Discovery had plenty of live music in the Discovery Lounge provided by Perfect Mood Duo, Cafe Concerto Strings trio and Discovery Orchestra (the show band), and even provided male dance hosts. This venue, next to the Explorer Bar, offered a panoramic view through two-story glass windows looking onto the spacious Riviera Deck, and an unimpeded view of the scenery over the stern of the ship.
There were also nightly shows in the main Carousel Show Lounge, which ranged from cabaret acts by the cruise director and featured vocalists, to extravaganzas performed by the company of seven young British singers and dancers -- a challenge, considering the size of the stage. While not always my "cuppa" (if George Gershwin had wanted lyrics for Rhapsody in Blue his brother would have written them) they nevertheless played to an appreciative audience, although not always a full one, and at times both the material and the performances rose to excellence.
The cruise director, social hostess and entertainers hosted the activities you'd find on a cruise ship of an earlier, classic era -- shuffleboard, deck quoits, boules, golf putting, trivia contests, bingo and dance classes, among other things.
It was the enrichment lecturers, though, that brought the crowd in (and you learned quickly that if you wanted a good seat, you had to get there 15 minutes early). There were seven Antarctic experts -- nine if you counted the ice and beach masters -- who presented standing-room-only presentations in the main lounge, with lectures like "A Beginner's Guide to Penguin Appreciation," "Introduction to Southern Seabirds," "The Antarctic Ecosystem: A Cool Web of Life," "Antarctic Landforms: The Geography and Geology of the Far South," "Disaster and Luck: The Remarkable Story of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1901 - 1903," "Masters of Submergences: How Antarctic Animals Dive So Well", "Climate Change and the Fate of Antarctica," "Antarctic Conservation Issues," "Antarctic Art: Painting, Poetry and Passion," "The Art of Navigating Through Ice" and my favorite title, "Hairy Slugs on Ice: The Seals of Antarctica." The lecturers have worked together as a team for several years, and it shows.
This team was also responsible for the excursions in Antarctica -- we had two landings and one Zodiac cruise -- and Expedition Leader Peter Carey provided excellent commentaries as we were cruising through Antarctic waters.
I'm giving the enrichment program a reluctant 5 rating -- reluctant not because of the quality of the lecturers, who deserve a 5+, but because of technical limitations that shouldn't persist in a vessel used for adventure cruising. Our expedition leader's running commentary could be heard on the outside decks and in some of the lounges, but never in your cabin, even on the TV channel devoted to the bridge camera and announcements. It was possible to pipe the commentary into the hallways on the passenger decks, but this usually wasn't done. So, if you're in your cabin and a humpback whale is breaching off the port bow, you might not find out about it until hours later at dinner.
There was another enrichment lecturer, representing the Mayo Clinic at Sea program, and tour presentations on the ports of call outside Antarctica. The shore excursions in Buenos Aires, Tierra de Fuego and Punta Arenas were excellent.
Discovery is essentially the same ship that sailed 35 years ago, with only a few notable modifications. There are spacious wooden decks, a couple of indoor lounge areas in which you can relax and socialize, a small library, shop, and a bridge club. An exhibition gallery has been added, replacing the underused casino (but there are still a few slot machines in the Hideaway Bar).
An Internet center has been added, which is operated by the cruise line instead of a concessionaire. The good news is that the prices are about the cheapest we've seen aboard a ship, from 15 cents per minute at most down to less than four cents per minute for multi-hour packages for past passengers. The flip side is that there was almost never anyone around to help with problems, and problems were many -- some no doubt the result of our weather (mostly heavy overcast) and location (a latitude far from the equator where the satellite's signal was marginal at best), but some of which I suspect were caused by the company's server problems and the ship's outdated terminals.
The Spa Atlantis is operated by Harding Brothers, an English company that also provides services for such British lines as P&O, Ocean Village, Saga, Fred. Olsen, Island Cruises and Thomson Cruises. The personnel were friendly and cheerful. Not all advertised services, such as foot reflexology, are available on all cruises. There were free "seminars," which were in essence just sales presentations for pricey treatments.
An exercise room, not part of the original ship design, overlooks the Riviera Deck and stern of the ship. The treadmills and other exercise machines are not the most modern or sophisticated, and for whatever reason the fitness room appeared to be one of the more underused spaces on the ship. There were some free exercise classes, and Pilates and yoga classes for a small fee ($8).
There are two pools, one on the Lido Deck and one on the stern of the Riviera Deck, but I never saw anyone in them. The hot tubs, on the other hand, got a workout, even in Antarctica (I suspect as much for bragging rights as anything else).
This was the easiest category to rate because the company's written policy is direct and unambiguous: "There are no recreational facilities for children aboard the MV Discovery, and reservations for those under eleven are not advised." The interesting itineraries and varied activities present an opportunity for an out-of-the-ordinary multigenerational bonding experience for adult family groups -- if the younger members have time for the longer-than-average voyages -- but this definitely did not seem to be a crowd that would appreciate the presence of O.P.K. (other people's kids) acting their ages.
We did get an opportunity to talk with 12-year-old Ryan and his father. Ryan was one of the few young passengers on the voyage, and while he assured us (none too convincingly) that the lectures were "alright," it was evident he really did enjoy the Antarctic Zodiac and shore excursions. He was particularly well behaved and unobtrusive around the adults on the voyage. ("He's an only child," his dad told us), but I had to wonder if he felt an isolation these two weeks that had nothing to do with the remoteness of the continent we were visiting.