We sailed Carnival Miracle on July 19 out of NYC to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau. This was our 10th cruise, all on Carnival, so I thought I'd highlight in this review our experience as Platinum cruisers. What I'll do is a day-by-day review followed by some general thoughts about the ship and the cruise - and what we liked about being Platinum.
About us: DH and I are in our late 40's and sailed with two of our three sons, ages 13 and 9. This was our first cruise without our oldest son, who already started his studies at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island. He wants to be a ship's engineering officer. So while we were sailing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, he was learning to navigate the Long Island Sound and the East River. We sent him a postcard from the Bahamas. Hopefully he'll be able to join us for a cruise sometime again - after all, he would be Platinum as well!
Embarkation: We drive to NYC and park at the pier for sailings out of New York, since we live about 2 hours north of the city. This was a Sunday, and the GW Bridge and West Side Highway were not crowded (although we were very thankful not to be continuing on the Cross Bronx, which we've been doing to go to USMMA. I've decided that there is never a good time to drive the Cross Bronx.) A warning for those who like to drop off their luggage with the porters and then park: the parking entrance is at the beginning of the pier complex, so if you want to drop off your luggage you will pass the parking entrance, drop off luggage, then exit onto 12th Avenue and loop around to re-enter the pier complex and go to the parking entrance. That's what we ended up doing. It's a little more inconvenient, but the luggage is out of the way.
Once on the pier, we went through the regular security line, then entered the VIP line for Platinum and suite passengers. They direct you to a separate VIP room to check in and get Sail and Sign cards, then direct you past the regular check-in to board the ship. The whole boarding process took us all of about 20 minutes. We arrived at the pier around 11:45 and were on board a little after 12. Not bad. Of course, I managed to mess up the online registration - DH didn't have charging privileges on his Sail and Sign card - so our first stop was the Purser's (excuse me - Guest Services) desk, where we were able to wait in the "concierge guest" line - not that we bypassed anyone, but the special line was a nice touch. Second stop was the shore excursion desk to get a cabana at Half Moon Cay. I would recommend that you don't wait to do this - there are 15 cabanas, and they go quickly. After that, up to the Lido deck and lunch.
My one (minor) disappointment with embarkation day was sailaway. We were scheduled to sail at 4, but ended up not sailing until close to 5. Since we had early dining, we barely made it under the bridge before we went to dinner. I was hoping to be able to be up on one of the high decks to go under the bridge, then go back to the cabin and get changed for dinner. Not a big deal, but in six cruises out of NYC I think we've actually sailed on time (or even close to on time) only once.
After dinner, we registered the kids for Camp Carnival/Circle C, then paid another visit to the Purser's desk to ask that the divider between our balconies be opened. You have to go to the Purser's desk on Spirit-class ships instead of simply asking your cabin steward because there is a special clamp needed to fasten the divider to the balcony and they have to notify Maintenance. No problem - we were added to the list, and by 10 a.m. the next morning the divider was opened. Then off to "Funship Trivia" in the main lounge. All of the questions were about Carnival ships (e.g., "What was the first cruise ship to exceed 100,000 tons? Answer: Carnival Destiny.") I won the ship on a stick with only 10 right out of 20 - guess all those past guest parties paid off! We then went to listen to "Music Unlimited" in Frankie and Johnnie's lounge. No "Welcome Aboard" show for us - younger son was too tired, so off to bed.
Sea Day 1: Breakfast on the Lido deck, then sons went off to kids' activities. DH and I went for one of our favorite cruise experiences: getting a specialty coffee and sitting on the Promenade deck playing gin rummy. There was an arts and crafts session going on near the coffee bar - needlepoint lanyards for the sail and sign cards. I came back to the afternoon session to make one. I wished I had brought my needlework scissors - it's not easy doing needlepoint without scissors! The Captain's party was before dinner in the Phantom (main show) lounge - drinks were still on the house, no food. Most men wore jacket/tie, women's wear ran the gamut from gowns to nice "Sunday" dresses and pantsuits. The evening's show was "Swinging with the Big Band," Christopher Alan Graves' tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. We saw him perform three years ago on Legend, and it was worth seeing him again. He had some changes to the show. After the show, we went to see Music Unlimited again - however, they took a break within a few minutes of our arrival, so we tried the piano bar. We've sailed with Peter before and like him a lot, but it sure was tough trying to get a crowd in the piano bar. The piano bar is in a really lousy location on the Spirit-class ships. Peter even skipped breaks in the hope of getting people in there, but there were never more than a handful of people. He had much a much bigger, livelier crowd when we saw him on Victory.
Sea Day 2: This day was gray and somewhat rough as we sailed off Cape Hatteras. I think there were a whole lot of folks from New York thinking, "Oh no....we just left a month and a half of rain...is it following us?" At least it didn't rain too much, but I've seen nicer sea days. This was the day they brought us the canapE plate for being Platinum cruisers. They were all very good - prosciutto-wrapped melon, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers on a baguette, shrimp/cucumber, and stuffed tomatoes. And since we had two cabins, we had two sets of canapEs.
We went to Nick and Nora's for dinner this evening. I really like the supper clubs on these ships - the two-story restaurant with the funnel skylight is very well done. And as usual the food was wonderful. I went for the beef carpaccio, which I had never tried before, the Caesar salad, the surf and turf, and the chocolate trio dessert. As much as I tried, I still couldn't finish the dessert.
Grand Turk: We docked and found...that it was cloudy and drizzling. Since we didn't have any plans, we took our time getting off the ship and walking over to the beach. We had no problem finding beach chairs, but as the morning went on (and the weather improved) and more and more people came over to the beach, the chairs started getting scarce. I wasn't crazy about the beach area - the beach itself was nice, but the sea bottom was very rocky and the water was loaded with seaweed. Right next to the beach is Margaritaville, a pool, and the Flow Rider, all of which were very crowded. We went back to the ship in time for lunch onboard. It was all okay, but I think if we go back we'll book an excursion or find a different part of the island to visit.
Half Moon Cay: Without a doubt, the best beach I have ever visited. Absolutely gorgeous. Since we had booked a cabana, we were able to go ashore on the first tender. (I assume we could have used the first tender because we're Platinum, but I couldn't say for sure.) It's not a long tender ride. When you arrive, there's a small "island village," a kids' playground and waterpark. Down the beach are plenty of loungers, clamshells, a couple of bars, and the cabanas. Lots of water rentals, like kayaks, tubes, hobie cats, and sunfish sailboats. We had Cabana 11, a long way down the beach. To me, the cabana was well worth the cost ($225 for the day): we had the shade of the cabana, a table with four chairs, two cushioned loungers, a misting fan, a shower, an air conditioner, four water floats, and four sets of snorkel gear. For snacks, we had eight sodas, a large bottle of water, tortilla chips with salsa/guacamole/sour cream, a fruit plate, oranges, and veggies with dip. All the food is brought over from the ship. The beach itself has some of the softest sand you can imagine (the only other beach that came close in my mind is Starfish Beach on Grand Cayman) and the water is gorgeous. Lunch is served at a picnic pavilion behind the beach area - salads, hot dogs/hamburgers, jerk chicken, cookies and brownies. Given the food in the cabana, we really didn't need much for lunch! Around 3:00, we decided to wrap things up and head back to the ship. We didn't have much of a wait for a tender.
The evening 's show was "Generations," one of the two production shows. It was pretty good - not my favorite, but entertaining. It's a series of numbers from the 50's to the 90's.
Nassau: We were in Nassau in February aboard Glory, so we knew about the gamut of taxi drivers, tour operators and hair braiders that awaited us. Last time we visited Nassau, we walked around, went to Pirates of Nassau, and went to Sunday Mass at St. Francis Cathedral. This time we booked the Blackbeard's Cay with Stingrays excursion through Carnival. This was a fun way to spend a day in Nassau. There's a ½ hour ride to Blackbeard's (on the same island as Sandals Resort). When we arrived, we went over to a beach to the side of the main beach, where you do the stingray snorkel. If you have kids who aren't yet comfortable with snorkeling, this beach is a great way to introduce them. It's shallow and calm. Our youngest had never done very well with snorkeling until now, but he had a great time at this beach. And aside from the stingrays, we found plenty of other fish to view. One of the staff came out with food for the stingrays - you just have to be careful that the fish don't get the food before the rays! They don't set a time limit on your snorkeling, but after a while we went over to the main beach area. This excursion comes with lunch - hamburger/hot dog, chips and a soda. Then back on the boat to Nassau. We didn't do too much else in Nassau - a little shopping, that was about it.
Third sea day: Another lazy day. This morning was the Platinum cruisers' galley tour. There was only DH and me plus one other couple, with the tour led by an assistant Maitre'D. It wasn't much different from the main tour, but it was more personalized. This was the second formal (excuse me - "elegant") night - not nearly as dressy as the first, but people still dressed well. The Platinum plate of petit-fours arrived before dinner - as nice as the canapEs, but too close to dinner for us. The evening's show was "Ticket to Ride," a Beatles tribute, and we really enjoyed this show. This evening also was the Camp Carnival super-late night party for the 9-11 year olds, so youngest son was up until 3:30 in the morning, long after we went to bed. Surprisingly, he got up at 8:00 the next morning.
Last sea day: Our luggage tags arrived for disembarkation with the #1 for Platinum cruisers, along with instructions on where to meet to be escorted off the ship. The ship crawled on her way back to NYC - at one point, we were doing 5 knots! Obviously we had much more time than we needed. DH worked on packing, while I spent most of my afternoon keeping tabs on youngest son and a friend from Camp Carnival who made the rounds of pools, hot tubs, and waterslide. They closed the balcony dividers that afternoon in preparation for the return to NYC. After dinner, one last round of lounges for music.
Debarkation: Captain Marchetti said we would dock at 7:10 a.m. and he was pretty much on the nose. Triumph was ahead of us and there was enough of a breeze/current to make docking interesting - both ships needed the tugboats' efforts to push them into line with the piers. Since we put our luggage out the night before, we had instructions to meet in Frankie and Johnnie's at 9 a.m. to be escorted off the ship with the other Platinum passengers. It all worked like a charm - at 9:10 we were in line to disembark, we breezed through customs and immigration (the agent was fine with our three bottles of alcohol - no extra charge), picked up our luggage (once again, the pick duct tape on the suitcases served its purpose), and we were in our car and on the way home by 9:40.
Cabin: We originally booked one of the deck 5 balconies with an adjoining inside cabin for the boys. Then we had the chance to switch to two connecting deck 5 balconies and went for it. And then, about 6 weeks before sailing, DH received a call offering two adjoining (not connecting) suites for an additional $500 for the four of us. Twist my arm.... The cabins were great; since we had the balcony divider opened, we had our connecting cabins anyway. Our steward was Japhet and he was absolutely wonderful.
Dining: Up to now, I thought the dining rooms on Victory were the ugliest dining rooms afloat. I hated the mermaids. Well, the mermaids pale in comparison to the Bacchus dining room on Miracle. It's...purple. I mean, really purple. This definitely was my "What was Farcus thinking?" space on this ship. Fortunately, I don't cruise for the dEcor. We had a four-top booth near (not next to) a portside window, the closest we've made it to a window yet. Our servers, Katalin and Mlosevic, were terrific. I think Katalin has all the skills to move up to assistant maitre'd - she knew the food and the wine, and she was very personable. And the food was generally very good. The Lido deck food was fine for breakfast and lunch.
Entertainment: One of my biggest complaints about Spirit-class ships is the entertainment space, and I noticed it on this cruise. First and foremost, the piano lounge location stinks. I read on the piano bar thread that a lot of performers refuse contracts on Spirit-class ships, and I can understand why. Peter is a good entertainer, and he put his heart and soul into getting people into the piano bar - but it's on deck 3 near the chapel. It just isn't in a place to attract a crowd. By contrast, Music Unlimited was one deck below and had no problem with an audience - and they had an uncanny knack of taking a break just when the crowds were gathering. (I liked them, BTW - it just seemed that every time I went to see them I'd get one or two songs, and then they'd take a break - and their filler was a Brittney Spears video or the like, which just sends me fleeing.) Another example of bad space was the Jeeves Lounge on deck 2 - on the second sea day, the ship's orchestra gave a great big band concert, but the orchestra was placed on a stage on the other side of a walkway from the dining room, so while we were in the lounge trying to enjoy the performance we had lot of people walking between us and the band. Not their fault - just a lousy set-up.
Cruise Director: Josh "Big Sexy" Waitzman was serving as cruise director on this sailing. I liked him, but thought he had way too many announcements of events. To my mind, a cruise director should make three general announcements: One in the morning to let people know of things happening before lunch, one after lunch to advise of afternoon activities, and one after dinner to let people know the evening activities. Josh doubled up on the announcements - it's just not needed.
Platinum status: So what did we get by virtue of being Platinum? For us, the best perk was the free laundry. And we did take advantage - during the week, we filled five of those bags that go for $15 apiece if you're sending laundry out to be done. Before, we spent a day putting clothes through the coin-operated laundries. The free laundry was worth its weight in gold - we put the laundry out in the morning, and when we returned from dinner that evening it was back in our cabin, washed dried and folded. Can't beat it. The canapEs and petit fours were nice - very tasty. Loved the VIP boarding and debarkation - they took care of us. Our free gift was silver-colored picture frames - I'm sure we'll use them.
Overall, a great cruise (but then, we haven't had a bad cruise yet). Our next cruise is a 7-day on Conquest out of Galveston in February, but then we're considering what we do next summer. Maybe Pride out of Baltimore - we really would like to go back to Half moon Cay! Read Less