It is 3:00AM and I have not slept a wink. Luckily, my wife has had about 3 hours sleep and will be able to drive us to Avalon Airport for our 6:00AM flight to Sydney. We are leaving on the Pacific Pearl for our first cruise, a 9 night adventure to New Caledonia. We have booked the flight and our transfer to the dock ourselves, and have an hour and a half scheduled wait at the airport before KST transportation picks us up in Sydney. At 9:00AM the driver shows up and two KST drivers begin squabbling about who will take us. Not a very professional look. After what seems like an hours wait in the van there is a full load and we begin the tortuous route to every hotel in town and, finally, the dock. All complaining aside, we are at the dock at 10:00AM for a cost of $35 for both of us.
We had planned on walking to the market and buying a slab of soda before we checked in, but we found the market was at the top of a fairly large bluff, and the dock, of course, was at the bottom. Way too much work. We quickly drop our checked in bags off and proceed into the tent that serves as a cruise terminal. Within 20 minutes the check-in lines open and 10 minutes later we have our cruise cards in hand and are waiting for the boarding call. That happens in another 20 minutes and after 10 more minutes we are aboard.
At every turn smiling crewmembers point out the way to our cabin and by noon our carry on bags are dropped off and we are at the Plantation for our first meal.
I have read a lot of bad reviews about the Plantation buffet but we found the food to always be hot, nicely seasoned and tasty. That said, there does get to be a sameness about it after several days. I had not planned to dress up for meals but I did have clothes that were nice enough to get me in to the MDR (The Waterfront) which is a very nice change from
the buffet style meals. It does make one feel a bit special to get dressed up and dine in style at The Waterfront and the food is delicious.
If one wants a lot of salads and some of the best melons I have ever tasted, the Plantation buffet is the place. If you want to feel like you are eating a 4 star meal in a very nice restaurant, I would suggest the Waterfront.
Our cabin was larger than I expected but I viewed the buckets in the passageway that were catching water leaks with some scepticism.
Leaks NEVER fix themselves. The only problem we faced on the first day though was an air conditioner that did not work.
We passed our complaint on to Michael, our cabin steward and soon heard from a bloke in reception who apologised profusely and offered us a fan until the AC could be fixed the next day. WE were a bit concerned but took the fan and sure enough, the AC was repaired early the next day.
The cabins on the Pearl are roomy for two people. I would not like to share one with three others. The toilet area is tiny but serviceable. The showers are to die for.
My wife and I spend the afternoon exploring the ship, eating dinner in the buffet again and trying to stay awake until a reasonable hour before falling asleep. We fail miserably and are out like a light before 9:00PM.
The next 2 days are spent at sea, getting to know our ship, our fellow passengers and the track of Cyclone Sandra which was nearly stationary just north of New Caledonia. This cyclone threatened two of our port calls but stayed clear and all stops were made as planned. The seas ran pretty high during our open ocean transit. We have never been seasick but took a dose of Avomine each night as a precaution. Many of our shipmates were not so lucky and spent the days in their cabin or getting shots in the ships medical centre. The shots were not cheap. Be sure to get your travel insurance sorted before your cruise.
We also attend one of the shows during this two days. During the whole cruise we went to 3 shows. All of them were good but some were better than others. we discovered that the karaoke was our favourite entertainment which eventually led to a passenger singing contest of the final night.
At this point I feel like I must say that while I enjoy the relaxed comfortable style of the Pearl she is not without her problems. I have already mentioned the air conditioning and the leaks. The buckets in the passageway moved several times and culminated in 2 large downpours, one several doors down from us and one which flooded our cabin on day 3 just as we were going to bed. The staff responded quickly to the leak and started drying the carpet immediately. The whole thing was a massive pain but after dinner the fourth day all was back to normal. 2 days later we were offered a complimentary bottle of house wine as an apology.
Ok P&O, you are falling down on this leak thing and seriously need to treat each and every small leak as an emergency. Leaks do not fix themselves. A small leak will always get worse. How about you put a reporting program in place and aggressively address this failing. It does not do your reputation any good to let it go on.
OK, off my high horse now.
On day 4 we reach the Island of Pines. We have a shore tour booked for the Natural Aquarium snorkel tour. A short coach ride (not air conditioned) and a 20 minute walk led us to a protected inlet which was full of fish and had significant patches of live coral. This tour is most definitely worthwhile.
I had planned on snorkelling Kunamera Bay after the first tour ended but it was getting late and the bay was quite choppy so we looked at the tourist stalls instead and returned to the ship for a late lunch and relaxed until 5:00PM when we pulled the hook and left for our next port of call, Mare.
Day 5 Mare
Mare is a beautiful island. The tenders drop you at a landing that is surrounded by volcanic rock and coral. Tropical fish can be seen just metres from your feet. The only shore tour offered was a self-guided bus tour to Yajele Beach. They called it an unguided tour but a local tour guide pointed out the sights along the short 20 minute drive. The beach was very nice and the snorkelling was excellent with a lot of coral and fish to be seen. We stayed there for a couple of hours while I snorkelled and my wife stayed in the shade of the ever-present palm trees on the beach. Once again, we returned to the ship in the early afternoon, this time both of us totally exhausted from the beach trip. After a quick lunch and a long rest we were ready to do absolutely nothing again. Another wonderful day in paradise.
Day 6 Lifou
I find it very hard to imagine a more beautiful place than Lifou Island.
The tenders land you in one of the most picturesque bays in the world. Sea turtles can be seen from the landing. To the left of the boat landing the headlands between Champagne Bay and Baie de Jinek climbs vertically from the water to the gleaming white church 50 or 60 metres above. Walking through the town the visitor is greeted by a wall of green vegetation dotted with bright red and yellow flowers. Unfortunately we were also greeted by a wall of heat and humidity. My wife could not handle the heat and we soon retreated to the ship, spotting 2 turtles on the way. Once she was safely aboard, I grabbed my snorkel gear and returned, heading for the Baie de Jenek. After 1 wrong turn (you must climb to the top of the hill and turn left at the main road) and a short 10 minute walk you see the bay to your right and the road up to the church going straight ahead. I turned right and went to the bay. I had a snorkel failure after only a few minutes in the water (do not buy a snorkel with a purge valve) but saw a lot of healthy coral and many fish in that few minutes. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of dead and damaged coral also. Coral is such a beautiful thing but it is a shame it is so fragile.
Once again I am back aboard the ship by 2:00PM. I would recommend Lifou to anyone, even if you have to swim to get there.
Day 7 Noumea
As the ship pulled into port at Noumea I was first struck by the amount of rubbish floating in the bay and the plume of dirty smoke rising from the ore mills near the city. There are some beautiful places in Noumea but it looks better on film than in real life. You can focus the camera on the good parts and crop out the rest.
We took the short Noumea sights tour which was well worth the cost but could not find anything else that interested us in the city. Once again, back aboard ship early and ready to leave town.
Days 7 and 8 were spent at sea. It is really hard to beat a relaxing calm day at sea on a cruise ship like the Pearl. If you want to spend all day doing every activity in the books you can. If you would rather take it easy like we did, there is no problem there either. We watched the karaoke ate way too much and enjoyed the trip back to Sydney. The first day the weather was as good as it gets, calm waters, low winds and low temperatures. The second day we sailed through the remnants of cyclone Sandra, now downgraded to less than a tropical depression but still stirring up the seas. Once again, many of the passengers were sick but we felt fine.
Shame on you P&O
We ordered the cruise DVD the day before the ship came in to Sydney at a cost of $49. I would NOT recommend this to anyone. 99% generic cruise with maybe 5 passengers from your cruise edited in. For the sailaway party P&O showed the Pearl going under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This all sounds good but it was not our cruise going under the bridge, we went under a group of bridge walkers and there were none on the video. We counted 3 passengers from our cruise on the video. I know that we did not see everybody on the ship but there are always people that you would recognize anywhere and there were very few (3 is very few out of 1800) to be seen.
Back off my soapbox now.
The ship entered Sydney Harbour on schedule, Disembarkation was quick and painless, except that we did not want to go, of course. We took a Sydney tour and airport transfer because we had a very late flight and bid the Pacific Pearl a fond farewell before 10:00AM.
In summary, I have a couple of complaints but rank this cruise as my best holiday ever.
I hope this somewhat looooooong review helps someone.