This is the review for our Carnival Miracle vacation for my friend Jen and I, for a sailing date of November 2, 2011 for a 8 night Eastern Caribbean cruise. This was my fourth cruise, second aboard Carnival, with the other two being Princess. I am 31 years old. I planned this trip around traveling with others I have cruised with in the past. I must admit, that I was hesitant to book this cruise and wasn't expecting a whole lot. My first cruise was on Carnival and was very good; however, my prior two cruises on Princess just seemed to be of a style more my speed; however, I cannot say enough how much I was wrong. I loved this cruise in every aspect, as you will read below.
PREVIEW We flew into Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue via JFK on November 1, the day before our departure. We had a great flight with the same wonderful flight attendants that usually grace you on JetBlue. For this evening, we were staying at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Dania Beach, just about 10 minutes from the airport on the SouthWest side. We called the complimentary shuttle after we claimed our bags and only waited about 10-15 minutes. We arrived at the Fairfield Inn and you can tell it is a newer remodeled property and it is beautiful for the price paid. The going price at that time was around $100; however, I submitted a price match guarantee for only $52.00. We got a room with two double beds. It was a beautiful room, very clean, everything fully functional. It was quiet and well planned. During that evening, we did take a complimentary shuttle that they have to a choice of several restaurants and shops in the area. We had dinner at the Hollywood Ale House in a nearby shopping center, which was just so-so. The next morning we had a continental breakfast, which is a very good selection at this hotel. They do have fruit, yogurt, pastries, microwaveable breakfast sandwiches and much more.
EMBARKATION We decided to take a taxi from the Fairfield Inn to the Port (They do offer a for fee shuttle service; however, we wanted to leave at our convenience). We left the hotel at 10:45 and the total cost with tip was about $25.00. We arrived by 11:00 and were in the terminal. It seemed that the prior disembark went well, as there was no one around that was still coming off the prior cruise. We lined up to go through security, which took about 15 minutes. This is an acceptable time when you arrive this early, as they don't want too many people waiting in the waiting area prior to actual boarding time of the ship. We then went upstairs to the Carnival Check-In area and had to wait in another check-in line for about 15 minutes. During that time, they started boarding the ship. As soon as they did start boarding, they brought more check-in agents out to assist with faster check-in. Overall, the process was efficient and we were walking onto the ship by 11:35.
OVERALL CONDITION OF THE SHIP Awesome...Wonderful! Ok, so look at this way. The Carnival Miracle is about 8 years old. The Carnival Miracle serves just under 2,600 (I think) guests per week, with only a 3 hour or less turnaround time per cruise. Is this ship in wonderful condition? YES! Everything was clean, polished, in good condition. In fact, if there was only one thing I noticed all week, it was some surface scratches on certain areas of the ship and some tiles filling off in the pool area (the really small ones) That is it. Trash was always picked up, room service trays were always collected from the hallway, everything was being polished and cleaned all the time, common areas were beautiful, and they drained the pools and hot tubs every night. There were constantly people cleaning, polishing, and making sure that it was up to our standards. I am not sure how anyone could complain about the condition of the ship.
CROWD/DEMOGRAPHICS We had an interesting crowd on board. This cruise had very few children, which I personally was glad for. Someone told me we had less than 50 children on board. There was a great mix of young, middle-aged, and older parties. A few groups were on the ship. I even met a few great gay individuals and couples to hang out with on my cruise.
BARS/ DRINK SERVICE/ SODA CARD There was always places to get a drink. Bars, Theatre, Poolside service, etc. The bar service was excellent on this ship, and they were always around on the pool deck to take your drink order. You always have the drink of the day, as well as a full cocktail list and any other concoction you would desire. Your sail and sign card makes it an easy cashless system throughout the ship. You can purchase a soda card for somewhere around $50 for the week. If you drink a lot of soda, then you may want to consider buying this. I stuck with the free lemonade and iced tea at the buffet and then usually paid for a drink at dinner and with the entertainment.
SERVICE The service was phenomenal. These employees are on this ship for typically between 8-10 months or more, without much of a break from guests like us, except when they are in there staterooms. Be nice to them and you will receive nothing but fantastic service. I did not encounter any rude employees during my entire cruise. Be nice and you will receive excellent service. We did not modify the standard $10 per person per day tip allotment for the week. This is divided between your stateroom stewards, dining service employees, and the rest of the ship employees. In addition, I personally paid an additional amount to the Maitre'd ($20), Head Waiter ($35), Assistant Waiter ($25), Favorite Bartender ($20), Stateroom Steward ($20) and Assistant Steward ($15). I do this to congratulate/thank the people that went above and beyond the call of duty during my vacation.
STATEROOM We had room 5119 on the Upper Deck (5). We were on the forward side of the ship on the starboard side with an extended balcony. The balcony was heavenly and I would not have went any other way. This section of rooms towards the forward of the ship are the only extended balconies on the Miracle that do not look down onto a lifeboat, so you can see directly down into the water. About 50-60% of your balcony is covered and the other 40% is open to the decks above you with normal balconies. It was such a pleasure to be able to sit on the balcony and listen to the waves, watch the water, stars, and feel the breeze. The balcony is a comfortable size with two chairs and a small table. The room itself does kind of follow the muted peach theme, which is a little odd at first; however, gets to grow on you quickly. It really is not that bad. There is a television which picks up approx. 15 channels, plus all of the Carnival channels. We had two twin beds, which are easy to push together into one queen or king, one sofa, one small table, tons of storage space, luggage pushes easily under the bed, air conditioning that works fairly well and is adjustable. The bathroom is spacious for one person at a time. The shower has very high pressure and very hot water. Shampoo and body wash is provided in a dispenser. If you want conditioner, you have to bring your own. Plenty of storage space on the counter and in one vanity. Overall, the room gets a 9 out of 10 for comfort, space, and cleanliness. The room gets a 6/10 for dÃ©cor; however, that really shouldn't matter. Our stateroom steward was Packaya. Packaya was friendly when passing us in the hallway and always had the room made up two times per day. She did turn down our beds every night and had a towel animal ready to go each night as well. We were very pleased with her service.
PHANTOM THEATRE AND OTHER ENTERTAINMENT During our cruise, the entertainment was excellent. You should always have something to do, even if you don't like a particular show/activity, you should find something else to keep you busy. There were several Carnival produced production shows, most of which we enjoyed. There was a comedic juggler one night, another night there was a comedic hypnotist. The last show of the cruise was the Legends show, where your fellow guests try out for certain singing roles and then you get to watch it culminate on the main stage on the final evening. In addition, there was the Mad Hatters Ball, also referred to as the Punchliner Comedy Club. This is where they typically held Karaoke (traditional) and Karaoke with a live band. They also had four comedians throughout our cruise, three of which we thought were excellent. The comedy shows always had family friendly and adult shows. In addition, there was the Love and Marriage game one evening, which is my favorite of the cruise. This is where three couples are selected to answer questions about one another, and this always ends up being a great time.
ACTIVITIES If you do not want to relax and cannot find anything to do, then you did not read your daily Carnival FunTimes. There is always something going on - from deck parties on the Lido deck, to trivia, name that tune contests, Pictionary, pool games, and so many other things. Read your FunTimes and attend events. The activities staff was great on this cruise and the cruise director, Malcolm "Woo-Hoo" Burns (You will see why they call him "Woo-Hoo") was also excellent and always out and visible on this cruise.
DINING There is one dining room on this ship. It is called the Bacchus dining room and it is huge. They serve breakfast and lunch on most days and dinner every evening. The downstairs level is for set-time dining if you have early or late seating. The upstairs is for anytime dining, which means you can stop in anywhere between 5:45 and 9:00pm. We put our own twist on dining. We did anytime; however, wanted to eat at 6:30 and still have the same servers every night. Therefore, a simple request to the Maitre'd (a tip might help, although he wouldn't take any until the final evening) got us our wonderful servers every night. We had Armando, our head waiter and Iputu, our Assistant Waiter. Our group of 16, usually had to split into a table for 10 and 6; however, they placed us very close to each other. Every night, there is the left side of the menu which is the everyday food items, and then the right side of the menu are the changing items. We really took advantage of all the great sounding meals. We each usually ordered two appetizers, two entrees, and sometimes even two desserts every night. They are happy to oblige. We thought the food and service were EXCELLENT. As a large group, we agreed that probably 90-95% of our dishes were VERY GOOD TO EXCELLENT. We only ran into maybe three or four items all week, which were not to our liking, which is an excellent percentage. The new Carnival menus are excellent. Don't let other reviews fool you. There is something for everyone. Seafood and shrimp are on the menu every night in some form. We were just so impressed with the food!!, even with our somewhat particular tastes. Every night, they tend to do some kind of entertainment, possibly in the form of singing, dancing, or even involving guests such as a conga line or a dance party. It was great! The food was excellent and I would rate the dining room food 9 - 10 out of 10. I would rate the service a 10 out of 10 for dinner. We did not eat in the dining room for breakfast or lunch. During the day we ate on the Lido Deck at the buffet. We were also so impressed and again mutually agreed between all of us, that this was probably the best buffet food we ever had. Everyday for lunch they had different items on usually three or four of the six buffet areas on the Lido. The service was prompt and friendly. For breakfast, there is a made to order Omelette area. Juice is free at breakfast. Iced Tea and Lemonade are free the rest of the day. During a prior Carnival cruise on the Triumph, we found the buffet food to be the only disappointment of the trip; however, on this cruise on the Miracle we were astounded Again, food tastes are subjective; however, I would give the buffet food a 8-9 out of 10. The buffet is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - as well as late night until 1:00am. There was one night where a Midnight Mexican Buffet was offered on the Lido Deck. They also have 24 hour pizza and ice cream. There were two formal nights during our cruise. We did dress formally for those nights and we wore nice casual pants and a polo or button down shirt for our other nights in the dining room.
MISC Deck 2 and 3 are the main activity decks on the ship, outside of the Lido. Deck 3 has a Piano Bar, a few other great bars, the Fun Shops, the Photo Gallery and more. Deck 2 has the main atrium, the sports bar, the casino, and Dr. Frankensteins Night Club, which is open late every night with great dance music and a few specialty theme nights.
SPA/FITNESS CENTER The Spa on Deck 09 is available. We did not personally patronize the spa (due to higher than normal prices); however, did use the fitness center nearly every day. The Fitness Center is free and is accessible through the spa. There was a wide array of treadmills, stationary bikes, elipticals, and free weights and weight machines. It was conveniently open early morning until late at night. The Spa area also has a lesser used Jacuzzi/whirlpool which can be used by anyone. There are steam rooms and Saunas and locker rooms. You can stop by and towels are available for use. Watch your Fun Times, because the first night they give away tons of free spa services just for attending a raffle.. Classes are available - some of which are free and others for a nominal fee.
LIDO and OUTDOOR DECKS There are three pools. The forward one is open until 8pm, the midship one is open until 8pm and the aft one until around 11pm. The aft pool is adult only. The accompanying hot tubs operate the same hours at each pool. There are plenty of lounge chairs. The Miracle seems to have plenty of deck space and loungers for everyone, no matter what time of day. all within a short walk to the pool. Remember, there are chairs on Decks 9, 10, & 11. There is also a sports court, ping pong tables, mini-golf and a waterslide in this area.
ST MAARTEN The ship pulled into St Maarten at approx. 8am. We booked a independent Catamaran Tour for about 4 hours at a price of about $70 per person. It was super. It was through a company called Captain Alan and we had a friendly employee by the name of Francois. He took us to three different snorkeling sites, all of which were vibrant with different fish and sealife. We even went to a beach where we were able to take a "mud bath". It was a great tour and well worth the money. We wanted to go to Maho Beach; however, they recommended against it that day, as they felt we may not be able to make it back to the ship by 5pm as the Queen was in town that day. So, we headed back to the ship by 2pm.
ST. LUCIA Pulling into St. Lucia is amazing with the lush greenery. We pulled in again around 8am. We decided to go with Cosol Tours. Cosol Tours was great. We had a group of about 60 or 70 and he split us up with different drivers in vans of 8-12. His tour is only $65 and is about 6-7 hours and very informative. His tour includes things like a botanical garden, banana plantation, fishing village, and more! We make lots of stops for photo opportunities. We also visited a drive-in volcano and took a water taxi to a beach with some great snorkeling. All of the admission fees to these attractions were included in his $65 price. Also, we had a full sampler breakfast buffet at a private residence which was handmade by a nice lady who had about 15-20 different items for us to try. At the end of the day, the same lady provides hot bread and cheese which is so fresh. Also a mobile bar follows your van around all day so you can stop often for unlimited water, soda, beer, rum punch or several other choices. A great value by a company that is known for excellent tours.
ST KITTS I really cannot comment on this port. I had an excursion planned with Captain Sunshine (A rainforest hike with a massage combo); however, decided not to go because I was kind of burnt from the prior two ports and really didn't want to get the massage while burnt. I did briefly disembark and took a mini tour of sorts which was rather poor. I don't' even remember the name of the service. Anyway, I was only gone for less than two hours and then returned to the ship and enjoyed the day relaxing.
A NOTE ON DISEMBARKING AT PORTS. I have never been on a ship that was so easy to get on and off. No lines to get off EVER! Minimal lines to get on at peak times. It was so well organized!
OVERALL, this vacation gets a 9-10 out of 10, with no significant needed improvements. The minor cosmetic work that does need improving, will probably be completed the next time this ship goes into a drydock. Otherwise, an amazing vacation!!! Please feel free to email me with any questions you may have --- As I am sure I forget some things.