Despite having sailed on 72 previous cruises, I’d never before had time to cross the Atlantic Ocean by ship from Europe to the United States. Consequently, I jumped at the opportunity to experience the new Carnival Magic, which entered service in Italy last May, as well as its leisurely 16-night trip across the Atlantic from Barcelona, Spain, to Galveston, Texas, Oct. 28 to Nov.13.
If I were asked to sum up this sailing in two words, my answer would be “exceptional value.”
While I was washing my hands in one of the many public men’s rooms aboard this massive vessel, a friendly fellow at the adjacent sink commented, “You know, we couldn’t stay at a Holiday Inn for everything we’re getting here — floor shows and all the eats.”
Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) had sold this extended voyage for as little as $599 per person, double occupancy in inside accommodations, an astoundingly inexpensive per diem of $37.44. Although air fare, taxes and gratuities were additional costs, and outside and balcony cabins were obviously more costly — although still extremely reasonable — everything together still added up to an incredible bargain.
Of course, where cruise lines earn much of their profits is in optional onboard purchases: beverages from the bar, casino gaming, shore excursions — the three I bought were all reasonably priced and very well run — spa treatments, shop purchases, photographs and the always-expensive Internet service.
The ability to control personal spending on such options will ultimately determine the total cost of a vacation. I encountered a man in the Atrium Lobby who humorously admitted, “I’m trying to hide so they won’t find my credit card.”
Carnival Magic is a massive ship, about 130,000 tons with a passenger capacity of 3,690 guests, figuring two to a cabin, or roughly 4,700 if all upper berths are filled.
Normally, CCL caters to family groups and cruisers of all ages, but the length and season of transatlantic repositioning sailings like this one — the Carnival Magic will spend most of its life in the Caribbean — pretty much guarantees a preponderance of older travelers without overriding job or school commitments. Our passenger complement of some 3,600 souls included only 17 youngsters in their teen or preteen years.
As a result, some facilities that normally are busy on a typical Caribbean trip were virtually empty. And, not surprisingly, other spaces with more than enough capacity when the vessel sails from Galveston tended to be overcrowded on our sailing.
In general, older travelers are not into sunbathing or waterslides. As a result, rows of unoccupied lounge chairs were to be found when the sun shone and the weather was otherwise cooperative.
Similarly, the extensive and ingenious Carnival WaterWorks aqua park was all but deserted throughout the cruise. Other spots like the Vibe Nightclub (disco) and Carnival’s signature RedFrog Pub, both popular with younger travelers, were similarly underused.
Conversely, space was generally at a premium for showroom performances and more sedentary events such as enrichment classes, lectures and the ever-popular bingo sessions. I was astonished to see the high level of participation in arts-and-crafts classes and the immense popularity of the daily Bean Bag Challenge, held in the Atrium Lobby, as a spectator sport.