Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic Cruise Review 3.4.2012

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Magic
Date: March 4-10, 2012
Captain: Giovanni Cutugno
Hotel Director: Donato Becce
Cruise Director: James Charlton
Special Bloggers Host: John Heald
Ports: Galveston, Texas -Montego Bay, Jamaica - Grand Cayman, CI - Cozumel, Mexico

This was my 28th Carnival cruise, 70th overall, and 3rd cruise on the NEW Carnival Magic. I’m traveling with the dear wife (DW), my group of regular cruise friends: the SnoozeMates, and the John Heald Bloggers on this cruise.

Day 1- Sunday- 3/4/12- Embarkation- Galveston
We left the ranch at 6:20 am for our drive to Galveston. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking by 11:00 am and used the shuttle (driven by our friend Jason) over to the Carnival pier. They had already started boarding so it was a very easy process for us to check in. They had several agents in the VIP boarding area and we were processed straightaway and were on board in just 15 minutes. We went to the Lido Marketplace and saw friends who had already boarded. I sampled the roast beef from the carving station then as a group we all ate at the Cucina del Capitano for lunch. After lunch we met at the Red Frog Pub. A major difference from November is that they no longer sell the Thirsty Frog draft beer while in port (this may have been due to the Health Inspection being performed this morning). We had the Funship Special the traditional Carnival sail away cocktail. Tim Pierce, a friend who I originally met in Key West on a genealogy trip was performing. I like Tim and his music very much, he is a credit to Carnival. Muster drill was held about 4:00 and we met in the Southern Lights dining room for safety instructions. Just after sailing away the ship actually had to stop and return to port to debark a passenger with a health issues, but we were soon on our way. They are now using the turning basin at the yacht club so the Magic has to back to the pier. Very interesting. The JH Bloggers group had a welcome party in the Showtime Theatre at 5:00. John Heald welcomed everyone and they served cocktails-thank John. There are over 500 signed up as Bloggers on this cruise, the largest yet, and it was great seeing old friends although 300+ of these were newbies. Now that we were finally away from the port we returned to the Red Frog for the first 102oz Thirsty Frog tube served. Great fun and Will Marion was now the entertainer in the pub. Also a great guy and asset to Carnival. Dinner is 8:15 in the Southern Lights dining room. Our group has three great 10-top tables in the center of the dining room. For dinner I ordered the Tender Braised Beef Brisket in Gravy as an entree and Vanilla Crème Brulee and Black Forest Gateau for dessert. After dinner some went to the Casino, some to the Welcome Show, some to the Piano Bar, and some (me) to the cabin to rest. A great first day among cruise friends.

Day 2- Monday- 3/5/12- at Sea
The seas are a bit choppy and it’s sunny, but cool. I started with my traditional first morning of a cruise breakfast in the MDR with melon, Eggs Benedict, bacon, & potatoes. There was a Bloggers Q&A this morning as well as all the usual ship activities. At 1:00 pm we had our Friends of Chris P meeting (photo left), our own little private cocktail party, in the Play It Again Piano Bar. The party was fantastic with premium cocktails and duck farts flowing. Chris P himself attended as well as some other special Carnival guests. After the party there was a lot of ship board activities including a Bloggers only Tea Time. In the afternoon I had some cabin time and ordered a late room service lunch on the balcony. The BLT and Reuben sandwiches were great. I had a much needed rest (snooze) in the cabin the rest of the afternoon. Many went to see Will Marion who performed in the Piano Bar before dinner. This was the first Elegant Evening with the special Captains dinner. Tonight I ordered: the Stuffed White Mushrooms, Shrimp Cocktail, Roasted Pumpkin Soup, and the Prime Rib with Baked Potato. My choice for dessert was Cherries Jubilee. The production show tonight was The Groove Line and the Punchliner Comedy club was busy. Our group again split up between the casino, shows, and clubs. I went to see Al Ernst in the Punchliner and then a few songs by Ron Pass in the very busy piano bar. Both Al and Ron are great and Carnival regulars. A fun first day at sea.

Day 3- Tuesday- 3/6/12- at Sea
Rough seas overnight and cloudy in the morning. I had a nice MDR breakfast of melon, fried eggs, toast, bacon, & potatoes this morning. The Bloggers had a Fun Meet this morning and we had a group set for a Trivia contest, but no one from the ship showed to host it. This is the already the 2nd time this cruise that the host did not show up for a scheduled trivia event. That’s not good. We had a cabin crawl this morning to compare various cabin types. For lunch I ate at the sushi bar that is converted to a Salad Bar on sea days. The salad and salsa are very good. There was a Bloggers slot tournament and Tea Time this afternoon. We had a nice Balcony party from 4:30 to sunset on one of the aft balconies. This class of ship is not as conducive for our group balcony parties as other ships since due to the configuration you can not access/link as many balconies together. Still fun although tighter quarters and we made use of all the champagne that was delivered to the group. Before dinner the group split to do various things including: Casino, Piano Bar, Red Frog Pub, and Comedy club. Tonight a few of us went to the Cucina Del Capitano (photo right) for a late dinner: I had the Capitano’s Arancini (fried risotto cheese balls), Calamari Fritti, Insalata Caprese, Bistecca Alla Griglia and Tiramisu for dessert. We ordered a carafe of the house wine and the dinner was very enjoyable. The steak was perfect, everyone agreed that the Arancini was the best of the dinner. Well worth the $12 pp up charge. After the late dinner I retired to the cabin.

Day 4- Wednesday- 3/7/12- Montego Bay, Jamaica
The weather was cloudy but cleared by the end of the day. I had another good MDR breakfast. Many of our group met in the lobby to begin our day in Jamaica. We bused ($5pp) to Doctor’s Cave Beach for the day. It sprinkled a bit early on but the day became warmer and sunnier as it progressed. We had a nice HQ set up in the bar area and several did the beach thing for the day. Lunch and the Red Stripe beer was very good. They had Red Stripe on tap and in the bottle. I hit the water several times and also made a trip down to the Twisted Kilt bar next door where I saw Timmy the ship entertainer. I always seem to find him in a bar on a beach somewhere. All the crew know the good Wi-Fi hot spots, but the TK also had a ginger flavored red stripe beer. I was able to arrange our usual transport back to the ship on Cap’t Ernie’s boat. It’s nice to be able to water taxi across Montego Bay and avoid the traffic and street taxi’s. Very little rest before a full evenings ship activities. Tonight is the big production magic show: Destination: Unknown with Jason Byrne. Unfortunately they had production problems and had to restart one of the shows three times. Back to the MDR for dinner. I ordered the Tom Ka Gai, Assorted Seafood Newburg, Grilled Pork Steak, Bitter and Blanc, and Tiramisu. It was all very good and Matre’ D Ken Byrne sang for us again. He is a great singer and a very nice man. After dinner the group split to do the usual: Casino, Entertainment, the unique show: A Kiss Goodnight, Piano Bar, or rest.

Day 5- Thursday- 3/8/12- Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Clear and sunny, the best weather of the cruise so far. Three cruise ships are anchored off the island today. We were up early and I had a nice omelette from the omelette station in the Lido Marketplace. Today is the big excursion for the group this cruise and we all met on board so that we could be on the same tender going over to the island. We made connections with our tour operator, Nativeway Watersports, who I have used many times in the past. They took us to our own boat for the day and we were off on our Rays, Reef, & Rum point excursion. The water was extremely beautiful, the best I have ever seen here in Grand Cayman. Since we had our own boat (photo right) I had arranged to have Caybrew, the local beer, and rum available for us so early cocktails were the first order of the day. First stop was snorkeling at the Coral Gardens. The water was nice although a little choppy and about half the group snorkeled. Next stop is Stingray City, the sandbar that attracts all the Southern Stingrays. (photo left) Most of the group hit the water for this experience. It was great fun and everyone got to kiss a stingray if they wished. It was really exciting for the first timers. We were then on our way to Rum Point for a very nice lunch on the beach. We had a very relaxing hour+ here and time for a visit to the beach, the bar, facilities, or even a little shopping. Unfortunately we had to leave paradise in order to take the boat back and catch the final tender back to the ship. We made it back to the ship in time to clean up and attend the ‘Past Guest’ party in the Showtime Theatre. We missed Tatiana, but had good service. Some in our group have sailed almost all the Carnival ships featured in the presentation and as a group we have sailed the Fantasy, Conquest, Splendor, Glory, and Magic. The ship production show this evening is WIN! in my opinion the best of the shows. Dinner was again very good, I ordered the Escargot, Penne Siciliana, Chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska. After dinner the group again did their thing: casino, shows, and clubs. The Bloggers also had a late Liars Club show. A long and FUN day!

Day 6- Friday- 3/9/11- Cozumel, Mexico
A beautiful sunny day in Cozumel, Mexico. There are five cruise ships docked today and we docked just before 10:00 am at Puerto Maya. Many of our group went to Paradise Beach for the morning. We stayed on the ship and enjoyed a casual morning and I enjoyed a MDR breakfast. DW and I took a taxi into San Miguel ($11 taxi fare) about 11:00. I went to Antonio’s Barber Shop for my usual haircut from Martin and DW went to have a ring sized at a silversmith friend (an expert at sizing small silver). As I finished my haircut, who should walk in but Chad, owner of Wet Wendy’s. We visited with Chad and then went to pick up the finished ring and purchased a very nice new Tanzanite ring that was hand made by the jeweler. We went by Wet Wendy’s for a mango margarita and some great guacamole & chips. Some friends came by so it was fun visiting and listening to the children’s xylophone folk group that played while we there. Our group was to meet this afternoon at the Thirsty Cougar a new place owned by the Wet Wendy’s group located at Calle 3 at the Malecon. (photo right) Another Mango Margarita and some very good Vegetable Quesidillas while visiting with good friends. Before long we had five tables and they took very good care of us at the Thirsty Cougar. We returned to the ship and enjoyed sail away and the sunset from our balcony. Only a short rest before dinner. I ordered: California Spring Mix Salad, Lasagna Bolognese, Duet of Petit Filet Mignon and Short Rib Confit, & Chocolate, Raspberry and Vanilla Creme Cake for dessert. Again a very good dinner and champagne was served to everyone in the dining room as this was the 40th anniversary of Carnival Cruise Lines. Ken Byrne and the waiters also had a nice little show for us. The feature show tonight was Marcus Monroe, but most did the usual: Piano Bar, Casino, Comedy Club with two new comedians on board, and very late the Bloggers had the Roast of John Heald, (photo left) probably the best Blogger event of the week.

Day 7- Saturday- 3/10/12- at Sea
Today is a beautiful day at sea. I had a very nice dining room breakfast and met a great contact for information on cruising from Galveston. There was a Comedy talk for Bloggers by Al Ernst, John H, and Calvyn this morning and they also distributed the Bloggers T-shirts. Many in the group met for lunch on deck 5 and then more meeting in the Red Frog for an afternoon beer. There is a lot to do and see on this ship, we did a bit of shopping and did attend the Bloggers only Tea Time at 3:00 for some sweets. The Bloggers Farewell was at 5:00 pm, but our group did our traditional ship Farewell party in the Spotlight Lounge at 5:15 pm. They offer complementary drinks, but don't really publicize the party, the bonus was that Will was the entertainer! He again posed for a photo with the group (photo left). The only downside is that this party has been shortened from an hour to 45 minutes since we were here in November. The group had it’s final balcony party this evening (photo right), another beautiful sunset and good times with friends. Also a good way to get rid of all the alcohol on the last night. Tonight was actually my favorite dinner of the week in the MDR. I had my favorite Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp, Grilled Chicken Breast (served over fettuccine), New England Crabcake, Tender Roasted Prime Rib of American Beef, and Grand Manier Souffle. Very Good. Some had a quick dinner as three from our tables were starring in the Carnival Legends show as: Bruce Springsteen, Cher, and Frank Sinatra. Final night and everyone did their own thing. It’s Pajama night in the Piano Bar tonight..great fun, the Legends Show, Comedy Shows, Casino, and more. Also it’s pack your bags night.

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 completely fixed. The Mariner came in after us on her own power. Soon we were tied up but there was almost an hour delay before they allowed debark. I suspect I know why. Finally they began debark for self assist guests, but because of the delay we waited until we felt it was somewhat less congested on deck three. We went down about 7:30 and were able to move through to the check out. Customs 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 at 8:00 am. Amazingly smooth debarkation even with the delayed start.

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. On my previous Carnival Magic review I mentioned that I suspected that there were more engine problems than just the thrusters. I can confirm that they indeed are only using 5 of the 6 diesel engines and that one did indeed fail on the transatlantic voyage. They can ‘make do’ with five, but at what expense? Is this why the ports times have been cut shorter to allow more travel time at sea? Is this why there is a ‘power down’ at night and the air does not circulate as well? What happens if another engine is lost? Will safety be compromised? As to the thrusters...they are not fully operational and not fully certified by the USCG. What is the deal? I have been told that the Magic has more USCG inspection temporary ‘waivers’ than any other cruise ship....that has to be a sign that there are issues to be addressed. Most of the general public is not aware of these problems, but I am concerned. (Added Note: This part of the review seems to have been discussed on some cruise messages boards. I will say that what I write about the USCG inspections are true and not hearsay as the USCG is my direct source of information)

We had cabin 9475 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 and has a unique configuration due to a stairwell. It’s also very easy to go up one deck to the aft Lido area and Lido Marketplace. 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. No couch, but extra storage room and wrap balcony. After being spoiled by the goodies in the bath I never bring a razor, but alas no more razors in the gifts basket. I’ll have to remember to bring one from now on.

We had second or late seating for dinner and as a group had four very nice tables in center area of the Southern Lights dining room. A fantastic location to see Ken sing and the waiters dance. Overall the food was very good. Our waiter, Marcel, was excellent. I was very pleased with the service. Room service was very good, but very slow...plan on an hour for delivery. The Lido Marketplace was also good.

Personal Comments
With this cruise I have spent 30 days on the NEW Carnival Magic. I do have some issues. There were many many errors in the Fun Times, i.e. food areas listed as open when they were not, entertainment times listed incorrectly, and many more. This is serious as this is the guests primary connection to the ship. As a seasoned cruiser perhaps I am somewhat biased in my expectations, but it seems as though the Carnival Magic is just going through the motions to ‘get by’ and not providing the exceptional service that I have received on other Carnival ships. There are some great individuals on board, but overall I find many of the crew and staff lacking. No adult swimming pool is a concern for me, it is one of the few cruise ships at sea without one. The Disney Magic has more adult pools than the Carnival Magic. There are so many little problems, to be honest I believe this ship is somewhat jinxed. I have to say that I will not be sailing the Carnival Magic again until some safety issues and other concerns are satisfied.

Cruise Highlights
The Snoozemates group who have sailed together many times is always the highlight. All are experienced cruisers who know how to have fun on a cruise. The John Heald Bloggers events were very nice. I think Ron Pass and his fan clubs bring a very exciting aspect to the cruise. Ron may have had more fans than John on the cruise. I enjoyed Timmy Pierce and Will Marion, both great guys and great singers. Our group as always makes their own FUN!

Another FUN Cruise!!
BUT Serious Concerns about the ship.

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