Sunday, November 27, 2011

Carnival Magic Inaugural Texas Cruise

Carnival Magic U.S. Inaugural
Cruise Review 11.14.2011

Just the Facts:
Cruise: Carnival Magic Inaugural Texas Cruise
Date: November 14-19, 2011
Captain: Giovanni Cutugno
Cruise Director: James Charlton
Special Guest: John Heald
Ports: Galveston, Texas - Progreso, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico

This was my 27th Carnival cruise, 68th overall, and 2nd cruise on the NEW Carnival Magic. I’m traveling with the dear wife (DW) and group of regular cruise friends on this cruise.

Day 1- Monday- 11/14/11- Embarkation- Galveston
Another easy start for this cruise as again I am already on board ship. I had breakfast in the MDR (main dining room) and hoped to sit with TA’s and get their impressions of the ship. They had questions for me as well since I was on the transatlantic. I was worried that they would not be able to debark all the travel agents that had stayed overnight, but they got them all off by 9:00 am. Now housekeeping and the staff had to prepare for another group of passengers who will be boarding. I must say that they did a wonderful job. I saw several groups of US Coast Guard finalizing inspections and got to hear announcement that were made for the crew. John Heald even thanked all the crew on behalf of the CEO for the great work they had done on inaugural Sunday. He also bragged on the successful health inspection, they received a perfect 100%. Amazing. They announced that boarding would begin at 11:00 am for our cruise. I got settled into our new cabin and by the time I went down to Guest Services to get my new card the ‘group’ and dear wife were boarding so we all made the lobby at the same time. Everyone had lunch and then we all met in the Red Frog Pub for afternoon drinks. Five (it may have been six) of the 102 oz. Tubes of Thirsty Frog soon put everyone in a very good mood. Will Marion, (photo left) one of the entertainers who plays in the Red Frog, was quickly adopted by the girls as our entertainer. He is good and plays a lot of Southern Rock and popular music. I took the DW on a tour of the new Carnival Magic, her first thought was that after the publicity it lacked the expected ‘wow’ factor. Upon returning to the cabin a gift of Chocolate Covered Strawberries and White Chocolate from the Hotel Director was left as a B2B gift. They used to do B2B gifts in the past, but not in past few years, so this was very nice. Boat drill was about 4:30 pm and went very well. Soon the Galveston Bay dolphins escorted the Magic out of the harbor and into the Gulf of Mexico. Some cabin time to rest and prepare for dinner was sorely needed by this time. We have two great 10-top tables located in the center of the Southern Lights Dining room. Thanks to Senior Maître D' Ken Byrnes who helped me arrange them for the group. For dinner I ordered the Creme of Sun Dried Tomato Soup, Green Salad, the Sweet & Sour Shrimp with Plum Sauce as an entree and Crème Brulee for dessert. After dinner some went to the Casino, some to the Welcome Show, some to the Piano Bar, and some to the cabin to rest. A great first day among cruise friends.

Day 2- Tuesday- 11/15/11- at Sea
A nice morning with clear skies. I was up very early and took care of some business with Guest Services, no lines early in the day. I went early to the dining room and I got a private table so I changed my usual first morning cruise routine and ordered eggs to order. They were perfect: three eggs over medium with sides of baked apple, toast, bacon, potatoes, and corned beef hash. I then met others in the group on Lido deck for a fun morning on the Twister and Drain Pipe slides. There were many more passengers, including children already using the Water Works than on the previous cruise. For lunch we did the Salad Bar located on Promenade deck. BTW--They have the best pico de gallo I have ever found on a cruise ship. Texans will love it. At 1:00 pm we had our Friends of Chris P meeting, (photo right) our own little private cocktail party, in the Piano Bar. We requested the best cocktail server on the ship, Marusya (I discovered her on the previous cruise) and she was great. The party was fantastic with premium cocktails and duck farts flowing. We also had a special guest, Senior Cruise Director & Blogger Mr. John Heald (photo above left) who entertained with some stories and posed for photos with the group. Following the party it was off to the Red Frog Pub to meet Facebook friends and a few more tubes of Tasty Frog beer (photo left). JH came by there as well and meeting new people was fun. The rest of the afternoon was spent on Lido deck acting goofy and listening to our new adopted entertainer: Will. One of our group won the slot tournament this afternoon, always a good thing. Something very unusual happened on the ship at the beginning of early seating dinner, our favorite Matre’D Ken was attacked by a disgruntled waiter and will be taking time off his duties for the rest of the cruise. We will hopefully have the same arrangements and catch up with Ken in March when the group again sails on the Magic. For dinner I had: the Stuffed White Mushrooms, Roasted Pumpkin Soup, and the Prime Rib with Baked Potato. The production show tonight was The Groove Line and the Punchliner Comedy club was also busy. Our group again split up between the casino, shows, and clubs. A fun first day at sea.

Day 3- Wednesday- 11/16/11- Progreso, Mexico
After we boarded the ship on Monday we received a letter from the Captain stating that because of the aft thruster problems that we could not call at our scheduled port of Costa Maya. We would be doing an overnight call at Progreso so that a tug could assist in docking and that the divers could make further repairs. Not happy about this as Progreso is in the Gulf and not near as pretty as the Caribbean port of Costa Maya. I lost our only Caribbean call on the transatlantic as well. Since we were in no hurry to go ashore I had a casual breakfast in the MDR and visited with friends on the aft Lido deck. We made plans to meet in town later in the day. DW used the aft pool and I relaxed until lunch. We ate at Cucina del Capitano and it was good as always. After lunch we took the shuttle into town an met at my favorite place in town: Le Saint Bonnet (photo left) on the Malecon. Almost everyone was there by the time we arrived, a group of about fifteen friends. This is a good place to HQ as from here you can shop or go to the beach. We had a nice afternoon drinking margaritas, eating some Mexican food, and enjoying the great breeze off of the water. Even enjoyed a nice massage ($10 for 45 minutes). We have never been able to stay late before and they brought in a female Cubano torch singer so it was a fun time. Especially for the girls who became the backup singers and dancers for the singer (yup, photo right). We returned to the ship in the evening and the ship was very pretty lit up in the night. We arrived back in time for a late snack in the Lido Buffet. They did open the casino so many went there as well as the late production show: Destination: Unknown. I had a much better seat for this show than on the previous cruise and we enjoyed it very much. Later I went to the Piano Bar to enjoy Ron Pass or more correctly watch the others enjoy Ron. A very good people watching place.

Day 4- Thursday- 11/17/11- Progreso, Mexico
Everyone in our group as well as most of the ship stayed on board although we were still docked in Progreso. I had my usual MDR breakfast then met others on Lido deck aft. This is the usual meeting place for our group as it above our cabins located one deck below on Vista deck aft. Some swimming and Bloody Mary’s seemed to be the plan for the morning. The pool was nice this morning although a little cool for me. This afternoon we had some ship time including some more time in the Water Works and the slides...great fun. We had an early sail away with the help of a tug from Progreso. Ships normally dock with the aft towards the pier in Progreso and we were the opposite so that we could be towed out easier. Obvious that the thrusters still do not work, but interesting to watch since the tug was just below our aft balconies. The rest of the day was really just one long party. We started with one our infamous aft balcony parties with lot's of snacks, beer, champagne, rum, and just about any cocktail one would want. This group travels well. The next stop was the Past Guest Party in the Show Time lounge (photo above left). The cocktail servers did a very good job in maintaining the party for us. Cruise Director James did a good job and everyone had a good time. Next stop was the Red Frog Pub (photo right) where the guys again began drinking the tubes of Thirsty Frog, but the gals's changed to Tiramisu Martinis. Our friend John Heald even came by and ordered another tube for the gang. A fun time for both our group and new friend made in the pub (at some point we had to give away some alcohol). The MDR was out of the question this evening so we ate in the Lido Marketplace. I understand the pork chops were very good. I retired after dinner and the group went about their usual fun ship activities. Marcus Monroe was the entertainer this evening and they also had a Caribbean Beach Party.

Day 5- Friday- 11/18/11- Cozumel
A very nice day with a nice cool breeze. There were seven ships in Cozumel so there will be a lot of tourists today. Finally after 20+ days on the Magic we will be in a Caribbean port even though three ports were promised. I started the day with a dining room breakfast then met the group for an early planned start in Cozumel. We hired a van for the day ($25 pp) and so 14 of us were off for Buccano’s Beach Club located in the hotel zone north of San Miguel. We were there just after 9:00 am and had the swimming pool (photo left), facilities, and beautiful beach (photo right), to ourselves for quite a while. It is a very beautiful place with a great view and very good food. About 12:30 as it became busier we decided to head into San Miguel and our now favorite bar: Wet Wendy’s. They were very busy, but very accommodating and got us a large table in the shade (photo bottom left). We used this as a HQ and some did some shopping while I went to Antonio’s barber shop to see Martin and get a haircut. I rejoined the group for a Mango Margarita and a Drunken Sailor cocktail. It’s always good to see Chad and Klara the owners. The service, drinks, and food were great. Note: Bucanno’s may now charge an admission, we didn’t as it was included in our $25, but one person came late and was charged $10 and I was told that is the new policy. I have been here many times and had never been charged in the past. It’s already an expensive taxi ride and so I no longer recommend the trip if there is an admission. The food is great, but it’s not inexpensive and although this is not bargain resort, I do consider it gouging. Also the food and drink bill was not split so it was very difficult for everyone to pay their share. At Wet Wendy’s everyone received a bill with their name on it and it was easily paid. Now that Paradise Beach has a swimming pool that may be our choice in March or one of the all inclusive spots. Sail away from Cozumel was interesting with so many ships leaving especially since the Carnival Conquest, my former 'home' ship was also in port. I guess that will be a regular Friday thing with the Conquest now sailing out of NOLA and the Magic out of Galveston. They did use a tug to get us off the pier. After sail away we went to see comedian John Wesley Austin in the Punchliner Comedy Club. He has a Texas/Country style of comedy and should be popular on this cruise. Dinner was very good, I ordered the Broccoli Soup, Escargot, Penne Pasta, Chateaubriand, Butter Pecan Ice Creme, and Fruit Plate. After dinner the group again did their thing: casino, shows, and clubs. The production show this evening was Win!. A fun day, but a beautiful day in Cozumel with friends makes it very special!!

Day 6- Saturday- 11/19/11- at Sea
Today is a beautiful day at sea, the best of the past 20+ days. I had a very nice dining room breakfast and was joined by several friends, a nice surprise. After breakfast most in the group were on aft Lido deck for some Swimming, Bellini’s, and Bloody Mary’s. I even hit the hot tub early before the crowds arrived, then swam in the pool and enjoyed the Bloody Marys. This was a fun morning. Most met for lunch in Cucina del Capitano, best lunch on the Magic in my opinion. The afternoon was full of activities: Water Park, Groove for St. Jude’s Walk, music in various venues, sales in the shops, the Sports deck, and more. All passengers and the group were busy on this beautiful day. At 5:00 pm they held the Farewell party in the Spotlight Lounge. They offer complementary drinks, but don't really publicize the party although it was overly full this cruise. Word of mouth & groups filled it. Marusya really took care of us at this party and the bonus was that Will was the entertainer! He also posed for a photo with some of the group (photo left). Not sure what he thinks of us. Tonight we went to the early set in the Piano Bar before dinner to enjoy Ron Pass one final time. The girls all ordered special Tirimasu Martinis from Anton the Bartender (photo lower right). Having been to the Piano Bar many times over 20+ days I can say that Anton is perfect for that venue. He is entertaining in his own right and is really a good fit with Ron Pass. Dinner was very good, I had my favorite Panko Shrimp entree, but many the group raved over the new Didja menu Macaroni with Bacon entree. Marcus Anthony was one of the entertainers this evening as well as the Carnival Legends Show, but after dinner I headed back to the cabin to pack and put out our bags. We decided not to do self assist debarkation as we have two large bags and there are now so many people doing self assist that it gets very busy and confusing, especially in the designated waiting area. By checking our bags we can just wait in the cabin or public area until we are called to debark. BTW-always check to see that your bags were picked up, mine were not initially, but a few calls finally got them taken.

Debarkation- Sunday- Galveston, Texas
We arrived in Galveston well before 6:00 am. I was up early and watched the ship be turned around by a tug and then towed to the dock. The thrusters are definitely not fixed. Soon we were tied up and they began debark for self assist guests very early. We went up to the Lido Marketplace for breakfast while we waited for our zone to be called and just as we finished breakfast they called zones 1-2-3. It was only 7:00 am and they are already calling zones. We went down to the cabin, got our bag and headed for the lobby. We left the ship, found our checked bags, and proceeded to US Customs. All went well and soon we were walking over to EZ Cruise parking and on the road. We actually crossed the bridge and were off the island before 8:00 am. Amazingly easy debarkation.

Ship
The Carnival Magic is the newest and largest in the Carnival fleet. The ship is 1002 feet in length and weighs in at 130,000 tons. My two favorites of the much publicized new improvements are the Cucina del Capitano and the Red Frog Pub. The Water Works and Piano Bar are also great.

Crew
The staff and crew for the most part are very good at their jobs and very friendly. I think many were somewhat stressed after the big Sunday extravaganza though. They have been trained very well. Again my stateroom attendant was fantastic.

Cabin
We had cabin 9473 an 8D balcony on Vista deck. I selected this cabin as it is next to the aft cabins that many in our group like to book. It’s also very easy to go up one deck to the aft Lido area and Lido Marketplace. It is a standard balcony configuration with a full couch. The safe has a button keypad and card swipe, there is a hair dryer, flat screen TV, two electrical plugs on the vanity/desk, robes, three section wardrobe, small stocked refrigerator, and vanity stool. The carpets and furniture were freshly cleaned because there were smokers in the cabin for the preceding 16 day cruise. The fact that I spoke with the steward well before moving in helped him get it cleaned. So the odd one night in a different cabin actually worked well, it gave him time to really clean it and we did not notice the smoke after the first day. On December 1st smoking will not be allowed in cabins so hopefully this won’t happen to future cruisers. One disappointment is that the balconies are smaller than on a Conquest class ship.

Food
We had second or late seating for dinner and as a group had two very nice tables in center area of the Southern Lights dining room. A fantastic location to see Ken sing and the waiters dance. Unfortunately Ken was unable to work other than the first night. We are the last ship in the Carnival fleet to go to the new ‘Didja’ menus. Overall the food was very good. The comfort food additions such as meat loaf, macaroni & cheese, and fried chicken are interesting. Read my Magic Transatlantic review for more detail on food.

Personal Comments
Although our group had a lot of FUN, I felt that this cruise was just a ‘half bubble off plumb’ all week. There were again problems with the aft thrusters, new crew members, change of ports, fight in dining room, electrical power (the AC went off every night) & I suspect there are engine problems other than the thrusters, and IMHO perhaps a tired crew. It was still a great cruise, but of course our group can make a party out of an armpit.

Cruise Highlights
The Snoozemates group who have sailed together many times was the highlight. All are experienced cruisers who know how to have fun on a cruise. Senior Cruise Director John Heald stopping by our private party was nice. Will Marion, the entertainer was great. Our Red Frog Pub parties were the talk of the ship. Cozumel was wonderful as always.

Overall another great Cruise!!

~~ Photos by Friends - click them to enlarge ~~

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