I've travelled a lot over the years (a former travel agent, then financial services, now rehabilitation counsellor), and got reacquainted with cruising last November 2009 on the Diamond Princess (Asia to Sydney) quickly followed by the NYE to NZ cruise on Sun Princess, both as a solo cruiser. My name is Debbie and I am now a cruisaholic. I went into this cruise trying to have no expectations, I'm rarely a whinger and go with the flow. I met my partner before I went on these cruises but pushed away his advances until I got back hehe. Told him if he wants to be part of my life he must love travelling and cwoozing (and dogs, washing, ironing and cooking LOL)! So with that, I booked this cruise 2 weeks before sailing, after changing jobs and cancelling a few other cruises on Royal Caribbean South Pacific, Princess South Pacific and Princess to South America because of work, I will start with saying P&O were not my first choice but they fitted into my schedule. My partner went on the Fairstar in 1980 something and has had a few land trips to Europe and even walked the Kokoda Track a few years ago. I'm an official SKI (spend kids inheritance) at the ripe old age of 51. My partner is a couple of years younger (I'm a cougar hahahahahaha)
Embarkation at Wharf 5
Being Sydneyites with all the intentions of getting there at 11.00 am, we finally arrived at 2.00 pm LOL Bag drop off was quick with plenty of P&O staff directing. They handed out the green immigration card and health card to fill in, then onto the very long queue for check-in. I thought we would be there for hours but it took about 20 minutes, then through immigration and up the gangway. All up about 30 minutes from bag drop off to gangway.
Now to check out the cabin and I was pleasantly surprised. It was bright and airy with plenty of storage. The "pay for it" robe and slippers where there and thanks to this forum I knew not to open them (I never read directions lol) , but the big disappointment was the balcony. We had 102XX, aft, and I sat on the deckchair and couldn't see a thing except white metal, and even though I'm a midget my very tall partner couldn't see anything either. The balconies on Deck 10 are very narrow and closed in and it had an odd smell. The timber balcony furniture was in desperate need of replacement. I believe the Deck 11 balconies are more open. Unfortunately, we did not really use the balcony. Oh well, such is life. I'm not going to let this spoil my cruise! So onward to check out the ship. We had a quick whiz around, stopped at the Aqua Spa to check out the thermal suite, but decided at $199 for a couple, and no heat beds (like Princess) we probably wouldn't use it. Then muster was called so back to the cabin to get the lifejackets and do what ya need to do. Our cabin steward was pretty slack (thus I left my cabin number out). In fairness it was his last cruise on a 9 month contract and he was dying to get home to his new wife and start making babies. I sent laundry out (all the clothes covered in cow shyte - read below LOL) and it took him 3 days to bring it back, although, he even admitted he was slack in bringing it back.
There's nothing like it eh? Lots of action happening on deck, music, dancing, drinks. The buzz of sailing away out of Sydney Harbour is never under-estimated. I love it! We left on time and enjoyed the goings on. Then back to the cabin to get changed to meet up with chopper62 and robg54 at Connexions at 6 pm. It's funny how you know who people are. There were heaps of people there but I spotted chopper62 and his wife immediately with no prior visual. They had that cruise forum look about them LOL We chatted for about 1.5 hours but no Rob and his wife to be seen. We then went to the dining room for dinner and onto the Marquee for the Welcome Aboard Show.
I thought the shows were very good and a great mix of daily activities and entertainment. After reading about Zoltina-J here I was concerned but all that was alleviated. I found her to be a great CD with a great personality and perfect for the job. Bingo with Bobbi was also fun and once again, she'll make a great CD some day. Only wished we'd won though LOL. The jackpot only got to $5100 at the end. The Pacific Cirque were awesome. Doing their thing without nets or clipped on. On Island night it was windy but the ship slowed and turned so they could perform "Syzygy" which was fantastic. They also did a show, the "Vignette" in the Atrium one night. Make sure you got to Deck 6 or 7 to see this or front row of Deck 5. We managed to see just about everything that was on offer and I could not complain about the entertainment.
I'm a non-drinker but I thought the price of alcohol was expensive for a cruise ship. They had some mocktails but would make up anything you wanted which was great. All the bar staff were great. The Cafe and the other coffee shop/bar in the atrium made great coffee.
Well, ya just gotta love the casino when you win LOL We did alright and came out in front. I also won a helicopter flight for Port Vila in the casino raffle but as it was only for one, we had to buy another one at $99 LOL. The staff here were helpful and friendly and the bar staff always on top of things! My partners complaint was they switched the satellite to beam in the AFL so missed out on the NRL although they did replay the games later at night. Don't know why he bothered....his team, the Rabbitohs got hammered by my team....the Dragons. If you were on the ship you will know who he is as he had the bloody green and red jersey on A LOT! LOL
Noumea - fortunately I didn't book any shore tours although I was interested to go over to Amadee or Duck Island. The weather was lousy so we decided we would do the hop on hop off bus that I'd read about. When we got off there were tour operators in the cruise terminal offering tchoo tchoo train ($25 pp compared to $59 pp for ship's tour) and island tours. All the operators advised us the aquarium was closed on a Monday, so we chose the tchoo tchoo train and had a ball as there were a lot of fun people on the train. If you had booked the ship's tour to do the Aquarium they were opening it especially for the ship. We came back then went out to Lemon Bay ($10 pp return in a shuttle) for lunch. Can't remember the name of the restaurant but it wasn't that good, then had a yummy ice cream and coffee and back to wander the streets of Noumea and back onto the ship. So most of bag Noumea, why do they stop there? The Captain advised that if we want to go to the other islands they must stop there for immigration purposes. Suck it up folks! There was no problem using Aussie dollars here although I had some pacific francs.
Lifou - did our own thing. Tender port, no dramas. Wandered over to Jinek Bay for the snorkelling we were looking forward to (took our own gear but you can hire it on the ship for about $45 I think), but I was very disappointed, as were others who had snorkelled there before. Not sure if it was because it was low tide, but not the best, although it was nice to swim in the sea! The water wasn't overly warm and I lasted about 30 minutes before I began to freeze. I don't understand why P&O don't pay to get the steps fixed! Surely it won't cost them much. They are dangerous. There are markets and massage here also. Aussie dollars OK as well. Take $5.00 notes and coins for $3.00 items, and change their coins for them if they ask! A couple of people were disgusted they were asked to change coins (get a life folks! They can't cash them). When they brought the tenders in one got a buoy wrapped around it's propeller which they didn't realise until the brought the concrete block up with it! Kinda funny. They spent forever trying to unravel it.
Port Vila - Extreme sports day LOL. Lashed out on shore tours. We started with the Buggies and had an absolute ball, although they did try to slow us down. The warning was you will get muddy.....we ended up getting covered in cow shyte. So funny!!! Well worth it, except for slowing us down! Next we had the Jetboat which was fantastic fun. We got absolutely drowned but way better than any other I had been on, however, I have not done the Shotover in NZ and another couple said the shotover was way better. We had a blast. Next for a freebie (almost) helicopter ride. At $99.00 it was only 7 minutes and I wouldn't pay for it but it was an awesome view, complete with turbulence, weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Some people off the ship came to book direct, and they were still charged the ship's price. Duty free shopping - smokes and alcohol super cheap. Everything else such as electronics/cameras/perfume on par with OZ or what was on the ship. We went to the waterfront for coffee and wandered around the markets here. Aussie dollars are OK. Stopped at the markets winding up to the ship for a look see and to pick up island night stuff. Saw Chrissy and cashed some coins and gave her a large cash donation for the hospital.
Wala - what a beautiful stop. Tender port, no dramas. The snorkelling was fantastic and we saw lots of Nemos hehe. I found Nemo yeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. The ships Pacific Daily said the walking tours offered by locals are free but they do have donation boxes so bring coin. No mention of markets, so heaps of people had to go back to the ship to get money. Lots of markets, drinks available and the island tour is $10.00 pp.
OK, so I have no idea why we got mini-suite benefits but we did. I still wonder if it's because I'm a Princess cruiser and they're trying to swoon me over? No one else we spoke to in balcony cabins on Deck 10 received the privilege. On our 2nd day we got fluffy bathrobes and slippers and extra bathroom amenities. Priority disembarkation was a special treat! On cocktail nights we got canapEs delivered to our cabin, and we were invited to the Captain's small and private cocktail party in the Club Lounge. Whilst the Captain had photos taken with everyone on their arrival his officers were all milling around together - not very impressive actually.
The first two sea days the weather was lousy but on our first sea day after all the ports we used the Oasis for the day. $5 for half a day, $10 for full day pp. It was a nice retreat, very comfy sun lounges, bar service, piped music (relaxing type) and well worth it!
Captain Neil Turnbull
Funny bugger for a pom LOL His regular daily updates, his welcome show, his interview....all great. A captain WITH a personality hehe. On loan from Pacific Dawn to cover the other captains leave. On a more serious note, he was very good at advising the passengers about the Christchurch earthquake and keeping us up to date. He railroaded us for 20 minutes at his cocktail party....aren't we special hehe We discussed the 'food' situation with him and various other cruising and personal life topics (his and ours) as well. He advised us they were bringing P&O UK senior crew down to OZ to endeavour to fix things up.....there ya have it straight from the Capitans mouth!
Lots of people puking on the first 2 sea days. It was only a 3m swell but was coming from the quarter so made things particularly rock and rolley. Fortunately we don't get sea sick! The weather was cold and cloudy also on those first 2 sea days. By the time we got to Noumea it had warmed up a little to about 21C but still not overly warm. Lifou it warmed up a little more about 23C but still overcastish but Port Vila and Wala it was sunshiney, warm with beautiful warm water! Although the captain advised it might get bumpy on the way back, and the spew bags were placed on the banisters of the stairs (not a good sign!) we were lucky and he sailed around it. The last day as we got closer to Sydney the pitching started (more sick people) and cloudy but overall I thought the seas were very kind to us.....it helps not being a motion sickness person LOL
I'm going to put this in as we spoke to many people who complained about having to pay for the ship's doctor up front. It's what happens on cruise ship people, in fact, it happens on land too in foreign countries. Wait a minute, you pay upfront mostly in OZ too, then claim it back. A woman also collapsed on deck and the medical team were there swiftly, followed by the Captain calling for stretcher support. Sadly, they did appear to have to perform resuscitation and I have no idea of her condition. I hope she is OK.
La Luna - $20 pp cover charge - Dinner - I loved it, but I heard lots of complaints about it. It's not your local Chinese restaurant which is why I loved it. Great taste sensation and they change the menu half way.
Salt Grill - $30 pp cover charge - Dinner - Luke Mangan was on board and was wafting around the restaurant. What is the hype about this place? The food was good, but not excellent. The service was excellent though. I wouldn't pay his prices on land if this was what he was serving. And the extra charges (ie. $4 per oyster on top of the cover charge???? What's with that!)
Usually the partaker of many a spa treatment, being so busy I didn't get around to it until the last day. So I booked a triple treatment hehe Body Scrub, Massage and Facial. The girls were great at their art and I had no complaints. Yeah it's expensive but you already know that!
Captains Club Cocktail Party
Anyone who had cruised before was here LOL and it was held in the Marquee. Drinks and nibblies. I always like these to see who is the most cruised. Well the winner was a 90 year old lady who was on her 150th cruise! Funnily enough, we were up in the buffet one day (prior to this) and she was pushing her walker unsteadily from the coffee machine with a cup of coffee in her hand spilling on the floor. Not a sole helped her, and I promptly grabbed her cup, walked her to her table and got her comfy. My partner questioned her ability to be on the cruise alone! I said, leave her alone, that'll be me hahahahaha It was a port day, so I daresay her family were on shore.
I love dressing up on these nights. When you do the kind of work I do you don't get to wear much bling! LOL The people that made the effort looked great and I find it a special part of a cruise. It's a shame they've dropped it back to Cocktail from Formal. The boys always look great in their tux's.
Shops on Board
Very ordinary and expensive compared to Princess (ooops I compared) LOL.
I was surprised at the age of the passengers. Mostly families, middle aged and elderly but not many younguns. The younguns we spoke to were a little disappointed that there weren't many 20-30ish crowd? and the girls definitely outnumbered the boys in this age bracket (so the girls told us LOL)
We had a fantastic time, met some wonderful people including chopper62 and his wife (we're still looking for robg54 and his wife hehe), never had dud dinner partners and had some great laughs with folks, we ignored the chronic whingers (why do they bother cruising????)....anyway I digresss. Overall it was a great cruise........................except
I saved the worst for last. What a disgrace. The whole food and food service is disgusting, yes disgusting, and I am not a foodie! Let's face it, the focal point of cruising is food.....it's all you do! LOL Most of the food and beverage staff seemed to be miserable with the rare few who were always happy and smiling, so compared with the rest of the friendly, efficient ship's crew it was very very noticeable.
Service in the Waterfront Restaurant was hit and miss (more miss).
Lunch - 2 hours to get lunch is not my idea of lunch and we never went back after hearing others say the same thing day in and day out. The same menu for breakfast and lunch every day with no specials.
Dinner - The meals were very small, and my partner is a tradie with a BIG appetite and it was impossible to get another serving, you had to beg for an extra bread roll, so he needed to go and pay for pizza afterwards. This is wrong! The piece de resitance was getting dessert in the same cheap plastic bowls they have in the buffet.....what's wrong with that in the dining room????
The buffet. Breakfast was fair, same same same every day. No variety! Lunch and dinner was bland, slop and the same same same salads every day. C'mon P&O get some imagination happening. It's not that difficult!
Also, the air-conditioning faded towards the end and it was very hot in some public areas of the ship and the constant blocking of the public toilets, with many lifts constantly out of service. It's an old ship, I understand that, but these things really do bring the quality of the ship down.
Would I sail with P&O Australia again? They were not my first choice, but I'm glad I experienced it. But not unless they lift their food game, or I need a 2 nighter to get to elite on Princess haha Oh yeah, I didn't miss The Dome LOL
I start a new job tomorrow and have already asked for time off LOL........now time to plot my next escape
I know this is long, and I've tried to cut it down and I know I've missed out stuff, so thanks for reading it!