Carnival Magic -- Eastern Caribbean Cruise

 

March 25-April 1, 2017

Amber Cove, St Thomas, San Juan, and Grand Turk

We flew to Orlando Friday on Southwest, early in the am arriving before 2pm. We had reservations for the Cocoa Beach shuttle bus to our hotel, Residence Inn, at Cocoa Beach. It took about an hour for the shuttle to pick up everyone and then drive to port, stopping at each hotel for the people onboard. We checked into the hotel, then walked to an italian restaurant nearby for an early dinner. We stopped at a store along the way back to buy Ron and new pair of sunglasses as he left his at home. We also stopped at the convenience store next to the hotel to grab a few sodas, water, and beer. We could see the ships in port from our balcony window.



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Saturday, Day 1: Embarkation

In the morning we ate free breakfast at the hotel, then met the hotel shuttle ($5 per person) for dropoff at our ship, Carnival Magic. It was easy and fast! There were several ships in port, all heading out for spring break cruises. The Magic and Sunshine from Carnival, the Epic from NCL, and a Disney Ship. We check-in and were on board by noon! We headed straight up to the Lido for lunch... and to the Tandoor. We were so excited to have the Tandoor as an option for lunches as most ships do not have it. Our first cruise was on the Magic back in 2014 so we knew how good the food was and that most people don't know about it yet. It was just as good as we remembered. After eating lunch, we started walking around the ship, taking photos while we waited for the 1:30pm announcement that rooms were ready. Bags delivered to room before dinner. Sailaway Party at the pool was fun. We spent the next few hours exploring the ship, getting a feel for how things operated, then off to dinner.

Dinner: the Ports of Call appetizer was delicious! We both also got a slad and the swordfish main course. For dessert we got a date cake and a chocolate melty cake. After dinner, we went to the Welcome Aboard show. WOW. It was so fantastic! Dr E, the cruise director, is so prepared and funny. He had the entire audience in the palm of his hands within seconds. Then the Playlist Performers came out and did a fantastic show. They are really good!


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Sunday, Day 2: Sea Day

The day started out like a normal sunny Sea Day but quickly it became cloudy, rainy, and rocky. For the first time, we decided to try the Sea Day Brunch so we arrived right at opening of the restaurant. We were seated with others at some long tables which was nice. The food - not so much. We were both disappointed with quality.

We could see thunderstorms off in the distance as well as huge white caps on the water. People were complaining about the ship, but it honestly wasn't anything that could be controlled. It was a storm and we had to go right through it. Since it was a Sea Day, Guy's Pig and Anchor was supposed to open for lunch - but with the rocking boat and rain, we didn't count on it. Instead, we headed up to the Lido, Blue Iguana now has taco salads and everyone was getting them. They actually opened Guy's afterall, but people were having to bring their food indoors and were sitting all along the walkways on Deck 5. By mid-afternoon they had closed many of the outdoor areas off due to safety. Decks were wet and slick, and the wind was crazy.

It was Cruise Elegant night, so we all dressed up for dinner. I ordered the lobster tail with shrimp, Ron went for the pasta carbonara. Both were very good, including our apps and desserts. Ron loved the fried oysters and I went for the lighter wedding soup. Creme brulee for Ron for dessert, just a fruit plate for me. After dinner we went back to the room then hurried down to the Show, FLICK by Playlist Productions. I absolutely loved the show, Ron wasn't sure about it. It was very creative and intriguing, very artistic. The singing and dancing were fabulous, too. Gosh, it is nice to see great shows like this again.



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Monday, Day 3: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

Calm seas prevailed overnight. Arrival at port was really spectacular! The entire island seems so GREEN. It is just beautiful.

After breakfast on the Lido, we dressed for a day in port at the pool and soon we were walking down the pier. The pool is gigantic, and there are literally hundreds of chairs around it. Umbrellas cost $20 and we got one as soon as we found two chairs together. It was heavenly. Ron grabbed a beer, and then decided he had to do the zipline. Cost of the zipline is $20 for adults all day. He did it twice. Dancers came out and performed at the bar, music was great, and pretty soon we were hungry.

After we returned to the ship, we had lunch on the Lido (Caribbbean Jerk chicken - yum), then back out to the port to shop. The port is set up with a separate shopping area, and pool area. The shopping area is very pretty, lots of sculptures and buildings...but not a lot of quality local souvenirs. We were disappointed and didn't buy anything.

Back onboard, Ron continued his search for the ship's coin. Bingo...found it.

The ship was starting to fill back up, but the Skycourse wasn't too busy. Ron decided he had to try it.

Tonight we had Steakhouse reservations at 6pm, so we showered and changed and arrived right on time. First let me say, I am not a big beef person. Ron on the other hand, loves it so this was something he has wanted to do every cruise. For appetizers I ordered the shrimp coctail, Ron got the tuna tartare and a spinach salad. Then for mains, I got the tenderloin and Ron got the cowboy steak. Desserts were over the top also...Ron got the cheesecake, I got the chocolate sampler. I could only eat half my food, it was so huge and rich. It was all delicious and service was fantastic.


Video: Amber Cove




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Tuesday, Day 4: St Thomas USVI

Our arrival time for St Thomas was 11am, so we had plenty of time in the morning to hit the gym, shower, change, and watch the sail it. It was a gorgeous view as the ship creeped around the small islands and other boats until we docked.

Our excursion was not until 1:30pm so we got off the ship and walked to the shopping area for an hour before returning to pick up our snorkeling gear. It was HOT HOT HOT and no shade to be found. Our guide finally showed up and we had to walk all the way around the harbor, past construction, and into another gate. There our boat was waiting for us. We got on, and after a short briefing, we were off.

The catamaran was nice and roomy with a crew of two girls and two guys, all outgoing and fun. It was a nice ride to the island where other boats were already anchored. Soon everyone was in the water and snorkeling around, looking for turtles. We spotted one on the bottom, then another, as well as a large stingray. One turtle came up for air right next to me but went right back down when all the snorkelers rushed him. We were then led over towards the island shore to see some coral and a few fish, then told to have fun and be back on the boat in about 15 minutes. As we snorkeled back around the boat, Ron spotted a large school of squid! There were over a dozen, just hanging out in the shallow water. I tried to get video but they were just too far away (problem with a GoPro and snorkeling). I wished I was diving, so I could go down and visit them!

Back onboard the boat, we headed to Honeymoon beach...where another group of boats were already onshore, along with hundreds of people! We had to wade in chest deep water to shore, where we could hang out or swim for an hour. A snack bar was there, serving food but the lines were very long. We walked down the beach and back, stopped to check out the wild chickens with babies, then back to sit in a shady spot. It was not what we expected.

We returned to the harbor, and had to walk all the way back around to the ship, a good 30 minute walk but at least this time there was some shade. It was so HOT. Back onboard, we headed to our room to shower and change for dinner.

We were too tired to dress up for the dining room, so we hurried up to the Lido buffet. Holy Cow! The Lido was packed with people, mostly kids and teens. The line at the only buffet that was open wrapped around and down the hall. It was insane. We got our food, which was pretty good. I got the salmon and a large salad, Ron got some BBQ ribs and a salad. We grabbed desserts quickly then left the crowded Lido. What an insane mess. I guess the crowds were due to the fact it was Spring Break and that we were in port so late many people didn't want to do the dining room. Either way, it was a crazy crowded nightmare to me. I don't understand why they can't have more than one buffet open in ports like this.

The Playlist Production show tonight was Country Roads. It featured all the singers, doing just that, singing, with very little dancing. It was sort of a story of a band who's tour bus breaks down at a bar run by group of girls. Yeah, pretty cheesy, but the singing was good. After the show we went back to our room to get together all our camera equipment for the next day's port, San Juan.



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Wednesday, Day 5: San Juan Puerto Rico

This port day we had no excursion booked -- all we wanted to do was walk around Old San Juan, visit both forts, and take a zillion photos. We planned to eat lunch at a local restaurant, eat some Puerto Rican food and enjoy the atmosphere.

About 15 minutes after docking, we looked off our balcony and saw people exiting the ship, but not that many. It was a slow dribble, so we decided to head down to the gangway ourselves. There was a short line to get off, something unusual for this cruise! We exited the port area and headed straight up the hill towards the forts, only stopping to take a few photos of the colorful buildings and statues along the way. We reached the first fort, San Cristobal, before it opened, so we sat outside and waited. The gate finally opened and we were the second group inside. It was HUGE and quite impressive, with thick stone walls and huge concrete butresses.

We walked up and around, through rooms and tunnels, up to the top and around, back down. It was very impressive. The crowds were finally starting to arrive as we exited this fort, and started our walk along the oceanfront to the other fort. Along the way, we enjoyed all the colorful buildings, and the huge cemetary that sits oceanfront next to the other fort.

It was getting HOT HOT HOT there in San Juan, and there was no breeze at all. We bought water bottles in the fort gift shop, and headed out towards the city. We found a shady spot to sit and rest while we cooled off. From there we started back down the side streets, looking for a good restaurant for lunch. We had to eat some Puerto Rican food! We found a nice place on a busy corner which had its menu posted outside. It looked good so we went inside and grabbed a table right next to an open window on the street. We both ordered Mofongo, Ron got pork and I got chicken. It was delicious!

After eating lunch, we walked up and down the streets, stopped at an ice cream shop for a snack, then to some shops to grab a few t-shirts. We ended up down by the ships port and onto the ship at 2pm, before the lines got long. It was so hot there, and this was only March. I can't imagine how hot it gets later in the summer. Maybe it only gets more humid, but wow, it really seemed to hot to be outdoors to me.

It was the second Cruise Elegant night, but all we could think about was a shower and relaxing in the ship's air conditioning. We went down to view the dinner menu, then decided to just hit the buffet at dinner time. This time, however, we would be there when they opened instead of when it was crowded like the night before. It worked, we were in line with others and had to only wait 15 minutes before we were walking the line. Food was good and the crowds of people were arriving as we left the Lido.

Playlist Productions show tonight was 88 Keys. We have seen that one before, so we decided to just relax tonight and get things ready for our last port, Grand Turk tomorrow.




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Thursday, Day 6: Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

We were scheduled to arrive at port around noon, and another ship, the Sensation, was due to arrive an hour earlier. Knowing this, we decided to book a snorkeling excursion at port since the beaches would be packed before we got off the ship. Guys Pig 'N Anchor was open today, even though it wasn't really a Sea Day. We were there at 11:15am and the lines were already long but moving quickly. We got our plates and luckily found a table right there so lunch was fast. It was good, not the best I have ever had, but good.

We pulled in and could see everyone getting off the other Carnival ship and heading to stake out their spots at the beach and at Margaritaville pool. A rush of passengers from our ship got off as soon as the gangway opened, we waited on our balcony. After half an hour, we grabbed our wallets and headed in to purchase a few items before our snorkel excursion was due to leave. The port is very nice, with tons of stores, a huge pool at Margaritaville, and thousands of covered beach chairs lining the waterfront. We walked around for about an hour, then took our purchases back to our room, grabbed the tickets and snorkel gear, and went back out to the port. In the central square area, all the vendors were set up with stands and signs. Our excursion, the Conch & Ray snorkel beach tour was due to leave at 1:30pm. At least 50 people checked in and our guide led us out to the beach to a waiting catamaran boat. We had to wade out in the water a bit to get onboard, then we were off.

Our first stop was about 20 minutes away, and everyone jumped in the water to snorkel. Uh, where is the coral? We were over sand. Then I remembered that the description said we would be gathering conch shells at one stop, which would be used to make conch salad at the beach stop later. So after 15 minutes of swimming around, fighting a wicked current, everyone was back on the boat...the guides had a huge pile of conch shells onboard that they had gathered.

Our next stop was only 10 minutes away and from the surface we could see color before us...yeah, coral. Everyone got in the water and 2 of the guides led us off over the coral, around in a circle, then back to the boat for about 30 minutes. There were fish everywhere. Huge improvement over the first stop.

While everyone snorkeled except a few people who stayed on the boat, the boat captain was busy chopping vegetables. When everyone was back onboard, the boat moved to a beach on a small island. Several other boats were there already, and we could see some stingrays swimming along side of the boat. Everyone got off the boat with the help of the crew (into waist deep water again) and stood on the shore as our boat crew brought out all the conch shells. The crew then proceeded to show everyone how to clean the conch, and let some brave people pull the live animal out after they had cut its anchor off. It is gnarly! The conch were then gutted of organs, leaving only the large dark muscle, which was given to the boat captain. The guts were then tossed into the water for the stingrays to eat. A crew member grabbed one ray and held it for people to touch.

The crew finally rounded up everyone, and got us back onboard. The captain had prepared a huge bowl full of the raw conch mixed with various kinds and colors of bell peppers, jalapenoes, onion, tomatoes, lime juice and orange juice, and a few secret ingredients. People lined up to grab a bowl of the concoction. It was delicious! Some ate it with tortilla chips that were also available, but it was good with just a spoon. Yum. Doesn't get any fresher than that.

As everyone ate, the catamaran sped back to the beach where we had started. As we pulled up, we could see everyone was heading back to the ship and the beach was empty. It took about 10 minutes to walk back up towards the port area, wash our feet off which were covered with sand, and put on shoes to walk down the pier. We made it back around the back-on-board time of 5:30pm. Departure was at 6pm. The line was long but there were two gangways open, so the line was constantly moving.

Dinner in the dining room was very good tonight. Ron got a salad and escargot for appetizers, and penne mariscos for his main course. I got a salad and melanese chicken with green beans. For desserts Ron got cheesecake and I got the chocolate panna cotta. Both were very good.

Grand Turk....what a beautiful island! We will definitely come back again!



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Friday, Day 7: Sea Day


Behind the Fun Tour

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Yeah....finally we were going to get to do this. My DH has wanted to do this tour since he heard about it our first cruise. We signed up on embarkation day, you MUST do it that day as they only do 1-2 groups of 15. It is always held the last sea day. Tour takes 4-4.5 hours so be prepared for lots of walking, climbing stairs up and down, etc. So after breakfast we showed up at our meeting spot, the Steakhouse. Juice and pastries were out for everyone, then we got our briefing, two people had cameras/phones and the guide took those to put in her backpack for the duration. So, needless to say....no photos. They did have a photographer take photos of us with the group, with the captain, and group with the captain which are nice big photos and delivered to your room (free). You are also given a goodie bag, as well as a plate of chocolate covered strawberries delivered to your room. The goodie bag has a hat, lanyard, etc. Nothing expensive but still a nice touch.

The tour starts down in the Galley with the Head Chef. He gives a tour of the galley, shows you how the ovens work (no open flames allowed, so they have a unique way of grilling meats. It was very interesting. They showed us how the line works, how the waiters pick up their orders, there are photos of what each finished plate should look hanging over each station. We were also shown the pastry chef area, with their own cooks working away at all the desserts for that day's lunch and dinner services. The chef then gave each of us a chocolate covered strawberry and one of the assistant chefs gave a carving demonstration (he's the same guy who does the ice carving on deck).

After that, we went down into the food storage units and freezers. Once again, very interesting how the rooms are full on embarkation, but close to empty by this day. Plus there is one freezer that has a week's worth of food in case the ship is delayed back to port. Then this freezer full of pallets of food is moved into the active room, and a new reserve freezer is loaded at home port. The cycle continues. The person giving this presentation is also the person who orders all supplies for the ship, from pens to liquor. It all goes through him.

From here, we were led into the laundry area. HUGE washers and a dryer for the sheets were the focus. They have so many beds and towels to do each day, and the sheet dryer was fascinating. It took the wet sheet layed out flat, dried it then folded it and popped it out on other side. We couldn't get over how enthusiastic all the staff where when we entered their area to watch what they do. They all thanked us individually for our interest in their jobs. It was so nice to see.

We then went to the recycling room where all items onboard are separated into bins, then some compacted (all cans), or schredded (paper), or mulched (food), etc. All the food waste, yes everything you don't eat on your plate must be gone through here, by hand, to make sure there is nothing like silverware or plastic, etc. The food is then ground up and released into the ocean when out at sea, fishfood deluxe! The other items, must be kept in large bundles and containers, then off-loaded at home port. Lots of things people don't consider, is how much plastic and cans are accumulated during a cruise...its a lot!

We were taken to the crew areas, and shown photos of the crew rooms. The crew share a room with one other crew member and the rooms are only slightly smaller than an inside room on the ship. They also have couples rooms for those in relationships or married. Then we went into the crew dining area. They have two dining rooms, where they are served food just like the passengers, only a slightly different menu featuring foods requested by the crew, like favorite foods from their home countries. The people serving them are the NEW employees, learning the ropes. They are required to work in this area, serving the crew until they have it down. They are then moved to Room Service duty. After working at room service for a few cruises, they are then allowed to do dining room and Lido duty.

We were taken outside on the deck next to the lifeboats and given information about training for those, and how the crew must do training every cruise in order to ensure everyone is familiar with procedures. There is also a little secret deck area where the crew are allowed to sit outside in the sun or take smoke breaks. It is the location of the ships bell... where we had a photographer take our photo together.

Next we went to the stage area of the main theatre and were given a tour by a cast member of the Playlist Productions. We were shown the dressing rooms and he explained how during the costume changes people are running down these narrow walkways and stripping off clothes while someone is holding the next costume, then running back to make next song. He said that all the singers are singing live, unless they have voice issues, a cold, etc. then they are allowed to lip sinc to their own recording of their part. They are docked every time this happens in their performance record, so they really don't want to do this unless necessary.

Our guide for the tour was the ship's Personel Director. She took us to her office and explained about the crew's work conditions, how they are given opportunity to take online courses depending on their interest, and financial counseling. She said that many of the crew are supporting families at home and they are working to provide for them, as well as save up for their children to attend college in the US. Others want to open their own business when they end their service. She said that most people on the ship work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. Some are given days off but it depends on their department staffing requirements. They are given vacation according to how many months they work, which some use to go home. After 10 years with Carnival, each crew member is given a service package (money), some go home with that, some stay on. Each crew member works on a contract, either 6 months, 8 months, or up to 9 months, then they are required to take vacation and start a new contract when they return.

We spent about a half hour down in the engine control room with the Chief Engineer, learning from him how the ship works and asking questions. It was way over my head, but of course all the guys were in heaven. The controls covered all the walls with cameras all over the ship at the mechanical equipment. It was like something out of a movie.

Our last stop was on the Bridge with the Captain and all his staff. What a nice view! The captain joined us for a photo, both as a group and individually and answered a few questions. His staff, all the captains-in-training were each busy working, some at the windows watching our course, some at computer screens, some busy with log books.

I also want to mention that many of the areas we entered were Controlled areas. We had a Security Guard with us, who wanded us before and after those rooms. I like that. The Engineering room and Bridge were both high security and locked doors with guards inside and out.

After our tour was over, we were taken back to a room just outside of the dining room where mimosas were given to each of us, or just OJ for the younger participants. We were also thanked for taking an interest in the ship and crew, and given our goodie bags. We both LOVED the tour, it is something I think everyone should do once. You learn about the work involved.

After the tour, it was lunchtime and we were starving. We had not tried the Cuchina for lunch, so figured this was a good idea. It was the last day afterall. We arrived and yikes...it was packed. We were given a menu card and a number, then walked around to find a seat. We got a table and sat waiting for a waitress, and waiting. While we waited, we decided on our order and marked the card with the pencil provided. We gave it to our waitress along with our drink orders. She was a bit grumpy but I guess it was the crowds. Our food came out after about 15 minutes, not too bad. I got farfalle with chicken and spinach and red sauce. Ron got the spaghetti with white sauce, chicken, and spinach. Both were good. My only problem with this lunch was that we were right under the basketball court...bang, bang, bang, bang....the whole time. Why on earth would they put a restaurant right under a basketball court. Sheesh.

We returned to our room to find the plate of strawberries and mini cakes. It was very nice. It was time to start packing though, what a drag.



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Saturday, April 1 - Debarkation

What chaos! I cannot believe how badly this was done.


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Final Thoughts

1. I don't think we will ever do another cruise during Spring Break. It was just too crowded, and too many kids onboard the ship. Many of the kids were unsupervised and running wild. Many were with their parents, but the parents were drinking or just not paying any attention to them. Some parents took their small children to the Playlist shows at night, and let the kids sit and play during the show...which entailed crawling on the floor, over seats, throwing stuffed toys, and generally distracting everyone. It was rude. Ditto the kids up on the Lido, playing at the buffets, piling up a plate full of food then running with it - thus dropping food everywhere. The staff did their best to clean stuff up immediately. I felt sorry for them. Spring Break must be a nightmare for the whole crew.

2. I really enjoyed Amber Cove day the most. We had a relaxing day at the pool in port, ziplining, listening to music, then back onboard with the ropes course, dinner at the Steakhouse....it was just a great day all around.

3. St Thomas was a huge disappointment for me. There were 3 ships in port, and the other two were there before the Magic, so everything was crowded, the beaches packed, the restaurants and stores in port all packed. People everywhere. It was HOT there, and with it being so crowded, it just didn't appeal to me at all. The snorkel excursion staff was awesome, the snorkeling was disappointing. We are scuba divers, and so we knew it wouldn't be as good but we hoped for something better. It just did nothing but make me wish I was diving.

4. San Juan was beautiful and the forts were amazing. Once again, it was hot by midday, so finding a cool beverage and A/C was important. We loved our lunch at Hecho en Casa. Food was good, service was good, and view was good. We would go there again.

5. Grand Turk was probably the prettiest port we have ever seen. Water was turquoise and clear, beautiful white sand and palm trees. I wish we had skipped the excursion there and just spent the day at the beach and eating lunch at a local bar. It was just so beautiful.

6. The Magic - Ropes course is fun but can get crowded. The Playlist Productions are all good -we loved the shows but particularly Flick and America Rocks. Dr E is a fantastic Cruise Director. Wow, he is so fun fun fun and upbeat all the time. Red Frog Pub is always great but this time they had karoke every day and it meant teens who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket where waling and squealing into a microphone. It was awful.

7. Behind the Fun Tour - so glad we finally did it. It was very informative! We learned a lot. Do it once, you will appreciate all the staff do so much more. It is long - around 4 hours so be prepared, lots of walking and stairs.

8. Steakhouse is great, food is very good, atmosphere is great. Cucina at lunchtime is horrible - the basketball court is right above it and the bang bang bang of dribbling basketballs is deafening. I don't know if that is true at dinner, but I would expect it is. Tandoor at lunch is great but their menu doesn't vary much day to day.