When Carnival Magic appeared on the scene in 2011, the cruise industry sat up and took notice. Although the 3,690-passenger ship wasn't first in its class – that honor fell to Carnival Dream – the vessel boasted several firsts for the Fun Ship line, including Cucina del Capitano Italian specialty restaurant, the RedFrog Pub and its signature Thirsty Frog Red Ale, the SportSquare outdoor recreation area and the first ropes course at sea.
More than a later, the Carnival Magic cruise ship may no longer be the fleet's most innovative, yet it holds up as a floating destination that offers something for everyone. A wide range of cabin types, including family "quints" that fit five people, make it perfect for the packs of friends and family we saw onboard (in matching T-shirts, natch). Dining may not be fancy, but you can choose from the key cruise food groups: burgers, burrito, brats and barbecue, as well as Asian, Indian, deli and pizza -- at least at lunch. The number of choices falls significantly at dinner.
Activities, too, are designed for a wide range of interests – and there are lots of things to do on Carnival Magic. If you like games, Carnival Magic has you covered; besides group participation favorites like Hasbro the Game Show and Liars Club, the daily program was packed with options like Yahtzee, Scattergories, Clue and a Jenga-type tower game in the lobby (plus shuffleboard in the RedFrog Pub and pickup pool, Ping-Pong, beanbag and mini-golf options around the ship). Dance lessons, casino tournaments, spa specials, a robust kids’ club program -- Carnival Magic throws it all at the wall -- and passengers respond with enthusiasm.
All this stuff, though, comes with a price – and that's lines. On our summer sailing, with the ship at well more than double occupancy (Carnival Magic has a maximum capacity of 4,724 passengers), the queues were persistent, to the point where the crush cut into our enjoyment. Thirty-minute waits (or more!) for popular eateries, like Guy's Burgers and Mongolian Wok, were the norm, not the exception. Tickets for Punchliner Comedy performances were gone hours before the show. Serenity Deck clamshells were claimed by 8:30 a.m. Getting off in port for excursions felt like a blood sport. Even trivia sessions were jam-packed, with teams of eight monopolizing the tables, forcing smaller groups to stand or even sit on the floor.
So where did we find our Zen? Attending the daily RedFrog Pub trivia quiz -- it's cumulative, so you play with the same people for the entire cruise for a more intimate experience. Sticking to off-hours for dining and getting up early for morning coffee helped, as did making Deck 5, with its four hot tubs and relatively underutilized lounge chairs, our sunning headquarters. Despite the sheer number of people onboard, we found the vast majority spent money on drinks instead of for-fee offerings so opening up the wallet a bit for specialty restaurants and the wonderfully expansive Cloud 9 spa also put the crowds at a distance. The cheer of the crew also kept us going; with a room steward that brought us copious amounts of ice and towel animals, as well as an outgoing entertainment staff, it was hard to stay irritated for too long.
Do we believe in Magic? After a week onboard, we'd answer with a quantified yes. As long as you pack your patience and are prepared to shift your routine slightly -- or conversely, see beating the lines as a game in its own right -- you'll emerge rested and relaxed, with plenty of Fun Ship memories. And really, what else can you ask for?
Many passengers struggle to decide between Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze when looking at Caribbean itineraries. Both are Dream-class ships, which means they’re similar in size and offerings. However, Breeze has a cuter color palette in cabins and features an additional for-fee restaurant, Bonsai Sushi. Since the differences are pretty small, it will be down to price for most passengers.
Those looking for a comparable itinerary and family-friendly vibe without the crowds are often drawn to Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, which is slightly bigger and carries fewer passengers. Cabins on Mariner are more stylish and family entertainment is somewhat more impressive, but prices can be a little bit higher on Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner.
Carnival Cruise Line is mandating a fully vaccinated policy for those 5 and older. Within the limits of the CDC's definition of a "vaccinated" cruise consisting of 95 percent all passengers and crew, vaccination exemptions are possible with preapproval, including for children.
Carnival ships are sailing with reduced overall capacity, currently around 70 percent.
· Proof of completed vaccination at least 14 days prior to sailing for over-5s
· Negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of embarkation for vaccinated passengers 2 and older (48 hours for unvaccinated passengers)
· Pre-embarkation online health questionnaire
· Online check-in and arrival appointment required
· Masks required for all guests over age 2 during the entire embarkation and debarkation process, and while on any form of transportation.
· Masks are no longer required in most areas of the ships. Passengers will need to wear a mask in the medical center, during embarkation and disembarkation at the home port and during port calls and on transportation, such as water shuttles and indoors on any Carnival tour. Local regulations may also require wearing of masks.
· Additional screenings, testing, and contact tracing as needed
· No capacity limits in bars or restaurants
· Cabin service once daily (rather than twice), with guests allowed to choose morning or evening
· Bar and restaurant menus, The Fun Times, and safety drill are provided via QR codes and the Hub App
· Sanitizing and hand-washing stations all over the ship
· No supervised Camp Ocean children's activities for unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11.
Off the ship
· Vaccinated guests may participate in Carnival operated tours or explore independently
· Some ports, including Grand Cayman, Belize, and ports in Jamaica may require additional testing or screenings before disembarking
· Masks may be required on tours, in some ports, and in some businesses
· All meals in the two main dining rooms, Lido Marketplace buffet and at the pizzeria
· Select room service items
· All main theater shows, Punchliner Comedy performances, live music events, Dr. Seuss Storytime shows and interactive shows like the Newlywed Game
· Use of the water park, ropes course, sports square, sports court and mini-golf
· Use of the fitness center, excluding classes and training sessions
· Most daily activities onboard unless noted below or in the daily program
· Use of the adults-only Serenity area
· Carnival’s Camp Ocean kids club programming until late evening, for children aged 2 to 17
· Gratuities (amounts vary based on stateroom category)
· Automatic gratuities of 18 percent on beverages (including packages) and spa and salon treatments
· Most alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks with the exception of water, tea, standard coffees and select juices in the buffet
· Meals in specialty restaurants
· Entry into the Thermal Suite in the Cloud 9 Spa
· Spa treatments
· Most fitness classes and all personal training sessions
· Shore excursions
· Wi-Fi (Internet packages can be purchased until midnight of the day before boarding Carnival Magic)
· Selected activities like wine tasting events, the Build-a-Bear workshop, certain arts and crafts classes, arcade games and bingo
· Cruise photos or artwork from the art gallery onboard
· Retail purchases
· After-hours babysitting in the Camp Ocean Kids Club
Carnival Magic draws a diverse base, with passengers from all over the United States and even a few foreign countries (mostly Canadian, English and German tourists tacking on a cruise to their Florida vacation). You’ll see plenty of families and friends traveling together, most wearing matching cruise shirts. English is the sole language onboard.
Daytime: During the day, beachwear reigns, with most people wearing swimsuits and cover-ups, or T-shirts and shorts.
Evening: Carnival Magic has two styles of dress at night: Cruise Casual and Cruise Elegant. On formal nights -- usually two per seven-night cruise -- the style can vary greatly, from families dressed in their fanciest get-ups (for the photo ops available throughout the ship) to those who simply put on khakis and a sundress. Essentially, there’s no dinner dress code on Carnoval Magic, except no shorts in the main dining room: If you decided to downplay the formal wear, you won't be the only one and if you want to put on the Ritz, go ahead and do that too. When the ship's this big, no one style stands out.
Not permitted: Shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, bathing suits, caps and men's tank tops are not permitted in the main dining room or specialty restaurants during dinner, but few people are turned away for wearing them.
For more information, visit Cruise Line Dress Codes: Carnival.
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