We recently cruised the south pacific cruise from 6th March till 11th March 2010. This was our seventh cruise (second with P&O, first one with the Sun) and it rated as the second worst overall. Although we had a great time the ship is in bad need of being upgraded, the ship had buckets collecting water leaks in all sorts of places. We paid extra for a mini-suite (first time) and we lost power on 2 occasions, both times it took 1.5 hours for someone to turn up to rectify the problem.
The staff are quite friendly, however, we found with the anytime dinning that the waiters were not as good as on ships with set dining times. We previously cruised on the Sun with set dining and it was the best service we had experienced. On the Dawn you can make a dinner reservation and we did for the same table each night, we had the same waiters Made and Maria and they were great. The service by them was great, however, the food dished out by the kitchen was not. As previously stated this was our second least enjoyable cruise and unfortunately it appeared that any non meat on a dish was prepared too far in advance, eg potato gratin, came out cold, the potato had gone grey and tasted grainy. The meat on the dishes was always cooked good, however the fish was always overcooked and the steak on the lunch menu was always well done. The pavlova was disappointing, whipped meringue on a plate and touched lightly with a torch.
The production shows were great and of a high standard compared to other shows we have experienced. The guest comedian was also highly amusing and also sang and played the clarinet and saxophone, Baker Street was a highlight.
The ship saw some pretty rough weather, especially the last night, but the Dawn seems to feel the weather a lot more than other ships with movement the entire cruise so if you get sea sick make sure you take medication, otherwise you can buy tablets on board.
The ports- Lifou and Villa were most enjoyable, make sure you walk over the hill at Lifou to snorkel. Noumea is a big let down. We didn't book any tours through the cruise ship as most things are twice the price. We got off in Noumea and for $15 got about an hour and a half tour of Noumea, near the end the driver told us not to be in the city after 6 as it turns into a ghetto. At 5:15 all the shops had their garage doors half way down already. So be careful if you decide to stay after this time as the ship doesn't get in till around 3pm.
We ate at the buffet only out of necessity, ie. If we missed the dining room opening times. The buffet only has two lines as it is all in one section instead of being segmented like other ships and the queues are usually long and for some reason moves incredibly slow as people seem to take soooo long to pick up a piece of food and place it on their plate. We didn't hear anyone speak highly of the buffet and the food on it wasn't enjoyable. Breakfast was the only meal that seemed to be served fresh.
One last tip be careful of signage in the shops claiming 30% off, as it isn't. I had an argument with staff as this sign was suddenly placed with the watches and when i went to purchase it was for full price and then the staff told me it is 30% off high end prices??? I assume this means 30% of the maximum retail price? Needless to say I didn't purchase the watch. We were advised that the ship will be in dry dock in May so we hope it is for an upgrade, as for P&O advertising Australia's first superliner (Yeah, we get a second hand ship that almost 20 years old), it seemed as though the Pacific Sun had more open spaces than the Dawn. Anyway in the future we will be flying to Sydney and cruising with Royal Carrabean or Holland America or one of the other cruise liners now coming to Australia, not only are they cheaper their ships and food are superior, why P&O are still so expensive is a mystery.