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Trip Report: Carnival Magic in Belize City

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When you write about cruising for a living, it’s the ultimate mix of business and pleasure. Even when I’m on a cruise, I’m working. This website doesn’t run itself, and neither does the radio show. So I started the morning by diving into some audio editing in order to get this week’s show ready. I mentioned earlier this week that I’d interviewed Carnival Brand Ambassador John Heald, and a lot of folks seemed excited to hear it. So you can listen to the show, here.

I wound up doing breakfast in Ocean Plaza again, because it’s so quiet thanks to the fact that most people don’t think of it as a morning destination. One place that is very popular in the morning is the coffee shop at Ocean Plaza and the omelette station in the Lido Marketplace.

After breakfast, I headed down to the main theater, where those of us going on shore excursions were supposed to gather at 8:30 a.m. We were docked as opposed to tendering, which made the whole process of disembarking a whole lot easier. I was doing The Wonders of the Barrier Reef tour, and we were meeting on the pier alongside the ship.

This excursion is a top-three on my Caribbean shore excursion list. Since I’ll be doing a full review on this soon, I’ll just give you the basic rundown here. We boarded a double-decker boat which took us on a 40-minute ride to an island that is along the Barrier Reef. Once we got to the island, we were issued snorkel equipment (although some folks had brought their own).

The island was so cool and, not to sound like a dork, but it totally reminded me of Gilligan’s Island! There were little huts, and we went to one to dump off stuff and start putting our gear on. We broke up into three different groups: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been snorkeling all my life, so I felt pretty comfortable putting myself into the Advanced group. Along with our tour guides, we then got into the water and swam halfway around the island before turning to swim back. The views were spectacular, especially around the drop-off point. There, the 0cean floor dropped significantly, to the point where you sometimes could not even see the bottom. The more you explored, the more you saw. And there was an awful lot to see.

Afterwards, we headed back to the ship for what I suspected would be a very fun evening. And as it turned out, I was right! But first, I had to do some more work… so I headed to my secret spot. See, I found an area of the ship which I don’t think they even use anymore. It may once have housed the Chef’s Table, but in any case, the room feels like an afterthought. It’s located right at the entrance to the Northern Lights dining room on Deck Four. It’s always a ghost town… there’s a bar but no bartender, and no alcohol behind the bar. So while the rest of the world seems to have abandoned this spot, it’s become my private office for the week.

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What’s For Dinner?

Dinner was served at six per the normal early dining. It had been seven hours since I’d had lunch on the island, so it was way, way past my feeding time! And that’s what I’m going to use to excuse the fact I gorged on the bread (which I usually try to avoid), had three appetizers, an entree and dessert. I know I’m going to wince when I step on the scale after this cruise is over, but I’m keeping as active as I can and, more important, I’m enjoying myself.

So I wound up ordering the seared tuna, shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad appetizers. Entree-wise, I went with the salmon, baked potato and broccoli. And for dessert, I went with the low-calorie option — no, seriously! — which was a praline cake.

If you’ve been reading along all week, you know dinner service has been spotty… but it was a little better (read: quicker) tonight. The secret seems to be telling them you want to be out in time to enjoy the show.  That seems to kick the servers into high gear so they can make sure you’re fed ASAP.

Bring On The Music

Remember how earlier I said that I suspected tonight was going to be a whole lotta fun? Well, that’s because tonight’s show was not only one I had never seen, but it featured country music from the past and present. And in case you didn’t know it, I’m a big country music fan.

The theater filled up pretty quickly, and I wound up sitting in the back for a few reasons. For one thing, I wanted to make sure I had a good line-of-sight. I was also curious to see if anyone would leave during the performance. Fun fact: No one did… which I find sort of shocking. Not because of the show itself, which was incredible, but because… well, there’s always at least a couple, right? People who, after the show gets going, decide it just isn’t for them and walk out.

These kind of production shows are always a matter of taste. I’m sure there are folks out there who don’t like country music and, as a result, wouldn’t enjoy this show. On the other hand, people rave about another Carnival production — Flick! — that I just don’t see the appeal of.

After the show, there was, as always, live music being played all over the ship. In Ocean Plaza there was a duo playing, the violinist were rocking the atrium, and in the RedFrog Pub the acoustic guitar player was taking requests. The ship was really hopping, and I enjoyed wandering around a little. When it comes to the late-night offerings, I treat it almost like a sampler platter for the ears, listening to a little of this, then wandering to hear a little of that.

But I couldn’t stay up too late, because tomorrow is another day, another shore excursion… so until then, goodnight.

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CARNIVAL MAGIC

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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Trip Report: Carnival Magic in Costa Maya

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We knew leaving Mahogany Bay last night that the Carnival Magic was going to be in for a windy ride to Costa Maya. We were sailing through the kind of weather that, on the higher decks, could create a heck of a wind tunnel and make opening and shutting your door a real challenge. By the time we’d arrived in Costa Maya, little had changed. The winds were still blowing, although it was too dark to actually see if there were any clouds in the sky which might result in some plans being rained out. Guests were cleared to disembark at 6:45 a.m., which is without doubt the earliest I’ve ever gotten off a ship.

Did I mention that I was up until 3:30 a.m. uploading audio files to my server? For those keeping track, that means I got about 2.5 hours of sleep… and man, did I feel it. Also, if you happen to be wondering where you can get the best/fastest internet action on this ship, I’m pretty sure it’s in Ocean Plaza, right by the Pixels photo gallery.

I skipped breakfast this morning and went straight down to the Atrium to meet my group. It’s worth noting that while we stayed on ship’s time the whole voyage, a lot of folks had their phone adjusting to local time and as a result, were late for excursions and dinner. That’s why it’s always important to make sure you know what a ship is doing if you go to different time zones.

We walked off the ship at 6:45, just in time to see Norwegian Getaway rounding and pulling in.

Destination Maya Chan

Walking through the pier at Costa Maya was mind-blowing. The last time I was there was during a 2010 trip on the Celebrity Solstice and the only thing I remembered was a bunch of shops on a street that dead-ended to a pyramid.

Once through the pier and out the gates, our transportation was waiting to take us to Maya Chan. This was an excursion that my travel agent booked for me when none of the ones available through the ship caught my attention. Last time I was here I did the dune buggies and, while that was cool, I wanted something more relaxing this time around.

As with every excursion I’ve done this cruise, there will be a full review of Maya Chan coming soon.

The ride to Maya Chan took about 20-minutes or so via mostly well-paved roads, although the final three miles or so was a pothole extravaganza. I don’t know if the potholes are like that year-round or were worse because it’s the rainy season, but they slowed things down to the point that it took about 15 minutes to go three miles. The driver did his best to make it as comfortable a ride as possible, but it was definitely rough.

Maya Chan was very rustic, on the beach, and after a quick tour of the facilities and a welcome drink, it was off to soak up some rays. The welcome drink was a rum punch… which is something I’ve definitely never had at 7:30 a.m. before! Sure, in the old days I may have still been drinking as the sun came up but starting at sunrise? This was a first! But with having to back on board the ship by 1:30 p.m., we had to make the most of the day.

The excursion cost $59, and the price included transfers to the resort, drinks, an authentic Mexican lunch, lounge chairs, umbrellas and day beds (which I’ll definitely take advantage of on a future visit). They also had wifi access but the service was minimal. And of course, as more people arrived, the wifi only got slower. But all in all, it was a very nice day, and exactly the kind of relaxing excursion I was looking for.

Back to Carnival Magic

Heading back to the ship, we passed through the actual port of Costa Maya, and it was cool to see it come to life with guests chilling out by the pool, folks swimming with dolphins, having cocktails, shopping and just generally enjoying everything the area has to offer.

If you’ve never been to Costa Maya, the pier is very long and can hold three cruise ships. Because of its length, they offer a shuttle that will pick you up at the ship and take you into the cruise port. This is especially useful for anyone who might have mobility issues, although it’s also available to anyone who simply doesn’t want to make the hike. I wanted to get as many pictures of the docked ships as possible, so I gladly took the hike back to the Carnival Magic.

Since I got next to no sleep last night, I crashed for about two hours after arriving back at the ship, waking up just in time to catch comedian Al Ernst’s midday show. He was very funny, but it was sort of a weird experience, as I’ve never done a comedy show during the daytime. That’s one of those things that just seems like a nighttime activity to me. But this was cool, and it’s great that they offer an alternative for people who aren’t necessarily night owls.

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After the show I went for a quick run on the jogging track (which is located on deck 12), which also let me get in a little more sun without baking to a crisp… especially since it was pretty windy up there, which helped to keep me cool as I did my laps.

Saying “Thank You” To Our Military Officers

 

A signature event on every Carnival ship is the Military Appreciation Gathering during which the men and woman who have served our nation come together and are recognized. Each branch is individually recognized, after which there is an open mic session during which folks have a chance to say a few words. Some of the stories told are heartbreaking and others inspirational, but they’re all shared in an atmosphere that is as supportive as it is open. You can also tell that the people who speak welcome this opportunity. I’m not one who cries often or easily, but I have no problem admitting that every single time I attend the Military Appreciation Gathering, I’m reduced to tears.

 

After the open mic session, one of the musicians played taps on the trumpet and another sang the national anthem. The gathering concluded with a group photo of all the branches together on the stage. For some reason, this event was held in the back lounge of the ship. I can’t help but feel it should have been held in the main theater, as it has been on most of the other ships on which I’ve sailed.

What’s For Dinner?

After a quick attempt to catch the sunset, I headed to the dining room for dinner. Service tonight was okay… as with the rest of this trip, it was average at best. The food, however, was on point. The main reason I’ve been mentioning the somewhat slow service in the main dining room is because many people come in hoping to eat as soon as possible and then catch the 8:15 show in the main theater, which fills up quickly. Personally, if there’s not a show that I want to get to, I’m happy to sit there until they kick me out, especially since I really enjoyed the people I was sitting with during this sailing.

Dinner-wise, tonight I went with the old standby of shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad. The main course is where I doubled down by getting Teriyaki salmon and grilled shrimp, and both were amazing. Next to the infamous Warm Chocolate Melting Cake, the Grand Marnier souffle is my favorite dessert. That was what I went with tonight. Truth be told, I considered having two, but showed some restraint.

Make ‘Em Laugh, Make ‘Em Sing

After dinner I ran up to the comedy club to see Percy Cruise’s very funny PG-rated comedy show, then darted to the front of the ship in order to catch the piano player at 88 Keys. This was basically a tribute to Billy Joel, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. The show was okay, but nothing special. Since I was standing at the back of the room, I left after about 15 minutes.

A Listener Asked Via Facebook: I really want to do the Western Caribbean but there are so many reports of it being unsafe. How do you feel over there?

To be completely honest, I avoided the Western Caribbean for a while after reading some of the reports that were coming out. Instead, I stuck to the Eastern and Southern Caribbean routes. But having been to Mexico, Honduras and Belize this week, I can tell you that I regret not coming back sooner. The snorkeling, resorts, people, food, and sites I’ve experienced have been amazing, and there wasn’t any point at which I felt in the least bit threatened.

That said, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me. Was I ignoring things that others might have been picking up on? With that in mind, I asked other people what they thought of the itinerary and if they had any safety concerns. Every person I spoke with had stories similar to mine to report… positive experiences and no sense of danger. Of course, the best way to eliminate as much risk as possible is to make sure that excursions you do are through either the cruise line or a reputable source. It’s also important to always be aware of your surroundings, as there are bad people everywhere in the world — including your hometown — and the more cautious you are, the better your chances of avoiding a bad situation!

Tomorrow is a sea day, and then we dock on Saturday morning. I can’t believe how fast this particular sailing has gone by… although I probably say that during every trip. Guess I’m living proof that time really does fly when you’re having fun. But right now, I’m not going to focus on how close the end of this trip is. Instead, I’m going to focus on getting a good night’s sleep so I can enjoy that final sea day.

Until then… goodnight.

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Trip Report: Carnival Magic in Belize City. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/trip-report-carnival-magic-in-belize-city/