Just to warn you, this is going to be a long review, so settle in.
We were three sisters, traveling together, all in our 50s and 60s....well, two in our fifties and one in her sixties, but I'm not telling which one! Two of us have cruised with Carnival before, for one, this was her first cruise. For all of us, this was our first trip to Hawai'i.
Okay, enough about us. Now, on to the trip.
Embarkation was at the port of Long Beach. We drove from Phoenix to Long Beach the day before and stayed in the Hotel Current. (Thanks, Cruise Critic members for that tip!) It's a beautiful hotel and what used to be a Continental breakfast is now a full breakfast, with eggs, sausage, bacon, waffles, etc. The cost is $149 per room, per night for their cruise package. Part of this package is that they provide a free port shuttle to and from the hotel to the port, and they allow you to park your car at the hotel for the duration of the cruise. When I later heard what people had paid to park at other hotels or at the port, ($17-$20 per night) I realized what a great deal this was!
Embarkation at the port was somewhat less organized than I've been used to sailing out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, but not too bad. Our room was already ready for us and we were in it within an hour or so. Then up to the Lido deck for lunch at Horatio's. Let me just interject here that I don't understand people who criticize the buffet food by saying it's the "same thing every day." I guess technically this is true, but there's EVERYTHING on the buffet! Particularly good was the Asian station which was featuring delicious, fresh seafood in one of their dishes. Of course, Lido was crowded. Just expect that. It's the only dining option for lunch on embarkation day. However, we had found a table pretty quickly.
Our suite was great. Very compact, of course, but plenty of storage space. More than we really needed and two of us do not know how to pack light. The marble bathroom was awesome, with a whirlpool tub. We were excited to have an extended balcony, including a chaise lounge, which saw a lot of use on the sea days! Rony was our room steward, and he was great. He knew us by name and provided so many little extra touches that made the cruise special. (By the way, this is one reason I prefer Carnival to so many other lines: the staff are always friendly.) Our cabin was at the rear of the ship, so there was some vibration from the engines, but it was not significant and it never bothered us.
Okay, about the cruise. This itinerary has 8 sea days. If you don't like sea days, fly to Hawai'i and cruise the POA, but don't complain about sea days. We happen to LOVE sea days, so we were in hog heaven, as my mom used to say. There was more to do and a greater variety of activities on this cruise than on any other I've been on, and this was good planning on Carnival's part. We particularly enjoyed the daily nature talks from a real, live naturalist Carnival had contracted with. She was knowledgable and funny and we thought this was one of the best parts of the trip. Carnival had also contracted with folks to do Hawai'ian crafts on the journey out, and this was a favorite activity. They made some adorable stuff too: leis and shell bracelets and so forth. Unfortunately, they underestimated the interest in this activity and people were lining up an hour beforehand to get in the class. Seeing the interest, the Miracle crew themselves tried to conduct similar classes on the way back. Not the same. We weren't much on shows, so not much to comment there, except to say that one of us did see a show and liked it okay. Not sure which show it was, so this is probably not too helpful. Sorry. They did have some good movies, including "Gravity" and "Blended", which we enjoyed. One of us loves trivia contests and was excited to discover that they pretty much had back-to-back trivia contests of various kinds, in one lounge or another, all morning long. This person often persuaded the other sisters to join her and I will say that medals and the coveted ship-on-a-stick were won!
In terms of food, we thought it was wonderful. We had the early sitting and Stefan, Pedro and Dennis, our waiters took excellent care of us. They remembered who liked her water glass kept full, who liked peppermint tea at the end of the meal and who liked decaf. They were the best! As per usual, the left side of the menu has staples that never change throughout the cruise: things like Southern fried chicken, flank steak and shrimp cocktail. The right side of the menu has the daily specials, an unusual "Didja Ever" appetizer, and "Comfort Food." Some of the treats on the right side were: filet mignon, Duck a l'Orange, lobster, escargot, venison spring rolls, alligator in phyllo dough and Osso Buco. Speaking of phyllo dough, the dessert chef was a genius! The things he could do with that phyllo dough! Memorable desserts included a fruit "lasagna", which was a layer of phyllo covered with orange creme sauce, then another layer of phyllo topped with fresh fruit. And his apple pie with phyllo dough was heavenly! Mouth watering! But my favorite dessert was something called Bitter and Blanc. I really can't describe it, except to say that every time the word "bitter" chocolate appeared in the menu, it was really dark chocolate. Okay, enough about the food. It's making me hungry, except one comment. Whenever I heard people complain about the food, I wanted to say, "Really? You eat better than this at home?" Okay, I said it. Now I feel better.
So on the way to the islands, the ship had to alter it's route because there was a storm, nicknamed the "Pineapple Express" that was tracking from Hawai'i to California. This put us about 5 hour behind schedule and the captain made the decision to head for Hilo on the Big Island instead of Maui, as was originally scheduled for our first port. In addition, we would be landing in the afternoon, rather than the morning. Unfortunately, most people who had purchased the cruise ship excursions for Hilo were out of luck due to this change, and all but 3 of the 14 ship excursions originally scheduled for Hilo were cancelled. Fortunately, we had purchased excursions with an outside company: Mauka Makai Adventures. I made a call to them and they were happy to accommodate us. It even worked out better because now we were able to see a twilight tour of the volcanoes which was much more dramatic. And now I want to tell you that this company and the people who run it, Josh and Jill Grotkin, were really a high point in our trip. We had two days with them, one on Hilo and one on Kona. They provided a totally individualized tour for us. Josh was our guide and you just could not find a better guide. He was friendly, flexible, outgoing, and so knowledgeable about his beautiful island. He took us to see so many wonderful places and explained so much that we began to truly fall in love with the Big Island. It turned out to be fortunate that we had booked most of the excursions with outside companies. They could be more flexible with changes in scheduling. Also, when you disembark the ship, if you have an excursion with an outside company, you are given priority status and allowed to disembark first. That was nice. Other excursions will be reviewed in the ports section.
Let me backtrack a bit and tell you that one of the most exciting moments on the trip, for me, happened just as we were pulling into Hilo. I was sitting on the balcony, just staring at the ocean, when BOOM!!!... a Humpback whale breached full length, right where I was looking, just ahead of the ship! I started yelling to my sisters, and we all crowded on the balcony. No more breaching, but we did see what appeared to be two whales swimming and spouting right next to each other. We assumed they were a mother and calf. We did see other whales on our Kona excursion with Josh, but seeing that breach was SO exciting!
One thing that was unfortunate was with 2 days left in the cruise we woke up and were startled to see the hall outside our cabin had apparently turned into a river, complete with little waves! It turned out a pipe had burst and much of the port side of deck six was flooded to a greater or lesser degree. For us, some water did come in to the cabin and make portions of the carpet wet. The crew, though, I have to admit, was absolutely fantastic and the inconvenience was minor. After the leak was stopped, the crew was there with wet vacs and powerful fans to dry out the carpet. The biggest inconvenience was that the fans were really loud. But we didn't stay in the cabin much during the day anyway. Official looking crew members were very solicitous and came several times a day to inquire how the carpet was drying. Plus they credited us over $400, so that took away a lot of the pain. Nice.
Disembarkation was very smooth. Apparently, there was some delay with the customs officials clearing the ship, but once that was done, we were off the ship very quickly. One thing I did like about the process at Long Beach was that you went through customs first and then picked up your luggage. This is different than at Miami and greatly expedited the speed at which we were able to go through customs.
All in all, we had a great time and felt the cruise to be wonderful. We fell in love with Hawai'i and hope to be able to go back some day. If we do, I will remember to book with outside companies!
Our suite was great. Very compact, of course, but plenty of storage space. More than we really needed and two of us do not know how to pack light. The marble bathroom was awesome, with a whirlpool tub. We were excited to have an extended balcony, including a chaise lounge, which saw a lot of use on the sea days! Our room steward, Rony, was kind enough to provide us with egg crate toppers for our mattresses, which made our beds super comfortable. Our cabin was at the rear of the ship, so there was some vibration from the engines, but it was not significant and it never bothered us.
This port was the required foreign port stop. We had originally scheduled an excursion here, a wine tasting one, but when we first boarded the Miracle, found out this excursion had been cancelled. We arrived at Ensenada at 8:00 pm the night before we sailed back to Long Beach and left at 10:30. Only 2-1/2 hours. We stayed on board and packed, not being confident enough to disembark at a Mexican port after dark. Most passengers stayed aboard. I have to say that, if I had booked all our excursions with Carnival, I would have been disappointed in this cruise because a significant number of them would have been cancelled.