With some intriguing innovations, inventive twists on old themes and a more refined look than any of its predecessors in the Carnival fleet, this 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger behemoth debuted in May 2011 and instantaneously became one of the coolest ships on the high seas.
Carnival Magic marks the end of the line for longtime Carnival interior architect Joe Farcus, and he's going out in style. While you can still expect a heaping dose of neon, mirrored surfaces and other eye-popping glam (what's with all the creepy eyeball-ish orbs in the atrium?), his touch is more limited here than on his other ships, inasmuch as other designers lent a helping hand. As such, there's a scintillating sophistication to many spaces, from the main dining rooms (Southern Lights and Northern Lights) to the sun deck (particularly the Serenity adults-only retreat).
Much of what's found onboard Carnival Magic came from first-in-class sib Carnival Dream, including the Seaside Theatre; the massive two-deck Cloud 9 spa; the WaterWorks aqua park (Magic has two waterslides -- a corkscrew and a bowl slide -- to Dream's one); and special family cabins designed to accommodate five passengers (featuring two bathrooms).
But Magic isn't simply a more polished version of Dream. The ship has ushered in a handful of new features, including Cucina del Capitano, an Italian restaurant serving up handmade pastas and singing waiters for a $10 fee; Cherry on Top, a perky little candy shop-cum-tux rental place off the atrium; and the industry's first water "dump bucket," which complements the ship's waterslides.
Candy? Ravioli? A drenching torrent? All pale in comparison to the rousing success that is the RedFrog Pub, a new Caribbean-themed watering hole that became an instant icon the moment it started serving its own home brew, Thirsty Frog Red Ale -- suds so satisfying that the taps ran dry during the ship's inaugural cruise, and so popular that they're now available nearly fleetwide. The pub is located on the Lanai, the promenade ringing Deck 5, a perfect setting for a sunset happy hour that rivals any afloat.
Then there's the new-to-Magic SportSquare outdoor recreation area, an in-your-face challenge to Royal Caribbean's heretofore lock on adrenaline-pumping onboard adventures. Featuring the first-ever ropes course at sea (it only looks easy), an outdoor fitness area (Sky Fitness) and two-level mini-golf course, SportSquare is a welcome addition to the cruise world. Whether it's truly a notch above Royal's zip lines and surf simulators is open to debate.
Don't worry: This is still a Carnival ship, so there's a rocking night scene (take it from us: if you stand on a table in the disco at 2 a.m., you will be noticed by security), soft-serve ice cream whenever you want it, photographers nagging you for shots at every corner and poolside contests galore. Kids get a lot of attention with several glittery playrooms with a clubby vibe, and you can still buy gold-by-the-inch.
After spending its inaugural summer 2011 season plying the waters of the Mediterranean, Carnival Magic now homeports in Galveston, offering weeklong journeys to both the Western and Eastern Caribbean. It's a major get for the surging Texas port.
So what did it get? One doozy of a newcomer. Of course, there are some things that don't quite gel (buffet mob scenes, room service blandness, loud cabins, a disappointing spa -- read on for details), but it's okay: These worries are likely to pull a disappearing act. You're on a ship named Magic, after all.
It's a Fun Ship, so expect Fun People. It's a diverse group -- we saw everyone from toddlers to somebody celebrating his 90th birthday -- but they're typically upbeat and ready for action. Leaving one port, a woman next to us pulled out an air horn and started blasting away, startling folks on the pier and anyone within earshot on deck. Try that on a Crystal cruise.
The average age appears to be early 40s, but we found plenty of multigenerational families onboard. Many are diehard Carnivalistas, so don't be surprised if you get engaged in a conversation over which Carnival ship has this and that and which one is best. When Magic is homeporting in Galveston, expect a bevy of Texans and heat-seekers from the Midwest. Summer and holidays mean more young children.
A soothing Caribbean vibe runs throughout Carnival Magic, from the palapas in the Beach Pool to the not-as-garish-as-you'd-think floral-and-bird paintings that line the cabin corridors. But if you've ever stepped foot on other Carnival ships, you'll notice the stylish veneer here that comes as a surprise, and it starts in the Atrium, a soaring 11-deck spectacular with art deco flourishes.
A piano plopped on a glass shelf serves as a performance space for musicians. Okay, the decorations on the walls here -- hundreds of green-and-white-glass mounds topped by what appear at first glance to be eyeballs -- gave us the willies the first time we saw them. (Carnival Breeze, with a spring 2012 launch date, ramps down the kitsch even more.)
Taking its cues from Carnival Dream, Magic has incorporated Internet FunHubs in several sections of the ship. There are a total of 44 computers available shipwide, but if you want some privacy you're better off avoiding the madhouse on Deck 5 (unfortunately, that's where the majority of the stations sit, including the guy who can help you if something goes wrong). Wi-Fi is also available shipwide. Internet access prices, ranging from 33 to 75 cents a minute, are hooked to the number of minutes purchased; save money by figuring out beforehand how to read emails offline. In addition, Funville@sea is a free Intranet service in which passengers can view onboard activities and events, see food and drink choices, check weather in the next port, and read news.
That madhouse, by the way, comes courtesy of Ocean Plaza, an otherwise brilliantly executed concept that's the true hub of activity onboard. The indoor/outdoor space comprises a live entertainment stage, from which you can listen to music or participate in games like trivia; the Plaza Caf patisserie; a bar that never seemed as busy as it should have been; and a quartet of hot tubs. It's also a good place to begin a stroll around the Lanai, the half-mile promenade that rings the ship.
Bibliophiles and games players can take refuge in a cozy nook with a decent selection of tomes on Deck 4, though be sure to have your Carnival Magic Deck Plan in hand to find it. Hint: It's right outside the Northern Lights dining room.
The ship offers the usual cast of characters on Decks 4 and 5 selling jewelry, booze, clothes and trinkets. Cherry on Top, the Carnival newbie, is a cheery boutique awash in red and white; it peddles candy by the pound, candied apples to die for (and you might, considering the amount of calories each one contains ), flowers, T-shirts and Carnival tchotchkes. Forgot your tux at home? COT can take care of that for you.
The Gallery on the Way holds several Champagne art auctions, but if you want to create your own masterpieces (starring you, of course), you'll want to stop by the Photo Gallery on Deck 4. You can still ogle at the photos of other sunburned cruisers lining the walls, but a facial-recognition system has been introduced on Magic. Simply place your Sail & Sign card into one of the Photo Finder kiosks (the card is embedded with the photo taken of you at embarkation) and all those professional shots you've been trying to dodge pop up on the screen. It's cool, though if you like viewing hundreds of other people's photos to find your own, you may be disappointed.
Launderettes and ironing rooms are available throughout the ship.
Smoking is fairly restricted throughout the ship's public areas. Outside, there are several designated smoking areas, including a space on Deck 5 at Ocean Plaza (it's also the only area that allows cigars). Inside, the Vibe nightclub and sections of the Hat Trick Casino are the only venues that allow smoking. As of December 1, 2011, smoking will be banned inside all cabins, but you can still smoke on your balcony.
As if waterslides, family-friendly comedians, a splash pool and a wandering Fun Ship Freddy (Carnival's odd-shaped mascot) weren't enough, Magic devotes more than 19,000 square feet of space to children and teenagers, plus a lengthy list of activities.
Camp Carnival, located on Deck 11 and geared toward those ages 2 to 11, is sliced into three sections: Ages 2 to 5 do arts and crafts and play games; 6- to 8-year olds have talent shows, go on scavenger hunts and take on the ropes course; and the 9-to-11 set learn magic tricks, swim and the like. Kids from 6 on up also have access to Wii and PlayStation 2. Hours are long, with the camp opening between 6:45 a.m. and 10 a.m., depending on the day. When the organized activities end, usually at around 10 p.m., on-site babysitting for ages 2 to 11 ($6 an hour for the first child, $4 an hour for each additional child) is available until 3 a.m. Some activities, like the Fun Ship Freddy Surprise Party, require fees.
Two inviting and well-designed teen clubs for ages 12 to 14 and ages 15 to 17 are located side by side on Deck 4; both are generally open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on days in port and from noon during sea days. Both have dedicated directors.
Circle C, for the tweens, has a dance floor, video jukebox and Internet stations, and activities include dance parties, game shows and Wii competitions. Red banana-shaped chairs are clustered around glass tables and banquettes, and there's a "bar" for underage refreshments.
Club O2 for the older set is a bit larger and airier, with a full array of gaming consoles, a dance floor, music-listening stations and soda bar, plus activities such as karaoke, dance classes and midnight mini-golf forays. One particularly cool area features banquettes with TV monitors suspended from the ceiling, the better to chat and gawk at videos at the same time.
For both big and little kids, the Warehouse, a relatively stark space next to Club O2, features more than a dozen arcade games and air hockey. And watch out: Every game you play is going to show up on your Sail & Sign account.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Carnival Magic's designers took Carnival Dream's good deck plan and made it great. By moving the WaterWorks aqua park forward on Deck 12, designers were able to introduce SportSquare, which comprises a two-level mini-golf course; outdoor cardio stations (not quite so successful, but kudos for trying); basketball courts; the SkyTrack running course (seven laps equal one mile); and the show-stopping SkyCourse.
The SkyCourse is an elevated ropes course in which passengers are fitted with a harness that clips to a track, then they must navigate eight segments with various degrees of difficulty. You can choose between the easy or difficult route, but . . . it's not for the faint of heart. Kids and many adults whiz through it after a few practice rounds, but if you're afraid of heights, have iffy balance or don't like the idea of dozens of people watching you panic, the course isn't for you. We found it generally wait-free and worth the effort, but there were some who told us, "Never again."
The Beach Pool on Deck 10 is the main watering hole and features two thatched-roof palapas on either side where you can sit in the water in the shade. Nice touch, but the pool is small considering the number onboard. You may have a bit more luck finding a seat and more quietude at the Tides Pool in the aft. The tiered decking around the pool is studded with big maroon umbrellas, and we were always able to squeeze in somewhere. Again, the pool is minuscule.
If you have to get wet, head to WaterWorks. We have to give a special shout-out to the Power Drencher, a massive bucket that holds 300 gallons of water. Every few minutes it refills, a bell rings and its contents are dumped on folks waiting to be properly soaked below. One perhaps unintentional benefit: The thing sprays water everywhere, so if you're on one of the loungers two decks below near the Beach Pool, you get a fine mist while you're broiling in the sun. Sweet.
Other WaterWorks components include a splash park for the little ones, the Twister Waterslide (faster and more furious than you'd expect) and the DrainPipe -- another slide, but you end up spinning around in a funnel like water swirling around a toilet.
Outdoor movies and concerts are shown on the 12-by-22 foot screen that overlooks the Beach Pool (we caught a Pavarotti performance one afternoon), and there's always some sort of contest or ice-carving demonstration going on. Our advice: Try to land one of the wonderful orange-padded loungers on the mezzanine one deck up. You still get to take in the scene, but it's far less peopled, it's shady because there's a deck above you, and the chairs are much more comfortable.
To really get away from it all (and you won't be the only one trying to do this), head to the adults-only Serenity area, with its own bar and seating, including shaded double loungers and hammocks. The two whirlpools here are predictably busy. Entry to Serenity is free, but the atmosphere is not always perfectly serene: It sits right next to the Power Drencher, which sounds the alarm via a ringing bell every time it's about to make a big splash.
Directly one deck below Serenity is the 22,700-square-foot Cloud 9 Spa, which, alas, was a disappointment. We liked its well-equipped fitness center (open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), which runs classes such as boot camp, spinning, abs attack and yoga. But the ambience and relative lack of privacy of the spa's thermal suite was off-putting. It's lovely, with colorful glass mosaics and stunning ocean vistas, but the suite -- accessed for either a daily ($40) or weekly ($149) fee -- leaves a lot to be desired. The thalassotherapy pool sits under a skylight through which passersby clutching fruity drinks can peer through and did. Likewise, a large room with heated tiled loungers sits next to the spa's reception desk, and we could hear people chattering.
Cloud 9 offers dozens of pricey treatments, including acupuncture, body sculpting, hot-stone massages and facials. A 50-minute Swedish massage costs $119, the same price at which facials start. Look for deals on port days, though. There's also a salon providing traditional and exotic manicures (from $29), shaves ($45) and waxing, plus hair styling and coloring.
Tipping in the spa is discretionary.
Carnival Magic Cabin Photos
Carnival Magic's cabins are larger than average, with even the smallest cabins (the 719 inside units) offering a generous 185 square feet of space. Spend a bit more, and you can find yourself in one of 221 ocean-view cabins ranging from 185 to 220 square feet (most with a 4-by-3-foot window but no balcony) and 851 balcony units with 185 square feet of space and private verandas ranging from 35 to 75 square feet. For a splurge, there are 54 suites -- including the 345-square-foot grand suite, with separate sitting area, bathroom with twin sinks and a 85-square-foot balcony; and the 275-square-foot ocean suites and junior suites, both with balcony (ocean suite balconies are 65 square feet, while junior suite balconies are 35 square feet).
Introduced on Carnival Dream, the 110 "cove balcony" units on Deck 2 are located under the lifeboats, so other passengers can't see the balconies from public spaces or from balconies higher up. The 110 cabins in this category are about $150 cheaper than a regular balcony cabin and are a good choice for those who like privacy and who don't mind some sea spray. These cabins are the same 185 square feet as many of the standard cabins but have a slightly larger than normal 45-square-foot balcony.
Families take note: There are 193 "family quint" cabins that can sleep up to five, as the staterooms are configured with two regular twins, two bunk-style beds that hang from the wall and a sofa that converts to a twin. The cabins also have two bathrooms -- one with a sink, toilet and shower, and the other with a tub-shower combo and sink. None offers balconies, but they all have a large picture window. Note to parents: If you are sleeping five people in the cabin, the two twin beds cannot be pushed together to form a queen.
Families can also take advantage of the dozens of connecting staterooms, but herein lies a major problem: The doors connecting these cabins might as well not exist. We were in a balcony unit on Deck 9 with a connecting door; almost immediately we could hear the people next door (strangers at the time) talking, coughing, moving about. We "solved" the problem by talking to our neighbors -- who, of course, could also hear us -- and we ended up as great friends. But if you want privacy, opt for a cabin without a connecting door.
While not necessarily new, spa staterooms and suites -- which include priority spa appointments and free fitness classes -- are on Decks 12 and 14 adjacent to the spa. Aft-view extended balcony cabins are situated out of the wind and have a 60-square-foot balcony, though prepare to pay several hundred dollars more for that vista.
Cabin decor in basic cabins is a mesh of comfort, color and clean lines. White duvets with brown accent pillows give beds a boutique hotel vibe, while pleasing maroon carpeting and a rust-colored couch offset the jarring large-scale flower paintings that adorn the walls. Storage is more than adequate (loved the extra space under the bed), and the layout, while tight, is efficient. The living/sleeping areas have night tables and a small seating area that faces a mirror. The hair dryer is permanently attached in the seating area's pullout drawer. Most cabins are equipped with two outlets, but the one in the bathroom is well hidden in a top corner.
A 24-inch flat-screen television (larger in suites) includes news stations such as CNN, the Cartoon Network, pay-per-view movies and several Carnival channels that cover everything from ship activities to your Sail & Sign statement. As always, we were mesmerized by the Bow Channel, that 24/7 live feed showing the bow of the ship. You can also order room service or shore excursions via the TV, but it's much easier to pick up the (exceedingly cheap-looking) phone.
Lighting is great, with round-the-room, well-disguised fluorescents and other individual lights. Amenities include a safe and a mini-bar, which is stocked with beer, soda and liquor.
The bathrooms are nothing special, with most offering showers only -- and featuring those cheap, clingy curtains that seem to have a mind of their own. Our shower had shampoo and liquid soap dispensers filled with generic something or other, the only toiletries provided. We're told, however, that Carnival still offers amenties kits, so if you don't find one in your cabin, ask your steward to get you one. The makeup mirror with a magnified side is a nice touch, as are the surprisingly soft towels.
Balconies are furnished with comfortable furniture, typically two high-backed chairs of tightly webbed plastic over tubular aluminum, and a small cocktail table.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
Like Carnival Dream (and, really, like just about every other Carnival ship), you won't be wanting for entertainment on Carnival Magic. It may not have the star power of Blue Man Group (Norwegian Epic) or "Chicago" (Allure of the Seas), but if you can get by on a big-budget magic show or a Jimmy Buffett wannabe strumming his guitar in the RedFrog Pub, you'll do just fine.
The two-level Showtime theater seats 1,349 and presents shows most nights at 8:45 and 10:30. Most of them are heavy on song and dance and change each night. There's a real glam factor to the theater, and after testing about a dozen seats, we came to the conclusion that the rear bar-style seating on the second level was our favorite -- because we could flee unnoticed. Otherwise, we'd avoid the seats under the balconies, as they're claustrophobic and tend to cut off some of the action.
Carnival has been crowing for a while that "Destination: Unknown" is the "largest show ever staged on a Carnival ship." Part magic show, part Broadway-style musical, Destination tells the story of oh, who knows. There are pyrotechnics galore (kind of scrawny, but you are on a cruise ship after all), pop songs sung live and sort of competently (Muse's Uprising, Seal's Kiss From a Rose, etc.), elaborate costumes and the illusions of Jason Byrne. It's a hoot. Don't miss it.
Other productions include an ode to the 70's and a game show parody that combines music with audience participation.
Elsewhere around the ship, the glitzy Spotlight Lounge seats 400 and rotates between comedians and karaoke. Family-friendly fare from the former is generally available about 7:30 on select nights, with raunchier material strutted out after the kids are in bed, or at least in their own clubs. It's the "Superstar Live" karaoke that really packs the house, however: Brash types take to the stage with live musical accompaniment, and it's wildly entertaining. That said, Spotlight features several bars, so at the very least it's a fun place to chill -- and during the day, it's a bright, quiet space to read or catch up on e-mail.
The ship offers plenty of other places to catch a performance. Play It Again is a mellow (maybe too mellow at times) enclave with Carnival's signature baby grand piano embedded in the bar, giant disco-ball-ish light fixtures and martinis at the ready. If you like sing-alongs, this is your place. At the Magic Bar in the atrium, you can listen to everything from salsa music to a classical pianist perform from the stage suspended over the space. This is also one of the biggest bars on the ship (it wraps under the spiral staircase connecting the mid decks), so it's one of the best places to people-watch.
You never know what you're going to find at Ocean Plaza -- one afternoon, we listened to somnambulant guitar music, and later that night it was rockin' party tunes by a three-man group. We found the energy generally low at this stage; people would more or less look for a few seconds, then scramble elsewhere. Where'd they go? Maybe Vibe. As at-sea discos go, it's a pretty hot time, and inasmuch as its closing time is "late," you can assume you won't be alone if you stumble in in the wee hours.
Next door to Vibe is the RedFrog Pub, featuring wonderfully kitschy island decor, the aforementioned Thirsty Frog Red Ale (you can buy it in group-friendly 100-ounce glass tubes as well for $25 a pop) and a rotating roster of musicians that turn an already top-notch concept into Margaritaville, generally from late afternoon to midnight. We love the giant TV screens behind the bar that run a continuous slideshow of RedFrog patrons. Be careful if you're doing something goofy when one of the bartenders strolls by with a camera -- there's a good chance you'll be in the slideshow, and you'll be up there for hours. Don't ask us how we know this.
You can't miss the Hat Trick Casino, inasmuch as it's divided by the main artery running through Deck 5 -- so to get anywhere you want to be, you have to walk through it. At least it's interesting to look at, and the sports bar plunked in the middle is a happening scene. There are hundreds of slot machines, automated Texas Hold 'Em tables and gaming tables that cover roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. Beware that part of the casino allows smoking.
Hundreds of shore excursions on offer run the gamut from shopping to city tours to zip-lining. Special teen-only shore excursions are also offered.
On the "cruise elegant" nights in the main dining rooms (typically two on a seven-night cruise), most passengers look dressed up (think jackets for men, dresses for women), but evening gowns and tuxedos are the exception, especially in the Your Time Dining area. On casual nights, the norm for men is a collared shirt and nice jeans or khakis, and most women wear sundresses or capri-blouse combos -- but you'll see T-shirts and shorts. During the day, just about anything goes, although you won't (or shouldn't) see bathing suits in Southern Lights or Cucina del Capitano.
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