The stats would indicate a level playing field: Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic are both Dream-class ships, sharing the same super-size, 1,004-foot length and 3,650-plus-passenger capacity. Yes, Dream is about 20 months older than Magic, but at first glance they could still pass for twins. On second glance, more like fraternal twins separated at birth, with cabins and eateries basically the same (with a few notable exceptions) but a few more extras packed onto Magic. Still, one has to be better than the other, right? Depends on your point of view, of course, but we’ve been on both and can compare the two in different areas.
Then again, Carnival Breeze — the newest member of the family — arrives in June, so that’ll just muddle the comparison even more.
Dream is based in Port Canaveral, while Magic is in Galveston, Texas. Neither port is convenient to a major airport. Most passengers traveling by air to Port Canaveral fly into Orlando, about 45 minutes west of the port. For Galveston, flying into Houston Hobby is most convenient (about an hour’s drive), but most fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is about 90 minutes north of Galveston. So, which is a better bet for extending your trip? Orlando has the Mickey thing going on, but Galveston is a more offbeat and convenient-to-the-ship destination. The city’s cute historical district, with its eclectic shops, restaurants, bars and museums, is just blocks from the terminal. Most major hotels in town — and there is a huge array at all price points — offer free shuttles to the ship, and many offer free parking for those who drive. And the beach is within a long walk (or short cab ride) of the port. At Port Canaveral, there is a small marketplace area with restaurants and shopping, and you can take an excursion to the nearby Kennedy Space Center, but most of the action is based in Orlando.
Both ships offer Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, although Magic’s “Eastern Caribbean” itinerary doesn’t really stop in the Caribbean. Dream is predictable, with two seven-night alternating schedules. The Western Caribbean sailings visit Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Roatan Island, Honduras; and Costa Maya, Mexico, with two days at sea, while the Eastern Caribbean cruises visit Nassau, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI; and St. Maarten, with three days at sea. Magic has more choices: One Western Caribbean itinerary visits Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, while the other goes to Roatan, Belize and Cozumel. The Eastern Caribbean itinerary actually visits Key West, Fla.; Freeport, Bahamas; and Nassau.
All Magic trips have three days at sea. While some cruisers like those days at sea, we’ll take more days ashore. Even if we stay on the ship, many will get off, leaving welcome elbow room. And it’s fun to visit more exotic locales. Dream’s Western Caribbean itinerary fits both bills.
Interior architect Joe Farcus has served as the designer of every Carnival ship currently at sea. But Magic marks the end of the line for Farcus, who’s known for his over-the-top colors and neon-and-mirror-inspired surfaces. That said, Farcus started toning it down for Dream. While it still offers lots of drama — think purple and orange and massive crystal chandeliers — the glitz and flash is a bit subdued when compared with earlier vessels. With Magic, the decor is even more buttoned down, obviously influenced by the German design team that assisted Farcus.
For example, the burnt-orange color scheme of Dream’s cabins, which will remind you of either Tuscany or the 1970’s shag carpet in your mother’s house, has been replaced with boutique-hotel-style green walls, white duvets and brown accent pillows. The 109 loudly colored Carnivale-style masks that line Dream’s Burgundy Aft Lounge are instead a pleasing back-lit taupe geometric pattern in Magic’s Spotlight Lounge. Dream’s overall design-and-color scheme screams Vegas, while Magic’s gives off a more laid-back Caribbean vibe. Calling this is a tough one, as sometimes you’re in the mood for Wayne Newton, while other times Bob Marley is in order. But reggae seems a better fit for the tropical cruise scene.
FOOD AND FUN
Each ship has 14 decks, and while most were not altered from Dream to Magic, there are also some major differences in configuration — especially on the top decks and the Promenade.
Magic switched up the 12th and 14th decks (there is no 13th deck on either ship) in order to fit SportSquare, a multi-use area that includes the first onboard ropes course, a multipurpose sports court, two-level mini-golf course, an 800-foot running track, game tables and a bar. While Dream has a one-level mini-golf course, outdoor running track and basketball court, a chunk of its 12th deck floor space is taken up by the Chef’s Art Steakhouse. On Magic, the Prime Steakhouse is down on the Promenade deck, replacing Dream’s dedicated karaoke bar. And Dream’s Collection Art Gallery, billed as the largest gallery at sea, is replaced on Magic by the tremendously popular Red Frog Pub. (The art gallery is relegated to a small space next to the conference room.) Magic has also subbed in a few other new concepts, including Cherry on Top (a candy store) and Cucina del Capitano (an Italian restaurant). These concepts are being expanded to other ships as part of Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 project.
It should be noted that many of the new features aboard the Magic cost money. The Red Frog Pub, for example, sells $3.33 bites, such as grouper fingers and conch fritters. Cucina del Capitano costs $10 per person, and the candy in Cherry on Top is sold by the pound. We don’t like more nickel-and-diming, but the Red Frog Pub’s signature beer, Thirsty Frog Red, tips the scales. We’ll take beer over art.
We like Carnival Dream just fine, but the tweaks on Carnival Magic give the younger sibling a slight edge. Where else can you take on a challenging in-air ropes course and quaff a signature beer? (Just remember, ropes before beer.)
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