During the last two weeks of August, 2012, my wife and I did back-to-back cruises on the Carnival Magic... a total of 14 days onboard... cruising from Galveston, Texas... and visiting Isla Roatan, Cozumel, Belize, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay in Jamaica. It was our 14th and 15th cruises with Carnival! Out of all those cruises, our favorite cruise ship is... the Carnival Magic!
At the time we sailed on her, the Carnival Magic was the 2nd newest ship in the Carnival fleet... and she sported a huge number of improvements over the other Carnival ships we've sailed on. Even though I had done quite a bit of pre-cruise research about the Carnival Magic, I was really surprised once I got onboard and started noticing the combined overall effect of each of the little things Carnival had improved upon... it was clearly a superior ship over the others I had been on.
Carnival has obviously learned a lot over the years! This ship incorporates the best of their other ships and then adds a whole host of improvements.
I was so impressed with all the improvements that I started writing out a list of all the things that were better on this ship than the others I've sailed on. By the end of the cruise, I had come up with a list of 23 items that were better about the Carnival Magic over her predecessors. Individually, each of these things is a small improvement... but when you add them all up together, you end up with an overall experience that is simply better than what you get on the other ships in the fleet.
I'm just going to run through the list with you, so you can see what makes this ship better than other Carnival ships you may have sailed on...
1. A more tasteful decor
The decor inside the cabins is noticeably more neutral and less loud than on other Carnival ships I've been on. Where other ships used orange, there was a softer more neutral gold color. There was also some very tasteful shades of green.
The over-the-top interior design work of Joe Farcus was in full display in the main atrium, the casino, and some of the other public areas. But there were some noticeably more neutral public rooms such as the main threatre where the design was much less loud than on other Carnival ships.
2. Safe uses a combo
It's always bothered me that the safes in the cabins on Carnival ships required the use of some kind of card with a magnetic strip... such as a credit card or a store loyalty card. Credit cards are one of the things I want to lock up! It makes no sense to have to use one to open and close the safe. Finally, they got it right on the Carnival Magic. You assign the 4-digit code of your choice to the safe, and getting in to the safe later is as easy as remembering the code.
3. Outdoor seating in public areas
Much of the outdoor furniture is better than on the older ships. Many of the seats have big comfortable cushions, and there are umbrellas that provide much-needed shade on a warm afternoon in the Caribbean.
4. Ocean plaza
I've never been on a Dream-class ship, so this was something new to me. I liked it. It was a nice venue for Karaoke, as well as for the Filipino cover band. It puts an entertainment venue out in the flow of the Promenade, rather than tucked away in a room you have to go find. I also liked the Taste Bar, which is located here. They serve up appetizer-sized portions of foods so you can try out a few things. It's free, so that's great.
5. SeaSide BBQ
They serve sliders (small hamburgers), hot dogs, and grilled tacos on sea days... and it's free! They also sell some soft drinks (Coke, for example) by the can. I ate here twice during our cruise. It's a nice alternative to the other lunch options on the ship.
6. Serenity Retreat
It seemed bigger to me than on other ships, and with more seating. Every time I visited, there was a place available to sit... even on a sea day.
7. Front elevator to Serenity
There's an elevator at the very front end of the ship that will take you all the way to the Serenity retreat. With a lot of ships I've been on, there were stairs you had to take for the last one floor.
8. Cucina Del Capitano
Cucina Del Capitano offers another dining option for lunch or dinner... and I really like the idea of having an Italian restaurant on the ship. I like the Italian food offered at restaurants in California... but, unfortunately, I have to admit that I did not particularly like the food at Cucina Del Capitano. I know it's all based on the Italian culture of Carnival's officers... but I didn't like the menu or the recipes... and the singing waiters made me a bit uncomfortable! Maybe if they had sung a little further away from my table it might have been less awkward.
9. The mid-ship pool
Tiki-style huts offer shade for parents who want to keep an eye on their kids swimming in the main pool. There are wooden benches surrounding the pool, for people who want to sit adjacent to the pool without getting fully in to it. The pool is surrounded by an area with about 2 inches of water so you can sit and keep your toes cool.
10. Red Frog Pub
The Red Frog Pub on the Carnival Magic is a very popular place. I'm not really a bar/pub kind of guy, so it didn't do much for me, but other people seemed to like it a lot. They have some unique drinks, unique appetizers, unique seating options, entertainment, and some fun games you can play while you're there.
11. Outdoor deck goes all the way around deck 5
On a lot of the cruise ships I've been on before, there's no place where you can walk around the entire length and width of the ship on an outdoor deck. A lot of outdoor decks along the length of the ship, but you have to go inside to get over to the deck on the other side. On the Carnival Magic, there's an outdoor deck all the way around deck 5.
12. Fun hubs
I had read about the Fun Hubs in my pre-cruise research, but didn't grasp the full brilliance of it until I was onboard.
What they've done, instead of having an Internet cafe tucked away in some dark corner of the ship like most cruise ships do, they've sprinkled public-access computers all around the ship. Sometimes it's one computer by itself, other times it's a cluster of two or four of them... but they're all over the public areas of the ship so they're easy to get to. And they're really nice Macs with big wide screens, too.
13. Dining rooms do not block off the ship
There's a hallway that takes you past the main dining room in the middle of the ship, unlike other ships where you have to go up and over (or down and under) to get past the dining room.
14. Bed quality
The quality of the mattresses seemed to be improved over the other ships I've sailed on. Out of 15 cruises with Carnival, this was the only time I can remember my wife NOT complaining about the bed.
15. Quality of Seaside Theatre screen
The picture quality of the big TV out by the pool seems better than on the Splendor and Conquest-class ships. (And Spirit class ships don't have an outdoor TV at all.) I'm spoiled by a top-quality 1080p resolution 50" plasma TV at home. I remember hating the SeaSide theatre screen on the Splendor, because it looked so bad. The one on the Magic was better.
16. Sky Court
Most cruise ships have a basketball court up on the top deck... but the one on the Carnival Magic is the best I've seen.
It's tall, so you don't feel cramped inside. In addition to basketball, they play soccer and dodgeball up here, too.
There's a very nice seating area adjacent to it, if you just want to watch.
17. Outdoor exercise area
Adjacent to the Sky Court, you'll find some outdoor exercise equipment. I didn't use it, but I think this is a cool idea for someone that would rather do their exercise outdoors rather than inside a gymnasium.
18. Sports Deck
I noticed a couple of neat little improvements up on the sports deck of the Carnival Magic. On a lot of ships, if you want to play miniature golf, you have to go see someone to check out clubs and balls. On the Carnival Magic, they're out for anyone to use at any time. There's also an outdoor pool table, foosball table, and even an outdoor video game system hooked up to a big screen. There's also a ropes course. I didn't try it, but kids seemed to like it a lot. And there's a hot dog stand, with free hot dogs!
Bravo to Carnival for offering all the new food options (such as the SeaSide BBQ, the Taste Bar, and the Hot Dog Stand) at no extra charge to the guests! This is in direct opposition to the strategy taken by Royal Caribbean cruise lines... where they get extra money out of you for every little thing on their cruises.
19. Awesome Assistant Cruise Director
The Assistant Cruise Director, Megan, was the best ACD I've ever seen. James, the Cruise Director, was OK... but it was Megan I was most impressed with. Their version of the morning show, a cruise ship version of Regis & Kelly, was the best I've seen on any ship. On some ships, it's been so bad it was unwatchable!
20. Safety briefing in the main theatre, with seating
Our safety briefing (aka lifeboat drill) was held in the comfort of the main show lounge. Out of 16 cruises, it was only the second time I've been able to sit down during a safety briefing.
21. 2 power plugs on desk
I was thrilled to see that there were two electrical outlets at the desk in my cabin. Most other ships only have one. Now, if they would only add two more... it would be about right. One by the bed would be really nice, too!
The WaterWorks area is the best I've seen on any of the Carnival ships I've been on... with the exception of the Carnival Spirit, which has the awesome "Green Thunder" vertical slide. One really cool thing about the WaterWorks area on the Carnival Magic is that it is somewhat wind-protected. The Spa and the Serenity Retreat sit in front of the WaterWorks area and this tends to block some of the wind when you are at sea.
The long waterslide was really great... a nice long ride, and you got some speed going. The other WaterSlide, which ends in a bowl where you circle the rim, is a bit too short, though... and not as cool as similar slides at waterparks on land that drop you in to a pool after you fall out of the center of the bowl.
23. Internet service
We sailed on the Carnival Magic right after they had performed a major upgrade of her network and Internet equipment. They had just begun a six-week test of the new equipment... which offered such an improvement on Internet bandwidth that for the first time on any cruise ship they were able to offer unlimited Internet access to the passengers. (For a fee, of course.)
On all the other cruises I had been on, bandwidth was in such short supply that they sold it by the minute... and Internet access was slow and flaky. On the Carnival Magic, it was tremendously improved! As soon as I connected my computer to their network, I noticed the difference. It was so impressive, and so much faster than all the other ships I had been on, that I immediately emailed the editors at CruiseCritic and alerted them to the news that Carnival was testing new equipment that provided the fastest Internet connection of any cruise ship in the world. They verified the information with Carnival and then ran a story about it on their site, and even quoted me!
During our two-week cruise, I ran a number of tests at SpeedTest.net to document the speed of the Internet connection at various times of the day and under various conditions. Using a wireless connection to my laptop computer, I got download speeds as high as 1.91 mb/sec and upload speeds as high as .57 mb/sec. Then I tried one of Carnival's "Fun Hub" computers with a wired network connection and got a download speed of almost 4 mb/sec and upload speeds of almost 2 mb/sec. Now I know these speeds aren't in the league of what anyone can get at home with a cable modem... but you have to remember that this was an Internet connection at sea, shared with thousands of other passengers and crew. In that context, it was incredibly fast!
I also absolutely LOVED that you could buy unlimited access for the entire cruise without having to pay by the minute. You can also share this unlimited access among multiple devices. (But only one at a time.)
I won't put this on the official list of things that are better than on other ships... because the truth is, I've never used the gym in any other Carnival ship I've been on. I'm just not a gym kind of guy, especially on vacation. But we were in a spa cabin on the Carnival Magic and the gym was literally just a few feet from our cabin door. So, I decided to check it out. Caught up in the moment, I decided to try one of the treadmills. Much to my surprise, I liked it. There have been several times in my life where I have taken up jogging for a few months to lose some weight. It's always been hard on my knees. At age 55, after surgeries on both knees, I figured I would never jog again. But to my surprise, the treadmill seemed to be much easier on my knees than jogging on pavement.
During our cruise, I ended up using the treadmill twice a day just about every day. The thing I really liked about it was being able to watch the television that is built in to the treadmill. Focusing on the TV really took my focus away from how much I hate to exercise. Bring a pair of headphones or earphones so you can hear the TV audio. I don't know if the treadmills and other exercise equipment available on other Carnival ships is as nice as this... all I can tell you is that the exercise equipment on the Carnival Magic is really nice.
One thing I missed from the Spirit and Conquest classes of ships was a sliding dome that could cover one of the pools during bad weather. We actually had rain during our first two sea days, and it would have been nice if one of the pools had a dome that could have been closed.
The only other thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was that most of the salt shakers in the restaurants were clogged up! The holes in the salt shakers were just too small... and with a little bit of humidity from the ocean, grains of salt got stuck and clogged up the holes. We would sometimes try the salt shakers at 5 tables until we found one that actually worked.
Finally, I do have to say that I am not a fan of Carnival's way of hiring their entire cooking staff from India. I have to think that the food at the Burrito Bar would probably be better if it was run by Mexicans... the food at the Italian restaurant would probably be better if it was run by Italians... and that the overall food in all the restaurants would be more in line with what their predominantly American passengers were looking for if the entire kitchen staff wasn't from India. But I doubt that's going to change!