The actual port of embarkation/disembarkation is Brisbane.
Embarkation: A nightmare!! We arrived at the cruise terminal at Hamilton Brisbane around 10:20am and found every single other person must have arrived at the same time! It took us almost an hour and half from arriving to actually boarding the ship. Not good with two young children. Our 3 yr old was particularly distressed by the time we were nearly boarding.
A tip...take your own pen to fill out the necessary forms. P&O appear too stingy to supply any and so we had to borrow one of a couple of different people as I had accidently packed ours in our main luggage rather than the carry on variety...bad idea!!
With our previous cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas, we had no such embarkation problems. I did speak to some people who have previously cruised on the Dawn. They said they have never seen it that bad before so perhaps it was just a one off.
Room: we had an obstructed view cabin on deck 8. Very spacious compared to our similar room on the Rhapsody. The shower/bathroom was larger on the Dawn for starters and we had more cupboard space. The fridge was a good addition (ice bucket only on Rhapsody) plus a more modern flat screen TV (not that we used it much). We were quite impressed with the room. Well done P&O. We had no major noise issues during the cruise except for the party people in the cabin next door. Can't do much about that though.
Casual/Buffet Food: very disappointed with the buffet (Cafe Del Sol). Nothing like the Rhapsody of the Seas. Didn't appreciate having to join a long line of people just in order to get very inadequate food most of the time. P&O would do well to look at the way RCI does a buffet. Much more choice (and no lining up!) onboard the Rhapsody. A definite thumbs down for this. Having said that, I did speak to a first time cruiser who absolutely loved the buffet. I guess when you have nothing to compare it to, you may be impressed.
Not much choice in the way of included drinks either. RCI at least has lemonade and fruit punch in addition to water at it's drink stations. No hot chocolate included for the kids either on P&O (I don't a hot choc either). Having fries available for lunch free but then charging for them at night is a bit bewildering too P&O.
I also missed the complimentary pizza, chips, hotdogs and hamburgers that the Rhapsody has by it's indoor pool up till 2am in the morning. The Dawn didn't even have pizza from what I could tell, and you had to pay extra for a hamburger or hotdog at the Grill.
On a positive note they did a kid's tea time menu in the buffet which was great for our kids.
Main Dining: food here was very good to excellent. Staff were quite attentive and we didn't have to wait long for service and/or food etc. Plenty of choice, unlike the buffet, and much more included (kids and I appreciated ice-cream & chips without extra charge lol).
If we cruise on the Dawn again we will be spending most of our eating time here. Lesson learnt...
We didn't dine at the Salt Grill. We didn't particular want to part with $40 per person ourselves, but from the people we spoke to who did, they enjoyed it.
Children's Clubs: my two children were in Turtle Cove (3-6 yr olds). They had a blast!! We had trouble keeping them out of there! Good facilities with friendly staff. Good work P&O.
Public Areas: these were nicer than I expected for a 3 & a half star older ship. Ok, they weren't as good as Rhapsody, but I never expected them to be. Everything was generally tidy and clean looking most of the time.
Entertainment: was hit and miss but overall not too bad. We particularly enjoyed the circus performances and the Pirates of the Pacific show. The champagne waterfall was a waste of time for us...we stayed to watch as I've seen some people whinge about one not being included on certain cruises. Must be an older person thing.
Ports: 1st port of call was Noumea. We went here on our last cruise. Not particularly fond of Noumea but the chocolate shop that someone recommended on here was worth a look. A little expensive but I haven't tasted chocolate like it...very nice indeed.
2nd stop was at Lifou. Beautiful place. Would go back there tomorrow as we love to swim and snorkel. Very good snorkeling on the other side of the island (about a 10 - 15min walk from where you land) at Jinek Bay. I could've spent hours there. Got some great underwater shots from that location.
3rd stop was Port Vila Vanuatu. Another beautiful place with many different activities to do. Cheap duty free shopping in town. Got a bottle of Jim Beam 2L for $20 and 2 bottles of 1L Smirnoff Vodka for $23.
There may have been cheaper shops around as we only visited the one place in town, but we were more concerned about getting to Hideaway Is to swim and snorkel. We loved this place. A little, uncrowded tropical island with great swimming and good snorkeling. It has the world's only underwater post office (apparently). A gimmick I know, but I couldn't resist. We had to send a couple of letters lol. We would also go back here in a heartbeat.
Disembarkation: a hell of a lot better than getting on! We were off the ship and in our car in around 20 minutes or so. Not too bad at all.
All in all, we had a great time on this holiday with our kids and we would certainly consider doing it again if the right circumstances came up.