Let me start by admitting that I'm a bit of a cruise snob. I've been on many different cruise lines from the 160 passenger Windstar to the 6000+ passenger Oasis of the Seas -Royal Caribbean's largest ship that has yet to be matched in size. My preference would be to take Oceania cruises every time for the food and service as well as the low key atmosphere. Unfortunately my tastes and resources don't quite match up (Oceania is much more expensive per day and tends to have 10-14 day or longer cruises - ain't nobody got time for dat)! So I was a little hesitant when our cruising companions suggested the Carnival Magic for our annual gathering at sea. As we were a big group with diverse ages from 7 to well over 70, we needed to be on a ship with something for everyone in terms of tastes and activities - not to mention something affordable for our friends with kids. Carnival Magic fits the bill in every aspect.
Throughout the first few days I kept looking for reasons to confirm that Carnival didn't meet my standards. First, the cabin steward didn't introduce himself right away or show us the cabin features (as was done on Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines). At breakfast they ran out of silverware at one station and I had to walk to the other side of the buffet to look for more. Also the servers didn't come around to refill your coffee at your table at breakfast like they do on other ships I've been on and the service was slow at the main dining room the first few nights.
But then slowly I started to notice the positives. On other ships, prime lounge chairs are gone by 7 am with people dropping their personal items on a chair and then going back to bed or to breakfast, returning hours later or disappearing for long stretches throughout the day. However on Carnival the "no saving seats" rule is strictly enforced and we were able to find prime seating locations on the pool deck throughout the day. Carnival also has a 21 and over "Serenity" area where we found plenty of open lounges. Also, Carnival's affordability allowed us to upgrade to a balcony cabin, which is more expensive on Royal Caribbean and a small fortune on Oceania. Having our own private refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main pool deck areas met my need for some down time and a more private sunning spot. That being said, the only time the ship felt crowded was on the first day at sea when everyone seemed to have gone to breakfast at the same time - and even that didn't require more than a five minute wait for a made to order omelette.
Which brings me to to the food, the main reason for going on a cruise - all you can eat, all included, all the time. While I was not expecting the food to compete with the gourmet chef-inspired menus on Oceania, I was pleasantly surprised to find good quality and a nice variety of dining choices on Carnival. From healthy options like fresh fruit and salads to indulgences like the Chocolate Melting Cake served every night at dinner, the food was at least as good as the better chain restaurants on dry land that serve as my main staple when eating out. While the lunch buffet could have longer hours - they only serve from noon to 2:30- you could find something to eat at any hour of the day from early morning to until late at night. And for the real night owls, there's always the 24-hour room service menu to fall back on for just a small service charge for orders after midnight.
Generally I'm not a big fan of the poolside games and contests and nightly revue shows, so I won't taint you with my bias, but Carnival seems to be as good as the other big ships in that regard. The Magic certainly had plenty of night time entertainment options from a piano bar to a pub with live music to a nightclub with a DJ. It also has the adults only raunchy comedy act found on many big ships. During the day there was live music by the pool or at least a constant source of party music. For kids and teens there are also plenty of activities to keep them occupied. I know our friends greatly appreciated being able to drop off their active 7-year old at Camp Carnival and being "childless" for a few hours. The multiple water slides were a big hit with the kids, as well as the adults that pretended to be going on them "for the kids." Add a basketball court and mini-golf and you've got the younger teens covered.
Lastly, the spa, jogging track, and fitness center more than met my needs for a way to keep the pounds off while eating around the clock. I took advantage of first day discounts to try something new and got a hot stone massage that released toxins from my body and nasty thoughts from my mind to set the right tone for my vacation at sea.
The bottom line is the Carnival Magic has something for everyone. Fun ship? Sure. Good value? Definitely.