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Age: 35

Occupation:Public Safety

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Miracle

Sailing Date: January 31st, 2007

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This is my 2nd time cruising with Carnival. The first time was in 11/05 on the Imagination out of Miami. I must say that Tampa is a much better place to cruise in and out of all around. Weather for the 7 days was absolutely beautiful the whole week save the last day before sailing home (Costa Maya) when it got rainy and overcast and windy but was still very warm. Our feeling on both cruises is that we are on vacation and out to have fun and relax therefore we didn’t want to pack a suit and related dress clothing for formal nights so I can’t tell you about the Bacchus dining room food or Captain’s dinner. If you’ve read other reviews you’ll note that the décor is a little over the top with grapes and purple lights and I certainly wouldn’t decorate my house like that but it’s a cruise ship that someone thought would look good so it is what it is. We didn’t take in any of the nightly shows save for the last night “Carnival Legends” show which is passengers impersonating singers and performing as them, it’s not a bad show in all honesty. We didn’t use the casino either as I try to avoid smoking areas. There are a lot of things to do on board during the day, just read the Carnival capers that gets deposited in your room each day. I did take part in some activities like Bingo and TV theme song trivia and the past cruisers gathering which was nice. The cruise director “Tory” was friendly and outgoing always on the p.a. telling you what’s up. One thing that was coincidental was the Captain of the ship on the 1st 3 days was the Captain who was on the Imagination when I last cruised. Ironically, he departed the Imagination at the end of the cruise to move to another ship and this time around too was his last time before moving to another ship. You can use your laptop & cell phone the entire time you are on the ship and people did but you might get hit with international roaming charges unless your plan allows etc. I wanted to be unavailable for a week so I turned my cell phone off once I left the confines of Tampa. If you’ve cruised before you know what to expect, if not then you’ll be nickel and dimed all week long. I knew this, I was on vacation, and I didn’t care.

We booked this cruise back in April of 2006 from Carnival direct via personal vacation planner Cindy Poland (x82508) My first cruise was via a travel agent and that won’t be done that way again. She was very helpful and accommodating. I talked to her many times throughout the months leading up to my cruise. (Note: if you are a veteran of the military and possess a DD214 [Honorable] fax it to Carnival and that will save you some $$$, I wish I had known that on my first cruise but being my first cruise, inexperience and using a travel agent I missed out on that one) I bought airline tickets for the day before we cruised in late summer from Jet Blue (great airline BTW) as living in the Northeast we didn’t want to run the risk of a snowstorm interfering with the cruise even though we had travel insurance. I had originally booked roughly the same dates and itinerary for the Valor out of Miami but changed the booking probably a day or 2 later after reading some reviews on this site of Tampa and the Miracle. I had never been to Tampa and like to check out different places. The Miracle and Tampa had lots of positive reviews and of course, a few average reviews. My sense is that some people are as hard to please on land as they are on the ocean. The Miracle is bigger and newer than the Imagination.

Embarkation/Sailing day:
We awoke and ate our complimentary continental breakfast and checked out. We had signed up the day before on the list at the front counter for the complimentary shuttle to the seaport. We, along with 4 others staying in the hotel left the hotel at 11 and were at the seaport terminal 10 minutes later (no kidding) It was nice seeing the ship docked alongside as we got closer. It seemed like the 9 months since I had booked my cruise melted away overnight and my vacation was finally here. Tampa has its act together as far as embarkation/debarkation provided you come prepared. I read reviews of “nightmares” and having to wait 40 minutes to get on the ship but give me a break, you’re can’t expect to show up curbside and expect to walk onto the ship in this post 9/11 era. The terminal was busy as others were arriving but unlike in Miami it didn’t feel busy. We removed our bags and handed them to porters who greeted the shuttle. In Miami they bum-rushed us and were aggressive in grabbing our bags and wanting “tips” but this wasn’t the case here). The porter I dealt with was friendly and cordial. Once we surrendered our bags we were directed into the terminal and up the escalator where we had to go through the metal detector and on to the front counter. (Note: next to the escalators in the terminal will be a guy asking you to buy tickets/sign up now to get transportation before you cruise for a trip to the airport when you come back for $9. If this is something you want to do feel free but you will have to wait until enough people who signed up for the coach bus to exit the ship upon your return and until that happens you’ll wait to go to the airport) I told the guy I’ll get a cab and he said “good luck with 2500 people trying to get one when you get back”. Since we had cruised before we knew to do self-checkout from the ship (which means you carry your bags off the ship by yourself and you are in the first groups to leave the ship) Believe me there are plenty of cabs waiting for you when you leave. This was the same case in Miami. They charge a flat rate, I felt spending $25 (fare + tip) was well worth a fast 15 minute cab ride vs. a 30 minute bus ride (and who knows how much waiting) from seaport to airport. By now it was about 11:30 a.m. and we walked right up to the counter where the friendly counter people greeted us. We had already had our “fun pass” completed months prior to sailing. The counter people checked our I.D’s and got some paperwork from the blue Carnival folder that gets mailed to you beforehand. We were given a number written down that we were told when it is called that is the group that will board. We were then told to have a seat in the waiting area until that number is called. The waiting area was crowded but we got 2 seats and waited. Once our number was called we proceeded through the security area where your picture is taken for the sail and sign card, a departing souvenir photo and onto the gangway we went. At the end was friendly ship staff welcoming us aboard. They told us to head up to the Lido deck (deck 9) and have lunch. We were told we couldn’t access the rooms until 1:30 as they were still cleaning them. The time was now approximately 12 noon.

We ate lunch and walked around taking pictures, calling friends and family and some minor exploring. At 1:30 we proceeded to our room. I had a cabin on the Panorama deck (deck 8) with an extended balcony. I enjoyed having a balcony on my previous cruise and wouldn’t ever take another cruise without a balcony. I don’t mind spending the extra $$. Having a balcony to enjoy a cup of coffee in the a.m. while watching the sunrise is the best in my opinion. When I booked the cruise all the cabins forward of the one I chose were booked up. I wanted to be as far forward as possible and on the starboard side (personal preference) I was a little leery about the one I had chosen due to the layout of the ship. Cabins forward of mine (8131) provided a 180 degree view from the balcony whereas mine was a 90 degree view. This is just personal preference of mine though. The Miracle being bigger and newer and of the “Spirit class” of Carnival ships afforded a lot more balcony staterooms than my previous cruise on the Imagination. The room was nice and clean. I think it was slightly smaller than my first cruise and I attribute that to the extended balcony, it may be the same size but I don’t think so. The room did have a mini-bar but we didn’t utilize it and remained locked the entire time. We met our room stewards as well (Florin/Romania and Nadia/Ukraine) we introduced ourselves and they never forgot our names, they were very friendly people. Let me also say that at no time on my 7-day cruise did I encounter any member who was negative or unfriendly in any way. Anytime I spoke to a crewmember anywhere on the ship (and I spoke to many) they were friendly, cordial and eager to assist. They were always busy working, cleaning, repairing etc. I took the time to speak to many of crewmembers, as I was curious about their backgrounds and countries. Considering that these people (come to find out) work on contract for upwards of 6 months at a time, 7 days a week with no days off setting sail with a whole new group of people each week says a lot. We relaxed in the room until the mandatory lifeboat drill that occurred about 3:45 p.m. During the drill, lines were cast off. After the drill we went back to the cabin to get rid of the lifejacket and head on up to the forward observation deck to watch Tampa slowly disappear on our way to open sea. There were dolphins accompanying the ship while in the bay catching much attention, I managed to get a few pictures of them as they rode the bow wave. Later on we ate in the Lido deck restaurant (Horatio’s) and during dinner an announcement was made that we would be passing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and to go out on deck as we went under it, which we did. That was kind of neat. We relaxed on the first night and didn’t do much and turned in early, as we were beat.

Day 2 – “Fun day at sea”
We awoke and ate in Horatio’s on the Lido deck. All meals we ate were in this restaurant. We did find the Bacchus dining room and looked in at the menu but it wasn’t something we were interested in. At certain times Horatio’s was crowded but not overly congested, as there are 2 sides to the restaurant plus the pool areas fore and aft. There are 6 serving stations you can eat at with pizza, salads, Asian, rotisserie, seafood and sandwiches. I enjoyed all meals and my waistline proves it. The desserts were awesome too. As I had said we didn’t want to take part in any formal night seating nor did we possess clothing to do so. There is also another restaurant on board in addition to the dining room and Horatio’s called Nick and Nora’s. The per-person charge to eat there is $30. We chose not to eat there, as Horatio’s was perfectly fine for our lifestyle. I didn’t ever see the place filled to capacity with diners as there are windows at deck level to see in, it looked like a nice place though with an acrylic semi-spiral staircase 9 stories above the atrium and the red glass ceiling. We took the opportunity to explore the ship and see what it had to offer. Frankenstein’s lounge was a neat place as were the other places we discovered. Even up to the last day there were still some nooks and crannies we were still discovering. It’s kind of amazing that for as large as the ship was people seemed to disappear after the pool closed, it was like I was on board with 100 people. In fact I met people on the first day and never saw them again the entire 7-day cruise. The ship will keep you busy with things to do & places to go on-board. You can choose to do as little or as much as you want. During the evening I would walk around the perimeter of the ship on deck 10 and look at the dark sky and stars while enjoying an ice cream from the deck 9 ice cream station. I probably should’ve jogged that perimeter, as it’s quite a good long run.

Day 3 – Grand Cayman
This is a tender port. We awoke and had breakfast and waited until 9 to grab the tender to head to shore. Our excursion was at 10. We proceeded right down to Deck A and onto the tender, no wait, nor crowd. Having been here before on the last cruise we knew what it was like. We had booked the excursion via the TV set in your room (a feature not available on my first cruise and so much easier than standing in line at the excursion desk) to do the stingray and sandbar tour. This was a great time. You leave the ship on your own and wait at the dock where the tender docks. There are signs tacked up for the various excursions for you to go stand by until your excursion begins. 5 other cruise ships all pull in around the same time and this was a busy, crowded place. There is someone to take a picture of you when you disembark as there is at all ports of call. It’s a short (10 minute) bus ride to the channel where you board the boat for a 30-minute ride out to the sandbar. Once there you hop in the water where stingrays are swimming all around you completely unafraid of humans. We were given food to feed them as well as snorkel equipment to use. You can hold them too and have someone take a picture of you. After the excursion we went back, walked a little bit around and then re-boarded the tender to return to the ship. Grand Cayman is by far my favorite of ports that we’ve visited.

Day 4 – Cozumel
We arrived in the early a.m. The ship pulls up alongside and you can get on/off at your leisure. In speaking with some crewmembers they said that the hurricanes of 2005 did a lot of damage to the docks. There was a lot of construction going on at this port and they were rebuilding the destroyed and sunken piers. We didn’t book an excursion at this port but we took a cab ride to town and bought t-shirts/souvenirs etc. Locals always want you to come in to their stores and buy something. They’re friendly enough but you just say no thanks to going in the store and they’ll leave you alone. I’m guessing that when ships aren’t in port that it’s a ghost town there. We then went back to the ship after a few hours and had lunch. When it’s a port day the ship is practically devoid of people so we walked around and explored a bit. A few hours later I met up with some crew members I had befriended and we went snorkeling not 100 yards away from the ship at the El Cid hotel until it was time to return. This was a good time.

Day 5 – Belize
Again, here we didn’t book an excursion. This is a tender port but unlike in Grand Cayman where you tender close to shore here you tender about 3-4 miles out to sea. Once ashore there are several hundred locals all vying for your $$$. The stores at each port all appear to be the same (diamonds and tanzanite), we purchased some souvenirs and decided to try and walk to a maritime museum. We walked out on the street and were immediately struck at how run down the area is around the port. We were constantly barraged by offers to take a tour or cab ride. We managed to walk about ¼ mile before we decided to turn around and head back. It’s a dirty, run down area just outside of the docks. On the walk back I saw this decrepit, sickly looking stray dog that took a drink from the litter filled gutter. I hated seeing that. We re-boarded the tender and got back on the ship. If I take another cruise that stops at Belize, I’m doing en excursion or I’m not getting off the ship. In speaking with other people on the ship that did do an excursion they said it’s nice when you get away from the downtown/dock area.

Day 6 – Costa Maya
We arrived and the ship pulled up alongside which is nice when you can come and go as you please. The dock is further out than Cozumel presumably to handle more ships and is nice walk to the shops/staging area for tours. You are in the middle of nowhere, you see nothing from the ship except trees and coastline. There were no signs of any sort of civilization from the ship. It looks like there’s the docks, the shops right by the docks and nothing else. On the bus ride to our beach there was nothing but a few shanties here and there. For this port we booked the “Uvero Jungle Beach” tour. You take a 30-minute bus ride to a private beach where you can swim or lay out. Unfortunately at this port the weather wasn’t that well. It was cloudy, overcast and rainy off and on. We laid out on the beach loungers for about 10 minutes before it started to rain. We then decided to say to heck with it and eat something. Buses run on the hour so we decided we’d head back to the ship as it was just raining and getting windy. One plus on this tour is it’s an open bar so drink up!! We got henna tattoos while we were waiting for the time to depart. It just continued to rain so we got back on the ship figuring we’d have lunch but it seems everyone else had the same idea. It was crowded but I think weather had a lot to do with this. They had rolled the glass roof over the aft pool, which is a nice feature the ship offers. I decided to go to the spa and did the “spa sampler”. This was a nice 1-hour spa experience.

Day 7 “Fun day at sea”
We hung out by the pool, bought items in the gift shop and just sort of readied for our arrival the next a.m. in Tampa. I couldn’t believe how fast the week went, my vacation was over.

We arrived early a.m. so we ate a good breakfast (which was ready and being served before they “officially” opened at 7 a.m. and readied for the announcement for self-debarkation to occur. This is by far the best thing to do. They however never announced the calls to self debark but kept calling names over the p.a. for passengers to go to the purser desk for whatever reason. At about 7:45 a.m. I went down to the gangway area and a line had formed ready to leave. I went back to the room, said our goodbyes to our room stewards, gave them a generous tip, grabbed our bags and made our way down. We breezed through the gangway, down the escalator through customs and out to the line of cabs waiting. We left and with it being a Sunday there was no traffic. Honestly, from cabin to Jet Blue terminal was 20 minutes! My 7 day vacation I had eagerly waited months for was over. I really hated to leave I had a great time. I have already booked another cruise for early 2008.

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