At first thought, this cruise was supposed to be a relaxing vacation doing not much at all and enjoying some good food and seeing different parts of the world. How wrong I was when I got on board and saw how much there was to offer.
This boat went to the extreme with EVERYTHING and made you feel like you were a VIP. First day was spent going through a very thorough booking in process. All passengers were dropped off at the front door with signs posted to drop luggage off to the right of the doors before going inside to register your arrival with the check-in desk. The check-in lady we got was an older person who we thought very nice but in her absentmindedness forgot to give us an embarkation card with its number on but this problem was quickly rectified by another P&O staff member who ushered us through the doors to customs once notified of the problem. This same staff member also asked for a description of the person who checked us in due to us not knowing her name. Once onboard the boat it was time to find our cabin number. Being that there were 3 of us in tow, we were given a bunkbed configuration with three of the beds in operation, not the ideal situation I had in mind due to not sharing a bed with my husband thanks to the bunk bed ladder. I guess it meant I didn't need to fight for the quilt but was disappointed with the layout. The squeeziness of the alcove leading to the bathroom was of no help either when it came to getting my clothes out of the drawers which were inconveniently located next to the bathroom door making it a hazard if the door were to open suddenly, not very safe. The other unpleasantness was smelling the fish being cooked during the day and evening as the room was located on the same floor as the galley. These trivial matters were overlooked however once sailing was underway.
The copious amounts of alcohol consumed on board in front of children was an alarming sight, it almost made it seem normal to do and was considered acceptable behavior to display, however inebriated a person was. This behavior was certainly displayed in a shocking matter the day of sailing where a family of 3 were kicked off of the boat in Noumea because the husband, who was intoxicated, tried to strangle his wife inside the cabin shared with their child. The child was so distressed about the situation they alerted staff to assist with the incident and were told the behavior was unacceptable and were subsequently told to fly home to Australia from Noumea at their own cost. One other passenger ended up in the brig for his drunkenness and was banned from alcohol for 48 hours.
The food was exquisite and it didn't matter where you ate. The food in the buffet and the dining room gave you choice. The buffet in the morning at Cafe Del Sol had everything ranging from coffee, juice, cereal, fruit, yoghurt and toast to baked beans, grilled tomatoes, sausages, pancakes, eggs done three different ways and bacon. Lunch was no different for the buffet where choice came in salads, fruit, cold sandwiches and rolls, cheeses and crackers, hot choices too, all with a different theme for the day which continued into dinner. One day was Italian, the next Mexican, the next Asian style food from all parts, the next French etc leaving you with mouthwatering choices and many different dishes to try. It was the best way of experiencing world class cuisine in the one place.
The only downside to eating in the buffet was the vibrations from the engines towards the back of the boat. It made it difficult for those suffering from sea-sickness to sit there and eat their food comfortably. The tendency was to try and get tables either side of the buffet area and more towards the middle of the boat to avoid feeling too much vibration.
The dining room experience in the Palm Court Dining Room was a dream come true. Not only were we served by waiters who pushed in your chair (for the ladies) and placed your napkin on your lap, but they cleared the table, poured your water and bottled wines with precision and efficiency and delivered your meals after having reset your cutlery three times during the course of dinner. It was not unheard of to spend 1 1/2 hours dining getting through all 4 courses. Each course was small and the entire experience left you feeling very satisfied at the end of the entire evening - including dessert - without feeling stuffed like a chicken. Once again there were themes for the night and it took a real gastronome to appreciate the level of preparation that preceded each delicious course. There were alternatives for those watching their diet or for changing what items they did not wish to eat with the health and fitness centre making recommendations on those dishes which were friendly to the waistline and to general health and well-being, a conscious effort to ensure that diners were able to make informed choices about their meals. Many unusual things happened during the dining experience in the Palm Court Dining Room, such as the liquor cart which dispensed shots in cute metal P&O glasses of which you got to keep the glasses and if you were celebrating a special occasion, P&O assisted with celebratory cakes, balloons and rousing songs of Happy Birthday if that was the occasion. One lucky lass received a marriage proposal the first formal night in front of the entire dining room.
The entertainment options were mixed and varied. On the one hand, if you were the type of person who enjoyed watching stage productions, learning how to dance a certain way for particular theme nights, doing circus tricks such as juggling and hula hoop twirling, karaoke or watching comedians then you would be in your element.
For those of you into crafts there were many options. On offer were ceramics, t-shirt painting, quilling, earring making or flower making. Each item was unique but some came at a price. Ceramics and t-shirt making were the most expensive which most people shied away from due to price. I however did not and thoroughly enjoyed all of the crafts I attempted and finished.
The theme nights were a slight let down. Three were had in total, one was 50s and 60s Rock and Roll, one was Country and Western complete with line dancing and one was Island Night. Out of the three, Island Night was the least silly and easier to dress up for than the others. It consisted of wearing a sarong or hawaiian shirt and a lei, drinking cocktails during the evening complete with light up glass and dancing with the band. The most ridiculous song played had all entertainment staff involved with many almost falling into the pool because of where they had put themselves to be seen by the passengers for directions to a new dance. One of the staff went a bit far with her dancing and caught the eye of the bass guitarist who raised his eyebrows.
Some of the other entertainment was heavily influenced by gambling. If you were not in the casino playing tournaments, the tables or pokies, then you were paying for bingo tickets.
The only entertainment not covered by those areas consisted of trivia games, board game challenges, marriage focused games (perfect match comes to mind here), playstation competitions or specific events such as the champagne waterfall, baked alaska parade, cruise fair and dancing in the Dome late at night.
The childrens' areas I am unable to comment on as I was not using the facilities for my own children but one parent said that he left his 3 year old in turtle cove from 10am in the morning until 1am the following morning. When questioned about his motives, he replied he and his wife wanted to have their child with them on the cruise but clearly this was not the case as she was stowed away until all hours of the night, hence my reason for saying that they should be adults only cruises unless you are willing to be a responsible adult.
All in all, the staff were amazing although Zoltina-J got up many of the passengers noses with her lame jokes, including myself, and it was confirmed that the other staff were unhappy with her also.
The ports themselves went above and beyond what was expected although Ouvea could have been missed out altogether due to being a coral atoll. It was just a bigger version of the Isle Of Pines. Would not recommend visiting Noumea on a public holiday, everything was pretty much closed except for the expensive stores around Coconut Square and it was buyer beware with the items being sold upstairs and downstairs in the port terminal. The snorkeling in Isle Of Pines is something not to be missed. Nothing like being one with nature and swimming with tropical fish underwater. Would recommend doing the city tour and the country through the vendors themselves rather than paying exorbitant prices through P&O.
Expect to pay big for extras such as spa treatments, floral arrangements, laundry, certain eating venues (ie The Steakhouse, La Trattoria, The Lido Grill etc), all drinks at pub prices with cocktails being extremely reasonable, photographs taken by the paparazzi at various prices for packages, gambling, shore tours, souvenirs, expensive jewelry, perfume, bags etc, watch for the special pricing that will come out every day and it could save you money.