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Carnival Miracle

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One of Carnival Cruise Line's most comfortable ships, midsized Carnival Miracle is a good bet for cruisers of all ages who are focused less on exotic ports of call than on an upbeat environment with lots of activities on the schedule, from dawn till late at night. It's a ship that marries a friendly, well-versed crew with a solid layout that minimizes crowding, while never letting go of Carnival's mantra, "fun." While lacking some of the bells and whistles found on Carnival's newest or most recently renovated vessels, Carnival Miracle is otherwise in solid condition for its age, and boasts other amenities not found throughout the fleet.

Debuting in 2004, Carnival Miracle was the last of Carnival Cruise Line's four Spirit-class ships. Unlike many other Carnival ships that tip the 100,000-ton mark, the Spirit-class ships measured a modest 88,500 tons. Carrying 2,124 cruisers at double occupancy, the passenger-to-space ratio on these four ships -- let's call it elbow-room -- is the best in the entire fleet. Carnival Miracle, like its sisters, is also blessed with lots of balconies. In fact, 64 percent of the cabins have a balcony, whereas balcony options throughout the rest of the Carnival fleet represent less than 50 percent of the cabins. And the cabins, while not unusual among Carnival's other ships of this period, start at a relatively generous 185 square feet, offering good value in today's world of shrinking cruise accommodations.

Other things that set Carnival Miracle apart: The ship has two promenade decks, the public areas are more conducive for traffic flow, the Lido Deck is well organized and one of the pools has a retractable roof, which means the area can be used in rainy or cold weather. Plus, Carnival Miracle has a see-through, red-domed funnel topping the Atrium. While not really noticeable from a distance, the Atrium sets the insides aglow with a raspberry tone, especially at the ship's satisfying Deck 10 steakhouse, Nick & Nora's, named for Dashiell Hammett's Thin Man characters. Actually, the Spirit-class vessels are where Carnival's steakhouse concept premiered, and in these ships the venue has a prime location at the top of the Atrium.

Unlike Carnival's newest ships, Carnival Miracle boasts most of legendary Carnival interior designer Joe Farcus' whimsical Vegas-meets-cruising decor, and the theme of the ship is vaguely tied to the world of miracles. Characters out of fantasy and legend are dusted off to name and outfit the public areas, so there's The Raven Library, Mad Hatter's Ball Lounge, Bacchus Dining Room and Dr. Frankenstein's Lab Dance Club -- Robin Hood, Hercule Poirot and Robinson Crusoe also earn a tip of the Farcus hat.

Carnival Miracle is behind the times with more than just its decor. Carnival's "Funship 2.0" upgrade program was launched in 2011, but this ship only received a half-hearted makeover during its last refurb, when the Alchemy Bar and Serenity Pool Deck were added. In addition to missing some of the features found only on the newest Carnival ships, Carnival Miracle lacks a real water park or Dine-In Movies. And it has fewer alternative dining venues than most Carnival ships, including not having a Guy's Burger Joint.

What Carnival Miracle does have is a crew that is upbeat and warm, and genuinely engaged with passengers, and the main dining room delivered satisfying, sometimes above-average meals. It's a ship that harkens to a gentler era of cruising, when amenities were more focused on the sea and the destination, rather than theme park-style attractions. That it's accomplished with Carnival's customary lack of pretence makes Carnival Miracle all the more fun.

Daytime: Casual, with shorts and T-shirts most common inside the ship and bathing suits and cover-ups de rigueur on the pool deck.

Evening: Carnival is one of the more casual cruise lines in terms of attire, but it's not quite "anything goes" after dark. For the main dining room (Bacchus), men are asked to wear slacks, khakis or dress shorts and collared shirts (Polos acceptable). Summer dresses, casual skirts, pants, capris, dress shorts, and blouses are requested for women. On a typical seven-night itinerary, expect two Cruise Elegant evenings, when a sports coat is encouraged for men, and cocktail dresses, pantsuits or an elegant skirt and blouse is recommended for ladies. Some men will wear a suit and tie or tuxedo on these nights, and women an evening gown.

Not permitted: Jeans are considered OK, but cutoffs, sleeveless shirts, gym/basketball shorts, flip-flops or bathing attire are not allowed at Bacchus. The same dress code applies to Nick & Nora's Steakhouse, except shorts are never allowed.

Theatre

Occupying the forward portion of decks 2, 3 and 4, the Phantom Main Show Lounge is the main show lounge aboard Carnival Miracle, and it was put to good use during our cruise, with a variety of events taking place here during the day while at sea, and headliner shows each evening. The venue is fashioned after the Paris Opera House, with a "Phantom of the Opera" theme provided by enamel masks and candelabras lining the maroon walls. Seating on the ground floor is almost flat, so views can be impeded from the rear sections, but upper-deck seating offers clear sightlines.

Shows on Carnival Miracle are part of the line's Playlist Productions program. Each 30-minute show plays twice on one night of a seven-day cruise. For now, Carnival Miracle is not equipped with some of the high-tech screens utilized on some ships, so the shows for the most part rely on traditional sets, props and staging, with a crew of eight singer/dancers performing to music tracks. There's also a Welcome Aboard show on the first night of the cruise, plus a Hasbro Game Show and a Lip Sync Battle involving passengers on other nights.

Other events taking place here on sea days included bingo sessions, a 50s dance class, Dr. Seuss story time, plus the requisite shore excursion and shopping lectures (central theme: buy, buy, buy!).

Daily Fun

Carnival keeps people busy throughout the cruise, especially on sea days. In addition to bingo and lectures in the Phantom Main Show Lounge mentioned above, other daytime diversions can be found at the Mad Hatter's Ball, a theatre located under the main show lounge on Deck 1, with art auctions, lectures, meet-and-greet sessions with the crew and Build-a-Bear workshops.

The Atrium lobby, on Deck 2, was called into service for ballroom and square dance classes, bocce ball tournaments and a beanbag toss, along with hosting live entertainment from ports of call. At the Fountainhead Cafe on Deck 2, we found charades, trivia contests and Scattergories. At the RedFrog Pub next door was shuffleboard and afternoon karaoke. The Ariadne Room, Deck 2, was home to seminars on acupuncture, posture and metabolism, and a ladies pamper party (the goal of all these was to sell passengers spa services). The Lido Stage, next to the midship pool on Deck 9, was the place for family games, the hairy chest contest and the ship's sail-away parties. When a major sports game was played, the TVs at SkyBox Sports Bar would be tuned in.

Wizards Video Arcade is located on Deck 4, hidden behind the Phantom Theater, while board games and crafts are available in the Joker Card Room, on Deck 2. Tucked away on Deck 3 is The Raven Library, which is a shadow of its former self. The computers for internet surfing have been removed, so all that's left is empty desks and a bookcase with a few dozen odds and ends for borrowing. Next door is a small chapel that can be used for weddings and unscheduled religious services.

At Night

Standup comedy is a popular night activity, offered at the Mad Hatter's Ball on Deck 1. The venue is a garish tribute to Alice in Wonderland, entered (from the Phantom Lounge on Deck 2) via a circling staircase that feels like a tumble down the rabbit hole. On nights when standup was offered, there were two comedians, each performing twice. The first two shows were family oriented, the last two were adult humor.

Live music could be found at several spots on the ship each evening: A contemporary string duo performed in the Atrium lobby; a solo guitarist played here and at the Serenity Pool; a jazzy duo took the small stage at the Alchemy Bar each night; and the Liverpool Band played 80s pop and "trop rock" at the RedFrog Pub.

Friends of Bill W met nightly at one of several venues early in the evening, and there was a designated meet-up bar for singles and LGBT cruisers each night.

Operating only while sailing, Mr. Lucky's Casino, located on Deck 2, is inspired by the Cary Grant movie "Mr. Lucky," about a shady gambler who owns a ship on a casino in WWII days. The casino offers plenty of table games -- blackjack, roulette, craps and Texas Hold'em -- along with slot machines offering a progressive payout. Slot, Blackjack and especially Texas Hold'em tournaments were held at various points during our cruise.

Carnival Miracle Bars and Lounges

RedFrog Pub (Deck 2): One of the more popular hangouts on Carnival Miracle, RedFrog Pub was a dependable spot for live music, with the Liverpool Band taking the stage with its 80s rock, reggae and pop tunes. A small dance floor invited guests to cut a rug, while the bartenders filled pints with Carnival's own brew, Thirsty Frog Red, a heavily malted beer with a sweet finish. Karaoke sessions sprung up some afternoons, as well.

SkyBox Sports Bar (Deck 2): Located next door to RedFrog Pub, the SkyBox Sports Bar serves the live game crowd, and it really comes alive when a major event is scheduled. But otherwise, without football, baseball or basketball to watch, SkyBox Sports can be a pretty quiet scene, as most passengers head for livelier settings. The bar menu features a slightly longer list of beers than most other venues on the ship.

Metropolis Lobby Bar (Deck 2): The soaring Atrium of Carnival Miracle starts here, with elevators vaulting eight decks skyward. So, it's only natural that the lobby bar is dedicated to Superman's hometown, and the space is decked out with Art Deco styling and blue Murano glass lighting. A number of activities are scheduled here during the day, and the bar offers the ship's full selection of libations. A string duo played here nightly.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 2): Though not ideally located, along a busy thoroughfare between the Atrium and Bacchus Restaurant, we enjoyed calling on the pharmacists at the Alchemy Bar -- bartenders who prescribed upmarket potions to cure anything that ailed. There was a Revved Up Mojito Martini, made with gin, dry vermouth, simple syrup, fresh lime juice and mint; or the Restorative Basil Drop, an elixir of vodka, fresh basil, simple syrup and fresh citrus juices. The cocktails are made with top shelf brands, and are priced accordingly -- north of $10 per tipple -- and an appealing jazz duo played alongside most evenings. The bar opened at 4 p.m. daily and was one of the last to close each night.

Dr. Frankenstein's Lab Nightclub (Deck 2): This two-story disco, entered from its upper level, is a modern take on the lab from Frankenstein mythology, with neon electricity bolts ricocheting across stone slabs and gargoyles holding up the bar stools. A giant Frankenstein's monster lords over the dance floor on the lower level. On our cruise, the crowd was pretty thin, peaking before midnight, but we imagine this is different on sailings with a younger crowd. Dr. Frankenstein's generally opened at 10 p.m., and usually the first hour was devoted to a theme -- like Groovy 60s music, Caribbean beats, country music, etc. In contrast to most land-based nightclubs, the minimum age to enter Dr. Frankenstein's is 18, though the drinking age is still 21.

Sam's Piano Bar (Deck 3): Carnival Miracle's requisite piano bar is a cozy space serving live music nightly, along with a large binder of songs for people to make requests from. Everyone is invited to sing along, though the piano man does a pretty good job on his own. The ivory started tinkling each night at 9 p.m., but most seats around the piano were taken well before.

Gotham Lounge (Deck 3): This bar, located near to the entrance to the Bacchus restaurant's upper floor, was minimally used by cruisers, though the bartenders stayed busy handling drink orders for the restaurant.

Odyssey Bar (Deck 9): Carnival Miracle's main pool bar took care of drinks for the sun bunnies, as well as serving for Horatio's Restaurant -- it was one of the first to open and last to close each day.

Serenity Bar (Deck 9): Like the Odyssey Bar, this aft pool bar serves the full drink menu and caters to cruisers using both the Serenity and Horatio's Restaurant.

Carnival Miracle Outside Recreation

Pools

There are three pools aboard Carnival Miracle, each with a whirlpool and located on Deck 9, plus a kiddie pool on Deck 11 next to the slide. The forward and midship pools, Sirens and Ulysses, are virtually identical, adjoined by party-sized whirlpools and shower stalls. The Ulysses Pool has a retractable roof, which is great when sailing in inclement weather. This is also the liveliest pool, with a stage for sail-away parties, as well as the grill and Odyssey Bar.

There's also an indoor whirlpool lodged between the gym and Spa Carnival, but it can get busy in late afternoon.

Recreation

Outdoor activities include a jogging track (15.2 laps equal a mile), the mini-golf course and a basketball court located on Deck 11, forward and available 24 hours, and the Ping-Pong tables found of Deck 10, forward. There is one water slide that rises above the Serenity Deck. It is accessed from Deck 11.

Sun Decks

Loungers near the pool areas are usually busy, so better luck may be found on Decks 10 and 11.

The aft portion of Deck 9 is devoted to the kid-free Serenity Deck, with a smaller pool and whirlpool, comfy loungers and sun beds, and a chill vibe. The endless view of the wake unfurling below is tranquillity defined.

Carnival Miracle Services

Guest services is located at the base of the Atrium lobby on Deck 2. This desk was quite busy the first 24 hours of the cruise, and at its quietest when we were docked in port. Next door is the Shore Excursions desk, where bookings for activities off the ship are handled. A single small conference room is located on Deck 3, next to the Gotham Lounge. For most of our cruise, it was occupied by paintings sold at the ship's auctions.

The ship's shopping complex is called the Yellow Brick Road, and is located on Deck 3. You'll find the usual array of ship-branded merchandize, along with watches, cologne, booze and other duty-free items. Cherry on Top, Carnival's candy store, is located here as well.

Also on Deck 3 is the Photo Gallery, wrapping around the Atrium lobby, where photos taken by the ship's photo crew are hung out for sale. The desk here also sells a few camera-related goodies, like spare batteries and disposable cameras.

Self-serve laundry facilities are located on decks 1, and 4 through 7, and are open till midnight. The cost is $3.25 per load for washing, and another $3.25 for the dryers. Small boxes of laundry soap and water softener are available for $1.50. All can be purchased using your room keycard. Valet service was also available, with a two-day turnaround: Formal shirts, blouses and slacks were $5, dresses $7.50.

Carnival Miracle's internet cafe is located on Deck 2, in the hallway between Lucky's Casino and the lobby Atrium. For printing our airline boarding passes we found these stations to be egregiously slow -- much slower than using our own devices to surf the web using the ship's Wi-Fi system. The base price for accessing Carnival's Wi-Fi is $16 per 24 hours using the Value (slower) plan, or $25 per 24 hours for the Premium plan, which allowed for streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify, etc. (but Torrents, Netflix, Hulu and Vimeo are not supported). There's also a Social Plan option -- $5 per day for the length of the cruise to access the most popular websites and apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Spa

The spa facility onboard all Carnival ships is run by Steiner Leisure, and it's fairly run-of-the-mill. We had one treatment here, and although the quality of the service was good the experience was marred by multiple occasions of spa staff talking in the hallway outside the treatment room, as well as kids running on the deck above.

There are 10 treatment rooms, and services offered will be familiar to those who've been to a Steiner cruise ship spa before (or really most any land-based spa); a 50-minute massage starts at about $145, plus 15 percent gratuity. Some of the treatments include a bamboo massage, the aroma stones massage, and a lime and ginger salt scrub massage, as well as body wraps, various facials, manicures and pedicures, and medi-spa procedures. Discounts are offered at embarkation and on port days.

Fitness

The multi-level fitness centre, located on decks 9 and 10 right above the bridge, is impressive for a midsized ship. One wall faces outward with picture windows overlooking the water. Steppers, bikes, treadmills and weights are available, although we found some of the equipment in need of a tune-up. And there is a foamy, inviting hot tub smack dab in the center of the facility. Pilates, yoga and spinning classes are available, with a $15 upcharge; a stretch session or "Fab Abs" class was complimentary on some mornings.

Free Dining

Food on Carnival Miracle was mostly enjoyable; we liked most of our meals in the ship's main dining room, Bacchus, and we found decent variety, and sometimes tasty food, at Horatio's, the Lido buffet option.

Note that the only two venues included in the cruise fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner are Bacchus and Horatio's. Still, for those wanting to dodge a slightly more formal setting offered by the main dining room, the Lido's buffet delivered good variety, especially at lunch, with a station designated for the cuisine of the day, a deli counter, and Carnival's ever-reliable pizza option.

Carnival Miracle's chefs can accommodate for special needs -- vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar -- with advanced notice. During the cruise booking process, passengers are given an option of choosing set meals times for dinner (5:30 or 7:45 p.m.) or "Your Time" open seating (any time from 5:15 to 9 p.m.).

Bacchus Dining Room (Decks 2 and 3): Named for the Roman god of agriculture, wine and -- oh, yeah -- fertility, Carnival Miracle's main dining room spreads onto two floors on aft lower decks. It's classic Joe Farcus style -- so, naturally, there are plenty of grape and vineyard motifs to hammer the theme home, including bulbous grape wall sconces casting a purple hue. The dining room is large, seating 1,300 -- but it feels tight, even when not all tables were occupied. Still, even though we chose "Your Time" open seating as we preferred not to share a table every night, we never waited more than two minutes for a two-top table option. Meals were efficiently served, and our occasional requests were easily accommodated by the friendly staff. Toward the end of dinner, every night, waiters perform an upbeat dance routine that gets the crowd clapping.

For appetizers, we found such fare as stuffed mushrooms or butternut squash soup ranging to more exotic items such as spicy alligator fritters and braised ox tongue (identified as "rare finds"). Available nightly: a decent shrimp cocktail or the Caesar salad, made with romaine lettuce or kale (nice touch!).

Main courses ranged in quality, but when they were good they really hit the spot. A few items we enjoyed: a pan-seared basa fillet with a cherry tomato vinaigrette, the roast chicken with herb sausage stuffing, and a filet mignon and short rib combo. There was always at least one vegetarian entree available each night (vegetable lasagna, portobello mushrooms filled with spinach and squash), along with an Indian vegetarian entree -- a Carnival speciality (watch out for the heat). Also available nightly: a salmon fillet, pork chop, chicken breast and a flat iron steak, each served with a choice of sauces. A section of the menu called Steakhouse Selections offered New York strip loin, filet mignon or Maine lobster tail, with an upcharge of $20.

Meals finish with a short menu of desserts, including Carnival's famous melting chocolate cake, a choice of ice creams and a cheese or fruit plate; a low-calorie, sugar-free option is also on the dessert menu nightly.

Bacchus was open for breakfast and dinner nightly, and on sea days for lunch. The breakfast menu touched on all the expected bases, with fresh fruits, cold packaged cereals and hot oatmeal, yoghurt, bagels with salmon and cream cheese, eggs Benedict, pancakes and Belgian waffles. The lunch menu was short, but changed each sea day: fried calamari, cream of spinach soup, and garden and field greens salad were typical appetizers, with a Philly steak sandwich, chicken parmigiana and salade nicoise for entrees.

Typically, on one sea day of each cruise a brunch is offered, with an extended menu running into the lunch hour. We took advantage of this on our cruise and found a greatly expanded menu that included some of the usual breakfast items but also huevos rancheros, Caesar salads with fried chicken or jerk bacon, grilled salmon fillet and a pappardelle pasta smothered in marinara and mozzarella. We ordered the steak and eggs and enjoyed one of the best meals of our cruise, starring a filet mignon perfectly cooked to order.

Teatime was offered daily in Bacchus, from 3 to 4 p.m., with various pastries, finger sandwiches and Lipton tea.

Horatio's Restaurant (Deck 9): The theming is kept to a minimum at Horatio's, Carnival Miracle's buffet venue, with model ships recalling Captain Hornblower's exploits. Food counters and seating spread across the back half of the Lido Deck, and it's a popular venue at peak breakfast hours, and at lunch on sea days -- so popular that finding a table can be a chore. Part of the problem we observed is families arriving together, then splitting up to fill their trays, and then wandering the aisles looking for the rest of their party. We resorted to outdoor dining on the aft Serenity Pool Deck when the weather cooperated, but there aren't really tables here.

Food at Horatio's was plentiful, but we oftentimes found it to be too much like something you'd get at a cafeteria. There were a few good dishes, but most of it was mediocre. Nothing was ever bad, but much of it was heavy, sometimes overcooked and variety was often lacking.

While not a huge selection, overall there was something to please everyone for breakfast. There was an array of packaged cereals, hot oatmeal, yoghurt, eggs Benedict, omelettes cooked to order, sausages and bacon, French toast and pancakes. The buffet had a fresh fruit station, but the choices were limited, and often under-ripe.

During lunch, several stations opened up to provide various options: A deli station with hot and cold sandwiches, a carving station with a different hunk of meat daily, an Asian station (Chopsticks), a salad bar, a grill with burgers, dogs, grilled chicken breast and a garden burger, and a themed station that changed each day -- Caribbean, French, Italian, etc. Located near the pools, Pizza Pirate was open 24 hours, as were the ice cream and frozen yoghurt self-serve machines.

At dinner, some of the menu items offered in the main dining room were replicated here, but the atmosphere was much quieter, with subdued lighting. While the main section closed up around 9 p.m., late-night snacks were rolled out from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Room service: A limited menu is offered for dining in your cabin at no charge before 10 p.m. This proved most useful in the morning on port days, when Horatio's filled to the gills just as the ship was pulling in to dock.

Continental breakfast options were outlined in a tag we could leave outside our door the night before. Among the items we could choose from: packaged cereals, bread and pastries, yogurt, fruit (bananas or melon), juices, tea and coffee. The lunch choices, ordered by phone, included seven different hot and cold sandwiches (served with potato salad or potato chips), two salads, a veggie platter and three desserts -- all of them complimentary.

Fee Dining

We were disappointed in the number of alternative dining venues. There is a steakhouse, which carries a surcharge, but such options as BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint (available almost fleetwide now) are not in the Carnival Miracle mix.

Nick & Nora's Steakhouse (Deck 10); $38 for adults, $12 for kids: We love the Carnival steakhouses and look forward to this meal on each cruise. Nick & Nora's is located under Carnival Miracle's see-through red funnel dome, at the top of the Atrium. Just walking up the airy Plexiglas staircase to the two-story restaurant set us in the mood for a special experience. Despite costing extra, we found the price reasonable for the quality and quantity of food, the elegant place settings and the doting service by (usually) Eastern European wait staff. There's also a dress code: No shorts, no ripped jeans.

Appetizers at the steakhouse are tuna tartare with avocado, French onion soup, shrimp cocktail and a terrific Caesar salad prepared tableside, as well as smoked and ice fresh oysters served with apple mignonette, beef tartare with shallot salad on country toast, Berkshire pork belly with apple and walnut preserves, and a crab and mushroom risotto.

The entree list runs the gamut of steakhouse favourites -- 14-ounce broiled New York strip, 18-ounce grilled prime cowboy steak, 18-ounce spice-rubbed ribeye, 9-ounce filet mignon, plus broiled lobster tail, grilled lamb chops and roast chicken. New to the menu is a 10-ounce wagyu flat iron beef and pan-seared Dover sole. Side dishes include baked potato with trimmings, Yukon gold mashed potatoes with wasabi horseradish, sauteed mushrooms, onion rings, garlic rapini, and various sauces such as bearnaise and chimichurri can also be ordered on the side. The dessert list is rich and the complimentary espresso and cappuccino were perfectly prepared and a nice finishing touch.

All in all, Nick & Nora's is a memorable experience, beautifully presented, with steaks cooked precisely, and certainly a good choice considering the limited options on Carnival Miracle. Reservations are advised, but the venue is pretty large, so last-minute is usually OK. It's also worth checking out the special embarkation deal -- typically an inexpensive bottle of wine is thrown in for cruisers dining at Nick & Nora's the first night of the sailing.

Chef's Table (location varies); $75: Offered once or more (depending on demand) each sailing, the Chef's Table is an imaginatively presented meal aimed at foodies, and limited to just 12 or 14 people each time. It carries a steep add-on fee, which includes wine with the seven-course meal -- so expectations are fairly high. For the most part, they were met.

The evening lasts about three hours, and starts with a tour of the Bacchus Dining Room galley, along with hors d'oeuvres and sparkling wine, as well as a peek at how Carnival's famous chocolate melting cake is prepared (it's a surprisingly simple recipe). The group then moves to an adjacent space for the meal -- for us it was the dance floor of Dr. Frankenstein's Lab, the ship's disco. But immediately on arrival here we noticed an air-conditioned scent permeating the room, leading to our biggest complaint: The smell of stale cigarette smoke, which coloured the meticulously prepared cuisine.

Menus vary from sailing to sailing; we were served such delicacies as a crab stack with corn custard, a sea bass crusted in chorizo, and wagyu beef served with a bone marrow souffle. The plates arrived looking like a million bucks, with contrasts in color and texture, delicate garnishments and precarious towers. For the most part, the food was good, but there was definitely more emphasis placed on presentation and service. Wineglasses were refilled on request, a choice of a merlot or pinot grigio. There were card tricks between courses, and the evening finished with a photo of our table-mates to take home, autographed by the executive chef.

Reservations are required for the Chef's Table, and seats for the first table usually fill by embarkation day. If the kitchen sees demand, they might add a second or third Chef's Table evening, so it's worth putting your name on the waitlist, if one is offered.

Sushi at Sea (Deck 2); a la carte: Carnival Miracle does have one other fee-added option, and that's the sushi and sashimi stand near the casino. The small selection was priced a la carte: $1.50 per piece with rolls ranging $5 to $7.50. The sushi bar opened at 11 a.m. on sea days, at 3 or 4 p.m. on port days, and remained open till 10 p.m. nightly.

Fountainhead Cafe (Deck 2); a la carte: The java joint aboard Carnival Miracle sold a variety of espresso-fueled drinks, including spiked coffee options, plus fee-added milkshakes, cookies and monstrous cakes served by the slice.

Room Service: Items that incur a charge include personal-sized pizza, chicken quesadillas, chicken wings, spicy fried shrimp, French fries and a banana split -- at $5 to $6 each. All items incur a charge of $2 to $6 between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Cabins on Carnival ships tend to offer good value for money, and Carnival Miracle's options prove no exception. While short on frills and bereft of a fresh color scheme, they aren't tight quarters, and unless you plan to spend most of your cruise in bed, they're perfectly comfortable -- especially at Carnival's usual price point. One complaint we had: The lighting options in the living area of the cabin didn't range much beyond all-or-none. There was an odd wall sconce on the mirror that was glaring, and better reading lights would have been welcome.

Carnival Miracle has four basic cabin types -- Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suites -- and there are various bedding configurations, allowing for up to four people to share a single cabin. Standard cabin sizes are 185 square feet, while suites are larger. There are 28 with connecting doors to combine two cabins, all of them either balcony units or suites. (Tip: Light sleepers might want to avoid connecting cabins, since we've experienced sound leak on other Spirit-class ships.)

All cabins come with two twins that can be pushed together on request for a king-sized bed. Some cabins come with one or even two pulldown beds, or with a single or double pullout sofa bed. Other amenities included a pair of beach towels that were waiting for us when we arrived, couch, empty mini-fridge, in-room safe, hair dryer in the vanity drawer and a small, height-adjustable table that could be used for dining (as long as we didn't order more than a course apiece). There were two 110V outlets at the desk, and another by the bed, and a flat-screen TV mounted inside a cabinet that offered a few public channels, plus several ship channels used for Carnival communications and movie channels.

We found ample storage for two, especially when using the drawers and open areas under the beds. The three side-by-side closets were floor-to-ceiling height, and each 20 to 22 inches wide. There were a dozen hangers in total, but we asked our cabin attendant for a couple extra, which were brought shortly after sail-away.

The bathroom was brightly lit, with a single large mirror spanning the wall above the sink, flanked by three shelves on each side and a makeup mirror. The lowest ones on each side were sufficient for a standard travel kit. The bathroom had a shower (no tub) and a fabric curtain. A retractable line gave us a place to hang wet laundry inside the shower. Shampoo and shower gel were available in fixed dispensers inside the shower. There was bar soap, but no conditioner or body lotion were provided. Bath products were not what we'd call glamour-puss quality.

Seventeen accessible cabins are available on decks 4 through 8, and are generally clustered near the aft elevator banks. Most of them are interior units, although there is an accessible ocean suite at midship on Deck 6.

Interior: Inside cabins are found throughout Carnival Miracle, and are a comfortable 185 square feet in size -- definitely larger than many "entry level" cabins on some cruise lines.

Typically, interior rooms do not have any window, however, on Carnival Miracle there are 68 cabins on Deck 4 classified as "interior obstructed view." These cabins have a French door that opens onto a railing (but without a balcony to walk out onto). The horizon view from these units is blocked by lifeboats, but you can gaze down onto the Deck 3 promenade just below. These rooms cost a few extra dollars over a typical interior unit, but might be worth it for the dose of natural light and fresh air.

Oceanview: There are only 99 of these on Carnival Miracle, and all of them are located on Deck 1. Ocean View cabins are each 185 square feet.

Balcony: By far the largest category on Carnival Miracle, balcony rooms are found on Decks 4 through 8. Cabins measure 185 square feet and feature all the amenities mentioned above, but open onto a 40-square-foot balcony. The standard balcony has two deck chairs and a small coffee table -- it's not much to move around on, but it's fresh air and sunlight and a view to the port to see who's running late for re-boarding.

There are also "extended balcony" cabins on all of these decks, measuring 60 square feet. Some of these are aft-view units overlooking the ship's wake. And finally, six "premium balcony" cabins, clustered around the aft elevators offer starboard views from slightly larger balconies.

Carnival Miracle has 66 obstructed-view balcony units, all of them located on Deck 5. This is the type of cabin we had for our cruise, and although we expected to have limited views over the lifeboat, what we didn't expect was a wall that jutted out about 10 feet on one side, completely obscuring our forward view. It pays to examine deck plans carefully when choosing a cabin, to avoid selecting a cabin that is less than ideally situated.


Suite: There are three categories of suites on Carnival Miracle, starting with the 32 Ocean Suites, which are found either next to the aft corners of Decks 5 through 8 or at midship on Deck 6. These cabins measure 275 square feet inside and have an 85-square-foot balcony. Ocean Suites also have a walk-in closet and a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, and VIP check-in services are provided.

Carnival Miracle's 10 Vista Suites are all found at the rear of the ship, on Decks 4 through 8. They measure 240 square feet inside and have an extended, 220-square-foot wraparound balcony with two deck chairs and two lounge chairs. There are hardwood floors at the entrance, a walk-in dressing area with vanity, double sinks, a bathtub with shower and sliding doors. In addition to the doorway leading to the balcony, the living room area has a pair of floor-to-ceiling windows facing aft.

Six Grand Suites, Carnival Miracle's largest accommodations, are also available. These are all located on Deck 6 at midship, and measure 300 square feet inside, with a 115-square-foot balcony offering two sitting chairs and two reclining lounge chairs. Inside, two floor-to-ceiling windows open up the space, and in addition to ample storage space, the bathroom comes with a whirlpool tub and shower, a bidet, double sinks and a separate, spacious vanity area with its own sink as well. There are hardwood floors at the entry, a slightly larger desk, an L-shaped couch and USB charging ports near the bed.

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