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Trip Report: Carnival Magic in Mahogany Bay and Little French Key



They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, and Mother Nature is no exception. This morning, the weather was miserable and nasty, and as the Carnival Magic pulled into Mahogany Bay, I was pretty bitter, thinking the whole day was going to be a wash. It was raining so hard that the drain on my balcony couldn’t keep up. And thanks to the wind, it was one of those rains that came in sideways, meaning you couldn’t even enjoy sitting on the balcony to watch it pour down! And yet… 20 minutes later, a decent sunrise unfolded and a rainbow crossed the sky.

Because sometimes, that’s just how things go in the Caribbean.

Carnival Magic is one of the ships which has the port day breakfast menu the line began rolling out in late 2017, featuring items such as avocado toast, a broken egg sandwich, vanilla French toast, a breakfast bowl and smoked salmon. I’ve become a fan of the broken egg sandwich, which is a panini with two fried eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese, greens and a side of hash browns. Unlike the dinner service, this morning’s table service was pretty quick. (Of course, that’s sort of the point of the new port-day menu… to get you in and out as soon as possible so you can enjoy your excursions.)

Morning Fun with John Heald

Last night was a signature John Heald event called Cigar’s Under the Stars where his group took over the Serenity deck from 10 p.m. until midnight, smoked cigars, ate Jamaican patties, and sipped whatever one sips while smoking cigars. Brandy, maybe? I crashed out after the show, so I missed it, but a lot of people went. Listening to the buzz around the ship this morning, I really regret having slept through what sounds like a very fun night.

Cruiser Becky Smith with John Heald at Cigar’s Under the Stars.

Heald held another chat session this morning at 9 a.m., but with my excursion starting at 9:15, I was only able to pop my head in. A guest kicked things off by singing God Bless the USA, and she had everyone on their feet. This morning’s special guest was comedian Al Ernst, who’s very popular with John’s followers. I haven’t yet had a chance to catch his act, but I’m hoping to later this week. What followed was sort of a chat between the two funny men, very casual with no real agenda.

As we were getting off the ship, Holland America Line’s Rotterdam was docking for the day. It’s nice being the first ship in because you have run of the place and don’t have to deal with the crowds which will form as other ships arrive.

Little French Key

Our excursion today was about 20 minutes away from the cruise port at Little French Key. I’m going to do a full review on this later, but the highlights included swimming with a Jaguar, jumping off a high dive into unbelievably blue water, and being on an island surrounded by a reef. The package included two drinks, lunch, use of stand up paddle boards, and you could opt to book other side tours while we were there.

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For the first couple hours it was raining on and off sporadically before it eventually cleared up and turned into a beautiful afternoon. This is one of those picturesque islands with the blue water, palm trees, and cold drinks which make the Caribbean legendary. You can’t really ask for a better day.

Back on Board the Ship

There are 4,100 people sailing this week, but you’d never know it from the crowd flow. Getting on and off the ship is a breeze. When we sailed Vista in December, sometimes it took over 30 minutes to get back onboard because of the long lines. With the Magic this week, you can basically walk right up one of two gangways, scan your card, go through security and you’re good to go.

I got back onboard at 4:30 and headed to the Escape Bar to do a little bit of work, then did a few interviews before heading to the main dining room for dinner.

Dinner Time

Tonight they are serving escargot in the main dining room and that is always one of the highlights of the cruise for this snail lover. I’m sure that there’s probably no other preparation of snails that I’d find appealing, and I definitely don’t want to think about what they look like before being cooked. But when you cover them in garlic and butter, it’s one of my very favorite dishes.

Dinner service was a little quicker tonight, in part, I suspect because we made sure to tell the servers that we would really appreciate expedited service so that we could see the evening show. I skipped dessert and was out of there by 7 p.m., considerably quicker than has been our experience on previous nights. I wound up going with two orders of escargot and sliced ham, and a salmon entree with broccoli.

Tonight’s Show

Dr. E hosting 80s night in the atrium after America Rocks! Photo: Becky Smith

Tonight’s show was America Rocks, one of those music-centered productions that take you on a trip through several decades of rock music and feature a live band. It’s nice to see Carnival migrating back toward live music as opposed to pre-recorded bands, and I hope it continues. I remember during my 2005 sailing on the Carnival Celebration, they had an entire orchestra which played with the live shows. At the time, I took it for granted, but now I want every ship to have live orchestras!

Immediately following the show there was 70’s and 80’s trivia in the atrium. The cruise director is an animated guy who just brings every event to life and keeps everyone laughing. Somehow, his dance moves during trivia turned the entire event into a big sing-along.

A listener asked via Snapchat: How is the internet onboard?

It’s safe to say that until they make a major change, the internet onboard the ship is only good for the social media plans. And of course, that’s something they’re pleased with, given that they want you to post to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to tell everyone back home what a great time you’re having. That’s free advertising for them. A speed test on he second evening gave the results of 1 MBPS up and 1 MBPS down.

Now, to be fair, I use the internet for a lot of web-based applications like accessing my website and uploading audio files to my audio server, and those tend to be slow processes on board. But if you’re wanting to use the social media functions, you’ll be fine.

Also, if you wake up at 4 a.m. — as I often do — and have no competition for the bandwidth, things are going to be much faster than during the day, when things slow down to a crawl. This is the latest I’ve stayed up during this cruise trying to upload the show by the publication deadline. It’s now midnight and my files are 27% uploaded. Fingers crossed…

Tomorrow is Costa Maya and we dock at 6:45 a.m., so it’s going to be a late night and an early morning… something tells me I may be dragging a bit tomorrow.

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Trip Report: Carnival Magic Debarkation Day



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



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



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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