Saturday, June 30 We woke...
Carnival Magic Cruise Review to Caribbean - Western
Ship: Carnival Magic
Cabin Type: Inside
Traveled As: Large Group
Reviewed: 5 years ago
Review SummarySaturday, June 30
We woke up at 6:15 to get prepared for our 8:30 flight. Living 5 minutes from the airport, makes for an easy drive. Our housesitter arrived early to take us and drop us off. No troubles here. We breezed through security and sat comfortably in the waiting area with vacation reading material at the ready! Our flight was quick (45 minutes from wheels up to wheels down) and pretty smooth. Storms were brewing off the coast and dark clouds were settling in to the Houston area.
We rented a car from Budget for the week. We did the math and with $100 in gift certificates in hand, it was best for us to keep the car for the week as we could not get a rental car on the Sunday we returned.
We drove to Galveston Island as rain was pouring as we hit the highway. Our intention was to make a side trip to Kemah to see the Boardwalk there, but with the rain, we felt it best to head for the hotel. We did arrive a bit early at our hotel (Hampton Inn and Suites) booked with Hilton points. The hotel was not ready for us, so we headed to the Seawall to scope out a picnic table to eat the lunch we had packed. The skies opened up and our car became the dining venue parked at the beach! There was a break in the rain so we walked to Academy to pick up a few items that we realized we left behind. While shopping the rains returned. I bolted for the car while my wife did some rain storm avoidance and I picked her up curbside.
We returned to check in at the hotel and found ourselves in a prime location top floor middle room with a view of the gulf pretty nice and a large comfortable room. We did well. The only real problem with this hotel was it's asking price for one night. Thankfully we used points and we paid nothing! Parking was free below the hotel and access to the beaches was nearby. The breakfast buffet included with the room was ample and made for a nice pre-cruise breakfast the next morning.
After a nap, we took a drive to the Strand to stroll the shops and take in some of the architecture. It reminded us of New Orleans and much history was to be found in many of the old buildings. We found some free parking on the other portion of the historical area which meant we had to do a lot of walking, but we were rewarded with some leisurely walking and talking and the realization we were on vacation! The storm clouds that were off and on throughout the day seemed to be rolling our way with very dark skies overhead, but no rain drops materialized in our location. We avoided spending any money (which admittedly was bad for the Galveston economy, but good for my wallet) and walked back to our car to search for dinner. With good meals awaiting, we decided pizza just might do the trick. We drove by Papa's pizza along the seawall and took the advice of our hotel staff. It was pretty good pizza with a couple of waters, we had dinner for about $15. We polished off the pizza and convinced ourselves we need some Ben and Jerry's from next door!
Fully satisfied we crashed early like old folks. We figured we'd find a movie on the TV, but alas even with movie channels the best we could do was find the Texas Rangers baseball game and then a movie my wife thought was interesting, but I fell asleep! Clearly the party scene on the Magic was in trouble with my spry self boarding soon..
Sunday, July 1
We awoke at a reasonable hour. I offered to make the trek to Wal Mart to pick up cotton balls while my wife put on makeup and do her hair (even an embarkation photo that we never purchase must be be prepared!). I did notice a large empty parking lot at Wal Mart and a row of taxi cabs parked just outside the exits. I noticed signs indicating no parking for RV's or Rigs. The aspiring lawyer in me wondered what a car left all week in that lot could expect..It would save a good bit in parking.
Alas, I found a discount code online for EZCruise Parking, I saved $5 and pre-paid our weeks parking and were all set. We ate a sensible breakfast and packed up, deciding to head over towards the pier about 9:30. We made a stop or two to take some pictures that we could not get in the rain the previous day and arrived at the pier around 10:00. I dropped our luggage off amongst the long and saddened faces of those leaving the Magic after a week of fun. We then drove the car a few blocks to the EZ Cruise lot, parked our car and rode the shuttle back to the port. Jason was a terrific shuttle driver here. He offered us complimentary Jell-O shots as we boarded the bus and gave us Roulette tips! He was quite the marketing tool for their operation and the island of Galveston in general. We were dropped -off and with no luggage we headed directly to check-in. We found our stations with no wait, got our cards, paperwork turned in and found a seat. I opened my book to read, realized complimentary water was available so I got up to go get the cups for my wife and I. No sooner than I sat down, took my first sip and arranged my book on my lap, our boarding number was called. We both did the double take look at each other and did you hear what I heard? We were boarding! We went through the security, took our pictures and stepped on board the Magic at 10:50! Earliest boarding ever!
Since we had just seemingly eaten breakfast, we did not want to get into the habit of cruising's second breakfast on the first day! One must pace themselves while eating on board. So, we wandered the ship and tried to figure what we would eat once we gave in and decided to begin the gluttony. We decided that we'd try the pasta bar as indeed it was empty when we arrived. However, it was empty because they did not open for another half hour! We've never done that on a cruise..if you beat the lunch being served on board, you must REALLY be making good time. So, more exploring on deck, taking pictures of a mildly empty ship and then returning to be the first couple seated in Cucina for lunch. We filled out our papers indicating our lunch choices. I selected the lasagna which tasted nothing like the traditional lasagna Americans tend to associate with the meal. This was made with what I thought was brisket, but later learned was a pork rib roast. I enjoyed the flavor immensely while my wife was not as fond. But she enjoyed her custom ordered Penne dish. The accompanying Caesar salad and focaccia bread were tasty and well received.
Lunch devoured, we were not even to 12:00 and were on board a ship, lunch completed, and wondering what to do next! We were so early, nothing besides buffet options were open. So we walked around and acclimated ourselves to the lay of the land. We realized quickly we made an interesting cabin choice as we were on Deck 11. Our cruise tradition is to take the stairs no matter where we are going unless dress heels are involved (think formal nights..). So a trip to our cabin was quickly a lesson in leg exercise! We did remain true to our pact for MOST of the cruise. The last day and a half we would elevate if we were going more than 5 decks in either direction. But the first 5 days our calves, glutes, and quads were hating us! J We pretty much satisfied all our curiosity for seeing the ship and found that our room was still not ready! So we headed for the spa hoping we were early enough to become tour models. Alas we were too late and not employed by Carnival (the models were dancers and musicians we discovered) and potential customers at that. We were given the sales pitch, and sadly had first time cruisers that just bought it all up and wanted to do all the spa offered, sign up for the classes; and just get their bodies right (because Steiner can whip you into a super model in one week no?).We remained quiet and allowed them to dream. We took in the sights and checked on our benefits for being Spa cabin citizens.
Finally our room became available, but luggage seemed to be moving slow (although to be fair, I'll happily take the trade of late arriving luggage if I get to be on the ship before 11 AM every cruise). We set out to do some sun bathing as we did have our books, so we did that up until it was time for the safety drill. Oddly, Carnival makes no to do about sailaway. We returned to our cabin after drill, headed back out on to deck and we were well on our way down the channel. We never heard a horn blast and had no idea we were leaving. No deck party, no announcements, just leave Galveston! That was a bit disappointing, but we enjoyed the stiff breeze and clearing skies. The rain hanging around all day was finally clearing.
We booked a night in the Steakhouse for our first evening. I finally was able to locate an ironing board as my other time honored cruise tradition is to hit the ironing board prior to sailaway if possible or immediately after safety drill to get all my shirts straightened out and no need to worry the rest of the week. The ironing room was not the least bit convenient as I was deck 11 forward. I finally found one on deck 9 mid to aft. The good news was once found, the room was empty and the iron was HOT! SO I made quick work of my evening wear for the week while my wife did her makeup and hair (are you sensing a pattern here?). We dressed and made our way to our reservation!
The Steakhouse was pretty sparsely attended that evening, so we understood the free bottle of wine promotion offered to entice folk to come eat the first night out. And this may be a new Carnival tradition as it was a leisurely meal with lots of attention. The food was good. I'd not call it great (we ARE Texans after all and find good beef quite easily), but some real good gems were found. My wife did order the snails but was not happy with the breaded presentation. We both raved over the focaccia bread that arrived as a round loaf. I chose a New York strip which was not really my cup of tea, I tried to branch away from my favorite cut. While it was tasty, it was not a wise choice on my part. My wife however loved her surf and turf (commenting that this lobster was FAR superior to the MDR version served the first formal evening). We ordered the cheesecake as it looked amazing, but disappointed. It was not dense at all very creamy in texture, and fully lacking in flavor. The chocolate sampler was adequate, but not on par with the great taste expectation one has of this caliber restaurant. The hit and miss nature of our meal here was a great bit of foreshadowing.
By the end of our meal, we were stuffed. So those large stair treks we made early in the day were paying off, but we clearly needed a lot more at this point. So, we hiked our way to the front of the ship (moving laterally will cause one to walk a lot, this is a LONG and big ship) to find the welcome aboard show. The comedians were good, but the singing and dancing left a LOT to be desired. My wife and I are both brass musicians and she was a dancer in her pre foot surgery days. Perhaps our sense of artistic criticism was on high alert due to our crash course of DVR clearing prior to leaving home and hours of scrutinizing America's Got Talent (non) talent. But this was not good..so Piers Morgan we miss you and hate you for your cruise ship talent comments because those folks likely have found their way to the Carnival Magic! We moved on to a little casino action and then off to one of our favored activity, a little reading in bed before rocking to sleep (although no rocking on this itinerary).
Monday, July 2- At Sea
We slept in a bit for us and decided if we were going to fight the cruise pounds, we needed to work out. So we ran on deck and used some of the deck weight machines. They are not going to replace the indoor gym machines any time soon, but they kept us fit enough. The wind was pretty stiff up on deck so half of our laps were much more difficult than the downwind segments. We cleaned up, stretched and grabbed some fruit and yogurt for breakfast. We then went to hang out at the pool, ride the slides, and enjoy a slow day at sea. We went in for a shower and then for lunch. We chose the Burrito Bar which was decent. We really liked the fresh chips and the salsa choices.
Following lunch we attended the first of the art auctions. We know what we are getting into with these things. For us it's actually a game in order to snag some of the promotional artwork they give away free in raffles, drawings, and such. Sure enough, my wife won one of the prints that happens to match the artist of one she won on the Freedom on our honeymoon. So now we have a set! No value in the artwork, but printed nicely and once framed, makes for nice work. We enjoyed the free champagne and getting to see what Park West is pushing these days. I often wonder about the pricing of the art- some is WAY out there, others are quite affordable.
After the auction, we took advantage of the Spa. Being in a 4S cabin, we had unlimited use of the Cloud 9 Spa. We soaked in the Thalassotherapy Pool for 5-10 minutes. The bubbles surely helped us relax after the workout in the morning and flights of stairs up and down the ship. We then moved into the relaxation room where my wife enjoyed the heated beds. I explored the steam room immediately in that room and found it very enjoyable. The heat was nice, the steam plentiful, and the light scent (reminded me of green tea) opened up the pores and sinuses. The recurring theme was the men loved it, and most women hated it. Too hot they complain. I did find a cool vent in the ceiling that in addition to the flowing fountains and cool spray, could keep one's body temp down while enjoying the steam. I then tried out the 4 headed shower (2 rain shower style heads- one from the ceiling, another a large head from the wall, two jets along the side of your body) to rinse off and then went to explore further. The Laconium room is a dry heat with running fountains and a great view of the passing ocean. It has benches and beds that are lightly heated. This room was a middle ground. A dry heat, but not oppressively hot. Women tended to handle this one OK, men in general found it too mild! Then I moved to the last room which was the Oriental Steam room. It was a thicker steam and usually a little hotter than the first. It had a different scent than the first that seemed more of a eucalyptus. It also had a nice view of the passing ocean (between the steam clouds!) with heated beds and some tables you could sit upon. It too had water fountains and spray guns to cool down while enjoying the steam.
We probably spent a half hour to 45 minutes here. We used the showers in the respective locker rooms to prepare for dinner. This evening was formal night and the larger showers were a definite advantage to our spa amenities. The large showers in the men's area have the feel of a handicap shower (although that is not the labeled intent) with lots of space, a hand held (and movable) nozzle as is found in the regular cabin showers in addition to two side sprays that can be switched to. Good pressure, roomy shower, and lots of privacy (with no indecent liaisons with a clingy shower curtain) made these showers very desirable. Throw on the in cabin provided robe, and it was an easy walk back to the cabin to get ready.
Formal night brought out my tuxedo and a long black gown for my wife. We hit the picture circuit in search of desired backgrounds and in my case, a photographer that could get a good picture out of me. I am by far the less photogenic. My wife can't take a bad picture and I can't take a mediocre one. So, of all the chances we took we got one picture of me alone, making a goofy face (not on purpose!) that the photographer happened to capture. I find it amusing that most cruise photogs are against taking goofy shots, but in our cruising career, we've bought a good number of mistake shots, because they are too good to miss (of course I also run the risk of showing up on those email chains of goofy cruise pics).
The meal was what else? Lobster for dinner! The lobster was adequate, but not up to par of that in the Steakhouse. Service this night was unusual. After placing our order, it took a full 20 minutes to get our first course. Once we finished it though, it was removed and replaced with our second course, and likewise with our entree. Very quick service once we got going, but slow start for sure. The photographers did their rounds and took table side shots (does anyone buy those things? Why get dressed up, have the chance to take formal portraits, but then have picture takers wanting you with food in your mouth? They must make something on these shots, it never seems to end! Dinner was punctuated with what we view as a horrible Carnival tradition. The dinner show, I know some people dig this. But formal dining and an encouragement to pick up your napkin and twirl it over your head? Yeah, I am excited by having my tablemates bread crumbs flinging through the air and landing in my hair!! Adding insult to injury, the foreign (my guess Filipino) maitre'd trying to sing an American song? The accent is charming, the voice is grating! Throw in that the spotty service as it is and wait staff struggling to keep up it really is a problem to ask them to take a break from serving to do a "dance" that some seem quite embarrassed to be performing (OK off soapbox,although I may return to it later in my review, foreshadowing)
After dinner we went to go see the art auction folks to arrange for delivery of our raffle win, This set the stage for them luring us into a purchase later. But we did this knowingly, so shame on us! We walked the Promenade deck to see what was going on here. Lots is the best way to put it. Red Frog, trivia, karaoke, and piano bar (kind of dead this week it never lured us in for longer than a chorus). We ultimately made it into a Family Friendly comedy show with Cowboy Bill. Good sets and a nice guy (that lives about 20 minutes from us). The shows are about 30 minutes and there are two family shows and two to three adult shows. Each comedian does one of each on the comedy nights (4 on the 7 day run). They do clear out the room following each show as the room is just not big enough to hold the demand. The good news is that Carnival has hit on a very popular event. The bad news is they keep scheduling the horrible dancing and singing shows in the big room, and the really good and popular comedy in the smaller room. I have to wonder how much longer this will last before a bean counter realizes it will cost them MUCH less to bring comedians to the ship to entertain in the big showroom and drop the costly production staff. I am not suggesting it (although if you don't upgrade your singing and dancing talent I will), but if it happens, you heard it here first, and my cruise consulting fees may be paid in large bills or via Paypal.
After comedy we wandered some more and realized we'd had a nice full day. So back to the room and some vacation relaxation with the wife (read into that what you will it's ok to enjoy romance on the seas!) and book reading to cap off our first day at sea.
Tuesday July 3- at sea
We awoke similar to the day before (now THIS Is a Ground Hog day experience I can appreciate) about 8:30 or (this IS sleeping in for people that get up at 5 AM in the real world) to go running and get in some exercise. The wind was less this day, but still no ropes course open. We got in a good bit and then grabbed a small breakfast.
After breakfast we decided to go straight to the Spa following the workout. The extra stair climbing was adding some discomfort to the lower muscles, so we welcomed the relaxation. We spent a good amount of time here just taking in the relaxation of ocean passing you by and no responsibilities looming. The only thing better would have been if the spa could be outside with the sea air. Alas nirvana comes with some sacrifice I suppose. It was difficult to complain about our experience. We got showered and wandered to check out the shops. My wife eyed a diamond ring that was just too pricy, so we passed, but got the required ship model (these things keep going up in price!) and enjoyed talking with crew members and enjoying their accents and world experiences.
Quickly, lunch time was upon us. Exercise and spa time makes one hungry with only fruit in your belly. So we went searching for food. Sadly it began to rain and the Promenade Deck barbecue had to be canceled (so we were told). So, we went back up to the Lido to find some food. We went for pizza (ugh) and a salad. I must day at this point I was really beginning to get disappointed in Carnival food. The pizza was the most tasteless I've ever encountered. It had no flavor and adding oregano and parmesan cheese did nothing to help. Even the pepperoni on the pizza was bland. Too bad, we enjoy cruising and pizza consumption. Not this time around.
Another art auction, bad jokes, oddly priced art, and a raffle win! And then the dreaded "I have to have that" from my wife. We found a set of prints she liked. Sure enough, the art guys jump in and throw their tentacles around her, and next thing I know I've bought a set of 5! Thankfully the damage was light relatively speaking, but it's art and not everyone sees eye to eye. And in this case, she bought 5!! enjoyed a second round of champagne this day.
We then went to the casino to try to grow the $50 my wife won on her first visit. She doubled her money and then I encouraged her to be wise and take the original 50, put it back in the safe and play on the casinos money. She played a while and went down low. Being the genius I am (no, really), I made a strategic suggestion, and voila, she got back up to the 50 she started with. I dragged her away from the table before we swung downward and we were back where she started on the day, and still playing house money.
We went back to the room to get dressed for dinner. It was an evening meal that was so forgettable; I can't tell you what we ate. Except the strawberry soup. It was quite good. But the presentation was priceless in how my wife received it. The bowl is empty except for a small disc of strawberry jello. They then pour the soup into the bowl and it gathers around the jello. Kind of cool, but if you don't know this ahead of time, the reaction is kind of interesting. We ordered Warm Chocolate Melting cake again, dessert offerings were kind of lacking with this exception.
More comedy this night and just plain wandering. Oh and another visit to deal with the art auctioneers. We are getting to know them FAR too well!
This night there was a deck party. It was well attended and fun. James Charlton the cruise director is really a good fit for this ship. He does a great job. And I must say, besides his Assistant Megan, he was clearly the star. Usually on ships, the CD is the front man, but his staff the stars. This cruise I think this was in reverse. He was engaging, active, and visible. I think he has a great future as a CD if he chooses to stick to this.
After some dancing, some limbo, and some sweating up in the evening tropical air, we went to do some reading. Time to rest up- land awaits in the morning!
July 4- Montego Bay, Jamaica
Independence Day away from home was unique. The Jamaicans knew this and many of them wished us a wonderful day. That was a nice touch. And it lead to cultural learning as we asked about their independence day (a little more than a month away) and how they celebrated. This is one of the small details of cruising I truly enjoy and embrace. We get to meet others from different backgrounds and learn what makes them tick.
We woke up knowing we had a busy day. Our expected docking time was 10:00 AM. Our previously booked third party excursion had printed documents indicating we were to meet at 10:30. So, we took our time to get off the ship, but after a big breakfast on the Lido deck, lots of sunscreen and adequate picture taking from on deck, we got off pretty soon after the ship was cleared. We knew we had some time to kill and no other opportunity to shop, so we browsed the shops right within the pier building. One shop keeper is an American living in Montego Bay. His shop was giving away collar pins that showed the American and Jamaican flags side by side. It was charming having that small gift. He is proud of dual loyalties and wanted us to remember where we celebrated. We found a shirt, some coffee for family, our obligatory key chain and a Pandora bead for my wife's charm bracelet. We walked around looking for our meet-up about 10 minutes ahead of schedule and with no luck, went to the information kiosk to inquire. They called the tour operator and after several transfers, call backs and such, we were told our excursion was to have started at 9:30, not 10:30. I checked my documents; nope it was 10:30. I then wondered if ship tie and local time contradicted in any way, nope, they were in sync. So, we were told we could return at noon to take the next tour. We agree reluctantly, but had booked with an operator hat guarantees you come back to the ship on time or they pay your way to the next port. Time was the big concern.
So, we had more time and decided to go back to the ship to return our purchases and lighten our load. We did so and in the process realized the ropes course was finally open for the first time this cruise. With an empty ship there was no wait and had we wanted to, we could have continued going around the course, but chose to get down and play a round of mini golf as well. No lines made these items way more fun! We enjoyed it and got some nice views looking into Montego Bay from on high.
We grabbed a quick cone of ice cream and headed back to the gangway to seek out our contact. Again, a bit early, so we bought a Ting. We had seen these in Dominica and did not try it last year. So, I got us a bottle of their Grapefruit soda that is bottled there in Jamaica. It was alright and quenched our thirst. We finally found our group, only to wait for them to fill the tour bus. In the meantime we got to know our driver and learned much about his life and the Jamaican culture.
Once on the road, it was a LONG drive. We were told 45 minutes, but the no worries mon attitude got us there in 1 hour and 15 minutes. We got to see a lot of the freeway system and several all-inclusive resorts along the way. Not too much inner Jamaica, but I always enjoy travel through foreign countries to take in the views. We passed by Allure of the Seas that was in port at Falmouth, which was nice, no overloading of the port with their gigantic crowd.
We arrived at the drop off point for our river tubing excursion. A little concerned about time (and the fact that the tubing looked pretty tame), I switched to kayaking at the last minute, since our van mates were doing the kayak. I figured that would keep us together and potentially smooth our schedule. It was a lot of fun. They outfitted us with life vest, helmet and equipment and then we hiked a short distance through jungle to reach our entry point. We boarded our kayaks and worked our way down the Rio Bueno. We were told this river was named by Christopher Columbus. For those not up on their Spanish, it translates to the Good River. It was done so because it was clear, clean, and made its way direct to the Caribbean Sea.
We wound our way through some turns and some light rapids. Only a few times did we end up in brush along the side of the river! Of course my wife blames me, I blame her and no one wins except the mediators. Our guide was helpful and no one was harmed in resolving our (differences) crashes! Halfway through the journey we stopped to tie up and go onto the bank of the river where we climbed a tree and swung out to jump into the river. The good old tree swing! And it was quite fun. My wife and I both jumped twice and got to hang with some Jamaican boys having a cooling off afternoon.
Once back into the kayak, we headed further down the river and ultimately we did funnel out to the Caribbean Sea. Lots of waves coming in made our journey to the stopping beach a little difficult. We were probably in the water a total of an hour. We then carried our boats to the turn in location and our driver was waiting for us in his van. We showered and dried off and hopped in the van. My mind was racing a bit as time was getting tight. My heart raced when he decided to pull into a local stand and push us to get some Jamaican food! Eventually my wife spoke up and asked the driver if those eating could eat in the van as our time was getting near to make the ship. He agreed and finally we headed back and his foot got a little heavier. We made it back to the ship and after walking through security at the port and up to the ship, we had two minutes left! The ship did not immediately pull away as other excursions seemed to be running behind, but I was a bit nervous we'd have to take the guarantee to task!
We went to the spa again to shower and relax a few before dressing for dinner. This night we had reservations for the Chef's Table. Our method of reservation was through the request on John Heald's Blog page. For those not familiar, the Chef's Table is a minimally promoted event as on this weeklong cruise, 28 people participated. For $75 each, the chef greets the participants, describes the food and menu for the evening as well as a bit about himself and his duties as executive chef on board. Once we sampled a few items (the menu can be found multiple locations online) as appetizers, we left the Piano Bar to go down to the main dining room galley. We got a brief tour and then arrived at a table set up right in the galley! Dinner was being served and there we were. Behind the scenes and part of the picture were we! We ate bread, more appetizers, a salad and maybe a soup? The whole time the chef explained each course and encouraged questions. All of them were answered candidly and with great personality. Chef Rakesh is a well trained chef having grown up in India but training in London and America extensively.
We took a break to get up and let food digest. As we walked he showed us stock pots and soup stores. They were rather large! All the while, the dinner service was whizzing around us and plates heading out to the dinner tables. We then visited the pastry chef and we were shown how to make the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. This was an amazingly easy dessert to make, but it's clear the star of the Carnival menus. It and Lobster are the two items that are ordered most often, third place is not even close! We returned to our table to have our photo taken with the chef. At the end of the evening we were given a signed copy of the photo, a nice touch to remember our evening. The main courses of Cornish Game Hen, a Norwegian fish filet , and finally a Wagyu beef short rib. Amazing entrees in small portions but heavy in flavor and texture were served. If the main dining rooms could taste like this.
All the while we had free flowing red and white wine. One can almost drink the whole fee for this event! It just kept coming throughout the evening, this after a welcome glass of champagne at the very beginning. The foods were just spectacular. By the end of the 3 hour event we lost our wills to live! A food and wine coma was enjoyed, which led to an early night. It was Independence Day, but we could not enjoy the evening's festivities. The main show we missed and the deck party outside featured an American buffet of burgers, dogs, and the like. Like I had room for any food?! Back to the bed and books and zzz, oh happy birthday America.
July 5- Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman was our designated shopping day with no excursions planned. We like to keep excursion costs down a bit (which makes no sense because ultimately we end up spending far more in shopping that we would on an excursion!) and take one day to look for whatever we have in mind (we do our homework before leaving home to know what prices look like. We also know that very little unique items can be found in stores throughout the Caribbean, one island looks much like the next). We've been fed the line of shopping costing more in Grand Cayman. I used to really believe this, but this trip we found that form not to hold. They don't haggle as much, so maybe a perceived value in other ports may exist? What we DO love about Grand Cayman is how non-aggressive sales folks are here. Being a banking center, I am sure they make plenty of sales with the deep pockets that visit or live on the island. So they don't need to hit tourists as hard. We experienced some terrific sales folks that worked to help us find exactly what we wanted and at the best price. It was a refreshing experience and as a result, we spent too much.. oops.
A goal of this trip for my wife was to drink from a freshly opened coconut. As we were strolling downtown Georgetown, we found a vendor that offered this for $3. So I had no choice but to indulge her. It was exactly what we needed (a little warm today and we'd not been drinking enough water). But it was a warm one (all the others claimed their milk was cold) and just not the experience she was hoping to enjoy. We then had it opened up to eat the meat with brown sugar sprinkled on top. This was a little better, but still a very unique and soggy texture that she was not thrilled with. But, as with many things in life, you have to try. She did, we learned, unless we get casted on Survivor, drinking from and eating coconuts won't rank high on our to do lists.
Going backwards a bit, veteran cruisers know this is a tender port. For newbies, the port is not deep enough for ships to pull directly up to the island. So island run tender boats come and go to pick cruisers from their ship and deliver them to the island. Tenders run about every 10 to 15 minutes. They fill up with about 200-300 people and they try to fill the boats early in the morning. Those with Carnival excursions were allowed to go first and then once those were satisfied, non excursion passengers could come and go freely. We made our way down to the gangway and boarded with no trouble.
We pushed our time and got back to the ship around the last tender. With the Carnival Liberty in port and two simultaneous tender lines, we had to pay close attention to which line to enter! Security was adequate to control this and make sure everyone made their way to the correct location.
One of our goals this cruise was to watch our caloric intake and leave the ship in relatively the same shape we arrived. So on port days, our strategy was to eat a large breakfast and skip lunch to make it to the evening meal. We did a decent job of this, except this day, my wife insisted she needed some of that wretched pizza! Her vice is pizza, mine ice cream. So we were quite hungry, so she insisted that even though the pizza was bad, she wanted a couple slices, an ice cream cone and that would hold us over. The pizza did not improve, but the soft serve ice cream hit the spot! Then predictably, we used our Cloud 9 Spa privileges and relaxed our tired legs from lots of walking in port.
Working backwards again (no editing here folks, this is stream of consciousness reporting!), we were tipped off by another cruiser to a great little place to buy rum. We found Blackbeards tucked back in a shopping area. And frankly, because we were there when they asked us to take a picture for them and then gave the tip, I could not tell you where to find them! But they were attached to a cigar shop for which I had no interest. They had tastings for the local rums. While the name is kind of racy (or humorous), the flavored rums were very tasty. We took home a bottle each of Big Black Dick Rum with Dark Chocolate and with Vanilla. They were running a special where if you bought two bottle of rum, they threw in a rum cake. And this was a full size cake, very nice deal. The point in telling this though is that they do not allow you walk away with the product. They deliver the bottles to the ship and the bottles show up in your cabin the last night of the cruise. It may make you a little nervous, but the process worked like a charm. And the packaging was nice and protective, we placed it in our garment bag and it made safely home on our flight.
This evening we were in the main dining room. We met a nice couple from Oklahoma seated next to us and then we found our way to a comedy club. I believe it was this night (working without notes as well as stream of conscious ness as well!) that a singer dubbed the Flying Scotsman put on a show in the Atrium. He was a screeching rocker voice and had LOTS of energy. He started a song from the entertainment porch in the atrium above the atrium bar and throughout the songs would run up and down the stairs, ride the glass elevators and dance with unsuspecting guests all around the floor or upper decks. It was a half hour show of rock favorites from 80's, 90's, and early 2000's. It was a loud show, but he was pretty entertaining. Having been on Princess where that style of entertainment did occur in the atrium, I assumed by the name this guy was an aerialist of some kind. I was wrong, but we enjoyed the show. Without much else to keep us entertained, we made like old folks and headed to the cabin to read and slip into a slumber.
July 6- Cozumel
A later arrival into port allowed us to sleep in some, eat our port day big breakfast, and watch some Wimbledon on the big screen. As an aside, this is an underutilized asset by Carnival. Very little daytime shows, few movies, and I wonder why Carnival invested in this to use it so sparingly. Princess and Disney offer entertainment options throughout the day and reasonably current movies in the evening for terrific effect. But, I digress..
Once we pulled into Cozumel, it was a quick process before the gangway was opened and doors opened. We reserved a third party excursion again. This time it was a Segway tour transporting us to a beach (UVA Beachclub) and then a snorkel tour or beach time. We received printed instructions that took us a few blocks to the right of the pier. Nope, not so much. It was an abandoned pair of utility buildings. So for a tip, a helpful Mexican local offered to call and find where we needed to go. Actually a left turn and 3 block walk would have done the trick! So, we showed up late, but it all worked as others had similar issues in finding the correct location.
Once straightened out, we rode an open air taxi maybe a mile down the road to train on the Segway units. We wore helmets and spent maybe 20 minutes working on turning, stopping, standing still and mounting and dismounting. Once our guides felt comfortable we were all up to speed, we joined a single file line and rode along the side of the highway (initially on a sidewalk and then on a shoulder like road to the side of the highway) and then to a back road along the coast on our way to the beach club. I'd estimate it was maybe a 2-3 mile ride? It was quite fun learning how to use the vehicles and feel the sea air blowing on us to cool us down. It was a warm day and pretty humid, but sea breezes make everything better. Once at the beach club we were outfitted for snorkel gear and headed out. It was about a mile long trek where we saw many colorful fish, a sea turtle, sea cucumber, moray eel, and all sorts of coral and sea life below the surface. We were pretty worn out once we got back to the beach. It was a very rock entrance but a soft beach. We rinsed off and had a little time to ie in a lounger before heading back to the Segways to return back to the ship. This excursion was about 3 - to 4 hours long in total and was a real nice look at sea life and try out new transport.
Once back to the Puerta Maya pier, we had some last minute shopping to do. The shopkeepers were much more aggressive here which while expected was quite off-putting after Grand Cayman. They were friendly though and helpful when you really needed help. But being followed and pressured in each store was annoying.
We were in port with Allure of the Seas, but really felt no crowding in Cozumel. It can handle the big ships and only two of us at once was not too bad.
Back on board, some ice cream and Cloud 9 Spa! We did really enjoy this perk and if not getting a balcony, I know where we are looking for a cabin in the future.
We got dressed and went to dinner. This evening we reserved a spot at the Cucina del Capitano We were seated right next to the kitchen at a table for two. The space is decorated nicely, but it was sparsely populated. I wonder how popular this venue is? The meal was nicely prepared. The bruschetta appetizer was nice with fresh tomatoes and cheese. We selected calamari, aroncini, and a mixed salad as appetizers. My wife was not fond of the salad with the Limoncello dressing, but I found it unique and light. Pretty good choice in my book. We were treated to our first bit of show for the night. The waiters stop down to serenade us and if possible, it was cheesier than the main dining room! Eastern European servers with no concept of pitch singing Italian standards (in English) is a rough proposition, but we all survived. The main entrees chosen were Spaghetti Carbonara for me and the Beef Ribs for my wife. It came recommended. But she just did not like it. She found it overdone and dry, which it was a bit dry I'll give her that. So she asked to have it replaced with the shrimp. No less than three staff members came by to apologize and ask how to make it right. Simply bringing the shrimp was all we needed, but the servers went out of their way to make sure we were pleased. Once the shrimp arrived, my wife melted. This was the choice she should have made to begin with! And this she was happy.
During dessert, we were handed sing along song sheets so we could join the Italian singing. I suppose by us joining in we drown out the microphone a bit. But again, I ask Carnival- why? Ken the head maitre d is a great voice, after that, let the wait staff do what they do well! And how we split Tiramisu, Cannoli, and something else that is or was not memorable. The Tiramisu was fantastic!
We were stuffed, but not as badly as the Steakhouse or Chef's Table. So we had some energy to roam the decks looking for entertainment. We found a comedy show and then lost all the house money at the Roulette Table in the casino, so much for paying down our bill..
As always, we ended our day in bed reading a bit and relaxing. But no rocking to sleep, how sad!
July 7 - At Sea
The last day of a cruise is always such a conundrum. On one hand, you have to get off the ship the next day, you have to pack: it's almost over! But the other side, you have one more day of your cruise and it counts just as much as all the others. So, once the gloominess can be shaken off, adjusting the attitude helps one manage the pain.
We slept in a bit and once awake went to the track again to run and get some exercise on board. Apparently we hit a rain shower as the deck was very wet (and a little slippery!) and crew was scrambling to clean up the mess. Once done exercising and stretching, we again gathered a light breakfast and headed for Cloud 9 for one more bit of luxury! This truly was a wonderful experience for the duration of our journey. It helped us relax (as you might guess from the review, we tend to be very busy on vacation and need forced relaxation at times) and it was fun to have an exclusive entry that not all had access. When sailing with Carnival and Spa categories available, this will certainly be a priority for us. Especially if a balcony is not in the budget, this slight uptick in cost over a regular interior was well worth the cost. To answer some common questions I had prior to sailing, you do get access to a nice heavy robe (two in our case, one per spa access), slippers that are yours to keep, and small bottles of Elemis products (Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body moisturizer, and a bar of soap). We were not sure if they would replenish these as we never used all ours. With the spa showers, most of our product usage in cabin was minimized. The cabins are also decorated a bit differently. You can see a change from regular to spa category on Deck 11 where the tropical and colorful hallway gives way to browns and bamboo looking of the spa. It was a nice touch and quite attractive.
After our spa and shower time, we headed back to our room to do our first round of packing. That bit of drudge work complete; we sought out the deck barbecue for lunch. We really wanted to do this, so it was our must do of the final day. And it was worth it! Finally food with good seasoning that was not a specialty for fee item. The sliders were terrific. Big, fat, juicy and well-appointed with lettuce tomato and optional garnishments, the burgers were very well done. The freshly made chips were terrific as well with a number of salsas available to accompany the sides. There was a mobile bar set up on deck for sodas, beers and mixed drinks. We wanted water, so that was a bit of a difficult task, but a trip inside to a bar solved that. The REAL issue was no dessert (without paying a fee for the goodies in the Plaza Bar), so we had to get exercise by going up 6 decks to get a sweet tooth fix. Somehow it seemed like a just punishment!
After lunch I waited in line to buy a Future Cruise Certificate. For only $100 it's a good deal especially considering we plan to go to Europe next summer, so the longer cruise qualifies us for the bigger on board credit. Sadly that line took well over an hour. So my wife went on without me to the final art auction (THAT scared me!). I arrived towards the end and joined her as she salivated over some one of kinds that were being offered on a big special. Very beautiful, very special, and very not inexpensive! The pot sweetened, we convened, and now we are waiting patiently at home for delivery of a set of paintings that we really did like a lot.br /
Following the auction is when we really kind of got a little grumpy. Final packing was required, but we chose to take one more walk around the Promenade to enjoy a little more sea breeze. Except we noticed the ocean was dead still practically. We had to walk to the side, look over and be certain we were moving. Indeed we were, but at a reduced speed it seemed, but the Gulf was a sheet of glass, very much like being on a lake! It was so smooth, and quiet on the Promenade, it really was a wonderful few moments we chose to savor together rather than consider our circumstances off the ship 24 hours in advance.
We did our final packing, got dressed and headed to dinner. It was a reasonable meal with the best dining room service of the journey, of course. Our service was never bad but it was usually uneven. The servers were all cheerful and wanting to do a good job, but it was not a smooth service. We thanked our server and hostesses and went in search of last night entertainment. No comedy shows were scheduled and very little else was really going on. We took a trip to the upper deck hoping to find a movie or at worst to recreate a little sunset moment from one of our previous cruises. We got a beautiful sunset behind a large bank of clouds, but that made for excellent photos and further enjoyment of the stunning waters. Off in the distance oil rigs lit up the darkening sky and reality began to set in that Texas was on our horizon. I was met with a unique situation where a Japanese man with very little English skills wanted to take my photo. Just me! So once I understand I agreed. With no words, he thanked me, took a shot of my wife and then showed me how to use my camera (we had similar models and his pictures were coming out way better!). So even with a language barrier, the last night on board was enjoyable and fun.
We wandered back inside really beginning to feel sorry for ourselves, so we went in to the Cherry on Top store for the first time the entire voyage and found a goodie or two that caught our attention. So much for worrying about caloric intake, it's the last night! We then headed to our room to put out our luggage and hope for a smooth ride home.
July 8- Galveston, TX
The last night was a dream. On our last 5 or 6 cruises the last night heading home was a rocking and rolling adventure, but this cruise was amazingly smooth. I woke up to hear us docking and thanking the sea for a good ride back. Credit likely is owed to the designers and builders of the Magic in addition to the captain, but a good night of sleep on your last day of vacation makes one thankful to anyone or anything that can take credit!
We got a nice long shower, cleaned up, made last rounds to be sure nothing was left behind and dragged our carry-ons up to the final breakfast buffet. Even on the last day of the cruise the masses had yet to figure out that by walking further aft just a bit, no lines practically existed- but midship- lots of waiting was required.
Final meal completed, we went to look for a place to wait for our zone to be called. We found deck chairs on the Lido and watched the men's final at Wimbledon until a rain shower let loose. Thankfully as we got up our zone was ready, so we took our leave and in one last bit of good vacation fortune, we finished just as the heavens opened up. We moved smoothly through finding our luggage and customs. It may have been 10 minutes from off the ship to out on our own and back to reality!
We dragged our luggage to end of the terminal outside to find the van for EZ Cruise Parking, boarded our shuttle and in moments on our way back to the parking lot. It could not have been easier and in light of my previous Galveston cruising experience- this port has got its act together!!
We drove back to Hobby airport, gassed up and returned the rental and rode into the airport. Security was a bit of a long line but we had time. And then the Galveston rain found its way to Houston stopping down the airport. Our flight was delayed about an hour due to lightning, but the short flight to Dallas was not a big deal once we got up in the air. So home it is. It's always a melancholy moment when the day is complete, I lie in my bed and realize that while I LOVE the very comfy bed of home, the last time I woke up, I was on a cruise ship and somehow my comfy bed was not so wonderful any longer!
All in all, this was a good cruise. We are avowed Disney Cruise Line fans. It's hard not to be with the great service and product they have, but we like to mix things up, try new ports, and different cruise lines. With a brand new mega liner ported 6 hours away, that's kind of a no brainer no?
This trip I really came to appreciate Galveston. It's a fun island and a great place to start a cruise. It's not Florida, but that's OK too. Summer sailings are quite nice. I have to imagine winter ones can be a little miserable on the way out of town potentially.
The Magic is a beautiful ship. Being the first ship that Joe Farcus began to get out of the Carnival design business, I have hope for what the new designers have done with Breeze and will do going forward. It's still Carnival, but less garish and makes more sense to me.
The Carnival food has gone downhill a bit. The pizza was just a waste of calories in my book and main dining room desserts were totally forgettable if not titled Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. Entrees and appetizers are hit and miss in the main dining room as well. That said, the for fee options are quite tasty. That's great to have those options, but sad that you have to pay to get the really good stuff. I've defended Carnival in the past as a really good dining cruise line.
Entertainment was spotty. Comedians were a hit - but played to the packed houses and not all could get in that wanted to do so. The stage shows were forgettable at best, horrible at worst. I may have mused that I could see a day that a bean counter figures all the cost involved in keeping a mediocre dance cast might be easy to trade for comedians and other land based entertainers. The quality would certainly improve.
Dining staff was well intentioned, but something about the system with them and the kitchen is not working well in Anytime Dining. Perhaps that's the price for dining convenience that we do love. But I suspect much of the trouble can be resolved with traditional dining (or at least I hope so!).
James Charlton is a great cruise director, his assistant Megan is fun and funny. The rest of his staff...Very unique set of personalities unlike any other team I've encountered in 14 cruises. All in all though, the activities were decent and better than entertainment.
The ship itself (and/or the captain) deserve a big kudos. Not once did I lose footing on this cruise due to rocking or pitching. This voyage was rock solid and without visuals, virtually impossible to know we were sailing. It was remarkable! And I never had any sea legs once on land. Bravo Carnival Magic and Captain Cutugno