Get Your Carnival Head On Before Boarding

All this talk about nickel and dimeing, specialty restaurant charges, automatically added gratuities and other (sorta) optional fees paid in addition to the cruise fare hearkens back to another time.  Ten years ago, travelers were lining up to fill ships as fast as cruise lines could build them.  There was bona fide travel value there. Consumers knew it and consumers bought it in a perfect storm of marketing bliss. Few names were as synonymous with a Caribbean Cruise as Carnival. All other direct big ship competitors chose to invest in new attractions.  Carnival chose to invest in people.  They are doing that hard work in a way I think we are just now starting to see reach its potential.  To test that theory, Lisa and I sailed Carnival Cruise Line on newly refurbished Carnival Magic from the 128,000 ton ship’s new home of Port Canaveral…and never got off the ship.

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The itinerary took us to the new Amber Cove cruise destination first.  I had visited there before when the campus was under construction.  Host to a variety of unique features like a special store just for crew, abundant rental cabanas and a swim-up bar feature to the giant lagoon-style pool, this is a nice place to call a beach day.  Walk right off the ship, shop if you must, eat, drink, be merry, have a good time.

We did not get off the ship.

See More of Amber Cove cruise destination in Amber Cove:  Just What The Cruiser Ordered.

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To fully test our thought that the people aspect of Carnival Cruise Line operations is getting its fair share of resources, we did not plan on getting off the ship at any port.  It’s a bit like being a crew member in a way, welcoming others on board and chatting about nonsense the way we do on a cruise.  The way crew does that week after week, month after month with no days off…for quite some time I did not give that argument much attention.  My thoughts ran along the lines of:

  • “Well, it’s not the prison barge from the old country you’re on”
  • “Were you captured? Someone threw a sack over your head and condemned you to work on this ship?”
  • “No one mentioned the length of your contract?”

Surly crew: Enough of the moaning and groaning about being away from home.  Do yourself a favor and be looking for something else.  You’ll be happier and so will we.  That said, the crew element on Carnival Magic was totally different.  Not one complaining crew member until the last day and that one was a textbook case of who we don’t want to see on cruise ships. This was someone who might have been good at her job on a different day.  We might have even missed her, walking off the ship to drive home at the earliest possible time.

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There is something wonderful about walking off a ship and being home an hour later.  No flights, airports, connections, delays etc.  Also on the benefit list:

  • We don’t care what we pack.  While the cruise lines might not care much what we bring, the airlines sure do and forced me to traveling with carry-on luggage only.  See more of this interesting skill set I have mastered in Travel With Only Carry On Luggage Only: Here’s How for more.
  • We don’t care what we look like. We were planning on not dressing up for anything on this sailing.
  • Getting On Is Easy- When we lived in the midwest, we came into the embarkation city the day before.  Technically, that was to allow for flight delays and put the ‘long’ travel day behind us to wake refreshed for what can be one of the longest days on any sailing. We arrived at the pier about 1:00pm and were on the ship and in our stateroom about a half hour later.
  • Getting Off Is Easy.  At the end of our Carnival Magic cruise we walked off a bit after 7:00am and were home with the dog picked up from the vet’s office before we might normally have breakfast on a regular weekend day.

Not to take attention away from the fact that international air travel is at a very reasonable price right now.  Cruise travelers who have had visits to exotic destinations around the world on hold due to high pricing should indeed take another look right now.  On board Carnival Magic, the first day, we were reminded of another benefit when sailing from Florida’s Port Canaveral: There might be a rocket blast off and you have a front row seat.  Known as Florida’s Space Coast, Port Canaveral is located close to Kennedy Space Center where rockets shoot off year round.   Frankly, I can see those from our Orlando back yard but not nearly as well.

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Interesting conversation overheard from a group of fellow Orlando residents chatting at the Red Frog Rum Bar on embarkation day:

“What is everyone pointing at?”
“Rocket launch”
(glimmer of momentary excitement)
“Who’s rocket?”
“Space X”
(drinking resumes)

Those who remember NASA space shuttle launches think Space X’s version pales by comparison.  On the other hand, Space X has also successfully landed its 4th straight landing at sea (as opposed to plopping down in the ocean).

Wonderful Places


But its been quite some time since we did a normal Carnival Cruise from Florida.  We’re all about flying around the planet to see amazing places cruise ships visit, be there for maritime history events, and check out potential new cruise experiences in your future as well. We drove our car to Port Canaveral, parked and went on a 7-day cruise. No script.  No production schedule.  Just open ears and a few little requests, just so things will go just about exactly as we wish them to be:

  • Dining Time?  Forget it.  We don’t care for the dining room because it almost always takes too long. Get lassoed into late dining time when you usually eat earlier in normal life, and things get thrown off some.  We’ll do buffets, specialty restaurants where you walk right in, sit right down and eat. On Carnival Magic, Guy’s Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Cantina seemed to take care of our needs quite nicely, supplemented by an occasional room service order. OK and then there were runs to the coffee place on deck 5.  They have the best cookies and chocolate dipped strawberries on the ship there.
  • Spa Treatments, Activities, Entertainment?  No thank you.
  • Shore Excursions?  Remember, we’re not getting off the ship.

So what did we do?  Well,  a lot of this:

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Our stateroom on deck six had a marvelous view of the ocean and we probably spent more time out there than on any cruise.  Reading, watching the ocean pass by and an occasional nap were the main activities.   But we saw a whole lot of fun happening on Carnival Magic too; something we might have missed had we not had our Carnival head on before boarding.

Get Your Carnival Head On

Having your Carnival Head on is a matter of being totally realistic about what the expectations are, not really this but this is typical of the ‘We’re here to have fun and take no prisoners in the process of making that happen” that commonly runs through a Carnival Funship cruise.

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We talk a lot here about cruise lines that are raising the bar on everything from dining to entertainment, activities, time ashore and more.  It’s as though many other big ship cruise lines are struggling to be THE one cruise line to sail in an attempt to force cruise travelers into showing some love for them.  They might raise the bar by introducing new dining menus and a celebrity chef to go along with them.  Finding some way to partner with some other familiar name, other lines are bringing “Broadway” shows and promoting them as top entertainment benefits of sailing with them.

We’ll call those and other packaged programming Passive Benefits.  Just show up at a particular venue and its all there laid out for us to enjoy.  Carnival Cruise Line ships offer a more active big ship cruise experience.  It’s a work in progress and not all Carnival ships are equal in this area.  At the top of the list would probably be new Carnival Vista which embraces all the latest and greatest that Carnival Cruise Line has to offer. We were on Carnival Vista not long ago and it was easy to see how it all works together.  Here is a gallery that illustrates Carnival’s more active cruise travel experience:

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Throw That Bar On The Floor And Stomp On It

Carnival Cruise Line pretty much ignores all that raising of the bar here and there, instead empowering their personnel to have Fun. And they do. It’s a contagious effort and the super glue that holds it all together.  Passengers get involved, step out of their comfort zone a bit if they so desire but there is no pressure to do everything in order to get our money’s worth out of the experience.

To those who have ‘moved along’, ‘upgraded’ and/or ‘found another home with another cruise line’, think again.  The Carnival Cruise Line of today is alive, well and growing happy cruise travelers by presenting a flexible product that actually does have a little something for everyone in the world of big ship cruises, all presented at a decent price.

Here’s more from our Carnival Cruise Line full sailing of Carnival Magic:

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Also, stop by our Flickr Photo Galleries for hundreds of Carnival Cruise Line photos from our trip: