For the past decade, Norwegian Cruise Line has tried at the very least to be different from its much larger contemporary rivals.
The fruits of that campaign are paying off in the new Breakaway-class ships, nowhere more so than in the Norwegian Getaway's Illusionarium, a space that offers one of the most compelling shows at sea in a custom-designed setting that will be hard to duplicate.
The Illusionarium dinner/magic show combines comic elements, audience interaction and cutting-edge steampunk atmospherics with inspired props, costumes and backdrops.
All of this is wrapped together quite satisfyingly in a story arc about the grandson of a famed Victorian magician getting set to auction the family collection of magical treasures.
The grandfather comes to life and conjures the spirits of great magicians of his time to show the young lad a few things. Each act arrives with a fantastic display on the domed ceiling of the Illusionarium.
The room is set up in circular fashion, with long tables radiating like spokes from the stage. It is certainly worth the extra money to get a floor seat ($29.99) rather than a banquette ($24.99). The closer to the stage, the better the view of the planetarium-like oculus.
You'll barely remember the food, a surf-and-turf duo, as your attention is riveted to the performers. There is levitation, box tricks with a woman emerging after several swords have been inserted into the crate she's concealed in, hypnotism, sleight of hand and an astounding numbers trick.
One appeal of the Illusionarium is sitting 10 feet from the tricks and still being dumbfounded at the results. "You're almost sitting on the stage and you can't figure out what's going on," said Norwegian Sales Vice President Andy Stuart.
The final act is the grandson, Jonathan Rice, played by a wickedly funny Jeff Hobson, who conceived the show and recruited the magicians.
The Illusionarium, which takes the space occupied by Cirque Dreams on the Breakaway and Epic, seats 232. Views in the back of the room are aided by TV monitors set in the ceiling.
Kim Weinstein, who works for a consulting firm in Boynton Beach, Fla., occupied a rear banquette at the show I attended, and her only complaint was a support pole blocking her view. "Other than that it was fine," she said. "Better than I was expecting."
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.