The Brisbane-based Pacific Dawn was refurbished in late 2014, becoming the first P&O ship to launch the cruise line's new look, with navy and white along the side and the 'Like No Place on Earth' tagline across its stern. The pool deck was refreshed with new turf, lights, water features and private seating areas; some of the cabins, public areas and promenade deck were spruced up; and the Waterfront restaurant updated its decor and added the private Chef's Table venue.
P&O Edge Adventure Park was also installed above the Lido deck, offering 19 activities (at an extra cost) including two flying foxes for zip-lining, the funnel climb, and a dedicated area for riding Segways. Other options include Walk the Plank, which extends off the side of the ship, the high-in-the-sky Crow's Nest for panoramic views, and a boulder wall for sideways rockclimbing.
The ship is definitely aimed at people who like to have a fun-filled cruise on a well-maintained vessel that ticks most of the 'I'm onboard for a good time' boxes that many Australians seek. There are a number of areas where groups can socialise, as well as a few quiet spots to read. The best hidden alcoves are The Dome or the adults-only back decks. Entertainment is a fundamental aspect of this cruise ship -- from the giant screen movies on the Lido deck to live shows and numerous daily games for both children and adults. The activities staff expertly handles the daily routine of keeping everyone happy. There is a long list of what is happening every day for the different age groups, with activities as diverse as air hockey, mini Olympics, family charades and quoits.
The main reception area on Deck 5 is part of a three-storey atrium with a wide staircase at one end leading to the upper levels where there is a range of shops as well as MIX, a cocktail bar. All three floors on the atrium are predominately decorated in fawns, dark browns and burnt orange tones. This is where passengers come to socialise, relax, read and play trivia games. As many of the cabins do not have Wi-Fi, the atrium is also a popular place to have a drink while checking emails. Opposite the reception desk is Charlie's, a small bar that serves coffee and alcoholic drinks. A feature of this area is a grand piano and set area for bands to play once the afternoon entertainment -- such as travel trivia and cruise ship games -- winds up.
P&O has certainly expanded its onboard options on Pacific Dawn and the Lido is where all the action takes place -- from lounging about, watching the kids in the pool, to viewing a movie on the outdoor cinema screen, to eating lunch in the partitioned al fresco dining areas. While there is a general sense of fun and games, it can get crowded on the Lido and it is often noisy around the children's pool area, especially if the sun is shining. There are two additional hot tubs between both swimming pools and just outside a shade-covered, raised stage where DJs spin records in the afternoon or live acts put on a show.
Many people on Pacific Dawn are multi-cruise enthusiasts and obviously have their routine and preferences down pat, but for first-time cruisers the Lido area is either embraced or -- in my case -- just used to transit through to the Plantation Restaurant and back decks for a late lunch to avoid the long lines. Nevertheless, even with a ship that can carry 2,000 passengers, there is enough staff on hand to ensure tables are wiped down and leftovers are removed efficiently. On the whole, the restaurant and bar staff work very hard to please passengers -- especially at the peak hours and late into at night as the Dome on Deck 12 stays open until about 2 am.
Based in Brisbane, this ship is almost always full of Australians with the odd New Zealander thrown in the mix. It is very much family oriented but also caters to a range of ages from toddlers to middle-aged couples whose children have left the nest years earlier, as well as a range of healthy retired couples. There was even a wedding party on board, so there was a very diversified crowd sailing into the Coral Sea. After talking to a number of passengers, I discovered Papua New Guinea was the main attraction that enticed them on to this particular cruise. All the staff and announcements are in English and the currency accepted is in Australian dollars.
As you might expect on a P&O cruise, casual clothes are suitable throughout the day in most public areas of the vessel, but be aware that the guidelines change from 5.30 pm. Smart casual means long trousers and either a collared or polo shirt for men and skirts, dresses, slacks and blouses for women. Cocktail is defined as a cocktail dress or similar elegant outfit for a woman and a suit or similar for men, with tie optional. Themed nights are always a popular P&O staple and as there were four theme parties on my 10-day cruise (a Vegas Night, All White Night, Back to School Night and Great Gatsby night), the wearing of theme costumes in the restaurants on those nights is permitted. Note: Bare feet, caps, singlets and beach or pool attire are not permitted in the lounges after 5.30 pm and are not permitted in the dining rooms at any time.
No compulsory gratuities are charged on Pacific Dawn. P&O leaves the decision of tipping to passengers who have experienced exemplary service. If you wish to reward crew, gratuities can be added to your onboard account by filling in a form in your cabin and handing it into the reception at the end of your voyage.