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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Cruise Diva's CRUISE DIARY
Carnival Miracle

February 29-March 1, 2004 ~ Inaugural 3-Night Cruise

by Linda Coffman

A "Miraculous" Maiden Voyage

Jacksonville... home of the Jaguars and so much more. Locals joke that it took "three 'dam ships and a Miracle" for Jacksonville to land Super Bowl XXXIX, but don't believe it. While three 'dam Holland America Line vessels and the Carnival Miracle will serve as "floating hotels" next year when the city proudly hosts the Super Bowl, there's a lot more to see and do in this Florida city with Southern style and charm. First, there's a world-class zoo and the just-completed Range of the Jaguar exhibit—our last stop during a whirlwind pre-cruise tour.

Maiden Voyage... a new "temporary" facility at Jacksonville's JAXPORT Cruise Terminal... would we encounter hitches, long lines, untested personnel? Not at all. Darryl, our driver from P&B Charters and Limousine Services (1-877-816-5466) delivered us to JAXPORT shortly before noon on sailing day.

Getting There

As Florida's "first city," Jacksonville is an ideally situated embarkation port—just a short drive off I-95. Mere hours by car from most major population hubs in the southeast, Jacksonville also has a modern, efficient airport and plenty of ground transportation options. Upon arrival pre-cruise, our group settled in at the Adams Mark Hotel—right on the riverfront and within walking distance of the Jacksonville Landing. An ideal family vacation includes something for everyone and we discovered that combining a short cruise with the many Jacksonville attractions, including broad sandy beaches, numerous state parks, historic sites in St. Augustine, and golf is idyllic.

But, back to the port... once cleared through the entry gate, Darryl delivered us to the terminal building where plenty of porters were on hand to assist with luggage. Passengers in private cars park a short distance away in the secure lot. In no time at all, we were inside and through the short line for security screening.

Note: All carry-on bags naturally go through an x-ray machine. Be aware that the machine has a "template" on it and any bags too large to fit through it must be checked. Be prepared to remove your laptop computer for examination if you bring one. 

Carnival Miracle clears the Dames Point Bridge by a mere six feet

Check in lines inside the cruise terminal were short and they moved quickly. After the obligatory photo op, we were soon on board. Soaring atriums are a trademark of Carnival ships and Carnival Miracle's "Metropolis" makes an extraordinary first impression, reminding me of a big-city square surrounded by tall buildings. In this case, they are punctuated by scenic elevators and the rosy glow of an overhead skylight.

First things first—it doesn't take long to unpack a carry-on and we soon headed for the christening ceremony where Carnival Miracle was named by her godmother, former Army private Jessica Lynch. Due to the blustery nature of the day, speeches were mercifully brief and we were glad to head back to the warmth of our vessel... and to snack on some really excellent pizza. 

After the mandatory US Coast Guard Life Drill we headed back to the Lido Deck for a festive—and traffic stopping—sailaway party. With her stack clearing the Dames Point Bridge by a mere six feet, Carnival Miracle was officially on her Maiden Voyage. Onlookers lined the bridge and waterfront waving and cheering. What a thrill!

Getting Around...

So far, so good. Carnival Miracle is the fourth Spirit-class of vessel and, using a handy pocket-sized deck plan, I made my way around effortlessly. After a short time, I became fascinated by the artwork—particularly the Bohemian crystal pieces and murals on the stair landings—and I quit using the elevators in order to get a better look at them. At 88,500 tons, Carnival Miracle isn't as large a ship as some of her fleet-mates, but she is 960 feet long! By dinner, I had worked up an appetite from all that walking.

Bacchus Dining Room took me by surprise. The profusion of "pink grape" light fixtures is dizzying (the color is in the process of being toned down), but I wasn't quite prepared for the head waiter to direct me upstairs to my assigned table. Once there, I was directed back downstairs and eventually made my way to the proper seat. It was just a bit of maiden voyage first-night confusion and an anomaly to an otherwise satisfying dining experience. Once seated, courses came smoothly and the veal chop was a delicious choice.

With so many options, it was difficult to choose an after-dinner activity. We made our way through several lounges and stopped in Mr. Lucky's Casino to watch the action for a bit before making our way to the Phantom theater for the welcome aboard show. After a nightcap in the Gotham Lounge, I called it a night. 

Before retiring, I checked out the weather from my balcony... getting warmer as we sailed south to the Bahamas. A very good sign!

Freeport, Bahamas

Is there a better way to be awakened than by a knock at the door? Not if it's room service. But, where IS room service? Unfortunately, they encountered a delivery glitch and I was off in search of coffee. While the 'regular' coffee is just fine, the most satisfying caffeine fix for java snobs like me is found in the two specialty coffee venues on Carnival Miracle—located in Horatio's Restaurant and at the Fountainhead.

As Freeport came into view, my friend Anne and I made the decision to (what else?) go shopping! Plenty of taxis awaited debarking passengers and our biggest dilemma was whether to go to the International Bazaar (at $4 per person for a shared van each way) or Port Lucaya ($5 per person each way). We made up our minds to go to Port Lucaya when the driver advised the shops there were more plentiful. He also shared the information that all beaches are accessible to the public, even those fronting the luxury resorts that line the water in Port Lucaya.

The shop keepers were no doubt frustrated by Anne and me... we did more browsing than buying and thoroughly explored the Port Lucaya area before returning to the ship. The spa offered a port day special—two treatments for $99 or three for $139. Now, THAT was a bargain worth pursuing.

Even though we were spending most of the day and all night in port there were still plenty of activities on board—trivia, games, golf putting, and a big-screen movie in the Mad Hatter's Ball—capped by Festivale, an island night party beneath the stars.

First, though... a special formal evening dinner!

Continued --> Carnival Miracle Cruise Diary (Part 2)

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