When it comes to keeping busy, Pacific Dawn offers something to suit all ages and interests. Daytime activities range from a martini mixology class and whiskey tastings to quilling and salsa dance classes, and you can find karaoke, trivia and bingo almost every day. On sea days in particular, the daily itinerary is packed with activities, which can make finding a quiet spot tricky. The new big-screen on the pool deck forward has also proved to be a big hit, largely used for broadcasting movies, full-length concerts and live sports, including rugby league and AFL (Australian rules football) during the season. Major international sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup, are also shown onboard.
Evening entertainment is largely standard cruise ship fare -- a mix of lively Broadway-style production shows and guest entertainers from the worlds of song, dance, magic and comedy. In the refurbishment, the already impressive two-level Marquee theater received new carpet and upholstery, as well as a huge LED screen wall to enhance live productions. On our cruise, the best shows included Motor City, a big production show capturing the sounds of legendary Motown performers, as well as a Neil Diamond tribute concert from legendary Irish-Australian singer Peter Byrne. But shows have now been expanded to include Pirates of the Pacific, a fast-paced, interactive show for all the family, taking you on a virtual pirate voyage, and DisConnected, featuring music from the past few decades and a storyline revolving around how communications drive our lives.
Many of Pacific Dawn's public areas were refreshed in the 2012 upgrade, but a major change involved the ship's bars. The Promenade Bar on Deck 7 used to have TV screens showing old Fred Astaire movies, with Frank Sinatra hits playing quietly in the background. Although it hasn't changed much in style, it now has live music at night, which, albeit top quality, was intrusive if you were only after a quiet pre- or postdinner cocktail.
Also on Deck 7, the former Bengal Bar is now the Orient Pub, although you'd be hard-pressed to see what's really changed, except for some of the artwork. It does, however, have a comfy mix of Chesterfield-style couches, easy chairs and a stage. It's a great bar with plenty of beers on tap. If you're not into trivia and karaoke, however, you'll have to whet your whistle elsewhere at certain times. New to the lineup, and to Deck 7, is the Mix Bar, a small cocktail bar above the Atrium. Although it had an impressive cocktail menu, it was flanked by some of the shops on one side and the photo gallery on the other, resulting in it being a bit of a thoroughfare.
The huge Dome Bar at the very front and very top of the ship is a contemporary venue and one of Renzo Piano's signature design elements. As long as a Zumba class isn't being held on the dance floor, it's a quiet oasis during the day, offering delightful views of the ocean. At night, when the blinds are lowered, it takes on a new personality, transforming into an entertainment venue with live music and video hits. After 10:30 p.m., it evolves into a nightclub.
Pacific Dawn's bars have live music entertainment nightly, ranging from a guitar-playing and singing duo to a crooning pianist. A highlight of the entertainment programming is undoubtedly Pacific Cirque, an acrobatic troupe hailing from South America. This collection of highly talented young people puts on a spectacular show, featuring a heady combination of juggling, fire eating and daring acrobatics in the Cirque du Soleil style. It's so popular that we found some passengers had bagged the prime viewing spots up to an hour before the start of a performance.
A small casino on Deck 8 doubles as a sports bar with limited seating. It boasts two large screens that are popular when live sports are broadcast. In-room TVs feature a range of channels, including news, ship safety information and a selection of first run movies. You can also find out what's happening onboard that day on P&O's Splash TV.
Theme nights, popular among passengers, tend to not only encourage people to dress up, but also get involved in activities and have silly photos taken. Whatever the theme -- from country and western to '60s rock 'n' roll -- there are always plenty of music and dancing to help spend the evenings. Theme cruises have also grown in popularity, usually two- or three-night jaunts to nowhere with a focus on music, fitness, comedy or food and wine. They generally have a different program of activities and sometimes entertainment, such as boot camp classes or comedy workshops, as well as guest speakers and special presentations.
Pacific Dawn's itineraries mostly focus on the South Pacific, and there's a decent number of shore excursion options on offer in each port. They cover a gamut of interests from adventure to culture, making good use of the islands' natural sights with a few unique opportunities thrown in for good measure. On our cruise, an overnight stay in Port Vila allowed for touring on both port days. A new excursion we tried on day one was a three-hour Toast to Vila tour. It took in four popular watering holes the city, including a glass of beer or wine at each, a chance to meet the locals and enjoy some scenery. On day two, we enjoyed a well-priced helicopter flight; we went up in the air in groups of four for a scenic flight over Port Vila and the surrounding area.
In the other islands, examples of some of the more unusual excursions include a chance to snorkel "the Natural Aquarium" in the Isle of Pines and a visit to a traditional fish reserve on the edge of a pine forest and hidden away from the rough ocean waves. In Noumea, you can take a gourmet tour sampling the culinary offerings of some of New Caledonia's top restaurants.