Dec 18, 2011 - Dec 26, 2011
Me and my wife went with 10 relatives
Cabin 6491 aft over the Spotlight Lounge (deck 5)
We booked a family vacation on the Magic for Christmas. The first thing that struck me was how large the ship was. I have cruised on the Conquest and the Ecstasy before and this ship dwarfs them both. As we were boarding I experienced first hand the new way that Carnival is taking photos. Instead of everyone standing in line at the door of the lobby they was a large area before the gangway with 10-15 photographers taking pictures. This resulted in a 5 minute wait instead of the 1hour wait that we had previously experienced.
We tried the "Any Time Dining" option this cruise. While we loved that we could watch the ship cast off from port without being late for dinner, we found that on "Sea Days" if we were not in line early (Up to 20 minutes on "Elegant Night") there would be no tables left and we would receive a pager letting us know when a table opened up. Also we missed getting the same waitstaff every night. We really have been spoiled by the level of personal care that Carnival staff provides.
The Magic also has a secret. The Italian restaurant (Cucina del Capitano) was open for lunch with a free build your own pasta bar. This little restaurant is worth finding early on. The pasta was delicious and we ate there everyday for lunch. I may kick myself later for telling everyone this. The place is almost empty for lunch. They give you a paper with your choices on it. You can choose linguine, penne or bow-tie pasta shape. A selection of 5 different sauces, and about a dozen or so additions (spinach, onions, mushrooms, chicken, and the like). They also include a piece of bread and/ or lasagna (which in itself was a meal). I hope they include one on ever ship in the future.
Unfortunately not everything is perfect. Our room (6941) was directly above the Spotlight Lounge. You could here the karaoke until midnight. Of course this was not as bad a my cousins room which was directly above the Vibe night club (open until 2 a.m.) Lesson learned. Always pack ear plugs. The Serenity deck (adults only) was a wonderful place to be on port days. It is directly in front of the slides and even though it might be adults only, anyone on the top of the stairs waiting to slide down can see the entire Serenity area. Also there is no noise barrier. The screams of delight coming from the children in the Water Works area can be heard on the Serenity deck which makes it decidedly less Serene. Neither of these were as annoying as the basketball court being located directly above the Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano. The constant banging and shaking of the ceiling and walls might have driven us away if the food had not been so addictively good. I hope they close the court before they start serving dinner. If i was paying $12 a plate, I would be very upset at that noise.
The ports were beautiful and while we didn't do any excursions we found something to buy in every port.
I am happy to see that carnival has continued with the comedy club idea. The comics were wonderful and funny. Comic Mutzie kept all his shows clean and family friendly and even encouraged the kids to come back to the late show. The other comedians however got a little racy for my taste during the "family friendly" shows. If I had brought children, we would have left, but they were fine for adult humor and I did enjoy them on that level.
Over all the ship was clean and easy to get around. The staff was friendly and willing to bend over backward to meet our needs. Special thanks to:
Ernesto (Room Steward) and his team (deck 6 aft). They always left our room sparkling and well made.
Stefanie (Trivia Hostess), who let us play along, even when it was just 4 of us.
And Eli (Sports Director) who talked me into doing the Sky Course. Twice!
This was my 3rd Carnival Cruise, out of Galveston, TX. Drove to port, no flights. Parked at Lighthouse Parking with our online reservation. Covered parking! Being Christmas week, there were fewer children than we expected so there was minimal elevator playing and hallway running. Easy to get around ship once you've learned most stuff is on Lido or Promenade with indoor restaurants on 3 or 4.
We booked late and got late dining so we switched to anytime dining. It seemed okay at first until you realize that it really means to go at anytime but you will be eating at the pace of the slowest table within your waiters group of tables. If the guy at the table next to you orders three appetizers, you will be waiting for him to finish before getting your meal since they serve everyone together. Anytime does not mean at your pace. December and no jacket needed, used, or brought! Makes for lighter packing for Onebagers.
Still not much tropical music about the ship. Carnival does not realize that we are on vacation and expect to hear different music to signify that. There was less spam flyers in the daily Fun Times newsletters than last year. Only 1 or 2 pieces per newsletter (as compared to 3 last year). The big screen was only useful for the morning show and nighttime movies. The daytime movies were extremely hard to see on lido deck, but they did show up much better on the lido cam on the tv channel in the room, although they did not broadcast the movie sound track, idiots.
The ship changed one port the same morning it was to dock due to weather. Cruise booked excursions were refunded. Another reason to book excursions through the cruise line is so they hold the boat until you get back on it.
There were no elevator campers this trip but I did help out a kid on a scavenger hunt. I never did see her again to find out how it went. We were told a tip that the Italian restaurant was free at lunch so from that point on, we barely hit lido buffet as we hit the sit down restaurants for breakfast and dinner.
Things I am glad I took:
$20 waterproof watch which always works well. Clocks were sporadic and sometimes difficult to see around the ship. I constantly used my watch to match up with what was happening on the schedule for the day, which Carnival has perforated so it can be easily torn off, folded up, and stuffed in your pocket. Took my own vacuum insulated mug again, ice last over a day in this thing! Cheap polarized sunglasses sure made outdoor ping pong playable. Watch out for the facial suntan lines though!
Packing cubes for clothes worked well again. They allow the luggage to be duffels or divided how I want, not how the luggage is divided during manufacture. Travel Insurance was used this time! Not by me but by a couple relatives who were diagnosed with bad medical condition a month before cruise.
Cancel Any Reason is pricier but worth it if there's a chance you need it. Always get travel insurance, even if you don't add Cancel Any Reason. I always take some wire hangars to help dry out wet clothes or air out smokey nightclub clothes (which wasn't an issue this time, minimal smokers in the nightclub). Took my trusty fold-able mesh dirty clothes basket. Works every time. Room stewards can move it and move it back when vacuuming if needed and they don't have to touch your dirty clothes. Empty it into a trash bag and fold it back up to pack dirty clothes for the trip back home.
We also took carry-on sodas and champagne as allowed by the Carnival FAQs. These are items we probably would not buy on board anyhow so it just added to make the trip more enjoyable and help us to want to book future cruises knowing they are acceptable on this cruise line. Thank you Carnival for allowing them! Please allow small liquor quantities as once my starters would run out, I would be MUCH happier to purchase additional drinks from the ship bars than I do now.
Glad I took a minimal sewing kit. Never thought I'd actually use it. I keep a needle and black thread thread inside the cap of a seam ripper. Takes up no space at all!
Things I could do without next time:
Soap. I really have to learn to use the shampoo and soap in the showers on board. It may not be labeled aside from being yellow and green but our friends swear by it and even fill up empty bottles with it to take back home. And using the on-board soap will lighten my luggage load as well. Again, did not get a chance to use the Frisbee. It may stay home at some point. Think I will quit taking my reversible pullover shirt and opt for a normal shirt in its place. It's great that it can be worn two different colors but it is heavy cotton and really hot. May not be a problem in colder climates but in colder climates I would also probably prefer sleeves.
Things I wish I took:
One extra short sleeve shirt. Turns out one shirt I took had a button come off. Not a problem since I take a very mini sewing kit. Unfortunately, while trying to sew the button on, it fell down and I could not find it. My wife found it a couple days later under the bed. Don't they vacuum under the beds? Plus or minus and extra shirt does make a difference for OneBag travelers though.
Got up way too early, and got to port around 11am driving, stopping to eat breakfast along the way. Ship was already boarding and we never had a wait. Once on board, walked directly over to guest services to get a hole punched in your ship card so you can hang it on a lanyard, which is handy if your shorts do not always have pockets. Then headed up to Lido deck for buffet lunch and to wait out rooms opening up to passengers. They were giving out free glasses of champagne! We parked it there with our OneBag luggage until staterooms opened up. Another person said they had only seen this on Christmas and New Years cruises.
Why do we OneBag it? Because having too much luggage is more hassle than is needed. I also want to ensure I have my essentials for vacation. FYI: nobody cares about your stuff as much as you. Don't believe me? Go watch some videos of "cruise luggage" on youtube.
Since International Law changed last year, they do not require people to take their life vests with them to the 3:45pm muster drill. Few cruise lines still require it, but not Carnival.
Like the Ectasy, the Magic has lighting around the atrium and promenade walkways that change colors. It really is mesmerizing to watch the colors change at night. The casino has a top hat carpet print and good thought put into it as a whole with a 'magic tricks' theme. The casino and lighting in the Spotlight Lounge are the neatest things to look at on this ship.
Each stairwell on each floor has a different piece of art prints, nothing fancy or special here. The Magic overall has a wood and aqua glass decor. I expected it to make me feel more like 'magic', but to me, the decor is plain drab and uneventful. Hope future ships have more oomph put into them than this rich 70's retro steal.
Just what you would expect. Fridge was locked which was okay for us. We didn't need their overly prices minishots. Steward kept my cooler of soda filled with ice after I asked him. Why did I have to ask? the Ecstasy had mounted door magnets to hold them open. Why did the newer Magic revert back to rubber doorstops that move around on the floor and get in the way? Could always use 5 extra hangars than they provide. Good thing we bring some.
We did the new (as of Nov 2011) default standard $13 per person per night tip that gets shared among all crew members and automatically put on your bill when you board (or prepay). We also tipped our room steward himself some extra the night before we got off the ship. He always kept the ice bucket and cooler full and the bed had towel animals nightly as we requested on the first night.
Found out the wait staff, stewards, etc may only get paid tips (as in the automatic tips they add to your room). They really do try hard for the extra tips they get. Tip them cash to ensure they only have to share it with their assistants (who do half the work you never notice). We try to keep our toiletries bag hanging or on a shelf so the stewards do not have to hassle with them while cleaning the bathroom each day. It speeds them up and they do not have to touch your personal items that way either.
The safes on the Magic keypad operated. They do not need a card with magnetic strip like the Conquest did. The empty gift card I took for the safe did not go unnoticed though; it was used to turn on our lights and power. That's right, the Magic has a card slot that they want you to use your room key for so when you leave and take it with you, it'll automatically turn off power outlets and lights. It is a simple contact switch and does not matter what type of card you stick in it.
We put up a wreath on our door with the removable sticky clips. Since we could not do our annual drive around to look at Christmas lights, we walked around each stateroom floor to view door decorations. The higher floor up we went, the better and more elaborate the door decorations were. Apparently, more experienced guests stay on upper floors. One door had a wreath with battery operated leds. There were many stockings on doors and some tinsel and wrapping paper doors.
As I said before, go with friends, the more the merrier, seriously, even if you are newlyweds. You'll always walk with or by somebody you know. And try to get staterooms on the same floor next to each other. Talk to everyone. Everyone is on the cruise to 'have fun', so there is your opener. Make a friend every day or at every meal. Or just sit there and eyeball them until they say something. :)
The 'available everyday' menu no longer has the shrimp cocktail. I was very disappointed. On a better note, the 'available everyday' is now printed and you can read it, this was not so in the past. The dining restaurants display dinner menu throughout the day so you can check it before dining.
The menus had color and minimal art at the top for Christmas dinner. On this cruise, restaurant breakfast times were 7-9 or 8-10 depending on port days, check your newsletter the night before! Breakfast menu was the same every day as we ended up getting up in time (are you serious? yes) to make the open seating restaurant for all of them this trip. We hit lunch in the Italian restaurant every day I believe, and forgot about regular restaurant lunch. The buffets had the same food every day from what I could tell (one burgers, one wok, one pizza, deli, etc). The restaurant provides a quieter environment than the buffets and you can let the waiter do the food hunting for you. The sushi spot was good and easy to find on this ship as you always walk right by it, available 5pm-8pm. It only had a long line the second night.
24 hour food? Yes if you count the self-serve ice cream/yogurt and tea/coffee/hot chocolate/lemonade/water despensers. I was not awake an entire night to verify the rest.
There were two elegant nights and neither of them was Christmas Eve or Christmas.
At anytime dining, you walk up, tell them your room number, they put it in a computer and it prints out your names on a receipt the staff gets so they can call you by name. Seems like a waste of paper to me. If everyone at anytime dining wants to dine early, there WAS a long line a couple times and pagers handed out, just like at a restaurant in your local city.
Brand new ship, there was at least two spots (elevator/floor) that did not ding to alert you of an elevator opening. Pay attention and twirl often! Other than that the elevators on this ship are smooth! Despite extra passengers, it was rarely a long wait for elevators. Sometimes an elevator was display X showing it was out of service but twice on this cruise, an elevator disappeared! What? Yes, it did not display a floor number or an X. We never did find out what that meant. One time it was blank on one floor, then we hit the stairs and it showed a 2 on the next floor. One HUGE improvement on this ship over the others is that one step out of an elevator is a huge black floor number on the carpet so you know where you are! This is also on the stairwells! I think the elevator also spoke which floor it was on but I paid more attention to the carpet numbers.
Events and entertainment:
Why does Carnival continue to feature EXPENSIVE art on a 'family' fun cruise? They are missing their target market somewhere. If I was into expensive, pricey art, I would not go on a cruise to buy it. We went to the art auction last cruise so we knew better than to go to that again and waste our time with 1 glass of champagne.
We became regulars of daily trivia and the bean bag contest once my wife got wind of the trophy being a ship on a stick. She had to win one being a renaissance participant with all food being 'something' on a stick. The trivia host was pleasant and there were other trivia regulars too we got to know.
Jewelry: Who goes on a 'family fun cruise' to buy expensive, pricey jewelry? Next.
How do they make money throwing out 20 pictures of every person of every cruise? True some people will buy some but to put them all on display and throw out ones not purchased a shame. Good to see that they also have a digital kiosk to help people find their pictures, FINALLY. Now if they would quit printing them until people decide to want them, they could do more useful things with deck 4 than display photos.
We learned on previous cruises to avoid the silly crew shows. We watched part of one illusionist show. The show part was great but the magic part of his act was like amateur hour. I can't believe Carnival let this guy do his magic part of it. He really needed to practice a LOT more on his outdated stage tricks. You could see or tell what he was doing! We did not stay for the end of his show. We did go see the nightly comedians in the other lounge instead.
I hit the Vibe nightclub every night which mainly played 80's and club hip hop. This DJ sucked and refused to play everyones requests. Maybe he played a couple but I overheard people saying he wouldn't do theirs. Many times people walked up to the dj booth to request something only to find out he was not even in there. He sure did leave his booth a lot. This is an adult only nightclub. The DJ was playing censored versions of songs! Hello?! Carnival needs to get rid of this guy. Latin night had 6 dancers the first hour and was DEAD the entire rest of the night. Not sure if the DJ didn't want to play normal music or if it is a Carnival rule that they must have this totally crappy club night. I walked by every hour or so and NOBODY was in there. Mind you, there are bartenders and wait staff in there who are trying to make a living. Maybe one day, cruises will start to have better dance clubs that play euro music.
Security enforced their Carnival rules of:
#1 Age 18+ only.
#2 No drinks on the dance floor.
#3 wear shoes on the dance floor.
#2 is kind of stupid since they designed Vibe with standing tables ON the dance floor. It is STILL funny to watch them "Spill Stalking" as security drops their head and walks around the spilled drink on the dance floor. They pick their head up for a moment to try to signify to another officer to call housekeeping to come mop it up. Then the head goes back down and they circle the spot. This process repeats until it is cleaned up.
The piano bar and bands:
Carnival has an issue with piano bars. What is the need to amplify them until your ears bleed? These are generally smaller rooms than a lounge and a piano is plenty loud! Amplify the vocals if you must but lay off the piano and other music being amplified to annoy the staterooms directly below it! That is how loud the piano bar on the Magic and Ecstasy were. My relatives had trouble sleeping because of it. This piano guy seemed to have an actual list of songs he could play and was somewhat limited.
Like other Carnival ships, the band was Asian again. There was also a guitar player who accepted this Christmas cruise and did not memorize or bring holiday song lyrics with him. #FAIL He asked for help with many songs. A guitar player can always play a chord or two and get by with traditional songs but to not even print up a copy of lyrics for himself was stupid. He mainly played in the pub.
This pub also charges for food? They had a separate pub menu and their own beer brand, no big deal. It would be better if cruises were all inclusive for all food and coffee bars. The 'family fun cruise' just became a 'squeeze every last drop of credit out of the family you can so they have a terrible time and spend the next 5 years paying for it and go with another cruise line next time'.
We did not do any excursions and stayed in the tourist traps. Why do these places only have pullover prints and Hawaiian button down shirts? Would it kill them to have decent looking button downs? 4 ports and not a single public beach available. Guess Carnival is trying to squeeze more money by forcing beach excursions. Are other cruise companies doing this too?
FYI first timers: Please do not rush down to exit the ship ASAP. This crowds the walkways and stairwells. They WILL call out each floor, one at a time, to leave the ship. There will not be a traffic jam from the people leaving the boat. Everybody will normally get off MOST ships between 8:00am and 11:00am. If you fly, plan for a late afternoon flight back to be on the safe side. Since we got up early enough, we have time to eat breakfast before they start calling self-assist people to debark first. We ate breakfast and met more new people we had not seen on the ship before. Headed back to the room and since we onebag it, invoked our luggage into backpack mode and left. No wheels or heavy huge bags to drag us down. With passport and customs slip filled out the night before dinner, went through the line to customs. Since most people are now getting passports, there is a short wait in lines through customs. Got on the waiting shuttle back to the car and headed home.
Still loving this method. If you are unfamiliar with this method, do a web search for onebag. Even though we bring along a cooler for sodas, it folds up for the trip back. It is extremely wonderful to have our luggage on our backs and zip down the stairs and around people with their giant luggage. And for most of them, they also have another bag or two that they checked the night before and will have to hunt it down at the terminal once they get off the ship, but not Us. The backpack was still a joy to use compared to the traditional hand carrying or wheeling tip-overs. Popular onebag luggage companies: tom bihn, mei, red oxx. We will probably go on the Magic again simply because we can drive to port. I wish it was prettier on the inside to look at though.