In short -- we had a great time.
The longer story -
This was our sixth cruise but our first with P&O and we were a little bit sceptical due to some of the reviews and feedback received so we decided to go with an open mind and not to expect too much. We were very pleasantly surprised.
This was also to be our first cruise from our home port so there were no flights and accommodation involved. We simply had a very relaxed morning, packed our cases and drove to the Gateway Parking near the terminal. They quickly had us at the terminal by 11.00am.
Unbeknown to us, this was a mother's day cruise and there were many mothers and daughters on board.
It was the usual busy scenario that we have encountered at other terminals, we stood in line and and we had our cruise cards in our hands about 35-40 mins later. Off to the bar at Portside Wharf and it was time to begin celebrating our holiday with a few drinks.
Back to the terminal, through customs where I claimed my obligatory refund from the TRS counter and we stepped on board and proceeded to our outside cabin on Deck 9. The first thing we noticed was the size of our cabin, compared to the other ships we had cruised on (Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Rhapsody of the Seas). Very impressed and we liked the separate bathroom and wardrobe area. There are heaps of drawers, lots of space. We quickly unpacked and it was off to explore.
We had a quick walk around the Atrium, visited the library and then headed to the dining room for lunch. There was nothing wrong with the food here, though the service was a bit slow.
After lunch we headed to the top deck for the Sail away party. Singing, dancing it was all happening, however, we like many others were content to watch from the walking track and also watch the river as we passed. Before we knew it, we were cruising past Moreton Island (with cocktails in hand) and we saw a beautiful sunset over the Glasshouse Mountains.
By this time, we were getting a bit hungry so headed to our cabin to dress for dinner. For the rest of our cruise, although the food was very nice, the service was still slow. Even our waiters (who were great) a few times offered us more bread, as they laughed our meals might come tomorrow.
We decided to eat breakfast and lunch in the buffet, the food was always well presented and we had no complaints about the quality of the food whatsoever. We did find it odd that the dessert area was between the salad and hot dishes areas but no big deal.
One of the first things we noticed was that all the prices seemed reasonable. Of course we could only compare to our previous cruises but everything was of course in Aussie currency and there is no tipping. Because of this, we didn't have to consider the conversion plus gratuities and so for the first time, we freely spent. (Perhaps a good ploy by P&O)
We felt the shows were lacking something but then again we thought the same of Princess and RCI ships. The guest artists and musicians we thought were very good. On the last night there was a jam session in the Atrium with the bands and crew, this was a highlight for us, very good!
We visited the Spa and gym but somewhat disappointed they were in the bowels of the ship on Deck 2. Once again for the first time on any cruise, we used the spa services. Prices were expensive but nowhere near as expensive as the fore mentioned ships. We purchased the couple's sauna package and used the facilities every day, it was good for some quiet time. We sometimes looked at each other and laughed in the Relaxation lounge as we heard staff scurrying around and banging things... nevertheless - We liked the spa, it was a good experience, one downside no spa, no hot tub -- only on the decks in the public areas.
We feel the photos were of good quality and also lashed out and bought most of them, although we dodged the photographers on a few occasions.
We had visited Noumea and Vila before but not Lifou, so we were looking forward to that especially as we really enjoyed Isle of Pines on our previous trip.
We normally would book a driver and explore on our own, however once again as the Shore tour prices seemed reasonable, we opened our credit card to P&O again!
In Noumea, we booked a "Sail the bays" shore tour. This was a sailing trip on a small cat with only about 20 passengers, we sailed to a spot just off L'Escapade Island where we snorkelled on the reef. After snacks and coffee, we sailed to Duck Island which we had visited on our last cruise, once again there was a beautiful sunset. The guide was an Aussie from Perth living in Noumea and he was very informative.
Next day In Lifou, we decided to do our own thing and we were tendered to shore reasonably quickly. We looked at the markets and grabbed some local treats then walked towards the town, we stopped for a look at the Catholic Church, visited the cave for a swim and then headed back to Jinek Bay and the Lady of Lourdes Church which we have seen on so many photos. We had a quick dip on the beach and headed back to ship.
Next day in Vila, we booked a trip which included a paddle in an outrigger style canoe, island visit and a snorkel off Irriki Island all within site of the ship. It was a good tour and interesting to hear how the locals have lived simply on the island.
Ok just a few little downsides for us , nothing major though and probably not worth mentioning.
There is no forward facing deck on the ship for viewing, although I did hear there is a small area on one of the decks.
We had some cabin noise early in the mornings from furniture being moved around in the Oasis which woke us up.
Why screen Sky UK news on the big screen while we are doing our laps? If any news, how about Sky Australia?
On the plus side-
Our cabin was of a good size and our steward was attentive.
Reasonable duty free prices on board -2 bottles for $25 and $35 depending on the type -- great value.
Embarkation, tendering, and disembarkation -- everything well organised.
We were disembarked at 8.15am, picked up by Gateway Parking , in our car and home by 9.00am, couldn't fault the process.
I believe P&O have hit the mark understanding what Aussies want in a cruise. The Australian touch -- meat pies, sausage sizzle and hamburgers and chips readily available at the grill.
At the Captain's cocktail party, he said a ship is only as good as its crew and they were great. We gladly handed in our tip form to reception.
There was something for everyone on this trip, if you didn't enjoy it, I honestly would have to say cruising is not for you.
We booked a future cruise deposit on board and since our return, we have already used this and booked a cruise next year to New Guinea.
Well done P&O, thank you. Your crew were very good!