Thanks to a two-year (2008 and 2009) link-up with the Jongleurs chain of U.K. comedy clubs, Island Cruises now features stand-up comics twice a week in The Bounty Club and a weekly comedy show in the Ocean Theatre. Other "turns" in the theatre, pub and lounges when I was onboard included decent male and female vocalists and the usual song and dancefests.
In between shows, the Jongleurs comedians host £5 a head comedy master classes, teaching passengers how to write and perform stand-up –- and the most promising students get a chance to perform on stage before the cruise is over.
Other onboard activities range from quizzes, pottery painting sessions (at £3 a head charge), carpet bowls and darts competitions to dancing and cookery classes, cheese and wine tastings, lessons in napkin folding and Bingo sessions.
The ship's main -- and attractively presented -- public areas are concentrated on Deck 7 (Palm) and Deck 8 (Fantasy), with Palm Deck the key area for dining and entertainment. At the prow end is the lower level of the two-deck-high Ocean Theatre, and behind this lie a cocktail bar and a lively pub, with honey coloured wooden walls, a fair sized stage and plenty of cosy nooks and crannies.
On this level you'll also find shops selling travel essentials, paperbacks and logoed goods, and the Island and Oasis restaurants, as well as The Steak House. One level up, Fantasy Deck holds the balcony area of the ship's theatre and is home to the children's play areas -- Palmy's Kids' Club and The Action Zone games arcade.
This deck also holds the ship's casino, the Harbour Cafe (a pretty alfresco-style area which sells speciality coffees) and more shops along the Harbour Walk which -- with cream frontages and flooring and plants in tubs –- has a pleasant, almost "seaside" feel. The shop sell everything from cheap and cheerful tops (for less than £8) to Murano glass necklaces and fine jewellery, and are affordably priced and worth a browse.
At the stern end of this deck is a really lovely, wood-panelled library and a country house-style lounge known as The Captain's Club, as well as a card room-cum-conference centre.
Deck 8 also holds The Bounty Club, a large-windowed, substantial lounge where comedians from the Jongleurs organisation -- with which Island has an arrangement -– perform stand-up comedy.
The Reception and Shore Excursion desks are to be found on Deck 5 (Coral) and there are two Cyber Hub Internet cafes on Decks 7 and 8 (packages range from £4.50 for 30 minutes, £7.50 an hour to £23.50 for 240 minutes -– much better value than pay-as-you-go, which costs 30 pence a minute).
The alfresco bar with the best all-round-views –- aptly known as The Sailaway –- is perched right at the top of the ship, opposite the spa on Deck 12 (Sun Deck).
The Island Spa is up on Sun Deck (12) and features a gym and his and hers sauna rooms. The spa offers free aerobics, legs bums and tums and abdominal blitz classes alongside £5-a-time sessions in yoga, Pilates, Dyna-band, Body Combat and Boot Camp Circuit (presumably aimed at those whose fitness obsession has strayed into masochism).
Treatments –- offered by the Onboard Spa Company, an offshoot of Harding Brothers -– are innovative. The usual facials and massages (from £33 for 30 minutes, £55 - £66 for an hour) are supplemented by more unusual options like Aromaveda massages combining aromatherapy with Ayurvedic techniques (£44 for 45 minutes), facials for men (same price) and teen spa facials (£44 for 50 minutes).
One deck below the spa, there is a substantial swimming pool with two whirlpools, and a smaller pool for the use of children. Keen walkers and joggers will be disappointed to find there is no wraparound promenade, though there is a walkway running three quarters of the way around Palm Deck (8) and it is possible to walk a mile up on Deck 12, though you may have to weave around sunbeds as you go.
The elegance so noticeable in the design of Island Star's public rooms also applies to her outside spaces; the outdoor cafe seating area -- which overlooks the stern on Deck 11 -- has potted palms and green and tan furniture, and even though this is plastic and could well do with an update, the overall effect is still quite stylish.
And the pool area of Deck 11 -– painted in cheerful blues and yellows –- achieves a jolly seaside feel, though the dark grey carpet surrounding the pool desperately needs replacing as not only is it shredding in parts, it also has a velcro-like capacity to retain every scrap of dust and debris and this makes it look very grubby indeed.
Children's facilities vary according to the time of year, with activity clubs stepped up considerably in the peak school holiday months. At peak times, three age ranges –- three to seven, eight to 11 and 12 to 17 -- are catered for, with younger children welcomed in Palmy's Kids Club on Deck 8, and an "Action Zone" video games arcade available on the same deck for older children.
At off-peak times, only three to six year olds and seven to 11-year-olds are accommodated and since Palmy's Kids Club is fairly small, activities take place not only there but in venues throughout the ship.
Activities range from mini-Olympics and drama workshops to treasure hunts, "Funky Feet" dance classes, mask making and quizzes.
The action starts at 8:30 a.m. with a Breakfast Club in the Island restaurant, and generally finishes around 9 p.m. off-peak, 10 p.m. at peak times (and at midnight for teens). All kids club activities are free, but no individual babysitting is available.