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Trip Report: Carnival Magic Fun Day at Sea + Interviews

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This morning I woke up at a crazy hour so I could walk around the ship shooting video of the various venues while they were empty, because all the sane people were still sleeping.  I started on deck three and made my way up until I wound up at the Lido Marketplace before calling it quits. As cruisers, we’re used to the hustle-and-bustle of a ship, but walking around the Carnival Magic at so ungodly an hour made me realize how quiet a ship can be. Wandering around the empty hallways and restaurants was cool and a little spooky, as if I was exploring a ghost ship.

After I finished my video walkabout, I went to watch the sunrise from the aft end of the ship. There’s something about standing there watching the sun come up with just the sound of the ship going through the waves that gets to me every time. For all of the great meals to be had and shows to be seen, there’s nothing to really remind me of why I enjoy cruising like these quiet moments.

Since I had a lunch at 11 a.m., I wound up going to my favorite non-main dining room breakfast place, Ocean Plaza. I say it every cruise but it’s worth repeating: If you’re sailing on a Dream-class ship (Breeze, Dream, or Magic), Carnival Vista, or Carnival Sunshine, Ocean Plaza is the place to go for a nice breakfast away from the madness of the buffet. I noticed on this sailing that the selection was a little bit more of a continental-style breakfast – cheese, meats, grits, rolls, and a juice bar – than it has been in the past. But it was the perfect place for me to pick up something that would tide me over, as I knew this was going to be a big eating day.

First Up: Q&A with Carnival Executives

As I mentioned yesterday, this is Carnival’s annual blogger’s cruise, with John Heald being one of the featured attractions. But two other Carnival execs are also on board:  Richard Morse, VP of Guest Operations and Sarah Beth Reno, VP of Entertainment. This was a great opportunity for them to not only answer questions from the 650 bloggers on board, but to get their feedback on what’s working and what’s not as they move forward with future ships. They offered up a lot of details about the upcoming Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama, and even the new XL ship, which is going to be designed to handle 6,500 passengers. That’s right… 6,500!

One topic that came up a few times was requests to make the ships more compliant with ADA standards, and Morse said that the company was slowly working to upgrade the ships in this regard and will continue to do so moving forward.

The entire Q&A sessions was great, because this was a group of people with some strong opinions who weren’t shy about expressing them. None of the questions were dodged, although a few may have been tap-danced around.

Interview with John Heald

Immediately following the Q&A session, I had a one-on-one sit-down slated with Brand Ambassador John Heald. We chatted for a good 20 minutes or so, during which I got to ask him a lot of questions about the ships currently being built or planned. This being a rare opportunity to address the elephant in the room, I asked Heald what Carnival is doing in response to the rash of failing marks several ships had received during the USPH inspections. We discussed some of the new concepts in development, and if there was any truth to the rumors about upcoming changes to the loyalty program.

While you’re going to have to listen to the interview to hear the whole conversation, I will give you this spoiler: Some new loyalty program ideas are being toyed with, but there’s no word on when they might be rolled out.

I also got to ask him some of the questions Cruise Radio readers and listeners submitted via Facebook and Twitter, so that is coming soon!

One thing I won’t be sharing with you is the awesome Choose Fun shirt – a tie-in with their recently rolled-out marketing campaign – that he presented to me. Sorry, that’s all mine.

Diamond Member Lunch

If you have Diamond status on Carnival, one of the perks is that you get to attend a luncheon that’s usually held on the first sea day. The captain swung by to give a nice welcome speech to everyone in attendance and then took a group photo with us. There were drinks, an amazing crab salad appetizer, and a filet entree. There was a chocolate dessert of some sort, but I wasn’t able to stick around to try it.

I should probably mention that while I’ve sailed with Carnival quite a bit, I’m not a Diamond level guest. But John invited me to attend and that was the kind of offer I wasn’t about to pass up.

Peace and Quiet

Since today was a Fun Day at Sea, I wanted to wander around a bit. As regular listeners of the show know, one of the things I’m always interested in is how a ship handles sea days from a crowd-flow perspective. It’s easy to enjoy everything a ship has to offer when it is in port and a lot of people are off exploring, but the true test is how crowded things feel when you’re at sea and everyone is enjoying the pool, the restaurants, and the various events put on by the cruise director and their staff.

I’m happy to say that Carnival Magic delivered! The food venues weren’t packed, and there were plenty of chairs around the pool.  Remember, these Dream-class ships have three levels of deck space around the pool, so there is a lot of seating available. Even the aft pool and hot tubs – where a whole lot of people enjoy hanging out on sea days – didn’t feel crowded. You know what else I really dig about this ship? The hot tubs on the promenade decks that extend over the side of the ship a little bit. I wish Carnival Vista had the same design. Truth be told, even finding a hot tub can be a challenge on that ship.

I’m not really a lay-in-the-sun person, so after walking the track for a little while, I went back down to my cabin to enjoy a couple hours of reading time on my balcony. I’ve never fallen asleep on a balcony, but I can certainly see how people do. It is so peaceful and quiet, and the view can’t be beat.

Dinner is Served!

Remember how I said this was going to be a big eating day? Well, at dinner, I wound up going with two entrees – ribs and swordfish. I also ordered a side of the bacon mac-and-cheese, which is pretty much what the word “amazing” was invented to describe.

I mentioned yesterday that the dining service was pretty slow on our first night. With a third server added to our team, things went smoother tonight. Although I noticed that our main assigned server had several of the large round tables as well as a couple of booths. If he’d had maybe one less table to deal with, I suspect he’d have a better opportunity to give everyone the level of attention you want during a cruise dining experience. This is especially true during the early dinner service – which we had – when you have to turn-and-burn those tables in order to accommodate the next round of hungry guests. (I don’t really get why people who have late dining start lining up outside the door at 7:45 when the doors don’t even open until 8:15. It causes a lot of congestion and sort of seems like a waste of time, too. Why not go have a pre-dinner drink instead of standing there? With assigned seating, it’s not like you’re going to get a better table if you’re the first one through the door!)

Super Bowl at Sea

I fully confess that I scarfed down my meal and took off as soon as possible so that I could dash over to the show lounge to catch the Super Bowl. Talk about a divided house! There were just about the same number of Eagles fans on board as there were people cheering on the Patriots. (Although I suspect a lot of those Eagles fans weren’t necessarily big fans of the team, so much as they were rooting against the Patriots and would have happily supported any team playing against them.)

They were showing the game in numerous venues, including the casino’s sports bar (which was too smoky for me), in the main show theater, and outside on the lido deck. While some sporting events aren’t able to be shown on ships for various reasons, it seems like the Super Bowl is one game they pretty much know they have to show or face a riot. (Another Cruise Radio staffer was on Norwegian Gem on Super Bowl Sunday and said that, like on this ship, the big game was pretty much inescapable. Although he pointed out that those who weren’t interested in the game found it easy to get into even the most popular restaurants without a reservation!)

Even eating as quickly as I could without being rude, the game was still in the second quarter by the time I got to the theater. I stayed there until there were about two minutes left in the game, then headed to the Lido Deck, which I knew was where all the party people would be. I now get why Philadelphia had to grease the light poles in their city, because when the Eagles won, people went nuts. It was kind of cool to see, let alone be a part of.

Tomorrow morning we are docking in Cozumel, and I’m going to Nachi Cocom for the day. Of course, I forgot my sunscreen. The Fun Shops onboard sell it for $15 for one bottle or two for $25. Much better than buying it in Mexico where it runs $20 per bottle. No thank you.

A Reader E-mailed Me to Ask: Does Carnival Magic now require a ticket for admission to the Punchliner Comedy Club?

Although I can see how that might be a good idea, given how popular the shows are, it’s not happening on this sailing. I will say the early shows are a lot easier to get into than the late shows, so if you want to make sure you get in, it’s worth considering trying to hit the earlier show.

A Facebook Follower Asked: Does Carnival Magic still issue the sign-and-sail cards at the pier?  

As of the time I’m writing this, they still have cards issued at the pier. That said, there were rumblings at the pier that in the next few weeks, they would be switching over to the system whereby your sign-and-sail cards will be waiting for you in the mailbox outside your cabin. If it works here as well as it has in Miami, it will make embarkation that much faster.

If I can answer any questions about Carnival Magic for you while I’m on board, please let me know. Email me at doug@cruiseradio.net or leave me a message on Facebook. It gives me something to do!

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Until tomorrow…

Goodnight.

Catch Day 1 of my Carnival Magic Cruise here.

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CARNIVAL MAGIC

Recap: Carnival Magic Western Caribbean Cruise

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If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself reflecting on a cruise weeks after disembarking, partially because you wish you could go back and do the whole thing again. In this case, I figured that while I’m reflecting on my recent seven-night sailing on Carnival Magic to the Western Caribbean, I might as well combine all of the sea blogs I wrote about this particular trip in one place (the links to which you’ll find below). I’ve also included a link to the show on which I chatted with one of the most popular guys out there, Carnival’s Brand Ambassador, John Heald. Hopefully, if you’re planning a trip on the Carnival Magic — or have sailed her in the past and just want to recreate some of those great memories — you’ll enjoy taking this trip down Memory Lane with me.

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic is an amazing ship and perhaps one of my favorites in the Carnival fleet (even beating out Carnival Sunshine, which is really saying something). I flat-out love the outdoor promenade that the Dream-class ships have on deck five, which wrap around the entire ship. On the new builds, like Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista, the ability to walk around the entire promenade is restricted because of the restricted area which houses the Havana cabins toward the back of the ship. On the older class vessels, the walking deck would be deck three, which is also partially restricted because of the dining rooms at the aft of the ship and the crew areas toward the front.

To read a day-by-day account of the trip, click on the links below:

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The ports of call on this Western Caribbean cruise were mind-blowing. Two of my favorites were Belize City and Mahogany Bay in Roatan. In the past, I probably would have stayed on the ship during both of these stops, but I’m so glad I didn’t. You can read more about the excursions below.

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

Shore Excursion Reviews

If you would like to check out the interview with did with Carnival’s Brand Ambassador John Heald during the sailing, you can listen to the podcast below.

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Trip Report: Carnival Magic Debarkation Day

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If you’ve been reading my daily Carnival Magic trip reports, you’ll remember that last night before hitting the sack, I ordered room service. I placed my order at 11:00 p.m. and it arrived at 11:50 p.m. and while it wasn’t the quickest of deliveries, it sure hit the spot. I also didn’t mind waiting for the food because this was the final night and that meant that once I ate and went to sleep, it would be time to wake up and get off the ship. On the other hand, I really probably shouldn’t have had a food orgy right before going to bed.

Last Night’s Room Service

So how was everything? The chicken wings ($5) were good and not too spicy, although they would’ve been better served hot. They were lukewarm at best.

The chicken quesadilla ($5) was also good (although it didn’t have much kick to it), and it was served with sides of guacamole and salsa.

And then there was the doughnut sandwich ($3). To be honest, I thought it was going to be something completely different from what it turned out to be. I was picturing meat in the middle of it, although in hindsight, that would probably have been weird… especially for something listed on the dessert menu! Instead, it was a strawberry glazed doughnut cut in half and stuffed with sliced strawberries, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, served with a side of strawberry glaze.  I wound up licking the icing off and eating the strawberries but didn’t actually eat the doughnut.

When you order room service on Carnival, the receipt gives you the option of adding a tip, which comes in handy if you don’t happen to have a couple bucks to slip the delivery person. I considered only tipping a buck since it took quite a while for the food to arrive, but I know how hard these guys work and how understaffed their departments can sometimes be. Plus, I always feel like you kind of have to be generous with the people who are literally bringing food directly to your door.

This morning I woke up just as we were pulling into port. We wound up docking next to the Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic. By the next time I looked out the window, the Carnival Sunshine had also arrived. And that was when it hit me… the cruise was over. No more Fun Days at Sea. No more awesome excursions, nothing. Pretty much the only thing I had to look forward to was the fact that before leaving home, I’d made my bed.

When it comes to embarkation, you can either do self-assist (meaning you can walk off with all your bags and as the name implies, no assistance from the staff) or have them pick up your bags the night before and you reunite with them once off the ship. I almost always opt for self-assist and this was no different… although I wasn’t about to leave the ship without grabbing one last breakfast.

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Heading To Breakfast

My long-standing ritual is to hit the main dining room before disembarking, if only so I can take advantage of one final opportunity to have someone else make and present me with breakfast. So when the dining room opened at 6:30 a.m. — an hour before self-assist debarkation was set to begin — I was pretty much the first one in line. (On my way to breakfast, I noticed my room steward in the hallway and told him if he wanted to go in and strip the cabin, I was done in there. Sure enough, by the time I returned to pick up my bag, he’d done his thing. It’s incredible how quickly they are able to turn the ship over for the next group of passengers, isn’t it?)

See Carnival Magic Deck Plans 

I strayed from my usual cracked egg sandwich off the port day menu, instead going with salmon on a bagel and a cup of coffee. One thing I forgot to do on this cruise was use the free drink coupon they offer returning guests. I don’t even know if you can use it on debarkation morning, but I wasn’t going to try since I’d be driving in less than an hour.

Breakfast service was fast. It’s funny how on top of their game the wait staff is on debarkation morning, because they know it’s all about the turn-and-burn. By 11 a.m., they need to have the dining room ready for the 4,000 guests anxious to start their vacations!

After breakfast, I ran up to my stateroom on deck six to grab my bag and headed downstairs. Props to the debarkation team, because it was flawless. I carried my luggage down to deck three and joined the quickly-moving line. A quick swipe of my sail and sign card and I was making my way down to the customs area. Just that quickly, my sail-and-sign card went from my all-access pass to a very expensive souvenir.

We didn’t need to fill out a blue customs form, so all we needed was our passport and luggage when we got to the customs agent. A few questions later, and you’re on your way.

In total, it took me 26 minutes to get off the ship and to my car. The parking situation has changed since last I sailed out of Port Canaveral. At that time — last fall —  I prepaid for parking at the gate before I was allowed into the lot. They have reversed the process now, so you have to wait until after your cruise before paying. Frankly, that seems like a bad idea. Do they realize that ships have casinos and bars and all sorts of other places in which a passenger could really easily spend all their money? Get that cash up front, rather than risk them coming off with empty pockets. Parking for a seven-night cruise was $136.

More To Come

While there’s a lot more Carnival Magic coverage coming — including interviews I conducted over the past week, answers to some of your burning questions, additional reviews and more. But for now, this is where I say goodbye and thank you for joining me, if only vicariously, on this journey.  I also want to send a shout-out and a “thank you” to Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald, comedian Al Ernst and the folks who so graciously put up with me as I tagged along on John Heald’s FFS Cruise.

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Trip Report: Carnival Magic Heads Home

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Well, it’s our last day on the Carnival Magic and, as it happens, it’s what Carnival calls a Fun Day at Sea. Wanting to make sure I didn’t sleep this whole day away, I went to bed with the curtains open so that the sun would serve as my alarm clock. As a result, I woke up around 8 a.m., just in time to head for one of my favorite meals: the Sea Day Brunch. During the week’s previous sea day’s, I’d missed the brunches because I was attending events hosted by John Heald. So this was my big chance to dive in and make up for it.

Aboard the Magic, brunch is held on the first floor of the Southern Lights dining room toward the aft of the ship. While there was a line when I arrived, it moved pretty quickly. Once seated, I went with the flaming tomato soup as a starter and the steak-and-eggs main course. Although the banana cream pie (and possibly the cheesecake) were calling my name, I decided that, given how much I’ve eaten this week — and how many more opportunities to do so were still ahead —  I should skip dessert.

Brunch was only barely over when I began facing the next great food conundrum: What would I have for lunch? (As you can see, I spend a lot of time on ships dealing with self-created food-centric crises.) Did I want a Guy’s Burger? Maybe something from Mongolian Wok? Oh, and what about the always delicious BlueIguana Cantina? While each of these options was viable, I think any longtime reader knows that in the end, BBQ was going to win out.

Time For Another Meal

 

Because the Welcome Back party — Carnival’s way of thanking platinum and diamond-level cruisers for their loyalty — was at 11:45 a.m.,  I wanted to be the first in line at Guy’s Pig & Anchor so I could eat my food and get to the theater for the big event. As it happens, there were only a few people in line at Guy’s, so I needn’t have worry. I can only assume that either everyone was upstairs chowing down on one of the food options I’d rejected, or maybe they’d eaten so much this week that they were easing into the afternoon/evening. Either way, it worked out well for me, because there was virtually no line at all.

Fun fact: Although deck five wraps around the whole ship, no one ever hangs out at the very back. Occasionally you’ll see a jogger go by, but during the day the only time people are really on deck five is if they’re enjoying the hot tubs, sitting outside the RedFrog Pub or Ocean Plaza, or in line for Guy’s Pig & Anchor. So this is a great place to spend a little time if you’re looking to escape the more crowded areas of the ship… or just hide out from the loved ones you need a break from.

Welcome, Welcome

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At the Welcome Back reception, I learned a couple of things. The most important: You don’t have to drink the Fun Ship special, or the red and white wine offered. You can basically order two of whatever it is you prefer to drink. Armed with this new (and extremely valuable) information, I ordered a Tito’s and vodka (and then another!). I suspect the servers actually prefer people opting to order at the bar, as it means they aren’t mobbed every time they walk in with a tray filled with glasses! They also had various appetizers at the party, including sushi, shrimp tarts and pork sliders. All of it was amazing… and yes, I tried it all.

Next up was a 2 p.m. interview I had scheduled with comedian Al Ernst. We got together in the piano bar, thinking it would probably be empty. But there were a few too many people hanging out there, so we went to the back lounge. What I thought would be a quick interview turned into a 45-minute chat during which Al told a lot of great stories and answered some questions from listeners. Look for the interview to be posted soon.

At 3 p.m. was afternoon tea time and I thought that I would be able to make it but by the time I did, people were leaving. I did get there just in time to hear to a guy freak out because he was, as he obnoxiously and repeatedly pointed out, a diamond-level cruiser and yet could not pick his own table. He vowed to write “a strongly-worded letter.” Good luck with that, sir.

Wanting to pack since we’d be getting off the ship tomorrow, I headed back to my room, where I quickly came to a few conclusions. The first? I packed way too much. The second? Despite my having packed more than I could possibly have needed, my stateroom easily accommodated all of it. There was plenty of storage space. Yes, I was traveling solo, but there was a ton of storage space. Also, I realized that I never once turned on the television. Actually, strike that… I did turn it on once, but only to check out our location on the navigational map.

John Heald’s Farewell Party was very similar to the Welcome Aboard Party held a few days earlier… although this time there was a group photo taken, and they announced that next year’s John Heald FFS Cruise will be held on the Carnival Breeze on February 9, 2019.

Food, Food & More Food

I headed to the main dining room for dinner or — as we dubbed it at our table — The Last Supper. I went with the salmon, although to be fair, calling it a final meal wasn’t exactly fair. Why? Well, after the show I went to catch Al Ernst’s show and, after doing a bit more wandering around, went to my room. But if you think once there I called it an early night, you’d be mistaken because I decided there was time — and room — for at least a little bit more food. Dialing up room service, I ordered a donut sandwich ($3), wings ($5), and a quesadilla ($5). Stuffed to the gills, I headed down to the casino to cash out my (not-so-big) winnings before heading to bed for one last peaceful slumber. I’ll show you the room service tomorrow, I really need to finish packing!

Until tomorrow’s dreaded d-word (disembarkation), good-night.

 

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