Embarkation was a nightmare. Ship was late arriving into Sydney due to rough weather, which was not a problem but the process of loading people on was just so slow. Information received was that the ship would be departing at 18:30 even though you could still board up until that time!? This was never going to happen since the safety exercise has to be undertaken before the ship can sail. Departure was 19:40.
Naturally, most people would want to be up on the top decks for the sail away, especially sailing out of Sydney Harbour. How disappointing to find that the only casual dining option, the Plantation Restaurant, closed at 21:30. Once that closed, you had to pay to eat out on the pool deck!
Our suitcase had not arrived in cabin well after departure, Cabin steward suggested the luggage tag may have fallen off or the like. We were asked to follow him to try and locate it. We were taken to an area on deck 5 where many suitcases had been put aside as alcohol had been found in them. Our suitcase was marked with a bit of masking tape to that effect. We had one bottle of wine as one bottle per passenger has been allowed with Princess in the past. After discussions with the Bar Manager in regard to this not being mentioned in the P&O Terms and Conditions, it was found that " Any alcohol purchased ashore will be collected at the gangway for safe keeping and will be returned to you on the last day of your cruise". This obviously can only apply to alcohol purchased at visiting ports during a cruise as who would bring a bottle of wine from home to hand over to pick back up on the last day!? He did relent by saying we could keep the bottle with us for a $15 corkage fee. No thank you. So, they take it on the Thursday night and give it back 36 hours later on Saturday morning with still 24 hours left of the cruise. So very petty. I also indicated that the procedure for handling this issue was very poor as a passenger actually has to go looking for their luggage instead of the cabin steward being notified to then notify us. This Manager really did not seem interested. This is done obviously, to maximise bar profits.
Overall, the attitude of staff was very average at best. This was a huge difference to a previous cruise on the Pacific Jewel in 2010 which was under the command of the Commodore of the fleet. He had a special way of caring for his crew and they responded. We hardly heard anything from this Captain, we wondered if we even had one. Even the noon address on the first day was from the Officer on watch. Admittedly, we didn't hear the address on the 2nd day as we were having lunch in Salt Grill, which incidentally, was absolutely first class. Not a lot was heard from the Cruise Director either, other than at the nightly shows. We dined at the Waterfront on one night and at one point, with the waiters being so busy, we had go and fetch our wine bottle to refill our own glasses.
The entertainment was a highlight for us. The resident performers were excellent and put on a very good show on the 2nd night and a visiting artist was excellent on the 3rd night. There was also a Comedian who performed a late night show and he too was very good. The view from the top deck in the Marquee Lounge was however disappointing, due to the railings
The dome was a nice place to go and relax during the day. We were able to snare a couple of seats near a window and look out over the ocean at the front of the ship, in the nice warm winter's sun. This was a terrific way to spend some time as we sailed to and from Gabo Island, near the New South Wales/ Victoria border. At one point we were able to see a pod of dolphins that came for a visit along the ship.
As this was only a short cruise, we chose an inside cabin. The cabin was quite good. The bed was comfortable and there was adequate space. Unfortunately, we had to go asking to have soap in our bathroom though. We thought it was quite novel to have a curtain across the main wall to give you the feeling there was a window behind it!
As the Olympics had just begun, we were very disappointed we could not get any Australian updates. The news channels were from the BBC only. There was a daily newsletter published with Australian content but it was news from the day before! As we sailed close to the coast some of the time, it was possible to catch up on your mobile phone. The only other way would be to pay $12 for 30 minutes for Internet access on board.
As far as being a Food and Wine themed cruise, you had to have your hand in your pocket for the cheese and wine tastings and we didn't consider it necessary to pay excessive prices to further add to P&O's bottom line. Part of the marketing mentions "Dine out on a five-course degustation dinner..." We went to book in for this at the Waterfront and was just simply told "we don't have that". We later heard on the grapevine that this is only for a select few to participate in with a reasonably large price tag. How, why, when and where is still a mystery. The 4 Ingredients demonstrations were very worthwhile and entertaining.
Overall, the cruise did serve its purpose for us in just getting away for a few days. We didn't have high expectations as P&O just does not compare with Princess. We may do another short cruise with P&O if reasonably priced but our longer cruises will always be with Princess.