I just returned from an 8-day cruise on the Miracle to the Western Caribbean (Dec. 15 to 23). We found out the morning of the cruise that Panama and Costa Rica were off the itinerary, replaced with Cota Maya, Cozumel and Roatan (Belize remained from the original itinerary, but on a different date).
Of course, we were already in Fort Lauderdale and therefore committed to the cruise. I had spent about 6 hours researching tours in Panama and Costa Rica - all down the drain. Carnival gave each person a $25 onboard credit for the inconvenience. Most of us felt that was an insult, and will be writing back to Carnival to let them know that. We booked this cruise primarily for the DESTINATIONS. We heard of native Panamanians who had booked the cruise - this was going to be their first time home in 15-20 years. Imagine THEIR pain on learning of the itinerary change!
Two days into the cruise, I personally met with the Captain and two of his senior officers. Also attending the meeting was a guy who had collected 250 emails from disgruntled passengers. The Captain told us the azipod story: apparently, two days prior to docking at Ft. Lauderdale (our cruise left there on Dec. 15), they had problems with the thrust bearing on one of the two main azipods, which limited their top speed. The Captain proceeded to tell us that despite the shorter distance, they were actually burning more fuel because they had to run the one azipod at higher than normal speed. The Captain also said that docking fees for Cozumel were much higher than those for Costa Rica or Panama, so saving money had nothing to do with the itinerary change.
We had two points to make:
1. The communication regarding the mechanical difficulties and the decision process to change the itinerary was totally inadequate, leading many people to believe that the state reasons were trumped up, hiding the real reason of saving money during a bad economic period. The Captain promised to send out a more detailed memorandum to the passengers, but never did.
2. The $25 offered by Carnival was totally inadequate - an insult really - and they should reconsider their compensation to the passengers. We felt that the ideal compensation would be a reduced-price cruise at some future time to the ports that were missed: i.e. Costa Rica and/or Panama.
The following day, my friend who had attended the meeting with me was escorted into a private meeting with ship's staff, and informed that if he would be put off at the next port if he continued to campaign for "mutiny". I can tell you, the word "mutiny" was never brought up at our 1 1/2 hour meeting the previous day, nor did this guy seem like the sort to do anything like that: he owned his own pool installation company, and was on the cruise gratis courtesy one of his suppliers. He was just trying to be an advocate for all the upset passengers. Needless to say, the rest of his cruise was NOT pleasant. I thought that this heavy-handed treatment by the Captain was unprofessional and uncalled for.
Re: the azipod thrust bearing problem - this is apparently NOT the first time this has happened; the Carnival Legend had the same problem, on the same route, about a year previous: I was told that Miracle was put on the Panama itinerary to replace Legend. Hmmm.
Final correction: the Miracle is due to go into drydock on Feb. 25 for 3-4 weeks. The Legend is due for drydock at about the same time, but in a different port.
Oh - about that "speed limitation" with the damaged azipod: on Monday afternoon, we were informed over the PA that a passenger was gravely ill, and so the ship was going to return early to Fort Lauderdale - ETA midnight instead of 7:00 the next morning. To our amazement, our "damaged" ship made 21 knots NO PROBLEM all the way back to Fort Lauderdale!
There is no question that the new ports of call meant a trip over 1600 nautical miles less than the original itinerary. The only question is, was this to save money, or is there a bona fine problem with the azipod? We may never know, because I'm sure ALL the thrust bearings will be replaced on the Spirit class ships (Spirit/Pride/Legend/Miracle) at their next drydock.
Finally there is the matter of the fuel surcharge. Despite the dramatically shortened trip, no refund of the surcharge was ever offered.