My Partner and I have just disembarked after a 10 night cruise on P&O Australia's Pacific Jewel. This was our 19th cruise and our 3rd with P&O Australia.
Sydney has a great purpose built overseas passenger cruise terminal right in the heart of the city between the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is where most ships berth when in town. P&0 Australia however berth their ships at Darling Harbour. They also berth Sun Princess and Dawn Princess here. Darling Harbour is just around the corner on the Western side of the Central Business District. The beauty of this is you get to sail right under the Sydney Harbour Bridge - simply stunning. The downside is currently (and for about the next 12 to 18 months) the Port of Sydney has supplied the cruise line with a very large tent to facilitate passenger check-in and embarkation and the reverse when you get back. This tent is a temporary measure whilst the NSW government builds a purpose built new cruise ship terminal at White Bay, still past the harbour bridge but sadly not the current 5 minute walk into the city. This new terminal also will only be able to accommodate ships that can fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There is currently much discussion here in certain circles about the merits of the White Bay development
anyway - Our Cruise
The very large tent and pier is actually very pleasant and workable. Lots of car parking with very good drop off and pick up points. Inside the tent its air-conditioned, good check-in desks, lots of seats to sit in whilst waiting to board and good passport and security checkpoints once you get the go ahead to board. Way better than the old "temporary" terminal that P&O had been using at the next door wharf at Darling Harbour. We were on-board Pacific Jewel by 12.30pm for a 4pm departure.
Originally a Princess ship then a couple of changes until joining the P&O Australia fleet about 12 months ago. The ship is a sister ship to Pacific Dawn however there are a couple of differences inside. The main one being the dome area at the top of ship. On Pacific Dawn this is an amazing crows nest type bar, on Pacific Jewel it is the Spa and Gym.
This ship looks great and is in very good condition. The colour scheme on-board in the public areas is reds and yellows which works well.
Our cabin 5177 was midships on deck 5 and was spacious and nicely furnished. A good size wardrobe and decent bathroom with a shower big enough for two people. Good quality bed linen, the pillows a tad small but not bad, flat screen TV with a good range of movies and also Sky News Australia. No ships satellite map tho which we both missed. We always like to know whereabouts on the ocean we are.
A very high housekeeping standard. We had a really wonderful cabin attendant called Christian. A young guy who was genuinely delightful even when he had sweat pouring off him. Its the only time we both feel guilty being on holiday when your cabin attendant keeps asking how has your day been and the poor person looks like they are about to collapse from over work
Restaurants and Food
In the last 18 months P&O Australia appear to have thrown all their old Pub Grub steak,chips and two veg type restaurant menus, crockery and decor overboard and started again. In a word - SENSATIONAL
The Waterfront Restaurant is the main one operating anytime dining which, for us, worked every evening. You book the day before and we had a table for two at the time we wanted the next evening. The decor is amazing, very modern with the room broken up into many small spaces.
The food - we were constantly amazed at both the presentation and the taste which was always great and in many cases sensational.
The service unfortunately was hit and miss. Sometimes good, sometimes lightening fast, occasionally slow but on most evenings the waiting staff seemed all over the place and on three occasions we were given the wrong main courses and also the wrong bottles of wine. Communication with some of the waiting staff even when we pointed to the specific item on the menus was sometimes frustrating
There are two speciality restaurants on board with a surcharge
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan (one of Australia's top chefs)$30pp
La Luna which is an Asian style restaurant $20pp
Salt Grill we loved and the man himself - Luke Mangan was on board and helped serve our meals. Wonderful waiting staff and it is equal to the best restaurants in Sydney. Well worth the surcharge
La Luna was different, an eight course tasting type asian menu with some odd dishes but overall not bad
The Plantation Buffet - good food, good quality and good service
There are two main bars - the Casbah and Connexions both devoid of character and just rooms to sit in. We discovered the first night that your cocktail and Martinis are limited to the 15 or so shown on the cocktail and Martini lists. My request for the martini I usually have at sea and which was not on the "list" was initially met by a "no we can't do it" to a "well perhaps we can" to a "well yes we can make it but it will cost you" and cost it certainly did. This I followed up with the Food and Beverage Manager who rectified the cost and also ensured I could get my Martini each evening at a realistic price.
Also on this ship they scheduled music and entertainment in the bars at bizarre times. In the Casbah which was the better looking of the two bars there was a sports quiz at 6.30pm every night. 6.30pm is cocktail time
Likewise the piano players (both were very good) would often be finishing when you came out from dinner just when you wanted to sit down and listen to music with a post dinner drink. The Connexions bar would be having Karaoke about the same time as the sport quiz
Sports Quizzes and Karaoke are not our cup of tea
We saw two and these were spectacular and very very good. P&0 Australia seem to have poured a lot of money into these and it showed. Very polished and very professional
There is also a group of five people called "Pacific Cirque" who do the most amazing acrobatic performances. One evening in the atrium, one evening at sea on the top deck where there is a purpose built frame and the last night in the production show
On deck 10 at the stern of the ship is the adults only Oasis outdoor area.
$5.00 pp per half day and worth every cent. Accommodates about 40 people. Very nice rattan cane sun-lounges and settees. Fresh fluffy towels, easy listening music, waiters with chilled water, tea and coffee and also a full bar - a great way to spend the day and you can just come and go as your sun-lounges remain reserved for you
The Club Lounge
A small "hotel club floor" type lounge with free Internet, selected drinks between 5pm-6pm and personalised service but there is a $25 per person per day charge with a minimum of three consecutive days and they would not waiver the three day rule so we did not use it. $150 for two people for a couple glasses of wine each day seemed excessive
The first three days from Sydney the ship encountered very rough seas. Gale force 9 winds and 7 to 10 metre waves. It was more like the North Atlantic in winter than the South Pacific! We both felt fine and we were grateful for our midships cabin down low on deck 5. Many many passengers and also crew were ill. Not a great start to a holiday and for about 90% of the passengers on board this was their first cruise. Once the ship arrived at the Isle of Pines the weather improved dramatically.
Also , whether due to three days and nights of being bounced and banged around or not, in Noumea we were advised that Pacific Jewel had developed propulsion problems and our last port of call was cancelled. The ship stayed alongside in Noumea for an additional 18 hours then took an extra day to sail back to Sydney. This delay was handled with the highest professionalism by the cruise line. Free Internet was offered. Two phones at reception to make free telephone calls, this did cause long lines for three days but they were free and a credit put onto everyone's room account. We were wrapped as we ended up with another day at sea. Most people we spoke to were also very happy.
Overall we have had another wonderful and relaxing cruise.
If you are accustomed, like we are, to Princess Cruises or better then this may not be the ship for you. Pacific Jewel, like its sister ship Pacific Dawn, is aimed squarely at middle Australia. Great Food,Good Entertainment, average bars where the most consumed drink on board is beer and sports quizzes and Karaoke rule.