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Jill

Age: 41

Occupation:Artist

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Miracle

Sailing Date: December 17th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This Exotic Western Caribbean Carnival Cruise was my second cruise, but the first for my mother and her friend. Our ports of call included Grand Cayman, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel.

I had the pleasure of having cruised on the Carnival Victory (Western Caribbean, February, 2006). Since I live in southwest Florida, my mother and her friend had requested to leave out of the Port of Tampa because they were flying in from New York and didn’t want to travel across the state while down on vacation . Despite a repeat for two of the ports of call (Grand Cayman & Costa Maya), for this cruise in comparison to my last, I had no reservations about doing so and happily booked the cruise.

Port of Tampa: Fortunately, we had decided to take limo service to the port as we could never have fit all of our luggage into the trunk of my car. I immediately noticed that this made for a much smoother process when it came to unloading our gear at the terminal and was well worth the cost!

The port itself is clean and surrounded by an array of restaurants and various points of interest for all ages. This came to be a nice way to wave goodbye from out balconies when departing; the pier restaurants were thriving with people cheering bon voyage! I did notice a tremendous amount of children eagerly standing in line (from the very young, to teenaged), however, this was to be expected as we were cruising during a holiday. I did share my observations over the much more efficient embarkation process with the Carnival Check-in crew and they replied that Miami is considered to be their model for revision as to make the process run in a better manner. Yes, the lines were long, but well organized and flowed without trouble. After check-in we were escorted through the usual gamut of photo opportunities prior to actually boarding the Miracle, but again, I will state that it was a much more speedy and less chaotic experience than in Miami.

Décor: As usual, I had done quite a bit of research into the Miracle prior to the cruise, so there were no surprises in this category, with the exception of what I would state as a “over-decoration” of the main lobby/atrium for Christmas holiday. I do believe that had they left the decorations more on the simple-side, it would not have looked as cheesy. Regardless, the ship itself is quite beautiful and a bit more subdued than the Victory. The mural in the atrium is amazing and as an artist, found myself marveling once more at the ship’s design by Joe Farcas, as well as the other artisans who assisted with the Miracle’s ambiance. Perhaps the only public room that made me scratch my head, was the main dining room as I cannot figure out what Farcas was trying to achieve with it’s design and found it too busy in color and scheme for a formal dining area.

The public rooms and cabins are just as Carnival advertises on their website. In quick summation, I would state that I preferred the Victory’s overall design, but liked the Miracle‘s blue color scheme of the bathroom, in comparison to the coral of the Victory‘s. Another notable surprise was that just prior to the cruise, Carnival had asked if we were interested in an upgrade from regular balcony cabins, to extended balcony cabins, which was a nice treat! The balcony feature was one of my mother’s favorite attributes to the ship. Our Cabin Steward was quite decent, but not as meticulous or attentive as on the Victory. Nonetheless, he provided good service, round-the-clock.


Food:
Main Dining Room - We had early seating for dinner, as compared to late seating on my last cruise. This was at the request of my mother and her friend. I did notice a difference in service between the two seating choices and prefer the later time. I felt as though we were a bit rushed through the early seating experience, although there is ample time to enjoy the delicious dinners and desserts. The wait staff was always courteous and professional, but not nearly as energetic as the dining crew onboard the Victory.

I had prepared mom and her friend for the post-dinner dining room antics and this was another feature that they simply loved and looked forward to each evening. Our wait staff (we loved Lou), was very attentive, giving us great tips for the ports of call and making other recommendations. The food itself was yummy and we especially enjoyed the lobster and Caribbean Jerked Pork - oh my! Was this ever scrumptious! Matter of fact, I picked up several packages of the Caribbean Jerk Seasoning in Belize. I would highly recommend taking some back with you. Carnival has created a wonderful array of selections that would please mostly anyone’s taste and this includes the delicious Spa Selections if you are “trying” to count calories or are on a special diet.

As usual, they are always willing to let you try more than one dish, or order doubles, should you want. Again, unless you are traveling with young children or have to eat early, I would recommend the later seating, as you will not feel as rushed as in comparison to the early seating.

Buffet & Specialty Restaurants: Delicious and a wide variety of foods available. The Deli was a lunch favorite, and the 24-Hour Pizza was very good - all of the time! As with the Victory, the food - regardless of venue - was above average to excellent. My mother and her friend often took advantage of the 24-Hour Ice Cream and we had to laugh noting that all they had to do was walk out of their cabin, take a left, hit the elevator, go up to Lido and BAM! They were right in front of the ice cream!

I would recommend trying a specialty omelet in the morning. I’m not a big breakfast eater but had to try it. Lots of veggies with a splash of meat and cooked to perfection, right in front of you! The service staff was always pleasurable and helpful and the restaurants kept clean and tidy.

The only negative comment that I have about the dining experience on the Miracle has to do with the massive amounts of children running around in the buffet area. This was never an issue to this degree while voyaging on the Victory, but again, this was a holiday cruise. Regardless, as a mother of two teenagers myself, I found it a bit bothersome and distracting. Please note that this aspect did not apply to the quiet, formal dining room.

Entertainment: Having been impressed with the Victory’s shows, I was expecting the same caliber on the Miracle. The entertainers are talented and shows are well-done - the variety is astounding. Without a doubt, Carnival performers give it their all! There is something to do, regardless of age. Personally, my party looked forward to the shows each evening.

Carnival also sponsors Bingo, game shows and other silly contests throughout the day, in which case I would highly recommend taking along your Carnival Caper strips to help you remember the locations and times of the multitude of events.

Ports of Call:
Grand Cayman: Sunny and warm! This has to be one of my favorite ports. We had booked an excursion for the Island Tour & Stingray City for our first cruise on the Victory. This time we all decided to book an excursion to 7 Mile Beach/Sea Grape Beach. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we merely floated in the water and relaxed in the sun. It was the perfect way to spend the better part of the day. Afterwards, we shopped through Georgetown and took some excellent photos of our ship which was tendered out in port.

Belize: HOT and sunny! Wow! I did not expect it to be as blistering hot in mid-December, but I cannot complain. After taking a tender to the mainland, we shopped and ate lunch at one of the pier side restaurants. Very festive atmosphere but also very congested. A word of caution about this port: Exercise discretion over haggling with vendors. While visiting one shop, I had found myself fancying a lovely hand carved/painted wood mask. The store owner noticed my interest and quietly approached me, stating that she would give me the mask for half-price IF I went to one of the duty-free shops and bought her some alcohol (at my expense). This made me very uncomfortable and I refused. She kept insisting right up to the cash register, but I opted to pay the full price for my items, verses do something that seemed shady. She kept stating that this was a ‘secret’ between her and I, but I stuck to my guns and refused.

On the way back to the tender, we stopped and had a few drinks at the pier and forgot all about the issues of drinking water. Rule # 1: Do not consume drinks that are made with water of the local regions. We were so parched and caught up in the party in the pub, that we forgot about this rule - until we had polished off a couple drinks each. Montezuma’s revenge happened within 24 hours and ruined my port of call for Costa Maya. My fault; tasted great going down, but not coming back out! Hold the frozen margaritas and daiquiris for the ship.

Costa Maya, Mexico: More sunny and hot. It’s a good thing that I had visited this port on our last cruise, because after feeling very ill with a lower-digestive ‘disorder’ from the day prior’s drinks, I was only able to get off of the ship to buy a few souvenirs and then it was back to the cabin where I stayed for the entire afternoon and early evening. Everyone else enjoyed the rugged yet beautiful coastline of Costa Maya and the festive atmosphere in the shopping/dining complex. Overall, a nice port of call.

Cozumel, Mexico: Initially, we had experienced a squall while onboard our tender to Playa Del Carmen, but once cleared, it was sunny, hot and humid. Getting back to the tender: The rough seas did not bother me at all, but made several passengers join the ‘chum’ club. An entire family became seasick, inclusive of their young children and older parents. I would recommend taking a Dramamine prior to embarking on any ferry/tenders, especially if weather is predicting rough seas. Fortunately, none in our party were ill.

We did book an excursion to Xcaret and I would highly recommend this tour, especially if you have children, or love nature. I found myself wishing that my two sons were able to enjoy this park and was very impressed with the variety of activities that are included in the price of the excursion.

Xcaret offers something for everyone inclusive of snorkeling, scuba, lounging at the beautiful beach or lagoon, the butterfly pavilion, the aquarium…the list goes on! We did not have enough time to enjoy the entire park or each activity, but I am sure that I will again return with my sons at some point in the future.

Our Tour Guide, Jose, was absolutely fantastic! My mother and her friend are older and cannot keep up with us ‘young’ folk, but he stayed with them and gave them his undivided attention, inclusive of a special tour. They did buy him lunch and gave a gracious tip, but as they said, it was well-worth every penny. I would also recommend having lunch at the open-air grand pavilion by the sea; what ambiance! There was a beautiful breeze, the sun was shining, the view splendid and as a lovely touch, we were serenaded by a trio of musicians. We all had a wonderfully memorable day!

Our last day at sea was very dreary. It showered for the entire day/night but this afforded us the opportunity to kick back, relax and pack for our return to Florida. I rented a couple of in-room movies and it was nice to regroup after the busy week cavorting around the southwestern Caribbean.

Debarkation: The process is much more efficient if you are able to do the self-assist debarkation (carry your own luggage off). We had an issue with finding a couple of pieces of luggage in the sea of luggage in the terminal, so that delayed us a bit. Just be patient though and soon enough you’ll be out and headed home.

Overall, I would have to say that again, Carnival provided us all with a wonderful cruise vacation! In comparing the two ships, the Victory and the Miracle, I would still state that I am partial to the Victory, but for very small reasons such as mentioned throughout this review. With all due respect, a Carnival Cruise is for those looking for high-energy, kid and family-friendly goers who want to have fun! Décor is always interesting, food is quite delicious and service very good. As usual, it is going to be whatever YOU make it, so enjoy! Yes, I have made comparisons between ships, but they are both lovely in their own light and again, Carnival offers a wonderful vacation opportunity.

Before I forget, I would like to mention a few things that may help with planning your next cruise.

1. I found it very helpful to bring along my laptop and some blank discs. This way I could download my digital camera photos and burn onto the discs without fear of running out of memory card space or losing photos. It’s also a great way to relax in your cabin at the end of the day and review your journey!

2. If you are running late for early seating of dinner, do call the Maitre D and advise him, otherwise they will frown upon your untimely arrival. They truly do have a schedule to keep and it’s only respectful to notify them. I learned this from experience after being 20 minutes late - twice! Although our waiter, Lou, was understanding, we could tell that it threw him a curve.

3. Talk to your fellow cruisers! They are a wonderful source of information and part of the fun is meeting people and listening to their adventures. I gained some valuable insight from fellow cruisers and my mother and her friend had a lovely time chatting with people from around the world.

4. Midnight Buffet: Unless you have two stomachs, I would highly suggest that you eat minimally for dinner that evening and save room for the midnight buffet. The sight alone is amazing, so do take photos! The food creations/décor are incredible - and edible. I felt awful knowing that I could not sample some of the tasty creations that night, desserts included.

5. Seasickness: As the saying goes, if you think that you’ll get sick, you probably will. Keep a positive attitude and don’t get riled if you encounter some wave action. We had a few minimally rocky evenings that freaked some people out, but didn’t bother me at all. Captain advised us that we were in 10 foot seas, but in comparison to my last cruise, where we had 22 foot seas, it was nothing! Fresh air and open spaces is the way to go if you’re feeling woozy.

6. For Balcony Cabin Cruisers: Take advantage of your balcony, after all, you have paid for it! Try to enjoy a cup of coffee at sunrise, or cool drink at sunset from your private balcony. I would also recommend taking a little snooze at dusk. It’s a great way to rejuvenate yourself before the evening festivities begin…just don’t be late for dinner!
7. Listen to the Cruise Director! They are there to give you valuable information, not just to blab into the overhead paging system. I have nothing but good things to say about Dana (Carnival Victory), as well as Chris (Carnival Miracle). These two men deserve a round of applause for jobs well done!

Best wishes on your next cruise. Going cruising with Carnival to the Eastern Caribbean in December, 2007! Hope to see you there! Feel free to contact me at Gulfcoastcrew3@aol.com, should you have any questions.















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