Pacific Dawn: P&O Australia. Sail date 21st May 2011, 11 nights New Caledonia & Vanuatu. After reading past reviews of this ship and after viewing past drunken passengers videos on youtube, we were a little hesitant about stepping onboard P&O Australia's publicized ship of "Brisbane's First Super Liner".
This is no Super Liner, once it may have been but, those days for this ship have long gone. The ship is 21 years old and sadly now is showing her age badly.
The previous day to our embarkation we received a text and email from P&O Australia confirming that the ship had hit bad weather on the return leg to Brisbane and this would delay the departure of our cruise time. In the end, due to tide restraints I suspect, the actual delay was only 1 hour. I checked the bridge cam at 6.30am on departure day and it was already secure and tide up at the cruise terminal.
We arrive at the terminal at 11.30am to find utter chaos, people everywhere and, only one visible P&O shore staff outside. We knew the drill and it was easy to see where we were to depart with our cases, already tagged with cabin numbers, to the porters loading the conveyor belt. We then go inside the terminal to find a very long snake line with literally hundreds of people waiting in-line to be checked in. At least 20 staff were busy taking passenger's identity pictures and giving out cruise cards. We soon arrived at our check-in agent, considering the numbers checking in about 30 minutes. Given a number to board, we then waited to board, just after 1pm before our numbers were called.
Another line to be scanned and security cleared prior to boarding. Finally we are on board at 1.15pm. No staff directing anyone that we could see, but being past cruisers we knew the drill, find the lifts, go to your deck and look for the ships deck plan and find your cabin number.
At the cabin, key card into the slot, open the door to immediately see that the carpet was old, dirty, and threadbare around the edges and did not even fit to the walls of the cabin. Check the fridge and that too was dirty. Bathroom, immaculate, what a relief. The glass patio door to the balcony nor the fixed glass pane had not been cleaned for a very long time, it was filthy dirty. Never on a cruise ship have I ever seen such dirty windows both inside and out upon arrival. The balcony had lots of old paint flaked from the balcony chairs. The balcony floor was covered with flaked bits of rust and paint from the ships structure and from the chairs. It is clear that the balcony to this cabin is not cleaned on a regular basis.
We leave our hand luggage and go to the buffet for lunch. A more detailed review of the buffet will be covered later. Lunch taken, we explore the ship and take pictures before the ship is packed to capacity. 30 minutes later we have discovered everywhere and even find the library, locked with no staff in sight. We later found out that this library is not maintained by P&O Australia and the books therein were left over by the last shipping line and is currently topped up with gifts, books left by past passengers. Also the library has very limited opening times unlike say Princess who leave the library open all of the time and you sign in and out your own books for reading. We found the ships dancers manning the library, knowing nothing about the books, clearly the books were originally intended for American readers. The quality of the books is shameful. I read one of these books "Miracle in the Andes" which incidentally is a great book and once you pick it up you will be unable to put it down. But the condition of the book had the entire picture pages loose, just stuffed inside. There were several books in this state. For a supposedly luxury cruise ship, this was a disgrace.
Now we return to our cabin, my suitcase has arrived so I duly unpack. The steward arrives and introduces herself. I point out the dirty stain marks all over the carpet and she agrees that it has to be cleaned. She also informs me that out of the 17 cabins she takes care of each day, 6 of them have carpets in this sate. I never saw evidence of this, as all others that I could see seemed to have been refitted with newer carpets than this BC grade cabin which for 11 days we had paid $4998.00.($454 a day)
20 minutes later the deck supervisor arrived, the steward had called him in to take a look. We were then told that the past passengers of this cabin had wrecked the room, damaging both bedside light switches and spilling red wine all over the carpet plus other liquids. No doubt the liquid stains on the glass window/door were also the result of the cabin being trashed. The supervisor says that he will get the carpet shampooed and cleaned the next day. We accept this but point out that some of these stains are not only past guest's accidents or whatever, but caused by age and time from a rusting superstructure. We point to the very large rust water marks which is evident of time, for a re-fit but we do not mention that fact.
The next day, true to his word, whilst we are away from the cabin for breakfast the cleaners are in and shampoo the carpet, only the affected area and not the whole cabin. We are informed that the stains are too bad to be removed and that they will change the carpet. We are surprised that they carry spare carpets on-board but leave the cabin for two hours and return after lunch. The carpet has been replaced and fitted, badly but hey, they did it in two hours and at sea.
Upon arrival we also checked the pillows to see if they are clean. Our past experiences tells us, pillows on cruise ships are often overlooked for washing. When we remove the pillow protectors all 4 pillows are badly stained with other peoples perspiration/sweat and all pillows have deep yellow marks and smell very badly of odour. Immediately the steward, who has seen this a thousand times I'd imagine, brings new ones and apologises but blames the time frame of change over-day and all she has to do in such a short time. We accept this and sympathize with her situation of 17 cabins and a complete change around.
We cleaned the fridge ourselves and never mentioned the dirty glass windows, hoping that as like other cruise ships, the window glass would be cleaned at some point during our cruise vacation. Sadly, on this ship they were never cleaned nor was the balcony. The same paint chips scattered around the balcony were there at the end, the very same one's which were there on day one. Our light switch was fixed on day three, after we again had pointed this out to the steward that it was a safety issue, a piece of insulation tape over the top of bare electricity power wires is not a safe way to protect you when using a switch in the darkness of the night, or half asleep.
Dining Onboard: The main restaurant has seating for 800 as we were informed by the crew. With 1760 passengers on our cruise, is this why they choose to name the dining as 'Anytime dining'. Open and anytime it may be called but open timing it most certainly is not. On the first night we had requested a table upon booking the restaurant for 8 or 10. Upon entering the restaurant we were shown to a table of 6. 4 others were already there and eating. Having nothing of this, we return to the front where the staff are all huddled and demand a large table as requested. They must keep table 133 on the first night for people who will not be just put anywhere, as everyone on the table had a similar experience. Nevertheless, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the whole table turned out to be one of the very best we have ever experienced on any one of our 22 cruises so far.
We all then tried to book this same table the next night for 6.30pm, after all it is anytime dining. We were then told no, this table is only used at 6pm or 8pm, now what do you wish. 6.30 We say, no they say, 6 or 8. We insist its anytime dining so they say you can have table 78, which we accepted. At table 78 we can see table 133 is still unoccupied. We call the waiter and he's amazed we were not allowed the same table. How do they expect you to tip a particular waiter at the end of a cruise if you cannot join the same table every night if you should so wish? From that night on, we conformed to what they wanted and relented to a 6pm dinner time. Thus we now have table 133, the same waiter who I know is happy as at the end of the cruise as every single couple on the table tipped him well, making his cruise with us or ours with worthwhile.
The quality of the food was good. 7-8 out of 10(7-8/10) Not as good as Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and not in the same class at all as Cunard and P&O UK, let alone Crystal. Nevertheless, although portion size was restrictive, you could ask for double portion is you wished. I loved the portion size control as this is my first cruise where I actually left the ship losing half a kilo rather than putting on 3 - 4. So I was happy, very happy.
Tipping: As this ship and all of the P&O Australia fleet advertise. The ship has a no tipping policy. Yes I know in Australia in general one does not have to tip. I actually agree with this policy wholeheartedly and agree with not having to tip as is compelled to in the United States. But quickly here, the food prices in the states are much cheaper than here in Australia and the wages paid to waiters in the USA is very low compared to here. So USA, yes tipping is necessary where as in Australia tipping is not necessary. However on a cruise ship it has always been that the cruise lines makes a mint out of you and, then you are advised that you have to tip as well. Doesn't seem fare does it. Until you dig deeper and find out that these stewards and waiters do this for normally $50 a week and rely on your tips to make up their wages to maintain their families in their own homelands. An example of this is say a steward would get on average $5 a day tip, over a week that's $35 multiply that by the 17 that's $595 plus his $50 and you're up to $645. But again remembering that they work very long hours and 7 days a week for 8-9 months for that. Then they have 2-5 months out of work waiting for their next contract. The reason they do it, simple, the need to feed their families, as at home at best they could only expect to earn $50 a week. So by going on these cruise ships, they are actually much better off, financially that is. Now back to P&O Australia, they now pay these Stewards & Waiters $200-250 per week. And say it's not necessary to tip, but in so doing they have removed half of their possible wage. This is why, some of you may have experienced some slack service at times. But we never did, and most whom we talked with, were still tipping their waiters and stewards. Good on you all, is what I can say. That's how it should be. After all, working 7 days a week for 6 or 8 months is no easy task.
Alcohol Policy: This ship has a strict BRING NO alcohol on board policy. They just want you to buy everything on board at very much inflated prices. They do not pay duty and tax on their prices but you are paying equal to or more than what you would here in Australia. Apart from the couple of cheaply priced wines in the restaurants, the rest is expensive and not even reasonable. The ship x-rays your luggage as it boards your cases and, if you are seen with an empty or full bottle of alcohol in your luggage it will be securely kept for you and returned after the cruise. You will be called down to deck 4 to open and have your case inspected and your booty confiscated.
Some cruise lines within the Carnival banner, will allow you to bring alcohol onboard with you. Some will even supply it to you in your cabin at Duty Free prices and some lines will even provide you with a fully stocked mini bar for your own in cabin consumption, whilst others will provide you with two bottles of spirits along with mixers all included in your booking price. So for this Cruise line or any cruise line with this restrictive policy of allowing no alcohol in your cabin because as they say, they have a responsible alcohol policies to ensue you do not drink yourself silly. They are blatantly and knowingly infringing your human rights. They are treating you as irresponsible adults and not someone enjoying a holiday, where yes, most of us will have a wee drink or two. If a hotel stopped you from carrying in your own alcohol there would be an outcry but, for a ship this type of search and remove is okay. Remember these rules that this particular cruise line have introduced as only enforceable if passengers agree to these restrictions. Everyone should make a stand and everyone should pack empty spirit bottles or full ones in the cases that way, they just could not handle 1760 passengers' bags all lines up in a 4m x 4 area on deck 4 to be opened. They just couldn't cope. But we are all used to being told what we should do and not do, in this dictatorial world, our freedoms are slowing being eroded from us all everyday. This is yet just another one of those silly rules which should be banished.
Party Ship: The entertainment staff encourages all guests to attend the dome after 10.30pm each evening to party. Indeed the Entertainment Manager always mentioned the dome and its activities after each evening shown in the show lounge. They hold different events in the dome, it seems, precisely designed to encourage you to drink and party to the small hours. The videos on Youtube are evidence of such antics and carryings on which emulates from too much alcohol. Also the onboard video produced for you to buy as a memento, also captures these party events. Showing copious amounts of alcohol being served and people being just plain silly. The ship definitely has a party type atmosphere feel about it, right from the sail away parties, to the so describe 'fun party nights' in the dome.
Saying all of that, which is true, downstairs in the lounges and bars I never once encountered rowdy or drunken behaviour associated with too much alcohol. So maybe, and I mean just maybe, P&O Australia by segregating these party nights up in the dome away from the other public areas, are possibly better able to control the hot, shake it all about and must be loud types. Thus able to cater for all, be that young, middle aged or old-en's on the same cruise ship. Where other ships actually only cater for middle aged and the older generation. This is possibly why the P&O Australia ships are filled with all age groups from kids to grannies. All which seem to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere onboard generated by all of the crew. Our cruise was outside of the school holidays, nevertheless, we encountered at least 60 children onboard whose parents had taken them out of school.
Breakfasts here would be a delight for most. They served each and everyday an excellent full cooked English breakfast, where you could order your eggs as you liked. The bacon was short-back and not streaky as most cruise lines use. The cereal section was limited to about 5 varieties but hey, if you couldn't choose something else then you really are being too picky. There were always lines to grab a tray and plates, the line moved quickly. Out of 10, I would have to give them 9/10 for the breakfast. This they excelled at:
Lunchtime: Here too the variety was always different in the hot section. The cold and salad section was nearly always the same or very similar. The cold meats were limited to just two varieties per day and was repeated nearly the same everyday. Only occasionally were the mortadella and salami replaced with something else. The bread was small slices, airy and of no substance. A very light bread. The rolls we small and only white or white offered. Occasionally a brown one would be offered. So to make a sandwich was almost impossible as the size of the bread was one bite and it would be gone. Only on one day, were filled round larger bap type rolls on offer. I suspect left over from the deck barbeque the previous day. I had one and it made a very nice change from the mouthful of air bread previously encountered on other days.
For the first 7 days no waiters offered us any drinks with our lunch. I did see a drinks station tucked up at the end and thought that on this ship they had done away with the wine waiters at lunchtimes. On the last 3 days it seemed that all the waiters had been instructed to drum up and sell more alcohol at lunchtimes, as everyone came around trying to persuade us to max out our cards. Maybe they had been put on a bonus scheme or they had not reached their targets of selling enough alcohol.
Overall the lunchtime quality and service was not as good as the Palm restaurant of the evening. The carpets around the edges under the windows were never cleaned whilst we were onboard, food droppings were there from one day to the next. Although the main carpet was cleaned just not behind the tables next to the windows. Also the air vents above the dining area were all full of dust, not cleaned in a very, very long time. This really does need immediate attention. Overall at lunchtimes including service 7/10.
Never used the buffet for an evening adventure as we prefer the formality of a full service restaurant.
Entertainment: Show times were designed for you to spend extra times in the bars and to spend more money onboard. Considering dining times are classed as open but in reality its 5.30 to 6pm and 8-8.30pm, the shown times were constantly 7.30pm and 9.30 pm. Making it impossible for anyone dining at 8pm to see a show. On other ships Showtime's are 6.15 for second sitting passengers and 8.15 for first seating passengers. Occasionally on some it has been 8pm and 10pm. All of these times allow all passengers to see a show, not on this ship though. Consequently the 7.30 shows were always packed out and the 9.30 ones only half full. But the bars were always full of people spending money and drinking. I guess they have it planned out that way. Bugger the passengers as long as the ships making money. The quality of the shows was poor in comparison to the other cruise lines mentioned already in this review. We did have 5 shows on this 11 night cruise but you could not call them Broadway or West End adaptations. Disappointing after being spoiled in the past by other cruise lines with their style and quality of theatre style entertainment.
Ports of call: One has to do it to say you have done it. Out of the 6 ports of call only two were actual ports of call, all the others we anchor offshore and tender in. After 4 tender ports you really are all done with tendering. Yes it costs the cruise lines much less to anchor offshore rather than find a port that can take your size ship. But for you as the passenger, it's a hassle , line up for tender tickets, line up to get out and then line up to get back to the ship. Tender ports generally are places which are less habited and therefore you will have less to do. If you are from Queensland, nothing beats a Queensland sandy beach. Not even one in French New Caledonia or Vanuatu. So don't expect to be thrilled or exasperated by the places in the middle of the South Pacific. Just enjoy the ride and enjoy the cruise the rest is just not on my radar screen as enjoyment. A walk past a pig with its front leg tied to a tree a goat too. Or a baby turtle in a washing bowel where you will be charged $2 to take a picture. This is animal cruelty and the cruise ship which organizes these types of stops should inform the land owners that unless they stop this type of ridiculous tourist trap behaviour they will no longer call there. That way, this animal cruelty will be not seen as a way to earn money from these cruise ships. The only port worth another visit was La Vila.
Many of the cruise passengers were first time cruisers, one can see why when the ports of call out of Brisbane and Sydney are limited to these outcast Islands of new Caledonia and Vanuatu apart from of course beautiful New Zealand. But there are only so many times you can cruise the New Zealand without it becoming too familiar.
Overall: P&O do an excellent job of filling their ships, considering the real lack of real ports of call. They price their product which attracts not only older cruisers but families with young children. The downside is that the quality of the product overall must lie within the price and as such, don't expect to be on Cunard's Queen Mary or on one of the many ships that sail under the P&O UK flag. The Australian ships may have the same P&O flag but the two products are light years apart. The ships of P&O Australia are the cast off's of other lines within the Carnival brand, which they themselves have been awarded the newer much more elegant and updated ships of the 21st century.
Considering that this ship had a major refit in May 2010, clearly our cabin on B deck was missed. Whilst it was clear that the majority had received new carpets it was disappointing to have been allocated one which clearly missed the inspections just 12 months ago. The public rooms clearly have received a refit and looked good for a ship 21 years old. Sadly I am sorry to report that the painting maintenance and lack of general cleaning in parts is letting the brand down. I hope that soon they put this right as the costs associated with a refit which are astronomical in financial terms, will all have been lost in a couple of years without the maintenance upkeep needed with such a vessel.
The ships officers and crew on all ships do a remarkable job, this ship was no different, they are small floating cities each with their own charm and deportment. Would I sail on a P&O Australia ship again, not if I had another option or they upgraded their quality of product, which I cannot see them being able to do with the limited numbers of people within easy reach of Australia. Most passengers originated from within Australia, unlike other cruise lines which seem to attract guests from all over the world.