Pacific Jewel is the seventh ship to cruise under the P&O Australia brand and another to have enjoyed many past lives with Carnival-owned companies. It was originally ordered by Sitmar but was absorbed into the Princess fleet when the company was taken over. It launched in 1990 as Crown Princess, remained in the fleet for 12 years, and then, from 2002 to 2004, enjoyed a brief stint as A'Rosa Blu, then AIDAblu through to 2007. Pacific Jewel then spent another two years renamed as Ocean Village Two when the new but short-lived brand was established. When Carnival shut down Ocean Village in 2008, the ship was transferred to P&O Cruises to make its debut in Australia in 2009.
Ahead of its formal launch, Pacific Jewel underwent a major multimillion-dollar refurbishment. Besides a change of livery to P&O's classic white and blue, the ship was also outfitted with a number of new features, including P&O's first celebrity chef restaurant, Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. There were other local "firsts" including the new ocean-view Aqua HealthSpaFitness, which was dubbed Australasia's largest spa at sea. Also new was a chocolate cafe and a stage for circus and music performances on the ship's top deck. In August 2013 another refurbishment added interconnecting cabins, a new nightclub, the first P&OEdge Adventure Park at sea, an expanded Oasis retreat and a new chocolate shop, as well as new carpet, artwork and furniture.
Although it's an older ship, Pacific Jewel offers a better experience than it used to, thanks to the evolution of P&O's style. Standard cabins have enjoyed much-needed overhauls to bring them up to date and remove all traces of past lives. Interconnecting cabins offer more choices for families and groups, and the ship's culinary offerings have also been improved.
As part of a dry dock in July 2015, Pacific Jewel became the first of the cruise line's ships to reveal its new-look dining concept, The Pantry, which offers more choice and flexibility. The Pantry concept is a game-changer in that it replaces the former buffet area with eight bespoke eateries. It has also freshened up what was a fairly tired and dated space.
If there's one good thing about the ship's age, it's that it is pretty solid; it can handle the temperamental swells of the Tasman and South Pacific well.
There are still shortcomings that may disappoint some cruise fans -- in particular, tiny pools for a ship with so many children onboard. Also, as with its sister ships, you can incur many extra charges on a Pacific Jewel cruise, with P&O resisting drink and dining packages; costs for individual drinks and specialty meals can add up on longer cruises.
Overall, however, if you're looking for a low-key, affordable high-seas holiday with a casual vibe and modern Australian style, Pacific Jewel is worth considering.
As Pacific Jewel now operates seasons from various departure points -- including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth -- there are a larger number of people from New South Wales, southeastern Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia at different times. When it comes to age groups, Pacific Jewel attracts a healthy mix of younger couples, groups of friends, families with kids and teens, and seniors, although this varies according to the seasons and itineraries. For example, there are many more families and up to 700 kids during school holiday cruises, with fewer kids on shorter, themed cruises.
The daytime dress code is largely the same across all P&O ships: extremely casual by day, with most people enjoying swimwear, shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. After 5:30 p.m., however, the line asks for "smart casual" attire in public lounges and restaurants. There are one or two "cocktail" nights per cruise, where suggested attire is cocktail dresses for women and suits with optional ties for men.
Like its siblings, Pacific Jewel has also revamped its onboard entertainment program to feature four new party concepts: there's Bianco, the P&O White Party, which turns the deck neon-bright and resplendent with special effects; the glam Gatsby-themed evenings, which are inspired by the decadent era of the 1920s; afternoon Vegas pool parties; and a retro Back to School party. Although dressing up is optional, these nights go hand-in-hand with a host of associated activities regarded as part of the P&O fun. If you do fancy dressing up but don't have your own gear for the Gatsby party, you can buy bow ties, feather boas, hats and headpieces from the onboard shops. Note: It's BYO bikini and board shorts to the Vegas poolside parties and a good idea to pack your own all-white wardrobe for the Bianco party.
Tipping is an optional practice in Australia, so P&O dropped compulsory service charges back in 2010. Passengers don't have to tip, but they are welcome to reward a crew member if they feel he or she has gone above and beyond the call of duty.