All the line's ships hailed from other brands within Carnival Corp. They all received refurbishments and Australian touches before joining the P&O Cruises Australia fleet.
The most recent is 63,500-ton, 1,800-passenger Pacific Pearl, the former Sitmar FairMajesty and original Ocean Village ship. The ship features the line's first ever celebrity chef, Luke Mangan, who has added his touches to the menu in the Salt Grill restaurant. Also added were a giant outdoor LED big screen, an outdoor circus arena and a large Marquee Theatre. A recent refurbishment has seen the addition of interconnecting staterooms and a New Zealand Natural ice cream parlor.
Rounding out the fleet is 70,310-ton, 2,020-passenger Pacific Dawn, the line's first mega-ship, which was built in 1991 and joined P&O Australia in 2007. It has also undergone a recent major refurbishment, including the addition of more interconnecting rooms, suite upgrades and an ice cream parlor. Finally, there's similarly sized Pacific Jewel, the 70,310-ton, 1,950-passenger former Ocean Village Two, which joined the fleet in 2009.
Until Carnival Cruises deployed Carnival Spirit to cruise year-round from Sydney, P&O Cruises Australia was the only cruising fleet permanently based in Australia. The company, which is owned by Carnival Corp., currently operates three ships cruising Australia and the South Pacific, with itineraries expanded to feature New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. In 2015, however, two ships -- Ryndam and Statendam -- will be transferred from Holland America to P&O's fleet. Following a major competition in July 2014, cruise fans have named them Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden.
P&O Cruises Australia's history dates back more than 75 years, and the P&O connection goes back even further. British-based P&O first visited the island nation in 1857, playing an important role in the Royal Mail, wartime assistance and the surge of immigration to Australia. On the leisure front, P&O Cruises Australia pioneered pleasure cruising in the waters off Australia in 1932. The first cruise was with 23,000-ton liner Strathaird, which sailed from Sydney to Norfolk Island with 1,100 passengers and offered such niceties as ballroom dancing, live theater and elegant dining. The idea caught on. Today, P&O Cruises Australia carries more than 200,000 passengers per year.
P&O mostly sticks with what it knows, and since the popularity of cruising Down Under is growing, so is P&O. What have been added to the line's itineraries lately are new destinations within Australia, as well as more themed cruises like the ones that allow racing fans to attend the Melbourne Cup. P&O also has an active online community, and the company regularly holds promotions and contests using social media tools. Naming the two Holland America ships joining the fleet is one example, and the cruise line received more than 30,000 entries from eager fans.
Editor's Note: P&O Cruises Australia will welcome two new ships in November 2015. Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria will join the fleet as part of Carnival Corp & plc's effort to meet growing demand in Australia. With the addition of the new ships -- presently the company's Holland America Line-branded Ryndam and Statendam -- P&O Australia's fleet will grow to five ships, making it the largest year-round fleet in Australia.
P&O Australia offers a lively, mainstream experience with a friendly international crew that's used to dealing with the congenial and fun-loving Australian crowd. The atmosphere is more Carnival than Princess, with a focus on budget and value for money, rather than luxury.
That said, the line is popular across the generations, from singles and families to seniors; children are kept busy with good kids clubs staffed by qualified teachers and childcare workers. In fact, the line has won accolades for its family-friendly atmosphere.
Culinary choices include primary dining rooms and informal buffets, as well as a casual deck grill and alternative dining for a fee, including the renowned Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. A while back, P&O introduced "Your Choice Dining," with no fixed sittings or reservations required in the dining room during dinner hours, an initiative which has been rolled out to all ships in the fleet. The cuisine has been improved over the years, and it generally receives favorable ratings from passengers, although some complain the buffets could pay more attention to variety and detail, especially where salads are concerned.
Onboard activities are far ranging, and they include fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, mixology classes, live bands, dancing, game shows, table tennis, casinos, cabaret shows, karaoke, deck parties, spa treatments, trivia quizzes, in-cabin movies, shuffleboard, bingo, dance classes, themed nights and parties, talent shows, enrichment lectures and port talks. Also growing in popularity are short theme cruises with a focus on food and wine or health and fitness, featuring speakers, presentations and special activities.
The Australian dollar is the onboard currency. The ships no longer have formal nights with black tie requirements. Instead, there's usually one or two "cocktail" nights (check your itinerary), where men can wear jackets (without ties), although the jackets are optional, and women don cocktail dresses or similar attire.
Enforced tipping isn't an Australian custom, so gratuities are not added automatically to passengers' onboard bills, leaving them to tip if they wish.
Passengers come mostly from Australia and New Zealand, with some ex-pats from Great Britain. P&O welcomed its three-millionth passenger back in 2011, reflecting the incredible growth in the local market. For P&O specifically, passengers range from children to seniors, and the average age is around 42 years old, which is younger than the ages of people you'll find on many American and British lines.