and woman, havent taken a ship elevator in 14 cruises (but too tired to drink when they get to the pool). Glad to get email if you have questions or comments. (Bob7 then the at sign, then canoemail.com). Read Less