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CarnivalMiracleWestern CaribbeanBill Boyce

Age: 56


Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Miracle

Sailing Date: October 9th, 2005

Itinerary: NOT FOUND

Western Caribbean

Bill Boyce

Our experience aboard ships has been different than most: liveaboard dive boats in the late ‘80’s, a couple of Windjammer trips aboard the Fantome before it was lost and one trip out of Aruba on the Crown Cruise Line in March of 2000.

We did have 2 other couples with whom we’ve talked about cruising for years, and so we came together aboard Carnival’s Miracle last week. They all had more experience with the larger lines than my wife & I. We were concerned that the ship would seem huge, there would be kids running everywhere, old folks in their walkers would be blocking up the general area, food would be of poor quality, etc.

By all accounts, we had a great experience aboard this ship. The one & a half hour check in process at the terminal was the worst of it. Fortunately we had taken a cab from the airport to the ship, paying $22 for the trip. The Carnival arranged transfers cost $36 per person, and required filling the vehicle prior to departure. Our friends had made transfer arrangements through Carnival and sat an additional hour and a half waiting in the van at the airport. This, added to the terminal check in, was not a good beginning for them.

We had a balcony cabin on the 8th deck, below Horatio’s grill, which turned out to be very convenient. The room was spacious, well appointed and quiet. The bed and pillows were comfortable. We usually take our down pillows on vacations with us, so we’re pretty discerning in that regard. The room air conditioning blew constantly, was comfortable and served to mask noises.

Generally, getting around the ship was a breeze. Easy to navigate, there are deck plans by all elevators and a pocket plan handed to us as soon as we stepped on board helped for the 1st 2 days. We’d been told at check-in that the ship was full, but I wondered where everyone was hiding. Unlike our cruise in 2000, the passageways were never blocked up by people. Having been on Cayman for two past trips, we chose to stay on board and had the ship to ourselves.

We took two shore excursions, which I considered pricey. The Jungle Beach Blast in Costa Maya places you on a nice enough beach with a pier after a twenty minute, nice, air conditioned bus ride and costs you $45 each. I don’t care much for sitting on the beach, but I do like to snorkel, and always bring my own equipment. Snorkeling under the pier was okay, but, to be fair, the location was never advertised for snorkeling. There were plenty of beach chairs with shady areas and the water was calm. The saving grace: open bar. My recommendation: strawberry daiquiri.

We’d been warned that you should schedule an excursion in Belize if you planned to get off the boat. Otherwise, you’re in for a long tender ride to an impoverished port area with nothing to recommend it. We took the Horseshoe Reef Snorkel Combo costing $82 per person. This is not for folks who’ve had a lot of snorkeling experience. The first stop, about a 30 minute trip, was a guided snorkel and the second was in shallow water. The stingrays here are attracted to the boat by throwing small dead fish in the water. On the plus side, the tour operator has a brand new boat and good equipment was provided to everyone. The crew gave a thorough orientation and kept the guided snorkeling groups very small. On the way back the rum punch flowed like Niagara Falls and a good time was had by all.

In Cozumel we took the advice of Dale & Kathy Gardner who run Baldwin’s Guest House on the island and caught a taxi from the dock to Dzul-Ha. The taxis are lined up and the rates are posted for all to see. The $7 trip cost us $16 due to the fact that we had 8 people with luggage. Dzul-Ha was a beautiful spot right on the water, with chairs and little tables that had thatched umbrellas. There is a place to rent snorkel gear for $10 and lockers with locks for $2. The current runs south you can use the stairs to enter the water and swim at a 45 degree angle, out about 50 feet. This was the best snorkeling of the trip, by far. You can drift until you get opposite the pier, where the current really picks up. Don’t worry. Worst case is you can drift down to the next hotel and walk back along the road rather than trying to drown fighting the current.

The guys at Dzul-Ha don’t really speak a lot of English, but you won’t have any problems. The beers are cold, the food good and plentiful and they even take credit cards. You’ll save quite a bit of money over taking an excursion from the ship. You’ll notice that most of the excursions bring their people to Dzul-Ha anyway. Taxis are usually waiting across the street for the 5 minute ride back to the dock. Our group of 4 paid $7 total for the ride back, but be sure to ask prior to getting in the cab.

As for Grand Cayman, you can turn right from the dock and walk 5 minutes to Eden Rock to snorkel, if you are so inclined. They have a dive shop that’ll rent snorkel gear and lockers, in addition to dive equipment. We’d been there before and didn’t care to return.

Carnival’s Bacchus dining room is as ugly as reported, with pink lights resembling pepto bismol tablets rather than the grapes they are supposed to represent. The nightly announcements were unintentionally comical and the dancing amounted to an unsettling end to an otherwise nice dining experience. That aside, the food was varied and good enough for some to order more than one entrée each night. Our waiter was from Haiti and worked hard to please, with a smile for everyone. Dinner wines started at $18 per bottle and went up from there. Speaking of alcohol, each day featured a special drink for $2.95, which helped if you’re watching costs. Most other drinks were 3.95 or 4.95, nothing outrageous. You are also allowed to bring aboard a bottle or two of wine for yourselves at the beginning of the trip only.

The staff was uniformly friendly and helpful. Our cruise director, Mark, was both entertaining and knowledgeable at the same time. These people understand the service industry. Additionally, the photographers were hard working and professional. Take advantage of their experience and get pictures taken at every opportunity, especially formal nights. This costs you nothing and you only purchase the prints you like. Try going to a studio and getting away with buying an 8x10 for $19.95, not to mention the sitting fees. We never had to wait in line, getting dressed for the 8:15pm late seating and getting shots taken about 7pm. I shoot video for a living, so I recognized the value that was being offered and took full advantage of it.

Well, this has gone on much longer than I intended. We had a wonderful trip, and I hope this will help fellow travelers. As I finish, hurricane Wilma has just hit the island of Cozumel, where I stood a week earlier enjoying a sunny afternoon on the beach of Dzul-Ha.

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