Before I begin my review, I will apologize for my comparisons to Princess Cruises. We have sailed 4 times with Princess and this was the first time with P & O, so you can undterstand why I make comparisons.
I had read some pretty scathing reviews before we went, so I was prepared for some of the shortfalls. But for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. Having said that, with a few small improvements, the experience with P & O could have been fantastic.
We flew up from Melbourne the day before and stayed at the Airolodge Hotel. Brilliant place to stay and the staff were so helpful. The Brisbane terminal was really well organized, with friendly direction from staff in attendence. Just be patient - they are trying to board around 2,000 passangers. Check in all your luggage. No need to be carrying on anything but your essentials. We saw people struggling with tote bags & small trolley bags. Got no idea why. At Brisbane tehre are stairs to negotiate when boarding. There is a lift, but that fills up elderly passengers. The sail away was lods of fun. We had a beautiful day to sail down the Brisbane River & off to sea. Our bags were waiting for us & we unpacked quickly before we hit the open ocean. Do this if you can. Sea sickeness can come on from bending down to unpack your case.
Accomodation: Mini Suite
Our Mini Suite was spacious. Heaps of drawers & hanging space. Lovely ouinge area. However, I'd never pay the extra money again, it just wasn't worth it. P & O refurbished the Suites & Mini Suites on Pacific Dawn, but didn't do the bathrooms. Our bathroom was in pretty bad nick. The grouting & sealant had worn away on the floor & around the vanity & toilet. Our toilet flooded (it happens) luckily it flushed o.k., but just kept re-filling, so clean water. We got it to stop & mopped up, but we still ended up with pools of water everywhere. I realized it was seeping up from under the tiles, because there was no sealant b/w the tiles. I pointed it our to our cabin steward & maintence came & sealed the gaps in the floor tiles within a few hours. But still....surely that shuld be an ongoing maitenence check. Just be aware that you have step over the bath to get into the shower in the moni suits. Not that easy for older people.
The balcony was a disappointment. The diagrams on the website makes it look much deeper than it is. We couldn't get the deck chairs to face out so we could sit side by side, because the balcony wasn't wide enough.
We always enjoy dressing for dinner & going to the dinig room. Our first night was poor. The waiters were rushed off their feet & barely spoke to us. The second night we were put on another table, where we had wonderful wait staff, so we re-booked this table every night. Now this was a huge pain and I have no clue why P & O do this. We went through the processes to have that table, but had to ring the dinig room to confirm the booking each night. If they had set sittings, like Princes & other lines do, there would be no need for that. We still had to re-confirm the same sitting time each phone call anyway, so why not just have 2 sittings - early & late & be done with all the mucking around? Maybe because they only have the one dining room??
The food was really sub parr comapared to what we've had before. My husband even sent back a piece of Sword Fish that was rubber & bounced. I had tasteless lasagne, which was really just mince meat with a sheet of pasta on top. How can you muck up Lasagne?? The biggest bug bare was the lack of veggies & salads. You could order a side dish of veggies, but thy had the most random choices ie/ brussell sprouts or peas. A whole dish of just peas or brussell sprouts!! No green beans or broccoli - all of which keep well when refridgerated.
The buffet was o.k. We ended up eating there for breakfast & lunch, because the dining room was boring!! The same menu day in, day out for breakfast & lunch.
On Princess they have an 'everday' selection & then a daily specials selection. Don't know why they didn't have this on P & O. So our overall dining experience was lack-luster really. If they just had better veggie selections & more choice in the dining room, it would have been so much better.
We had a night at Salt Grill. Absolutley fantastic. A must do. What you get for just $40/head is supurb. Service & food both.
On the last night we did the Chef's table. What a wonderful experience. Cost us $90/head for a degustation meal. Worth it.
The shows on board were brilliant!!!! Here we go - so much better than what we'd seen on Princess (at last a positive comaprison). The cirque troupe were spectacular. You must see them if you're sailingn with P & O. They are usually on quite early though, so take note of your daily newslettr. The bands they had on board were also fantastic. So were the comedians.
Ports of Call:
We did a tour with a local company that I booked before going (we paid on the day) Paradise Tours was Fabulous - I highly reccomend them. Don't book through the ship - so much more expensive. Luganville is a large town, so do a shore tour here. Make sure you go to one of the many blue holes in the area. We went to Oyster Island on our tour for luch - just wonderful.
Lovely beach. Take some frisbies etc for the kids to play with. We spent quite a bit of time & had heaps of fun with the local kids just throwing frisbies & such with them. Massages & market stalls set up by the locals here.
One of the best beaches in the world. Just beautiful. Again markets & also a couple of bars, where you can buy the local beer or wine/champagne.
Best place in the Pacific for Duty Free shopping. The large emporium will send your purchases back to the ship for you & it will be ready for you to collect on the last day. We did a snorkelling tour from here with Sail Away Cruises. Sensational snorkelling. Otherwise - from Port Vila, there are the Water Falls, which we had been to before. A must see.
What a beautiful surprise. Gorgeous beach here too. Now one of my favorite places. Also markets etc. Chill & enjoy, or walk & explore this little gem.
Isle of Pines
More established here. We took a local tour, which we found on the day. Lots of local tour companies waiting to take you around. More 'up market' markets, with some beautiful hand crafted jewelery.
Tips - sign up for Martini Demo/sampling & Chapagne tasting. If you want to have a night at Salt Grill, book the 'Celebration Package'. For $150 you get a dinner at Salt Grill for 2, a box of chocolates & a bottle of Moet & $50 cruise credit. Great value.
If you are doing a cruie around Vanuatu, take reef shoes. Some of the beaches have coral & rocks to negotiate.
In summary, we had a great time. Onshore & onboard. The wait staff were lovely & you tend to find the ones who will respoond to your humour etc & strike up a rapour with. The dining wasn't that flash and our mini suite was a little disappointing, but at the end ot day - you get waht you pay for.