Cruises

Carnival Magic was a turning point for the cruise line: less glitz, more sophistication

Main features of Carnival Magic’s WaterWorks aqua park are a 312-foot-long Twister waterslide (entrance on right), and the DrainPipe slide attraction (left).
Main features of Carnival Magic’s WaterWorks aqua park are a 312-foot-long Twister waterslide (entrance on right), and the DrainPipe slide attraction (left). Carnival Cruise Line

Originally published June 5, 2011; updated 2019

For a good look at the future ships of Carnival Cruise Line, book a ride on the new 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic.

The Magic, which debuted in May in the Mediterranean, is the first ship fully designed by the current top management team at Carnival. Although it is structurally the same as the Carnival Dream, which was launched in 2009, Magic has made some significant differences.

Dare I say it? Carnival Magic seems slightly upscale in focus, away from a Las Vegas approach, more modern, less glitzy, with lighter, fresher, more cheerful colors than Carnival ships past.

Carnival is not evolving into a luxury product. Au contraire. “We are not going upscale,” said Gerry Cahill, then president of Carnival Cruise Lines, who has since retired. “Everybody else wants to be luxury. We do not. For instance, we used a group of our own employees under age 35 to plan the nightclub. Our guests are not wealthy. They are Middle America. We are fun, memorable, and affordable.”

Still, the Magic has a more sophisticated atmosphere, at least partly because the Cahill gang has changed the familiar passenger flow. On other Carnival ships, passengers tend to move around public areas in never-ending waves, as if they are at a gigantic party, sort of a Mardi Gras at sea, day and night. Bars offer different themes, colors and furniture, but they are like rooms in the same house, and seldom is there a place to get away from crowds.

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Guests on the Carnival Magic play foosball in the SportSquare complex, which also features a two-level mini-golf course, outdoor fitness area, a exercise course and lighted multi-purpose court. Andy Newman Carnival Cruise Line

On Magic, Carnival’s new approach is to disperse crowds to venues that offer different experiences — a family Italian restaurant, an inviting Caribbean pub, a sports deck with enough games and water attractions to while away a day.

This grand design will follow on the 130,000-ton sister ship Carnival Breeze, which is due out next summer in Europe, as well as on the next generation of Carnival ships that will be somewhat smaller.

TREND SETTERS

Cahill said he wanted each venue aboard ship to have its own personality, to be not just a place to stop for a few minutes but a destination to savor for the experience.

The Magic’s RedFrog Pub, for instance, is not just a place to have a beer. It offers live music; images of patrons that flash on big screens throughout the pub; tasty pub grub (usually $5 or less each) ranging from spicy conch fritters (with several choices of bottled hot sauce) to coconut shrimp that can be dipped in a pina colada sauce; themed cocktails and assorted rums; bottles of Caribbean beer; and two beers on tap, Stella Artois, and Thirsty Frog Red, a brew labeled specially for Carnival.

The RedFrog, which Cahill believes will become the heart of the ship, was a big hit from the moment Carnival Magic began its inaugural cruise in Venice May 1 — so big that in less than two days passengers drained the kegs of Thirsty Frog Red. Carnival sent out an emergency signal for new kegs that were air-freighted to Messina, Sicily. In less than a week on the first cruise, passengers consumed 20 kegs of Frog, 50 liters to a keg.

Expect Carnival to publicize Thirsty Frog Red — a smooth draught beer, a bit malty, a bit sweet — and place it on some of its other ships.

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A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line’s private-label draught beer brewed especially for the Carnival Magic, is served in the ship’s Red Frog Pub. Andy Newman Carnival Cruise Line

Will we see a RedFrog Pub on older ships? “We can’t remake everything,” Cahill said, “but this (what you see on Carnival Magic) is the direction we are going.” Carnival also plans some new playthings for the RedFrog pub in the coming months: Something froggy, for sure.

The Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano (Captain’s Kitchen), is the first alternative restaurant for Carnival beyond its steakhouses. Cucina is in the same space as the pasta stations on Carnival Dream — and has a similar feel at lunch — but at dinner becomes a warm, familiar family restaurant with singing waiters and a menu with some of Carnival’s Italian captains’ family recipes. Walls are covered with black-and-white family pictures from the captains and their families. The dinner fee is $15 adults, $5 for children.

At lunch, Cucina is open at no fee with a choice of pasta dishes. It is part of the Magic’s plan to disperse the midday crowd from the buffet restaurant on the aft end of the Lido Deck, which became a high-traffic bottleneck on the Carnival Dream. Carnival passengers tend to prefer casual buffets at breakfast and lunch. So, on the Magic, not only did designers choose more efficient furniture, traffic patterns and recess the ice cream machine in the Lido, they also expanded and publicized the barbeque at Ocean Plaza, which spills outdoors onto a patio on Deck 5. Plus, you can always go the RedFrog and eat pub fare.

With its new SportsSquare, which adds a wide variety of recreational equipment and facilities, Carnival Magic also plays strongly on the cruise line’s developing theme of interactive vacation activities that go far beyond the old standbys such as bingo and ice-carving demonstrations (which remain). (And it has since added activities, including Seuss at Sea, Hasbro the Game Show and Make It with Michaels craft classes, that Carnival introduced on newer ships.)

In the daytime, the SportsSquare open decks are packed with people using diverse sets of equipment, from impressive water slides and workout stations (with a Vita exercise course) to a ropes course that is somewhat challenging but also possible for most people of moderate athletic ability. Beneath the ropes course is a family playground of possibilities from miniature golf and ping pong to foosball. Families can hang out on this deck and play together.

AFTER DARK

At night, interactivity continues in the comedy club; at Karaoke, which draws singers who want to perform with a live backup band; and in the piano bar, one of Carnival’s first no-smoking bars.

On the inaugural cruise, the piano bar was packed tight after dinner with passengers who were singing along with entertainer Ron Pass and seemed to be having a wonderful time. For those of us who love piano bars but can’t stand cigarette smoke, this one was magical.

THE SHIP

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Passengers pay varying degrees of attention to a Carnival Magic crew member as he explains how to wear a lifejacket during muster drill at the beginning of a Mediterranean cruise from Venice in 2011. David G. Molyneaux TheTravelMavens.com

Launched: April 2011

Builder: Fincantieri, Monfalcone, Italy

Staterooms: 1,845; capacity 3,675 guests

Decks: 14 passenger decks, 17 decks total

Length: 1,004 feet

Beam: 122 feet

Tonnage: 130,000

Other Dream-class ships: Carnival Dream made its maiden voyage in September 2009; it sails Caribbean cruises out of Galveston, Texas. Carnival Breeze was delivered in April 2016 and sails Caribbean cruises out of Port Canaveral.

Itineraries: Carnival Magic is home ported at Port Everglades, doing six- to eight-day cruises of the Caribbean and Bahamas until May 2020, when it will move to PortMiami for similar cruises.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com

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