By John Deiner
Cruise Critic Contributor
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Entertainment

Carnival Magic Entertainment & Activities

Like the line's other ships, Carnival Magic takes pride in having something going almost every minute, particularly in the evenings. From Dive-In Movies to production shows to raucous music trivia sessions led by the cruise director, there's something for everyone onboard.

Theater

The Showtime Theatre serves as the main arena for Playlist Production shows. Try to see at least one of these spirited 30-minute, song and dance music revues; we particularly enjoyed 88 Keys, built around the songs of piano players like Elton John and Billy Joel. Spanning three decks, the theater has comfy seats, good sight lines and relatively prompt drink service. Two production shows are held nightly. During the day, the theater hosts a morning show with the cruise director, bingo and other activities.

Daily Fun

Trivia nuts will be pleased, as sea day games begin at 9 a.m. in Ocean Plaza. We particularly enjoyed the extensive array of themed sessions such as Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss. Ocean Plaza is also the space for group games such as Yahtzee, Scattergories, Connect Four, beanbag toss and Trivial Pursuit.

Other activities you'll find on sea days include Thriller dance classes, art auctions, ice carving demonstrations and movies. At the pool, there's the famous Hairy Chest contest, drink specials and more; music plays continuously on the Lido Stage from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

If you don't want to get off the ship on port days, you'll still find trivia and other activities on non-sea days. Just don't expect the offerings to be as extensive or creative.

At Night

As befits a Fun Ship, the place keeps rocking long after nightfall. Dodge the numerous photo backdrops to stroll through Deck 5, which is where the bulk of the entertainment venues are located. Music plays in several lounges, evening sail-aways and glow parties take place on the Lido Deck and the disco goes long into the night. Expect crowds wherever you go.

The Hat Trick Casino is located in the main artery running through Deck 5, so unless you go down a deck to pass through (and avoid the smoke), you'll walk through at some point. Gamblers and smokers congregate at the sport bar in the middle. There are hundreds of slot machines, automated Texas Hold'em tables and gaming tables that cover roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. Raffles, draws and tournaments take place daily.


Carnival Magic Bars and Lounges

It wouldn't be a Fun Ship without a ton of bars, most with their own special atmosphere and crowd. Maybe it's the fact there were so many families onboard on our sailing, but we found people to generally be on the happy side of buzzed, with no obvious outbursts or overly drunken displays.

Magic Lobby (Deck 3, midship): 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. The highlight here is the music trivia evenings held by the cruise director, who gets the entire atrium singing along to Motown and 80s hits.

Hat Trick Bar (Deck 5, midship): The casino bar draws smokers and other gamblers taking a break from slots and table games.

RedFrog Pub (Deck 5, midship): Now a Carnival staple, the RedFrog Pub debuted on Magic. The L-shaped bar features wonderfully kitschy island decor, tropical drinks in fishbowls, Carnival's own Thirsty Frog Red Ale (you can buy it in group-friendly 100-ounce glass tubes and a rotating roster of musicians (mostly of the reggae or country variety) that turn an already top-notch concept into Margaritaville, generally from late afternoon to midnight. There's also a nice patio area for snacks and people-watching, as well as an outdoor area with swinging chairs.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 5, midship): Another Carnival favorite, the Alchemy Bar features mixologists in lab coats who whip up cocktail "prescriptions;" the Cucumber Sunrise is our favorite. Mixology lessons are usually held here once per cruise.

Plaza Cafe (Deck 5, midship): This coffee bar serves a la carte priced lattes, cappuccinos and espresso drinks, as well as gelato and huge slices of cake. It's most popular in the mornings, when lines form for caffeine fixes.

Ocean Plaza (Deck 5, midship): Immediately adjacent to the Plaza Cafe, as well as the Taste Bar and Alchemy Bar, Ocean Plaza switches from game/trivia central in the mornings and afternoons to music in the evenings. It's not really a destination bar, we found -- rather people look for a few seconds, then scramble elsewhere.

Vibe Nightclub (Deck 5, midship): Every mega-ship needs a disco -- and as nightclubs go, Vibe is a pretty hot time. Special Michael Jackson and country dance hours draw different age groups and when the club music starts, you can assume you won't be alone if you stumble in in the wee hours. Sadly for those of us who see dancing as an essential cardio activity, smoking is permitted.

Play It Again (Deck 5, aft): Play It Again is a well-attended 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; we found the staff here particularly outgoing and the sets go until 1 a.m.

Spotlight Lounge (Deck 5, aft): Essentially the ship's second theater, the Spotlight Lounge seats 400 and rotates between Punchliner 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. The adult sets begin at 9:30 and are so well-attended, the ship makes tickets available an hour before the show at the Vibe nightclub. Get there early, as lines form. During the day, Spotlight is a large quiet space to read or catch up on e-mail.

RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 10, midship): Anchoring one side of the Lido Deck pool, the RedFrog Rum Bar (and its cousin, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar below) is pretty self-explanatory. Daiquiris, rum runners and other tropical drinks are served all day.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 10, midship): Opposite of the RedFrog Rum Bar at the Lido pool, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar serves margaritas and other Mexican-inspired drinks.

Tides Bar (Deck 10, aft): Although it's located at the aft pool instead of the Lido, the Tides Bar is still a busy place; this area of the ship is usually full by midmorning. We found it the best spot right around Happy Hour, as the families trundle off for early dining.

SportSquare Bar (Deck 12, midship): Located in the middle of the SportSquare complex, this bar serves alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks to the busy people playing mini-golf, doing the ropes course and more.

Serenity Bar (Deck 15, forward): If you're lucky enough to snag a clamshell or lounge in Carnival Magic's adult-only enclave, this is your bar. We appreciated the flavored waters that changed daily, as well as the creative drinks that the pleasant bar staff offered (pina colada in a coconut, anyone?) A caveat: Because it's at the front of the ship, the Serenity deck can be extremely windy, so keep a tight grasp on your drink to keep it from spilling.


Carnival Magic Outside Recreation

Pools

We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of hot tubs on Carnival Magic. All in all, the ship has 10 – and that's not counting the thalassotherapy pool in the thermal suite. It almost, but not quite, makes up for the two teeny tiny pools.

The ship's "main" Lido Deck pool is called the Beach Pool -- and it's small for a ship this size. The most popular seats here are the benches placed under thatched palapas, where you can dip your feet in the water while remaining in the shade (though you'll probably be sitting butt cheek to butt cheek during prime sun hours). Outdoor movies and concerts are shown on the 12-by-22-foot screen that overlooks this pool, and there's usually a DJ or musical performance going on.

Pro tip: If you want to watch the action without feeling cramped, 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.

The Tides Pool at the aft has similar constraints. While aft pools on other ships are traditionally commandeered by adults, on Carnival Magic, we found this area dominated by families and splashing children. Again, the pool is minuscule for a ship this size.

Recreation

When Carnival Magic debuted in 2011, it introduced SportSquare to the line. Located in the ship's aft, the area 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 1 mile); and the first-at-sea 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 young and young at heart will love WaterWorks, the ship's water park. We have to give special props 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.

Sun Decks

A rule of thumb on cruise ships is the higher up you go away from the main pool, the more loungers you'll be able to find. That's true on Magic, where you'll need to arrive early to score a primo lido spot. Posted signs warn chair hogs that towels will be removed after 40 minutes, but we didn't see this enforced.

We sought refuge at times at the adults-only Serenity area, which has its own bar and seating, including shaded clamshell loungers and hammocks. The two whirlpools here are nice places to sit for a while and chat; we found them relatively social. Entry to Serenity is free, but the atmosphere is not always perfectly serene: Because it's forward, the area gets an extraordinary amount of wind. We almost lost our flip-flops several times, and saw numerous possessions blowing around. Bring something heavy to keep your things anchored.

But our main kudos go to the mostly undiscovered outdoor space on Deck 5, which has four hot tubs and a wealth of sun loungers. These Lanai tubs are not only larger than the hot tubs at the Beach Pool and Tides Pool, they are the quietest; we found ourselves the only occupant more than once. The Lanai area also has rows of sun loungers that were chair hog free and had easy access to lunch options like Guy's Pig & Anchor BBQ, the RedFrog Pub and the salad bar. Winner winner, chicken dinner!


Carnival Magic Services

Guest Services and the Shore Excursion deck are located on Deck 3, inside an atrium that marks longtime Carnival ship interior designer Joe Farcus' last commission for the line. So there's a heaping dose of neon, mirrored surfaces and other elements that are a cross between glam and wackadoodle (we didn't know whether to admire or fear the eyeball-ish orbs all around). Elsewhere in the ship, though, the decor is relatively tame and tropical; we particularly liked the quirky prints in the stairwells.

We were surprised by the quality of books, including literary best-sellers, and games found in the ship's library on Deck 4. It's located right outside the Northern Lights dining room and is a cozy and quiet place to get away.

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 allows you to use your Sail & Sign card to find your smiling face at the Photo Finder kiosk. It makes things easy, though if you like viewing hundreds of other people's photos to find your own, you may be disappointed.

Decks 4 and 5 have clusters of stores around the atrium, selling jewelry, booze, clothes and trinkets. Awash in red and white, Cherry on Top is a cheery boutique that 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.

For those who need or want to stay connected -- i.e., everyone these days -- Carnival Magic offers several ways to do so. Internet FunHubs, located in several areas around the ship, have desktop computers for use. Far more people buy Wi-Fi packages. A social plan, where you can access Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites, costs $40 for the cruise. A Value package, which allows you to access more apps and sites but not Skype or streaming services like Spotify costs $16 for 24 hours and $96 per cruise, while the Premium package is $25 for 24 hours and $140 for the cruise. We'll leave you with the caveat that even the Premium plan encounters slow speeds and download times. All packages only include one device online at a time.

Before you board, be sure to download the Carnival Hub app. The free app lists schedules, opening times, maps and more. There's also a chat feature for $5 that allows you to communicate with friends and family onboard, although we heard from many that messages came through on sometimes ludicrous time delays.

Coin-operated launderettes and ironing rooms are available throughout the ship. If you want to delegate that task, the ship has extra-fee valet wash and fold services.

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.

Carnival Magic Spa & Fitness

Spa

The sprawling Cloud 9 Spa is 22,700 square feet and takes up several decks in the ship's fore. Come here for a variety of treatments, including acupuncture, body sculpting, hot-stone massages and facials. A 50-minute stone massage costs $149, and facials begin at about the same price. We found good deals on port days, though, and the service itself was very good. The spa is run by Steiner and uses Elemis products; if you don't want a sales pitch afterward, just say so.

Cloud 9 includes a salon with traditional and exotic manicures (a basic shellac gel polish is $45), shaves ($45) and waxing, plus hair styling and coloring. For fun, try some fake lashes for $99; the spa says they'll last two months. Spa treatments for couples are also available and if you're feeling particularly flush, go for the "villa" treatments, which have special suites with whirlpool baths for two.

The Cloud 9 spa also has a thermal suite, with access by day ($40) or week ($159). It's a gorgeous space, with colorful glass mosaics and stunning ocean vistas. One of the main attractions is the thalassotherapy pool, which sits under a skylight. Other features include a large room with heated tiled loungers and several saunas and steam rooms.

Fitness

Also in the Cloud 9 complex is the ship's well-equipped fitness center (open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.), which runs for-fee classes such as boot camp, spinning, abs attack and yoga (most classes cost $12 each). A nice assortment of cardio machines and weights are available. Personal training and nutritional counseling are also available for a fee.

Carnival Magic also has outdoor cardio stations at SportSquare, although we never saw anyone using them; basketball courts that did seem to get some use; and the SkyTrack running course (seven laps equal 1 mile).

Carnival Magic For Kids

As if water slides, family-friendly comedians, a splash pool and an ongoing partnership with Dr. Seuss weren't enough, Magic devotes more than 19,000 square feet of space to children and teenagers, plus a lengthy list of activities. The minimum age for sailing on Carnival is 6 months.

For parents who love reading to their kids, the Seuss at Sea initiative is a must. At least once a sailing, there's a Seuss-a-palooza Parade, where kids are given Seuss-bedecked banners and noisemakers and are led through the ship by the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two, shouting "Seuss is on the loose!" There's also a Dr. Seuss Story Time in the main theater and, for those who want to pay extra, a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast with the characters ($5 for each adult and kid).

For both big and little kids, the Warehouse, a relatively stark space next to Club O2, features more than a dozen arcade games and air hockey. And watch out: Every game you play is going to show up on your Sail & Sign account.

Kids

Camp Ocean, located on Deck 11 and geared toward those ages 2 to 11, is sliced into three sections: Penguins (2 to 5), Stingrays (6 to 8) and Sharks (9 to 11). Parents can check their kids into Camp Ocean starting at 10 a.m. on sea days and 7:45 a.m. while in port; after a short break of a few hours in the afternoon, activities resume at 7 p.m. and go until 10 p.m. Counselors will take kids to a special dinner on the Lido Deck at 6 p.m.

Activities for Penguins range from movies and crafts to song times and pajama parties. Stingrays and Sharks are more active, with dodgeball games and Jenga challenges, scavenger hunts and paper airplane contests.

Kids do not have to be potty trained to participate in Camp Ocean. Children younger than 2 years can go to Camp Ocean during certain hours, but there is a babysitting fee.

Babysitting is also available from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. through the "Night Owls" program for kids ages 6 months to 11 years old. The cost is $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity.

Teens

Two inviting and well-designed teen clubs for ages 12 to 14 and ages 15 to 17 are located side by side on Deck 4; both are generally open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on days in port and from noon during sea days. Both have dedicated directors.

Circle C, for the tweens, has a dance floor, video jukebox and internet stations, and activities include dance parties, game shows and Wii competitions. Red banana-shaped chairs are clustered around glass tables and banquettes, and there's a "bar" for underage refreshments.

Club O2 for the older set is a bit larger and airier, with a full array of gaming consoles, a dance floor, music-listening stations and soda bar, plus activities such as karaoke, dance classes and midnight mini-golf forays. One particularly cool area features banquettes with TV monitors suspended from the ceiling, the better to chat and gawk at videos at the same time.

Additional Carnival Magic Information

Carnival Magic Details
  • Crew: 1,386
  • Launched: 2011
  • Decks: 14
  • Passengers: 3,690
  • Registry: Panama
  • CDC Score: 97

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