Pacific Dawn - September 2008 South Pacific
We have been very pleasantly surprised
Pacific Dawn is one of two ships that P&O Australia (not to be confused with P&O UK) currently have based in Australian waters. The other being Pacific Sun. Late in 2009 the Pacific Dawn's sister ship Pacific Jewel joins the fleet as does another new ship Pacific Pearl bringing the total to four. These plus the two Princess ships Dawn Princess and Sun Princess which are also based year round in Australia has finally given us Aussies and Kiwis some decent choices and some great new itineraries including circumnavigations of Australia without having to fly 1000,s of miles to find a good cruise. There are some problems though as many people get confused between the two "Dawns' and the two "Suns' .Two different cruise lines with two different standards. Also P & O Australia is not connected with P & O in the UK who operate the Oriana, Aurora and Arcadia amongst others. However all three lines as well as Cunard , Seabourn and Costa are all marketed here by Carnival Corporation's local office ,it can get confusing!
P & O Australia has had some bad image problems in the past with old ships , a pretty bad on board "party" atmosphere, bad service and in the last few years here in Australia a lot of bad press about an onboard death and underage drinking. The cruise line has been working wonders to turn this around
Anyway we digress back to this 'Explorers Cruise" on board Pacific Dawn
Pacific Dawn was the old Regal Princess and was moved to Australia a couple of years ago.
The day of sailing the ship was late. We latter found out this was due to encountering rough seas outside Sydney. Consequently the sailing was delayed by about four hours
The cruise line has their arrivals and departures at Wharf Eight Darling Harbour. The plus side is you get to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The down side is the lack of facilities and in this case with a lengthy boarding delay lack of information. Why there is no electronic information sign board at the terminal for situations like this is puzzling.We were at the pier about midday dropped our luggage off at the well signed luggage drop point and joined the queue to check in. This is where P & O fall down.
Although the check-in was handled quickly and efficiently there was no offer of an apology re the late departure. We were told boarding should start about 12.30 apart from that there was no information. The terminal is very basic with about 20 rows of plastic chairs and a very tiny outside coffee bar selling tea, coffee and sandwiches. Many people were milling around in a fairly small space waiting for boarding to commence, us included. 12.30 came and went, 1pm came and went, 1.30 pm came and went. No announcements and no movement. Finally they allowed 200 of us into the customs hall in a long queue. Here we stood again for 40 minutes with no chairs and quite a few elderly people. Two P & O staff walked around but did not offer any information or assistance.
We would call this "how to put your passengers off side without really trying!" There were many tired and very irate people at this stage.
The cruise line, just like airlines, should realise that one of the most important things people need during a delay is information. If we had been told boarding was delayed by two hours we would have headed back into the city for lunch rather than be squashed in a crush of people. We hope P & O Australia have addressed this as its really a very bad start to a holiday and casts the ship in a bad light and puts passengers in a foul mood
Finally onboard and our foul mood slowly improved.
We think nothing beats sailing out of Sydney's magnificent harbour and with a cocktail in hand we were out on deck watching the city glide past and we sailed out past the heads and into the South Pacific
The ship is in fact a delight. For those princess devotees you would be at home as the dEcor throughout, the carpets, and indeed the staff uniforms are Princess The public rooms are spacious, our inside cabin was huge with a large walk-in wardrobe, very comfortable bed, good linen and even the pillows were great. We had a delightful cabin stewardess who worked so hard. and always had a talk with us. What was also great to see were a number of Pacific Islanders employed as waiting staff.
The ship operates in Australian currency so we did not have to sweat on the exchange rate of the US dollar.
If you could pick up a cross section of the Australian population and plonk 1800 of them onboard Pacific Dawn this is exactly the people on board this cruise. All ages groups including, surprisingly as this was outside school holidays, about 50 children. Word of Warning, during the Australian school holidays they can have over 500 children on board.
The Public areas are great and very stylish with loads of likght coloured wood venners. We loved the martini bar Crooners and the main restaurant is very good dEcor wise. The service at times was a bit hit and miss. You would wait longer to be served with a drink than say on Princess or RCCL Out by the main pools it was more like I'll get up and go to the bar than a waiter come to us.This ship is rated about 3.5 stars so what we were seeing was what we were expecting and in most cases our expectations were exceeded.
The highlight room for us is "the Dome" which is situated on top of the ship overlooking the bow. Daytime this is a great place to come and read a book. Early evening a great place to have a pre dinner drink and night time becomes a great night club. This room is one of the best public rooms we have experienced on any cruise ship. On the sister ship Pacific Jewel we believe this area is the spa and the gym. Please note for any Berlitz World Wide Cruise guide readers that the information on the dome is wrong for Pacific Dawn
The quality of the food in the buffet was good and we never had a problem getting a table by ourselves for lunch or breakfast, We only ever ate in the restaurant for dinner. Here most nights we had one of the very few tables for two. Its sort of two sittings combined with dine when you want. We think they are still fine tuning that. The waitress who looked after us at dinner was delightful and boy did she work hard. Her offsider was sometimes good sometimes not so good. The menu choices we enjoyed but some nights we felt like we were in an RSL club . Plain roasts or a chicken kiev which was served with french fries. Other nights the kitchen surprised us with really good food.
P&O Australia have recently revamped all the menus onboard. We are sailing on the ship 14th August for a three night weekend gourmet cruise from and back to Sydney so we will be very keen to see if there has been an improvement
Entertainment was average. The pirate show was a bit kitsch but a fun night. One annoying aspect was the way the" look at us arn't we glamorous" young dance entertainment staff hogged the best deck spots by the pools most days
There was a hosted "friends of dorothy" the first evening at sea and we made some good friends here who we would meet up with for a pre dinner drink most nights
William thought the gym was great and had a good work out each day and we both really loved the two spa pools on the back deck. That of become an adults only area by default and it was a great place to sit and soak
The Library was very disappointing. It was obvious that this had once been an American ship aimed at Americans. No offence to our American friends but there is only so much American politics we can read! There had been absolutely no effort at all by the cruise line to stock non-fiction books that would appeal to an Australian or New Zealand audience. Even all the travel guides were about Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe. Nothing about the South Pacific or where the ship is now based. It will be interesting when we are back on board in August to see if this has changed
Talking of appealing to Aussie and Kiwi audiences the dreaded art auction (we personally hate them ) again there was no representation of any New Zealand or Australian artists. There are many good one and famous ones. The days that these auctions took over the atrium we retreated to the Dome.
This cruise was to Suva, Port Denarau , Dravini Island and Savu Savu all in Fiji, then scenic cruising past Tin Can island Tonga, then to Vavau and also Nuku'alofa in Tonga before Noumea in New Caledonia before heading back to Sydney
Suva, we were four hours late due to our late departure. The highlight was having the Fiji Police Band marching up and down the pier as we arrived and docked. That was sensational. As for Suva, well we can say we have been there.
Port Denarau. This is a purpose built resort and gated residential area near Nadi. A number of five star hotels and a very clinical harbourside shopping area . We would recommend doing what we did - take a cab into Nadi and wander up and down the main street and soak up the atmosphere or get the shuttle bus round to one of the five star hotels and relax by the pool. The beach here is not very good. We don't paying for shore excursions preferring to go off and do our own thing
Dravini Island - This would fit most people's idea of a South Pacific Island. Beautiful beaches crystal clear warm water palm trees and a small village. It was a Sunday so village life centred around the church service. A delightful relaxing enriching day
Savu Savu we loved this small village and bought some great dvd's for $1 each. Yes they did work
Tin Can Island - we sailed past this black looking place Everyone had been encouraged to mail postcards to be posted from here. The ship puts them into a big tin can and someone from the island comes out to collect the can. On our day the water was too choppy so the can was left floating. Our postcard finally arrived home in Sydney three months latter!
Vavau - a long cruise up the channel to the anchorage point We took the tender across and found the local souvenir and money changers were only just starting to set their stall up dockside Tongan Time!. There is currency exchange available at the little Western Union branch about five minutes walk from the dock We hired a taxi, the car was an experience in its self but the driver drove us around for a couple of hours and was obviously very proud of where he lived. The evening sailing just before sunset down the channel and out through the sea entrance was stunning
Nuku'alofa we were up just on dawn and watched the most astounding sunrise as the ship steamed toward the very low island on the horizon. The pilot boat looked like the African Queen! We docked at the Queen Salote wharf . Tonga does not get many cruise ships and apart from a few trestle tables with people selling local trinkets there was nothing else. We got a taxi and settled on $15 into town. When he dropped us he insisted on $15 US it was the only time we felt very ripped off. The local markets are fun and we bought two really beautiful fresh flower leis to wear at "Island Night" that night
Noumea , fantastic is all we can say you feel like you are back in civilisation. The cruise terminal is excellent The range of tours on offer are great. Don't buy on board but buy at the pier as they were all about half what the ship's tour office was charging. We had a great afternoon at Bay de Citron swimming and relaxing on the beach. There is an atm machine a short walk from the pier tho now we believe the ship has an atm on board
Back home to Sydney. We were up before dawn to watch us sail in past the heads. Disembarkation was easy and the complete opposite to the disastrous boarding 16 days before. We were back home within fifteen minutes
Did we enjoy this cruise. YES
Will we go back on Pacific Dawn again YES and we hope P&O Australia maintain the standard and the hardware and not let the bean counters cut things back