*Disclaimer* This is a long but honest review by an experienced cruiser. If you want someone to just blow a little sunshine up your Bermuda shorts, go on to the next review. Having said that, this was our 6th cruise, and our 5th with Carnival. We have had descending levels of experience with Carnival, but had high hopes for the "Magic", since she was the newest ship in the fleet at the time of this cruise. We aren't grumpy cruisers, but we aren't easy either. We simply expect equal services for the price, and this cruise was the most expensive we have taken thus far, coming in at a base rate of $2700 for two, for a balcony room. Add on the excursions, and we were at $3500. Another $750 for extra on-board charges (spa services, bar tab, etc.) and that brings us to $4250. That's a premium for a 7 day cruise, especially on Carnival.
We drove 9 hours to Galveston from OKC and stayed at Moody Gardens resort ($150) the night before, and had a blast. Its a great resort and a really nice way to begin your cruise. There are just a few nice places to stay in Galveston, but this is one of them. After a nice lazy Sunday brunch, we made our way to the terminal and parked with Lighthouse Parking ($50), a place we discovered after our 2nd cruise. They are family owned and its all covered parking. Book early online because they fill up quickly. After checking our bags with the porter ($10) we stood in the obligatory long lines to get our sail and sign cards and get onto the ship. This was a surprisingly pleasant experience and the lines moved faster than ever before. We were on the ship by 1:30! The check in crew was friendly and professional. Excellent job!
Then we entered the lobby of the Magic. I have to say, after cruising on their fantasy ships and the Conquest, the Magic is a BIG disappointment. The decor is pathetically cheap with Home Depot style glass tile being the theme. Add to that gobs of 'wood look' plastic trim everywhere, and the Asian pop duo playing fake orchestra music on the keyboards, and the immediate impression is, "Man, did I get on the wrong ship?" But sadly, no, it was the right ship. And that first 'cuttin corners' impression was carried on as a theme throughout the cruise. You'd expect that the largest ship would be the prettiest, with the best amenities and services, right? Not even close. Everything on this ship is cut to the cheap, with a sort of 'less is more' attitude by the crew. Just what you want after forking out $4K on a 7 day cruise. Its like they used some minimum wage employee to design and decorate the ship. Or maybe it's just not completely decorated yet. To use a car comparison, with a Kia being the cheapest and a Rolls Royce being the best, the Carnival Magic is a solid Ford. Everything's there and works, but don't expect luxury. They were so cheap, they didn't even name all the decks! 14 decks and most of them just go by numbers, "Deck 6, deck 7, etc."
With the ship being on the cheapo side, one would expect the 'extras' to be less expensive, right? Think again. Watered down drinks are $7-$9 each, wi-fi is $ .75 a minute, and you'll need a second mortgage to afford the spa services. The fitness room is still free, but it's about 1/2 the size of Conquest's, with a tiny sauna and no hot tub. Entertainment was 'good high school' quality, with dancers, singers, magicians, and comedians that apparently couldn't get work anywhere else. It was common to see lots of people get up and leave during the shows. And that's too bad, because entertainment used to be what Carnival did best. But in true 'cuttin-corners' style, their emphasis was on passenger-supplied karaoke gatherings, which were everywhere...all the time. Don't get me wrong, I like hearing drunk rednecks butcher Garth Brooks songs off key as much as the next guy, but 24-7? Really? But hey, it's free entertainment, right Carnival?
Now a word about the dining rooms. One is called Northern Lights, and one is called Southern Lights. That's about as creative as their dropout designer could get, and that's reflected in the decor and food. The decor is boringly bland and the food is even....blander. Seriously, I wish I could have gone into the galley and showed them how not to ruin a fillet mignon and lobster tail. Now I know cooking for hundreds of folks at a time is challenging, but a first year culinary school student could have prepared more appealing, flavorful food. I kept hoping there was a Saltgrass Steakhouse or a Red Lobster out in the middle of the Caribbean somewhere we could tie up at, so at least I could get some kind of meal that didn't taste like microwaved tv dinners. The vegetables were as consistently undercooked, as the meats were overcooked. The desserts were just 'ok', and basically tasted like someone emptied a Kraft bottle of whatever sauce onto dry whatever Betty Crocker cake mix to make it moist. And the service? Oh...the service! Nothing says luxury cruise like angry, bitter waiters that forget to bring the rolls every night, take 30 minutes to serve between courses, never refill your tea glass, and don't speak English well enough to understand your order but quite well enough to constantly complain about how long they had been on the ship and how much they wanted to be home! Fine, Jose, go friggin home to your little socialist country with no jobs! But bring me my rolls first, OK??
The buffets were just sad. The pastries were stale, the fruit was never ripe, the meats were over salted, and the food combinations were just frighteningly amateur. One time they put potato chips over some creamed mystery meat, along with a boiled egg slice in a small souffle dish and gave it a foreign name to sound appealing. It tasted like bad baby food. You had to get a boiled egg if you wanted real eggs and not powdered. Even the omelet stations used a battered egg mix ala' IHOP style. Lines were always long and moved at a snails pace. Often the drink machines broke and there would be some little maintenance man standing up on the counters peering into the machines with some tools in his hand during mealtimes. Very appealing. They have added drink carts that occasionally appear to refill your cup, if you are fortunate.
The rooms were exactly the same as every other cruise. Much bigger ship, but not bigger rooms. I don't get that. I guess its so you can cram more bad karaoke singers on board and charge them confiscatory rates for substandard food and service. They have this stupid 'ecolighting' which means you have to put a card in the light slot for the lights to work. Its an inconvenient bunch of nonsense and doesn't save a bit of energy. Our room steward was ok, nothing special. He came in and made up the beds and left us the standard towel animals every night. On the up side, we did have to ask for a few special items and they were quickly provided by the steward. He was a nice old guy but barely spoke a word of English. In fact, I noticed that very few of the crew spoke English well, and the ones who could just complained constantly and were more often than not, just rude. In past cruises with Carnival it wasn't this way at all. Guess that's part of their new cuttin corners business philosophy. We'll see how that works out for them.
Now the ports and excursions were outstanding! It almost made up for the floating comedy of errors that brought us there. Unfortunately, the ship's Captain was not skilled enough to moor us at the port of Mahogany Bay, Roatan, so we had to use a different port that had been closed for a month on the other side of the island . I was actually glad the Captain didn't try to force it since he was obviously Italian and may have graduated from the same sailing school as the guy who sank the Costa Concordia. Anyway, we got lucky and our excursion wasn't cancelled, and we had a great time snorkeling with dolphins at Anthony's Cay. Very fun. Then we went to Belize and snorkeled some more, way out in the ocean. That was also a lot of fun. Then we went to Cozumel, got on a catamaran and spent the day on Passion Island, which was the most fun of all. Great food and drinks. The folks at Carnival need to spend a day there and see what good food and service looks like so they can replicate it on their ships. Save your shopping money, though, as Cozumel is no better on prices than on board the ship or in the states. That goes for the other ports too. They've figured the whole "tourists with fat wallets" thing out. Amazon or Ebay are far better deals than the ports.
Debarkation went very smoothly and was fast. Carnival is really good now at getting people on and off their ships. Its that in-between 'cruising' part they seem to be struggling with. In conclusion, I have to say that the Carnival Magic is far less than magic. It's not even as magical as the crappy illusionist we saw at one of the shows. The should re-name it the "Carnival BadJoke". I would never recommend her to anyone and will never sail on her again. However, if you are one of those people who loves paying really high prices for really low quality, then the Magic is the ship for you. Just don't say I didn't warn you. ;-)