I flew from Sydney via Auckland to Papeete and had 4 days at the Manava Suites before embarking on the Pacific Dawn to cruise back to Sydney.
I can recommend the Manava Suites. The hotel is new (opened in March 2009) and I was upgraded from a superior room to a one bedroom duplex. It was like a one bedroom apartment with a lounge room and kitchen downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs...very nice. The hotel also has a magnificent infinity pool claimed to be the largest in Tahiti. The only negative was the restaurant - expensive food and drink but then it's Tahiti and everything is expensive there.
I got the hotel shuttle to the ship - it was much cheaper than a taxi but it was driven by the rudest driver I have ever come across - he wanted to drop me off at the ferries rather than the cruise ship. When I pointed this out to him he did quite a lot of swearing in, what I assumed was French, under his breath. He really was creepy and I was glad to get out of the bus.
Embarking was odd. I followed another couple to the end of the wharf where there was a gangway for passengers and a lot of crewing sitting around. No one knew what to do with us and so we just stood around looking at our bags until I asked someone to carry mine on. At the top of the gangway (on the ship), they still didn't know what to do with us especially when I told someone that I was sick and needed to be tested for swine flu. Finally after a lot of fluffing around, I had a picture taken, got my cruise card and the nurse took me off to the Medical Centre to be tested - not a nice test at all! After about 20 minutes, I got the all clear - no swine flu although I didn't really care because I felt dreadful and unfortunately was sick for the entire cruise.
I had originally booked an ocean view cabin on deck 10 however at the last minute was upgraded to deck 11. I really loved my cabin. I have never been aft before - always at the front, so this was a pleasant change. My bed was very comfortable and the water pressure in the shower was amazing - better than what I have at home. I was only a few steps from the back deck where the spa pools were located. I didn't think much of my cabin stewardess. She basically had nothing to do in my cabin because I'm a neat freak however I did ask her for ice every afternoon. I got it 3 times in 16 days so I can't tick the box for good service from her.
With respect to dining, I had most of my meals in the dining room. Although every night, just before closing time, I snuck up to the Buffet to get my cheese and biscuits to eat whilst watching the movie in my cabin.
I also had a nice meal with some Cruise Critic people in the Steakhouse however I did not think it was worth paying an additional $25 for.
Of particular note was the Greek salad and poached salmon at lunch time. Every time I had the salmon, it literally melted in my mouth - I couldn't get enough of it. The lunch menu also had some very yummy desserts. There were a number of vegetarian choices and I enjoyed quite a few of them even though I'm not vegetarian myself.
By the end of the cruise, I was sick of the dining room and sick of the menu. If you didn't like the daily specials, the regular stuff was there day in, day out.
I didn't buy any drinks but people were complaining about the cost of alcohol on board. I didn't notice it stopping people from drinking though. I had dinner with a couple and after 12 days on board, their bill was already $1,700. I hate to think what it was when they got off!
The waiters seemed to work hard but for some reason that I couldn't fathom, the service was ordinary and so slow. It took a long time to get fed and a number of my friends stopped eating in the dining room because of the length of time it took to eat. Breakfast always took at least an hour and the toast always came late.
Several times towards the end of the cruise, the waiters were putting dirty tablecloths back on the tables. Not very impressive.
I regularly went to Le Patisserie for great coffee and yummy cookies. This was also an interesting spot to sit and people watch or watch the ridiculous Art Auctions. Why on earth would P&O put out paintings for auction with a $56,000 reserve price?
I went to a few shows, some I liked and some I didn't like. Syd Halen was quite boring at the beginning with a lot of old, stupid jokes but became very entertaining with his juggling act at the end. I enjoyed Tony Pantano and Jackie Love's performance was average up until she sang a medley of Piaf songs which was utterly brilliant.
I loved The Dome at the front of the ship. This was a great place to read in the morning whilst the sun shined through. I noticed quite a number of people having snoozes in this area both in the morning and in the afternoon.
Unfortunately I had to cancel a few of my excursions because I was sick and I did not get off the ship until our last port, Port Denarau - Dravuni Island was cancelled due to purported bad weather on the home stretch which never actually eventuated. Our ports of call were Moorea, Bora Bora, Pago Pago, Apia, Savu Savu, Suva and Port Denarau.
The onboard lectures were good. Sam Leon, a Life Enhancement Lecturer, was motivating and Peter Anderson, the astronomer, was interesting. We had a night of viewing aft on deck 10 but the weather wasn't good to us; we followed up with another night underneath the bridge on deck 10. Again it was a little cloudy but we did manage to see some star clusters and the area was great because there was not a lot of light. The final night of viewing was a disappointment because again it was cloudy but no one from P&O bothered to turn up with the binoculars. Peter did his best with his laser and we were able to see a few things of interest.
I have been to Liars Club on other ships and it was always really funny. Liars Club on the Pacific Dawn didn't disappoint....it was hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Trivia was a very interesting activity and was well attended however it really brought the worst out in people. This was primarily caused by a team who constantly won the quizzes with very high scores. My team actually won 3 times but I'm convinced it was because we were in port and the "other" team didn't show up. I was surprised towards the end of the cruise when this particular team won (again), and people near me were actually booing them. One lady told me that she'd been to the Pursers Desk to complain (don't know how true this is). I think I'll always remember the Pacific Dawn just for the trivia!
There was a good range of in-cabin movies and many were shown on the big screen in the International Show Lounge. I watched quite a number, e.g. Gran Torino, Castaway, He's Just Not That Into You, Nim's Island, Australia, Revolutionary Road, Yes Man, Bolt, Marley & Me, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, New in Town, Ghost Town, South Pacific, Night at the Museum, Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium, Mamma Mia, Sex and the City and Ice Age.
Disembarkation: I wasn't allowed to get my passport back until after arrival in Sydney - this was because I had embarked in Tahiti. So I had to report to The Dome at 0645, collect my passport and get it stamped by Customs. It was not orderly and there was a bit of sitting around waiting for Customs to get their act together. Finally, I was able to eat a quick breakfast in the Buffet before going to the Show Lounge for disembarkation. My deck was called quickly and I got off the ship at around 0800. I collected my bag immediately and walked to Wynyard station to get the train home.
I'd just like to add some observations regarding being a solo passenger. The solo get-together was nearly always held in the middle of the day - I found that I was usually doing something and so never was able to make it. I would have preferred a solo get-together in the evening before dinner, when you are at a loss for dinner companions. Also I'd meet people and then never see them again. I actually met some people on the way home on the train that I'd never seen on the ship! I also didn't like the huge dining tables - I always seemed to be seated at one with 10 people. It is so difficult to talk to everyone on a table of 10, you seem to be yelling across the table to be heard. I found the tables of 6 were best and whilst I requested this, I didn't always get it.
Apart from that the ship is lovely. It is easy to get around and has many nice public areas to sit in. I didn't spend much time by the pool because I was sick and of the times I did go out to the pool found the area too smoky.
As I mentioned earlier on, I was sick for the whole cruise and that was certainly bad timing and bad luck for me but aside from that, I felt it was an average cruise, not worth the large amount of money I paid for it.