My boyfriend and I took a spring break cruise the last week of March 2013. This was my first cruise, his second (his prior cruise was on Carnival as well). Prior to the trip, I read what seemed like hundreds of reviews to make sure we were prepared and had everything we needed, and knew what to do/not to do on the ship. The reviews also provided us with a variety of general tips, and I feel that, because we were so prepared, that only enhanced our cruising experience. So, although this might be lengthy, we hope to provide the same info and tips that might help future cruisers on the Magic.
Now, the most important thing to remember throughout this review is that we had an AMAZING time. No trip is perfect, and when you have a boat with 4,000 people, there will be some issues, but we would go back on the Magic in a heartbeat. If you are in doubt, book the trip. You won't regret it!
For those of you who are first time cruisers, let me just tell you that you will probably pack too much (I did). On my next cruise, I'll bring a nicer outfit for dinner every night, a couple pair of shorts and a couple tank tops. All you'll wear the rest of the time is swimsuits and coverups, so a bunch of extra clothes aren't necessary at all. Extra items that we brought that were helpful were: extension cord (there is one outlet in the bathroom and one by the mirror in the room. We used the extra outlets for an iPod docking station, hair dryer, straightener, etc...), Rum Runners to sneak our booze on (These are AMAZING!!!! They saved us hundreds of dollars on drinks and we didn't feel too guilty because we bought at least a couple drinks a day in addition to to the liquor we brought on board), 2 Tervis tumblers/lids/straws for our drinks, a shot glass, a backpack, and a 12x12x12 cooler. If you are like me and bring too much stuff, don't worry-there is TONS of storage space in your room!
Now for the actual trip. We flew into Houston from Illinois on Saturday night. We stayed at the Days Inn by Hobby airport, and took the Carnival shuttle to Galveston on Sunday morning. The Days Inn had great reviews, but to be honest, we weren't that impressed. It was a clean place to sleep and rearrange our things before the next morning, but wasn't great. They had breakfast in the morning, but it was pretty slim pickins. They DO have a free shuttle to/from the airport, which was very prompt and was great! However, the shuttle doesn't take you anywhere else. We needed to go to Wal-Mart to get the acceptable carry on drink items (we brought 12 diet cokes, 6 sprites and 6 orange juices-no need to bring OJ, they have that on board. Next time we'll bring water bottles instead). We had to take a cab to get those, but it wasn't a huge deal.
We got to the airport around 9am, as the shuttle was supposed to leave at 10. We "checked in" with the Carnival rep, however it wasn't a first come-first served situation. She basically just checks people in, then when the buses arrive, it's just every man for himself to get on one-it doesn't matter if you were the first one there or if you just rolled in-you might get on the first shuttle. This isn't a HUGE deal, it's not like the ship is leaving without you, but kind of annoying. It doesn't seem like it wouldn't be too hard to put people in boarding "zones" like they do on planes. However, we got on the first shuttle, and were off to Galveston!
Embarking is kind of a pain. This is my only cruise, so I don't have much to compare it to, but it's just a lot of hurry up and wait. I would highly recommend checking as much of your luggage as possible (and if you're bringing rum runners, put ALL OF THOSE in your checked luggage!). We each had a backpack, and the cooler full of "legal" drinks, and that made it a little more comfortable. One-shoulder bags or things with smaller handles would make for a miserable embarking. The actual security check is really no big deal, but I would just suggest the earlier you can get on the boat the better. We got on around 12:30 and it seemed packed to us. The lady working, however, told us that it would be twice as crowded by 2:00. Seemed like a nightmare that we were happy to avoid!
After all that waiting, it seems like all of a sudden you are just on the ship! I was amazed!!! It is huge, and the layout is a bit overwhelming at first. We dropped our things off in our room, then went to Cucina del Capitano (the Italian restaurant) for lunch and our first vacation drink! This restaurant is free for lunch and was pretty good food! I would also recommend getting the drink of the day each day. They are yummy, tropical drinks, and, while expensive, you get your money's worth of alcohol in them! It should also be noted that the Italian restaurant is just below the basketball court, so that takes away from the ambience a bit. It sounds like the roof will come crashing down at any moment. :)
We were excited to see the boat pull away from the dock, however it was over an hour late pulling out. No biggie, just something to mention. We were out on the (windy) deck for awhile! Also, it should be noted that our ship never used the "horn" at all!! We didn't even realize that until we pulled next to the Carnival Conquest at a port-it was fun hearing their horn!
We ate dinner every night except one in the main dining room. We had anytime dining. We waited in line every night for dinner, but no more than 15-20 minutes. Again, there are thousands of people on the ship. We had a shorter wait than we would at a restaurant back home on a Saturday night. Not a huge deal. On Sunday night, we had a normal waiter, the food was slow, and overall, there just wasn't anything special about the meal. On Monday night, we had the good fortune to be seated in Pande's section. If you go on the Magic, you NEED to request to be in his section. He is amazing!!!! He remembered each of our names each night, and would tell us what to order each night. He always brought more than 2 appetizers and entrees so we could each have one, plus at least one to split. He is one of the things we will remember most from our trip!! Also, make sure you try the chocolate melting cake for dinner. I never had any other desserts, because.....it just can't get any better than that. We wanted to lick the bowls, it's just that good!
We stayed in an interior stateroom on the first floor. Honestly, on our next cruise, I think we'll try out a balcony, but our room was great. You just don't spend that much time in your room, so we were fine with our choice. It's small, but not too cramped at all. Our room steward was very nice and kept our cooler and ice bucket filled with fresh ice each time he came in. The bathroom was TINY, but had so much storage!
It should be mentioned that there were over 1,500 children on the ship the week we cruised. Because of this, we spent quite a bit of time in the Serenity deck, which is awesome! This area is always busy, but if you're patient, you'll get a chair. People are very friendly and willing to give you their seat when they're ready to go. Our only complaint about this area is that there were always teens there that were not disruptive, but were clearly not 21. While they weren't a distraction from the quiet area, it was frustrating to see them in prime chairs and locations when they clearly weren't 21. Often, they were with their parents too, which is disappointing. We never sat by any of the pools; they were extremely crowded, however we did spend some time on the outside decks where you could still see/hear the action! :) For the most part, I would say that the overwhelming number of children wasn't a problem. Occasionally, one would run down the halls, or push all the buttons in the elevator, but hey, they're on vacation too. If you're super uptight about those things, a cruise is probably not for you anyway.
Now I have to talk about the cruise director a bit. We had no actual interaction with him, but I found his announcements OVERLY lengthy and pretty annoying. The first morning, we were sitting on the upper deck outside the main pool, and his announcement was OVER TWO HOURS LONG. He just talked and talked about things that you could have found out from a variety of different resources (room TV, Fun Times newsletter, general common sense, etc...). I understand it's important to let everyone know what is going on, but that was too much. I can't imagine anyone actually listened to that. Also, I mentioned before that we never heard our ship's "horn". We never would have realized this if we hadn't docked next to the Conquest at a few of the ports. The atmosphere on the Conquest was drastically different than we had on the Magic. We weren't unhappy on the Magic at all, but compared to the Conquest, our pool and the atmosphere was quite lame. The Conquest always had fun music going at the pool and a DJ that kept everyone in a "fun" mood. It just always looked like a big, fun party-and we're not huge partiers, but it looked super fun to us. We occasionally had a DJ, but that "fun atmosphere" was lacking. I think this is the cruise director's planning, and I think that, especially on a "spring break" cruise, would be something you'd want to include.
As far as activities, there are just too many things to mention. We didn't take advantage of a large number of them, but there is ALWAYS something going on! We loved the piano bar! It always had a good crowd, and Doug is great at getting everyone involved! We went to 2 of the later comedy shows. The first was awful-I gave it a 3/10 and my bf replied "at best". The second was very funny though-I'm glad we gave it another chance. We would walk in a couple of the "shows", but they seemed quite cheesy and not worth staying. We did enjoy the casino, but didn't spend a ton of time there. The shopping is cute, but we didn't find anything we couldn't live without. We visited the Red Frog Pub once and it has a great atmosphere! They brew their own beer and have an interesting free snack (salty little bean things-they're good!). They also have an acoustic guitar player throughout the day-he's great!
We ate every breakfast and lunch on the ship on the Lido Deck. The food there was a wide variety and good, but not amazing. There was ALWAYS a line for pizza. They make it fresh which is nice, however it would be more efficient if they had a few more ready at a time. The soft serve is always nice and a good treat anytime :) We had read on previous reviews that there is a sushi bar, however we were told on the ship they no longer offer that. We also looked for the Mongolian Wok, but it is apparently only available on certain days.
We did 2 excursions, but not through Carnival. In Jamaica, we just took a bus to Doctor's Cave beach. This is a beautiful beach, but public and VERY crowded. I'm sure, in some part, due to the time of year, but definitely worth seeing. I think we paid $6 each, plus a bit more for chairs. Not too bad at all. In Grand Cayman, we booked a trip to Stingray City with Moby Dick tours. If you are going to see the stingrays, book through Moby Dick. We had a small boat with maybe 40 people on it and the plan was to snorkel, then go to the stingrays. The weather was VERY windy and the water was choppy, so ,for our safety, the guides cancelled the snorkeling part. Disappointing, but better safe than sorry (they ended up completely canceling the afternoon tour due to the weather, so we were lucky to even go!) The tour was AMAZING! When we got to the sandbar, there were 6 other boats that were PACKED with people. They couldn't even move on the boats, and there's no way they each got to hold the stingrays the way we did on our boat. Can't recommend them enough. At Cozumel, we made reservations at an all inclusive resort-Nachi Cocom. For $55/person, it was all you can eat & drink. They kept the drinks coming all day and the food was great. Even gave us water bottles for the road. The best part is that they only take 100 reservations a day, so it is very calm-just what we needed after peoplepalooza on the boat!
Debarking was a breeze! We were unsure if to self-debark, or have them take our luggage. We decided to have them take the majority of our luggage, and it went very smoothly. From the time we left the ship, it was probably 20 minutes and we were back on the shuttle.
Overall, this was a wonderful, relaxing and fun vacation! The weather didn't always cooperate, and it was quite windy most of the time. But if you DON'T have a great time on this ship, you are just looking for things to go wrong. We often joked that the worst thing was that the staff was so friendly and helpful, you didn't know who to answer first when they said "good morning" or helped with something. They earn their tips and way more!!!
Other tips we found helpful are:
*Use the stairs whenever possible. The elevators weren't as crowded as I expected, but it's not that hard to take the stairs up/down a few flights.
*The earlier you get to breakfast, the better. One morning we were there at 7:45 and it was basically empty. But by 8:15 it was packed. Not a huge deal, but it was nice to have no lines.
*Get the drink of the day every day! They're great!
*Your room TV has lots of ship info, which is great, however they don't have anywhere what the weather is....I thought that was strange. But they do give you a FunTimes each night that details the activities for the next day. That was really helpful!!