Palladium Show Lounge (Decks 7 and 8, forward)
The two-level Palladium Show Lounge on decks 7 and 8 has good sightlines and a large, retractable stage area, which means the space can be used for ballroom dancing when the stage is back (for half an hour before each show, on some nights) and for song-and-dance production shows when it's extended. A live band plays from one end of the balcony. The shows we saw were sadly not great -- very basic, traditional sequins-and-feathers productions, with four singers and eight dancers doing their best with dated numbers like It's Raining Men and Y Viva Espana. Longer cruises, though, mix it up a bit with guest comedians and crooners. Show times are 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., so if you want to see the show and you're on second sitting, you have to go to the early one instead of having a pre-dinner drink.
Informal and un-hosted card play get-togethers are listed in Trumps and Aces, the card room on deck 11. The crew will help facilitate bridge sessions if enough passengers want to arrange play. Another of the former kids' club areas has been converted into the Crafter's Studio, forward on deck 11, which is used on longer cruises for craft classes in beading, watercolours and calligraphy, overseen by an expert. There's a small charge for the materials, which varies according to the craft.
Some cruises have a guest speaker programme, with celebrity guests including presenters from Antiques Roadshow and Blue Peter. Others have a photography theme, with informal classes.
Trivia quizzes and game shows take place in Connexions, midship on deck 7, and the Dome observatory and nightclub, forward on deck 14. We went to a Name That Tune quiz in the Dome but it had no atmosphere -- and marking your own paper spoils the fun.
There's giant chess on deck 11, aft, and a table tennis table in the little-used Columbus Observation Lounge on deck 14, aft. Movies are shown on a giant screen overlooking the main pool, although by day this seemed to play promotional and music videos on a loop.
Crosswords, Sudoku and full print-outs of The Times newspaper are available to collect at reception.
Columbus isn't really a late-night ship beyond drinking and watching the shows. Most evening entertainment revolves around the bars and lounges. There's a small casino on deck 5 with slots and five tables offering roulette, poker and blackjack. Playing the slots only costs from 25p a go. There really wasn't much atmosphere in here, though.
One of the big selling points of Columbus to the budget-conscious Brit is that the drinks are very reasonably priced -- certainly in line with pub prices. Apart from the beers served on tap in the pub, the bar menu is the same throughout the ship. Thankfully, there's no obligatory service charge on top of drinks, either. Some bars, like Connexions and the Taverner's Pub, are extremely popular, while those that are more tucked away can be on the quiet side. But there's certainly something to suit every mood, with live music in the three main venues every evening.
Captain's Club and Casino (Deck 5, midship): The Captain's Club bar on deck 5 leads into the small casino. Late at night, there were a few people in here, but the bar itself, in a coffee and cream colour scheme with swirly carpets, felt rather cold. It's in a strange location, tucked away behind the atrium and sandwiched between two rows of cabins, so perhaps people don't know it's there.
Raffles (Deck 6, midship): Raffles on deck 6 is an altogether cosier space, with cream and blue décor, velvet chairs and a baby grand piano in the corner -- with live music before dinner. It has the added bonus of overlooking the lobby, so you can people-watch. The same cocktail and coffee menu is served here as elsewhere: £4 for a Planter's Punch, £3 for 4cl of gin, £3.85 for a Kir Royale, £5 for a glass of house wine and £3.30 for 40cl of lager.
Palladium Bar (Deck 7, forward): The Palladium Bar serves the theatre, with waiters circulating before and during shows, and bar stools for anybody who wants to perch at the back.
Connexions (Deck 7, midship): Connexions, probably the busiest venue, is a big space done out in cream, marble and green, with potted palms (artificial) and faux marble backlit panels giving it a vaguely tropical feel. There's live music in here -- the resident trio doing three sets every evening -- as well as trivia and late night cabaret from the singers and dancers.
The Taverner's Pub (Deck 7, midship): The Taverner's Pub next door has a more vintage feel, all dark browns, honky tonk piano and wooden bar stools. It's busy all day and a guitarist sings in the evenings. Beers on tap here include Fosters, Murphys, Shepherd Neame, Bitburger, Spitfire, John Smiths, London Pride and Old Speckled Hen, from £3.30 to £4.90 for a pint.
Oasis Bar (Deck 8, aft): I loved this smart little deck bar, overlooking the two hot tubs and sunbathing area that overlook the ship's wake. It's a great place to perch with a cocktail on a sunny afternoon. It's a real shame that it shuts at 6 p.m. as it would be the perfect spot for sundowners.
Oval Pool Bar (Deck 12, midship): There's a swim-up bar by the Oval Pool, which is fun on hot days. Waiters from here also roam the decks serving sunbathers.
Dome Observatory and Nightclub (Deck 14, forward): The light-filled Dome is a peaceful place to sit by day. I had high hopes for it as a pre-dinner drinks venue but people seem to gather in Connexions and the pub instead. It gets busy late at night and there's a big dance floor, but the DJ killed the vibe on my cruise by misjudging the musical tastes of the crowd, who clearly wanted to dance.
There are two pools on deck 12, which are surrounded by a mix of green astroturf and some good, solid teak decking. Loungers are blue and white plastic, and pool towels are provided in cabins. The original rigging is still in place from the days of Ocean Village, when circus shows were staged on deck, but it plays no role now. The main pool is overlooked by a big screen showing videos and movies all day, while the smaller Oval Pool has a sociable vibe with a swim-up bar and a sand-coloured surround where you can sit with your feet in the water.
There are a couple of spa cabanas up here for those who don't want to go down to deck 2 for their massage.
Columbus has generous sunbathing space, partly thanks to four lovely sloped decks, aft. These areas on decks 8, 9 and 10 are called the Oasis, with wicker-effect loungers with big, padded cushions. On cruises with children present, these are adult-only areas. Deck 8 is the liveliest, with two hot tubs and a smart little bar topped with grey stone. The sunbathing area aft of deck 11, Ocean Terrace, overlooks the Oasis decks but has cheaper plastic loungers and a giant chessboard. It's clear this used to be a kids' club as there's a splash pool in the middle, although this was empty. There's further sunbathing space on deck 14, looking down over the pools.
Smoking is allowed in designated areas on the outside decks only.
The former children's clubs have been converted into activity spaces. Trumps and Aces on deck 11 is a spacious card room, somewhat lacking in atmosphere (it's just chairs and card tables) but with plenty of room for players. Next door, there's a cavernous library with a selection of fiction and reference books, and big, leather sofas grouped around a fake fire (which is cosy but can seem out of place in warm weather).
The Columbus Observation Lounge, aft on deck 14, has been nicely refurbished in nautical blues and whites, with comfortable seating, a table tennis table, a quiet area and a coffee machine. The trouble is, nobody seems to know what to do with it and it's only accessible via the outside decks. But if you can find it, this is a pleasant, light-filled space for reading and chilling out.
The shore excursion desk, guest services, reception and future cruise desk are all grouped around the atrium on deck 5, while there are assorted shops on decks 6 and 7 selling the usual duty free and designer handbags. The photo gallery is also on deck 7, displaying prints in racks for guests to peruse and purchase.
Two startlingly big launderettes are located on decks 6 and 10; it's £2 for a wash and £2 for a box of washing powder.
The whole ship offers Wi-Fi, although reception varies. Prices, though, are astronomical at £29 for 250 MB (which doesn't go far on today's smartphones), £39 for 500 MB and a whopping £59 for 1 GB. There are six computers on deck 8 in a quiet internet café area, Hampton's, just behind the upper tier of the theatre.
Jade Spa (Deck 2)
The spa is independently run by Jade Spa and features a wide range of treatments from Thai massage to Indian Ayurvedic. The products used are Phytomer and Ahava. Prices are reasonable; a 45-minute aromatherapy massage costs £57, a 45-minute anti-ageing facial £52 and a mineral mud body wrap the same. A 30-minute ayurvedic head massage costs £45. Also on the menu are a make-up makeover (£24), hair styling, hand and foot treatments, and a few treatments for men -- including a caviar facial (£49) and pedicure (£25). Teeth whitening costs £87 per session. The spa staff are friendly and efficient, and there was no pushing for tips or product sales on our visit. Offers appear most days on the daily programme, including tasters like three short treatments for £44.
A couple of spa cabanas are located by the pool on deck 12.
There's a small thermal suite with the same opening hours as the spa -- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m -- which is free to enter and has a sauna, steam room, a 'deluge shower', a snow-making machine for slapping on between saunas, and two heated stone loungers.
A small fitness room on deck 2 is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with TechnoGym running machines, stationary bikes and a few weights. The equipment is modern and well-maintained, however the gym doesn't seem to get much use -- possibly due to its tucked away position. Classes are held on longer cruises, usually in The Dome observatory lounge -- simple yoga, stretch or tums and bums classes may be offered, at no cost. The classes are run by the entertainment crew, not by fitness professionals.
There is no marked jogging track, although it's possible to walk circuits of the deck that overlooks the pool.
Columbus operates in the main as an adults-only ship. When it was converted by Cruise & Maritime Voyages from Ocean Village/Pacific Pearl, the children's clubs became lounges and card rooms. There are, however, a couple of multigenerational cruises offered each year, with a few informal activities offered for children such as a bungee trampoline and football shoot-out. Children are allowed in the main swimming pool and the splash pool on deck 11, but not on the Oasis sun decks. There is, however, no highly structured children's programme (there's no babysitting, for example) and families planning to sail should really be prepared to supervise kids and to provide the bulk of their own entertainment.