I am finally getting a chance to write a review on our Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Magic. Bear in mind, this was our first cruise with our then-13-month old baby. So while DH and I have, in the past, enjoyed all sorts of shows, trivia competitions and other activities on cruises, we expectedly enjoyed a different sort of vacation this time. DH, baby and I traveled with my parents and sister (who shared a separate room). This was also DH and my first experience on Carnival, though my parents have had many fun Carnival cruises in the past. We had a BALL...though UNFORTUNATELY, not everybody in our party did (see below -- ONE NEGATIVE THING!).
Embarkation/Disembarkation -- A+ for both. Since we had 2 senior citizens and a baby, without prompting they fast-tracked us while checking in. We also had crystal clear sunny days so embarkation/disembarkation was a breeze (we know from past experience what it's like to be fog-delayed for hours in Galveston, both ways -- not fun!).
The ship -- A. The Magic is a beautiful new ship -- large, clean, lovely. According to my Carnival-loving parents , though, the larger size really didn't affect any of the common areas. Rather, the larger size just seemed to accommodate more cabins than other Carnival ship classes. One thing we really appreciated was the laundry and ironing rooms, an advantage Carnival seems to have over our beloved Royal Caribbean (our last 2 cruises were w/ RCL).
Stateroom -- A-. This was the first time in years I've stayed in an interior cabin (last minute booking). It was just as expected. Amazingly they were able to fit a mini-crib in here for our baby. We could've used a tad more counter space somewhere (more space in general would've been welcome but ain't that always the case!) but oh well, par for the course. We LOVED that you were able to view dinner menus on the TV, that made dinners with the baby more manageable, as I would go on time and order for DH, and he would arrive later w/ the baby (and we'd take turns walking him around and out in the hallway by the elevators in between courses!).
Dining -- Well if it was just OUR (DH, baby and my) food, we would give it an A. But if we had to factor in the experience of others in our party, I would say C (see below -- ONE NEGATIVE THING!).
Dining Room: I enjoyed most of the dining room dinners -- among the dishes I liked: creamy polenta & mushrooms, steak, spinach pie, mahi mahi, oysters rockefeller, cinnamon pumpkin pie, sweet potato soup and most of the desserts (especially the baked Alaska, the ice creams and sherbets, this chocolate/vanilla/raspberry cake w/ raspberry sorbet and the omg the delectable Carnival signature warm chocolate melting cake!). One thing that dampened the experience: the dining staff seemed to be understaffed. They were capable and friendly but they were servicing more people per waiter than I have seen on other ships/lines. We noticed that on Royal Caribbean, you had a bar waiter pimping drinks before/during/after dinner (everybody wins in that situation -- the passengers get drinks and the cruise line makes $!) but here, the waiters, while they would get you a drink you if asked, were so busy doing their regular duties that no such bar-encouragement occurred. We couldn't help but feel a little of their stress behind their smiles. The little entertainment bits at the end of dinner (our waiters dancing, etc.) were cute.
Buffet: We took all our breakfasts and lunches at the Lido Buffet. Overall the food quality and selection were great! But there were a few glitches. For example, sweet breakfast items were only on one end of the ship, you would have to travel a ways away to get your pancakes, French toast and waffles (it took us a day or 2 to know they were even offered). And there were some great food selections for lunch that we wish were at least listed somewhere in the newsletter -- Mongolian wok, Indian food, pressed sandwiches at the deli, etc... Granted, one discovers these things while exploring but given the size of the ship, having these offerings at least mentioned somewhere would help people be more aware of the variety of food. One thing about the buffet waitstaff -- they were exceptionally helpful. Anytime they saw us with the baby, they would offer help - bring our food to the table, get our high chair, etc. One time I was waiting in the (looong) made-to-order omelet line and they ran out of bacon while I was waiting; the server must've sensed my disappointment and grab a fresh supply of bacon right away for me. Another time we asked if they had apple sauce for the baby, they didn't but someone secured some from the 3rd floor dining room (oh how I wish we caught the names of all these folks who did all these courteous things!).
Other foods: It was great to have 24 hr pizza. Sure it's not the best in the world (I'm a New Yorker with high standards!) but it made for a tasty evening snack. The late night snacks were also fabulous -- nothing like capping off a Caribbean Dance Party on deck with some nighttime nachos! The 24 hr soft serve ice cream was also a fun offering. We didn't try any of the room service. The seaside bbq buffet on sea days was absolutely delicious, but it felt like a well-kept secret, tucked away on deck 5 the way it was (we discovered it accidentally!). The sushi bar offered tasty bites but they were more snack-sized than a meal-sized.
Kids' Stuff/Camp Carnival -- A+. Our son was too young to be in enrolled in any of the programs but he thoroughly enjoyed the open playtimes they had for his age group on at-sea mornings. And it was a nice way to meet other babies/toddlers and their families! Awesome toy selection, plenty of space and friendly staff. Note they do have group babysitting in the evenings but we didn't use it (we wanted to one night, our son had other plans for us!). As I mention when discussing pools below, no swim diapers are allowed in any of the water areas. Overall, they seemed to have a lot of fun programs for kids over 2 yrs old, we will definitely explore that if we ever cruise Carnival again! That being said, one thing we would've liked to have seen is more time for under 2's to play (besides the 2 hours open playtime they get on sea days).
Entertainment/Nightlife -- A+. We didn't see any of the big shows as they occurred at the time we were putting our son to sleep. (DH and my sister enjoyed one of the comedy shows, they said it was great but they had to sit at the bar due to a shortage of seats). But one aspect of the ship we absolutely loved was the variety and quality of music on board! Blood Power played party faves early in the evening on deck 5, then would play power ballads/heavier rock later in the night -- they were an AMAZING band! We enjoyed listening to them whenever we got a chance. There were a couple of great guitar-playing vocalists who played the Red Frog Pub (Will Marion & another whose name we didn't catch). The piano bar was cool; though we didn't spend much time there, it was a happy enjoyable scene whenever we'd wander through there. And the 3rd floor lobby had some nice performers that my parents heartily enjoyed dancing to. Vibe nightclub was a fun area for dancing and they had a variety of cool music-themed nights. The Caribbean Party they had at the Seaside Theatre one night was A LOT of fun! Music, dancing, prizes, drinks (we followed that up with a visit to the nacho bar they had that night). The cruise director was fine, mildly amusing and personable on the programs we saw (Voyager of the Seas' Mike Szwajkowski has set the bar pretty high for us on the entertainment scale, we are still talking about how hilarious he was on the 2 cruises w/ him we've gone on).
Pools/Waterworks/Waterslides/Pool Area -- We didn't use the actual pools much (only fully potty trained toddlers allowed, no swim diapers) though DH enjoyed the whirlpools a few times. The waterslides were AWESOME! On the advice of someone in line, we tried the yellow "Twister" slide over the other orange slide -- it was a BLAST! The ride was a good length, with spirals and some parts in darkness...I had to do it more than once. :) Our son wasn't old enough for the Waterworks splash area but it looked like a ton of fun. The out-of-the-way Tides Pool and its whirlpools were expectedly more sedate and relaxing than the centrally-located Beach Pool.
Another aspect of the pool area we enjoyed was the Seaside Theatre. It was fabulous to get away during afternoons or evenings and watch a movie (or just part of a movie) while relaxing on beach chairs outdoors, soaking in the warmth or snuggling under a blanket at night. During the day they would broadcast certain cruise events on the screen (as they do on the TV in the cabins) but the movies provided a nice and different lounging experience.
Activities/Sports Deck -- A. Admittedly, we did not do as many activities as we normally would have in the past due to the baby. But we enjoy the Sports Deck! Note, if you are interested, do the ropes course the 1st sunny day chance you get! It's such a unique part of this ship but we waited until our last sea day to do it...since we were nearing Galveston, it was a windy cloudy day, too windy for the ropes course to stay open. We had seen young and old alike enjoying it the sunny day before so don't miss your chance! That being said, the rest of the Sports Deck was fun - mini golf, giant Connect Four, ping pong, pool, etc. It was difficult for me to carve out time to work out (sigh, the plight of a new nursing mom) but there were outdoor workout stations that looked great.
Shopping -- The shops on deck 5 are pretty cool. The jewelry store has some lovely and unique offerings and a very friendly staff. Note, on the last day at sea they had this big sale on Pandora-style Bella Perlina bracelets and charms -- it was a madhouse down there! But quite fun if you like the jewelery (I already have a couple real Pandora bracelets but it was a blast to shop for bracelets there alongside my mom and sister!). A Cherry On Top offered some scrumptious looking sweets though we didn't buy anything there. One thing, the gift shop is NOT open on port days until late afternoon/early evening. I had forgotten my swimsuits (mommybrain-moment) and discovered this when I ventured there to buy a suit before going to port. I know they probably want to give their gift shop staff a break on port days but they would probably make some sales on stuff like sunglasses, tote bags etc. if they stayed open, from people like me who forgot stuff for time on land -- is this another example of Carnival understaffing? (They do have stuff like disposable cameras for sale right before your get off the ship.)
Overall Service -- A-. See above what I wrote about service in the dining room (great but seemed understaffed) and the buffet (a few people gratefully went above and beyond!). Room steward was very good and overall service throughout the ship was quite satisfactory, staff members in all areas really aimed to please us. I just couldn't give an A or A+ given how understaffed it seemed in the dining room.
Finally...ONE NEGATIVE THING: Okay here is where I discuss the elephant in the room, the reason I cannot give this cruise an "A" rating even though that's the experience DH, our son and I had -- the other 3 people in our party got SICK for a couple days! We don't know if it was food poisoning, or some sort of virus, but my parents missed two of the ports (one was sick for the 1st one, the other sick for the last one) and my sister missed a few dinners because of whatever they had. Even DH felt some tummy-weirdness for a spell. Throughout the cruise we heard of others who got sick (a baby we met at Camp Carnival, our room steward, people my parents saw at the infirmary...). It is because of this aspect (as well as the understaffing in the dining room) that I don't think I'll ever cruise again on a ship that is as new and untested OR another Carnival ship that is this large OR a ship that gets such lukewarm reviews (I did see Cruise Critic reviews mentioning food poisoning before we left but we of course gave the Carnival Magic the benefit of the doubt). Perhaps Carnival needs some time to work out such kinks on their newer larger ships. My parents, avid Carnival cruisers, agree -- their experience will not keep them from future Carnival experiences but they won't be doing brand new ships this large again!
So despite an "A" experience, I must overall give our cruise a B-/C+.