Because of work commitments my husband and I had separate holidays this year. He went to Malaysia with his mother for a week and I decided to take a cruise. I have wanted to try one for several years now and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. If I liked it then my husband had agreed to go on a cruise with me next year.
I was looking forward to a relaxing solo holiday, but at the last minute a friend decided to join me. I was anticipating some hassles, but it was a very easy process to get the cabin configured for twin beds and have her added to the booking.
Having read other reviews on Cruise Critic I was determined to get to the terminal early on embarkation day and, as a result, check in and boarding went very smoothly. The staff were all friendly and patient with my 'first time cruiser' questions and the lines were very short. When my friend arrived a little later in the day the lines were bigger and it took a little longer.
Now, I haven't been on a cruise ship before, and from some of the (not very complimentary) reviews about the Dawn I was a trifle worried that the ship would be small and dated and not particularly clean. I needn't have worried. The Dawn cuts an impressive figure moored in the Brisbane river, towering above all of the buildings -quite a sight for the uninitiated. The decor on board is quite 90's-ish in tans and peaches and golds, but the ship is tidy and there's a nod toward the art deco era that I appreciated as I (along with a lot of others I imagine) have a fantasy of cruising that revolves around the golden era of the ocean liner in the 1910's and 20's
I had booked a stateroom with a balcony and my travel agent had got me a room in the middle of the ship. I have been on plenty of boats before but I was a bit worried about seasickness so I figured that if worse came to worse I could sit out on my own balcony and feel green in privacy. I needn't have worried about the seasickness. We had 3m swells for the entire trip and my stomach was a little upset for the first 24 hours but once my body got used to it I was just fine - I even find myself missing the rocking now when I'm in bed at night! The balcony turned out the be the best thing ever. I spent hours out there with a shawl, a drink and one of the three books I had brought. It's amazing how mesmerising the ocean is and just how many stars there are at night!
The room was fine. It was clean and tidy and in good repair, about the size and quality of an average hotel room. There was TONS of closet and drawer space and the hangers were great. I had brought some from home as well, just in case, but I could have left them in my closet and been just as happy. The bathroom was ingenious. The toilet was angled into the bathroom so you didn't feel cramped. there was lots of storage space in the cabinets around the mirror, enough for make up and toiletries for two girls with room to spare. The shower was huge (although the shower curtain did like to adhere to you - maybe a door would have been better) and the water pressure was great - another pleasant surprise.
I have to add a note here about our room stewards (we had 2). The were both fantastic, really friendly and helpful. I've never had that level of service in any hotel, ever. I left glowing reviews for them with the reception and tipped (P&O has removed any tipping requirement and New Zealand does not have a tipping culture so that was quite a big deal for me).
I have a thing about buffets and hygiene. My mother was a little bit neurotic (well.. kind of a lot neurotic actually) and as a result I don't eat from buffets or salad bars if I can help it, so my friend and I ate at the Palm Court Dining room for all of our meals. The food was great, not quite fine dining, but there was a good choice and you could always find something that you were suer to enjoy. The service was generally good with a few really excellent waiters and a couple of unpleasant ones. Needless to say, the good ones got a written recommendation and a compliment to the maitre'd (but not a tip, the anytime dining meant that we never had the same waiter for more than 1 or 2 meals)
We never had a problem getting a seat in the dining room and it was good to meet different people at every meal. Most of the time it was easy to make conversation. If all else failed you could always revert to the general questions: So... have you cruised before? Have you had a good time so far? Will you be staying on in NZ after the cruise? etc.
I thought that I would be really busy going to all the activities, but to my surprise I ended up leaving my friend to go to all of the lifestyle seminars and zumba classes and I eked out my own schedule that mainly consisted of strolling along the promenade deck and jogging track, reading on my balcony, sketching on the promenade deck, drinking the odd G&T in the Bengal Bar, dressing for dinner and catching the evening shows.
The shows were a bit of a mixed bag. The comedians were alright, the circus performers were great, and the musical shows were oriented towards the kids - we didn't make it through Pirates of the Pacific.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We were breakfasted and off the ship by 10.30am. It was all handled very efficiently.
Wow, I've written quite a bit more than I intended. All in all it was a great holiday. Far more relaxing than I had anticipated but brilliant just the same. At the risk of sounding soppy being 'at sea' was a unique experience. Even with the resort-like facilities and the two thousand other passengers I still felt like an explorer when I stood at the rail and looked out at the endless waves. It was eminently intoxicating.
My next stop is the travel agent for more cruise brochures. Maybe Asia next year?