My partner and I are both first time cruisers, booking the trip as a way to relax and unwind at the end of a hectic year for both of us. We had read fairly mixed reviews about the Pacific Jewel thus we boarded not really knowing what to expect, reminding ourselves to keep an open mind and to go with the flow.
Embarkation was a fairly easy process. We were dropped off at Wharf 5 at 11:30 and by 12:30 we were checked in, through customs, into our room, booked into Salt and at the Plantation buffet for lunch. There was a bit of a snafu with our room at first. When we arrived, there was no key in the door. We hoped that meant our room was double booked and we'd be upgraded from an outside cabin to a balcony or mini suite. Alas, the people on the cruise before us had lost or left with the keys and new ones needed to be coded. It was a minor problem fixed up in no time by our accommodation steward, Adrian.
Speaking of Adrian, he was just fabulous. A friendly and warm person for whom nothing was too much bother. We were extremely happy with the service he provided, and we will miss seeing his smiling face on the way to breakfast each morning and dinner at night.
Unfortunately the same could not be said for the staff at Waterfront. We ate at Waterfront for a majority of our meals as the buffet was not really our thing. The service was very hit and miss. We were hoping to find a waiter we liked and book the same table each night, unfortunately that wasn't to be. I understand that the service staff work very hard, and very long hours, yet when we would make a simple request (Such as asking for tomato sauce to go with chips at dinner or Vegemite for toast at breakfast) it was as if we'd just asked them to cut off their own hands and these requests had to be made two or three times.
I also had an incident at breakfast where one of the wait staff was bringing me my croissants. I saw him drop one on the way, and so I got a plate with just one croissant. When I asked for a replacement it took five minutes of explaining and arguing as to why I should get another. I know that sounds petty but it is a great example of how most of the staff at Waterfront just could not be bothered, or were too tired to care.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, our dinner at Salt was just spectacular. We went on the second night of the cruise and spent the rest of our week talking about how good the steak we had was. The food and service there were equally amazing and definitely worth the money. We heard other people complaining about it, that they didn't like the ordering process or that the food was just average but I am pretty sure they were on drugs. Don't listen to those people, definitely go to Salt if you have the chance.
We managed to see most of the nightly shows. I wasn't expecting much, a bit of school spectacular mixed in with RSL dancers but I was pleasantly surprised. The Pacific Cirque troupe was extraordinary and the shows put on each night by the Pacific Entertainers were of a high quality. The only lowlight for us was Danny McMaster. His show was very second rate. It seemed he hadn't learnt any new impressions since the mid 90's and after his third horrible racist joke within minutes we walked out in disgust. Unfortunately it seems that kind of humour appeals to most people and we were the only ones not laughing, so I'm sure he will continue to be booked.
We had lots of fun on board the ship, having a few drinks and enjoying the sun and people watching. We tried as many different things as we could and made the most of our eight days at sea. A special shout out needs to go to Scooter the sports coordinator for his trivia each night. A good laugh and we managed to learn a bit about Canadian sports.
The in-room entertainment was a bit interesting. They only seemed to play two movies, either Big Momma's House or Ocean's 11. It also only had BBC World News or Sky News UK which meant that we had no idea what was going on in Australia for the whole time we were away.
To the ports. We didn't book any shore tours as we weren't sure what we were going to do. In Noumea we ended up booking our own ride on the tour train, which was good fun. At the end they dropped us off at Lemon Bay, a great place for a spot of lunch and to swim in calm protected waters. If you're going to Mystery Island or Isle of Pines as we did, I highly recommend taking a snorkel and aqua shoes with you. We had never snorkeled before but after picking up a cheap snorkel and goggles at K-Mart and aqua shoes at Target we thought we'd give it a go. Definitely the right decision. The water is so clear at Mystery Island and there's so much fascinating coral to look at. Isle of Pines had so many different types of fish, it was just amazing. Our only regret is that we didn't get an underwater camera to get some shots of the fish. Oh well, next time!
Sadly our eight nights were soon up and it was time to leave. Disembarkation was very smooth. Our group's meeting time for disembarkation was 8am and we were off the ship and in a taxi with our bags by 10 past 8.
All in all we had a fantastic time. There was plenty to do to keep us entertained, and we also had lots of time to relax. We deliberately had low expectations but they were more than exceeded. When it comes down to it, your cruise is what you make of it. Like I said in the beginning we kept an open mind and a smile on our faces and it meant that we had a wonderful week that we will remember forever.