Carnival Meets and Exceeds Expectations Again!: Carnival Magic Cruise Review by Dread Pirate Roberts
Overall Member Rating
Carnival Meets and Exceeds Expectations Again!
Destination: Western Caribbean
Low points- Rough seas while in open water, nothing you or any cruise line can do but roll with the ocean, but we still had a great time. MDR service was disappointing compared to our prior Carnival cruises, and I am glad we have better experiences to compare it to, as this has been the highlight of past trips.
Now, on to the details, the Magnum Opus of cruise More reviews:
First, let me put my 2 cents in about how to get the most out of a review in general- and you can get a lot out of these.The reviews, and the boards on Cruise Critic have helped us immensely to find deals, stick to our budgets, find good excursions and vendors, know the ship in and out before sailing, and even make friends onboard. So use these to make informed decisions about your vacation and squeeze every drop of fun and value you can out of it.
And secondly- who should try to get something out of my review. We are budget minded cruisers and a lot of what I talk about has to do with the value we feel we get out of things. If you make 75-125K a year, you might not find this review helpful, relative to your situation, as someone in the 30-60K range. Also, we have been brand loyal to Carnival in our 3 cruises, and while I think we will eventually try something else based on itinerary or ship's features, I'm pretty convinced the bang for the buck factor we get aboard Carnival is hard to beat. I hope someone curious about Carnival but nervous about trying them out after RCCL or some other brand can find enough here to get them to give Carnival a chance to satisfy them.
Third, It seems there are Debbie Downers everywhere you go, and I am usually skeptical when people give cruises a terrible review. That's not to say things never go bad, but some people are bound and determined to have a bad time no matter what. My advice, especially after reading a bad review, is to read all the reviews for that particular sailing- that is to say the same dates and itinerary, from people who were onboard with that particular reviewer. That way, you will know what the real problems were, how the average person responded to them ( and how you might in a similar situation) and where the problem had more to do with attitude than anything else. While there are always challenges that come up, we have been taking vacations together for 10 years and have always been in charge of making it a good time for ourselves.
The most frequent complaints I have seen about Magic are about crowds and long lines in the Public Spaces, and the idea that Carnival has crammed too many people on board. Not so. We came prepared for long lines everywhere and every time, but this was simply not the case. The breakfast and burger line by the beach pool was nearly always long- because it's right there and people want to grab something while they are swimming, tanning etc. But a short walk into the Lido Marketplace will find at least 1 buffet serving the same fare with a shorter line, as well as numerous other choices. If you like to eat breakfast late, you might also find long lines because they have to consolidate breakfast to one line while they prep the other stations for lunch. No Brainer. But if you go aft to the other end of the Lido- toward the Tides pool, you will find pastries and the like with no wait. If you want an omelet, the burrito bar, or Mongolian buffet, be patient and stand in line, just as you would at Sunday Brunch, or at Chipotle, or your local Mongolian Grille. These items are being prepared for, at max 3-6 people at a time as I had to point out to a fussy lady behind me, and the people preparing them are doing a good job preparing a tasty dish for you while being careful not to undercook your pork!
I have seen similar complaints about the Showtime theater and Spotlight Lounge, do be prepared to come early to get a good seat, and obstructed views are going to be a problem, but again, we managed to have a good time.
Now I'm going to break this up into sections:
I Things that were noteworthy before our cruise:
A) Cruise Critic Member discussion boards and Roll Call
B) Booking at an Early Saver Rate
C) Tips about the Port of Galveston
D) Honeymoon Registry
A)We have been fans of Cruise Critic for years. Any question we have ever had about a specific ship, about the casino, dining, tips for packing, excursions, anything at all we have been able to find on the member discussion boards and it helps us to feel like we are going into a thing fully prepared. This was the first time we participated in a "roll call" and it was a great bonus. Our roll all was started way back in July by some very excited folks, and by the time we got to sail date in April, there were nearly 1100 posts. People used it to ask every kind of question imaginable, but it grew to be much more. Some great people in the group organized a cabin crawl, a meet and greet, and a private- all you can drink cocktail party in the Vibe Lounge which we were able to pay for in advance. Dan, the Grand Poobah of the group printed name badges and brought pins for all, and he decorated our cabin door with a happy honeymoon greeting before we were aboard. Others in the group also used it to book excursions together and get a group rate. It was also nice to be acquainted with so many before ever getting aboard, and we could participate with the group in as much or as little as we wanted. We highly recommend joining the roll call for your sailing.
B)Early Saver Rate:
Can't recommend this highly enough either. If you are able to plan several months in advance and book the early saver rate, it is to your advantage. It trumps any other deal including past guest, military, senior etc. You have to be vigilant and watch the rates for your sailing, but I found price drops on 2 different occasions and got enough refunded to us in onboard credit to cover our parasailing excursion in Grand Cayman.
C)Port of Galveston
We love that Carnival has put a brand new ship in Galveston. Easy drive from Austin. No airfare, no checked bag fees, no overweight bag fees. Again, great bang for the buck. We probably would not have sailed out of Galveston this time if it were not on Magic, since we really wanted to do something a little different for our honeymoon, but the more we looked at going to Hawaii or doing an all inclusive resort just after shelling out a ton of money for a wedding, the more excited we were to hear Magic was coming to Galveston.
One of the frequent complaints you will see about this or any other port is that the lines are long and it takes forever to board. This has not been our experience. Keep scrolling down those reviews and you will see people saying they walked right on board. I think the crowds ebb and flow throughout the process. But if you show up hoping to get onboard at the same time 3000+ other people are trying to get off the ship, you are going to be frustrated. I think the way they manage disembarking one group, spit shining the ship and welcoming a new group on board is pretty impressive. We arrived at the port about 1:30 and were onboard in about an hour. Of course, doing all of your check in, including setting up your sail and sign account beforehand on the web helps to streamline the process.
We used EZ Cruise parking for the second time and were again satisfied. ( We have also used Lighthouse with no complaints) EZ Cruise also makes it easy to book online beforehand and gives a discount for doing so. One thing I found mildly annoying was discovering after a gentleman started loading our bags on the shuttle was that he was not the driver- there is one man loading the bags at the parking lot, one man driving, and another man unloading bags at the terminal. I'm sure this helps things to move quickly at peak times of the day, but after dropping my bride off at the terminal before going to park, I did not come prepared with enough cash in my pocket to tip three guys for what I see as the job of one. And there is a sign to make it clear they do not share tips.
And one last thing from before we sailed:
D)My boss had thrown us an engagement party several months before and set up a Carnival Honeymoon Registry. They laid the party out like a cruise ship- with lido type dining, photo gallery, casino, and internet kiosk where guest could purchase registry items- spa treatments, excursions, drinks by the pool. People really participated well and our registry was so well loaded that we spent very little out of pocket onboard. Great honeymoon gift. The one dark mark on that is that the people purchasing your gift are charged a service fee. I think that's tacky. This doesn't happen with any retail gift registry I have ever seen, but Carnival uses a third party vendor who collects their fee in this way. I would rather they skim off the gift total and take it from us after all gifts were received rather than charging our loved ones $27 for a gift worth $25. Alternatively- people can purchase funship dollars for you without the service charge.
II Things that were noteworthy about our onboard experience
The new ship is great. A little less neon, and a little more wood grain has updated and classed it up a bit, but still kept the signature Carnival feel.
A)The Spa and Spa Cabin
For our Honeymoon, we wanted something a little different, so we opted for the Spa Cabin. Booking this gives you an all access pass with your Sail and Sign Card ( which doubles as a keycard) to the spa facilities. I am not normally a spa person but loved all this. The Thalassotherapy pool- great! The tucked away elevator to the spa- great! The heated ceramic loungers in the sauna- best nap I've ever had in my life! The gym equipment was good too. I had fun on the recumbent bike pedaling the ship into each port as I looked out the panoramic windows. You are welcome, shipmates. I cannot say enough about the shower facilities. I had read on cruise critic from several people who said they used the showers for getting ready before dinner. Great idea! I left my bride in the cabin and showered up there each night. Great big shower with 3 heads, lots of room to spread out for shaving, and very rarely anybody else in there. There is also a quiet room with a panoramic view where people wait for their spa appointments. I really enjoyed the quiet time in here in the mornings.
Since we have been to Cozumel twice before, we used that port day as a Spa Day. We did room service, spa treatments, hung out on the Serenity Deck, and relaxed throughout. We had a couples massage and it was top notch. The room was great, the staff were skilled and while it is pricier than equivalent services on land, we felt it was a great treat for our honeymoon.
We chose an interior spa cabin. ( We have yet to purchase a balcony, but are ready to try out a cove balcony on our next trip after seeing it up close on our cabin crawl) We spend very little time in the cabin and have preferred to spend our money on other amenities, and what my DW loves about the interior cabins is the utter darkness that allows her to sleep until noon on sea days. We received a few Bon Voyage gifts from friends in the room, another added treat. I will mention the early saver rate again, as it allowed us to get the Interior Spa cabin for a lesser price than people booking later paid for a standard interior cabin. We got a great value. Our Room Steward was efficient and friendly and always called us by name. He did a great job.
The one dark blot on the Spa is the heavy sales push. But being on Cruise Critic helped us to be forewarned and prepared going in. This is not unique to Carnival. Each of the lines uses a third party company to Manage the Spa facilities and they are heavy on sales. One has to be pretty clear if that is not what you are interested in- and we are not. My idea of rest and relaxation does not include listening to dubious and vague claims of improved health from Dr. Feelgood's Patent Medicines and novelties sold by Carnival Barkers just like it was 1920. The Spa Cabin comes with 2 complimentary classes but I only took advantage of 1 as I was disappointed to find that the morning Yoga stretch was a thinly veiled opportunity to try and sell me $250 orthotics to "help correct my posture and promote my general health." One of our tablemates had gone for a Spa Treatment on the first day aboard. I asked him if he had been hit hard with the sales pitch. His wife became quite animated as she told the story of how he walked out of his massage with $500 worth of body brushes to "improve his circulation," and various creams and oils. She marched him back down by his ear the next day and corrected that business. Before any treatment, you will be asked to fill out an intake form similar to the medical waiver you might fill out on land. But for any complaint you acknowledge on the form, the staff is going to design a "program" for you that is a profit center for them. To their credit, Nikki and Catherine, who did our couples massage, did their job and designed us a program as their bosses expected them to, but responded appropriately to my cues to them not to push sales on us and didn't press the matter further.
In everyday life, we are not exotic eaters, so trying some of the more unusual options on a cruise is always fun for us. Chef's table takes this to a whole new level. A very worthwhile experience. The free flowing wine alone is enough to justify the cost, and we found the whole experience to be worth every penny. We started in the piano bar where Chef met us and was friendly, up close and personal. I had reserved this far in advance by emailing the steakhouse, but glad that I went to confirm our reservation with my printed out emails, as they had forgotten about us somewhere along the line. Somewhere in the process, they were supposed to ask us about any special requirements and didn't. My DW is vegetarian. So when chef asked if there were any food allergies or other concerns after bringing out the first round of canapes, I quietly let him know. It was impressive to see him spring into action without breaking a sweat. He was on the phone and had staff in action immediately to make things happen for her. For each of the remaining courses, the dish he brought for her was as elegant and exotic as the other 13 of us at the galley table. In some cases, the others oohed and awed at her dishes more than their own. We could not have been more impressed with this commitment to great service and to giving us a great experience. We highly recommend it.
Here are some of the fun things we enjoyed onboard:
Live Band Karaoke- Great time, and Melvin is a good Karaoke host.
Newlywed Game- we didn't get picked to be on stage but still a fun show.
Serenity Deck- Great concept. Closed due to high wind on some sea days but great place to relax when it was open.
Water slides- fun even for us not so kid friendly types.
Mini Golf- fun times, upgraded from earlier Carnival ships.
Casino- Well laid out, and $5 craps tables make me happy to take twice as long to lose my money.
The 70's Dance Revue was pretty impressive, and I'm not usually a big fan of the shows. They are getting closer to Vegas quality.
Two magicians came to our tables in the MDR and did fantastic card tricks, then we saw them do a small, intimate show in the tiny bar off of the Northern Lights Dining Room. They were terrific.
The comedians were quite good, and the fact that Carnival is bringing new ones aboard halfway through the cruise keeps things fresh. Great idea. We were a bit skeptical about seeing the juggler -- Marcus Monroe I think. Juggling- which he was great at, only scratches the surface. Hilarious entertainer, I know we will be seeing more of him.
D)Additional dining Options:
We did not do the Cucina del Capitano for the added $12 fee, but did enjoy it for lunch. The burrito bar is not a must- do if you are already familiar with Freebird's or Chipotle, but still a good choice. We did not get to try the tandoor- each time we thought about it it was closed. Deli- great. 24 hour pizza- great. Lido Breakfast- always good
Red Frog Pub- A fun place to hang out, cool porch swing out on the deck, good acoustic guitar player. This was only the second cruise in which the ship ran out of Thirsty Frog Red. I won't complain, I helped to drink up the supply.
Here are a couple of options that few people knew about on Deck 5- Out on the Lanai, on Sea Days is a little BBQ Burger joint that made one of the tastiest. Juiciest burgers I can remember having in a very long time, along with some good salsa, quesadillas and a few other options.
Back inside, sandwiched between the coffee shop and the bar is the Ocean Plaza deli. There were some lighter options here for breakfast and lunch, and I think people didn't really realize it was there, or that it was not part of the additional fee coffee bar. I had oatmeal for breakfast and tuna for lunch, Good stuff.
Overall Customer service: Great.
The culture of customer Service I see on Carnival makes me want to work for them, and that's not an exaggeration. They really get this right. A year or 2 in their HR Department might help me to not bang my head against the wall when trying to attract and retain the right people in my business. But then I might just decide to stay on the ocean forever instead :P Our Cabin Stewards were top notch, This was the first time we used room service and were very satisfied. Cruise Director Butch sets a great tone for service throughout the ship, and all the staff we interacted with were helpful and friendly. Our one area of disappointment here was the MDR service. This has been a very big part of our fun on prior trips, and was the most outstanding part of My Parents 40th anniversary cruise. They still quote and imitate or Head Waiter who was entertaining as well as being a great team leader and service provider. Likewise on our first cruise, we had a headwaiter who was top notch, and led her team well. By contrast, our team this time around was struggling.
We sat on the upper level of the Southern Lights Dining Room, and always felt a bit removed from the action. The Matre d' never cam e to the upper level, but introduced the Assistant Maitre D' on the first night and made it clear she was on top of things upstairs. She approached her duties as a hostess, nothing more. Our headwaiter and his team always seemed to be a little out of sync with each other, and with bringing courses together. You want to eat your hot food while it's hot, but not be rude if your table mates have not yet been served, right? I have to wonder if the anytime dining concept has spilled over to the traditional dining times and had a negative effect.
And when it came to nightly entertainment our wait staff simply vanished from view. No dancing, no singing. Were they shy? Were they new? Hard to say. But this was really the one and only area where the service did not meet and exceed our expectations. The next time we book, I think I will request a table on the main level where I expect the Matre d' to be more engaged and on top of his staff.
We used Peat Taylor Tours in Jamaica to take us to Dunn's River Falls and couldn't be happier. My review of that is posted elsewhere, let me know if you would like the link.
We booked with Carnival for Parasailing in Grand Cayman and it was also great.
What a long review. I must be full of myself to think anyone needs to read all that. What I really meant to say is: Use Cruise Critic to know all you can before sailing. Explore the ship, Dont let anyone rain on your fun, and have a great vacation.
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