We had a few changes on our planned cruise so there were no real surprises when there were changes during the cruise. We started out with a planned cruise on Pacific Pearl but a change by P&O saw that ship doing cruises out of NZ when we wanted to cruise. A change was made to Pacific Jewel as it was cruising to two of the best island stops, Ouvea and Champagne Bay, along with Noumea and Vila. About 6 months out from the cruise Ouvea was changed to Lifou, reportedly because the natives were restless. Been to Lifou several times and I can't say it is a standout port.
BOARDING. We were pretty early for boarding so we dropped our bags so we could go for a wander about Darling Harbour. After getting our Health Questionaire I asked if I could get an Immigration Departure form. No, we don't give those out till you have checked in. These must be extremely expensive bits of paper that must be doled out sparingly. So instead of filling out the form at my own leisure in the 3 hours I had spare before boarding, I got to fill it out after checking in before going through Immigration. Luckily they didn't see me purloning another 6 of these valuable pieces of paper otherwise I could have got into serious trouble! Not a big thing, just silly and another reason why P&O stands for 'poorly organized' at times. Other than that the check in was quite fast.
CABIN. Bigger than on Princess, light and airy and our cabin steward, Eric, was good. No problems at all.
THE SHIP. Same same, but different from Pacific Dawn. Minor variations in decor and bar names with the exception of The Dome becoming The Spa. There is a small disco bar up on the stbd side but there isn't much room with 20 people in there. P&O obviously believe they can get better value out of the Spa than a bar, but it seemed pretty deserted each time I stuck my head in there. The Waterfront Restaurant has a pretty good decor and the Plantation isn't that bad either.
ENTERTAINMENT. Variable, standard RSL guest entertainers and production shows. The best night was the Circus show, very good. Pacific Pop Star featured very good singers from the passengers,some were better than the ship's entertainers.
CRUISE DIRECTOR. Noortje from the Netherlands. Looking at the spelling we started calling her 'naughty girl'. In a word:- hopeless! I used to think Demo was a bit of a dill but she has set a new low standard.
THEME NIGHTS. I don't know why P&O even bother. They do nothing to promote them onboard, there is limited pre cruise info and they swap them about willy nilly. No retro or rock n roll night but we had a pirate night follower by an island night. These two are so close in concept and dress etc that a separate nights are a waste. How much of this shambolic effort is due to the CD is unknown. Give me the good old Fairstar theme nights any time.
FOOD. Generally very good. I think it is even better than the fare offered up by Princess. None of the higher end dishes, eg lobster, but what we did get was well done. Having a good waiter also improves the meal. I'm no fan of Anytime Dining as you can end up anywhere with anybody. It is defacto First and Second seating anyway because it is virtually impossible to book a table around 7:00 PM because the place fills up after 6:00 and nothing is available. We ended up rebooking the same table at 8:00 as we had a superb waiter (Budi on table 147) and everything flowed smoothly. Tried set lunch a few times and it was also very good. Prefer the Plantation buffet breakfast though.
PORTS ETC. The weather started to intervene at Port Vila and a tropical low, eventually to develop into Cyclone Ata, off Champagne Bay saw that stop cancelled. Throughout the next couple days the Captain kept us all informed of the situation and efforts being made to find alternatives. We headed south and he tried to get us into the Isle of Pines but the cyclone was following us and it became a bit dicey for the tenders. He eventually arranged a scenic cruise around Balls Pyramid and Lord Howe Island on the way back to Sydney. We have been very lucky to do this as cruise ships don't go near there very often. The skipper in a word:- superb.
The ship lacks a big second entertainment area like the Sky, Sun or Dawn Princess because of the location of the restaurant. Connextions was always crowded for various events karaoke, trivia etc.
If you could get a combination of Princess and P&O it would be a pretty good cruise.
Last but not least, the Carnival cost cutting is evident but the product is still pretty good but it could be better.