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Carnival Magic Entertainment
Like Carnival Dream (and, really, like just about every other Carnival ship), you won't be wanting for entertainment on Carnival Magic. It may not have the star power of Blue Man Group (Norwegian Epic) or "Chicago" (Allure of the Seas), but if you can get by on a big-budget magic show or a Jimmy Buffett wannabe strumming his guitar in the RedFrog Pub, you'll do just fine.

The two-level Showtime theater seats 1,349 and presents shows most nights at 8:45 and 10:30. Most of them are heavy on song and dance and change each night. There's a real glam factor to the theater, and after testing about a dozen seats, we came to the conclusion that the rear bar-style seating on the second level was our favorite -- because we could flee unnoticed. Otherwise, we'd avoid the seats under the balconies, as they're claustrophobic and tend to cut off some of the action.

Carnival has been crowing for a while that "Destination: Unknown" is the "largest show ever staged on a Carnival ship." Part magic show, part Broadway-style musical, “Destination” tells the story of … oh, who knows. There are pyrotechnics galore (kind of scrawny, but you are on a cruise ship after all), pop songs sung live and sort of competently (Muse's “Uprising,” Seal's “Kiss From a Rose,” etc.), elaborate costumes and the illusions of Jason Byrne. It's a hoot. Don't miss it.

Other productions include an ode to the 70's and a game show parody that combines music with audience participation.

Elsewhere around the ship, the glitzy Spotlight Lounge seats 400 and rotates between comedians and karaoke. Family-friendly fare from the former is generally available about 7:30 on select nights, with raunchier material strutted out after the kids are in bed, or at least in their own clubs. It's the "Superstar Live" karaoke that really packs the house, however: Brash types take to the stage with live musical accompaniment, and it's wildly entertaining. That said, Spotlight features several bars, so at the very least it's a fun place to chill -- and during the day, it's a bright, quiet space to read or catch up on e-mail.

The ship offers plenty of other places to catch a performance. Play It Again is a mellow (maybe too mellow at times) enclave with Carnival's signature baby grand piano embedded in the bar, giant disco-ball-ish light fixtures and martinis at the ready. If you like sing-alongs, this is your place. At the Magic Bar in the atrium, you can listen to everything from salsa music to a classical pianist perform from the stage suspended over the space. This is also one of the biggest bars on the ship (it wraps under the spiral staircase connecting the mid decks), so it's one of the best places to people-watch.

You never know what you're going to find at Ocean Plaza -- one afternoon, we listened to somnambulant guitar music, and later that night it was rockin' party tunes by a three-man group. We found the energy generally low at this stage; people would more or less look for a few seconds, then scramble elsewhere. Where'd they go? Maybe Vibe. As at-sea discos go, it's a pretty hot time, and inasmuch as its closing time is "late," you can assume you won't be alone if you stumble in in the wee hours.

Next door to Vibe is the RedFrog Pub, featuring wonderfully kitschy island decor, the aforementioned Thirsty Frog Red Ale (you can buy it in group-friendly 100-ounce glass tubes as well for $25 a pop) and a rotating roster of musicians that turn an already top-notch concept into Margaritaville, generally from late afternoon to midnight. We love the giant TV screens behind the bar that run a continuous slideshow of RedFrog patrons. Be careful if you're doing something goofy when one of the bartenders strolls by with a camera -- there's a good chance you'll be in the slideshow, and you'll be up there for hours. Don't ask us how we know this.

You can't miss the Hat Trick Casino, inasmuch as it's divided by the main artery running through Deck 5 -- so to get anywhere you want to be, you have to walk through it. At least it's interesting to look at, and the sports bar plunked in the middle is a happening scene. There are hundreds of slot machines, automated Texas Hold 'Em tables and gaming tables that cover roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. Beware that part of the casino allows smoking.

Hundreds of shore excursions on offer run the gamut from shopping to city tours to zip-lining. Special teen-only shore excursions are also offered.
Carnival Magic Public Rooms
A soothing Caribbean vibe runs throughout Carnival Magic, from the palapas in the Beach Pool to the not-as-garish-as-you'd-think floral-and-bird paintings that line the cabin corridors. But if you've ever stepped foot on other Carnival ships, you'll notice the stylish veneer here that comes as a surprise, and it starts in the Atrium, a soaring 11-deck spectacular with art deco flourishes.

A piano plopped on a glass shelf serves as a performance space for musicians. Okay, the decorations on the walls here -- hundreds of green-and-white-glass mounds topped by what appear at first glance to be eyeballs -- gave us the willies the first time we saw them. (Carnival Breeze, with a spring 2012 launch date, ramps down the kitsch even more.)

Taking its cues from Carnival Dream, Magic has incorporated Internet FunHubs in several sections of the ship. There are a total of 44 computers available shipwide, but if you want some privacy you're better off avoiding the madhouse on Deck 5 (unfortunately, that's where the majority of the stations sit, including the guy who can help you if something goes wrong). Wi-Fi is also available shipwide. Internet access prices, ranging from 33 to 75 cents a minute, are hooked to the number of minutes purchased; save money by figuring out beforehand how to read emails offline. In addition, Funville@sea is a free Intranet service in which passengers can view onboard activities and events, see food and drink choices, check weather in the next port, and read news.

That madhouse, by the way, comes courtesy of Ocean Plaza, an otherwise brilliantly executed concept that's the true hub of activity onboard. The indoor/outdoor space comprises a live entertainment stage, from which you can listen to music or participate in games like trivia; the Plaza Café patisserie; a bar that never seemed as busy as it should have been; and a quartet of hot tubs. It's also a good place to begin a stroll around the Lanai, the half-mile promenade that rings the ship.

Bibliophiles and games players can take refuge in a cozy nook with a decent selection of tomes on Deck 4, though be sure to have your Carnival Magic Deck Plan in hand to find it. Hint: It's right outside the Northern Lights dining room.

The ship offers the usual cast of characters on Decks 4 and 5 selling jewelry, booze, clothes and trinkets. Cherry on Top, the Carnival newbie, is a cheery boutique awash in red and white; it peddles candy by the pound, candied apples to die for (and you might, considering the amount of calories each one contains ), flowers, T-shirts and Carnival tchotchkes. Forgot your tux at home? COT can take care of that for you.

The Gallery on the Way holds several Champagne art auctions, but if you want to create your own masterpieces (starring you, of course), you'll want to stop by the Photo Gallery on Deck 4. You can still ogle at the photos of other sunburned cruisers lining the walls, but a facial-recognition system has been introduced on Magic. Simply place your Sail & Sign card into one of the Photo Finder kiosks (the card is embedded with the photo taken of you at embarkation) and all those professional shots you've been trying to dodge pop up on the screen. It's cool, though if you like viewing hundreds of other people's photos to find your own, you may be disappointed.

Launderettes and ironing rooms are available throughout the ship.

Smoking is fairly restricted throughout the ship's public areas. Outside, there are several designated smoking areas, including a space on Deck 5 at Ocean Plaza (it's also the only area that allows cigars). Inside, the Vibe nightclub and sections of the Hat Trick Casino are the only venues that allow smoking. As of December 1, 2011, smoking will be banned inside all cabins, but you can still smoke on your balcony.
Carnival Magic Spa & Fitness
Carnival Magic's designers took Carnival Dream's good deck plan and made it great. By moving the WaterWorks aqua park forward on Deck 12, designers were able to introduce SportSquare, which comprises a two-level mini-golf course; outdoor cardio stations (not quite so successful, but kudos for trying); basketball courts; the SkyTrack running course (seven laps equal one mile); and the show-stopping SkyCourse.

The SkyCourse is an elevated ropes course in which passengers are fitted with a harness that clips to a track, then they must navigate eight segments with various degrees of difficulty. You can choose between the easy or difficult route, but . . . it's not for the faint of heart. Kids and many adults whiz through it after a few practice rounds, but if you're afraid of heights, have iffy balance or don't like the idea of dozens of people watching you panic, the course isn't for you. We found it generally wait-free and worth the effort, but there were some who told us, "Never again."

The Beach Pool on Deck 10 is the main watering hole and features two thatched-roof palapas on either side where you can sit in the water in the shade. Nice touch, but the pool is small considering the number onboard. You may have a bit more luck finding a seat and more quietude at the Tides Pool in the aft. The tiered decking around the pool is studded with big maroon umbrellas, and we were always able to squeeze in somewhere. Again, the pool is minuscule.

If you have to get wet, head to WaterWorks. We have to give a special shout-out to the Power Drencher, a massive bucket that holds 300 gallons of water. Every few minutes it refills, a bell rings and its contents are dumped on folks waiting to be properly soaked below. One perhaps unintentional benefit: The thing sprays water everywhere, so if you're on one of the loungers two decks below near the Beach Pool, you get a fine mist while you're broiling in the sun. Sweet.

Other WaterWorks components include a splash park for the little ones, the Twister Waterslide (faster and more furious than you'd expect) and the DrainPipe -- another slide, but you end up spinning around in a funnel like water swirling around a toilet.

Outdoor movies and concerts are shown on the 12-by-22 foot screen that overlooks the Beach Pool (we caught a Pavarotti performance one afternoon), and there's always some sort of contest or ice-carving demonstration going on. Our advice: Try to land one of the wonderful orange-padded loungers on the mezzanine one deck up. You still get to take in the scene, but it's far less peopled, it's shady because there's a deck above you, and the chairs are much more comfortable.

To really get away from it all (and you won't be the only one trying to do this), head to the adults-only Serenity area, with its own bar and seating, including shaded double loungers and hammocks. The two whirlpools here are predictably busy. Entry to Serenity is free, but the atmosphere is not always perfectly serene: It sits right next to the Power Drencher, which sounds the alarm via a ringing bell every time it's about to make a big splash.

Directly one deck below Serenity is the 22,700-square-foot Cloud 9 Spa, which, alas, was a disappointment. We liked its well-equipped fitness center (open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), which runs classes such as boot camp, spinning, abs attack and yoga. But the ambience and relative lack of privacy of the spa's thermal suite was off-putting. It's lovely, with colorful glass mosaics and stunning ocean vistas, but the suite -- accessed for either a daily ($40) or weekly ($149) fee -- leaves a lot to be desired. The thalassotherapy pool sits under a skylight through which passersby clutching fruity drinks can peer through … and did. Likewise, a large room with heated tiled loungers sits next to the spa's reception desk, and we could hear people chattering.

Cloud 9 offers dozens of pricey treatments, including acupuncture, body sculpting, hot-stone massages and facials. A 50-minute Swedish massage costs $119, the same price at which facials start. Look for deals on port days, though. There's also a salon providing traditional and exotic manicures (from $29), shaves ($45) and waxing, plus hair styling and coloring.

Tipping in the spa is discretionary.
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