Last Wednesday we joined Pacific Dawn for their PNG cruise – our first cruise. We did not know what to expect although research had told us that our ship was in the ‘modest fare’ bracket.
Our cabin was fine, small but fine. Our balcony could have been a little wider and less rusty. There is plenty of food on-board and one can eat from 5.30am and keep going until at least 10.30pm.
Our first two days on board were at-sea days, the activities are far from exciting, but given we came on the cruise for the PNG experience, it didn’t bother us. Between books, crosswords and meals, there was enough to fill those days. The weather was ok, you know you are on a ship but the movements were fairly gentle.
Our first port of call was Alotau, a good opportunity to stretch your legs and interact with the locals and take a tour if you wanted.
Our next destination was Kitava where getting to shore was reliant on using the ship’s tenders. The weather and sea conditions were marginal so we chose to stay on board s it was essentially a beach day and was raining. Having seen the problems being experienced in getting passengers back on board as the weather conditions deteriorated, we feel we definitely made the right decision.
On Monday we docked at Rabaul. We were greeted by tribal dancers and singers. The town itself was a main road with a few local ‘supermarkets’ and colourful open market but not very much else. Again, the local people were happy to chat or just say hello. Those who got off the ship in the morning had the best of the weather.
We continue to find little to do on board. The best wine-tasting event is put on immediately after breakfast! Our highlight of the day is playing trivia at 5pm each day. The quiet adult-only area (Oasis) absolutely stinks of putrefying rubbish/cooked cabbage which is quite unpleasant.
Meals become very important when there is little else to do. The Waterfront is the waiter service restaurant. The menu is similar to that in the buffet, but there is a little more formality and ambience, which we like. We tried Luna (Asian premium restaurant) but unfortunately our request for a slow meal was ignored. All the food came up very rapidly, which meant that 75% was wasted. The kitchen staff clearly wanted to get finished asap. At Luna one pays and additional $30 per person for dinner.
Next we booked for Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill. This restaurant is described as a fine dining experience. We arrived for dinner at the allotted time. The table we were shown to had a food stain in the middle of the table cloth. We were first provided with bread and olive oil. The bread was of the poorest quality and closely resembled foam rubber. We ordered our entrees and given the preparation and cooking required for each dish, we were astounded when they turned up in about 3 minutes. The main courses were average but more good quality pub bistro than haute cuisine. This dining experience set us back $160 including a medium quality wine at their prices. We are not fine dining novices and know standards it is reasonable to expect.This experience was way below what should be expected.
Having criticised two restaurants I would now like to heap praise on the third premium dining option – Chef’s Table. I cannot rate this highly enough. We had an early start – 6pm in the bar for bubbles and canapes and a chance to meet our fellow diners on the table of 12. At 6.30 we were taken to the Waterfront by the Maitre D and delivered into the kitchens and introduced to Chef Ravindra then explained how the kitchens and auxillary areas functioned. The working conditions were hot, humid and frenetic, after 20 minutes we were all ready for the cool sanity which existed on the other side of the swinging doors. Before taking our seats we had a group photo call. We then progressed at a very gentle pace through 8 courses and 7 wines. Each course was introduced by the Chef and each wine was explained by the Sommlier. We were extremely well looked after, the food was excellent and well-matched with the wines. We rose at 10pm after a true fine dining experience and a signed photograph for each of us as a memento of the evening. The cost- $95 each for everything!
On Tuesday we were to have visited Kiriwina Island however the Captain called off the visit and all further aspects of the PNG experience because of Cyclone Ita. He said that there were no options but to slowly sail back to Brisbane. Although I know little about big ships and cruising, it would be good to understand what and when the Captain was informed about Cyclone Ita and why a Plan B was not formulated instead of an early return.
Having made the decision to return to Port, I would have thought the officers, entertainment management and front of house managers would have gone out of their way to ensure that passengers still had a great cruising experience – at no point during the cruise did anyone ask us how the cruise was going, whether there was anything we would like and was the ship catering to our needs. There also weren’t any special activities, quality entertainers or speakers.
When I was a child in England I was taken to Butlins holiday camp. This ship with its second rate entertainment and school dinners dining concept appears to be continuing a post-war holidaying concept that I thought had disappeared 30 years ago. We realise that this is our first experience of cruising so our expectations might have been set too high. We would like to cruise again but the options offered by P&O Australia are unlikely to be in our future cruising plans.
By the way, our cabin attendant was very good. He has kept our room clean, neat and tidy. Every other day we find a ‘towel animal’ on the bed when we return to our cabin which puts a smile on our faces however general maintenance is something else. It took three days to have the air-conditioning looked at and, despite daily reminders (5 so far), we still do not have a flow of hot water, just a spitting tap and shower. The ship is tired, scruffy and in urgent need of an upgrade from top to bottom.
Some might say you get what you pay for, which is a fair comment but at the same time there is no excuse for not providing the best levels of service you can. I own two companies and would consider I had failed miserably if a client of mine had had the experience that we have just had.