The tone is set by the seven-deck-high Centrum (the Norwegian name for atrium), which serves as a central connection spot for activities in the ship's heart. During the evenings, the Centrum's Lobby Bar was definitely the hottest spot on the ship for after-dinner dancing, with the most atmosphere and fabulous cha-cha and mambo (as well as other dance tunes) performed by a three-piece band. The music drifted beautifully all along the common areas, including The Champagne Bar on Deck 6, with its wall of windows, and Latte-tudes, the Internet cafe on Deck 5.
A series of entertainment lounges emanates from the nautically themed Schooner Bar, which straddles Portofino and Chops Grille on Deck 6 and serves as a good drinking place before and after dinner. The nautical theming there is pretty authentic; there's even a faint smell of gunpowder -- or hickory chips and tar or something "shippy" in any case -- pumped into the entrance. I wasn't enamored with the entertainment in there, which is a shame since it's a lovely bar. On my cruise, there was a rather morose Irish lady pianist who played the same songs every night but did appear to be engaging the audience, nonetheless. The quiz evenings were a lot livelier. Drinks in all the bars are expensive; expect to pay $11 for a glass of wine, plus 15 percent for service.
Beyond the Schooner Bar is The Colony Club. This pleasant entertainment lounge, which has several different niches and a colonial theme (potted palms and plantation shutters), accommodates all the main events like the captain's welcome aboard reception, as well as, eclectic soirees like the Virgin Rock Star reception for Virgin Holidays guests from the U.K. and a Chinese New Year's party for 400 Chinese passengers who were traveling over their big holiday. Dance classes (including belly-dancing, as a nod to the region in which we were sailing) and game shows also take place in there.
During regular hours, its back-of-the-ship span of windows makes it a wonderful observation spot. Check out the nifty backgammon, checkers and chess tables over by the bar in the Jakarta Lounge, and the Bombay Billiards Club (between the Schooner Bar and the main section of the Colony Club), which has self-leveling pool tables. In the Calcutta Card Club, guests can play board games and bridge. But the Colony Club itself feels too big for some of the functions it holds. Late-night karaoke gets lost in there and was often canceled due to lack of participants willing to stand on a big stage and sing to a half-empty room. The karaoke machine is practically an antique, as well.
The lavish, two-deck Pacifica Theater hosts the big-number shows, but on my cruise, there was no really lavish production show. We had some tango dancers, an a cappella group, a "Mr. and Mrs." game, some acrobats and a magician. The female comedy vocalist was a serious misjudgement, I felt, as her appeal was 100 percent British, and a lot of the comedy went straight over the heads of the international audience.
The ship has a pleasant, 40-seat, stadium-style Scoreboard Cinema that shows films in English, German and Spanish, but this received very little custom in the Arabian Gulf in January, when guests were heavily focused on getting their winter tans established. One big disappointment for movie-lovers was the ship's in-cabin and cinema selection of flicks, none of which were inspiring. Passengers who want to relax privately with a more current movie are required to opt for the pay-per-view option.
Next door is the Scoreboard Lounge, which shows sporting events on a variety of screens. Passengers seemed to have little appetite for the venue, possibly because it's one of the few inside places where you can smoke, and it has the atmosphere of a foggy corridor.
The Casino Royale is huge, busy and buzzing, with all the usual tables and ranks of slot machines. What has changed from the old days, though, is that there were a couple of smoke-free nights to lure nonsmoking gamblers.
Other performance venues include the cozy Hollywood Odyssey, the place to go for a classical guitarist, and the Starquest Disco, which really heats up late at night with themed events, such as 70's night, Elvis Night and an 18-to-20-plus night with a disc jockey. It's also a gorgeous spot to enjoy a predinner cocktail and the sunset, despite the fact that we had it to ourselves most nights. We would have spent more time in Hollywood Odyssey but only discovered it toward the end of the week. Early in the evenings, it seemed to be closed almost every night for Diamond Plus guests, the higher-ranking past passengers of Royal Caribbean.
Our day at sea was filled with mostly traditional-style diversions -- napkin-folding, beading, dance classes, bingo, cooking demos -- but art auctions have been scrapped. The pool area usually had some kind of live three-piece band during prime-time sunning hours, and the particularly lively entertainments team really whipped up the crowd for such cheesy (but amusing) events as the "Men's Sexy Legs" contest and the Belly Flop Contest.
The various special-interest groups -- bridge players, service club members, Friends of Bill W. -- communicate with one another via a community bulletin board at the Guest Relations desk on Deck 4.
Shore excursions on my Gulf cruise were generally good, although fairly expensive. I paid $125 for an averagely enjoyable desert safari in Fujairah; $149 for a full-day 4x4 tour with picnic lunch in Oman, which was superb; $42 for a very thorough sightseeing tour of Muscat, which was good value; and $79 for a bizarre sightseeing tour of Dubai -- bizarre as it included the exterior of two hotels and a shopping mall -- but necessary as I wanted to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, which was included. (If you do this independently, you have to book a long way in advance).