Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Caught up in 'Fun Ship' spirit aboard Carnival Magic

Caught up in 'Fun Ship' spirit aboard Carnival Magic

By Donna Tunney
The Carnival MagicThe Village People's "YMCA" blasted through Vibe, the nightclub lounge aboard the Carnival Magic. Artificial fog billowed from the ceiling and multicolored lights ricocheted across the room as dozens of passengers let loose their inhibitions on the dance floor.

It was the start of their vacation, so why not?

The enthusiasm of the dance crowd on that first night of the Carnival Magic's first cruise echoed throughout the voyage. People absolutely loved this ship. I did, too.

This was my first Carnival cruise, and while the notion of a "Fun Ship" didn't immediately appeal to me, it definitely grew on me.

The ship's indoor public spaces are well-designed, with vibrant but not jarring color schemes. Some areas could be dubbed glitzy, but there's a sense of elegance here, too.

The nightclub drew a crowd every night, but those looking for a less raucous scene gathered in the Play It Again piano bar or the RedFrog Pub, both of which featured live music.

The popularity of the pub, a new feature for Carnival Cruise Lines, prompted President and CEO Gerry Cahill to declare during the Magic's maiden voyage that RedFrog Pubs would likely be added to other ships in the fleet.

Bartenders at the pub, which sports a Caribbean theme, snap photos of guests at the bar and the tables, then project the images onto screens. It's a lively interactive feature that keeps guests chuckling at each other's photos. Passengers pay extra to dine at the pub.

The ship's Showtime Lounge offered a variety of events, such as musical stage shows and live-band karaoke. Both the fitness center and the Cloud 9 Spa looked busy whenever I visited that area of the ship.

Outdoor spaces were a constant source of entertainment. Two areas debuted on this ship: SportSquare, a vast recreation area with a ropes course, miniature golf course, basketball court and more; and WaterWorks, with enough slides and games to keep any kid happy. Its signature feature is the Power Drencher: Every 60 seconds, a huge bucket spills 300 gallons onto young passengers eagerly waiting underneath.

Thirsty Frog RedThere's an adults-only outdoor area called Serenity, and I would've spent more time in it if there had been enough places to sit. It's a circular space with hot tubs, lounge chairs and round, oversize, cabana-style couches big enough to curl up in and take a nap. It typically filled up fast on sunny days at sea.

A multitude of dining options are available. The Northern and Southern Lights main dining rooms each have two seatings and served a wide variety of dishes, from fried chicken to steaks and pastas. Lido Marketplace, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featured standard buffet fare plus a pizzeria, Mongolian wok, Indian tandoor, a burrito bar, a deli and more.

The Prime Steakhouse sported a clubby feel, with rich colors and dark woods. I ordered a filet mignon, and it cut like butter.

A dining option new to the line is Cucina del Capitano, a family-style Italian restaurant that I thought was particularly excellent. It's open for lunch and dinner, and passengers pay a fee to dine there. I have one caveat about it: During lunch hour, guests can sometimes hear a basketball bouncing on the ceiling, since the ball court is directly above the eatery.

Ocean Plaza was a hub for games and activities in the afternoon and for cocktailsand live music at night. An adjacent outdoor area, the Lanai, beckoned with its half-mile-long promenade and comfortable sitting areas.

The Hat Trick Casino did a brisk business during my cruise, and I chatted with a passenger from New York who was ecstatic over winning $600 in a game of Texas hold 'em.

The Carnival Magic has a full conference center, with meetings and function rooms, and a Fun Hub, where Internet access is offered to guests for a fee.

I didn't see any inside staterooms, but my balcony cabin was well-appointed and comfortable. Two closets, with hangers and shelves, provided more room than I needed and appeared sufficient for two people. There also was a couch and a desk. High-quality linens and colorful artwork rounded out the decor.

The Carnival Magic is operating a series of Western Mediterranean cruises this summer and will reposition to Galveston, Texas, in October. The line will offer several opportunities for U.S. agents to tour the ship at the Port of Galveston.