We travelled as two parties - one couple with kids (12yo and 10yo) from Queensland and the grandparents from Canberra. Both parties booked through Worldwide Cruise Centre, an Australian company, which went MIA once the money was paid. Had to remind them to send the tickets (they went missing in their office); no flexibility regarding the pre-cruise hotel in Barcelona, even though we were willing to pay for changes; incapable of recording our frequent flyer numbers on the flights they had organised (we ended up having to do this ourselves); and unable to secure our family the My Time dining option. I've had better service from overseas cruise agencies.
Barcelona was a lovely introduction to the cruise. We arrived a day in advance and took the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic shopping. We stayed overnight in the Petit Palace Boqueria which was very adequate and well-located. At embarakation, we met up with the grandparents, who had arrived separately, having organised their own flights and stay at the Hyatt. They mentioned the Hyatt had provided excellent service.
Unfortunately, Air France had lost the grandparents' main suitcase and were not looking particularly competent at finding it in time for embarkation. (It turned out they were one of only many who had this problem with Air France on the cruise.) After a terse exchange with the Air France contact, we were assured it would be delivered to the terminal in time.
Check-in was smooth. Upon boarding, however, we were faced with long queues of people trying to change dining times and speak to Guest Services. We joined the Guest Services queue first to seek help with the suitcase. We were greeted by a very pleasant Croatian girl who advised us that it was very unlikely the suitcase would be delivered. She stated that she had only seen a suitcase arrive one other time in such circumstances. This was a bit distressing for the grandparents, given most of their clothing was in the particular bag. Nevertheless, Guest Services assured us they would do their absolute best to coordinate with Air France. In the end, the suitcase was delivered in time, so that was a huge relief and a big surprise to Guest Services (maybe our growling at Air France actually achieved something!).
No such luck in the dining queue. After being assured by the stressed-looking Maitre D' that he would do something for us regarding the My Time dining request, we later found out there were to be no changes to our dining arrangements. It turned out that most people were made empty promises and were left with their original allocations. We weren't thrilled with this, given we were travelling with relatives who live thousands of kilometres from us in Australia and this was a chance to spend time together. In the end, however, they did accommodate us on the same table each night, at a fixed dining time.
DINING: I can't say we were thrilled with the quality of the food, but having travelled widely, we know Australians have fairly high expectations compared to others. I guess it's because we have such easy access to great quality meat and produce at home. Having said this, however, we found on a previous cruise that Royal Caribbean's main dining room was exceptional, both in service and food quality, when compared to Carnival. Also, Carnival's offerings in the buffet were invariably over-dressed and way too sweet, often due to the liberal use of sugar substitues. There was just no authenticity in any of the flavours, which was very disappointing. For us, food is a deal-breaker and, for this reason alone, we wouldn't cruise Carnival again. Also, the service was just nowhere in the vicinity of Royal Caribbean, which seemed to do the whole experience so much better. We found the wait-staff on Carnival a bit masochistic - they seemed to only respond well when spoken to rudely (which many of the passengers seemed happy to oblige). That's just not our style; in fact, we found such behaviour more than a little bit strange.
ROOMS: The grandparents had an ocean-view balcony room which was nice and spacious. Definitely a better way to travel. Having travelled this way previously, we opted to go it basic this time, knowing we would spend minimal time in the room on such a port-intensive cruise. We had a four-berth interior (10231) which was a tight fit, but still adequate. Our room attendant, an Indian gentleman, was excellent. Nothing was ever too much trouble and we ensured he was rewarded, accordingly, at the end of the cruise. By the way, be wary of rooms near the laundries. Some people were prepared to queue outside cabin doors for hours (and at all-hours) to get access to a washing machine!
FACILITIES: As the ship's cruise director acknowledges, the Magic doesn't have enough pool space. Quite woeful, in fact. We did what they no doubt want people to do and paid for access to the thermal suites. These were fine, but a bit claustrophobic in that you can't get any access to fresh air. The entire area is enclosed and, not unusually, steamy! I don't think it in any way makes up for the lack of pool areas. In terms of the pool deck areas, the ambience is nice (particularly in the adults only section), but good luck trying to secure a sun lounge. Much is said about this issue on cruises, so no need to elaborate, other than to say I think it's very poor form when you see one person lying across two lounges on one side of the ship and reserving another two on the other side for when the sun moves. Such people are beyond reproach, as they have absolutely no concept of good manners. And there were many of them on this cruise. Carnival would do well to try and address this issue in the future. There were quite a few additional spas (whirlpools) on board, which were scattered on a number of decks. Often, they were too cold to use in the evenings (they turned off the heating) and sometimes were occupied by the ship's officers during the day. Nevertheless, they are a good idea if serviced properly.The day spa was impressively presented and the few services we used (nails and massage) were delivered well. The sports deck area is one of the best we've seen and the waterpark is a sensational idea for those with kids. Unfortunately, the ropes course is weather-affected, so aim to do it early in your cruise or you may miss out. Our children are very sociable and participated in the kids' clubs, but didn't find them as well run as those on Royal Caribbean. The on-board entertainment was generally average, with the exception of Blood Power, a band on the pool deck, who were exceptional.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS: The itinerary was faultless and this was the reason we chose the cruise. We used romeinlimo for most of our on-shore excursions and this went very well, though I wouldn't bother again with such expense in Messina.
SUMMARY: Lovely looking ship and a fantastic itinerary, but not enough substance behind the glitz. Stick to more quality cruising if you enjoy good food, good service and like-minded passengers.