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Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Caribbean Sea

The cruise ship Carnival Miracle steamed out of Fort Lauderdale at 4pm on Saturday 1 December, bound for the Caribbean. We were on it, along with 2,700 other passengers and 930 crew. We passed several other cruise ships at dock as we headed out of the harbour.

Considering its monster size, Miracle glided along at a very snappy 37 km/hour under the command of Captain Alessandro Galotto of Italy. Most of the other senior officers are Italian too, with the remainder of the crew from all corners of the planet, particularly Eastern Europe and Asia. By sunset Miracle was steaming past the brooding skyline of Miami. No more land was to be seen for the next two days as Miracle headed east off the north coast of Cuba and then south into the Caribbean Sea.

Meanwhile, on board the passengers were busy familiarizing themselves with all of the ship’s magnificent facilities, meeting other passengers, and wasting no time sowing the seeds of destruction of any diets they might have been on. Some people appeared to have made a head start at home.

On Saturday night we all received the first of the daily newsletters that set out the following day’s activity, concert and culinary options. With cafes, bistros and restaurants all over the ship, and free 24 hour room service, even the most strong-willed passengers soon cracked. Included in the ship’s activity offerings is a range of health-related seminars. We could have gone to Secrets to a Flatter Stomach. Or Detox for Health & Weight Loss. Or Burn Fat Faster. But we didn’t. We went to Food and Wine Pairing at Nick and Nora’s, then on to Bacchus for lunch, followed by a cursory circuit around the top deck, before returning to our cabin stopping at Horatio’s Bistro on the way for a chunk of Linzer torte.

The following morning I was up at the crack of 10.30am. I can’t remember what I did for the rest of the day, but that evening was the Captain’s Cocktail Party followed by a formal dinner. We arrived at the cocktail party at the advised time to find an enormous crowd in front of us. A crew member appeared and announced that if any passengers wished to have their cocktails right away and to forego personally meeting the captain, to come this way. There was such a sudden surge of humanity in that direction that I thought it wise to mentally rehearse on the spot the “abandon ship” drill we all had to attend at embarkation, in case the Miracle went down right there and then. But she managed to stay afloat, and we found the way ahead had suddenly become clear and within a minute or two we were chatting with Captain Alessandro and his officers. Then it was time for a cocktail or two, or three, before dinner.

Each passenger had been assigned to the same table each night, and so we quickly became well acquainted with the other three couples at our table. There was one couple from Canada, one from Bermuda, and one from the USA. We all got along very well, so we decided to travel as a group on shore excursion days.

After dinner it was time to attend the nightly concert in the plush 2,200-person capacity Phantom Lounge. Later we sat in on the performance of the R-rated midnight comedian who was surprisingly funny. For some comedians, smut is a substitute for talent, but this guy was clever and witty. By now it was 1am, past our usual bedtime, but we decided before turning in to tour the Miracle to see what goes on at this hour. The jazz bar and casino were still humming, as were a few other bars. We went down to the bottom of the ship to check out Dr Frankenstein’s (the disco). There was no-one there, not even Dr Frankenstein. One possibility was that the doctor instantly transmogrified anyone turning up into a sperm whale and pitched them into the Caribbean. A more likely explanation was that given the age profile of the passengers, Dr Frankenstein wasn’t going to be getting many visitors this week.

All the while, powered by its 55,000 horse power propulsion system and on-board 60 megawatt electric power station, Miracle glided along relentlessly through the balmy Caribbean air and the watery blackness that swirled around the ship far below.

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