We drove from Minnesota to Galveston for spring break and I was a bit worried. I have been on one other cruise, Carnival Conquest out of Galveston two years ago and had a wonderful time. No complaints at all. Reading reviews before we left home was a bit discouraging. When we arrived in Galveston the weather was gorgeous and headed to the beach. We stayed at the Inn at the Water park for two nights before the cruise. This by far is the cheapest way to go if you need somewhere to sleep and parking for your vehicle. Two nights in a standard room, with free parking at the motel for our SUV, free breakfast, and free shuttle service to and from the port cost $150. This is hands down the best deal you will find. Not the greatest motel, nothing to write home about, but your real vacation doesn't start until you get onto the ship. Make sure you get everything ready to go early if you plan on taking the shuttle to the port. The manager told us 9 am, and the shuttle showed up 45 minutes early. It is a shared shuttle with a much larger hotel, so make sure you try to get on one of the first shuttles so you don't waist your whole day waiting around. If you are looking for a nicer hotel option, we have stayed at the Holiday Inn Sunspree directly across from the beach. More expensive, no perks, but great location, bigger rooms and nice pool. If you don't mind paying for port parking(around $ 70) then I would recommend staying here.
The morning we got on the ship we arrived at the port around 10:30 am. Carnival will tell you to show up at 1 or 2 pm, but if you do, you will likely end up waiting in lines for two hours like we did two years ago. This is not the way to start your vacation off. It took only 25 minutes total from the minute we stepped out of the shuttle to the time we were on the Lido deck. Very polite staff and very organized. Our first reaction when we stepped into the lobby/atrium area was AMAZING! The six of us headed up to the Lido deck to eat lunch. It was practically empty still in the lido marketplace area due to most passengers were not on board yet. Very good food, plenty of variety (Deli, fruits, burritos, pizza, hamburgers, cold salads, cheese, breads,Indian choices, yogurt, ice cream, chicken). If you can't find something you are happy eating here, you shouldn't have picked a cruise vacation. Here's a little tip, a great place for lunch is Cucina Del Capitano upstairs above the buffet area. You can eat here for free at lunch and has good pasta. After that we went to the pool and enjoyed the gorgeous weather and music. I would recommend bringing a small beach bag with a swimsuit and change of clothes so you can enjoy the water amenities right away. The kids loved the Waterworks area. Very nice and geared for kids ages (8 to 14). Id recommend bringing water shoes for little ones, it can be very slippery in some areas of the park and extremely hot on your feet when you are waiting to go on the water slides.
Around 3 pm we were able to go to our staterooms. We had two different staterooms on Main deck. The first was located on the very back of the ship. This was an Ocean View with two twin beds and a large picture window. Due to its location on the very back it was larger than most standard ocean view rooms. I wouldn't recommend this location however because you hear a lot of noise and feel a lot of movement. Our other room was down the hall and was a Cove Balcony room. We loved our Cove Balcony! The room just felt larger with having a big balcony we could go out on. There were two twin beds, a pull-down bed and a sofa bed that were all very comfortable. This room is perfect for a family of four that wants a little extra space and fresh air. We were very happy with our rooms. Our room steward was wonderful and always greeted us in the morning and afternoon. Here's a tip if your group likes to drink soda/Gatorade/vitamin water. Carnival allows each guest to bring on a cooler and a certain amount of beverages. This will save you about $40 a person on soda.
We had requested to have early dining with a table for six in the Southern lights dining room and that is exactly what we found waiting for us when we went to dinner the first night. The waiting staff was very attentive and polite. The food was good for the most part. The chicken dinner was on the small size, but you can always order extras such as rice, veggies, baked potatoes, salad. If you are a large eater and want two main courses, go for it. One of the teen members of our party did once or twice and the waiters gladly got him what he wanted. Order the Chocolate melting cake at least once or twice while you eat in the MDR. Delicious!
Some of the Entertainment on the ship was great and some was just so so. The comedy club was a hit with our group. The comedians were hilarious and had us all rolling in our seats. I would stick to the family friendly shows. We enjoyed these the most. My father and I were bored one night and went to the adult comedy show. We thought it was just to raunchy and lacked the humor that the family shows had. Along with that the Illusion show in the Showtime theatre was very good. This was the only show we stayed for in the Showtime theatre. Scattered all over the ship were various music groups that provided lively entertainment. We enjoyed this.
We visited three ports on our cruise. Our first stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. Carnival has a great port in Cozumel. It is a giant shopping and dining complex that is very safe to walk around and visit. We had been to Cozumel before and feel plenty safe here. You do not need to buy a shore excursion in this port to have a good and safe day. We took a taxi to Paradise Beach which is about 10 minutes away from the port. We went there in the morning and had the whole beach and huge pool to enjoy with virtually no one else. Most people go shopping first. For $2 a person you get a wristband that allows you to have a beach chair and access to the large pool. They like you to buy food , but were not super pushy. We ordered nachos to share with a few ppl and enjoyed them. We spent around 4 hours at the beach and then took a taxi to downtown where we did a couple hours of shopping. We felt safe, but yes the storekeepers are extremely pushy and want your money.
Our second stop was in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We walked around Georgetown for awhile and then took a van from the port to 7 mile beach. Gorgeous! This beach can be extremely busy however due to the many ships that visit each day. This beach is a must see. The water is extremely clear and the sand is like powder.
Our last port was Montego Bay, Jamaica. This is the port that you need to buy some sort of excursion to enjoy. The port is too far away from the beaches and attractions to walk to. It is very poor and yes, you will see shacks on the side of the road and animals roaming too. Do not let this discourage you. If you book the right excursion, Jamaica could easily be your favorite port. We booked a resort pass for the day through JAMAICAFORADAY.COM. We were a little reluctant at first, but boy were we happy. A shuttle driver will be waiting with a sign inside the port terminal when you arrive. There was a group of around 30 other cruisers who booked this and we were all driven in a modern coach bus to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort. This Resort is gorgeous and a wonderful place to take your family for the day in Jamaica. It cost around $90 for adults and $70 for kids. This included transportation, unlimited drinks at the swim up bar, use of the beach, use of the water park (amazing for any age), lunch and a drug free and hassle free environment.
I wouldn't hesitate to put your kids in Camp Carnival for a few hours during sea days to let them have some fun with kids their own age. Nick, who is six, loved it. Overall we had a wonderful cruise and a great experience on the Carnival Magic. I would not hesitate booking this same trip again.