Featuring a show lounge format, the Neptune Lounge -- the ship's main theatre on Deck 5 -- is set sideways on to the ship, so the dance floor is wide but short in length and surrounded on three sides by seating. Curved tiers of seats in wide arcs mean that sight lines are better than in some show lounges. During the 2017 refit, additional seating was added, with plans to add even more during an upcoming refurbishment.
The Braemar Show Company and orchestra are talented. The variety and quality of costumes and quick changes are quite incredible, especially in "Non-Stop Europa_"_, described as a whirlwind tour of Europe's song and dance.
Vocalists, a comedian and an electric violinist alternated with the production shows, and the traditional crew show was excellent, made special by the gorgeous national costumes worn by the crew and other nationalities performing their national dances.
Ballroom dancing (with dance hosts available) takes place before and after the evening shows. The Neptune Lounge is also used for a range of other activities, including classical piano concerts and occasional feature films during the day.
Quizzes, bingo, darts, chess, live music, table tennis, dance classes, singing classes with a voice coach and craft classes are all on offer.
Music is in all the main venues, plus dancing, karaoke and disco. There is no casino, but two gaming tables (blackjack and roulette) -- seemingly an afterthought -- are open in the evenings in the corridor near The Bookmark Cafe.
The lounges vary in size but all are well appointed and welcoming -- friendly but never boisterous.
Cocktails and wines of the day are recommended in the daily programme and are served in all venues. Beer is also available. Prices are reasonable, but cruisers can choose to upgrade to an all-inclusive package for a per-day fee. Passengers purchasing the add-on can choose from fizzy drinks, house wines, selected beers, house spirits, juices, coffee and tea, excluding premium brands and speciality coffee beverages from The Bookmark Cafe.
Morning Light Pub (Deck 5, forward): This venue boasts the largest onboard bar, stretching the width of the ship. It also serves as a venue for games and quizzes throughout the day, plus nightly bingo. Live music and song are also provided. As its name suggests, the Morning Light has the ambience of a British pub, with a laid-back atmosphere, comfortable armchairs and plenty of relaxed entertainment.
Coral Club (Deck 5, aft): The Coral Club, which recently received a facelift, is a show lounge and bar featuring more song and dance shows by the Braemar Show Company in a more intimate setting than the Neptune Lounge. Sofas, armchairs and tables are set around a small dance floor, with music throughout the evening from the In Tune band onstage. There's a well-attended karaoke (with prizes on certain nights) and a late-night disco, as well.
Observatory (Deck 8, forward): This elegant, sophisticated bar offers panoramic views of the sea, and a cocktail pianist plays throughout the evening. With armchairs set around small tables, this is a great venue for stunning views during sail-away, pre-dinner drinks or late-night tipples with super music in newly refreshed surroundings, courtesy of the 2017 refit.
Marquee Bar (Deck 8 midship): Out on deck but under a canopy, this is a very popular venue on sunny days, with lots of comfortable chairs and sofas where sun-lovers can enjoy a drink near the pool, weather permitting.
Ample sun loungers surround two swimming pools, appropriate to the size of the ship, plus two hot tubs and a paddling pool.
Passengers will find traditional deck sports, such as shuffleboard, deck quoits and golf putting.
The forward section of Deck 8 is given over to a large sunbathing area with standard quality sun loungers. On our cruise (December in the Canaries), the weather was hot but there were plenty of empty loungers. Further along the deck are luxurious sofas and armchairs surrounding the Marquee Bar. Stairs lead from the sun deck to an upper deck with more sunbathing spaces.
The reception desk (Deck 5) is open all hours for information and advice; it's also where you can make reservations for high tea and The Grill speciality restaurant and purchase tickets for the shuttle bus offered by the line in each port (a lovely touch). Nearby is the shore excursions desk and shops selling a variety of souvenirs, personal items and clothing. A spacious arts, crafts and card room is on Deck 3, and on Deck 5 is a well-stocked library where cruisers will also find a selection of board games and a communal jigsaw puzzle. There is a for-fee cabin laundry service, as well as a self-service launderette (Deck 2), with washing machines operated by a £2 token available from Guest Services. Tumble driers and ironing are free. A four-page Daily Mail printout of national news is distributed from the reception desk. The ship's medical centre is located on Deck 2.
The Atlantis Spa on Deck 3 is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., housing two treatment rooms and a wide range of offerings, including an express pedicure (£25), a collagen facial (£65) and a special Indian head massage, which includes a wash and blow-dry or set (£55). We tried an express manicure and pedicure, and we were extremely impressed with the service we received.
Facilities also include separate male and female saunas.
The fitness centre on Deck 7 aft is considerably spacious for a ship of Braemar's size. It has a staff of qualified instructors and a good selection of gym equipment -- stationary bikes, rowers, treadmills, ellipticals and steppers -- plus sea views that can be enjoyed while using the machines. Other equipment includes hula hoops, balance balls, step boxes, foam rollers, yoga mats, ab wheels and free weights up to 30 kilograms. A water fountain, towels, changing rooms and separate male and female saunas are also available. A wide range of classes includes Stretch and Relax, yoga or Pilates, all at £5 per class. Daily walks around the deck (four times around equals 1 mile) are organised by the staff.
All ages are welcomed onboard the Braemar, and the two families on our cruise integrated perfectly, but there is no regular children's programme. On peak holiday cruises, there is a variety of family-orientated children's activities. These include arts and crafts, discos, treasure hunts and similar events, advertised in the daily programmes onboard. Separate family pool times are also advertised. The activities are run by the team of hosts and hostesses, but they're not supervised, so a parent or guardian must be present at all times. The activities are designed to promote family fun, and while the target age is 5 to 11 years, all family members are welcome.
* May require additional fees