Pacific Aria Entertainment & Activities
The Marquee is a two-deck, 580-seat theatre with full audio-visual staging, where the main entertainment is held twice a night. The production shows are high-quality crowd-pleasing originals created by an Australian company. The singers and dancers on Aria were some of the best we've seen on any ship. On other nights, there are music shows, or comedians, magicians and game shows. On some mornings, the theatre is used for lectures and future cruise talks and, in the afternoon, it's time for Snowball Jackpot Bingo. Bar service is provided in The Marquee.
At least two activities are happening at any given time onboard. On top of the usual bingo and trivia that you find on cruises, P&O also offers mindful colouring and craft workshops themed for the next party, such as The Great Gatsby-style headband-making. Other choices include family dodgeball, touch football, movies in the cinema, water aerobics, armchair aerobics, line dance classes, board games, word games and live music on the top deck. Sports include table tennis, three-on-three basketball, half-court tennis, quoits, boules, golf putting and pool games. Check the What's On program in your cabin for details.
Aside from drinking in the bars and seeing a show in the theatre, Pacific Aria has theme parties such as Bianco, where everyone wears white, and Gatsby night for some 1920s glamour. Live music takes over most of the lounges, from jazz and funk to piano melodies. Karaoke kicks off late, and the adults-only comedy club is very popular (but not for the easily offended).
The casino is a buzzing, glitzy, non-smoking space with plenty of pokies that accept punts ranging from 1 cent to $1. Keeping your cruise card inserted in the machine will earn you benefits with the Southern Cross Players Club. Table games include blackjack, roulette, pontoon, three-card poker and Texas Hold'em Poker. Complimentary lessons are offered, along with raffles, theme nights and tournaments. The casino opening hours are subject to international gaming regulations, so it is closed when the ship is in port and only open when sailing in international waters (a few kilometres off the Australian coast).
Pacific Aria Bars and Lounges
A wide range of bars -- from chilled-out to packed-out -- offer an impressive variety of overall vibes, drinking styles and music genres. Jazz, blues, funk, rock and R'n'B are performed live in many of these hot spots, with a music and mood to suit every passenger. Singers and musicians don't stick to one venue -- they move around every evening so you can go to the same bar and hear something different every night.
Blue Room (Deck 8): The most popular, buzzing venue is the Blue Room. Big, blue, velvety couches face the stage, where different bands play throughout the night. It's loud and lively, so not conducive for conversation but definitely the best choice for a nightcap. Music-themed artworks hang on the walls and the creative trumpet lighting is a must-see. Get here early if you want a seat.
Mix Bar (Deck 8): This busy bar sprawls across a large space, opposite the shops and casino, so lots of people are walking past at all times. The atmosphere depends on which band is playing, or if the piano player is on duty entertaining the crowd sitting around the grand piano. Cocktails and spirits are a specialty.
Ocean Bar (Deck 8): Ocean Bar is designed to be the ship's living room, with fresh mint and cream decor and a homely atmosphere. It's a lovely place to chat or read with a coffee during the day. Trivia, word games and armchair aerobics are also held here. Live music starts in the early evening, when you can partake of the good selection of beers on tap, wine and cocktails.
Cellar Door (Deck 8): This cellar door at sea stocked by Hunter Valley's Glandore Estate Wines is where passengers are given a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet designed to guide them through two tasting menus online. If you fancy one of the drops, you can have a bottle sent to an onboard restaurant to enjoy over lunch or dinner.
Salt Grill Bar (Deck 8): One of the quietest bars, this is convenient for a pre-dinner drink when dining at its namesake restaurant next door, Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. Cocktails, using fresh ingredients, are a specialty. The downside is it lacks atmosphere but it's ideal if you're more interested in conversation than live music.
The Bar (Deck 8): Nicknamed the Monkey Bar, due to its monkey motifs behind the counter, this tiny bar is ideally positioned between Angelo's and Dragon Lady. It provides another important function as the only place to book in person for these two sought-after restaurants, as well as Chef's Table and Salt Grill. Our tip is to get to the bar as soon as you can on embarkation day and make reservations for your cruise.
Oasis Bar (Deck 10): The child-free Oasis has an outdoor poolside bar for grown-ups looking to relax while watching the sun set or gazing out over the ship's wake.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): The midship pool has a bar with a few barstools, elegant lounges, tables and chairs, quirky artwork and a lively vibe. The retractable roof and covered areas along the side enable open-air drinking regardless of the weather. The entire pool bar is non-smoking.
The Dome (Deck 12): This quiet lounge at the front of the ship has ocean views and appealing blue-and-white striped nautical decor. By day, the lounge area is used for classes and seminars; but at night, the party people take over. Live music kicks off at 8 pm and then it transforms into an 18+ dance club at 11.30 pm.
Pacific Aria Outside Recreation
Part resort, part art gallery, the midship pool on Deck 11 is one of the most luxurious we've seen on a ship. Most striking are the navy-and-white-striped sun loungers, with the dolphin sculpture at one end. There's even fancier furniture around the edges in the form of classy, cream couches, cabanas and day beds. The quirky artwork enhances the fun vibe, along with the bar. Three hot tubs are available for people aged over 16. Best of all, it's an all-weather area, thanks to a retractable roof. The whole pool area is non-smoking.
The other pool, on the gorgeous Oasis deck, is adults-only. Located at the stern, it has an awesome view of the ship's wake and a peaceful atmosphere. It takes a while for people to discover this aft hideaway, so make the most of it early in your cruise before word gets out. You can relax, unbothered by children or loud music, on the 80 sun loungers, four day beds, two cabanas and hanging pod chairs.
Sports can be found on the top deck, which has tennis and basketball courts and the P&O Edge Adventure Park. P&O Edge comprises 14 'blood-pumping' activities such as 'walk the plank', ropes courses, flying fox, laser tag, funnel climbing and abseiling. Golf putting, quoits and ping-pong can also be played portside on Deck 6. Staff organise some family sports such as dodgeball, touch football, boules and pool games, so keep an eye on the daily program. The ship does not have a jogging track, but there's an "outdoor walkaround" on Deck 6 if you fancy some exercise in the fresh air.
The two spaces to sunbathe are the all-weather midship pool on Deck 10 and the adults-only Oasis on Deck 11.
Pacific Aria Services
The ship has a guest services desk, shore excursions desk, photo, video and LIFE studio for professional portraits, meeting rooms and a medical centre.
Cleverly planned, the shopping area is adjacent to the Mix Bar and casino, in case you feel like shopping or gambling after a few bevvies. While one partner shops, the other can drink. Tax-free and duty-free prices are offered on jewellery, watches, fragrance and cosmetics. The line's Pandora store cuts 10 percent off the recommended retail price of bracelets, charms and other jewellery. Duty-free alcohol and cigarettes are also sold onboard. Other stores include Chocobloc chocolate and lolly shop, and Essentials for toiletries, cruise-friendly clothing, sunglasses and souvenirs.
Decks 5 and 9 have self-service launderettes with coin-operated washing machines and dryers, which cost $3 to use (including detergent). For an extra charge, a laundry service is provided; just leave your dirty clothes in the laundry bag in your cabin before noon and it will be returned clean and pressed within two days. An express ironing service will have your shirts back in 30 minutes.
Wi-Fi is available in cabins and throughout the ship for an extra charge using one of five packages available for purchase onboard the ship for using your phone, tablet or laptop. Platinum Unlimited costs $39 per cruise or pay $29 for First 24hr Platinum Unlimited; Gold Unlimited $29 per day; Silver Social Unlimited $24 per cruise; Bronze Social Unlimited $19 per day. For cruises longer than four days: Platinum Unlimited $99 per cruise or pay $89 for First 24hr Platinum Unlimited; Gold 500MB $69 per cruise; Silver 250MB $39 per cruise; Bronze 100MB $25 per cruise; Social Media Unlimited $12 per day. Six computers are set up for passengers on the lowest level of the atrium but most people use their own mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
All cabins have a satellite phone, which costs $7 per minute; however, it is free to call another cabin or any of the passenger services onboard. Your phone will work when at sea, but your provider will charge all calls, texts and data at global roaming rates, so it is advisable to switch off your mobile data or put your phone in aeroplane mode.