Since we first cruised on Pacific Dawn in 2008, just after her debut, both the dining choices and quality of cuisine have improved markedly. The primary dining venue is the Waterfront Restaurant, located on Deck 7 aft. A colorful, contemporary and airy space with touches of blue, lavender and pink, it has plenty of cozy nooks and crannies, with tables accommodating two to 10 people. At the rear is a space called the Wine Room, which has groups of tables flanked by impressive display cases filled with bottles of wine and Champagne.
Meal times vary from sea days to port days. Breakfast is from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on sea days and 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on port days. Lunch is from noon to 2 p.m. on sea days, and it's only served on select port days. Dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. every night. There are no traditional seatings; it operates on a Your Choice Dining basis, allowing you to choose who you dine with and when.
Breakfast is a choice between a variety of a la carte dishes, including cereal, yogurt, bakery items like toast and Danish pastries, healthy options like fruit, cold cuts and eggs served several ways. There are also daily specials like Eggs Benedict. Lunch also has variety, with options ranging from steak sandwichs and big salads to sausages and mash. The dinner menu offers a selection of entrees, pasta, mains, sides and desserts available every day, as well as selections that change daily. There are plenty of local dishes in the mix, such as pork and ale stew, combined with a choice of international favorites like Asian stir-fry noodles. If you get friendly with your waiter, you can ask for extra steamed vegetables, too.
Local ingredients and producers are a focus across the P&O fleet, and they include items like cheeses from the King Island Dairy in Tasmania and Australian grass-fed beef. In the ship's onboard cafes, Vanuatu-grown Tanna Coffee is available, an initiative which financially benefits the communities and famers on Tanna Island. There are also options for kids, which change daily, including family platters at Waterfront for everyone to share. Choices might consist of tasty lamb shoulder, roast chicken and a tapas menu during dinner for an informal dining experience.
The Plantation Restaurant is the casual dining option located on Deck 12 aft. A large buffet-style restaurant, it serves breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on sea days and 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. on port days. Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on sea days and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on port days. Dinner is offered from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily. The venue was updated in the 2012 refurbishment with a new color scheme and furniture, but it has limited outdoor seating, which is a drawback in pleasant weather.
Breakfast was hearty and well done with a wide range of hot and cold selections on offer, and for lunch there was usually a choice of two high-quality premade deli-style sandwiches, as well as a variety of hot dishes like pasta, chicken, fish, vegetables and daily roasts. For some reason, salad was a bit thin on the ground with mostly greens. No tomatoes, cucumber or raw veggies (such as broccoli) are available, and only occasionally could we find any chopped olives or pulses (beans). Dinner offerings include selections similar to whatever is on offer in the Waterfront Restaurant, with a better of choice of salad and more desserts. We only had dinner there once, however. We were put off by bright lighting and the lack of outdoor seating.
Another major improvement in Dawn's culinary offerings is Luna (recently rebranded from La Luna). Occupying an aft area of the Plantation Restaurant at night, it's a contemporary take on Asian cuisine for a cover charge of A$29 per person. Menus change regularly and have been upgraded to include some Japanese selections, with popular favorites including Thai red curry chicken soup, Thai prawns with egg noodles, beef massaman curry and twice roasted pork belly with caramel dressing.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan was also added to Pacific Dawn in 2010, a stylish space with a highly polished wooden floor and accents of purple and silver throughout. Located on Deck 12 forward, it offers the same menu for lunch and dinner, with the only difference being the cost. Lunch is A$30 per person, while dinner is A$49. Menus change from time to time, but signature dishes are the chef's famous Glass Sydney crab omelet and dishes from Mangan's land-based venues, such as Salt and Pepper Prawns with Thai Salad and Cajun-spiced Spatchcock. It's popular, but it's easier to get a reservation for lunch than for dinner. Salt Grill isn't open on port days. On Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl, afternoon tea can now be enjoyed on sea days for a per-person fee of A$20; it will be introduced to Pacific Dawn in the coming months.
A new addition to Pacific Dawn's dining lineup is the Chef's Table experience, which costs A$95 a head and is limited to 14 people. Reservations are essential, and they're restricted to once per passenger, per cruise. The evening begins with a cocktail reception and canapes hosted by the Executive Chef, followed by a galley tour. Then passengers are seated in the Wine Room in the Waterfront Restaurant for a degustation menu paired with wines.
The Grill on Deck 12 serves traditional Aussie BBQ fare (think pie and mash and grilled sandwiches), although we'd recommend it for emergencies only, as it's basic. Although cooked fresh, a hamburger with salad we ordered came with just a bun, a patty and a tiny sliver of lettuce. Most items are included in the fare, but some carry a charge after 5 p.m.
Room service is available, but the menu is limited, and items are charged a la carte. A Caesar salad is A$8, while an Aussie Outback Burger will set you back A$9. The bonus, however, is that you're not at risk of tripping up on many dirty trays and plates in the cabin deck hallways. Also new, passengers can have pizza delivered to their cabins for A$9.50 between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., following the recent installation of specifically designed pizza ovens. Pizza can also be delivered to the top deck if you're watching a movie or sports on the big screen.
If you follow a special diet, such as gluten-free or vegetarian, let your travel agent know in advance, or the cruise line if you book directly. A la carte menus for dinner feature at least one vegetarian (without meat or fish) dish, and there are usually plenty of options available in the buffet for lunch. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you can request gluten-free bread and preorder a specially made dish for each dinner a day in advance.
Generally service is attentive and offered by an enthusiastic and well-trained international crew, these days largely hailing from Indonesia, the Philippines and India.