Sailed on the Pacific Pearl for my first cruise , read lots of reviews that said this was only a 3 star experience so I put away my preciousness and decided to have a great time come what may......
I sailed with my husband although we were an extended part of a youth group which included my 17 year old daughter.
Being from Nth Queensland we decided to spend the night before in Sydney so we were not panicky about late flights etc. we found a supermarket in the city near where we stayed and purchased slabs of water and extra snacks etc to take on board . We had printed out extra cabin labels and bought the sticky tape so we could stick the labels with our cabin number on to the slabs of water. We got to the White Bay Terminal at around 11.30 am the following morning our transport was the hotel mini bus. We dropped our suitcases and slabs of water at the P&O drop off spot (although it was a few hours before our allocated boarding time P&O didn't seem to have any issue with boarding us) had hardly any wait before it was our turn to show our documentation fill in our green form collect our cruise card and we were through to customs . I must say the woman at our window in the white bay cruise terminal was a lemon sucker not a smile or attempt at friendliness felt a little like she was sending us to stay 10 days in the local lock up! I looked down the Huge line of windows and ours was the only lemon sucker all the rest were smiling and friendly. She also was a little short when she asked us for our credit card to link it to our Cruise card and I told her No we had decided to put cash on our cards and not link it. She told us we had to do this at the reception desk on the ship but not to do it till tomorrow as they would be very busy there. I did think that would be a bit of a pain as it meant not being able to buy anything or have a drink until the next day . Then it was through to the Customs lady, she was quick & friendly we were through in a flash . The P&O photographers were waiting to take our photos after that it was walk through security and arrive onto the ship at deck 5.
Our first impression of the inside of the ship was very favourable. The ship was decorated in Christmas style the grand staircases lined with wreaths and sparkling Christmas trees everywhere. Everything was clean plush and beautiful.. We went straight across the Atrium to the reception desk as we noticed there was hardly anyone waiting . Reception staff very friendly efficient happily took our cash and filled our cruise cards with money waiting to be spent.. We purchased a couple of P&O lanyards for about $5.00ea and went to inspect our daughters cabin which was on deck 5 ..walking past Charlies Bar/cafe and the chocolate shop to get there ...
Our daughter was staying in an inside quad share cabin, I think it was number 5126, when we opened the door and looked in it felt dark and enclosed. I felt If I was staying in the cabin I would not enjoy spending time in it. I would have to use it just as somewhere to sleep. The good things about the cabin were : there was plenty of under bed space to store suitcases, there was a large mirror and draws in the room and of course being close to Charlie's cafe was a plus and the fact it was on the lower deck mid ship meant less ship rocking and rolling was felt when the ocean became a little rough. (My daughter told me later there were a lot of loud noises they could hear in their cabin although they didn't know where the noise came from, also the top bunk bed was very noisy made loud cracking noises and moved a lot as you got on it.)
We then caught the elevator up to deck 10 to our cabin which was an Ocean View. Upon opening this door my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled.. The window was large the room bright airy with a feeling probably due to the window of spaciousness. Their was a long desk running along the wall that met one side of the bed with a lamp and plenty of space for nick nacks the bed was large and made with good quality sheets and pillows , the tv was a flat screen swivel in the corner of the wall ( although I didn't turn it on once in the 10 days) A tub chair was situated in the corner under the tv . The other side of the bed away from the desk had a small chest of drawers and another large lamp. Plenty of room under the bed to store empty suitcases. The large window had thick block out curtains to pull across. Their was a mini fridge and space above the fridge to store your water bottles etc . A hair dryer was supplied as were beach towels in addition to your normal towels. The open closet situated next to the bathroom had plenty of hanging space and another large lot of drawers. The bathroom and toilet were clean and although small didn't really feel this way ,the bathroom cupboard has three mirrors behind each of which was more storage places. The shower has a pull out clothes line inside it.
After inspecting our room we went up to deck 12 where the rest of our group were meeting for lunch at the Plantation. Then it was outside to the open deck to wait for our Sailing experience to begin..
Sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a great experience , something I'm glad to have done. We, were lucky enough to get to deck 12 early and score a table to relax have a few drinks and soak up the party atmosphere as we sailed away.
My cruise in retrospect...
Was like being cocooned from the outside world for 10 days .. After a few days I felt like my whole body had relaxed and loosened up, a little like it does temporarily after a good massage...
I loved the soothing rocking of the ship and the constant gentle noise of our neighbour the ocean as I was sleeping . Although on a couple of nights our neighbour got a little rough and noisy and I was surprised at how much movement was actually felt. I loved our bed bedding and pillows and the fact that they were made for me everyday. Our cabin was an oasis with a constant gorgeous view .
A typical day on board the Pearl for me: 6am being half awake as my husband gets up has a shower and leaves the cabin with his book and his glasses ..his an early morning person I am not he heads off to have coffee and breakfast and read while I go back to sleep. Wake up around 9a up and open the curtain to the blues of the ocean . Have a leisurely shower dressed in casual 3/4 pants and light top at some point my husband will come back and check on me and we will head down to the Plantation taking along my copy of the daily events schedule . Husband will have his second cup of coffee while i enjoy scrambled eggs on French toast with orange juice followed by coffee with a pastry.
We would read through the daily schedule at breaky and work out what we wanted to do for the day..then off to have a walk around the shops and look at any photos that had been taken from the day before. Husband would usually head off to a lecture on Astronomy or something and I would head back to the cabin for a bit of reading or iPad using or go to Charlie's and see who of our group was there and sit and have a cappucchino and a chat and watch the interesting happenings in the atrium. ..( of course by this point in the day I could have participated in the zoomba or yoga or gym etc as some others in our group had but..um no I didn't ) . Next might be a Bingo session with one of our group..and I must admit I was surprised at how expensive it was for only 5 games , $30.00 for a book of five books per game and $15.00 if you played the minimum of one book per game $25.00 for a book of three books per game. ..the five games went very quickly and I do feel they could improve the Bingo experience, although the prizes were decent and my friend won $200.0O at one session. Then it might be off to the future cruises desk to get the info on how this works ..or to reception to get a print out of what we had spent .. Lunch was also usually at the Plantation (which is the buffet or the piggery as some in our group fondly called it) meet up with others in the group find out whose doing what and make plans for the arvo and evening . After lunch might be a martini making class which cost $15.00 to attend but well worth it for this you got a lot of laughs some funny dance moves and instructed on and then given four or five Martinis to drink. This session would be followed by the feeling the boat had picked up its movement a little more and that it was time for a nap or a bit of reading etc back in my oasis of a cabin. Later in the afternoon/evening I would meet up with others from the group and join in the trivia competitions which although we didn't win were great fun especially the tv trivia.. We all met up for dinner usually at the Waterfront and then off to a show , perhaps a magician show or song and dance or see a Mentalist in the Marquee. From there i might head off to the Orient on deck 7 which featured Nathan on Piano a talented guy with a laid back vibe and a voice that reminded me a little of Elton Johns. The night would continue at some point at Charlie's Coffee Bar where our group would grow as the night ended , Charlie's alcoholic coffees were in demand as were the Toblerone cocktails, at the reasonable price of $9.95 ea (and I think Charlie's made the best Toblerones on the whole ship) . The very late night early morning stragglers which included my daughter and I would eventually find our way up to deck 12 where the grill was located and might end up having a pizza or souvlaki sitting outside with the waves and the breeze and the stars and finishing up at 2am chatting in the Plantation which is always open to allow 24 hour access to the coffee and ice water machines and ends up being the secret gathering Place for Nocturnals . Then back down the lifts into my room trying not to wake my husband and fall asleep cocooned in my cabin as the waves gently rock the ship.
Dining: Breakfast - The Plantation or the Waterfront were the main choices . The Plantation is the buffet and great for breakfast , plenty of hot and cold choices fruit and pastries. - the only down side being no good coffee just the stuff out of the machine and only flats available no cappuccino's . We did not try the Waterfront for breakfast. Lunch - once again we mostly ate at the Plantation and the food was plentiful it was also open till after 2 when we came back from the islands . The only draw back with it was it did become a little same same , if you were on a long cruise you may begin to feel you were having a Groundhog Day moment every lunch time. ( or maybe we just became spoilt)
Dinner- most nights we had this at the Waterfront as a group, and I have to say our experiences were good and bad, for starters any time dining is just confusing as it doesn't really exist . They were fairly strict on you either came for the 6pm session or the 7.45p session ..to the point that one of the waiters got very cranky when a couple of our teenagers turned up half way through the meal even though they were happy to skip entrees and just have a main. Our waiter actually told us that " tomorrow you WILL all turn up together" their were 26 in our group quite a few teenagers and to have the waiter say we couldn't order until one of our group turned up even though we were prepared to order for her we felt was a bit silly. The entrees at the Waterfront were good although small and the main meals were usually tastier than what you got at the Plantation but quite small in serving ..and the desserts were pretty much not worth eating they definitely need to invest in a dessert chef as they were greatly let down by these and they were not worth gaining the calories to eat them...and although I loved the pumpkin ravioli and soup I was also served up the worst meal I think I have ever been served it was a red onion tart . When it came to the table in two small dried up pastry shells with a bit of red onion shrivelled in the middle I thought this surely can't taste as bad as it looks ..and No it didn't it tasted worse one small bite and I was done .,if I had cooked it at home I would have thrown it out ! The waiters at the Waterfront also varied some were good tempered and friendly and a couple made you feel you were hassling them by eating there..which is pretty much why I didn't try the breakfast or lunch there.
Charlie's bar and cafe was a great place for a cappuccino and snacks were available throughout the day till late at night.
The Grill on deck 12 was a really friendly place for a 2am pizza ..wish I had caught the guys name who ran it I should have filled out one of the exceptional service cards for him. I think it was free for breaky and lunch but you had to pay a small amount after this for snacks
The Salt Grill $49.00 extra each for dinner includes entree main and dessert was one of the highlights of our cruise the food was outstanding and we can't wait for the next cruise to go back there
Tips and hints for
The islands : Noumea was our first port and my tip for there is do not organise any of the cruises through P&O people on our cruise were cranky because they paid $95.00 for a tour that we paid $15.00 for when we got off the boat . When you first arrive in Noumea you disembark into a terminal that is set up with stalls and people with signs and tour guides waiting to sign you up for their much cheaper tours than p&o offer. It is not scary or hard to work out we got an hour tour and then our hand stamped so we could get on and off the busses through the day which we did catching one to the morning markets etc. I advise you to get some of your money converted to francs because although P&O say that most people take dollars this is not true of some of the shops you go to ., in fact one cafe we went to have lunch at , the wAitress asked did we speak French and when my husband said no she shook her head and walked away ..it was only that I had francs and pointed to what we wanted and said "one" "un" and then one un to what I wanted and gave her the correct francs that she served us! But the majority spoke some English. Also very important......save a hundred franc coin as you had to pay this to use the toilet in their shopping strips..I didn't know this and thought we had spent our last francs for lunch ...which meant trying to have really really good bladder control all the way back to the boat ...really unimpressed that night when hubby was emptying out his pockets and out comes a hundred franc coin :/
Lifou: Tip for Lifou is do take your reef shoes we didn't and should have as it had the best water to swim in except for the coral that was everywhere. We loved Lifou the best of all the islands, make sure you take small dollars or Francs and be sure to get a $15.00 massage from the island ladies, I loved mine and someone in our group had paid $170.00 for a rock massage in the Spa onboard the day before and she said the $15.00 massage she got at Lifou was better ..
Mare : Was not our favourite place and I didn't like the vibe I felt from there , if you want to swim do pay P&O the $15.00ea for the bus trip to the swimming beach. We didn't and pretty much just caught the tender to the islands had a look around the three market stalls went for a little wander up the road but I didnt feel comfortable , we took some photos in front of the sea and caught the tender back.
Isle of Pines : I loved the look of this place it was pretty spectacular but I didn't like the water to swim in as much as Lifou, their was too much seaweed ..which I sook about and the water was for some reason extremely salty . This place had more Market stalls than the others and I purchased a couple of island tops. You can also purchase fresh cooked lobster on the beach for $25.00 for half but it's not for the squeamish as they Are chopped in half in front of you .. One second their alive and the next their on your plate.. (No not my plate as I am squeamish but my husband and friends plate,!) there were also tours being offered to the Natural aquarium, a swimming snorkeling spot by P&O that were quite expensive but much cheaper tours were offered once onshore by local operators although this was not as well organised as the Noumea onshore travel guides and I think if you were desperate to go to the Natural Aquarium you may not want to take the chance that the tour operators onshore would be there ..for me I would have waited till I got onshore and gone with the cheaper option but we didn't get a tender to the island till later and left it a bit late to chance going with the operators and getting back on time ..even though the tour operator insisted he would get us back I had visions of a flat tyre and the ship cruising away without us...
Tips for onboard : Do take your own water slabs or Coke or whatever it is you drink and print out extra labels for these. Do make sure you take enough of your own toiletries these are limited on board . Do take a powerboard (with safety switch please) do take a couple of cardigans or lightweight jackets it gets cold in some areas and on deck at night even in the middle of summer. Don't leave buying your onboard duty free alcohol till the last few days ..our cruise sold out of a lot of the good stuff.
Oh and the thing to put right at the bottom of the page is there are huge laundry facilities onboard including many irons and ironing boards available to use while in the laundry , the washing machine takes a $2.00 coin and the dryer I think was three one dollars.