Embarkation- We had received text messages and phone calls (great communication) from P & O the day before we sailed to tell us our sail time had been delayed from 4pm to 7pm because the cruise before us was delayed coming into Sydney due to rough seas. 16 of the 28 of us had hired a mini bus to take us into wharf 5 and we decided to only delay this by an hour and spend some time down at Darling Harbour/Cockle Bay wharf. We arrived at the wharf and were able to drop our baggage off straight away, we were also told they had complimentary shuttle buses running between the wharf and Cockle Bay, where they had set up a function room with chairs and tea and coffee facilities. They also gave us our departing card and questionnaire to complete to speed things up when it came time to board. They had staff everywhere, who were very very helpful. We decided to have lunch and a few drinks and enjoy the start of our holiday, it was a beautiful day in Sydney so we were lucky. Most of us had our cabins on decks 11 and 10, so we were able to board early. Our boarding time was given to us as 4, but we decided to go back at around 2:30 and we were glad we did as when we got back, we were able to be checked in straightaway and I was in my cabin by about 3:15pm. A very smooth process.
Accommodation- I was in a twin share cabin on Deck 11- 11203 to be exact and we had a window. Our cabin steward was Lina and she was lovely. We got a couple of towel animals and chocolates on our pillow the other nights. Our room was very spacious with 2 single beds, a small bedside table and set of drawers each, a desk, couple of chairs and a TV. The wardrobe space too was very generous with plenty of drawers, hanging space and coat hangers. There is also a safe in the wardrobe. The bathrooms were not very spacious, although the showers are quite large. They supply bars of soap and conditioning shampoo (we took our own, so not sure of how good that is). We were happy with the location of our room, up 1 deck to the Plantation Buffett (we couldn't hear any noise from that above us) and the pool deck and then down to deck 7 for the Waterfront restaurant and bars. We also had a deck off the back not far from our room and it was down just 1 level to the Oasis.
Food & Beverage- On the first night, we were still getting ourselves sorted and having to do the safety muster and get up on deck for the sail away party, so we just went to the buffet for dinner, well that was the first and only time we did that. The food was pretty good, but it was very hard to get a table and once we discovered the Waterfront we did not look back! The food and service in this restaurant was fabulous! We alternated between the waterfront and buffet for breakfast and lunch, with the food being lovely in both with plenty of selection. We also ate 1 night at the Salt Grill. This was amazing and so worth the $40 cover charge. The staff in here were so fabulous and the food was beautiful- possibly the best meal I've ever had. We had 20 of us dining, so they gave us an early sitting of 5:30. You are able to choose an entree, main and dessert each and because we were a large group, they bought out all the sides for us, but I'm not sure if they would do that for just 2 or 4 or a small group they also bring out 2 types of lovely bread to begin the meal. Can highly recommend the scallops with blue cheese polenta, the 300g steak (rump I think it was), the passionfruit cheesecake and all of the sides!
I'm not a wine drinker, so the extensive cocktail list on the cruise is perfect for me! Most of the cocktails are priced at $8.50, $9.50 and $11.50 and on the pool deck they come in massive plastic cups. In the connexions and Kasbah bars they are in smaller glasses and although I didn't drink there, in the mix bar on level 7 of the atrium cocktail are priced from $14-$17 but that may be due to the use of premium spirits. The waiters who come and take your drink orders are all so lovely.
Entertainment- Our cruise director was Sandy, and he appeared to have 3 assistants- Peewee (American), Nick (British) and Vicky (Canadian). They did a fantastic job running all the activities. We participated in a few trivia sessions and as the weather was so nice, we tended to congregate on the Port (left) side of deck 12 on the tables and chairs because in the afternoon we would have the lovely warm sun on our backs but be protected from the wind. From here we could watch the goings on around the pool like the macho man competition and survivor. They showed movies on the big screen up on deck at least once a day and they also showed some concerts in the afternoons. We had a few winners within our group too in the golf putting and chipping competitions. Most nights we ate dinner at around 8:15 in the restaurant and then made our way down to Connexions bar to watch the band Southern Comfort play or watch Karaoke. They also had Ged the Piano Man in the Kasbah and The two Scots (who were new to the ship I heard) playing in different venues, they were great! We had 3 theme nights on board- pirates, island night and country & western they also had a dancing through the decades party up on deck one night, which was a lot of fun. We had 2 cocktail nights which we dressed up for, a lot of people did and a lot of people didn't, it's really up to you. Because of the time we had dinner most nights, we didn't really see any of the shows, we caught the first half of the circus one, which was really good and very professionally done. My brother in law was also a contestant in Pacific Popstars on the last night, which was a lot of fun.
Public Areas of ship- The one downfall of this ship is that there isn't a lot of public areas to go inside. One of the days it was freezing cold on deck and we stuck it out as long as we could but then when we came inside the 2 bars and atrium were full, the attic had a private function, so we ended up in the grill, which was fine but maybe not as comfortable. Another bar would be great. For the most part the ship is in pretty good condition, there are some instances of rust, especially around some windows, but they aren't overly noticeable.
Ports- The ports we visited were Noumea, Isle of Pines and Mare. We decided to just book the 1 tour on Noumea, which was the cheese and wine tour and just look around ourselves in the morning. It was a pretty hot day the day we visited Noumea, which we would have preferred for the next day in Isle of Pines because that was overcast and quite cool. We found the city markets in Noumea (about 10mins walk from the dock) which was next to a lovely harbour. The cheese and wine tour was actually really good, we had a fabulous guide, Michele. We went first to a restaurant where we each tried 3 different French wines- a white, red and dessert which were matched up with 3 different French cheeses, an Emmental, brie and blue. You could have as much bread and butter with it that you liked as well. After that, it included a bus tour of the city, with commentary and we got out in 2 places, the lookout with the canon and the hill with the statue of Mary.
As I said earlier, the weather for the Isle of Pines was not great, but I still braved the quite cold water around the sacred rock and went for a snorkel, which was pretty good.
We were lucky that we had a lovely day for our visit to Mare- what a beautiful place! The water is an amazing crystal clear blue/green. I do recommend getting the $15 return shuttle bus provided by P & O to the beach because unless you just plan on hanging around where the tenders dock (which you can, there are places to swim there) it is a very long walk!
Shopping- All the shopping on the ship is surrounding the Atrium on levels 7, 6 and 5. I didn't buy a lot just some P & O souvenir type things, but others in the group bought watches and perfume. Wait until the last couple of days though because they will be reduced. We found jewellery on the ship to be either beautiful, amazing quality and very expensive or not very good quality (sterling silver especially, it felt like plastic) and still quite expensive. They have a Rip Curl shop onboard and even a lot of items in that were reduced in the last couple of days.
Disembarkation- Early on in the cruise you are given a form to fill in with what time you require to be off the ship then with a couple of nights to go you receive colour coded luggage tags as well as information as to what time and where you have to assemble on the final morning for disembarkation. As we were getting picked up at 9:30am, we put our off the ship time as 9am and were given 8:30, 8:40 and 8:50 times to assemble in the public areas. We had to have our bags out the night before before 8pm (which seemed quite early) and as we had a 5:45pm dinner reservation, we had to do it especially early. We then had to be out of our rooms by 8am the following morning. It was mostly a smooth process, although they were running around 20 mins late and our drop off location had changed during the cruise from Wharf 5 to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which was a little more difficult for our bus.
Overall-We had a fabulous time and would book again on the 'White Lady' as the captain called her and book again through P & O.