ONBOARD THE CARNIVAL MAGIC — A gleaming Carnival Magic, straight out of the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, made its way past the ancient structures of Venice last week, bound for the open Adriatic on its inaugural cruise.
And while the Dream-class ship has many of the same features as its predecessors, it also has pointed Carnival Cruise Lines in an important new direction.
As Gerry Cahill, the line’s president and CEO, put it: "We’re going after the 'destination within a ship' idea, and this is a new concept for us."
The largest and most obvious "destination" on the Magic is the SportSquare, an outdoor recreation zone that has several "branded experiences" within.
First, there's SkyCourse, a 230-foot-long ropes course suspended above the ship’s top deck. On the afternoon the Magic left Venice, about 185 passengers had already completed the course, said Mark Tamis, the line’s senior vice president of hotel operations. It has the capacity to handle 1,400 people each day.
SkyCourt, meanwhile, is a fenced area for basketball, volleyball and football that offers a mix of free play and structured tournaments. SkyFitness is an outdoor weight-training circuit, and Turf on Surf is a miniature golf course.
"What we did was try to create more places where passengers can have memorable experiences," said Cahill, who sailed on the inaugural voyage with his family.
Some of these new products are likely to be replicated on other Carnival ships, he said.
The notion of onboard destinations isn't limited to fitness activities: The addition of two major restaurants brings the concept indoors.
The Caribbean-themed Red Frog Pub, featuring the line’s new, private-label ThirstyFrog Red beer; live music; and games such as darts, checkers and chess, was a big hit with passengers, who pay for items from its menu. Cucina del Capitano (Italian for the Captain's Kitchen), a family-style Italian restaurant, was also popular.
"These are places where we believe guests will want to hang out," Cahill said.
The ship’s WaterWorks area is geared toward families who want to play together — and get wet together. A 300-gallon Power Drencher tips over every few minutes, drenching and delighting the kids (and adults) who wait underneath for the big tub to fill up and spill over.
There are other differences that Carnival's repeat customers will notice about this ship. Efforts were made to make the Carnival Magic "lighter, brighter and more open," Cahill said.
The changes pleased a passenger from Minnesota, who had been on two other Carnival ships in the Caribbean in recent years. "This is way nicer," she said.
An exceptionally cheery passenger from New York applauded the ship for its casino.
"I was playing Texas hold 'em with a group of Russians," he said. "I bluffed them all, and I walked away with $600."
The Magic is also notable because it is the last Carnival ship for which Joe Farcus, the line's longtime designer and the man responsible for Carnival's whimsical "entertainment architecture," is scheduled to be the lead designer.
Farcus will continue designing for Carnival's sister brand, Costa Cruises, and he said last year that he would have a hand in some areas of Carnival's next ship, the Carnival Breeze, which is due in 2012.
Passengers by and large praised the Dream on its maiden voyage, although a few noted that the crew, who haven't worked together before, seemed a little unsure of their tasks, or perhaps a bit slow in completing them. But the guests on this voyage — 65% from the U.S. and the remainder from Europe — were a forgiving bunch.
"What's not to like?" said a guest from the Washington area.
The Carnival Magic will operate a series of Western Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona through mid-October. In November it will reposition to Galveston, Texas, and begin a winter series of Caribbean cruises.