Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Miracle
Sailing Date: March 11th, 2007
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our first cruise. Never having been
to the Caribbean or Mexico before, and never having been on a cruise before, I
had a bit of anxiety planning it all and hoping that I was doing everything
right. We decided we wanted to go on a cruise just 4 weeks in advance of my
wife's vacation week, so not much time to plan. It all worked out great though
and we had a wonderful time!
I initially tried booking through Carnival's web site but it kept giving errors on some of the pages. I instead called them up and was able to book that way... I told them what week we wanted and that we were thinking of a western Caribbean cruise, then we had a choice of 2 ships; the Miracle was newer, so I said to go with that one. I did NOT book a flight through Carnival because their system doesn't let you have any say in what airline or what time the flight will get there -- I like to be in control and can't stand randomness in my vacation plans, so I separately booked a flight with Jet Blue that got us there at 10:30am (kind of early, but I like to leave plenty of room for flight delay since missing the ship would be a disaster! We made good use of the time by eating and relaxing, plus we got on the ship early and could start getting acquainted with it right away).
The only difficult part of booking the trip was deciding what shore excursions we wanted. Nearly every excursion said availability was "Limited" so that made me a bit panicked to decide as fast as possible, so I did so, although even just one week before sailing the excursions still had openings.
I also said to go with their shuttle service from the airport to the ship, but for some reason it didn't get recorded in the computer and we didn't notice until we got to Tampa; no big deal, the Carnival lady at the airport pointed me to the taxis and we got there quickly. There's plenty of ways to get to the ship and no stressing or planning is needed... just show up looking lost and confused, and say you need to get to the ship.
When the taxi got to the terminal, I found the terminal to be quite hectic and chaotic. People and vehicles everywhere, hurrying around. If you stand in one place for more than 5 seconds (which is necessary to do to get your bearings and figure out what to do next), someone comes over and tells you that you can't stand there and to keep moving. I saw a Carnival lady, and she pointed me to the baggage people that MUST take any larger luggage (you aren't let into the terminal with large luggage)... I went over there and some guy came to put my luggage on a cart, but I was uncertain about whether he worked for Carnival or not, so I asked him, and he said he's collecting the luggage for an unrelated bus trip! I almost lost my luggage there... then I found another guy that actually did work for Carnival; he took the luggage then the Carnival lady let us into the terminal. There was a long line but we were on the ship within about half an hour at 1:45pm, well in advance of the sailing time which helped give us time to get acquainted with the ship and settled in.
We first went to our room, but I was a bit surprised and wondered if we had the right room; I had paid for an interior room but we had a balcony! Free upgrade without asking! Woo hoo! (We later found several other guests that also got free upgrades.) The room was very nice, at least as good as any hotel I've stayed in. It was spacious and plenty of closet space to stash our stuff. The bathroom was great and the shower controls worked better than any I've ever seen in a hotel room before (it actually has a temperature setting on the knob). There is only one plug outlet, so if you're going to be charging several PDAs and cell phones, bring a little extension cord with you. The bed was by far the most comfortable I have ever had in a hotel room; I have difficulty with most beds causing me pain, but this one was perfect! As good as the one at home.
We met Ling, our cabin steward right away. He was very nice and helpful. Whenever we left our cabin even for just 5 minutes, when we returned we'd find the room already cleaned. I don't know how they do it!
My wife isn't much of a pool person but I am, so I spent several hours the first day in the 3 pools. It wasn't too crowded. The chairs around the pools did get taken up quite frequently though (but always plenty of space on the sundeck areas). The Jacuzzis were quite popular but I still managed to get to use them several times during the trip (mainly by floating around in the nearby pool until I see people leave it). People are always walking up to you offering various alcoholic drinks... I usually said yes and they were quite good. I'm not much of a drinker so having several drinks a day every day for a week was new to me.
The ship was just beautiful. Some of the decor was a bit puzzling but it didn't bother me. The grape theme in the Baccus dining room was rather unique but I liked it in a strange kind of way. (I never did figure out who that lady was that staring at me with a stack of books, from every elevator in the ship.) I loved the food; they had a wide variety of food, all of it good, and I could eat as much as I wanted. I gained about 6 pounds. I ate from Horatio's each morning for breakfast... that was buffet style, quite a few choices and we stuffed ourselves.
We had dinner every night in the Baccus dining area, also very good. They give you assigned seat numbers for the duration of the cruise, and we were assigned at a 4 person table with a nice mother/daughter combo from Canada on their first cruise too. We enjoyed our conversations with them every night. (The tables to the left and right of us were empty because those guests for some reason stayed in their cabins for the ENTIRE CRUISE and ordered room service all day long... what a sad waste.) All the people who served us were just wonderful. The employees of the ship are from all over the world, places like Bosnia, Thailand, Philippines (lots from there), etc. Be sure to take the opportunity to chat with them. They even remembered specifics about our preferences.
Two of the dining nights are formal (end of first full day at sea and end of 4th shore excursion day), so be sure to dress appropriately. I wore a suit and my wife wore a cocktail dress. I was a bit unprepared for the non-formal dining nights though; they only specifically exclude shorts and T-shirts from the dining room but most people at least dressed semi-casually... I had only brought sneakers other than my dress shoes, so I had nothing in between that was appropriate. No one pointed me out though.
We saw the main show every evening; those were well done. I loved the comedians as well as this amazing guy that does a balancing act (on a moving ship too), and a juggler. There was also the "R-rated comedy hypnotist" that was hilarious -- I've never seen guys on stage get it on with chairs before. The final show included guests that were picked during karaoke and several of them were amazingly good performers for non-professionals. Get to the shows 10 minutes early as the better seats fill up quickly.
Now, shore excursions:
Grand Cayman: We picked the stingray city and tour. This was great! They take you something like 10 miles or so out into the middle of the ocean to the sandbar where its waist deep... what beautiful water. And lots of stingrays merrily swimming around. The tour operators will grab a stingray for you and you can get a picture of yourself with it including kissing it if you like. The trip included snorkels but I couldn't get the mask to seal on my face and I returned the snorkel -- no big deal though since I was quite content just standing and floating around with the stingrays, and the waves were rather large, enough to go over the top of the snorkel and go down in. We also saw the turtle farm and it was more interesting than you might think. I got to pick up a large turtle and get some pictures of me with it. We walked around the port area too, but the shops were closed before the tour, and after the tour was over there was only 30 minutes left to get back on the ship.
Cozumel: This was the only port where we had a problem getting to shore. The delay was about 2 hours, the majority of which was standing in line in the stairwells waiting to get on the tender, so that rather stunk. It was apparently due to large swells, but they still should have handled this better. This island was still showing the effects of a hurricane a few years ago. They are currently rebuilding and many other buildings lay in rubble. Half the trees on the island are dead (yet still standing -- I don't quite understand that). The shopping area at the port was nice, and it was all very new looking (just rebuilt). I bought a very nice onyx chess set with Aztec designs on it for a mere $22 (which I later had fun carrying home since it weighs 30lbs). The island left me with the impression that it was nearly empty before the ships started arriving, and even now it is still quite empty and most of what's there is oriented towards the ships. Lots of beach resorts along the shore. I kept our shore excursion for the day simple -- Playa Mia Beach. This was a beautiful popular (crowded) beach with plenty of things to do. I had never been on a jet ski before so I rented one for 1/2 an our for $60 -- that was fun! The clear green water below the jet ski looked amazing. The food was rather costly there, $15 per buffet ticket. I had a good time here; best thing to do here is probably the beach.
Belize: We loved Belize! I can't understand why some reviewers decided to stay on ship or thought it was an awful place. Its sad that anyone would miss out on seeing Belize. We took the Airboat adventure and city tour combo. We enjoyed the city tour, seeing both rich and poor houses and everything in between. We went by several schools, where the children all wear uniforms, and when they see the tour bus they all run up to the fence yelling and waving happily at us -- so cute! The people who did the tour were both humorous and informative. The airboat was great! It zoomed through the mangroves where we saw lots of birds that they identified for us, plus a few crocodiles. After returning, we had plenty of time to walk around the port area... its very safe, thousands of tourists and lots of security, very beautiful, clean and new looking. Around the edge of the shopping area are some flea market booths that we also went to... I bought a beautiful hand-carved dolphin for $20 from a local who was carving new ones right there while he waited for customers. This tender was far away but the boat was also very fast (50mph maybe?) so it was no big deal and also was fun.
Costa Maya: What a beautiful place! This was our favorite port with Belize being second. And, the only port where we could dock. Cruise ships started arriving here just 6 years ago and there's a huge amount of building in progress; I hope they keep its beauty and character without turning it into another Cancun; our tour guide did explain that the gov't is trying to control the building up of the area to keep it nice. We did the excursion that has both a beach break and a tour of Costa Maya. The tour was very interesting, and the guides were amusing and very nice. Most of the tour felt like the middle of nowhere, long straight roads through tropical woods with an occasional house. The tour took us to a remote beach that was truly remote... our open-air truck was the first to arrive, and 1/2 an hour later the dune buggy tour arrived, so in total just a few dozen people on a beach with no one else around. By far the most beautiful beach we've seen on the trip. Note that you have to travel to get to a beach at Costa Maya because the port is not swim able. The port area was nice too, quite large with lots and lots of shops and bars. In the middle of it is the largest swimming pool I've ever seen, and in that pool is a pool bar! With the bar stools beneath the water! Very cool! I swam across to the bar, paid $10 for a tequila sunrise that was a couple feet tall, then swam back across again and enjoyed it. This pool area was very popular, lots of attractive young people hanging around drinking. The water around Costa Maya was an amazing clear green color, even along the dock, and fish could easily be seen swimming below.
In summary, you'll want to go on this cruise! Great ship, wonderful people who work on it, and lots of fun and sights to be had at the various ports. We're already thinking of what our next Carnival cruise will be, not that I wouldn't mind doing a repeat of this one as I can always choose different excursions (like the cave tubing that everyone raves about in Belize).