CARNIVAL MAGIC -â€" A MIXED BAG
We recently took a 9 night Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Magic. We are experienced cruisers, but most of our recent cruises have been on Princess or Celebrity, and we had not been on Carnival for many years. We have avoided Carnival for our Caribbean cruises because we do not particularly like all the hyper-activity party environment that we associate with Carnival. However, we booked this cruise mainly because its timing and itinerary fit our schedule, and thought that the downsides of Carnival warm-weather cruises would not be an issue on a European cruise in October, because most people would be off the ship during the daytime and there would not be many children on board.
We had a mixed reaction to the our experience on this cruise. We were pleasantly surprised by certain aspects and disappointed in others. All in all, the experience was better than we had expected, but we likely would not select this line or ship over Celebrity or Princess for any future cruise. Because this ship is so new, and Carnival is relatively new at cruising in Europe again, we thought that it might be helpful to detail our reactions to the cruise.
We were very pleased with the embarcation process. The ship offered boarding very early, at 11:30 a.m. We had filed out all the required paperwork ahead of tme, and the boarding process was a breeze. Maybe because we were so early, it took us only about 20 minutes to check in, go through security, and get on board. Our luggage arrived relatively early, about two hours after boarding, which was really nice.
SHIP COMMON AREA DESIGN AND DECOR:
The design and dÃ©cor of the ship, in our opinion, had pluses and minuses. The first thing you see upon boarding is the atrium lobby. No doubt, other people may have found it very attractive, but we found it 1980s tacky. It was laden with light fixtures that change colors. The finishings throughout had a plastic feel. There was nothing really elegant about it. On the other hand, the floors with the cabins were appealing. The entertainment rooms (the theater and other show room) were not particularly attractive, and also had a feeling of economy to us. On the other hand, the dining room was very attractive. In addition, everything was brand-spanking new and in top condition.
There were also some flawed design aspects that we observed, but they were not big deals. For example, the ship offered live entertainment in the atrium lobby at night, but that created a lot of noise on the cabin floors because there was nothing to muffle the loud music from the atrium. Similarly, the ship has a wonderful room for the piano bar, but it is right next door to one of the show rooms (the Spotlight Lounge), and the noise from one permeated into the other. In addition, the ship has very good computer availaibility (in fact, I have never seen a ship with more computers and computers located around the ship, such as on the pool deck ), but the main computer area is flush in the middle of the main entertainment floor with all the computers in a row. As a result, there is no privacy when you are working on the computers, which you have with the separate work stations in the separate computer lounge on the Princess ships, and you are subjected to the noise from one of the hallway music lounges which is right next to the computer area.
On the plus sign, the main reception desk and the other service areas were well located.
The cabins are suprisingly nice. We had a stateroom with balcony towards the front of the ship. The cabins have a very nice layout and had a relatively spacious feel. They have a very large desk area, sofa and coffee table, which were very nice touches. There are two separate closets and a larger than average amount of drawer space. The bathrooms were adequate and offered enough shelf and storage space. The showers have separate soap gel and shampoo dispensers, which we thought was an improvement on the little packages that we usually see. The only downside to the cabins were that the walls were paper thin, so we could hear noises of every type from the adjoining rooms, and the balcony was pretty small (but that may have been a product of the location of our fore cabin).
The food service on this ship was the worst part of the cruise and second rate, which really confirmed our concern that Carnival is not a top-tier line. Again, I am sure that others may disagree, but we were very disappointed overall. The choice of entrees and appetizers in the main dining room was not particularly impressive. They offered three courses (appetizer or soup or salad, entrÃ©e and dessert), unlike Princess, which offered four. What made it worse was that the "every day" options that were available when you didn't like the menu were almost laughable. We did not go on a cruise to be offered fried chicken, hamburgers, or flat iron steak (not sirloin). The food itself was mediocre at best and, even when the food itself was acceptable, the portions were really small. As experienced cruisers, we knew would could order more courses or extra food if we wanted to, but most people would not know this.
Even worse was the buffet. On the plus side at breakfast was the made-to-order omelets. But the variety was limited, the food was not very well prepared, there was no attention to detail (like making sure that the milk for cereal remained chilled). In addition, the ship offered pre-cooked pancakes, french toast and waffles, but only at the hamburger bar next to the pool and away from the rest of the buffet. As a result, you had to go all the way to the pool to get it and then come back in wait in line for the rest of the selections at breakfast. This is a major conceptual design flaw that proved very inconvenient.
The salad bar was almost laughably limited compared to other ships we have been on. At lunch, the burrito bar was a nice touch, as was the option to have made-to-order pasta in the Italian restaurant for free at lunch. The Mongolian wok was also a nice option, but it lost all appeal because there was not enough staff to cook the selections and serve the number of people who wanted to partake, which led to really long lines. The dinner options at the buffet were also pretty limited and the food (some of which included certain of the dining room options) was not particularly good. The desserts were mostly tasteless, but that is not uncommon on ships in our experience.
Maybe the best experience we had on the ship was the night we ate in the Prime Steakhouse. We live in a major city and eat at good restaurants regularly, but the dinner we had on ship compared favorably with some of the better steakhouses in our city. The menu was varied and interesting, and the food was beautifully presented on elegant dishware and with imaginative garnishes and other touches. The portions were very generous. We got a meal that would have costed in excess of $100 per person in a restaurant for only $30. I would strongly encourage everyone to try this restaurant at least once. In fact, had we planned better, we would have eaten there at least two or three times because of our dissatisfaction with the dining room food, but it was booked by the time we got around to discovering how good it was.
Nice touches were the now routine hamburger grill and pizza bar around the pool area. The food at both was very good. However, a big downside was that the hamburger grill closed around 6 p.m., before many people could go there for a dinner option if they wanted a burger instead of dinner. The pizza was surprisingly good. The ship also offered what it called a "deli", but it looked pretty unappealing. There also was an Indian food option, but we are not into Indian food, and did not try it. My guess is that the ship will shut down both of these and use the space for something more popular because we did not see many people going to either.
Another huge disappointment for us was the availability of food in the later evening. We are not gluttons, but we do like on some evenings to have a light snack, such as fresh fruit, or perhaps a light desert or a little salad. The late night options on this ship were virtually non-existant after around 9:30, consisting only of the 24 hour pizza s and, a soft-serve/yougurt machine, and a dessert stand on the entertainment floor, which offered gelato, fancier desserts and coffes (all at an extra charge). In our opinion, this was really inferior to other experiences we have had.
OUTDOOR RECREATION AND POOLS:
This ship obviously was designed for Caribbean cruises and for families. Once again, the amenities were a mixed bag. On the plus side, this ship offered realy first rate outside seating. There was a lot of very nice seating in the shade around the pool decks, including very nice cushioned love seats and other interesting seating. The lounges around the pools were nice. Perhaps, one of the nicest features on the ship was the adults-only Serenity seating area with large covered bed-like lounges for two or more people to relax in. In addition, the ship offered more whirlpool spas than any ship I had ever seen, and even had spas on the Promenade deck overlooking the ocean, which was a very nice touch. Even nicer were the eating area just outside the enterntainment floor and some really nice outdoor seating areas for a couple of casual dining places on the entertainment floor, including under the Red Frog. Another really nice touch is the outdoor theater around one of the pools and the generous availability of towels by the pools and blankest for the hardy souls who wanted to watch movies outdoors at night, when it is cool on the ocean at this time of year. There also were lounges chairs spread all over the outdoor space on the recreation floors -â€" far more than I anticipated and have seen on other ships. There should be no problem getting a lounge chair in sunny areas on this ship, provided that you are not wedded to being around the pool. All in all, these were really nice features that surprised me.
We were less impressed with the pool areas themselves. The main pool was really surprisingly small for a ship that is designed for warm weather sailing. On the other hand, there is a nice pool at the very rear of the ship that has a large enough feel to it. It, too, offered very nice seating options in the sun and shade. Although we did not use any of the outdoor sports options, they seemed to be varied and plentiful (miniature golf, basketball, rope climbing, etc.) One minor downside of the Promenade deck is that it also hosts some of the seating and dining options, so that is not as easy to use just for walking (and believe me, you can get a lot of exercise doing walking laps on this ship) as on other ships, where the Promenade provides unobstructed walking space. But this is just a nit.
We generally were pleased with the service. The cabin steward, like most cabin stewards we have met, was really excellent. He cleaned the cabins promptly and well. A nice touch, if you care about these things, is that he made nice little animals out of towels each evening. Our dining room staff, comprised of one waiter and two assistants, could not have been nicer. We had a table for two (thankfully) at the late seating. They were very accomodating in handling any quriky requests we had (like lemon on the tables for the water and iced tea and an extra glass of ice). On the other hand, through no fault of their own, the entire dining experience always felt rushed. They came to take orders almost immediately after seating, and the food came flying out of the kitchen. As a result, you could easily go through a three course meal in 45 minutes. In reality, we do not mind eating and leaving reasonably quickly, but this was rushed even by our standards. Again, while some people might disagree with us, we were a little put off by all the "entertainment" that the wait staff is compelled to provide late in the dinners, such as singing, conga lines, etc. In our opinion, there is no place for this in what is supposed to be a relaxing time for meals.
We also heard a fair amount of grumbling from people who had chosen the "Your Tiime" dining option. It seems that some people thought it was pretty disorganized, but we have no personal experience on this.
Most of the other staff were very friendly and accomdating, including the waiters (who really cleared tables in the buffet room very quickly), the bartenders, the front desk staff, etc.). One exception to this is that I did not find the excursion staff particularly outgoing.
One huge negative for us, which distinguished Carnival as a lower-end line, is that when we asked a waiter in the buffet to get us a Diet Coke and gave him our room charge card, he told us that they don't get drinks, but there was a bar by the pool. That do me was very disappointing and a lack of service that I had not experienced before.
The ship was generally very clean, which appears to have been a priority.
This was another mixed bag to us. A couple of the production shows were ok, and others were just tacky. The piano bar was very nice, and the lounge player there was very good. The various bands and combos were adequate to good, in our opinion. The ship rotated comedians, and several of them were pretty funny, particularly at the x-rated late night adult shows. The reliance on magicians seemed a bit low-end to us but, again, reasonable people could easily disagree.
The karaoke options are abundant for people into that. These events culminated in a passenger talent show, which sounds cheesey, but really turned out to be among themost fun entertainment options of the whole cruise. The disco was compact and adequate, but might get crowded when the ship is filled with younger people.
The cruise staff generally was good. The cruise director, James, generally was very good. The cruise offered a wide variety of activities, enough to keep almost everyone on-board entertained while on ship. The casino was sufficiently large to accommodate most cruisers. (I only wish that they would have more no-smoking tables.) The shops were what you would expect on a cruise ship, although the candy store was a nice touch, but I doubt it will survive, given the lack of traffic.
One big negative is the relatively frequent announcements over the public address system of upcoming entertainment events. These got downright annoying. I wish they would dial these back a notch.
We found the choice of excursions to be sufficiently varied, with half-day and full day alternatives offered. Our advice, however, is to do some research on your own well before departing for your cruise and try to book the excursions on your own. You no doubt will save a lot of money. While the cruise lines don't guaranty the performance and timing of the independent tour operators, most of the better independent tour operators depend on cruise passengers and are highly reliable. If you can afford it, we strongly recommend trying to put together a small group and hire a private driver/tour guide to take you wherever you want to go. You will see far more with them than you will ever see on a cruise excursion, and the price probably will be a lot less.
Carnival handled the departure of the ship with military precision. Kudos to them for that and the smooth transfers, which include them carrying luggage directly to the airport, so you never have to touch your luggage.
The ambience on this ship clearly is not one of elegance, or even upscale. It clearly is middle-of-the road. I generally like casual dress onboard, and do not even like to dress up for dinner. However, this cruise line welcomes people to come to the dining room in shorts and blue jeans, rather than, for example, khakis or similar wear. Again, I am sure some people enjoy this, but we think that this is a bit lower-end than we would have preferred. But this is Carvinal, not Celebrity.
We love huge ships, and this is huge. There are many nice features to it, particuarly the cabins and outdoor seating, but it has a plastic feel to it overall. The food quality (except for the steakhouse) is really a deal-killer for us. This is probably a good choice for first-time cruisers, those on a tighter budget, those who like a lot of activity and entertainment, and those who tend to be easier to please. It also should appeal to Caribbean travelers who like party ships and people travelling with families. But, on balance, I do not think that this would be a good choice for those who have enjoyed more upscale cruise lines because of the lower-end ambiance, lack of attention to niceities, and second-rate food service.