Overview We are a retired couple in our mid 50's. This was our 8th cruise, 1st two on Carnival, next 4 on Princess grand class ships, and last one on RCI Navigator of the Seas. We had been hesitant to go back on Carnival fearing they had probably cheapened their cruises, but liked the price and itinerary since we had not yet traveled to St. Lucia or St. Kitts, so decided to take a chance.
Our 1st two cruises were in inside cabins, and we have since switched to balconies. Don't need a suite, but if the weather has the potential to be decent we have to have a balcony to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book overlooking the water.
Embarkation Arrived at Ft. Lauderdale Airport at 12:25pm, and caught a quick taxi to the airport ($20 with tip.) We had to wait in about 3 different lines to board the ship, and in all took about 1 hour. Funny thing was we were in line with another couple (much younger) who after talking for 40 minutes or so indicated they were in an aft extended balcony, as we were. Turned out they were next door to us. Didn't see them a lot during the cruise, but always friendly when we did bump into them. They both ended up being in the Legends show at the end of the cruise (as Garth Brooks and Britney Spears.) Both did a great job. Embarkation process took about an hour, and then got on ship to explore and have a quick lunch.
Room- Ext. Aft Balcony Cabin 4232 This was our 2nd extended aft cabin balcony, the 1st being on the Diamond Princess on a Baja Mexico cruise out of Long Beach. This extended balcony was not near as deep as that on the Princess ship, only being maybe 45% deeper than an ordinary balcony, but was very nice and enjoyed it immensely. Excellent location in my opinion, on the lowest balcony level overlooking the wake. So nice to leave your balcony door open at night and listen to the wake which sounds like waves on the beach and puts you to sleep!! On the 4th deck it provided privacy from the decks above, as well as shade in the hot sun.. The flagpole that hangs off the back of the ship on deck 3 was in view from our balcony, but they take the flag down when they leave ports, and it's never really an issue. Would not hesitate to book this cabin again.
Dining Bachus Dining Room- Yes, I have to admit the dining room is a bit on the gaudy side, but never really bothered me. We were not used to having assigned seating at dinner after doing 4 Princess cruises with the Anytime Dining option, but were very lucky to be joined with another couple who we got along with famously. They were from Chicago area, and we really enjoyed their company. Our waiter was Alexander (Alex) and his assistant was the beautiful Iryna. Both were great and very friendly. Could not complain at all about our service in the dining room, or the food. And never a problem to order 2 entrees if you couldn't decide between them. They were very accommodating.
Horatio's Buffet- Always lots of options for breakfast and lunch. Great sandwiches at Deli station, and good made to order omelets in morning. Pizza and ice cream available 24 hours which was good. Only real complaint was there was nothing available from approximately 9:00pm till 11:30pm. We had early seating at 6:00pm, and would then go to shows. When shows were over around 10pm or 10:30, we would have liked to go grab a dessert or something from the buffet, but everything except the pizza and ice cream was closed down. Couldn't even grab a cookie or brownie. On Princess buffet is open 24/7, so could always grab something.
Ship Staff and Crew Both Dining staff and Room Steward Phillip and his asst. Igor were fantastic. Rest of crew always friendly. Cruise Director was Brent Mitchell. He wasn't bad, just didn't care for him that much. Maitre'D (don't remember name) was very funny and informative, and one of the best I've experienced.
Entertainment Beatles Show was great. Rest of the entertainment was pretty good, although we walked out of one of the comedian's late night show because it just wasn't funny. Was good mix of music to listen to on board, and if you wanted you could usually find something to do.
Ports of Call St. Maarten - Have been there couple other times, so just booked a cheap ($25/person) tour that lasted about 3 hours at the taxi stand out front. St. Maarten is very organized, and has fixed rates that are posted in clear view. Much different than some other ports. Tour was good, and took us around island, a shopping stop, past Orient Beach (did not stop there, but have been before). Our beach time was spent at the beach near the airport which is directly in front of the runway landing strip, so planes come in really low right over your head. A 767 came in while there, and was really neat to see it come in so close. There were a couple yachts anchored in the harbor near our ship, and learned at dinner that the sleakest one was Mel Gibson's. It was beautiful and over 200 feet long.
St. Lucia - Prior to cruise booked with Cosol Tours on internet, which I had read about on Cruise Critic. Price had just increased to $65/person, but lasted about 6 hours, and included some food and all the Piton beer and Rum Punch you wanted, as well as water, etc. Good tour. They also took us by water taxi to the beach right between the Pitons. We had brought our snorkel equipment, and snorkeling there was very good in a marine reserve. Only had about 30 minutes to snorkel, so would have liked more, but really enjoyed ride to beach beautiful scenery from the water.
St. Kitts - Prior to cruise booked with Thenford Grey tour, which I had also read about on Cruise Critic. Price was $40/person, and probably the best tour I have ever been on. Was supposed to be 3-4 hours, but was closer to 6 hours. No food or drinks were included (except for bottled water), but tour was great. Went to Romney Manor Botanical Gardens, and then to spectacular Brimstone Hill Fortress. Amazing. Thenford Grey is very knowledgeable, and really strives to show you a great time. After the fortress you drive to Cockleshell Beach, with spectacular views on the way, with the Atlantic on one side of the penisula, and Caribbean on the other. Had about an hour at Cockleshell Beach, where we snorkeled. Snorkeling not as good as on St. Lucia, but OK. Everyone else on the tour bought drinks or lunch at the beach bar there, or sat on the beach. Was then time to return to ship, approximately 40 minutes before it sailed.
Disembarkation (Self Assist Process needs Attention) Since we had an early flight (10:55am) out of Ft. Lauderdale, we used the self-assist process which would get you off the ship the earliest. The problem was that apparently half the passengers on the ship were using this process, and it was complete chaos. Carnival needs to find a way to improve this process, or make available personnel to oversee it. They said that people should have their luggage with them and go to the 3rd level to wait around 7:30-7:45am, but to not wait near the atrium area. We did that, and around 7:45 they made the announcement the ship had been cleared to start, and those using self-assist should head toward the atrium area on level 2. We made our way there and saw a line already formed. A Carnival rep told us to get in the back of the line in the casino. What that rep was unaware of is that the line extended way past the casino, all the way back to the Phantom Lounge area, and then wrapped back to the area between the casino and lounge, and then ran out of space to add to the line. When the line finally started moving, we could see the line move, but we never did. It was obvious that since there was no room to form a continuous line and it was totally unsupervised, when the middle of the line near the Phantom Lounge had room available, people who earlier could find no where to get in line would then get in line there in front of all of us. People started arguing with each other because of the lack of organization and supervision. It was a very uncomfortable situation, which could be avoided if better organized by Carnival.
Overall Summary Thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and ports. Except for disembarkation process, much preferred this cruise over our previous Royal Caribbean cruise. Both the food and entertainment (except for ice show) was better on this Carnival cruise. Would like some dessert availability between hours of 9-11:30pm besides room service. Wouldn't hesitate to sail on Carnival again if itinerary and price were right, and thought Miracle was a nice ship. Food and service good. Did notice wake from one of the azipods was much stronger than the other, and found out after our cruise that there was a problem which will be fixed I believe in February. Did not affect our cruise at all, but was affecting the Panama sailings I later learned.
Great balcony and location. Really enjoy the aft extended balcony overlooking wake. Not windy and mostly shaded. Located directly above dining room, very quiet and peaceful. Cabin could use an electric outlet on bed side of cabin.