By Louise Goldsbury
Cruise Critic Australia Managing Editor
3.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Entertainment

Pacific Aria Entertainment & Activities

Theater

The Marquee is a two-deck, 580-seat theatre with full audio-visual staging, where the main entertainment is held twice a night. The red seating, squiggly carpet and brass handrails haven't changed since the ship's Ryndam days, but the shows are new, created by an Australian production company. The two headliners are Sideshow Alley, an all-ages musical about the wacky characters behind the scenes of a circus, and Twice Upon A Time, an original lyrical dance piece set in a post-apocalyptic world. Showtimes are 6.30 pm and 8.45 pm, and bar service is provided but it's slow.

On other nights, there are three music shows, Off the Charts, The Velvet Rope and Life As We Know It, 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.

Daily Fun

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 has come up with some crackers. Choose from mindful colouring classes, family dodgeball, touch football, cult movies in the cinema, water aerobics, armchair aerobics, line dance classes, board games, word games and live music on the top deck. Craft workshops are often themed for the next party, such as Gatsby-style headband-making. 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.

At Night

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 to 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 also buzzing, with an acoustic guitarist playing for added ambience. The Deck 8 venue is a glitzy, non-smoking space with plenty of pokies, 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 offers a great variety of vibes, drinking styles and music genres, from chilled out to packed out. Jazz, blues, funk, rock and R'n'B are performed live in many of these hot spots, but an interesting difference to other cruise ships is that the singers and musicians don't stick to one band or venue -- they move around every night to form different groups, from acoustic duos to an eight-piece band. So you can go to the same bar and hear something different from last night, never knowing what to expect next.

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.

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. There's not much atmosphere here. Cocktails and spirits are the name of the game, so Mix is not the place to throw down a few quick beers. Service was sluggish on the night we settled in for a martini, with only one bartender for a large number of customers. Waitresses take your order and bring the drinks to your table, but be prepared to wait.

Ocean Bar (Deck 8): A new concept for P&O, Ocean Bar is designed to be the ship's living room. The back wall of green cabinets looks like a kitchen, adding to the 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 at 8 pm, when you can partake of the good selection of beers on tap, wine and cocktails.

Cellar Door (Deck 8): Another experiment is Australia's first cellar door at sea, stocked by Hunter Valley's Glandore Estate Wines and staffed by a winemaker. The counter is quiet most of the time but it picks up later. Passengers are guided through two tasting menus online using a tablet, and 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 and seems a somewhat wasted space.

Monkey Bar (Deck 8): Officially called The Bar, it's been quickly nicknamed after its monkey motifs and is ideally positioned between Angelo's and Dragon Lady. But 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 early as 7.30 am on the day you want to dine as reservations are usually snapped up by 8 am.  For the exclusive Chef's Table, which can be booked days in advance, make it your first stop as soon as you board.

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 in all weather. A difference from other P&O ships is the entire pool bar is non-smoking.

The Dome (Deck 12): At the front of the ship, this quiet lounge has ocean views but, strangely, did not get revamped in the refurbishment. This could be because The Dome is a longtime P&O passenger favourite from the line's other ships, so it was decided to keep it in its original condition. 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 at 11.30 pm, it transforms into a dance club with DJ Moo. Things get messy, so brace yourself.

Pacific Aria Outside Recreation

Pools

Without exaggerating, the midship pool on Deck 11 is one of the most luxurious we've ever seen on a ship. Part resort, part art gallery, it's a sight to behold. Most striking are the navy and white striped sun lounges, the dolphin sculpture at one end and a giant, black picture frame at the other. Around the edges are even fancier furniture: classy, cream couches, cabanas and day beds, plus living room-style lamps. 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 useable in all weather, 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 lounges, four day beds, two cabanas and hanging pod chairs.

Recreation

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.

Sun Decks

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 new 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 lollies 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, using your phone, tablet or laptop, for an extra charge. Five different plans can be purchased onboard. The cheapest are Bronze ($19 for 100 MB), which is enough for emails without attachments or 25 Facebook updates with one photo from a phone, and the $20 Platinum Daily Plan for 24 hours of unlimited use. The other plans are Silver ($39 for 250 MB), Gold ($69 for 500 MB) and Platinum ($99 for the whole cruise). 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 airplane mode.

Pacific Aria Spa & Fitness

Spa

The first Elemis spa on a P&O cruise ship, Elemis at Sea (Deck 11) offers a range of facials using the brand's high-end products, as well as many types of massages, body wraps, pedicures, manicures, acrylic nails, waxing, lash enhancements, brow tinting and shaping, and treatments that claim to offer detoxifying and slimming effects. (Charges apply; discounts are offered if you purchase more than one treatment.) There is also a full range of hairdressing services, men's grooming, acupuncture, teeth whitening, dermal fillers and wrinkle injections.

A thermal suite is set up for quiet relaxation with five heated benches, warm air, aromatic steams, saunas, and powerful monsoon showers. As only five people can sit on the coveted sea-facing lounges, you may not get to use the room immediately before or after your treatment. A limited number of thermal suite passes are also sold to use the facilities without booking a treatment. For a full cruise pass, the cost is $299 per couple or $179 per person on 7- to 8-night cruises, or $149 per couple or $99 per person on shorter cruises. A day pass is $29 per person, regardless of the cruise duration.

Fitness

In prime position at the front of the ship, the gym on Deck 11 has several treadmills, exercise bikes and strengthening equipment that passengers aged 16 and over can use free of charge. There are daily complimentary fitness classes, such as stretching and abs workouts, as well as fee-based Pilates ($13), yoga ($13), indoor cycling (three sessions for $30), personal training ($97 per hour) and a body sculpt boot camp (three 30-minute sessions for $112). The room, which is spacious enough to exercise comfortably, has floor to ceiling windows so you can be rewarded for exercising with an ocean view.

Pacific Aria For Kids

Never mind the flashy new look, Pacific Aria is still aimed at families -- including the parents -- so children can be happily taken off your hands all day. Kids and teen clubs, divided into age groups, are free of charge and staffed by qualified youth and teen counsellors.

For some active bonding, family sports and pool games are organised by the crew. Selected shore excursions have reduced prices for kids aged 2 to 12. And when it's time to sleep, interconnecting cabins allow up to eight people to spread across two rooms.

Kids

All kids clubs are located on Deck 12 aft (behind the sports courts).

Turtle Cove, ages 2 to 6: The little ones will be entertained with art and crafts, the TC & Skipper Island Adventure show, games, parties, movies and Sleepyheads Storytime. Infants under the age of two are also welcome in Turtle Cove if supervised by a parent or guardian.

Shark Shack, ages 7 to 10: Older kids can enjoy talent shows, dance classes, movies, arts and crafts, PlayStation 3, and outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts.

Opening hours depend on the day. On a sea day, Turtle Cove and Shark Shack open between 9 am and noon and again from 2 pm to 10.30 pm. The kids clubs close for lunch.

After-hours babysitting is available from 10.30 pm to 1 am for children ages 3 to 10 only. The charge is $5 per hour per child, with reduced rates for additional siblings.

HQ opens from 9 am to noon and HQ+ from 10 am to noon; both are then open from 2 to 6 pm and 7 pm to 1 am.

The minimum age to attend the daytime kids clubs is 2 years and they must be toilet trained. Youth centre staff cannot change nappies, bottle-feed, administer medication or provide meals. Baby food and infant formula are not available on the ship, but you can bring your own supply.

Teens

This awkward age group is split in two, with separate areas for each. HQ is for ages 11-14 and HQ+ is for ages 15-17. These supervised clubs are where teenagers hang out on comfy couches, with a jukebox and dancefloor. Activities include Teen Jam music sessions, dress-up parties, mocktail parties, karaoke, video games and movies. The Broadshorts program is a great initiative that teaches them to make a short film using Stop Motion Pro technology. Outdoor activities are also organised by the youth staff.

P&O Australia Pacific Aria Ship Stats

  • Crew: 597
  • Launched: 1994
  • Decks: 10
  • Passengers: 1,503
  • Registry: United Kindgom

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