Search This Blog

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carnival Miracle -- 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades

March 2012 from Fort Lauderdale
View from Jeep excursion
Check-in
This was our second experience with VIP status. The first time in Seattle was quite unorganized, and I was surprised when the experience at Port Everglades was not much better. I hate to be the kind of person who questions what I am told and keeps track of everything to make sure I am getting what I paid for and what I expect; however, our past two experiences have made us think we will need to do that next time. This was our experience with VIP check-in:

The lines were not very long when our cab driver dropped us off after 11 a.m. The VIP security line was located at the far end of the baggage drop area with no signage telling how to get to it. We were somewhat familiar with this port, so we looked around, found the area, and figured out how to get there with no assistance from a Carnival representative (we did not see anyone except the porters in the baggage drop area). As we went through security, we heard an announcement for VIP boarding and then some Zone boarding. After we exited security, we started to enter the VIP check-in area, as did the guests in front of us who had also went through the VIP security lane. They were directed out, and then we showed our VIP boarding pass to the representative who also directed us to the same check-in line. The line was not very long, and we thought maybe the process was changing since boarding had started. 

After we stood in line for several minutes, I began to think this was not the correct process, and then I noticed that other guests around us were holding boarding passes that did not say VIP on them. When it was our turn to check-in, the agent tried to give me a Zone 13 card! I told her I did not want the card because we had a VIP boarding pass. She then told me we needed to go to the VIP room, and she pointed across the room where we had tried to enter to begin with. I said that we did not want to wait in line again. Although the agent directing guests was no help, the employee working behind the counter was. She checked us in, then escorted us to the VIP room to get our Sail & Sign cards, and then through the entrance to board. 

Every time we have been to Port Everglades for prior cruises, a Carnival representative was greeting guests, looking at boarding passes, and directing guests properly. We did not experience this on our last two cruises. I had thought maybe this was a Seattle problem; however, after this check-in experience, it seems like Carnival representatives are no longer directing guests like they used to.

Aft balcony cabin 7300, category 8N
balcony #7300
This cabin was pretty much the same as any other aft cabin that we have had. There was a couch across from the vanity/counter area, and it had a deep balcony. There was one lounge chair and one sitting chair on the balcony along with a small table.

This ship had been refurbished just a few weeks before our cruise. Everything is the stateroom looked new, or at least in excellent condition--flatscreen TV, cupboards, walls, and shower--except for the carpet. The carpet was not in poor shape; it just did not look like it had been replaced when the ship was refurbished.

Prior to this cruise, I have always preferred the side premium balcony rooms with a longer balcony, and my husband has preferred the back rooms. Because of this, we usually alternate between a side cabin and a back cabin. After this cruise, my husband decided he prefers the premium balcony rooms on the side too--yay! 

Food & Beverage
This ship had typical Carnival dining venues--Lido buffet, Grill, Deli, and 24-hour Pizzeria on Lido deck, sushi bar, room service, dining rooms, and coffee shop and steakhouse for a charge--with a couple of differences.

There was no Fish 'n Chips by the steakhouse, which I had thought used to be on the Spirit (when we cruised to Hawaii), and on the Legend. Either Carnival has removed that dining venue, or I am mistaken about which ships have this. This ship had food available for delivery in the Serenity area on sea days, which is the first time I have seen this. A server stopped with a menu, so we decided to try a sandwich and a wrap one day. It was nice to have the food delivered; however, the sandwiches were not as good as the ones from the Deli. The food was served immediately in a plastic container, so it must have been prepared ahead of time. It was similar to pre-made sandwiches that can be purchased in convenience stores or airport kiosks or markets. The meal included a small salad with fresh baby greens.

Assigned time dining was located in the lower dining room on deck 2, and anytime dining guests were seated in the upper dining room on deck 3. The menu was similar to previous cruises, with the addition of "comfort foods." Crab legs, like we had on our last cruise to Alaska, were not on the menu any of the days, so that item must only be on Alaskan cruises. This was an 8-day cruise with two formal/elegant nights. Lobster was only on the menu the first elegant evening; however, prime rib was on the menu both times.

The breakfast menu did not have any changes from other Carnival cruises, and we ate in the dining room once for lunch. I thought the dining room decor was very cool, although one of our table mates did not like it.

I was disappointed that Korbel was no longer listed on the lounge menus. I did not notice this the first couple times that I ordered a glass at the start of the week. After a few days, I saw that this was not listed on the menu, and I was not able to get it in some of the lounges. It appeared as though this was being changed over, and was only available until the supply was depleted.

Pool and Outside areas
A serenity deck had been added to the Miracle shortly before our cruise. The serenity deck, and the other pool areas were usually quite full every sea day. The serenity deck on this ship was at the back, and consisted of only one deck. It did not include near enough cabanas or soft loungers. If you wanted a cabana or soft lounger during a sea day, you needed to get out before 6 or 7 AM to save one. I have seen hammocks on other ships in the serenity area, although there were not any hanging on this ship during our cruise.

The serenity area on the Miracle was not much different than the aft pool area on Spirit class ships. The only differences were - the loungers had cushions, cabanas and cushioned couches had been added, the ice cream and pizza stations had been moved into the dining area, and a towel counter had been added. There were signs that said that the serenity area is for guests 21 and over. This was not enforced the day we boarded; however, it was after that.

There was a small jogging track on the top forward deck where the basketball hoops and mini-golf were located. This was open the first sea day, and then it was closed for a few days because of the high winds. After that, it was open again for the remainder of the cruise. I was surprised that seaside theater had not been added when the ship was refurbished.

Bloody Mary, Mimosa, and Screwdriver morning specials were offered every sea day morning until noon. These were a good value compared to the regular price.

Lounges and Entertainment
Madhatter's
We had two comedians on board at the start of the cruise, and a different comedian boarded after our first port of call. We saw both of the first two comedians in Madhatter's Lounge at the start of the cruise, and both shows were good. I loved the decor in Madhatter's Lounge, and wish I had taken more photos of the room. The schedule for the second comedian was not conducive for early dining guests. One show was scheduled before the show in the showroom ended, and the second show was full when we tried to enter after the showroom show, and we were not allowed to enter. The comedian was on again the next night; however, that was also the last night of the cruise, so we had packing and other things going on. If you want to see the comedy show at the end of the cruise, make sure to arrive early.
main showroom stage

We went to two shows in the showroom--a ventriloquist, and the Beetles show. Both were great! We liked the live band in Frankie and Johnnie's; however, this was also a smoking lounge, so we only visited twice. It seems like the best live bands are always in the smoking lounge. The karaoke band in Madhatter's Lounge was also excellent.

Ports of Call and Shore Excursions
We booked the Golden Eagle Sail and Snorkel tour through Carnival before our cruise at our first port of call in St. Maarten. This was a 3.5 hour tour departing at 1:15 PM for $79.99 per person. Our cruise time was changed to 12:30 ahead of time, which we liked, because we preferred the 12:30 departure time. I had read many positive reviews about this excursion, so I was excited. This excursion was advertised as follows: Experience one of the biggest, fastest and best-looking sailing catamarans in the whole Caribbean.

  • Stop at a quiet cove to snorkel in the crystal clear waters or bob around on a beach float.
  • Explore caverns or dive through coral formations teeming with fish.
  •  Stop on a fabulous pink sandy beach, one of the finest you will see in the Caribbean.

St Maarten
Based on the description, we expected to stop in a cove to snorkel, and then at a beach. I had read that the snorkeling wasn't the best, so we didn't expect much in that regard. We thought the sail and experience would be great anyway. Details, of course, said that this may be changed due to weather conditions. There were not any weather conditions the day of our excursion--it was a perfect sunny Caribbean day with a light breeze. After this excursion, we have decided not to do any more sailing excursions. Every one we have been on is mostly about the rum punch, and is never as nice as advertised. We did not think this excursion was worth the money, and I would not recommend it.

Here are the details of our excursion day: We had to remove our shoes before boarding--even if wearing boat shoes. I expected this because I had read this comment by other reviewers; however, it was still kind of yucky to use the restroom without shoes on, I thought. The sailboat was nice enough; however, the table where we sat had not been cleaned, so we could not set anything on it. After we left the dock, a crew member raised the back sail, and we motor-sailed to the beach. They did not put any sails up for the trip back. Crew members mostly texted on their iPhones and smoked on the back of the boat for the trip out. Made me wonder why we left them a tip at the end. Make sure to choose a seat forward of the galley, if you don't want to be near the smokers.

We anchored at the beach, and stayed there for a little over 1.5 hours. The beach was beautiful; unfortunately, we had only brought our underwater camera, so I don't have any beach photos. Some people snorkeled around the rocks just off the beach, and the snorkeling was better than we expected. Refreshments included rum punch, beer--Coors Light and Presidente, water, juice, and french roll type sandwiches. The sailboat paused in front of Maho Beach where the planes land, on the way out and on our return, which was kind of cool. Must be this was our stop instead of the "quiet cove to snorkel." We arrived back at the dock, and were all off the ship well before 4:00 PM, so our excursion was actually less than 3.5 hours. Since most of this excursion was spent at the beach, we thought it would have been a better value, if we had just taken a cab to the beach and back.

St Lucia beach and Jeeps
In St Lucia, we had not planned anything beforehand. We had brought a printed map of the port, and initially planned to do something on our own. Here is a link to a Castries St. Lucia map.

road to beach
After we read the shore excursions again, we decided to book the 4 x 4 Jeep Getaway. This was a 4-hour Jeep tour with a stop at a private beach for $55.99 per person. We thought this was an excellent excursion that delivered exactly what was described. We had a great group of people in our Jeep, and it was not too crowded or uncomfortable. A local guide rode in back with us, and provided a narrated tour. We made several brief stops to take photos, and we stopped at a small market before arriving at the private beach. The trail back to the beach was a bit rough, but not bad. Refreshments included rum punch (surprise!), beer, water, soda pop, and fresh coconut. This tour was from 9 AM - 1 PM, so you may want to pack a sandwich or something, if you want more than a few slivers of coconut to eat.


In St. Kitts I had found information online about a resort within walking distance where we could spend the day for $10 per person, plus $2 for a towel, if you did not want to bring your own towel. The walk was less than a mile, and the view from the resort was great. We thought the walk was easy; however, if you are not a walker or adventurous, you may prefer a cab ride. The resort also contains a beautiful garden, and Shell Works gift shop. Here is a link to the resort--Palm Court Gardens, and to a port map. We decided not to bring our towels because we did not want to carry them back wet, and we planned to do some shopping on our way back to the ship.

We arrived early, spoke with an employee at the resort, got two towels, and found a nice cushioned lounger for the day. We were told we could pay with cash, or use a credit card and pay at the end of the day, so we chose that option. I thought we might have a few beverages; however, the bar choices were limited, so we ended up with only one beer on our tab. They did not have Bloody Marys, and when I asked about an iced blended beverage--like a mudslide or something--I was told that they did not have anything like that.

We stopped at a liquor store on our way back to the ship, and made one of our least expensive liquor purchases this cruise. Taxes are quite a bit in Michigan, so we purchased Absolut for $11 a liter in a shop right next to the ship. My husband also wanted to get some local rum, of course! We checked prices in the supermarket in town, and in other stores farther away from the cruise ship, and did not find better prices.

Debarkation
VIP debarkation--just like embarkation--was not properly executed on this cruise. We had time before our flight, so this was not a huge deal, except that it was something we had expected. Zone 1 luggage tags had been delivered to our cabin with debarkation instructions. The instructions said that VIP guests should wait in the showroom, and that we would be escorted to the exit when it was time, so we went to the showroom at the designated time. After all of the self-assist guests had left the ship, Zones 1 - 3 were announced all at once for debarkation. Since we were in the showroom, we had to walk back to the atrium to disembark. We passed a Carnival representative on our way out who may have been on her way to the showroom for VIP guests; however, it would have been too late at this time. Almost all of the VIP guests had left the showroom by the time we did, and we did not observe any guests being escorted out after we left the room. By the time we got to the exit, the area was filled with many guests who had been waiting in the atrium, so we had a bit of a line to get off, and then quite a crowd to maneuver through as we had to make our way through Zone 2 and 3 guests to get to the Zone 1 luggage area.

This was the first cruise we have returned from where the customs officials did not even look at our declaration form. She set it aside, looked at our passports, and then waved us on. Even with the confusion disembarking, we still got off the ship quite early, and could have easily made it to the 11:15 AM flight we were originally booked on. The Carnival website suggests not to book a flight before 11:30 AM, so we had changed our flight to a time after noon.

Overall
We thought the cruise was a good value, and we liked the itinerary. We did not need to tender at any of the ports, which is always nice. Fort Lauderdale is a good value airport for us to fly into, and the port is close to the airport with many hotel choices, if you choose to stay in the area before or after your cruise. I liked the Serenity deck better on other ships that we have been on where it is located on the forward decks near the Spa, because the area has more room. I also missed the poolside theater. We have enjoyed a couple good concerts on the screen under the stars on other ships.

All in all though--this was a great vacation! Our cabin steward was great, and we were able to sit at a different dining room table and dine with some new friends a couple of the evenings.