When Carnival Magic appeared on the scene in 2011, the cruise industry sat up and took notice. Although the 3,690-passenger ship wasn't first in its class -- that honor fell to Carnival Dream -- the vessel boasted several firsts for the Fun Ship line, including Cucina del Capitano Italian speciality restaurant, the RedFrog Pub and its signature Thirsty Frog Red Ale, the SportSquare outdoor recreation area and the first ropes course at sea.
Years later, Carnival Magic may no longer be the fleet's most innovative, yet it holds up as a floating destination that offers something for everyone. A wide range of cabin types, including family "quints" that fit five people, make it perfect for the packs of friends and family we saw onboard (in matching T-shirts, natch). Dining may not be fancy, but you can choose from the key cruise food groups: burgers, burrito, brats and barbecue, as well as Asian, Indian, deli and pizza -- at least at lunch. The number of choices falls significantly at dinner.
Activities, too, are designed for a wide range of interests. If you like games, Carnival Magic has you covered; besides group participation favourites like Hasbro the Game Show and Liars Club, the daily program was packed with options like Yahtzee, Scattergories, Clue and a Jenga-type tower game in the lobby (plus shuffleboard in the RedFrog Pub and pickup pool, Ping-Pong, beanbag and mini-golf options around the ship). Dance lessons, casino tournaments, spa specials, a robust kids club program -- Carnival Magic throws it all at the wall -- and passengers respond with enthusiasm.
All this stuff, though, comes with a price -- and that's lines. On our summer sailing, with the ship at well more than double occupancy, the queues were persistent, to the point where the crush cut into our enjoyment. Thirty minute waits (or more!) for popular eateries, like Guy's Burgers and Mongolian Wok, were the norm, not the exception. Tickets for Punchliner Comedy performances were gone hours before the show. Serenity Deck clamshells were claimed by 8:30 a.m. Getting off in port for excursions felt like a blood sport. Even trivia sessions were jam-packed, with teams of eight monopolizing the tables, forcing smaller groups to stand or even sit on the floor.
So where did we find our Zen? Attending the daily RedFrog Pub trivia quiz -- it's cumulative, so you play with the same people for the entire cruise for a more intimate experience. Sticking to off-hours for dining and getting up early for morning coffee helped, as did making Deck 5, with its four hot tubs and relatively underutilized lounge chairs, our sunning headquarters. Despite the sheer number of people onboard, we found the vast majority spent money on drinks instead of for-fee offerings so opening up the wallet a bit for speciality restaurants and the wonderfully expansive Cloud 9 spa also put the crowds at a distance. The cheer of the crew also kept us going; with a room steward that brought us copious amounts of ice and towel animals, as well as an outgoing entertainment staff, it was hard to stay irritated for too long.
Do we believe in Magic? After a week onboard, we'd answer with a quantified yes. As long as you pack your patience and are prepared to shift your routine slightly -- or conversely, see beating the lines as a game in its own right -- you'll emerge rested and relaxed, with plenty of Fun Ship memories. And really, what else can you ask for?
Daytime: During the day, beachwear reigns, with most people wearing swimsuits and cover-ups, or T-shirts and shorts.
Evening: Carnival Magic has two styles of dress at night: Cruise Casual and Cruise Elegant. On the latter nights -- usually two per seven-night cruise -- the style can vary greatly, from families dressed in their fanciest get-ups (for the photo ops available throughout the ship) to those who simply put on khakis and a sundress. Essentially, it's anything goes, except shorts in the main dining room: If you decided to downplay the formal wear, you won't be the only one and if you want to put on the Ritz, go ahead and do that too. When the ship's this big, no one style stands out.
Not permitted: Shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, bathing suits, caps and men's tank tops are not permitted in the main dining room or speciality restaurants during dinner, but few people are turned away for wearing them.
Like the line's other ships, Carnival Magic takes pride in having something going almost every minute, particularly in the evenings. From Dive-In Movies to production shows to raucous music trivia sessions led by the cruise director, there's something for everyone onboard.
The Showtime Theatre serves as the main arena for Playlist Production shows. Try to see at least one of these spirited 30-minute, song and dance music revues; we particularly enjoyed 88 Keys, built around the songs of piano players like Elton John and Billy Joel. Spanning three decks, the theatre has comfy seats, good sight lines and relatively prompt drink service. Two production shows are held nightly. During the day, the theatre hosts a morning show with the cruise director, bingo and other activities.
Trivia nuts will be pleased, as sea day games begin at 9 a.m. in Ocean Plaza. We particularly enjoyed the extensive array of themed sessions such as Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss. Ocean Plaza is also the space for group games such as Yahtzee, Scattergories, Connect Four, beanbag toss and Trivial Pursuit.
Other activities you'll find on sea days include Thriller dance classes, art auctions, ice carving demonstrations and movies. At the pool, there's the famous Hairy Chest contest, drink specials and more; music plays continuously on the Lido Stage from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
If you don't want to get off the ship on port days, you'll still find trivia and other activities on non-sea days. Just don't expect the offerings to be as extensive or creative.
As befits a Fun Ship, the place keeps rocking long after nightfall. Dodge the numerous photo backdrops to stroll through Deck 5, which is where the bulk of the entertainment venues are located. Music plays in several lounges, evening sail-aways and glow parties take place on the Lido Deck and the disco goes long into the night. Expect crowds wherever you go.
The Hat Trick Casino is located in the main artery running through Deck 5, so unless you go down a deck to pass through (and avoid the smoke), you'll walk through at some point. Gamblers and smokers congregate at the sport bar in the middle. There are hundreds of slot machines, automated Texas Hold'em tables and gaming tables that cover roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. Raffles, draws and tournaments take place daily.
It wouldn't be a Fun Ship without a ton of bars, most with their own special atmosphere and crowd. Maybe it's the fact there were so many families onboard on our sailing, but we found people to generally be on the happy side of buzzed, with no obvious outbursts or overly drunken displays.
Magic Lobby (Deck 3, midship): At the Magic Bar in the atrium, you can listen to everything from salsa music to a classical pianist perform from the stage suspended over the space. This is also one of the biggest bars on the ship (it wraps under the spiral staircase connecting the mid decks), so it's one of the best places to people-watch. The highlight here is the music trivia evenings held by the cruise director, who gets the entire atrium singing along to Motown and 80s hits.
Hat Trick Bar (Deck 5, midship): The casino bar draws smokers and other gamblers taking a break from slots and table games.
RedFrog Pub (Deck 5, midship): Now a Carnival staple, the RedFrog Pub debuted on Magic. The L-shaped bar features wonderfully kitschy island decor, tropical drinks in fishbowls, Carnival's own Thirsty Frog Red Ale (you can buy it in group-friendly 100-ounce glass tubes and a rotating roster of musicians (mostly of the reggae or country variety) that turn an already top-notch concept into Margaritaville, generally from late afternoon to midnight. There's also a nice patio area for snacks and people-watching, as well as an outdoor area with swinging chairs.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 5, midship): Another Carnival favourite, the Alchemy Bar features mixologists in lab coats who whip up cocktail "prescriptions;" the Cucumber Sunrise is our favourite. Mixology lessons are usually held here once per cruise.
Plaza Cafe (Deck 5, midship): This coffee bar serves a la carte priced lattes, cappuccinos and espresso drinks, as well as gelato and huge slices of cake. It's most popular in the mornings, when lines form for caffeine fixes.
Ocean Plaza (Deck 5, midship): Immediately adjacent to the Plaza Cafe, as well as Alchemy Bar, Ocean Plaza switches from game/trivia central in the mornings and afternoons to music in the evenings. It's not really a destination bar, we found -- rather people look for a few seconds, then scramble elsewhere.
Vibe Nightclub (Deck 5, midship): Every mega-ship needs a disco -- and as nightclubs go, Vibe is a pretty hot time. Special Michael Jackson and country dance hours draw different age groups and when the club music starts, you can assume you won't be alone if you stumble in in the wee hours. Sadly for those of us who see dancing as an essential cardio activity, smoking is permitted.
Play It Again (Deck 5, aft): Play It Again is a well-attended enclave with Carnival's signature baby grand piano embedded in the bar, giant disco-ball-ish light fixtures and martinis at the ready. If you like sing-alongs, this is your place; we found the staff here particularly outgoing and the sets go until 1 a.m.
Spotlight Lounge (Deck 5, aft): Essentially the ship's second theatre, the Spotlight Lounge seats 400 and rotates between Punchliner comedians and karaoke. Family-friendly fare from the former is generally available about 7:30 on select nights, with raunchier material strutted out after the kids are in bed, or at least in their own clubs. The adult sets begin at 9:30 and are so well-attended, the ship makes tickets available an hour before the show at the Vibe nightclub. Get there early, as lines form. During the day, Spotlight is a large quiet space to read or catch up on e-mail.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10, midship): Anchoring one side of the Lido Deck pool, the RedFrog Rum Bar (and its cousin, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar below) is pretty self-explanatory. Daiquiris, rum runners and other tropical drinks are served all day.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10, midship): Opposite of the RedFrog Rum Bar at the Lido pool, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar serves margaritas and other Mexican-inspired drinks.
Tides Bar (Deck 10, aft): Although it's located at the aft pool instead of the Lido, the Tides Bar is still a busy place; this area of the ship is usually full by midmorning. We found it the best spot right around Happy Hour, as the families trundle off for early dining.
SportSquare Bar (Deck 12, midship): Located in the middle of the SportSquare complex, this bar serves alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks to the busy people playing mini-golf, doing the ropes course and more.
Serenity Bar (Deck 15, forward): If you're lucky enough to snag a clamshell or lounge in Carnival Magic's adult-only enclave, this is your bar. We appreciated the flavoured waters that changed daily, as well as the creative drinks that the pleasant bar staff offered (pina colada in a coconut, anyone?) A caveat: Because it's at the front of the ship, the Serenity deck can be extremely windy, so keep a tight grasp on your drink to keep it from spilling.
We were pleasantly surprised by the number of hot tubs on Carnival Magic. All in all, the ship has 10 – and that's not counting the thalassotherapy pool in the thermal suite. It almost, but not quite, makes up for the two teeny tiny pools.
The ship's "main" Lido Deck pool is called the Beach Pool -- and it's small for a ship this size. The most popular seats here are the benches placed under thatched palapas, where you can dip your feet in the water while remaining in the shade (though you'll probably be sitting butt cheek to butt cheek during prime sun hours). Outdoor movies and concerts are shown on the 12-by-22-foot screen that overlooks this pool, and there's usually a DJ or musical performance going on.
Pro tip: If you want to watch the action without feeling cramped, try to land one of the wonderful orange-padded loungers on the mezzanine one deck up. You still get to take in the scene, but it's far less people, it's shady because there's a deck above you, and the chairs are much more comfortable.
The Tides Pool at the aft has similar constraints. While aft pools on other ships are traditionally commandeered by adults, on Carnival Magic, we found this area dominated by families and splashing children. Again, the pool is minuscule for a ship this size.
When Carnival Magic debuted in 2011, it introduced SportSquare to the line. Located in the ship's aft, the area comprises a two-level mini-golf course; outdoor cardio stations (not quite so successful, but kudos for trying); basketball courts; the SkyTrack running course (seven laps equal 1 mile); and the first-at-sea SkyCourse.
The SkyCourse is an elevated ropes course in which passengers are fitted with a harness that clips to a track, then they must navigate eight segments with various degrees of difficulty. You can choose between the easy or difficult route, but . . . it's not for the faint of heart. Kids and many adults whiz through it after a few practice rounds, but if you're afraid of heights, have iffy balance or don't like the idea of dozens of people watching you panic, the course isn't for you. We found it generally wait-free and worth the effort, but there were some who told us, "Never again."
The young and young at heart will love WaterWorks, the ship's water park. We have to give special props to the Power Drencher, a massive bucket that holds 300 gallons of water. Every few minutes it refills, a bell rings and its contents are dumped on folks waiting to be properly soaked below. One perhaps unintentional benefit: The thing sprays water everywhere, so if you're on one of the loungers two decks below near the Beach Pool, you get a fine mist while you're broiling in the sun. Sweet.
Other WaterWorks components include a splash park for the little ones, the Twister Waterslide (faster and more furious than you'd expect) and the DrainPipe -- another slide, but you end up spinning around in a funnel-like water swirling around a toilet.
A rule of thumb on cruise ships is the higher up you go away from the main pool, the more loungers you'll be able to find. That's true on Magic, where you'll need to arrive early to score a primo lido spot. Posted signs warn chair hogs that towels will be removed after 40 minutes, but we didn't see this enforced.
We sought refuge at times at the adults-only Serenity area, which has its own bar and seating, including shaded clamshell loungers and hammocks. The two whirlpools here are nice places to sit for a while and chat; we found them relatively social. Entry to Serenity is free, but the atmosphere is not always perfectly serene: Because it's forward, the area gets an extraordinary amount of wind. We almost lost our flip-flops several times, and saw numerous possessions blowing around. Bring something heavy to keep your things anchored.
But our main kudos go to the mostly undiscovered outdoor space on Deck 5, which has four hot tubs and a wealth of sun loungers. These Lanai tubs are not only larger than the hot tubs at the Beach Pool and Tides Pool, they are the quietest; we found ourselves the only occupant more than once. The Lanai area also has rows of sun loungers that were chair hog free and had easy access to lunch options like Guy's Pig & Anchor BBQ, the RedFrog Pub and the salad bar. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Guest Services and the Shore Excursion deck are located on Deck 3, inside an atrium that marks longtime Carnival ship interior designer Joe Farcus' last commission for the line. So there's a heaping dose of neon, mirrored surfaces and other elements that are a cross between glam and wackadoodle (we didn't know whether to admire or fear the eyeball-ish orbs all around). Elsewhere in the ship, though, the decor is relatively tame and tropical; we particularly liked the quirky prints in the stairwells.
We were surprised by the quality of books, including literary best-sellers, and games found in the ship's library on Deck 4. It's located right outside the Northern Lights dining room and is a cozy and quiet place to get away.
The Gallery on the Way holds several Champagne art auctions, but if you want to create your own masterpieces (starring you, of course), you'll want to stop by the Photo Gallery on Deck 4. You can still ogle at the photos of other sunburned cruisers lining the walls, but a facial-recognition system allows you to use your Sail & Sign card to find your smiling face at the Photo Finder kiosk. It makes things easy, though if you like viewing hundreds of other people's photos to find your own, you may be disappointed.
Decks 4 and 5 have clusters of stores around the atrium, selling jewellery, booze, clothes and trinkets. Awash in red and white, Cherry on Top is a cheery boutique that peddles candy by the pound, candied apples to die for (and you might, considering the number of calories each one contains), flowers, T-shirts and Carnival tchotchkes.
For those who need or want to stay connected -- i.e., everyone these days -- Carnival Magic offers several ways to do so. Internet FunHubs, located in several areas around the ship, have desktop computers for use. Far more people buy Wi-Fi packages. A social plan, where you can access Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites, costs $40 for the cruise. A Value package, which allows you to access more apps and sites but not Skype or streaming services like Spotify costs $16 for 24 hours and $96 per cruise, while the Premium package is $25 for 24 hours and $140 for the cruise. We'll leave you with the caveat that even the Premium plan encounters slow speeds and download times. All packages only include one device online at a time.
Before you board, be sure to download the Carnival Hub app. The free app lists schedules, opening times, maps and more. There's also a chat feature for $5 that allows you to communicate with friends and family onboard, although we heard from many that messages came through on sometimes ludicrous time delays.
Coin-operated launderettes and ironing rooms are available throughout the ship. If you want to delegate that task, the ship has extra-fee valet wash and fold services.
Smoking is fairly restricted throughout the ship's public areas. Outside, there are several designated smoking areas, including a space on Deck 5 at Ocean Plaza (it's also the only area that allows cigars). Inside, the Vibe nightclub and sections of the Hat Trick Casino are the only venues that allow smoking.
The sprawling Cloud 9 Spa is 22,700 square feet and takes up several decks in the ship's fore. Come here for a variety of treatments, including acupuncture, body sculpting, hot-stone massages and facials. A 50-minute stone massage costs $149, and facials begin at about the same price. We found good deals on port days, though, and the service itself was very good. The spa is run by Steiner and uses Elemis products; if you don't want a sales pitch afterward, just say so.
Cloud 9 includes a salon with traditional and exotic manicures (a basic shellac gel polish is $45), shaves ($45) and waxing, plus hair styling and colouring. For fun, try some fake lashes for $99; the spa says they'll last two months. Spa treatments for couples are also available and if you're feeling particularly flush, go for the "villa" treatments, which have special suites with whirlpool baths for two.
The Cloud 9 spa also has a thermal suite, with access by day ($40) or week ($159). It's a gorgeous space, with colourful glass mosaics and stunning ocean vistas. One of the main attractions is the thalassotherapy pool, which sits under a skylight. Other features include a large room with heated tiled loungers and several saunas and steam rooms.
Also in the Cloud 9 complex is the ship's well-equipped fitness centre (open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), which runs for-fee classes such as boot camp, spinning, abs attack and yoga (most classes cost $12 each). A nice assortment of cardio machines and weights are available. Personal training and nutritional counselling are also available for a fee.
Carnival Magic also has outdoor cardio stations at SportSquare, although we never saw anyone using them; basketball courts that did seem to get some use; and the SkyTrack running course (seven laps equal 1 mile).
Carnival is known for a "good grub" approach to dining, and Magic lives up to the reputation. Food is tasty, not fancy -- and there's plenty of free choices, particularly at lunch; you won't have to shell out extra money to appease picky eaters. Burgers, burritos and barbecue all take center stage with their own named restaurants -- and that's not even including the expansive buffet with its Indian and Mongolian offshoots (we'd like to see more of these options open for dinner, however -- the buffet options diminish dramatically in the evening).
If you are more of a foodie, don't fret. Carnival's steakhouse is one of the better values at sea; go on the first night and you'll nab bargain bottles of wine that can sustain an oenophile through an entire cruise. Carnival Magic also has a chef's table, usually offered once or twice per cruise, where you eat in the kitchen galley.
We were a little surprised that in this era of food allergies, the menu in the main dining room didn't note options that were gluten-free or vegan. But the company's website encourages anyone with dietary needs, be they vegetarian, low-cholesterol, low-fat, low-carbohydrates, low-sugar and gluten-free, to let the ship know their needs. Speak to the headwaiter or dining room host so they can help you plan your meals. The ship carries gluten-free pizza dough, pasta, bread for deli sandwiches and hamburgers buns, as well as cake, available upon request. A gluten-free beer, Estrella Daura Damm, is available. Prepackaged kosher meals are available but you must let the cruise line know two weeks in advance.
Northern Lights and Southern Lights (Decks 3, 4 and 5): The main restaurants on Carnival Magic are the primary spots for most dinners, and you can grab some other meals there too. Expect a crush at both, with people lined up for their dining times. Southern Lights has 1,248 seats and is located aft, while Northern Lights has 948 seats and is located midship off the atrium forward. Dinner is served at 6 and 8:15 p.m. at both, with the flexible Your Time Dining program available in Northern Lights from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m. (if you come at prime dining hours, expect a 20- to 30-minute wait). Both rooms are lovely enough (kudos to those humongous chandeliers), but we'd give Southern Lights the edge due to its walls of windows; it's particularly fetching during the daily tea time (held around 3 p.m.). The second floor of Northern Lights, in fact, is adjacent to a busy walkway, so you're going to be sharing your meal with plenty of gawkers if you draw the short straw and have to sit near the glass.
Meals were about average, with no real standouts or misses. The American Table menu gives a modern twist to classics -- the Caesar salad has a kale version, for example -- and on port days, you'll find a locally inspired drink, app and entree choice. A typical menu might include starters like prosciutto ruffles, shrimp cocktail, beet carpaccio, cannelloni, cream of broccoli soup and minestrone. Entree choices might be salmon cake; Southern fried chicken; linguini with Italian sausage, bell peppers and mushrooms; barbecue pork spareribs, grilled tofu steak and a featured vegetarian dish like lentils with basmati rice and papadum. A more adventurous food item, like braised ox tail or escargot, is also offered. Side dishes on order include mac and cheese, creamed spinach, baked potato, ratatouille, broccoli with carrots and onions or french fries.
Always available grill options include swordfish steak; grilled beef tenderloin, roast chicken breast and pork chop with caramelized onions and potato mash.
On elegant nights (when the menu switches to American Feast and white cloths are put on the tables for a more upscale touch) Maine broiled lobster makes an appearance, although you can always pay a $20 surcharge on other nights for steakhouse items (other extra fee options include filet mignon and New York strip loin). Dessert options include Carnival favourites like chocolate melting cake and bitter and blanc bread pudding, as well as a cheese plate and ice creams.
In addition to dinner, breakfast and lunch are also served in Southern Lights, and seating is open. Early eaters have a wide range of options, from cereals and baked goods to such hot entrees as omelettes and pancakes. Choose from breakfast sides like sausage, bacon and hash browns as well.
For lunch, the sunny dining room dishes out favourites like club sandwiches, Caesar salads, pasta dishes and burgers. The popular Sea Day brunch takes place on -- you guessed it -- sea days. Expect breakfast favourites like huevos rancheros and eggs Benedict, alongside pasta, salmon and a Bloody Mary bar.
Lido Marketplace (Deck 10): With its slippery floors and ever-present lines, Carnival Magic's sprawling buffet is a challenge for the crowd-averse. Still, it's the place to go if you're looking for choice. From 5:30 a.m.to noon, you can grab breakfast in the space (eggs, bacon, yoghurt, waffles -- all the usual suspects). It turns over to lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m., with a variety of hot and cold options such as sandwiches, carving stations, salad bars and desserts, most of which change daily. The fare is similar during dinner, although you'll find more hot entrees and options such as burgers, between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Finally, late-night snacks begin at 11:30 p.m. and run until 1 a.m.
The Lido has some small standalone kiosks that deserve mention in their own right. Fans of Asian cuisine keep the Mongolian Wok busy during lunch; expect to wait 45 minutes or more (we really wish Carnival Magic would keep this open through dinner). Fans of spicy Indian food will want to make a stop at Tandoor, outside the door near the aft Tides Pool; we particularly enjoyed the clay-pot chicken and pea masala. Tandoor has outdoor seating, as well as its own coffee/water station; it's also open for dinner. And finally, cool down with a stop at the Swirls station for frozen yoghurt and soft serve, available 24/7.
Ocean Plaza (Deck 5): Set up conveniently near the site of morning and afternoon trivia games, this counter performs a variety of functions. In the morning, it's the place for a light breakfast, with eggs, grits, cereal and oatmeal available, as well as juice and coffee. At lunch, premade salads and other light bites are available.
Salad Bar (Deck 5): A made-to-order salad bar is set up every sea day in the space between the Ocean Cafe and the patio seating for the Red Frog Pub. Perhaps the best option for those who crave greens during the sailing. Wraps are also available.
Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse (Deck 5): Guy Fieri's second onboard outpost, the Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, is located outside on the Promenade Deck; if you don't already know where it is, you might have some trouble finding it. It's worth seeking out, not only for the pork butt and andouille sausage, but yummy sides like coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and Mac Daddy Mac and Cheese.
BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 10): The lunchtime tacos, taco salads and burritos might be the main draw, but we love this kiosk outside the main buffet for morning huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos and arepas. Don't forget to load up on toppings at BlueIguana Cantina's salsa bar (alas, guacamole free).
Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 10): The lines for this shipboard essential begin at 11:40 for a noon opening and if you get there even 10 minutes later, you'll be standing on the other side of the Lido Deck (we found the best time to avoid the crush here is embarkation day or port days, or postponing until mid-afternoon). Still, it's worth braving the crowd at least once -- the burgers and fries at Guy's Burger Joint are truly delicious.
Pizzeria del Capitano (Deck 10): Located in the aft near the Tides Bar, this pizzeria serves up hearty, if somewhat uninspiring, slices at all hours. Open 24/7.
Pasta Bar (Deck 11): One of the secrets of Carnival Magic is this free pasta bar, held during lunch in the Cucina del Capitano space.
SeaDogs Hot Dog Cart (Deck 12): No need to interrupt your mini-golf game to eat. This small cart has free hot dogs, with or without relish, right in the middle of SportSquare.
Room Service: Carnival Magic offers complimentary continental breakfast delivered to the room in the morning, including pastries, bagels and cream cheese, yogurt, cereal and fruit juices.
Prime Steakhouse (Deck 5, aft); $38: Carnival's steakhouse is a relative bargain and offers a nice atmosphere besides. The steaks, served with a choice of sauces, are the main attraction, although you can get broiled Maine lobster, lobster ravioli, pork chops and more. Pro tip: Go on the first night, when you either receive a complimentary bottle of house wine or any wine on the surprisingly varied list for half price. (You can buy as many bottles as you want at this discount on the first night, which is a nice alternative to Carnival's more lacklustre Cruise the Vineyards wine package.)
RedFrog Pub (Deck 5, midship); a la carte: Small bar bites -- think Jamaican jerk wings, grouper fingers, conch fritters -- are available for noshing at the popular tropical RedFrog Pub at reasonable prices ($3.33 per serving).
Cucina del Capitano (Deck 11, aft); $15: Tucked away on Deck 11 and accessible by stairs from the Lido buffet, Carnival's Italian speciality restaurant is hard to find. But you should! We found our dinner here to be one of the ship's great values. The $15 cover charge at Cucina del Capitano includes as many appetizers as you want -- we loved the fennel in the meatballs, as well as the eggplant Parmesan -- a choice of entrees and dessert. Pasta lovers will die for the spaghetti carbonara. Come hungry.
Chef's Table (Southern Lights galley), $95. Held several times per sailing and open by reservation only, this experience is a combo seven-course tasting menu/tour of the galley/cooking class. The presentation is really the star here; salmon crackers appear on mini-trees, soups and garnishes are poured from glass teapots, veal is smoked in front of you and elderflower caviar garnishes white chocolate desserts (taste-wise, we felt some of the dishes could use some seasoning). While red and white wine is included in your meal, don't expect it to be high-end or plentiful; unlike other tasting menus, the pours aren't different for each course. We did enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the galley, as well as insider info about the famous chocolate melting cake. Note: While the chef can customize the meal for allergies or aversions, the menu is designed for adventurous eaters; if lamb or quail or pork belly make you squirm, this probably isn't the experience for you.
Carnival Magic's cabins are surprisingly generous in space and storage; families and groups travelling together will also be pleased with the sheer diversity of options available. Even the smallest cabins (the 719 inside units) have 185 square feet of space, which is the same amount as a balcony cabin (although the 851 latter units have outdoor space ranging from 35 to 75 square feet). Ocean-views, family cabins and suites are also available, giving passengers many choices, depending on their wallet.
Cabin decor in most cabins is a mesh of comfort, colour and clean lines. White duvets with a satiny brown skirt give beds -- a queen that can be combined into two twins -- a boutique hotel vibe, while pleasing maroon carpeting and a peach-colored sofa compliment the tropical flower paintings that adorn the walls. An Art Deco trim surrounds the entire room.
Storage is more than adequate, with plenty of drawers and spacious closets (remember, it's the tropics so you aren't packing a ton of clothes). There's a wide window ledge in balcony cabins so the person on that side of the bed can use that for essentials as well. Each bed has a night table and there's a wide sofa and table facing the mirror. The hairdryer is permanently attached in the seating area's pullout drawer. Most cabins are equipped with two outlets -- sadly, not next to the bed -- and the razor-only one in the bathroom is well hidden in a top corner.
A 24-inch flat-screen television (larger in suites) includes news stations such as CNN, the Cartoon Network, pay-per-view movies and several Carnival channels that cover everything from ship activities to your Sail & Sign statement. Look for the Bow Channel, with its 24/7 live feed showing the bow of the ship, as well as the map channel that shows you exactly where you are. You can also order room service or shore excursions via the TV, but it's much easier to pick up the (exceedingly cheap-looking) phone.
Lighting is great, with round-the-room, well-disguised fluorescents and other individual lights. Amenities include a safe and a mini-bar, where you can stock your own bottled water (bought through the line), soda (each person can carry on a 12 pack of cans only) and wine (one bottle per passenger).
The bathrooms are nothing special, with most offering showers only -- and featuring those cheap, clingy curtains that seem to have a mind of their own. Our shower had shampoo and liquid soap dispensers filled with generic something or other, the only toiletries provided. The makeup mirror with a magnified side is a nice touch, as are the surprisingly soft towels.
Carnival allows you to choose whether you want your room serviced in the morning, in the evening or both. Depending on your steward, you'll come back to a charming array of towel animals. We found our steward friendly and adaptable to our needs, bringing us ice without asking.
Interior: At 185 square feet, the 719 Interior cabins on Carnival Magic are surprisingly spacious. You can book several variations of interior cabins, from double occupancy to rooms with pulldown bunk beds.
Oceanview: Carnival Magic's 221 Ocean View cabins range from 185 to 220 square feet (most with a 4-by-3-foot window.) This category is also of special interest to families, as Carnival Magic has 193 "family quint" cabins that can sleep up to five, as the staterooms are configured with two regular twins, two bunk-style beds that hang from the wall and a sofa that converts to a twin. These quint cabins also have two bathrooms -- one with a sink, toilet and shower, and the other with a tub-shower combo and sink. Note to parents: If you are sleeping five people in the cabin, the two twin beds cannot be pushed together to form a queen.
Balcony: Carnival Magic has 851 Balcony cabins with 185 square feet of space and private verandas ranging from 35 to 75 square feet. Balconies are furnished with comfortable furniture, typically two high-backed chairs of tightly webbed plastic over tubular aluminium, and a small cocktail table.
If you are looking for privacy, the ship has 110 Cove Balcony rooms on Deck 2 located under the lifeboats, so other passengers can't see the balconies from public spaces or from balconies higher up. The cabins in this category are cheaper than a regular balcony cabin and are a good choice for those who like privacy and who don't mind some sea spray. Conversely, balcony cabins on Deck 6 will be directly above the promenade deck and will hear noise from the bars at night and restaurant venues during the day.
Families can also take advantage of the dozens of connecting staterooms -- mostly balconies, but also some interior and ocean-view cabins. Just keep in mind that the doors connecting these cabins might as well not exist and if you want privacy, these are not the cabins for you, as you'll hear everything going on next door. Awkward for strangers, yes, but possibly even more awkward for couples travelling together.
Suites: For a splurge, there are 54 suites -- including the 345-square-foot Grand Suite, with an 85-square-foot balcony; and the 275-square-foot Ocean Suites and Junior Suites, both with balcony (Ocean Suite balconies are 65 square feet, while Junior Suite balconies are 35 square feet).
Junior Suites have a walk-in closet with a vanity, a full bathroom with a combo shower/whirlpool tub and double sinks. They can sleep up to three. The main perk of an Ocean Suite is the larger balcony; otherwise, the rooms are identical, although you can book an ocean suite for four people. Both of these suites receive VIP embarkation.
The ship's top cabin, the Grand Suite, while spacious, is still not a "true suite" with two separate rooms. They have the same features as the other suites, with a walk-in closet with a vanity, a full bathroom with a combo shower/whirlpool tub and double sinks. Grand Suites can be booked for two, three or four.
Spa Cabins: The Cloud 9 Spa staterooms and suites -- which include priority spa appointments and free fitness classes -- are on Decks 12 and 14 adjacent to the spa. They come in a variety of configurations, including Interior, Ocean View, Balcony and Suite. Aft-view extended balcony cabins are situated out of the wind and have a 60-square-foot balcony, though prepare to pay more for that vista.