I traveled on 12/18 for 8 nights on the new Carnival Magic out of Galveston with 16 family members; 12 adults and 5 children ages 6 thru 13. This was a Christmas cruise so the ship was packed with over 4700 guests so there were long lines and slow elevators often...take the stairs and you will get some good exercise and will get to your destination faster! Collectively the adults have taken over 30 cruises on 4 different cruise lines so we have experience to offer a solid review.
Let's start with The Good! The ship is huge, beautiful and modern with a large casino and a lot of activities to keep you entertained. The waterpark and sports area with putt putt golf and basketball were big draws and always had a crowd. There were many trivia games, karaoke, and other contests going on throughout the day for those wanting to stay indoors.
The staterooms are comfortable and clean. I had a balcony room which was welcomed since we had four in the room, my wife and I and our 6 and 8 year children. We had one bathroom but other family members had 2 bathrooms which really came in handy when tight on time and needing to get showered. Our stateroom steward was terrific and was right on top of everything we needed. There are 5-6 Carnival channels and the options would be improved if ESPN was added as a channel to view. They have it in the casino so access is not an issue.
Our kids went to Club Carnival a couple of times and they were so-so on the experience. They spent a total of 5 hours there over 2 days, mainly playing games and videos. There were around 700 kids on this ship and around 800 teenagers so kids were everywhere. This made it nice in some ways as many kids made new friends. On the other hand...there were 1500 kids/teenagers running around, including mine!
The Bad...well, the food was a big disappointment. The service in the Southern Lights dining room was good at night but not so much in the morning. The breakfasts on the ship were very disappointing and I must admit you can get a better breakfast at any of the popular drive-thru and national chain breakfast joints. I ordered a traditional Eggs Benedict in the Southern Lights dining room one morning. It had obviously been prepared hours in advance of my ordering. The eggs should be poached and they were at one time, but the yolks were hard as they were probably prepared far in advance of my ordering them. The Hollandaise was void of all moisture and looked like someone tried to turn the top into a creme brulee as it was browned over completely...heat lamp destroyed this and it should have never left the kitchen.
Another visit to this dining room brought us cold French toast, cold sausages and cold toast. With 4700 plus guests I know food needs to be prepped but serving cold food is poor management. Portions were smaller than normal so be prepared to order another. For example, the omelets may provide you 4-5 bites of total egg and contents. You can eat lunch in many places including the Marketplace buffets on the Lido deck, the Italian restaurant's pasta bar, the Southern or Northern Lights dining rooms, the 24 hour pizza station, the Oceanside BBQ (on non-rainy days) and a couple of other places serving deli sandwiches and burgers.
The Prime Steakhouse and the Italian restaurant are open for dinner for a service up-charge. We dined at the steakhouse one night and it was good. The service was excellent and we appreciated the attention from the GM, sommelier and servers. The chef came by to say hello too which is a nice touch. The Ahi tuna tartare was the best dish I had on the ship. Flavors popped and everyone who did not order it wished they had. The rib eye was okay. It was called on the menu to have either a 14 or 18 spiced rub on it but it did not taste like it. I actually had to salt it which should have been done in the kitchen and the rub simply was not there. Two others ordered this cut of steak and agreed it was not seasoned properly. Those who ate lobster and filet all agreed their dishes were very good.
The Italian restaurant was really good and for the $12 up-charge for adults and $5 for kids it should be considered for 3-4 dinners. It's that good and the other options are that underwhelming. You dine family style and our server recommended starting with all appetizers and salads which was perfect as you got to taste 10-12 different items. Each person ordered their own entrees and we all enjoyed our choices. You can dine at the Italian restaurant for lunch too without the up-charge! Most people assume an up-charge but there is not one and the food is better than any other lunch option on most days. You choose a pasta, protein and sauce and the chef prepares it for you, along with a good Caesar salad and focaccia bread.
The Lido buffet was a disappointment too. Food was often repeated daily, lacked flavor and honestly was not as good as anything you would get from a national casual dining chain like a Friday's, Chili's or Applebee's. Lines were long and moved slowly at the more popular Mongolian buffet and the Tandoor bar. Food was better at these two locations but the areas were small and you would wait 15-20 minutes or better to get to the food, or the place to ask for food.
The dining in the Southern Lights features 2 menus; an everyday menu and a daily menu. Out of 5 dinners eaten in this dining room, I may have eaten 3-4 items that I would consider good, well-prepared, flavorful. For the most part, the food here lacked flavor and seasoning. Portions were small so you often needed to order another to get full. The Oceanside BBQ was in one small area on the ship so lines were long and food was plain and simple and in my one experience there, it was overcooked/burnt burgers and hot dogs and cold chicken and pork tacos. Overall, the food was a huge disappointment and the worse we have ever experienced on a cruise.
The service around the pool was not great and could have been good if there were additional servers. There are not a lot of shops on the ship, which is no big deal to me but I did hear others say other ships offered more specialty shops, etc.
The Ugly...we were traveling over Christmas and were expecting the ship to be more festive in decor and events. With the exception of some garland around the 3rd, 4th and 5th floor lobby areas, and a narrow Christmas tree hidden around an elevator, the ship was lacking holiday spirit. We and many guests we met were very disappointed that Carnival did not offer some kind of Christmas service. I understand the need to be sensitive of people's religious preferences but to not even offer a non-denominational or inter-denominational Christmas-oriented service was hugely disappointing. Another ugly by Carnival was the showing on Christmas morning of infomercials on the huge screen around the pool on the Lido deck! It was Christmas morning and hundreds of guests are eating breakfast outside and they were showing infomercials! Four guests near us called guest services to let them know and we also let the server know and she called them too. After 30 minutes of being asked on Christmas morning to buy pizza ovens and brain power meds I went down to the guest services desk and asked if they could change the programming. I was told the cruise director was aware and he was calling A/V and they would change it. Well, of course they did not change it so everyone outside had 1.5 hours of infomercials on Christmas morning. What would have been so terrible about showing "A Christmas Story", "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"? Maybe blast some holidays music instead of pop and rock on Christmas morning? In conclusion, we had a great time being with family and getting off the ship for some cool excursions, but the poor quality of the food and long lines, combined with the much better experiences we have had before the Magic, we do not see ourselves ever sailing the Magic again.
Big issue on 12/26 return as Carnival could not get guests off the ship in time so those arriving to leave that day were not in everyone's way. We were in Group 22 of 35 groups to exit the ship. We were told our group would begin exiting at 9:15. Wrong. More like 12:00pm. Then it took 1 hour to get the car to the terminal to load luggage. People trying to leave could not get into the parking lot to load their luggage as another 4000 guests were trying to arrive to get on the Magic. Bottom line...we left the stateroom at 8:30am and got luggage in the car at 1pm...4.5 hours to exit and get bags is inexcusable.