This was my family's first cruise. We had been dreaming about it for years, thinking it was an easy way for a family with special needs to travel. We found, unfortunately, that cruising just was not for us. Some of that is the nature of the travel (i.e. the feeling like every port is picking you up by your ankles and shaking the money out, and the feeling like cattle herded) and some of it was our experience on Carnival Magic. I will keep this review about the Magic and Carnival.
Embarkation: A mess! We didn't get on until 8pm, then we had the Muster Drill, and the kids were wiped out. I heard other people had better results though, getting on and having dinner. But for having so many fog delays, it seems like they would have a plan B well sorted out.
Food: We thought it was ok, actually. Some was really good, some was average. Nothing was "awful" besides one entree in the steak house. We are food snobs too. I think that the key is low expectations and then you will be surprised. I am in shock to read people complain about portions. We never once needed to get seconds and usually left food on our plates. There was a lot of variety throughout the ship.
I thought the lido buffet was usually a mess. Talk about stressful if you need to feed your family at peak times. And getting there at off peak times was challenging (it seemed rather limited in hours at times). We spent a few very stressful meals there before we decided "never again". I wonder if it is due to the cut backs as well as the size of the ship, but it really was a mess.
And breakfast was pretty boring, same thing with no real variation. I never got the omelets, I guess where you could create your own variation and have something that tasted fresh. But I am not a fan of long lines or eggs.
I was surprised that the coffee tasted good :)
The 24 hour options (pizza, ice cream and room service) were all very low quality food, but worked in a pinch.
Service: The regular staff was very nice, but anyone really in charge were difficult at best. Rude, dismissive, unhelpful, offer blank stares and no answers. And it wasn't like we were coming with random complaints, just questions. Stuff that we can inquire about when staying in a resort. It seemed the lower the staff person was, the nicer and more helpful they were. The higher they were, the more frazzled or zoned out they were. This seemed true in other areas of the ships, like dining rooms and kids club too.
CD James: Annoying. Cheerio. Stop, we get it, you are peppy and British. All his job seemed to be was to sell us more stuff. His voice was like nails on a chalk board to me after a few days, something many other people commented on. I think if he really did seem interested in the fun, it would have been different. But all he seemed to do is talk about what you can spend money on. I think he also wasn't genuine in his "this is fun", so he over played his peppiness.
Wheelchair access: This ship has great accessibility, but lousy mindsets of the crew. We were told we couldn't book excursions, but they wouldn't be polite enough to talk to me about how to plan our own (even with no line). They didn't have deck plans or advice on navigating the ship in a w/c and seemed clueless until I asked them to print it for me. They wanted me to pay to go on their site and print it myself. And my favorite, our cabin was w/c access yet our muster station was not. We were told to "just listen" from down stairs...and then not to block the stairs. When I called, the muster captain was rude, argued and said she would follow it up, but didn't.
Kids activities: They do well here. Our kids didn't love the drop off place unless it was open activities on port days (many of the teachers in there seemed . But there was so much to do for our kids (5 and 6). Pools, water park, slides, sports square (spent a ton of time there!). They had a blast and there was always something to do.
Casino: Gross...allergic to smoke and depressing places. At least we didn't lose money in there.
Red Frog Pub: It isn't pubby enough for me, feels a little like a fast food place. Not a hang out place. Wait staff was awesome but we never felt like staying there for more then a drink.
Entertainment: No idea. Every time we went into the theater, people were enjoying the w/c access seats so there was no place for us. No staff on hand to sort it out.
Spa: They try so hard to get you in there, but then when you go the desk ladies seem allergic to explaining things. So we didn't book anything.
Serenity Deck: always windy, often wet.
We never had trouble finding lounge chairs, really. Or with chair hogs, or even finding a table when needed. Elevators were hard when there was mass exits, but I learned to be pretty aggressive. Otherwise, it wasn't an issue at all.
So for me, the best part of the cruise was the kids activities and that my kids had a blast. But the worst was just the constant feeling of people wanting to lift you up by your ankles and shake out your money (on and off the ship).