My wife and I just recently sailed for the first time on Carnival Cruise Lines sailing on the Carnival Magic out of Galveston.
For reference our previous cruise experience is on RCCL (Explorer of the Seas) and Princess (Star Princess).
I'll start off by saying that NO cruise in my mind can ever be "bad" and this one was no exception. With that said I thought I'd put up a post comparing Carnival to my experiences on other cruises, the good and the bad.
We had a balcony cabin on the Deck 9 near the middle of the ship. This was the biggest highlight of the trip for us. The cabin was spacious, clean and modern compared to our balcony cabins on Explorer of the Seas and Star Princess. This makes sense given that the other two ships are 10 years or so older than the Carnival Magic. We really appreciated the extra space and also felt the beds were MUCH more comfortable than RCCL and comparable to Star Princess. The actual balcony (not the cabin) was smaller than the other two lines but still great -- especially because we could smoke which I've heard has been banned on Princess shortly after our last cruise.
We spent ALOT of time in our cabin, being that we love the privacy of a balcony in general -- however we spent more time than usual in the cabin for other reasons which I'll get into.
The food in the MDR was very good. Not as "rich" as RCCL sauce wise, but far richer than Princess MDR dining (I prefer lighter fare and liked Princess MDR better).
Buffet in the lido was "ok" for breakfast, "decent" at lunch and "not acceptable" at dinner. Breakfast was your standard bacon/eggs/sauges/omlet station, etc. Basically as long as you had something from the Omlet station it was all good. Everything else was decent if not anything special. Lunch in the Lido was pretty good. Lots of options ranging from Indian, to the Wok, and lots of selections to choose from from the various stations. No complaints. Dinner in the Lido was terrible. Small selection, stuff sitting for a long time ... highly recommend MDR over for dinner over buffet. This kind of was a downer for us ... while we enjoy a few MDR dinners we often prefer to hit the buffet on serveral days to "recover" from massive MDR meals and also so we can relax abit more. On Star Princess we were actually able to get MDR dinners served in our room (this was an "unoffical" perk so YMMV).
RCCL's buffet food I'd say was comparable to Carnvial with RCCL edging Carnival out in terms of overall selection. Princess destroyed both lines offering far more fresh options, healthier selections, just better overall, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Breakfast Brunch was awesome. Every bit as good as dinner in the MDR. Combining breakfast and lunch into one service though is abit too obvious a cut costing measure. Princess and RCCL offer MDR service for all 3 meals and it IS a huge benefit.
There were alot of other free food options too ... the thin crust pizza was amazing (much better than RCCL and Princess IMHO), and the al fresco Ocean BBQ area had very delicious sliders, fajittas, burgers, etc. In general I appreciated Carnival's al fresco dining options which seemed really lacking on Explorer of the Seas and Star Princess.
Room Service was hit or miss. We waited 2 hours at one point for a before dinner snack and gave up ... when I called to cancel the order our food appeared 5 minutes later. Continental breakfast was always on time though so there's that. The room service wasn't bad but certainly nothing to write home about. RCCL offered hot breakfast room service which was much better, and Princess could "make things happen" if you asked nicely for stuff not on the official menu.
This was probaly one of the biggest differences I noticed between lines.
Service MDR -
On the Carnival Magic the MDR service was amazing. Literally ran like clockwork, super professional, waiters remembered our names, food came out hot, and we really felt like they did a great job. Princess and RCCL had very good MDR service too but totally different philosphies on how the service is carried out. RCCL it felt like the "main" waiter was trying to entertain the table constantly. On Princess (much like Carnival) the main waiter was there when needed but not so much banter unless it was wanted. Carnival however had the entertainment factor not so much with the main waiter but with the waiter songs and dancing which we really enjoyed.
MDR service was another highlight in my opinion.
Lido Service -
It was terrible on Carnival Magic. The bacon **** server felt super condencending (not the server him or herself but the fact there needed to even be one), and there were obviously not enough staff in the Lido for the massive crowds coming in each day. We really missed the servers that would offer drink refills from RCCL and Princess, and we also noticed that tables took alot longer to be cleaned. I felt sorry for the staff in the buffet ... undermanned for the amount of people passing through.
Bar Service --
Hit or miss depending on the bar. Some bars they knew their stuff, other bars (especially the busy one's on the Lido) you were left wondering what the heck it was you were drinking. RCCL and Princess both seemed better in this regard.
Stateroom Service --
Excellent. We tipped our guy on top of the regular daily tips. All 3 lines we've had no complaints and been really happy with the stateroom attendants.
Drink Service --
After RCCL's constant "do you want a drink do you want a drink do you want a drink" I thought I'd be happy with less badgering for a drink from roving Poolside drink attendants. As it turns out Carnival seems to have gone too far the other way ... no deck waiters to be found. Actually they were there but you had to go looking and there weren't enough for the amount of people poolside. Princess seemed to have a better mix, with enough poolside service to meet the needs of the deck, without being obnoxious about it like RCCL.
While the live entertainment on Star Princess was geared towards an older crowd, I enjoyed it far more. RCCL entertainment was great as well. Carnival was ... a mixed bag in comparison.
On Carnival there was an obnoxious DJ blasting crappy music for most of the afternoon near the main pool. It was terrible combined with the overcrowedness (the crowds -- I'll get into this in abit). There was no escape from it, although the aft pool offered some tranquility. Serenity adults area you could still hear the DJ pop garbage blasting -- no escape.
I had heard from some people there is no "Live" band music on Carnival ships. We noted this isn't exactly true. It appears (at least on our cruise) that Carnival is now employing Filipino bands and singers throughout the ship. Even the lido pool area had a filipino band playing one day which was a thankful respite from the horrible DJ crap. My wife being filipino enjoyed this immensely, although a part of me wonders if it's a cost cutting measure -- I'm certain the filipino entertainment costs alot less than bringing in a band from the US. It's an interesting tactic and not something I'd heard alot about from other Carnival Cruisers so I wonder if this is new?
They did have a great guitar player in the bar and piano guy in the lounge
As others have said most of the entertainment options on Carnival seemed audience participation geared ... The live broadway style shows looked ok, but good luck getting a seat unless arriving hours ahead.
The Comedy Brunch we went to twice and never saw any comic give jokes (apparently they only come out for 5 minutes once an hour or something ... calling it a Comedy Brunch is a lie IMHO).
In the end we called it early most nights, partly because there were just too many people crowding the various venues for our comfort (again more on the crowds issue in abit).
Spa: Spa was amazing. Facility wise much much better than Explorer of the Seas or Star Princess. Beautiful ocean views from most rooms, and the use of the multiple steam rooms + spa pool (which had some type of bath salts in them) for 35 dollars/pp a day? Worth EVERY penny if just to get away from the crowds. Wife had a facial which she said was amazing. Highly recommend putting $$ aside on sea days for this option. It was the one time the cruise felt a little higher end.
It was ok I guess. Lots of line dancing, the limbo part was cool and Mexican Buffet was all right. The Deck party on Princess in comparison was way better and people stayed out later. On Carnival the Cruise Director team was gone within aa couple hours or so and most folks over 25 left around the same time too. Lots of line dancing, and then more obnoxious DJ music similar to that heard during the day. Princess really decked out the pool deck for their deck party, and it rocked literally until 3 am in the morning, complete with 75 year olds boogying it down.
RCCL wins this one. Explorer of the Seas was a joy to walk through, Star Princess made "sense" in terms of ship design too. Carnival however, I was constantly having to walk through the smoke filled casino to get places, or make detours to other decks because of blockages.
I will say though I really liked the Red Frog Pub and whirlpools laid out on the lower outside deck. That was one thing I thought was much better than Explorer of the Seas and Star Princess.
As mentioned in the food area Carnival had more al fresco food areas too which was a big bonus. Overall though the pool deck was a dissapointment. It really felt crowded although I'm not certain this is due to design or due to the crowds in general
Explorer of the Seas had the "main street usa" layout cutting through the middle of the ship which I loved and cut down the claustrophia feeling. Star Princess had a goregous atrium complete with complimentary coffee cafe food items and great live entertainment all day long.
Carnival Magic's atrium was ... underwhelming. Tacky decor, sparse live entertainment, it felt cramped, it felt ... cheap.
Carnival wins -- by far. RCCL second. Star Princess third.
Other thoughts -- The Crowds:
There's one thread that really ran through the entire cruise and effects all the catagories I've mentioned --- the crowds. The ship just felt like there were too many people crammed aboard. HuGe Lines was the name of the day in the buffet, when going to MDR (anytime dining) anytime around 6 - 7 when most North Americans eat, having to go ridiculously early to the main theatre for any show, massive overcrowding on the lido deck where people were packed like sardines. Whirlpools almost always crowded with multiple people (to the point of there being really too many people to get in). In the end this was why our balcony cabin became an oasis on the cruise. We're happy just to sit out on our balcony for half the cruise meaning we still got our monies worth. The lines, feeling of "crowds", the lack of staff (with the exception of MDR which was handled perfectly) .... it was just really noticable compared to RCCL and Princess. On both Princess and RCCL I never had to look far to find staff compared to cruisers. On Carnival I did. Honestly the poor staff seemed overwhelmed ESPECIALLY those on the Lido deck.
There was alot more drinking on the Carnival Magic, noticably so, particuarly of the beer variety rather than say wine or even specialty drinks.
We got our cabin on Carnival Magic for 520 pp for a balcony for 7 days on a Casino rate. Even at full price it would have been only 620 pp Can't really complain on that. Seeing as we love balconies, despite some of my negatives of the cruise, the positive of what we paid for the balcony outweighs almost everything else I can think of. With that said we did almost as good on RCCL and Princess on a per day comparison on longer cruises, although Carnival still came out cheaper per day.
Overall: We'd definately go on Carnival again if the price is right. With that said we'd probaly stretch for another line in the future if looking at a comparable size ship or look for a smaller Carnival ship in the future. If sailing on this class ship again it would have be a port heavy itinerary for sure. While we really liked the balcony cabins (and the price we paid!) the massive crowds on the Carnival Magic really marred the overall experience, particularly on the Lido deck, both buffet and pool areas. I've heard though this may be a problem with this particular class of ship ("Dream" I think?) as opposed to an overall Carnival issue.
We still had a great time especially for the price we paid. Food was mostly great, the balcony cabin was an oasis of peace and tranquility, spa was awesome, entertainment (what little we actually got in to see) seemed ok.
Princess seemed alot quieter on board which despite being in our 30's we liked alot better, and RCCL while louder that Princess seemed more refined than Carnival. Carnival on the other hand offered big cabins for the $$, good food to match, and a chance to cruise on the cheap. I'm glad I got to try the Carnival "experience".
Norwegian or Celebrity is next on my list although my parents are trying to get us to try MSC which they swear by.