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Marvin Barlow

Age: 39

Occupation:Cable Installer

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Miracle

Sailing Date: September 10th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

My wife and I have now made a tradition of going on a cruise in September. Our anniversary is Sept 11 (not the best of dates, I know). Three years ago she surprised me with a 3 day cruise on our anniversary, we had so much fun it is now our yearly tradition.

This year we picked the Miracle to go on. We have wanted to sail on it for some time but this has been our first opportunity. We were really looking forward to having a balcony cabin. I did a lot of research of the ship prior to booking so I knew what to expect. We have been to Grand Cayman and Cozumel before so we were prepared for to expect there as well. Costa Maya was a new destination for us so we were eager to check it out.

Boarding was easy and painless (We live near Tampa so we drove) the line to board the ship went very quickly. We spent the next couple of hours walking around the ship and waiting for the ship to go under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. My wife took a few really nice photos as we left Tampa Bay.

One of our first stops on board was to have our seating changed to a Two Person table. On our other cruises the dinning rooms mostly had large 8 person tables which my wife and I found a little uncomfortable. I was rather pleased when we it was switched for us. The Miracle has numerous two place and four place tables which I liked. They also had live music in the dinning room on a couple of the nights. The meals at dinners were great. I decided to try all of George Blanc’s signature dishes (except for the duck). I’m a steak and potatoes kind of person so I use the cruises to explore different kinds of food. My wife was aghast when I tried escargot, but to my amazement I liked it a lot. The dining room has ugly decorations but it didn’t seem to change to taste of my meals so it didn’t bother me any. The desserts were excellent, the descriptions on the menu always made me say to myself hmmm I wonder if I’m going to like this but I was never disappointed.

We tried Nick and Nora’s supper club one night. Talk about well worth the money! It is fine dinning and we felt a bit nervous because it is pretty classy for us. I had a 24 oz steak that left me very full. The wife had lobster and we were surprised at the quantity on the plate. At $30 a head this is well worth it if you want a really nice, special dinner. We had a window seat and had a spectacular view while having a relaxing dinner. The happy glow in my wife’s eyes made it well worth it.

Breakfasts at the buffet aren’t anything special. Reminded me of being back in the Army. We expected that though so breakfast became a quick affair to get us going for the day. The buffet can also get kind of crowded so its best to plan what you want to do before you stand in the middle of a crowded space with your tray gazing around in total like your lost (you people know who you are).

Lunch was always a hit or miss kind of thing. Sometimes we’d find something great sometimes it was only okay. The pizza was great all the time and the have killer hot dogs at the grill. Cruising in September is always nice because the ships aren’t full. We never had a problem finding a deck chair. The pool area is always noisy so we go further on deck where the noise level is manageable. It’s hot in September but not any hotter the Tampa so that was fine.

Our room was a nice size and the balcony was great! I normally wake up at 5:00 am and sit out on the balcony until sunrise. It is quiet and peaceful, very relaxing. Now if I can just figure out how to have a cup of coffee lowered down to me so I wouldn’t wake up the wife I’d be in heaven. We have a growing collection of pictures of towel animals. Our room steward was great. He always had a smile and a hello for us. We found we could avoid busy sections of the ship by simple walking down the cabin corridor then taking the elevator up to where we wanted to go. The elevators were rarely busy. I liked that the bathrooms were very clean and easy to find. Beware the funny looking coconut monkey souvenir glass, $17.

The shows were okay, nothing to write home about but I didn’t mind I’d rather do that then sit in the room. Our cruise director Chris was great, this was the second time we had him. We picked late seating so I did struggle to stay awake for the shows. The mature comic was funny, the one time I managed to stay awake that late.

Grand Cayman was great. Having been there before we were ready for the tender ride and the chaos at the dock. We wanted to go to a resort for the day. I always laugh when they put the word resort in the description. Resort; place with a beach chair, bar and a bathroom. What we wanted was a hassle free trip to the “resort”. The Beach was as expected nothing special but the crystal clear water is what we wanted. I brought my goggles and spent hours swimming around looking at the fish. There were some rock formations 50 meters off the beach that had some nice fish. It was nothing like going on a snorkeling excursion but fun none-the-less. My wife rented a snorkel and mask. Neither of us could make a seal with it. My recommendations are bring your own. Next trip we will swim the stingrays.

Our next stop was Belize. We decided to go see the ruins and take a ride on the river Wallace. This excursion involves a long bus ride down so very poorly maintained roads. Our tour guide talked non-stop for 45 minutes. We really got a feel for the country and even though they are very poor the pride the have in it is obvious. Most people in Belize make about 1.25$ dollars a day (American) and they have extended families in their homes. I didn’t mind tipping here at all. This was the first set of ruins we have seen so we were very impressed. Locals approach you with this like snakes and lizards to take pictures with. For a small tip we have all kinds of funky pictures. The Trip down the river Wallace was a little uneventful but okay. We spotted a number of iguanas, which our guide Mel informed us they refer to as jungle chicken. This made my wife gulp because we had chicken at the local restaurant before riding the boat. Mel reassured her it was really chicken. If you want a feel of the country and aren’t looking for an exciting excursion then this is it. This is a poor country and you will really see that on the bus ride. We had a good time, next cruise Cave Tubing.

I told my wife that we would arrange our own excursion at Cozumel. We had visited this stop before the last hurricane hit it. It felt like it wasn’t quite as up beat as last time we were there. I rented a jeep from the port. This was very easy to do and we were driving in under a 15 minutes. I figured how hard can this be it’s an island after all and not very big to boot. We started out and I noticed there weren’t any speed limit signs. It was kind of like driving in the middle on nowhere because there wasn’t very much traffic on this two lane road. The different “Resorts” are clearly marked. At the tip of the island we came upon a guy in a little hut with a sign that said “Information” at the side of the road. Apparently this is the entrance to the local park, for a fee of $10 you can go to the park see the Lighthouse, take a guided tour of the park, get a boat ride and enjoy a time at the beach. Okay so I said that sounds great lets do that. I didn’t know it would take 20 minutes to get to the Lighthouse going 15 mph. We actually enjoy the trip down there though. Once at the Lighthouse you learn that you have to park your car there and they will take you the rest of the way unless your on a excursion in which case you follow their truck down to the beach. It took a while at Lighthouse waiting for the Truck to arrive and then for more people to come. My wife made the mistake of looking at one of the little shops. They wouldn’t leave her alone after that. That kind of spoiled it a little, because they even followed us back to our jeep. We finally got on the truck and it was another 20 minutes to the beach. The tour guide was very informative and talked the whole way. By the time we finally reached the beach it was getting to be time to leave and we could see storm clouds at the ship. I was determined to go swimming, that last about 10 minutes before I figured I didn’t want to push it and we should start the whole process to get back to the ship. This beach is fantastic just don’t try to get there via rented jeep. We had a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant at pier.

Costa Maya was my favorite stop. It is new and clean. The dock is nice and the shore excursions are easy to find at the end of the pier. We took the jeep adventure. If you are a off road expert then this isn’t for you but if your like me and only get to drive on the freeway then this is a blast. Our guide was professional and friendly as he told us the rules and what to expect. First stop was the little fishing village nearby, driving there was interesting because it has been a while since I’ve driven a manual. Nobody in our group enjoyed the fishing village. It’s a very poor area and bathroom facilities are very bad. The next portion was 30 minutes of sort of off road driving. This was great, racing down a crappy road with the foliage brushing the jeep on either side. I had a grin on my face from ear to ear. I’d lag behind a little so I could punch it on the worst spots. The couple behind would do the same thing. The jeep a head of us blew a tire and the tour guide and ride a long mechanic had it replace in under 5 minutes and off we went again. They took us to a little beach in the middle of nowhere where we had drinks and tortinos and fresh guacamole. The food was simple but it tasted very good. Our guide cut fresh coconuts for us and we got to try the milk and eat fresh coconut meat. There was a lot of sea grass so we couldn’t swim here but we could go get wet, which was nice. From here get into the jeeps you drive back the way you came skipping the fishing village. We definitely got our moneys worth, especially since I hit every bump, rock and pothole I could find. Our jeeps steering was a little loose when I was done. The pools at the port are really nice. We hung out at the seaside pool drinking palm tree drinks (overpriced but you get this funky palm tree container). We got a great picture of us in the pool with the ocean and ship in the background.

We joined the Carnival Vacation Club while on board so getting off the ship was a snap. Excellent weather, enjoyed the ports, Balcony cabin was incredible. Next cruise in January! The crew on these cruise ships work all day every day with few breaks. They have to sign contracts to work for something like 6 months at a time. They are allowed off the ship once a month. They live in cramped quarters and eat the same food you see in the buffet lines. They come for all around the globe for a chance to get a job. They have my respect and thanks for all their hard work. When on board I always make it a priority to say hello and acknowledge the crew. Showing respect and personal recognition can make a big difference on the level of service you receive on ship.

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