This was our 6th cruise - we've done four with Princess and this was our second with P&O. We went on the 'Week Fantastique' cruise with some family and friends to celebrate a 50th birthday. Our cabin was a mini-suite on Aloha Deck (deck 11).
We flew to Brisbane the day before the cruise and stayed overnight in the city. On the morning of the cruise we all woke up fit and well and then for some reason my husband was suddenly taken quite violently ill. Of course he had to tick the appropriate box on the health questionnaire, and after a long discussion with the P&O medical staff they decided he could board, but only if he agreed to be quarantined in our cabin until at least that evening when the doctor would come to see him. We agreed to this, and a staff member took us straight through security and customs making sure hubby came into contact with as few people as possible.
Although we appreciated the way the P&O medical team dealt with the problem at embarkation, it was a little disconcerting that no-one actually visited that night as promised - we had to wait until I could visit the Medical Centre the next morning to get permission for him to be released from quarantine.
This sort of 'not quite great' service was a bit of a hallmark of the whole cruise.
We stayed in a minisuite and it was really starting to show its age, particularly in the bathroom. On the second day the toilet malfunctioned and leaked - it appeared to be leaking out onto the tiles but it was actually leaking under them. Although people came to look at it immediately, and worked on it a few times during the cruise, the problem was never really fixed, only patched over.
Noise - As has been mentioned many times in previous reviews of minisuites, this was a noisy room. At various times we had a herd of elephants stomp over our heads every few minutes for a while - presumably a running group - and during the day and into the evening there was almost always some level of scraping movements of deck chairs overhead. Our cabin was also across the hall from something which made a constant noise along the lines of a loud vacuum cleaner - I think it was the pumps for one of the pools. These noises were always noticeable and although overall it didn't really bother us that much, others who are more sensitive to noise could easily be driven nuts by it.
One thing P&O doesn't really mention - since this is a minisuite, it has a bath which is lovely if you like a relaxing bath - and I do! But it could be a real problem if you have mobility issues since it means that to have a shower you need to be agile enough to climb into and out of the bath - quite tricky if the seas are rough.
Overall, apart from the issued mentioned above, it was really nice to have the extra room and particularly desktop space that's available in a minisuite.
The Cafe del Sol - aka the buffet - can be really crowded, the quality of the cooking varies quite significantly - nothing really bad, just things like overdone or underdone vegetables. Breakfast is fine, good range of choices; lunch and dinner were generally ok. The layout of the buffet was annoying though - basically one single line where you couldn't really pass by the person in front without being rude and so it could take a long time to get through the line. Although this layout looks well organised, I much prefer the Princess idea of a number of separate areas for different sorts of food - it looks less organised but it works better because most people don't want to choose something from every station.
The Palm Court restaurant food and choices were quite acceptable although not earth-shatteringly good, and the service is a bit unpredictable - the first night the waiters all seemed inexperienced and actually quite tired, the other few times we ate there, the service was quite good. The food was generally ok until the last night, when it all seemed a little greasy and overcooked.
Salt Grill - I can't add any more than what has already been said on many different reviews - divine, worth every cent. Service and food are excellent.
As usual drinks were quite expensive. Given that it was the tropics in summertime, I was annoyed at how hard it was to get a drink of cold water outside of mealtimes. Because of our experiences with Princess the only coffee we drank was from La Patisserie, and it was fine although the service was patchy. It was almost impossible to get drinks service in the buffet.
Shows aren't a big part of the reason that we cruise, but we did see the 'Transformation' show done by the Pacific Cirque and it was excellent!
Reasonable range of activities available on board, although personally I'd have preferred more of the 'enrichment' type
My recommendation would be that you don't go on this ship unless you can do without internet access at all for the whole cruise.
This is the 6th cruise I have been on, so I'm well aware of how slow ship's internet access can be, but this one takes it to a whole new level of unacceptable.
In the internet cafe the PCs are extremely old and slow - in combination with the slow internet access, some websites were simply inaccessible.
And, although in theory you can use a WiFi connection on deck 5, 6 or 7, we never managed to get a reliable connection with either of our laptops or with my Samsung Galaxy Tab. P&O seems to use the same 'passenger internet' software as Princess, so the logon pages and process were quite familiar to me, but every time I tried to connect, the logon page that came up was the crew's logon page, not the passenger's one. Unlike the other cruises I've been on, the Pacific Dawn doesn't have a specified staff member whose job it is to help with problems with internet access - you just have to go and talk to the people at the Purser's Desk. And when I did this, basically the person I spoke to treated me like an idiot - first she accused me of deliberately / maliciously trying to connect to the crew's internet instead of the passenger's, then she fiddled with my laptop for a few minutes and presented me with the screen showing the correct page. However, when I asked her what she had done to make it work, she again said it was my fault - this time I was being "impatient" and all I had to do was wait until it worked. This is just ridiculous - I was following the procedure they set out, and their software selects the appropriate connection and displays the logon page. I still have no idea what she thought I was doing wrong, or what she did to get it temporarily right. And in the end it was really only temporary since I lost the connection within minutes and - surprise, surprise - the page that automatically came up for me to logon was AGAIN the crew login page.
In the overall scheme of things not a huge drama, but if you came on the cruise absolutely needing a few minutes of internet access every day, specially if you need to use your own laptop, you mightn't be able to get it.
I only did two excursions - both your standard 'city highlights' tours. In both cases I'd certainly have been better off just taking up one of the private tours that's offered as you walk off the ship - for the time we spent we didn't see a lot in either place, and the level of explanation / commentary offered was okay but not great.
Noumea was disappointing - the ship only arrives around 2pm and departs around 11pm, but it's on a day when most shops are shut, so there's no real options for shopping.
Lifou was beautiful
Port Vila - even just the short time we had to spend in Port Vila was enough to convince me that I'd love to holiday in Vanuatu someday.
Really well organised both onboard and as far as taxis and shuttles were concerned, no problems at all.
If I hadn't cruised with Princess before, I'd have thought that this was a quite acceptable holiday, even with the annoyances mentioned above.
However, the bottom line as far as I'm concerned is that P&O doesn't cruise to any destination that Princess or another line doesn't also do, often for a similar or better price and definitely with and overall better experience.