This was our first Christmas cruise ever, and when we booked we decided to go on the Pacific Pearl out of Sydney as we have sailed on thePacific Dawn previouisly.
We organised our own airfares from Brisbane to Sydney with QANTAS. The flights were good with no delays and we landed in Sydney on time at 11am.I prefer using QANTAS as they have regular flights and should one be delayed they will put you onto another without any hassle.
We (family of 7 - 2 adults and 5 children 13, 11, 7, 5 and 2) travelled by taxi to Wharf 5, the embarkation point. Taxi seemed to be the cheapest option at $85. Although friends of ours who where at the airport too managed to get on the p&O bus. The driver only charged them $20 ea for the adults and their 2 children travelled free.
Wharf 5 is in my opinion a good embarkation point vs the overseas terminal as you sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on departure. The Costa Romana was parked at the Overseas terminal on our travel day 17 Dec. It was great to see another cruise ship in port.
Embarkation went smooth, since we are experienced cruisers we know the process. The girl who issued our cruise cards was new but she managed to get us organised reasonably well. There was no line up on boarding and we were on board and in our cabins at 12 noon.
We dropped of our bags and went to the Waterfront Restaurant for lunch. The dining room is different to the one on board the Dawn and because we were 7 people we often needed an extra place setting as most tables are for 4 or 6 people. They have some of the large round ones but we never were seated in them. Lunch was fine and service was good and we booked for the early dinner session.
We then proceeded to sign our children into the various kids clubs (1 in Turtle cove 5 yrs, the 7 year old into Shark Shack and the two older ones into HQ). Because it was a Christmas cruise the ship had a full complient of children, which was noticable in that the staff at the junior kids centres certainly earned their keep. Also many were first time cruisers on board and it took them a while to understand the system and that you could not just sign your child in once for the whole cruise. Sign n for the junior clubs is in the same location, this sometimes caused delays, again mainly because parents just did not understand procedures. Some parents to the end of the cruise still had difficulty with this even though it is very simple.
Overall our two junior boys had a great time in the clubs and always wanted to go back and even have the early dinner with them. Both had a birthday on board and both received a board game from the ship as a present.
The two older ones had more independance with HQ and basically attended the things they wanted. The younger one was very involved and at the end of the cruise received a board game too for being most involved.
The departure from Sydney was excellent, such a beautiful harbour, on our return journey I made a special effort to wake up early and went to the Dome deck 14 to see us return into Sydney harbour, a view that I fondly remember.
Dining was mainly in the Waterfront Restaurant for Breakfast and Dinner and Lunch on the Lido deck at the Buffett. We had Christmas dinner (wife and myself) at the specialty Restaurant on board (Luke Mangans). Overall the standard of food was very good. The waiting staff was good too, although at breakfast time we had a couple of times where we did not receive a muffin or water. The Dawn semed to have this better under control, maybe too because they had some more inexperienced waiting staff. However this was a minor issue and did not distract from the overall experience.
The ports we vistite were Ilse of Pine, Lifou, Villa, Mistery Island and Noumea. Isle of Pine has a nice beach we just swam and snorkelled. At Lifou we decided to walk around the island a bit as we have been here before. It has some great snorkelling at the other side of the island when you walk to Jinek Bay and the walk to the old church gives you a great view.
In Villa we went along with a couple who had booked a tour around the island. We do not book tours through the ship because of cost, with 7 of us it is not that affordable. The island tour was very good and it was nice to see areas of Vila we had not been to before. The total cost was $350 for all 7 of us, including morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and all entrance charges.
Mistery Island we went snorkelling again and saw some beautiful fish and coral life. We also walked around the island as it is only small and just too say we have done it.
In Noumea we took the local bus that allows you to hope on and off and my wife managed to purchase a dress, shoes and accessories all at the local shopping centre which she then wore to Christmas Dinner.
The lead up to Christmas was excellent, the ship was decorated and the crew truly took on the spirit of Christmas. The ship realy made an effort and is to be congratulated. Christmas day saw a present for each child on board. A different item depending on the age of the child. Boxing day was then more for the adults, so everyone was catered for.
Entertainment and shows on board where very good. A highlight was to see Australian Magician James Galea, his performance was amazing, entertaining and excellent.
Overall we realy enjoyed the Christmas cruises. Whilst we spent some monies on board for drinks, photos etc we were fortunate enough that we had $750 OBC in total, some from the travel company, some because we always see the future cruise person on board to place a deposit and therefore receive extra OBC and then another $200 for being ex defence and a shareholder with Carnival. I find that the P&O vessels are value for money and a great way for a family holiday.
I must also mention our cabin steward who was great during our voyage and always kept the cabins clean and tidy.
Special mention also to the Captain on board who provided us with a daily historical insight of where we were and who was fun to listen too.