This was our third cruise on new or new-ish Carnival ships. As a "cup's half full" sort of person, I'll start with the positives:
This ship has a great layout--especially in the wide 5th Deck Promenade. Gone are the long claustrophobic fore-to-aft walks experienced on earlier ships. Magic's Promenade is spacious with outside deck areas around the entire ship. There are deck chair areas, hot tubs that cantilever over the ocean (unfortunately packed with unsupervised kids), and outdoor extensions to the midship Ocean Plaza entertainment area. This deck also gives an outdoor patio area to the Red Frog Pub with thatched sun shades and faux palms. This outstanding Caribbean-themed watering hole became a favorite pre- and post-dinner hangout for our three-generation family. Colin from Guyana at the Red Frog was outstanding!
Awesome water park--the slides were fast and fun. The kids also loved the water park's play area and dump bucket, especially on the one or two hot days at sea.
Hard working and positive crew--these individuals were all away from their families for the holidays, yet they still served with a smile. I'm not just talking about the high-visibility people--even the table bussers, cabin stewards, and maintenance workers exuded professionalism and pride of service. Ken, the singing Irish Maitre d', is a real gem. We sailed with him when Freedom was new and were really glad to be back with him on Magic.
And the negatives:
There is something mechanically wrong with this ship. Some minor stabilizer-corrected roll should be expected on any cruise ship, however this ship shimmies back and forth like no other we've experienced. Magic is bigger than any other Carnival ship, yet she yaws and vibrates in a very strange way, even in relatively calm seas. Neither Freedom or Liberty (both smaller than Magic) did this. One of the ship's staff mentioned that Magic recently had a thruster fail, which was then replaced with another that differed from the original (http://travel.usatoday.com/cruises/post/2011/11/carnival-magic-maroon-5-mexico-delay/566187/1). If this is creating the hydrodynamic conditions causing this shimmy, then Carnival really should fix it. Perhaps it is a feedback problem between the independently controlled rudders and the stabilizers. I'm not a naval architect and don't play one on TV, but frankly, my wife won't sail on this ship again because it made her ill. With no motion sickness experience on any other ships, she rushed to get ready and out of the room on this ship (which was tragic with our beautiful wrap-around balcony).
Aside from the aforementioned Promenade Deck, much of this ship feels extremely crowded. The rest of the public gathering areas don't seem to have been extended to handle the extra room capacity. The main Lido pool area was often PACKED, as was the buffet. Getting seats for the main shows required a 30-minute advanced arrival. The multi-deck holiday sing-along around the lobby area was stacked six or seven deep (not great for the little ones).
It also seemed like they packed a seven-day load out of food for this eight-day cruise. On Christmas morning, eggs were running low (getting two eggs benedict required a special request), limes were not available for Coronas on the Lido Deck, and by the final day there was not a drop of skim milk to be found on the ship.
The cruise director spent more time trying to sell us stuff than giving us actual information. In his verbose speeches on the public address system, he'd sell shore excursions, tux rentals, spa treatments, and trinkets from Carnival's kickback stores ashore. Interspersed among these seemingly endless sales pitches, there were a precious few tidbits of actual useful information, but mostly we tuned him out.
Paying the exorbitant charges for Carnival's excursions got some the privilege of getting off the ship first in the ports. (Paying double what some others paid for their entire cruises only got us nicer room and a view, but I digress). In Belize, a tender port, this maddening practice almost caused us to miss our self-booked cave tubing tour as we waited in the stairwell for the Carnival excursions to pack the boats first. We were pleased with our choice, however, when we compared our experience to theirs (see my Belize review below).
On the topic of shore days, why doesn't Carnival give out any information that won't directly lead to an extra buck in their pocket? Other cruise lines offer real maps (not just shopping maps), transportation guides, and other cultural information relating to a specific port. Carnival shamelessly offers only maps that lead to their kickback stores (Diamonds International, anyone?).
Magic could not moor in Mahogany Bay on Roatan as scheduled because of "high winds." However, we could moor in Coxen Hole, just a few miles down the beach on the same side of the island. As Magic had never before moored in Roatan, it seems that they wanted conditions to be perfect before navigating the narrow channel into Mahogany Bay. This caused difficulty in our self-booked zip-line excursion and an extra transportation charge for the difference in distance between the two ports. The irony of Magic being too big to moor in Carnival's little contrived port (Mahogany Bay) was not lost on us.
The much vaunted Sky Course (ropes course) was seldom open because of seemingly over-restrictive wind rules. For Pete's sake, the thing is on top of a ship that goes 20+ knots (often into the wind). Sadly, for most of the cruise it was little more than a hood ornament (roof ornament?) With a following breeze on the last day, thankfully we were able to get the kids up there. It was fun!
Finally, the Galveston Terminal was a disaster in trying to efficiently unload this massive ship. We were fortunate to have debarkation number 10, but still got off the ship an hour after to published time for our group. We were already halfway back to Houston before my daughter received a text from one of her new friends saying that she was still on the ship. In our two prior cruises out of Miami we never experienced this frustration, which only exacerbated an already depressing end-of-cruise day.
Overall, it a good cruise. However, Carnival needs to fix that thruster/rudder/stabilizer problem before we will consider cruising on that ship again. The company also needs to be a bit more content with the fact that we've already spent thousands for the privilege of being there and will likely spend hundreds more on alcohol. I wish they would refrain from making the entire eight-day affair one big sales pitch to extract every last dollar from my wallet.