Carnival Miracle Cruise Review
We enjoyed a 7-day cruise on the Carnival Miracle in November of 2015, with stops in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The itinerary was a little unusual because the ship actually spent two days in Puerto Vallarta... staying tied up at the pier overnight, with passengers (and crew) free to come and go onshore as often as they wanted, even in the middle of the night. I heard a few stories about crew members having some fun times in the wee hours of the morning in Puerto Vallarta! We're not so brave as to go roaming around a Mexican city in the dark, but we sure did have some fun ashore during the daylight hours!
Before I get in to the full story of our vacation on the Carnival
let's start with a little introduction
so that you know who this is coming from...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996... and have now taken 33 cruises on 21 different cruise ships. While we've done a few cruises with Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Norwegian cruise lines, most of our cruises have been with Carnival... because they seem to offer the biggest bang for the buck. All together, we've spent 219 days at sea on cruise ships... and 173 of those have been with Carnival.
We've sailed on Carnival Miracle's sister ship, the Carnival Spirit, four different times and enjoyed each of those cruises. But in the three and a half years since our last cruise on a Spirit-class ship, we've sailed on some much newer and much more amazing ships. So, I was curious how the Carnival Miracle would strike me, now that I'm a more experienced cruiser and have sailed on some pretty amazing cruise ships.
Let's take a look at how the Carnival Miracle compares to some of the other cruise ships we've sailed on...
Carnival Miracle sits somewhere in the middle of the pack when you consider the entire Carnival fleet. She is neither young or old compared to the other ships in the fleet, and she is neither large or small. She carries a little over two thousand passengers, which is a lot less than most new cruise ships that are built today... so she tends to seem less crowded than a lot of other cruise ships do. Her maiden voyage was in 2004, so she is certainly far from new and state of the art... but on the other hand, she's new enough to not seem old and outdated like a few of the older cruise ships that are still serving North America. In fact, Carnival recently invested a lot of time and money to update Carnival Miracle with some new features that are popular on some of their newer ships. Those updates were done in dry dock just 8 months before our cruise. More about that, later.
Carnival Miracle is what is known as a Panamax ship... which is a ship that is the maximum dimensions that can fit through the Panama canal. Because she is small enough to fit through the canal, which a lot of cruise ships are not, she is about as big of a cruise ship as you will tend to see on the west coast of the United States... at least until the Panama canal expansion is completed in the next year or two.
Carnival ships are somewhat infamous for a loud Vegas-style of interior decoration that is very visible in all but their newest ships... courtesy of Carnival's former interior designer, Joe Farcus. The loud interior decorating scheme was meant to convey a sense of fun, but it just looks very 1980s to me now. It was especially striking on our Carnival Miracle cruise since we had just sailed on the newest ship in the fleet about two months earlier... and it has a much more sophisticated interior decorating scheme that reflects Carnival's current sense of style. Let me show you a few similar photos I took on Carnival Miracle and Carnival Breeze, so you can clearly see how Carnival's interior decoration style has evolved over the years.
Here's a look at the lobby of the Carnival Miracle, an 11-year-old ship:
For comparison, take a look at the lobby of the Carnival Breeze, a 2-year-old ship:
A vast atrium soars 8 decks above the lobby of the Carnival Miracle.
At the top of the Carnival Miracle's atrium,
there's a lot of purple and orange...
At the bottom, the colors aren't quite as harsh...
Looking up, from the lobby
Here's the atrium of the Carnival Breeze, for comparison:
Looking down, from deck ten
Comparing elevator landing areas on the two ships offers another good example
of how the interior decorating scheme has gotten more sophisticated in recent years.
Here's the 11 year-old Carnival Miracle:
And here's the 2 year-old Carnival Breeze:
I mentioned that Joe Farcus was the principal interior designer for Carnival for many years. I know from seeing interviews with him that he likes to start with a theme for a ship, and let the interior design get creative based on that theme. For example, on the Carnival Freedom, his inspiration was that word freedom... so you will see lots of stuff on that ship involving the statue of liberty, American flags, and things like that.
When he did the interior design of the Carnival Miracle, his theme was fictional characters. So, there's all sorts of stuff throughout the ship that have to do with fictional characters such as The Phantom of the Opera, Sherlock Holmes, Alice In Wonderland, Mata Hari, Horatio Hornblower, and many more. For example, one of the lounges is called the Mad Hatter's Lounge, and this piece of artwork sits at one of the entrances:
In the corridors outside the passenger cabins, there are large murals depicting some of those fictional characters. Kellyn and I were walking down one of the corridors one day and I made a joke that only someone who has cruised on Carnival's Conquest-class ships would understand. On some of the Conquest-class ships, they have a fish-and-chips restaurant that is a little bit hidden. It's located one floor above the Lido buffet restaurant... just enough out of the way that some passengers never discover it. So, as Kellyn and I walked down a corridor several decks away from the Carnival Miracle's restaurants, I made a joke when I saw this mural:
My joke was: "Wow, they really hid the fish-and-chips restaurant well on this ship!"
Carnival Miracle Cabin 8272
We stayed in a cabin at the back of the ship with a beautiful view looking out the back. Our cabin had what is known as an "extended balcony"... which is a balcony that's a little deeper than most cruise ship balconies tend to be.
There were some fantastic views from our balcony. Here's an example... a beautiful sunrise. I'm sure I would have slept right through it if I had not had a balcony cabin!
Take a look at a time-lapse video I created of the view from our balcony
as the Carnival Miracle sailed away from Long Beach at the beginning of the cruise:
I've learned over the course of 33 cruises that carefully choosing just the right cabin is one of the keys to a happy cruise. If you end up in the cabin above the disco, for example, you're going to hear a thumping bass sound all night long and you'll have a heck of a time getting to sleep. So, I take a lot of time to find just the right cabin before booking. We've tried a wide variety of cabins over the years, in order to find the type of cabin that offers the best combination of luxury and value. We've been in everything from interior cabins that don't even have a window, to ocean view cabins, balcony cabins, spa cabins, aft-wrap cabins with huge balconies, and even The Captain's Suite at three times the price of a regular balcony cabin. One thing I've learned is that I really like having a cabin at the back of the ship. Not just for those great views out the back... but also because it puts us very close to the aft swimming pool as well as the buffet restaurant. From our cabin at the back of the ship, it was an easy walk up one flight of stairs to get to one of our favorite places on Carnival Miracle, the Serenity Retreat...
The Serenity Retreat is an adults-only relaxation area where all the chairs and loungers have been fitted with thick, super-comfortable cushions. The outdoor furniture throughout the rest of the ship doesn't have those, so this is definitely the most comfortable outdoor place to hang out. There are also a few round day beds, which are great for a romantic couple to share.
Carnival's got a real problem with their Serenity Retreats on most of their ships, but it's a problem that doesn't exist on Carnival's Spirit-class ships, like the Carnival Miracle. The problem that most of Carnival's Serenity Retreats have is that they are positioned up at the front of the ship, and up on one of the highest decks. The reason that's a problem is that it tends to be VERY windy up there when the ship is in motion... which is when you tend to want to relax in the Serenity Retreat. When the ship is not in motion, you're in port... and you're usually off on a shore excursion. When you're back onboard and ready to relax in the Serenity Retreat, the ship sails away towards the next port... and it gets crazy windy up on the serenity deck again.
The other serenity problem that most of the rest of the fleet has is that the Serenity Retreat is located too close to the main mid-ship swimming pool. That's where they play loud party music all day long, and where they have loud events like the hairy chest competition and the mixology contest. All the noise makes it's way to the Serenity Retreat, and the result is that unless you put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the Serenity Retreat is not serene on most Carnival ships.
But this is a problem that you don't have on a Spirit-class ship... because they put the Serenity retreat at the back of the ship instead of the front, and it's tucked down behind a couple of levels of the ship, which tends to block the wind. It's also about as far away from the craziness of the mid-ship pool as it could be. So, the result is that with the Spirit class, Carnival finally came up with a Serenity Retreat that's truly serene! What a concept.
Another thing the Spirit-class ships have going for them regarding the Serenity Retreat is that there's a large shaded area of the serenity deck in addition to an even larger sunny area. So, you can sit out here without having to put on sunblock or worry about sunburn.
Kellyn relaxes in the shaded section of the Serenity Retreat
There's also a very large bar within the Serenity Retreat, so you can cool off with your favorite drink and truly relax. We don't drink a whole lot... we're certainly not one of those couples that pays $800 for an unlimited drink package for the 7-day cruise! But they do offer an excellent bargain back here at the Serenity bar, which we couldn't pass up one day. For $25, you can buy a pitcher of margaritas. That was plenty for the two of us, and definitely cheaper than if we had purchased them by the glass. We enjoyed our pitcher of margaritas in the shade of the Serenity Retreat... and once we finished, we moved downstairs for a nice nap in our cabin!
Carnival's Spirit-class ships also have a swimming pool within their Serenity Retreat. The only other Carnival ship that has that is the Carnival Sunshine, and it's a tiny little pool. The Carnival Miracle's serenity pool is a reasonable size. However, they fill it with water straight out of the ocean, and they don't heat it. So, unless the ship was deep in to Mexican territory when they filled the water, the swimming pool water is very cold. On Caribbean cruises, I spend a LOT of time in the aft-pool to relax and stay cool. On our Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival Miracle, they water was never warm enough for me to even consider getting in any of the swimming pools. I stuck with the nicely heated Jacuzzis instead.
I shot this picture early in the morning, before they had put the cushions back on the loungers in Serenity.
A lot of Carnival ships have one swimming pool in the center of the ship, and another at the aft end. The one at the middle of the ship is supposed to be the "fun" pool where there's party music and lots of activities... and the one at the aft end of the ship is usually much more quiet and peaceful. I'm 58, not 21, so I like to relax and enjoy a nice quiet atmosphere when I'm hanging out by the pool. Therefore, I don't spend much time at the party pool at the center of the ship. The aft pool is my haven! I like staying in a cabin that's near the aft pool... and that's certainly a good thing about the aft-facing cabin that we stayed in.
Another benefit of our cabin location was that we were very nearby the buffet restaurant... which on Carnival Miracle is known as Horatio's. It was an easy 1-minute walk from our cabin to Horatio's. It's also very easy to get to the main dining room from aft cabins... you just take the elevator down to deck 3.
Something I like about Carnival is that it's always easy to get a good omelet in the morning. On some other cruise lines it's been more tricky for me. Either they only had one or two guys cooking omelets for thousands of passengers, or they just didn't make good omelettes! This has never been a problem for me on Carnival.
As you can see in the previous picture, the omelet chef can also fry up some eggs for you... over easy, sunny side up, over hard... whatever you want. Also, I really liked the setup they had for their omelet station on Carnival Miracle. On some Carnival ships, after you stand in line at the omelet station and have your omelet made, you have to stand in another line to get potatoes or sausage or bacon or anything else you might want with your omelet. At certain times of the morning, that second line can be long... and your omelet starts cooling down before you get through the line and finally get to a table to start eating. On Carnival Miracle, they have bacon and sausage and potatoes and all that stuff right there next to the omelet station, so you can get them immediately after the chef puts your omelet on your plate. It was the best breakfast setup I had seen on any cruise ship.
Here's the final product, my standard cruise ship breakfast:
Note the Lawry's seasoned salt. I bring that from home. It makes the omelet and potatoes taste better.
Here's a look at some of the seating in the Carnival Miracle's buffet restaurant, which is known as Horatio's.
It was fantastic having a cabin so close to Horatio's. We could get from our cabin to Horatio's in about 60 seconds.
Notice those big picture windows that offer a fantastic view!
The point of this entire section of my review is that there's a lot of great stuff at the back of the ship, and that's why we booked cabin 8272 at the far back end of the Carnival Miracle.
But now that I've told you all the good things about our cabin location and why we chose a cabin at the back of the ship, I'd like to give you a video tour of the inside of our cabin... and demonstrate the one major problem we discovered that it had! Given a second chance, we would never stay in this cabin again!
Cruise Director Chloe Loddo
I was excited when I did a little research at home and learned that the cruise director of the Carnival Miracle is a young female with an English accent! After having been on so many cruises, the quality of the Cruise Director is one thing that can really set one cruise apart from another for me. Carnival has a lot of young metrosexual white male cruise directors... a few young black male cruise directors... and a few female cruise directors. Most have done a fine job, only one really annoyed me, and the best was Jaime Deitsch... the sweetest, friendliest, most dear young woman that I've ever sailed with. So, when I learned that Chloe Loddo would be the cruise director on my Carnival Miracle cruise, I hoped that she would be another Carnival CD along the lines of Jaime Deitsch. And that's exactly what she was. She was friendly and charming and easy on the eyes... an excellent host, and a good representative for Carnival. Her accent is beautiful, and it turns out that it's not exactly an English accent. She's from Gibraltar, a British territory. Carnival would be very fortunate to find more cruise directors like Chloe Loddo (and Jaime Deitsch)... that's for sure.
It's hard for me to give you a sense of Chloe's fun personality using just text and some still pictures. But I think you'll see exactly what I mean if you watch this video I shot of her hosting an 80s music trivia contest in the Carnival Miracle's lobby...
Chloe does a little morning show on the ship's TV system, along the lines of a low-budget version of Kelly Ripa's morning show on ABC or the final hour of the today show on NBC. I called in to the show one morning and spoke with her live on the air, and Chloe sent me a little medal later in the day as a thank you...
I always enjoy getting this kind of stuff from the cruise director because I like to joke with my friends back home that I am "an award-winning cruiser"! But it turns out that I am also some kind of cruise ship outlaw now, too. When my luggage was delivered to my cabin on the first day of the cruise, I was surprised to find a letter from Carnival security inside one of my suitcases. The letter stated that they had identified some contraband in my suitcase, and seized two items which violated the ship's rules. This was a surprise to me, especially when I unpacked my suitcase and realized that the two items they had seized were an electrical extension cord and a six-outlet power strip... items I need for the CPAP that I use for treatment of sleep apnea. I've brought those same two items with me on quite a few previous cruises, both on Carnival and on other lines, and never had any problem bringing them onboard until now. Very strange.
It reminded me of a similar run-in with Carnival security on my previous Carnival cruise. After so many cruises with Carnival, I know what the rules are... or at least what they have always been! I like to drink diet-Pepsi, and they don't offer it on Carnival. So I always pick some up at our first port of call, and bring them onboard. I did that for 20+ Carnival cruises, without any problem. When I did it on my September cruise on Carnival Breeze, I got stopped at security and told I couldn't bring soft drinks onboard. That surprised me, especially since I had seen other passengers bringing entire cases of soft drinks onboard in the port of Miami. It seems the rules had changed, without any warning from Carnival. You could bring up to a case of soft drinks onboard at embarkation, but not at any of the ports of call. I had to toss a six-pack of diet-Pepsi in to the trash... the equivalent of taking $6 out of my pocket, and setting it on fire. It definitely wasn't the money that pissed me off, though... it was just that they arbitrarily changed the rules without any warning.
Here's a clue for Carnival, to keep your passengers happy. Every passenger gives you their email address when they sign up for the cruise. If you change some rule that's going to affect the passengers -- like outlawing soft drinks brought on in port -- or outlawing power strips -- that's fine, just give us a little warning. You've got our email addresses... send us an email and explain the rule change. That's hugely better than letting your passenger's first clue of a rule change come when a security officer pulls them out of a security screening line.
OK, so I'm some kind of cruise ship outlaw now. But I don't feel too bad about it, at least not as bad as the lady who was in front of me in the security screening line at the Long Beach cruise terminal. She tried to bring on some medical marijuana! That didn't work out too well for her!
Inside the Funnel
I'm sure you know that Carnival cruise ships are easy to identify because they always have that big red funnel on top that looks a bit like a whale's tale... if a whale were bright red! On most Carnival ships, there's nothing very interesting inside those big red funnels... it's just basically a big smokestack for the ship's exhaust. But Carnival's Spirit-class ships are a little different. They got very creative with the design for the big run funnel on the Spirit-class, incorporated some red glass in to it, and turned it in to usable space.
So, you may be wondering what's inside the funnel, under the red glass panels?
The answer is: Carnival Miracle's one and only specialty restaurant,
known as Nick & Nora's steakhouse.
Nick & Nora's steakhouse
We got our cruise off to a very good start by eating at the steakhouse on the very first night. Kellyn and I both enjoyed our meal there. Here's a photo of the steak I had, which I totally enjoyed:
It costs an additional $35 per person to eat at the steakhouse, which seems a bit excessive to me. $70 seems like a lot to have to pay on top of the cruise fare we've already paid, just so that the two of us can eat in the steakhouse. After all, it only costs us about $50 to eat at either of our two favorite steakhouses back at home. Also, the steakhouse on Princess is only a $25 per person upcharge. But the pricing is my only complaint about the steakhouse.... everything else was great.
I also have to really pat the steakhouse staff on the back for going out of their way to fulfill a special request that I made of them. I'm not really a fan of the dessert choices they offer in the steakhouse, so when the waitress came to take our dessert order, I asked if there was any way they could get some warm chocolate melting cake for me. I honestly expected that she would say no, as I know that they don't just have warm chocolate melting cake laying around the kitchen of the steakhouse... since it's not on the menu. To obtain some for me, they would either have to send someone down to the main kitchen, which is nine decks below and at the back of the ship... or they would have to call the main kitchen and have them send someone up with some. Either way, to fulfill my request, someone was going to have to go way out of their way. So, I expected that they would say no. But to my surprise, the waitress said she would see if it could be done. And to my further surprise, about ten minutes later I was enjoying a delicious serving of Carnival's warm chocolate melting cake! When I finished it, the waitress let me in on a little secret... instead of bringing up just one serving of melting cake from the kitchen, they brought two... just in case I wanted seconds. I was stuffed after a big meal and declined their very generous offer of a second serving of melting cake... but I was tremendously impressed with the service.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Visiting Puerto Vallarta was the highlight of our cruise. The ship docked in PV at about noon on a Tuesday, and stayed docked there all way through the night and until 3 PM the next day. A rare overnight visit to Puerto Vallarta, with passengers and crew free to come and go off the ship at all hours of the day and night!
As we pulled in to PV, the Crown Princess was already there... but just for the day. They didn't do an overnight visit like we did.
In planning our cruise, I had strongly considered booking the Crown Princess instead of the Carnival Miracle. We eat all of our meals in the buffet, and the buffet on Princess is WAY better than the buffet on Carnival. WAY better! But the showers in the balcony cabins on Princess are uncomfortably small. After two different Princess cruises where I swore every morning during my shower that I would never book a regular balcony cabin on Princess again, I learned that to get away from the tiny showers on Princess, you have to book a mini-suite rather than a regular balcony cabin. Comparing the price of a 7-day cruise in a balcony cabin on the Carnival Miracle to a 7-day cruise on the Crown Princess in a mini-suite, it would have been another $500 to be on the Crown Princess. I decided to save the $500 and stick with Carnival. In retrospect, knowing what I know now about the noisy cabin with the squeaky cabinet doors in our cabin on the Carnival Miracle, I wish I had chosen to cruise on the Crown Princess. But you can only make decisions with the information you have at the time, and at the time I booked this cruise on Carnival Miracle I sure didn't think there would be any problem with cabin 8272. In 26 cruises with Carnival, this was only the third time I had ended up in a cabin I really didn't like.
Carnival Miracle docked in Puerto Vallarta overnight
Before I tell you about all the fun we had in Puerto Vallarta, I have to explain something about me and Kellyn: we're not brave! Even though we've been on 33 cruises that have taken us to many interesting places in the Caribbean and the Mexican Riviera, we still play it very conservatively when we're in a foreign country... and we always make overly-safe choices when it comes to our personal safety. Even though the ship was spending the night in Puerto Vallarta, there was no way in hell that we were going to be roaming around Mexico after dark! So we confined our onshore activities to daytime only. I'm sure some of our fellow passengers had lots of fun in PV after dark, and they probably all made it back to the ship without incident... but we would just never do that! I wouldn't be comfortable taking a risk like that.
In fact, walking off the ship in Puerto Vallarta without being on a Carnival-sponsored shore excursion was something that we would probably not have done just a few years ago. We're getting just a little more brave the more we travel! Normally, we really like the secure feeling of being on a ship-sponsored shore excursion. But on this day in Puerto Vallarta, we summoned our courage and walked off the ship looking for a taxi to take us to the Malecon, Puerto Vallarta's most famous tourist zone. Picture a Mexican version of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, and you've got a pretty good mental image of the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta. It's full of shops and bars and restaurants, plus sculptures, and a great view of the Pacific ocean. My sister, who vacations at a timeshare in Puerto Vallarta every year, tells me that the Malecon is where Puerto Vallarta families go to have a good time on a Friday or Saturday night.
Some friends from work had coincidentally booked the Carnival Miracle the same week as we did, and it was fun to run in to them on the ship from time to time. They suggested we spend the afternoon in Puerto Vallarta together, drinking at some of the various bars in the Malecon. As I've mentioned, I'm not brave... so the last thing I would do in an unfamiliar Mexican city and not on a ship-sponsored shore excursion is get drunk. I do my share of drinking on vacation, but only under safer conditions... like back on the ship. So we declined their offer of a bar tour of Puerto Vallarta, and decided to just find a nice restaurant for lunch instead.
Something that really worried me about heading off the ship on our own and in to downtown Puerto Vallarta was that from the deck of the ship, I couldn't see any taxis at the cruise ship pier. On our Caribbean cruises, when the cruise ship arrives in any port, you usually see a million taxis lining up to take the passengers wherever they want to go. At the pier in Puerto Vallarta, I didn't see a single one. I could see plenty of them on the city streets outside of the pier area, but none were coming in to the area around the cruise ship terminal. It seemed odd to me.
Nevertheless, we headed down the gangway and exited the cruise ship terminal. The second we walked out the gate, one of the locals asked us if we wanted a taxi. When I said yes, he pointed us to one of several large vans that were parked in the parking lot. It turns out that the conventional yellow taxis in Mexico are really small... and it's much more efficient to throw ten cruise ship passengers in to a van and drive them to the Malecon together than it is to put them in five individual yellow taxis. I don't remember exactly what the fare was, but it was cheap. It was something like $4 per person.
It's about a ten minute drive from the cruise ship terminal to the Malecon, and there were no surprises or problems. We walked around and looked at all the restaurants, and I let Kellyn decide which one sounded best to her. I wasn't at all surprised by her choice! There were several local restaurants that looked like they would have been fine, and I'm sure we could have had some excellent Mexican food there... but in the end, Kellyn picked an old familiar favorite of ours... the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Yes, I know, it's a little weird to go to Mexico and then eat at an American chain restaurant. But the thing is that we really like the food at Bubba Gump! They don't have one within 100 miles of our hometown, so the only time we get to eat there is when we're on vacation and run in to one. It's always a treat. And with the exchange rate being so hugely in our favor right now, this was the cheapest visit to Bubba Gumps that we've ever had.
After lunch, we strolled around the Malecon for a little while... but didn't stay long. Skies were quite cloudy and it looked to me like it could easily start raining at any time. Not wanting to get caught outside without protection from the rain, it seemed like the best thing to do was to go back to the ship for a while.
Over the course of the 33 cruises we've done so far, we've learned that cruise ships can be somewhat crowded and that the best way to beat the crowds is to zig when everyone else zags. We eat breakfast early, before everyone else wakes up. We wear a swimsuit under our clothes on embarkation day, so we can use the Jacuzzis on the first afternoon... before most of the other passengers have even had the chance to retrieve their swimsuits from their yet-to-be-delivered luggage. So on this afternoon in Puerto Vallarta, when almost all the passengers had left the ship, we got back onboard for a few hours and enjoyed the Jacuzzi on the serenity deck all to ourselves.
Later, after the sun went down and we started to get hungry again, we headed off the ship once again... to enjoy a true Mexican dinner. I've already explained that we're not brave enough to head downtown after dark... but the cool thing about a cruise to Puerto Vallarta is that there's actually a really good Mexican restaurant right outside the cruise ship terminal. We've been there during previous visits, and it has always been good. This time was no exception.
We started with chips and pico de gallo...
For the main course, I had enchiladas and Kellyn had this very good skewered barbecue thing...
After dinner, we got back onboard the ship and I snapped this night shot
of the ship's main pool area with the lights of Puerto Vallarta in the background.
It was a warm night, so there were still kids swimming in the pool.
The funnel looked pretty cool all lit up at night...
The next morning, the weather had improved and there was no longer a threat of rain.
But there was just enough lingering cloudiness to make a spectacular sunrise over Puerto Vallarta!
"Las Caletas Beach Hideaway" shore excursion
For our second day in Puerto Vallarta, I signed us up for a Carnival shore excursion that sounded like it could be fun. Little did I know it was going to turn out to be one of the best days of my life!
Kellyn and I are beach people. We live in a beach town in California, and on the weekends we like to relax in the sun in our backyard. If the ocean water at California beaches was warm like it is in the Caribbean or the Mexican Riviera, I'd probably spend a day or two each week in the water. But unfortunately, the ocean water in California is quite cold! I think some people that visit California are actually surprised by that. You always see the pictures of the crowds at California beaches... but the reality is that most Californians don't go in the water, because that water is usually somewhere around 50 degrees... or 60 at most. When we're on vacation, we absolutely LOVE to spend time at a nice beach with warm ocean water that I can swim in. Thanks to the El Niño weather phenomena, the ocean water in Puerto Vallarta is wonderfully warm right now!
So, when I read about the Las Caletas Beach Hideaway shore excursion, it sounded like it would be something we'd enjoy. Carnival's description of the shore excursion described Las Caletas as one of "the top 5 most stunning secluded beaches in the world"... and the reviews of this shore excursion, posted to Carnival's web site by other people who have done it, were extremely positive.
Cruise tip for you: ALWAYS go to Carnival's web site and read the reviews of any shore excursion you're considering, before purchasing the tickets! You can even access the web site and the reviews from the ship, for free, from the Fun Hub computers available onboard all Carnival ships. No purchase of Internet access is required to do this.
The other thing that fascinated me about this shore excursion is that in the reviews, people mentioned that there were Macaws at Las Caletas. Kellyn and I have a thing for Macaws... we think they're so beautiful and majestic. We actually had one for a pet for about a year, but parrots need a lot of attention and our macaw just wasn't a good match for us. We found a new home for ours, but still remain fascinated with macaws to this day.
Las Caletas is only accessible by boat, so the shore excursion begins by boarding a boat for a 45 minute ride south to Las Caletas. As we headed out of the marina on our way to Las Caletas, I was able to get a pretty good picture of the Carnival Miracle in the morning light:
They do a good job of entertaining you on the boat ride to Las Caletas, so we didn't mind the long boat ride at all. It got a little choppy at some points, though! Unless the seas are smooth as glass, the boat will splash some water up in the air as it cuts through the waves... and the boat is open to the outside air. So, don't pick a seat along the side or in the front row, unless you want to occasionally get splashed!
Upon arrival at Las Caletas, you quickly see that it's a beautiful place! A little slice of paradise, really. The first thing you see as you walk off the pier is this beautiful waterfall:
There's palm trees and lots of shade to protect you from the warm Mexican sun. There are plenty of places to sit under the shade of an umbrella. There are even hammocks right along the water line. A path leads you from the boat dock, along the shore, winding in and out of the trees. There are a number of tables, chairs, umbrellas, hammocks, and loungers. Just find a place that looks comfortable to you, sit down, and claim it as your own for the day.
I figured I would keep walking until I found a good place to hang out that was near a restroom. Las Caletas is all-inclusive... they will bring you unlimited drinks throughout the day, plus feed you a nice buffet lunch... so I figured it would be a good idea to be somewhere near a restroom. Eventually we found a great spot on a sandy beach that was fairly close to not just a restroom, but also a bar, and one of the places they serve lunch. It was a perfect spot to spend the day!
The water was so warm, and I love swimming in warm water so much, that I spent several hours out in the water. They had these really nice life jackets... the kind you would use if you were water skiing... and I borrowed one so that I could stay out in the water without having to constantly tread water to stay afloat. It was such a great way to enjoy being in the water, without having to work very hard at it!
The coolest thing about the little beach we were at was that just offshore, they had a couple of little floating platforms that you could swim out to... and which had a palm tree, an umbrella, a chair, and a hammock! My own little private floating paradise! I was just having the MOST FUN out there.
While I was out swimming in the warm ocean water, I shot some video of some boys who had borrowed stand-up paddle boards and were having fun doing flips off of them. They also had some funny fails while trying to stand up on the boards.
I was just having a great day at Las Caletas! When I got tired of swimming, I settled down in a lounger on the beach and asked one of the roving waiters to bring me a rum & coke. It was an all-inclusive deal, so the drinks were free. I think I managed to have three over the course of the afternoon. There was also a fairly nice buffet lunch. Kellyn and I are a little picky about food, but we were both able to find things we liked.
The other cool thing was the macaws. They weren't wild macaws, they were definitely trained macaws under the control of a trainer... but they weren't in cages. They were allowed to get up in the trees and enjoy themselves, and even to fly around the area. I couldn't resist taking a bunch of macaw pictures.
I don't know who the little girl was, but my camera loved her!
The coolest thing was to see those Macaws flying around in the air, rather than living in cages.
Look carefully and you'll see TWO macaws flying freely in this next photo...
Our second day in Puerto Vallarta, spent at the beach at Las Caletas, had simply been
one of the best days of my life, and definitely the...
...of our Mexican Riviera cruise!
But there's an ironic twist to the story of one of the best days of my life!
When we got back from Las Caletas, we had dinner on the ship and then went to see one of the Playlist Productions shows on the big stage. (More about that later.) It was just a normal evening on the ship, and we were pretty tired... so we went to bed after the show. I slept for a couple of hours, but woke up around midnight with a horrible stomach ache and the feeling like I was going to vomit. Within a half an hour, I was throwing up my dinner. It was kind of ironic to go from having one of the best days of my life on Wednesday and then at the stroke of midnight everything changed and the next thing you know, I'm hunched over the toilet puking my guts out!
To fully appreciate the situation, you have to know some of the back story, too. I have this unfortunate tendency to get sick towards the end of a cruise. The worst one was an otherwise delightful cruise on the Carnival Sunshine, where there was some kind of virus going around (the Cruise Director and several other crew members were sick) and I got it about half way through the cruise. It's become something of a joke where I work... I go on a cruise and then I have to call in sick for a few days afterwards because I picked up some virus. I think I've come home sick to some degree or another from about the last five cruises I've been on. It hasn't been the infamous norovirus, either. With norovirus, you typically get vomiting and diarrhea. I don't ever get either of those... I usually just come back from a cruise with a head cold or a sinus infection.
It's really annoying to come home sick after a cruise, so for the last few cruises I've been trying some strategies to see if I can keep it from happening again. On one cruise I got religious about using the hand sanitizer. On another cruise I brought along anti-bacterial soap and made an effort to wash my hands with it frequently. Neither of those strategies worked. I gave it a lot of thought and decided that it might not be a coincidence that the guy who gets sick on every cruise is one of the few people who eats every meal in the buffet rather than having dinners in the main dining room. When you go through the buffet line, you touch the serving spoons that have been touched by every passenger in the line before you. If some of them haven't washed their hands or used the sanitizing gel at the restaurant entrance, they could easily spread their germs on to those serving spoons... and then I pick up that same spoon and get their germs.
So, for my Carnival Miracle cruise, I decided to try a new strategy. I decided to use the sanitizing gel twice at each meal... once when I entered the restaurant, and a second time right after I went through the buffet line and before I started eating my food. That way my hands would be clean before I touched the serving spoons in the buffet line (thus protecting other people from my germs) and my hands would also get cleaned again immediately after touching the serving spoons in the buffet line... thus protecting me from everyone else's germs. And it seemed to work! This was the first cruise in quite a while where I came home feeling 100% healthy.
Now, back to the story of waking up violently ill at midnight, after such
a great day at Las Caletas...
My first thought, as I kneeled at the toilet and barfed up my dinner, was that I had finally, after 33 cruises, picked up norovirus. And that thought scared the hell out of me, because it meant that I would be very sick for the rest of the cruise, and that Kellyn and I would be confined to our cabins. That's a scary thought half way through your vacation!
Luckily for me, that didn't happen. After perhaps an hour of being pretty violently ill, I went back to bed and eventually fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, I felt totally fine... and I had no health problems for the entire rest of the cruise. It seems to me that somewhere along the line, I got food poisoning. I don't know if it was my dinner on the ship that night, the lunch at Las Caletas, the dinner the night before at a Mexican restaurant, or what. I Googled food poisoning, and there's several different kinds... with symptoms showing up as quickly as a few hours or as long as a few days after eating the offending meal, just depending on what kind of food poisoning it was. So I guess I'll never know where I got the bad meal. And since I got well so fast, I think I won't worry about it much!
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Our next port-of-call was Cabo San Lucas, and at this point we hit the best weather of the cruise. Up until this point, we had a little bit of weather weirdness... there was this weather system moving down the coast of Baja California from north to south. The ship was also going north to south, at about the same speed. So, we had cloudiness when the cruise started in Long Beach, and that same weather system just kept moving south along with us the whole way to Puerto Vallarta. Only when we headed north for the run to Cabo and eventually back to Long Beach did we outrun those clouds! It hadn't been cold... in fact in Puerto Vallarta we had been in the 80s both days... it was just cloudy, and we kept waiting for the sun to break out. It finally did in Cabo.
I've been to Cabo quite a few times before, and I'm still not tired of visiting! There are still things I'd like to do there that I haven't gotten around to yet. It's one of those fun vacation destinations where if you don't have fun, it's probably your own damn fault. There are so many fun things to do there!
We weren't the only cruise ship in Cabo that day. There were two Princess ships there, too... and one was an old friend! We had a really nice Alaska cruise on the Coral Princess in June of 2014. It was cool to see her in Cabo.
The Coral Princess wasn't the only old friend we met up with in Cabo. One of our friends was vacationing at a resort in Cabo that week, and had seen my Facebook posts about our cruise. She sent me a message asking if we'd also be visiting Cabo, and when we said yes, she asked if we had time to get together. We hadn't seen her in several years, so it was a no-brainer to say "yes"... and I suggested that we meet at my favorite Cabo San Lucas restaurant, The Office.
If I've learned anything about Mexico during my previous travels, it's that they have really good Mexican food there! ha ha ha
Here's a photo of the delicious lunch I had at The Office. Everything on that plate, from the chicken enchiladas to the rice to the refried beans was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious!
If you've booked a Mexican Riviera cruise and have time for a nice lunch in Cabo San Lucas, check out the lunch menu at The Office and consider a visit! There's no pier in Cabo San Lucas that is big enough for cruise ships, so cruise ships always anchor off shore and send their passengers in to the Cabo marina via tenders. To get to The Office from the Cabo Marina, just say yes to any of the 20 different guys that will ask you at the marina if you want a water taxi. Buy a one-way water taxi ticket (approximately $4 per person) to The Office. The water taxi guy will know exactly what you are talking about if you just tell him you want to go to The Office. After your meal, The Office has their own water taxi that can take you back to the marina for approximately $3 per person. If you like good Mexican food or seafood, you will not be disappointed with The Office! Don't worry... you don't need pesos. American dollars are totally fine in Cabo... and the dollar is very strong compared to the peso these days, so your dollars will buy you an awful lot. Just a few years ago, buying a 200 peso meal in Mexico would cost you about $20 US dollars. These days it would cost you about $13. So, don't freak out when you see big prices on menus in Mexican restaurants. The big prices are pesos. Divide by 15 for the equivalent in dollars! Check the current exchange rate online before your cruise, or ask a crew member on the ship what it is.
An Un-scheduled Stop
During our cruise, we actually made TWO stops in Cabo San Lucas. One was scheduled, and one wasn't. The un-scheduled stop in Cabo, on what was supposed to be our second sea day on the way south to Puerto Vallarta, was for the medical evacuation of a passenger who had sustained a serious injury during a fall down a stairway.
Upon waking that morning, I noticed when I looked out our aft-facing balcony that there was a Princess cruise ship following behind us. Over the next couple of hours, it fell further and further behind us until eventually it was completely out of sight. That struck me as odd, since cruise ships typically travel at roughly the same speed as each other. Usually when you see one right behind you, you can come back hours later and it's still right behind you... as both ships are usually going to the same place at the same speed. But clearly, we were travelling much faster than the Princess ship was. I turned on the channel on the cabin TV that shows the ship's position and speed, and was surprised to see that we were sailing at almost 23 knots, which is really fast for a cruise ship! Most cruise ships go closer to 17 knots or so... which is a more efficient travel speed that burns a lot less fuel. A little later that morning, at a more decent hour where he wouldn't wake up most passengers, Carnival Miracle's Captain made an announcement over the public address system explaining that the ship would be making an unscheduled stop in Cabo San Lucas for a medical evacuation of a passenger. In his announcement, he stressed that the detour to Cabo would NOT delay our scheduled arrival in Puerto Vallarta the next day. And that explained why we out-ran the Princess ship earlier that morning! The captain had pushed the ship to its maximum speed in order to make up a little time prior to our detour to Cabo.
When the ship approached Cabo San Lucas, I set up my camera on deck and shot a time lapse video that turned out pretty interesting. The route the ship took for the medical evacuation offered a very interesting 180 degree view of Cabo! The ship came around the end of Los Arcos and basically did a 180 degree turn to position itself facing north for the medical evacuation. Once the evacuation was complete, it did a second 180 degree turn in the other direction, in order to be facing south again for the resumption of our trip to Puerto Vallarta. Those two 180 degree turns created an interesting view in the time-lapse video...
FYI, the activity you see in the 1 minute and 14 second video occurred during a period of one hour and 14 minutes in real time.
There was a lot of good entertainment during our 7-day cruise on the Carnival Miracle. You can get the overview of the main acts by looking at the entertainment schedule for the week.
One of the things I like the most about Carnival Cruise line is their emphasis on stand-up comedy. Carnival offers more stand-up comedy shows and offers a greater variety of comedians than any of the other cruise lines. On Carnival's competitors, you might see one or two comedians during a 7-day cruise. On Carnival, there will usually be four. I'm not talking about four shows... I'm talking about four different comedians... with each one typically doing five shows! That's a lot of comedy, and I love it.
Comedian Stanley Ullman performs in the Punchliner comedy club on Carnival Miracle
Out of all the ships in the Carnival fleet, the Spirit-class has the best setup for the Punchliner comedy club. On many Carnival ships, the comedy club is just way too small... and the demand for seats way too great... so it's not uncommon for you to get turned away from a show because there are no more seats available. The Carnival ship with the biggest problem in this regard is the Carnival Sunshine, which has a comedy club that is so ridiculously small that it's a joke itself. About 20% of the seats in the Carnival Sunshine's comedy club don't even have a view of the stage! No such problems on the Carnival Miracle... where the comedy club has ample seating. I shot this next photo so you could see some of the seating in the comedy club. It's quite a bit more comfortable than most of the comedy clubs in the rest of the fleet.
The Punchliner Comedy Club, also known as the Mad Hatter's Ball Lounge
The ample and comfortable seating wasn't the only thing that delighted me about the comedy club experience on the Carnival Miracle. I was also blown away to discover that one of the comics that performed during our cruise was semi-famous. I had heard him quite a few times on the syndicated radio comedy show, the Bob & Tom show.
I'm talking about comedian Pat Godwin. I actually didn't realize who he was at first. Kellyn and I went to one of his family-friendly shows and it didn't click with me who the guy was, since he had toned his routine down to make it family-friendly. Only later, when Kellyn had fallen asleep early and I headed off to one of Pat's adults-only shows, did it start to click with me that I had heard him on the Bob & Tom show. Unfortunately, that was his fifth and final performance of the cruise, and he disembarked the ship and flew off to another gig the next day when the ship arrived in Puerto Vallarta. If I could change anything about our cruise, I would have figured out on day one who Pat Godwin was... and I would have gone to every one of his five shows onboard.
Comedian Pat Godwin
The best comedian I've ever seen on a cruise ship!
If you're not easily offended -- and ONLY if you're not easily offended -- please allow me to introduce you to a couple of comedy bits from the twisted mind of Pat Godwin. DO NOT follow these links if you are easily offended!
Pat Godwin - "Let's Put Christ Back In Christmas"
Pat Godwin - "Gangsta Folk"
Pat Godwin - "Switch To Beer"
Pat Godwin - "Mom's Little Secret"
So, as I'm sure you've noticed, you can consider me a Pat Godwin fan. However, I do have to mention that he made it quite clear during both of the shows I attended that he had recently gone through a divorce... and the truth is that he had a lot of bitterness about it that he didn't try very hard to hide! Hopefully, with some passage of time, he can get away from the bitterness of it and find the comedy in it. It was a little sad to see this comedian that I admired so much, clearly going through a rough time.
Comedy was my favorite entertainment on the Carnival Miracle, but there was a lot of other entertainment available besides just that. Take a look at the entertainment schedule to get the big picture of what they offered during the week. I had seen all of the big Playlist Productions shows before on my previous Carnival cruises, and the only one I was really excited about was "Getaway Island", a show that features a lot of music that's right up my wheelhouse! I'm talking about the music of Jimmy Buffet, Kenny Chesney, and much more. Songs like "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem", "It's Five O'clock Somewhere", and "Toes" are perfect for cruising to a tropical destination. It completely baffles me why Carnival doesn't play these kind of songs in their background music mix that you hear in public areas of the ship. As a former radio program director, I think Carnival completely misses the boat (pardon the pun) on the music they play in their restaurants and other public areas. You just need to go to Getaway Island to hear what the mix should be!
A performance of Getaway Island in the Phantom main lounge on Carnival Miracle
Here's another view of the Phantom Main Lounge:
This was a late show of "88 Keys", which as you can see from the empty seats, wasn't very well attended
In addition to everything listed in the entertainment schedule, there were also quite a few smaller acts that performed on the ship. One of the smaller acts I enjoyed very much was Ben (I didn't get his last name) who performed almost every night in the piano bar...
They had this really goofy purple lighting in the piano bar, which made it impossible for me to get a good picture of Ben. But I have to say that Ben was very talented and that it was really entertaining to watch and participate in his shows! Don't go thinking you're going to just sit back and listen to a guy play piano... it's very much an audience participation show!
Don't ask me why the audience members were doing what they were doing.
Some things that happen on the cruise ship have to stay on the cruise ship!
If you have any interest in meeting some of the ship's crew members in a social setting and getting to know them personally, the Piano Bar is one good place to hang out. It is not uncommon to see crew members there, enjoying their off-duty time. I snapped this picture of the ship's Cruise Director, Chloe Loddo, and my friend and co-worker, Jana Orlando, when Chloe popped in to the Piano Bar one night. Jana is my friend from work who (as I mentioned earlier) had coincidentally booked a cruise on the Carnival Miracle during the same week I had!
Speaking of Chloe the Cruise Director, she brought the house down one night in the Piano Bar when she stopped in and sang a rap song! She's better at rapping than you might think a white chick would be! I wish I had caught it on video! By the time I realized I was seeing something unique and memorable, I had already missed too much of it to start recording it. I just sat back and enjoyed the performance instead.
Another musical act that I enjoyed during our cruise was the "Designated Divers" band that played most nights in the Red Frog pub...
I had to use an external flash on that photo to get a decent picture of them in the Red Frog Pub, because like the Piano Bar, they had a really funky lighting arrangement there. In this next picture, with the band dressed up for 80s night, you can see what the lighting looked like without using a flash. The weirdest part of the lighting arrangement in the Red Frog Pub was that the spotlights for the band are mounted so far towards the back of the stage that the band members at the front of the stage are actually positioned with the lights BEHIND them! It doesn't make for good pictures... but I did enjoy listening to the band play!
One night towards the end of the cruise, the Designated Divers band got to play on the big stage in the Phantom lounge where the Playlist Productions shows normally occur. It was nice to see their lead singer properly lit!
I'm not going to try to detail every feature of the ship, but there were a few that caught my eye which I would like to share with you.
Here's a shot of the main dining room on the Carnival Miracle, which is known as the Bacchus dining room. I shot this at lunch time, which is why most of the tables were empty and why the people were so casually dressed...
A sore spot for me about cruise ship dining rooms is that the tables for two are kind of a joke. They're usually placed so close to one another that you have absolutely no privacy at all, and you can hear every word spoken at the tables next to you. On many cruise ships, there are only a few inches of space between the tables for two.
I was very impressed as I walked through the Bacchus dining room on the Carnival Miracle to observe that there was a very substantial distance between the tables for two, creating some actual privacy for you as you enjoy a romantic meal with your special someone.
I did something on this cruise that I had never done before! I asked the guy at the pizza place to make a special pizza just for me. Carnival pizza isn't bad, but it always seems to me that they put way too little pepperoni on their pepperoni pizzas. So I asked the guy to make one just for me, with extra pepperoni... and he did! It was fun to watch him make my pizza completely from scratch, starting with just a ball of dough, and ending up like this...
On deck three, you'll find the Fun Shops...
Tip for cruise newbies:
Be aware that when you purchase liquor in the Fun Shops, you don't actually receive it until the end of the cruise!
Carnival wants you to pay their very-high bar prices while you're onboard.
In the Fun Shops, I laughed when I saw this t-shirt...
During the Carnival Miracle's dry dock in the Spring of 2015, they added
several new features to the ship.
One of them was the SkyBox sports bar, located on deck 2:
In posts to Cruise Critic and also to John Heald's Facebook page, I've noticed that some sports fans have the expectation that they will be able to watch certain big games on the big screen TV by the center pool. That's a problem! First off, there's no big screen TV by the center pool on the Carnival Miracle. (And I happen to view that as a positive, not a negative!) Second, while there are no doubt a few sports-obsessed folks who couldn't imagine how a cruise ship could ignore some big game that's happening... there are a LOT more passengers on Carnival cruise ships who enjoy their vacation by relaxing around the swimming pool, and who would be annoyed by some football, baseball, or basketball game playing in that area. So, sports fans, you've been given your own area on the ship... and that's the Skybox sports bar.
Another feature added during the 2015 dry dock was this candy store, known as Cherry On Top:
I'll talk more, later, about the features they added during the 2015 dry dock
Carnival's Spirit-class ships have several features that you won't find on some of the other ships in the fleet. For example, there are TWO swimming pools mid-ship on Lido deck (most Carnival ships just have one) and one of the two has a glass dome that can be closed to enclose the space during periods of bad weather. This is VERY handy for when the ship does Alaska cruises each summer. You can see the sections of the sliding dome (which was open) stacked on top of each other, as well as one of the rails they slide on, in this photo...
However, there's a problem with the design of the sliding dome on Carnival's Spirit-class ships. For some reason unknown to me, the ship's officers only like to open or close the dome when the ship is not in motion... or, in other words, they won't do it if the ship is underway. This becomes a problem during Mexican Riviera cruises... where the first day or two of the cruise is typically a bit cold and windy. The weather doesn't typically warm up until the ship has gotten much further south. But instead of sliding the dome closed in Long Beach so that the pool is in a warm cocoon shielded from the wind, they generally leave the dome open during an entire Mexican Riviera cruise. The reason is that if they close the dome in Long Beach, they can't open it again until the ship's first stop... which in the case of our cruise was Puerto Vallarta. It would have been great to have it closed on days one and two when the ship was still fairly far north, but during days three and four, with the ship much deeper in to southern waters, it would have been way too hot under the dome. So, they just leave it open the whole time. It's too bad. Carnival's Conquest-class ships do not have this problem... I've seen them open and close the sliding dome multiple times with the ship in motion on the Conquest-class. But it's been an issue on every single Mexican Riviera cruise I've done on Carnival's Spirit-class.
Another feature I like on the Spirit-class is the viewing platform located at the front of the ship on Lido deck. It's located just above the ship's bridge. On some classes of Carnival ships, this would be the location of the most expensive cabins on the ship: the Captain's Suites. But on the Spirit-class, they never installed Captain's Suites... and this area is instead a viewing area that is open to all passengers...
A portion of the viewing area located directly above the ship's bridge
From this viewing area, you have a fantastic view of the length of the ship:
Notice that from the viewing deck, you have a clear view of the balconies at the front of the ship.
For this reason, if you like your privacy, don't book a balcony cabin at the front of the ship!
It's quite beautiful at night up on the Lido deck...
Here's Kellyn enjoying a beautiful sunset up on deck...
This caught my eye in the Carnival Miracle's art gallery...
It would probably only jump out at you if you're a fan of Norwegian Cruise Line. If you notice the signature in the lower left corner, this painting was made by David Le Batard, also known as Lebo. One of his claims to fame is that he designed the hull art for the Norwegian Getaway cruise ship. It seemed ironic to me to find his work on Norwegian Cruise Line's biggest competitor!
I know this is weird, but...
This next picture will probably strike you as quite odd, but I actually do have a point to make!
Here's a picture of one of the public restrooms on the Carnival Miracle:
Public restrooms on Carnival cruise ships are small and simple. Nothing fancy. It's interesting to me that not all of the cruise lines do it that way. On some of the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships that we've been on, the public restrooms are quite a bit more fancy! Here's one I saw on Royal Caribbean's Allure Of The Seas:
It's not just restricted to the newest, largest ships, either. We sailed on an older Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Star, and I still remember this men's room with the million dollar view:
An amazing view from the men's room of the Norwegian Star while it was docked in Acapulco Bay
Disembarkation in Long Beach
At the end of the cruise, when the ship docked back in Long Beach, we were treated to a beautiful sight from our balcony at the aft end of the ship. Not only was it a beautiful day with no fog and a clear view of the hills in the distance, but also there was a pod of about ten dolphins swimming in the harbor. You can barely see a couple of the dolphins in this photo I took of the scene:
This was the view from our balcony when the ship returned to Long Beach
I have to mention that disembarking from the ship in Long Beach was one of the slowest processes we have ever experienced at the end of a cruise. Because we are platinum with Carnival, we get to be among the first passengers off the ship. During some of our cruises out of Miami, we've been able to get off the ship, through customs, and in to a cab before 7:30 AM. It was a MUCH slower process in Long Beach.
It appeared to me that the problem lies with the US customs and border protection folks. On previous cruises, we've noticed that there are quite often 10 or more customs agents available to check passports and process the passengers as they come off the ship. In Long Beach, while the building was clearly designed to handle a large number of agents all working to process passengers at the same time, there were actually only THREE customs agents on duty to do it when we came off the ship. 2000 disembarking passengers and just three agents to process them all... you can see how that would create a bottleneck. In order to not create a huge backup of passengers in the customs facility, the Carnival folks had to do a very slow disembarkation process. Seeing how it all occurred, especially that there were only three customs agents to process an entire ship full of passengers, explained a LOT about why one week earlier I had noticed people leaving the ship so late in the morning... and why embarkation (on day #1) had begun so much later than I had experienced on other ships.
Speaking of embarkation... unless you've reached the diamond or platinum levels of Carnival's loyalty program, you're going to find that embarkation out of Carnival's Long Beach terminal is a bit of a mess. That terminal has the worst design of any cruise ship terminal I've ever been in. The check-in area and the long lines that lead up to them are all OUTSIDE the building, and depending on the time of year that you cruise, you may either be way too hot, way too cold, or get rained on while you wait in line. Even on a nice day, it's kind of a mess. Here's a picture:
Fortunately for us, after 26 Carnival cruises, we're platinum and well on our way to diamond... so we got to avoid those lines and take advantage of the best of all the platinum perks, priority embarkation. I always feel bad for all the people who don't have priority embarkation in Long Beach, though... because the embarkation process is really a mess.
My Viral Carnival Cruise Video
As you may know, the Carnival Miracle is a Spirit-class ship. In other words, it's a sister ship to the Carnival Spirit... and the two ships have nearly identical layouts. But the Carnival Spirit has one important feature that the Carnival Miracle doesn't have: an amazing vertical-drop waterslide known as the Green Thunder waterslide.
Three years ago, I cruised on the Carnival Spirit right after they installed the Green Thunder slide... and when I got home, I posted a funny video to YouTube of people experiencing this scary waterslide for the first time. I had posted over a hundred videos to YouTube before this one, and none ever got more than a few thousand views. But the Green Thunder waterslide video totally surprised me by going viral! It has now been viewed over 60 million times, and the advertising revenue I now get from that video is an important part of my cruise fund. Let's take a look at that video that I shot on Carnival Spirit three years ago...
I spent a LOT of time over the last three years trying to figure out why that video went viral on YouTube. What is it about that video that has caused it to catch on? All I can figure out is that first off, it's just plain fun. Also, I think a lot of YouTube viewers are teenagers... and teenagers really like waterslides. I think it probably also helps that the still picture which is displayed to represent the video on YouTube (a.k.a. the "thumbnail") is a picture of a girl in a bikini top. YouTube people seem to really like bikinis!
In the video, the girl in the bikini top is so amazingly hyped up about the experience! It's just hilarious to see her excitement level, the terror on her face in anticipation of the start of the ride, and her shocked reaction (and scream!) when the floor of the waterslide falls out from below her. I also think my laughing reaction behind the camera to her terrified reaction on camera adds to the whole thing... kind of like the laugh track on a TV comedy.
After the advertising money started rolling in from that viral video about the Green Thunder waterslide, I started posting a lot more videos to YouTube... in hopes that lightning would strike twice and I'd come up with a second viral video which would pour even more ad revenue in to my vacation fund. As luck would have it, I've managed to do just that... and believe it or not, my second viral video is remarkably similar to my first one. It's a video I shot of another vertical-drop waterslide on a cruise ship... this time the "Free Fall" waterslide on the Norwegian Getaway. Take a look at that video...
With over three million views so far, my second viral video is not quite in the league of the 59-million-view video from the Carnival Spirit... but three million views is certainly nothing to sneeze at! And now you know the back story to why I always shoot at least a few videos when I'm on a cruise! I'm going to keep trying to come up with a third viral video, for sure!
You may have heard that Carnival recently made some improvements to the Internet service that is provided on their ships. I'm happy to tell you that Carnival's Internet service really is a whole lot better than it used to be in the old days... and cheaper, too. Bravo to Carnival for realizing that in this day and age, having good Internet access while on a cruise is kind of a big deal for many of their passengers.
Carnival offers several different options for purchasing Internet access. First off, you don't have to pay by the minute anymore like you did in the old days. So, you're never rushing to quickly disconnect to save your minutes for later. Now you can either buy Internet access for an entire day, or for the entire cruise. Also, you can buy full Internet access or buy a very inexpensive plan that gives you access to only Facebook, Instagram, and What's App. I scanned a sheet they gave me that details the pricing of their various plans.
For a guy like me who uses the Internet a lot even when on vacation, the only question is whether to choose Carnival's "premium" plan or to save a little money and go with the "value" plan. Earlier this year, during back-to-back cruises on the Carnival Breeze, I did a little test to see for myself what the real difference was between the two plans. I purchased the premium plan during the first week of the cruise, and then purchased the value plan during the second week. The surprising result of my tests was that I could see no difference at all between the quality of my Internet connection on the two plans. I did a number of objective measurements at Speedtest.net, and got similar results on both plans. The "value" plan seemed to work just as well as the more expensive "premium" plan. The Speedtest results were all right in the same ballpark, and both plans just felt roughly equal in my real-world usage. I could detect no benefit to the more expensive premium plan whatsoever.
So, on my Carnival Miracle cruise to the Mexican Riviera, I signed up for the $60 value plan so that I would have unlimited Internet access during the entire cruise. While it was a hugely worse Internet connection than I'm used to at home, it was useable most of the time. There was just one day during the cruise where the Internet connection was so slow that I decided to turn my computer off and come back to it later.
If you're not familiar with Internet Speedtest results, this next part won't mean much to you. I did a number of Speedtests throughout the week, and got a ping time right around 650 ms almost every time. Download speeds were typically right around 1 or 2 mbps, although once I got as high as 15 mbps and another time I got as low as .5 mbps. Upload speeds were right around .5 mbps most of the time. I did successfully upload a short video to YouTube during the cruise, but it took about 45 minutes. A longer video upload went on for almost two hours before I finally gave up and finished it when I got home. Beyond the numbers, the more important thing is how well did it seem to work? The bottom line is that it was good enough. Not great, hugely slower than home, but good enough for doing basic Internet stuff like posting pictures to Facebook and reading the news.
One last thing about Internet access:
If you want to experience the state-of-the-art in Internet connectivity at sea, you have to cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ships, such as Allure Of The Seas or Anthem Of The Seas. They use a much more advanced system than Carnival does. Royal Caribbean uses the O3B Networks system of low-earth orbit satellites... and it provides a significantly better connection than you can get on Carnival. On Allure Of The Seas, I got a consistently fast Internet connection during the entire cruise, with a ping time of about 185 milliseconds, a download speed of about 4 Mbps, and an upload speed of about .9 Mbps. That's the fastest Internet connection I've ever experienced at sea.
The March 2015 Dry Dock
I already mentioned that the Carnival Miracle went in to dry dock in the Spring of 2015 and that a number of new features were added to the ship at that time. Here's the list of all the features that were added during the March 2015 dry dock:
Seuss At Sea
Skybox Sports Bar
Spin U (a DJ academy for ages 15-17)
Cherry On Top
Hasbro The Game Show
Red Frog Pub
Those are some nice additions, but it's also important to note some very popular Carnival cruise features that you will NOT find on the Carnival Miracle... such as Cucina Del Capitano, the Red Frog Rum Bar, the Blue Iguana Cantina, the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, the ropes course, Carnival Waterworks, Fat Jimmy's C-side BBQ, the Green Thunder vertical-drop waterslide, the Dive-In Movie screen, and most importantly Guy's Burger Joint.
"The Ringer" from Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Breeze
So, if you'll be cruising on the Carnival Miracle, be aware that you won't be seeing all of the features you may have seen on other Carnival cruise ships. If you want to experience as many of the latest Carnival features as possible, I'd recommend a cruise on the Carnival Breeze or the Carnival Sunshine. But the Carnival Miracle does have one big advantage over those two ships: the Carnival Miracle only carries about 2000 passengers, compared to about 2600 on the Sunshine and about 3700 on the Breeze. So, it does tend to seem less crowded.
While it was nice that they put the ship in dry dock in 2015 and added some new features, it appears to me that they completely missed the opportunity to refurbish some parts of the ship that are showing their age.
I snapped a few pictures of things I noticed during our cruise that looked like they needed to be refurbished or replaced. If I were in charge of the Carnival Miracle, this is the stuff I would never allow to stay this way!
Horribly stained cushions and pads on the lounge chairs in the Serenity Retreat.
I think these black stains are from soot from the engine exhaust.
Worn out grout in between the tiles of the Serenity swimming pool.
See how there's orange grout between some of the tiles, but not most.
Worn off white paint inside the Serenity whirlpool.
All the grey stuff you see used to be painted, but most of the paint has worn off.
A horribly stained lounger on our balcony, and stained wood decking.
I think these black stains are from soot from the engine exhaust.
Also, notice how grungy that blue area at the foot of the lounger looks!
Rust on some metal material on our balcony.
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Carnival Miracle,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Carnival Miracle Deck Plans
Fun Times daily newsletters - All 7 days
Disembarkation information for all guests
Disembarkation information for Platinum guests
Benefits for being a Platinum guest
Room Service Menu
Price list for Internet access
These "mini deck plans" might help you visualize the layout of the ship...
If you click on the mini-deck plans, a larger more detailed version will open up in a new browser tab.
Carnival Cruise Sounds
Have some fun with these! Listen to the Carnival Cruise theme, or play the sound of a Carnival ship horn.
If you're a true cruise junkie, download the audio files (by right-clicking, and saving) and then set your computer to play the ship horn when you get a new email, and to play the theme song when the computer boots up and/or shuts down!
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
Our Future Cruises
We've had an amazing year, as far as cruising goes. We spent a total of 47 days at sea in 2015, shattering our previous personal record of 39 that we set in 2014. Perhaps you're wondering what we've got coming up in the new year. I can tell you right now that we won't be beating that 47-days-at-sea record in 2016. With the exception of our 7-day Carnival Miracle cruise, our focus in 2015 was doing long cruises. In 2016, we'll be trying a different strategy and focusing on cruising on some of the world's newest and most amazing cruise ships! Cruising on the newest ships is always a little more expensive, so to make it all work with our cruise budget, we probably won't be doing any back-to-back cruises in 2016.
In the first quarter, we'll be cruising on Norwegian Cruise Line's brand new ship, the Norwegian Escape... and to make it even better, we'll be staying in The Haven! We did a cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Getaway last year, and it was the best cruise of all the ones we've ever been on. So I'm REALLY excited about getting back in to The Haven on Norwegian Escape. I'd actually cruise on NCL a lot more often... except for the fact that they offer very little variety in their itineraries. If Norwegian Getaway or Norwegian Escape did some different itineraries from time to time, I'd surely cruise with them more often. But it's pretty much just the same ports over and over, every week. Boring. Carnival does a much better job of offering a variety of Caribbean itineraries. Nevertheless, I can't wait to experience Norwegian Escape in 2016! I have no doubt that it will be the most amazing cruise we've ever been on. Allow me to explain exactly what I'm so excited about, in this video I put together:
In the second quarter of 2016, we'll be cruising with Royal Caribbean on their newest ship: Anthem Of The Seas. That's the one you may have read about with the robotic bartender, the bumper cars, and the skydiving simulator. After a great cruise earlier this year on one of Royal Caribbean's older ships, I'm really curious to see how the next generation of RCCL ships strikes me.
You may be wondering when we'll be sailing on the brand new Carnival ship, the Carnival Vista. That won't be until 2017. Those Havana suites at the back of the ship, with hammocks on the balconies, look pretty cool! Check out the Havana area on the Carnival Vista if you haven't already. It's their first test of a Serenity-style area that only certain passengers will have access to, complete with a swimming pool and upgraded patio furniture. I can't wait to try it!
A Great Series Of Books About Cruise Ships
After you've been on at least one cruise, there's a book that you really should read! It will give you a whole new perspective. It's a book that was written by a guy that worked on several Carnival ships... and he shares some funny stories about life on a cruise ship. To give you an idea of what kind of book this is... the story starts as he is staying in a hotel room in Miami, the night before his very first day working on a cruise ship. Even though it's the day before his first day onboard, he's basically "on the job", so Carnival is paying for the room. To save the company money, they don't give him a private room... he shares it with someone else. So, he checks in to the room, and the first thing he does is to take a nice long shower. And when he's finally done with his shower, he discovers that his roommate has shown up... and is in the middle of having sex with a woman right there in their shared hotel room! Does that give you an idea of the kind of book this is? Well, that's just the beginning... and things get even more interesting once he starts working on the ships!
If you've ever wondered what life is like for those people that work on cruise ships... what kind of hours they work... how much they're paid... and what they do when they're not working... this is the book for you. The overall plot of the story is that the author, Brian Bruns, meets a girl named Bianca in Las Vegas and quickly falls head over heels in love with her. It turns out that she's on vacation from her job as a waitress on the Carnival Conquest. Soon enough, the vacation is over and Bianca heads back to the ship... and Brian must make a decision about whether this was just a quick fling, or something more. He decides it was something more, and takes a job with Carnival in order to be with Bianca. Ship life is tough, and creates one roadblock after another between Brian and the girl he loves.
It's a huge love story that literally follows them all around the world. If you just want to hear Brian's best inside stories about life on a cruise ship, you don't even need to read all four books... just get the first one. But if you find yourself loving all the dirty details of life on a cruise ship, and want more... or if you get hooked on the love story and you want to find out whether ship life breaks up Brian and Bianca or whether there's a classic happy ending at the end... buy all four.
|Volume 1||Volume 2||Volume 3||Volume 4|
Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
A Sewing Kit for making emergency repairs to damaged clothing
Cell phone & charger
Waterproof wrist watch
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I actually bring two cameras with me on a cruise, plus my cell phone, and on this particular cruise I also brought along a very unusual stabilized video camera. More about that in a minute. Let's start with my main camera.
Most of the pictures you've seen here were shot with my Canon EOS-70D digital SLR camera. I bring several different lenses with me on a cruise, too.
Canon EOS 70D
The 70D is probably too much camera for most people... so if you're in the market for a very high quality digital SLR camera, the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T5i. If you get one, make sure you get the T5i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, shooting a photo of a bathroom in a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large... like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.
Every now and then I see something photo-worthy when I don't have my Canon DSLR with me. When that happens, I'll shoot with my cell phone, as a last resort. The photo of Bubba Gumps in Puerto Vallarta was shot with my cell phone, as was the photo of people standing in line at embarkation.
One important technique that I use with my Canon DSLR, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
This selfie was shot in our cabin with the camera on a tripod and using a 10-second delay
On our Caribbean cruises, I do a lot of snorkeling. I shoot underwater photos and videos with a fairly inexpensive waterproof camera... the Olympus TG-830. However, that's a slightly older model now... and if you're in the market for one, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850.
Olympus TG-850 waterproof camera
Finally, there's an interesting new stabilized video camera on the market called the DJI Osmo. It has a gimbal built in to it, which smoothes out all the shakiness you typically see in videos shot with a hand held camera. In the professional video world, they use a Steadicam to create smooth handheld video shots. The DJI Osmo is a way to get somewhat similar results without spending a lot of money.
DJI Osmo, stabilized handheld video camera
DJI is famous for making the most popular quadcopter drones on the market today... such as the DJI Phantom and the DJI Inspire. DJI developed their gimbal as a way to smooth out the video when a drone is bouncing all around in the sky. Someone at DJI got the bright idea that if they skipped the drone but kept the gimbal and the camera, and mounted it on to a hand grip, they would have a great device for taking smooth looking videos while walking around. That's how the DJI Osmo was born. It sounded like a cool idea to me, so I bought one of the first ones on the market and took it along with me on the Carnival Miracle to see if it would be useful to me. I used it to create the cabin tour video.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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