Miracle in Alaska (Day 1)

Tuesday, May 6 found everyone up early at my house. Sharon came over late Monday night and stayed in the guestroom, so she could ride to the airport with us for our 9:00 a.m. flight (which means getting there at 8:00 a.m., which means leaving here at 7:00 a.m.).  Tom drove us to DFW and after a couple of navigation mishaps, thanks to construction work going on at the airport, we still got there with plenty of time to spare.

I had been packed for several days and was really looking forward to this cruise because of the destination and the prospect of having John Heald, Carnival’s Senior Cruise Director and the “voice” of the company on Facebook and his blog, as our CD. I never could predicted, though, just how much I would enjoy the experience.

This was my first time through airport security since obtaining my Global Entry card, but I already dedicated a whole blog post to that. Short form: being a Trusted Traveler rocks! I was through the almost non-existent line (without taking off shoes or digging laptops out of bags or choosing between being groped or irradiated) in 2-3 minutes and waiting for Sharon to get through the regular security line.

I got some coffee and a snack for the plane, we took tur20140506_093802ns watching one another’s luggage so we could each take a bathroom break, then settled in at the gate and hung out on Facebook ‘til boarding began. Weather was nice and the flight was very smooth.

We arrived in Seattle about ten minutes ahead of schedule, collected our bags (with only a few minutes’ wait) and there was no one ahead of us in line for a taxi. The cost from airport to Pier 91 was $46 plus tip, which is a little more than the pre-reserved town cars but we didn’t have to worry about being on time or finding our particular driver, either.

At the terminal, things were a bit different from Galveston. There were a few (very few) porters outside but instead of waiting for one, we rolled our bags inside ourselves, and with priority status we were able to just proceed straightway to where they took the bags and put them on the conveyer belt, then around the corner into the terminal proper. Unlike Galveston, there was no VIP lounge, although there was a special line. However, it didn’t seem to be going a lot faster than the “regular” line. 20140506_114143
It took about fifteen minutes to get up to the desk, where our S&S cards were issued, and then we wound around through a few more lines, outside and to the ship.

Getting a first good look at the Miracle, I could see that she was a bit smaller than her Dream class cousins, but she still seemed pretty substantial. Getting on board was no problem, and we quickly found our cabin and got a happy surprise.

I had initially booked a 4K class cabin, “interior with French doors.” This is a type of “obstructed view” cabin. I had worked with my PVP (Carnival Personal Vacation Planner) to get one that was in between two lifeboats so we would have a bit of a view, at a far lower cost than a balcony. Here’s what the view looks like:

However, a couple of weeks before the cruise date, I got a call from the “Upgrade Fairy” (or as some insist, the “Upsell Fairy,” since the offers they bring generally come with a price. However, that price is usually hundreds of dollars less than what you would pay for the same cabin if you booked it originally).

In this case, we were offered cabin 5243, a one-of-a-kind “premium obstructed balcony,” for only $175 over the 4K rate. Originally this cabin had been $600 more. After calling Sharon to consult with her, I grabbed it, and when we entered our cabin on that first day, I was very glad that I did. Here’s our view from our “obstructed” balcony (excuse the unmade bed):
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The only obstruction is the lifeboat that’s down underneath the balcony. Yes, it obstructs your view if you’re looking straight down, but if you’re looking outward at the Alaska scenery, you don’t even notice that it’s there.

Not only that, but because this cabin sits at the end of a hallway and is turned “sideways” in layout in comparison with the other balcony cabins, it’s a good deal bigger: 275 square feet vs. 182. We had a much bigger sitting area and about twice as much floor space between the beds and dresser/desk as normal. The balcony is longer, as well – and we had an extra window by the sofa. All in all, this cabin was probably one of the best values for the money on the whole ship.
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For me, one of the fun things about cruising is decorating the door, so I got busy and made it easy for us to find our cabin if we should forget the number.20140506_234647

Since the first day of our cruise was also Sharon’s birthday, I incorporated that into my door décor theme, along with a printout of the graphic I’d made for our Facebook group, many members of which we were planning to meet up with the next day for a “meet & greet” and a cabin crawl.

Our bags weren’t there yet, so we decided to go explore the ship a little and get a quick bite to eat on the Lido deck. My firs20140506_123544t on board meal was a lunch of fish, chicken, veggies and Italian bread from the buffet, and it was quite good.

Then we went walking. Right off the bat, I felt “at home” on the Miracle. Based on the reviews I’d read, it seems she’s a “love it or hate it” ship. Many people proclaimed her their favorite, while others said they weren’t fans at all. Just goes to show how much personal preferences can differ.

The décor is certainly different from the more modern look of the Magic or Breeze. There’s glitz galore, combined with a20140506_134600 bit of an “old world” feel. It sounds odd, but somehow it works – at least for me. 20140513_115544

There are more little nooks and crannies, more individualized seating areas, more places to hide away with a good book or have a private conversation. That first day, we discovered Gatsy’s Garden, a delightful walkway on the interior promenade (deck 3) at the front of the shi20140506_134825p. It’s lined with little tables and chairs, perfect for an intimate drink with a friend or a place to hang out alone and read or write or just sit and watch the beautiful Alaskan coastline go by through the huge port holes.

Another favorite spot when the weather is nice (and we did have a couple of days that were warm enough to enjoy it, despite being in Alaska in early May) is the Serenity deck. This outdoor “adults only” area is on the Lido level, at the far aft, and is more nicely separated from the other areas than on the Magic – although it turned out that there wasn’t really much need for a “get away from the kids” place on this cruise; I could count the number of children I saw all week on the fingers D7K_6201of one hand, and according to John Heald’s blog, there were only 104 passengers under 18 on our sailing, out of more than 2000.

There are several pools on the Miracle, although I’m not sure I ever saw anybody swimming in one. There’s a regular outdoor pool on Lido and then there’s the one that’s “Under the Dome,” which is retractable but was always closed on this cruise (logically enough).
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One of Sharon’s priorities at the beginning of a cruise is to find and avail herself of the Swirls station, so we hunted it down (on this ship, it’s tucked away back behind the food stations and not as easy to find as on some others) and she got her first soft-serve frozen yogurt of the cruise.

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Another Day 1 “must do” is the obligatory Whale Tail photo, so we went outside to get that taken care of.
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There are little whimsical touches all over the ship, and I enjoyed stumbling across them. For instance, near the gym and spa area, there’s a row of ordinary benches – ordinary except for the fact that they’re wearing high-heeled boots. Then there was the giant chess set on the outside deck, for anyone in the mood for a not-so-little game of strategy.
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After our grand tour of the ship, we parted ways; Sharon went back to the cabin and I went down to the Future Cruise Desk to book myself on the Freedom repositioning cruise next February. I wanted to get it done before we left port, because I’d had a lot of problems the last time I booked on board (on the Triumph the previous October). The Future Cruise Desk lady on that one didn’t seem to really know what she was doing anyway, and her Internet connection was down so that made it worse; I ended up with my booking all screwed up and had to call Carnival afterward to fix it.
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This time, though, it was a great experience. Todd, who was manning the desk, was super knowledgeable. He immediately understood that I was looking for a “deal” – for one of those out-of-the-ordinary cabins that’s a good value for the money, such as the interiors with picture window or the obstructed premium balcony that we had on this cruise. He spent a lot of time poring over the deck plans and found me an odd-shaped aft oceanview that has almost 100 extra square feet and two windows instead of one. He got me booked and also got the booking transferred to my PVP, Guido, and I left a very happy camper, with my $200 on board credit and two Family & Friend vouchers to make a couple of people back home very happy.

At this point, we were still docked in Seattle, but sailaway time was getting close, and experienced cruisers know whatD7K_6211 that means: muster drill (not mustard, as I’ve heard way too many people say). I made my way back to our cabin to wait to be called for that little 20 minute exercise in boredom (for those who have been through it a few times), the end of which signals the real beginning of the trip, and of the fun. The call came shortly – and somehow John H. managed to make even that seem a little less boring than usual – and we gathered in our appointed place on the outdoor promenade.

Approximately half an hour later, Muster over, secure in the knowledge that we were all present and accounted for and we all now knew how to don our life jackets and find our lifeboats, we headed back to the cabin once again to get ready for the first of many forays to the main dining room (MDR for fellow cruisers) and confront the challenge of how to keep from gaining ten pounds over the next seven delicious days.20140506_172334

Some people think the Miracle MDR’s décor is a little over the top but I love it. It feels elegant and fun all at the same time. We asked for a table for two and were taken all the way to the back, which means we had a great view out the windows that line the aft of the room. 20140508_175400

Our waiters were Ferdinand, from the Philippines, and Rustem, from Russia. They were both very polite and competent, and as the evening went on, loosened up and started joking with us and telling us about their families and lives B.C. (Before Carnival). We ordered a bottle of the Washington Hills Late Harvest Sweet Riesling that we’d liked a lot on our Magic cruise.

That first evening, I was happy to see one of my favorites, the Chicken a la Grecque, on the menu. I ordered that and it was as good as I remembered.

Even better, when they brought out the dessert 20140506_180506menu, there was my absolute favorite Carnival sweet-tooth satisfier: the Banana Gateau, a low calorie cream cake that I absolutely love.

 

I can’t think of a more perfect way to start off the culinary aspect of this cruise than with that particular combination of food and drink.

Speaking of drink: I know many people start imbibing the minute they get on board the ship, but I’m not that much of a drinker. I do like a glass of wine with dinner to enhance the taste of my food and I also like some of the frozen concoctions they serve, though, so after dinner and a bit of walking around, I decided to top off that fantastic meal with my first “drink of the day.”

There are three or four different Carnival “specialty cocktails” that20140508_220806 are really yummy (and to be honest, I’d probably like them just as much without the alcohol but hey, we were on vacation and I knew one frozen cocktail, along with the rocking of the ship as we headed toward the semi-frozen North, would help me to sleep like a baby). So I got myself a Dirty Banana, which – for anyone who doesn’t know – is a heavenly combination of Crème de Bananas, Crème de Cacao, Kahlua and vanilla ice cream.

By that time, we were in international waters, which means the casinos were open (which didn’t matter at all to me since I don’t gamble) and so were the duty-free shops (which is where I tend to lose my money instead). We checked out the merchandise, bought a few souvenirs to take back to Tom, Kris and my neighbors, passed by the liquor tasting table and I ordered my two bottles of Sheridan to be delivered to my cabin on the last night of the cruise (a “must do” on my checklist for every cruise, since you can’t buy it in the U.S.) and went back to the cabin to drop off our goodies.

Sharon was tired after getting up so early that morning and decided to stay in the cabin and sleep, so I went out walking again, and took some more pictuD7K_6286res around the ship. I wanted20140511_031603 to grab some shots to send back to Tom, such as the $3000 bottle of Remy in the liquor shop and the gorgeous crystal eagle sculpture in the main lobby and the race horses I happened upon in one of the corridors.

I was already beginning to realize that I was falling in love with this ship and I wanted Tom to sail on it – soon. So I think even on that first night, I was subconsciously starting to gather “evidence” to present to him, to convince him that we should switch the Caribbean cruise we had planned for July to one of the Alaska sailings that would be going on at the same time – even though I didn’t realize then that I was even thinking along those lines.

After walking around a bit, it was 10:30 and I decided to take in the “Welcome Aboard” show in the big theater. It was pretty packed, but there are advantages to being solo – it wasn’t too hard to find a single seat. John H. was on stage, wandering around and making comments on this and that and just … being John.
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Which is more hilarious than any scripted comedy routine I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it is scripted, in which case he’s even more talented than I thought, because he makes it look absolutely natural and off-the-cuff. Either way, I laughed harder than I have in years. Those who know me will tell you I almost never laugh out loud. The most you’ll get from me – if you’re really funny – is a big smile and a chortle. But I was laughing throughout that whole show, and I don’t think the wine and the Crème de Everything were entirely to blame.

By the time the show was over, it was after 11:00 p.m. and I was getting tired myself, so I made my way back to the cabin, where Sharon was still sleeping. Our steward had been in before we returned to the cabin earlier, and had left us our towel animal and the next day’s Fun Times detailing all the activities that would be available on our “fun day at sea.”

I logged onto the Internet, which wasn’t nearly as fast as the “high speed unlimited” package I’d had on the Magic the previous August but was considerably better than I’d had when I sailed the Magic again in January of this year, and about the same as what we’d had on the Triumph in October.  I sent some email to Tom and the dogs, posted a few photos to Facebook, then logged off, took a look at the next day’s schedule, and decided to call it a (long but very good) day. 20140506_132653

I had come to expect, from previous cruises, that the first day would always be full of chaos and confusion and disappointments and I wouldn’t really start enjoying myself until the second day. This cruise, though, had been great from the very beginning. I had no trouble going to sleep, and I’m sure I had a smile on my face as I drifted off while contemplating the week ahead.

1-deb-sig
DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
deb@shinder.net
www.debshinder.com

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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