We arrived at Princes Wharf at about 12.00noon. We dropped our bags off and went straight on, no queues etc at all, very fast boarding process, this is very good as there was no hanging around, from dropping the bags off to getting on the ship was no longer than 20 minutes.
First impressions about the ship was that it was more modern that what we are normally used to (Pacific Sun mostly). When checking in they were taking your photo for the 'record', that seems a much better idea than waiting when boarding. Basically walk straight on, after the embarkation photo. At the moment there is a special on - buy the embarkation photo and get a USB stick with a little ship in it (who can resist? - us)
We had an inside cabin on deck 10, in the middle. Cabin was clean and tidy. The ship maybe old, but the cabin was more that adequate. There is a fridge (not a cooler) in the room. The room has the best layout that we have seen so far, a sort of walk-in wardrobe with the bathroom access off that. It is much better than stepping out of the bathroom and into the cabin. Also the shower must get a mention, I am not sure if it was our cabins or all cabins, but the showers are much bigger than all other showers we have been in, not a square shape, but more of a rectangle. The walk-in wardrobe was large and has about 8 draws, lots of hanger space, cupboards, shelving and a safe. Infact it was the best cabin we have had from Dawn Princess, Pacific Star and Pacific Sun.
The cabin steward introduced himself to us and insisted on showing us through everywhere - even though we have cruised before. This was very useful. He was very friendly, professional and approachable. First time in 8 cruises that we have received a towel animal!! Adrian was fantastic, really friendly and helpful, we did not see his assistant (or ask if he had one) so maybe they are going they was of Princess and having a steward to a room and possibly less rooms per steward. Also had the beds turned down etc. Even had chocolates!! In 2009 we were told that the cabins were only serviced once and no turn service etc. seems to have now reverted back to servicing the cabin twice daily.
Food. We mostly eat in the dining room (Waterfront) and this was fine. No unusually long waiting times for us. The food has improved, last year when requesting steamed vegetables just got Carrot, Parsnip (or Turnip) and Potatoes. Now vegetables are more green vegetables - not just the *cheaper* root vegetables. The menu is basically the same as last year with a few variations. The dEcor in the Waterfront is nice, all looks very nice, really nice. All food was fine. The buffet works much, much better than the Sun, and massive long queues are not normal - this still could have been better designed, but a vast improvement on the Sun. I was careful to check the food was hot, and the hot food was hot. There is lots of seats and tables, this ship is bigger than the Sun and tables were available all times we went there. It makes a pleasant change. I have seen comments around where people had commented on the 'slop' served in the buffet on the Pearl. If that was slop - I'll admit to being a pig. Also on deck 12 at lunch time there was a BBQ (boarding) and other days hot dogs and burgers etc. We did not try but I wanted to. ALSO - a Pub Lunch, in the aptly named 'orient' bar, that looks strikingly like an English Pub. Its all included and they had steak sandwiches, pork pies and a few other items from 12- 1pm. The lovely young lady tempted me to try a pork pie, but due to time change confusion on my part we had only had breakfast about 90 minutes prior.
Entertainment. All shows that we saw were good. There was lots of seating available and we did manage to get a seat at the shows. The Circus show - well that was worth going for alone (almost) also shows were held in the Atrium (Circus).
Activities. This is were not all things are equal between ships. There were less activities on the Pearl than say the Sun. There are a large number of activities that you have to pay extra for. Well, basically there are very few activities during the day that are included, most you have to pay extra for. Now, if you enjoy sitting in the hot tub - then you will have to pay - that is in the Oasis. The Adults pool was not available. If you (like me) was looking forward to a Sauna - then you have to pay. The Sauna use is $20 AUD per person, per day - but includes a 'Rock Bed' and 'Tropical Shower' We have spent time in Fiji and know 'Tropical Showers' well, I am 100% sure that they can not reproduce this at sea. Next time I will have a sauna at home. The free activities are Trivia (General and Sports etc), some lectures (when going to the islands I am sure these will be replaced with pushing shore tours), Rose making and Deck Quoits - also walking on the deck was free, as well as the library, putting and Wii being sometimes played that's all - and the movies outdoors. There is a great big screen. No ice sculptures to be seen etc or cooking demonstrations (that I saw). We did look at the cake making competition - there were some very beautifully decorated cakes and some that I an sure would more tasty to the mouth than the eye.
Movement, we were in the middle of the ship and did notice some movement, but not a great deal.
The internet is still pricey, but the connection times were somewhat faster than I have experienced in the past. Also there is wifi access in a lot of public areas.
On the negative side P&O are really, really, really trying their hardest to separate you from even more of your hard earned dollars. You can take you cruise card and directly plug that into the pokie machines - they are now open 24/7. Very few activities included. No longer a galley tour (unless you want to - well you guess correct - PAY for it). Cocktail making (I did not participate, but heard that you did sample the cocktails afterwards) at $20 and demonstrations for $9.00.
On the positive side, this ship is much bigger than the Sun and is not so crowded, it just does not have that constant 'sardine' feel to it, lots of bars and places to sit that are not jam-packed. Fridges in the cabins are great, and the cabins are much nicer and have a much better layout than others, a big plus. Also chocolates on the pillow in the evening??? Nice touch, bit like Princess there. The food has improved - a lot and does not have the 'really cheap' feel to it. The staff were all great and carried out their tasks with efficiency (even when it was hot - and BUSY). Only meet one slightly 'surly' waiter, but hey - it was hot and busy. Must remember the laundry, 2 laundries and the one we had a look in (sad but true) had 10 washers and 10 dryers, so this may very well cut down on 'Laundry Rage'.
Improvements (in my opinion) to make, add a Spa on deck 14 or deck 12, there is lots of room. Few more activities, no water volleyball? No scrapheap challenge? Also on sail away the inclusion of 'Kiwi Hits' always got the crowed into a even better mood, same with the Aussie sail away's I am sure they would appreciate Aussie music (the band was although - very good). After a days activities on shore in the islands there is nothing better than to relax in a Sauna, this really should be part of the gym, not an added extra - its not Cunard, it is P&O Australia, who is going to pay $20 per day for a Sauna and 'Stone Beds' or whatever it is?? I would pay $5.00 for a Sauna, but $20, you are just not in that long.
Will we return for another cruise? Yes.