My wife and I aren't "frequent" cruisers per se, but we have been on four now, so we have some frame-of-reference. Are we 'button-wearing, battle-hardened Platinum members"? No, but we've been around the block enough to know good cruise etiquette and service. We're also not newbies who expect to be fawned over at every corner of the ship. We're realistic, we understand that vacations are never perfect, and we notice slights on both parts... from ship's service and vacationers alike.
Our last cruise was on Vista in May '16... an excellent time on a new ship with hardly any children aboard.
We chose Magic for this adventure, as we were meeting family (my mother-in-law and husband, and brother-in-law and his new wife) and it was close to their hometowns. The ports also seemed inviting, as none of us going had been to any of them.
We nearly avoided catastrophe, as my step-father-in-law forgot his passport, but discovered it early enough in the trip to Port Canaveral. He was riding with my brother-in-law, who was able to get them to port about 20 minutes before the ship went bye-bye from Port Canaveral.
Quick note: If you're coming from Orlando, it's an easy drive down 528 to the port... bring plenty of dollar bills and quarters, though, as it's a tollway. If you're coming from the Tampa area, bring plenty of valium and entertainment for the endless traffic snogs that line I-4 getting to the Orlando area. If you're coming from that area and want to keep your sanity, I suggest grabbing a hotel the night before near PC.
PORT CANAVERAL: Of all we've experienced, this one was top-notch. A little confusing coming in, but luckily signs were present ("Carnival - Stay in left lane") and security was everywhere pointing you in the right direction and directing traffic. A quick stop at the terminal to drop off luggage at the porters, which was monitored heavily and made it expedient, was followed by a very short loop to the garage. Parking costs at the garage were reasonable, and spaces were plentiful for the amount of people cruising. We were in the middle times to board (1:30PM), and easily grabbed a spot. After that, it was a short walk to the terminal to retrieve the family.
EMBARKATION, the fear of even the hardiest of cruisers: Since our in-laws were behind us by 90 minutes due to the forementioned passport snafu, we had a bit of an issue as our daughter (who was booked into their room) was with us and couldn't check in by herself... as we didn't have her boarding pass (it was with her grandmother, also in the group running like mad to get to Port Canaveral from the Tampa area). Luckily, one of the clerks outside happily printed out a pass for her, and we were able to board with her until the others arrived. I'll state this and restate it over and over, THIS WAS THE EASIEST EMBARKATION I'VE EVER EXPERIENCED. Staff was plentiful and helpful, and we're on the boat in less than 20 minutes. I was actually asking, "Did we do everything needed?" as I felt like it was "too" easy. Our room was also ready upon arrival, a nice plus.
CABIN: Usually, we book ocean suites, but this time they were already gone (admittedly, we waited a bit to book this cruise as we had to coordinate schedules for the three different parties). The best room available when I booked was a balcony room, and it was ready and waiting for us. For those taking notes or who care just a LITTLE too much, it was room 6398. Our in-laws were staying in 6421, nearby. My bro-in-law was in 2325, which was a cove balcony room. Our room had a fold-down "pullman-type" bed for my youngest daughter, who enjoyed the "bunkbed" feel. My son slept on the couch bed and never complained. Our bed was comfortable enough, and I felt rested enough after each night. It was clean, albeit a bit cramped, and did the job. After cruising in suites the past three times, the smaller bathroom took some getting used to. I'm 6'4" and a bigger guy to boot, so the shower was just adequate, but made the too-tiny ones on some Royal Caribbean boats seem REALLY tiny. We always had plenty of towels to go around. Everything (even the "gotta use a ton to get it to lather" shower gel) was stocked well. No issues with the safe, fridge, closets, etc. Closets have the space-saving "four-in-one" hangers for shirts and blouses. One closet is half-full of lifejackets... seriously, we had enough for ourselves and most of the floor if something happened en route.
DINING, or "I'm glad I dropped 10 pounds BEFORE the cruise": We tried to get around to each stop during this trip, instead of sticking with just the dining room or buffet. As with each cruise, some folks are going to say the food was "meh", some are going to praise it. It's just part of cruising... you can't please everyone. Some notes on the choices:
Guy's Burgers - delicious, worth the line, plenty of choices to personalize it (bacon, grilled onions, sauces, etc.). I could easily gain 20 pounds eating them. And, I may have.
Tandoor - tried it once, curry beef was good. Never was busy.
BlueIguana Cantina - great burritos, either for lunch or breakfast.
Buffet - what do you expect, magic (no pun intended)? It's plentiful, somewhat bland, and has to please thousands of different palates. Lines were long during breakfast, which is normal, but people freaked out anyway, which is also normal. I never had a bad buffet meal, but never sung its praises, either.
Cucina del Capitano - ($$ extra, but only $15 per adult) - Excellent meal and service. Even had fun listening to newbies try to pronounce "tiramisu".
Red Frog Pub - Great environment and appetizers. Wish I would've tried their beer.
Dining Room - We were in Southern Lights, and had two meals there. Both were good... not memorable, but good. You could tell that Carnival's cost-cutting was evident here, as staff were overworked and moody.
Pig and Anchor BBQ - good stuff. Not open often (mainly on "at sea" days). Plenty of sauce choices. Guy Fieri puts a good spin on his cuisine.
We did not try the Steakhouse on this cruise.
ACTIVITIES, or "why are all these people sitting around?" - As usual, Carnival fills up their theaters and rooms with a plethora of trivia, karaoke, singers, guitarists, informal club meetings (AA, LGBT, etc.). Some were energetic, some were led by staff who kept checking their watches and couldn't care less. Morning warriors had yoga and exercise choices.
ENTERTAINMENT - We watched one show in the theatre, which was quite good for Carnival's standards. We also took part in the "Hasbro Game Night" show, where my youngest daughter was actually called on stage. Her team didn't win, but she got a "Trivial Pursuit" consolation game, so I've been bombarded with impossible-to-answer questions from her since. "Dr. E" is a TERRIFIC cruise director... energetic, witty, dynamic... and was present everywhere. I'm sure he sleeps, I'm just not sure when. I'm wondering if he's even human. We let the kiddos try the "Camp Ocean" activities, and they stayed for about two hours before saying "nah".
FITNESS CHOICES - I'm 6'4" and over 300 lbs... you make your own conclusion on this one. I saw people jogging, and I'm sure there was a gym somewhere. I, however, never sought it out.
OTHER STUFF ON THE SHIP - The casino mirrored any I've seen on ships. Smoky, bustling, full of folks waiting for that magic payoff. This one seemed crowded often, and Carnival was running several incentives to play, and people seemed to respond to that. Shopping was the same on any ship... Tanzanite was pushed hard, gold was sold like it was going out of style, and cheap t-shirts and costume jewelry were everywhere. A neat candy/treat shop was on the same deck. The coffee bar was reasonably priced, which was a nice surprise. It was even cheaper than Starbucks... but, that doesn't take much. I ended up buying a Tag Heuer watch, and saved $700 overall on the purchase compared to what a local jeweler would do (and even comparing to Ebay, where you take the risk of losing warranty).
ELEVATORS - midship elevators are ALWAYS crowded. We used the aft elevators and almost never had an issue.
NOTES on Magic - Magic is a huge ship, and even carrying a full load I never felt "crowded out" of anything. Yes, the buffet seating area is full, but if you branch out a bit and go outside, there is always plenty of seating near the pizza and Tandoor sections near the back of the boat. Most of my gripes were not from the boat's layout or seating, but from the crowd's use of it, which isn't Carnival's fault. As anyone knows, "crowded" to one person isn't "crowded" to another. Since three of our group are smokers, we found ourselves on the 11 aft deck often. It was always a nice, breezy place to be. Magic, unlike some of her sisters, doesn't feel "old". We were parked next to Conquest while in Grand Turk, and Magic looked like a shiny new penny compared to the rust-evident hull of Conquest. Now, Conquest is significantly older, but it looks like it hasn't been refurbished since... well... ever. Restrooms are plentiful and somewhat clean, but only because cruisers treat them poorly, slopping water everywhere and missing the trash bin with their soppy-wet hand towels.
SERVICE - I can't rate it any higher than "just OK". Sure, there were plenty of examples of shining stars... Sherrie and Prant who helped with my Tag purchase (Sherrie, you're a gem), John who served my party countless drinks on 11 aft, Edi our room steward, etc. As mentioned in other posts, however, I did notice that Carnival's reduction of staff has resulted in a lack of smiles by the crew. Most were pleasant and talkative, but some were downright miserable.
NOTES on cruise etiquette, or "THE RANT"***** - After being on this Earth for over 40 years, I've come to one conclusion: People suck. I'm usually a very tolerant person, but some of the behaviors witnessed during this cruise was just shameful on humanity's part. We knew that a cruise during spring break was a roll-of-the-dice. However, some folks seem it's OK to just let their kids run rampant (literally, RUN around, like in packs of coyotes) around the ship. Packs of wolves, er... sorry, meant kids... running around the ship of all ages. I counted three times where I entered an elevator, was greeted by small children ("maybe" 5 years old... on their own) who had pushed all the buttons and were sitting back, giggling. No parents anywhere in sight. Groups of destructive, disrespectful pre-teens and teens wandering around the ship, yelling cusswords and treating crew and passengers like their slaves. Some would fill a ice cream cone sky-high, then just leave it on the floor of a deck, giggling the whole time. Some would grab golf clubs at the mini-golf, hit the ball one time, then just drop their club in the middle of the course and walk off. True "punks" in every sense of the word. Ship security staff was overworked, trying to hunt down little morons whose parents should have been thrown off the ship along with the morons they brought into this world. From morning to midnight, every hot tub is stuffed with kids, unless you want to go to the Serenity deck and stay their the entire cruise. At first, I couldn't believe that the ship's staff would allow this, but soon realized it was just too big of a task to keep up with.
Sadly, this is the norm for cruises out of most American ports. Parents are oblivious to the fact that their kids go wild when turned loose. IF THIS BOTHERS YOU immensely, then avoid this and other ships during family season. Or, go for overseas cruises.
Other etiquette notes:
People need to REALLY be aware of their fellow cruisemates... don't let your door slam behind you at 1AM... don't go blabbing loudly down the hall after hours, etc.
Paying $399 for an interior room doesn't buy you a free ticket to be a complete jerk to the staff. Other groups need drinks, too, and the waiters aren't there for just YOUR amusement.
Complaining about lines at popular eateries? Don't go during busy times. Also, realize that a "small" line of about 5-10 people is actually going to balloon when the mom gets up to the ordering part and then yells at the other 5-10 people in her family to join her in line in front of you.
Holding an elevator for longer than 15-20 seconds "because my family is coming down the hallway" is rude and inconsiderate.
Sometimes, I think older folks (think "come along with us, great-grandma, you'll have a blast") are just there to hold tables for the rest of the family. It's kind of like taking Great-granny along at DisneyWorld so that you can get the instant "disabled" pass to cut lines.
OVERALL - Magic tries its best, but the boat itself can't overcome its overworked staff and arrogant customers.
So, what's missing in order to "kick it up one notch"? Staff more security and hold parents responsible. People deserve peace, security, and respect during their cruise vacations.
I'd cruise again on Magic, but will wait 'til it moves to another port.
(***** Yeah, I get it... ranting about other vacationers is a bit of a faux pas.) Read Less