TRAVELLING ON "PACIFIC PEARL"
Who would have thought that after four decades of travelling by sea, and not meeting one person I knew, I take a short eight night cruise and meet up with many people who I knew by name or they knew me. And even more so to meet a girl I went through Primary School with and a guy whom I had not seen for 20 years.
That took place on Pacific Pearl which just returned to Auckland last Thursday. I wanted to book a cruise which would include Christmas at Sea and as I was with my elderly mother, who did not want to be away too long, this one fitted perfectly. I would have preferred to use another Shipping Line but although apprehensive I made the booking.
As you will see my apprehension proved to be valid. Having never departed from Queen's Wharf I was interested in seeing how it operated. It was an utter shambles with the Ports of Auckland and other staff doing the best they could with the terrible conditions. However we got there and was impressed with the cabin size and amenities. The most simple and effective shower in all my years of travel!! A good sized balcony added to it's comfort although one minor quibble and that is a two seater would have made things easier than a three seater. But no doubt the latter may have been available for a third person.
Pacific Pearl is not a young ship which may have accounted for the breakdown in air conditioning on the second day at sea leaving us in rather frigid conditions (was corrected a few hours later), and the extreme slowness of the elevators. There always seemed to be one out of order somewhere in the ship.
The refurbished Pacific Pearl (formerly Ocean Village) is vey nice. The layout of the ship appealing and the lounges warming. As with most ships these days it does take a while to find ones way around; especially when not all elevators go to the top deck. Ship announcements could be better and when in port I found the midday message from the Bridge did not exist! A commentary when coming into port would be an asset. Not all ships perform this task but the last couple I have been on do this and it does enhance the voyage.
There is, as on most ships, plenty to do. The list of activities should satisfy most cruisers. And, of course, there is plenty of evening entertainment for those who want it.
The downside of Pacific Pearl is the Dining- and it is a major. One has the choice of either the Plantation Restaurant (buffet) or the Waterfront Restaurant (Anytime dining and a la carte). Other than the specialty restaurant (Salt) there is nothing else. Anytime dining does not work in a ship of this size. One has to complement this type of dining with the good old fixed first and second sittings. I understand there were frequent exchanges of money so that passengers retained their regular meal times and tables for dinner. 90% if the meals lacked flavour and all hot meals were served either luke-warm or cool (read cold) in both restaurants. Another attraction for me, was for Mother to experience, as I said earlier, Christmas at Sea. I have been involved in this festivity twice before and was really looking forward to it. However it turned out to be a most abysmal affair, with the least said the better.
For me the highlight of the cruise was being able to dine at Luke Mangan's restaurant "Salt". The food was divine and the service excellent.
As usual there was a very interesting mixture of passengers on board - lots of families and they all appeared to be enjoying themselves. Meeting people is part of travelling by ship and, in the main, those I met were most interesting. It is always interesting to meet those who have also done a lot of sailing in ships/liners so as to compare notes.
The marketing/advertising of Pacific Pearl I thought it was a little bit "over the top" . Superliner it isn't" Has one ever visited New Zealand? I think not, but I could be wrong. Even Mary 2 (the grandest vessel to visit our shores is ONLY a liner. "Cheap Cruises" (a term I loathe), they are, and accordingly one gets what they pay for. The cruise was perfect for families and first time cruisers (of which there were many of both genre) but not for those who travel by sea regularly.
In conclusion - did I enjoy the cruise. For meeting people and to experience Salt - YES. Everything else - I don't think so. Would I travel P&O Australia again. Not if I can help it but it it would be a way to get from A to B - most likely.