First off, let me say that the ship sailed from Brisbane. The bit listing Melbourne is rubbish but the system will not let me choose Brisbane and will not let me leave the area blank. We live in Melbourne and flew to Brisbane to join the flight.
My husband and I are both in our 50s, we've been on 2 cruises and we travelled both times with two other couples in the same age bracket. So there were six of us and I am basing the review on our overall impressions. Our first cruise was in January 2009 on Sun Princess and we went to the South Pacific, while our latest cruise was on Pacific Dawn to ports in Far North Queensland. You will probably find I compare ships a fair bit, but I figure this is fair in that a lot of other aussies might like to know these details.
Both cruises took place in school holidays, because I am a teacher and that is when I get holidays.
It was a good cruise-comfy bed, pleasant staff, good food and entertainment.
But Pacific Dawn is probably not a ship that will dazzle you if you have been on bigger ships. Pacific Dawn is rated half a star under Sun Princess and I told the others that, but all the same, they were still a little disappointed overall with first impressions of the ship. This is not to say the ship was no good, just they weren't as impressed by the physical aspects of the ship as on our first cruise.
THE SHIP. First impression of the Pacific Dawn was that it was a nice ship-but the others in the group commented several times that it was a 'much smaller' ship than the Sun Princess, but the difference actually isn't as huge as it may appear. The Princess ships seem to be quite a lot glitzier. The public areas are definitely bigger and have that wow factor that is missing in the Pacific Dawn. This is especially true of the atrium area, which is just dazzling on the Sun Princess, with its well lit stairs and glass elevators.
There is nothing wrong with the Pacific Dawn public areas, they are perfectly comfortable, but they tend to be a bit dark. That was one of my first impressions. The Sun Princess was much more light filled. Why Pacific Dawn recarpeted in brown is a mystery to me as although it is nice enough carpet, the whole area needs a lift, to be a little lighter and brighter.
The Sun Princess is also, generally speaking, in better nick, as my husband would say. The overall finish is better. My friend's husband commented that the Pacific Dawn had a fair bit of rust on railings and on the outside. This won't affect your cruise but it is a first impression. The ship recently underwent a refurbishment but they missed some areas.
CABINS. We had inside cabins in both ships. The Pacific Dawn cabin was a MUCH better design, in my opinion. It was bigger, for a start. In the Sun Princess, we asked for a queen bed set up but walked in to see two singles, each against a wall. We left it that way as there was barely room to walk between them as it was. There was a desk and chair but the TV could only be viewed from the bed.
On this cruise, we asked for single beds but walked in to find it set up as a queen bed. But in Pacific Dawn, the set up really worked well. There was plenty of room to walk round, more like a motel size, and there was a curtained wall that gave an impression of a window. The bathroom was a better design with a shower area about twice the size of Sun Princess.
There were little things that let Pacific Dawn down though-specifically the finish inside cabinets and so on. Pieces of laminate were missing or chipped and it made the cabin look a bit tired and tatty in parts. But the bed itself was excellent, very comfortable, and we had lovely pillows. around Sun Princess.
Overall, I would say Pacific Dawn cabins run rings around Sun Princess cabins, for comfort and design, but not for finish, if that makes sense! But maybe the cabins need to have those little cosmetic things fixed as they go along-it would look better. I think the fact the cabins are bigger on Pacific Dawn may help explain why the ship looks 'much smaller' than Princess ships. There is less room left for the public areas if you have bigger cabins.
Now to something that we noticed that really affected our enjoyment of the ship.
The PROMENADE deck. Both ships had them. But on Sun Princess, this deck goes all the way round the ship. This means you can do the circuit. It is great exercise.
I really missed this on the Pacific Dawn as the two sides of the promenade do not connect. We were limited to walking up and down on one side, so we just didn't bother. We didn't use the promenade deck half as much as it wasn't anywhere near as 'open' in feel. Maybe it doesn't sound like that big a deal but it will make a difference to how I choose a ship in future. There is a running track on deck 14 of Pacific Dawn but I wasn't interested in that. Some of us really missed a promenade deck we could walk around a few times while watching the ocean. We didn't get that on Pacific Dawn.
THE DOME nightclub. This is on Pacific Dawn and my friends were impressed, claimed it was much better than anything Sun Princess had.
EMBARKATION. Much the same, although it took a little longer with P&O as we had to wait around after the formalities, till our number was called. On our first cruise, which left from Melbourne, we walked straight onto the ship once we got our cruise card. One little item. P&O now have a nifty little hole in their card, ready for the lanyard. Princess ships may do this now, I don't know, but back in 2009 they didn't and it was a bit silly as 2000 people then had to queue up at the purser's desk over the next day or so to have a hole punched in the card. Congratulations to P&O for a sensible move.
SAFETY DRILL. Okay all ships seem to have to have this just before sailing, but what a shemozzle. Sun Princess managed it all so much better. On our first cruise, we arrived at our venue, sat down, were given the drill, then went back to our cabins. On the present cruise on Pacific Dawn, no such luck. First off, we were directed to a venue that didn't have Buckley's hope of seating even half the people assembled there. So we had to stand. I found it hard on my feet so heaven only knows how the really elderly got on. Then.. the drill didn't start on time. It was delayed for over 30 minutes. Could even have been longer. It felt longer, I know that much! It was annoying to be told in announcements that they were a bit behind time, but to just sit down and make ourselves comfortable. There were clearly no chairs available. Running late with things and long queues of people was to be a constant feature of this cruise at various times. It didn't make for a good start to the cruise.
FOOD. At the risk of sounding like a real set of gluttons, we were all devastated that the buffet on Pacific Dawn wasn't open 24/7-or at least all day. There were times in the late afternoon when it would have been nice to just wander in for a coffee and be able to pick up a cracker and cheese or some fruit or a slice. Sun Princess beats Pacific Dawn hands down in this regard as it is open round the clock.
I found the quality of the food to be similar. In fact, I probably enjoyed the food on P&O a fraction more, on the whole, than on Princess. But at night, after the shows, we would go to the buffet for a coffee, only to find we were being given wind up signals to leave by about 10pm.
I liked the food in the Pacific Dawn dining room much better than the buffet offerings. It was definitely of a higher standard and the formal dining room is a lovely looking room. But it would have made a big difference to have had tea or coffee available after the meal. There was none. It was a real pain on this cruise to have to travel from the dining room right up to the buffet just to have our coffee at the end of a meal. I can't see why P&O can't include it in the dining room. It was certainly never offered to us.
BUFFET area on Pacific Dawn. Again, not as nice to be in as the similar area on Sun Princess. I don't know what they have done to the glass but it isn't always clear to see through. When up in the buffet near a window, you want to be able to have a clear view of the ocean- not on Pacific Dawn, it's blotchy. The back area of the buffet needs a revamp. It is far too dark, with heavy curtains plus venetians. I would prefer a sea view myself. It is also hot and stuffy compared to the side areas of the buffet, so be warned.
First morning when we went for breakfast, we struck a long queue at the buffet-way out the door and half way to the pool area. Only one side of the buffet was open. We turned round and went to the dining room, where we had excellent service.
Near the pools, I noticed that there were no free chips or burgers for the kids. This was a highlight for them on Sun Princess. They would hang out by the pool almost all day and even eat there. On Pacific Dawn, there was an area near the buffet but they were charging for chips. Disappointing. No soda or coffee cards on P&O either.
FACILITIES. Laundries on Pacific Dawn were large and excellent, they ran rings around Sun Princess, though having said that, they were not on every level. But there were big rooms with multiple machines. I never saw anyone much in the rooms and had no trouble using an iron when I wanted one. Mind you, we were on a 7 day cruise, we may have struck busier times on a longer cruise. On Sun Princess, there was a tiny laundry room on our deck and every time I went past, it was busy.
HOT TUBS. Better location on Pacific Dawn, although it depends which ones you talk of. There were some near the main pools. I never went near these, just used the ones on deck 11. This is because of the location. Our cabins were on deck 11 and at the back of that deck there are two hot tubs. They are a lot smaller than the ones on Sun Princess. On Sun Princess, you can fit 6 adults no worries. On the Pacific Dawn ones, you would be lucky to fit 3. But the location of those tubs on deck 11 is magic as they command a view of the ocean. It's lovely to sit in one and just watch the sea. There were hardly any people out on that deck. I blame Pacific Dawn management for this (though it worked in our favour I guess). There were signs on the doors, just as you went out onto deck 11, that said "Oasis area' and stated this was a fee paying area and open only to adults. When I saw it first, I naturally thought the deck was off limits unless we paid but then when I looked closer at ship layout designs, I noticed the oasis was actually down on deck 10. Why they placed the sign on a door leading to deck 11 I have no idea.
So for your information, deck 11 is better than deck 10, from what I can see. It has deck chairs PLUS 2 spas. Why would anyone pay to go down to deck 10, with no hot tubs?
POOLS. I didn't use them but they seemed much smaller on Pacific Dawn.
ART AUCTIONS. Better run on Pacific Dawn, in my opinion. The man in charge of these gave a run down on starting bid, how the auctions worked, and clearly stated if a bid had reached the reserve. This wasn't done on Sun Princess, although the information about artists and types of art was much more educational and informative on Sun Princess. I noticed though that a lot more art was sold on Pacific Dawn and I am guessing it is because the whole process was so much clearer and people knew when a bid won. On the Princess ship, I never could tell if a bid had won or been passed in.
ENTERTAINMENT. Pacific Dawn put on 4 full productions over the week. We were 12 days on Sun Princess with nothing like that amount. I thought the productions also had better costuming on Pacific Dawn and were more varied. We even had two circus type acts in the atrium, so there definitely was more variety on Pacific Dawn. One thing I noticed was that Pacific Dawn had a theme night almost every night-there was cowboy night, pirate night, island night, as well as 2 formal nights. This was in one week. No one went over the top dressy on formal nights on this cruise. It was more cocktail party type dress. I didn't bother with things like cowboy night but let me just say that if you are a family with young kids or teens, the P&O Australia line may be more to their liking as it seems to cater much more for the nightclub crowd and the Dome was a more spectacular venue than that available on Sun Princess.
Sun Princess though had a better ambience in that there were musicians constantly in the atrium area. This meant we heard music constantly and could sit and have a coffee in that atmosphere. There were musicians on Pacific Dawn but tucked away in bars, nowhere near as evident, nowhere near the ambience.
Keeping in mind both cruises were in school holidays, I would say the crowd was much younger on P&O. I noticed many toddlers and young children. On Sun Princess, we were told there were 400 children and the crowd was 'much younger' than usual, but I think most must have been teens as we rarely saw them. The children were never any bother on either cruise.
Oh my god, where do I start? On this cruise, we all booked two ship-organised excursions. One was to the Great Barrier Reef and the other was in Cairns, with a gondola ride above the Daintree rainforest to Kuranda, with a train ride back.
For both excursions, we had to meet in the theatre and huge tour groups were involved. For both excursions, we were kept waiting long beyond our scheduled meeting time and we were late getting away. Considering the cost of the excursions ($219 and $179pp), that is not good enough. In the rainforest excursion in particular, my main memory is of massive crowds and queuing. First we queued for the gondola ride. Then we got off half way, as instructed, and had to queue another 40 minutes for the second part of the ride. This gave us exactly 35 minutes in Kuranda village, to have lunch and look around, before we had to catch a bus to come back via the train. I didn't meet anyone who was happy with this. It would have been far better to leave earlier and give everyone at least 90 minutes in Kuranda. As it was, it was rush, rush, rush and we saw very little. Stressful. Maybe they should try to break tour groups into smaller components as moving us all en masse was stressful.
We did our own thing in Port Douglas. I would advise anyone visiting this area to look up the Port Douglas historical society website as it lists information about places to visit on a walking tour which you can do yourself. The tender takes you right into town. It was our most relaxed excursion of the tour and cost us no money.
On the Sun Princess, I felt the tours were better organised by far but that may be because we chose shorter excursions and the numbers of people on them were smaller.
STAFF on board ship- Very happy with the level of service.
One thing though-at the end of the cruise, we had to fill out a questionnaire on both cruises. The P&O form was much easier and user friendly. Also-and this is a MAJOR difference, we were not asked to rank individual people and weren't hassled by staff about it. On Sun Princess, there was automatic tipping but on the last days, out came trays and trays of envelopes, the entire foyer was taken over by the things, and there were multiple announcements exhorting us to take some to reward staff.
In contrast, P&O, which also had automatic tipping at the time of our cruise, simply mentioned on the TV program that it could be removed, changed or that we may care to take an envelope and reward individuals instead if we so chose. That was the end of the matter and a small pile of envelopes were discreetly available on the purser's desk. You had to look for them to even see them. P&O handled it with more class, in my opinion.
As we didn't have our cars with us, we used maxicabs and they were marvellous. They were everywhere, they came amazingly quickly when called, they hold all the luggage no problems and still have room for about 8-10 people and if there are a few of you splitting the cost, they work out much cheaper than catching public transport. eg Maxicab from airport to wharf came to $42, while a bus would have cost us $15 each.
Did we enjoy our cruise on Pacific Dawn? Yes.
Will we go with P&O Australia again? Perhaps not, unless the price is really cheap. Maybe we were spoilt by our first cruise but the people I was with all want a ship with at least the same wow factor as Sun Princess. Pacific Dawn is quite a nice ship but it presents as a smaller ship, a little tired in some sections and lacking some of the facilities such as 24 hour buffet. On the other hand, it has excellent laundry facilities and better designed cabins with more comfortable beds.