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).
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.
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.
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.
Elemis at Sea (Deck 11) is open from 8 am to 8 pm on sea days and 8 am to 10 pm in port and 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 seven- to eight-night cruises; it's $149 per couple or $99 per person on shorter cruises. A day pass is $29 per person, regardless of the cruise duration.
The gym on Deck 11 is in prime position at the front of the ship and has 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 Pure-Form Yoga ($14), indoor cycling ($14), and personal training ($107 per session; $261 for three sessions). 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 does not have waterslides like some other P&O ships but it is still aimed at families -- including the parents -- so children can have fun in the Kids' Club while parents enjoy a little R&R. 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 two to 12. And, when it's time to sleep, interconnecting cabins allow up to eight people to spread across two rooms.
All kids' clubs are located on Deck 12 aft (behind the sports courts).
Turtle Cove, ages two to six: 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 seven to 10: Older kids can enjoy talent shows, dance classes, movies, arts and crafts, PlayStation 3, and outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts. Kids aged eight and over are allowed to sign themselves in and out of the kids' club with parental permission.
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. On port days, Turtle Cove and Shark Shack are open from 9 am to 2 pm (book the night before). The kids' clubs close for lunch. A supervised kids' dinner is available at The Pantry from 4.30 pm to 5.15 pm daily.
After-hours' babysitting is available from 10.30 pm to 1 am for children ages three to 10 only. The charge is $5 per hour per child, with $2 each for additional siblings.
HQ opens from 9 am to noon and HQ+ from 10 am to noon; both are then open from 2 pm to 6 pm and 7 pm to 1 am.
The minimum age to attend the daytime kids' clubs is two 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.
This age group is split in two, with separate areas for each. HQ is for ages 11 to 14 and HQ+ is for ages 15 to 17. These supervised clubs are where teenagers hang out on comfy couches, and participate in activities such as music jam 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.