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. The ship remained in the fleet for 12 years, and then, from 2002 to 2004, it 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 Australia 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 Pacific Jewel's signature restaurant, Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. It was the first in the P&O Cruises' fleet, operated by the internationally renowned Australian celebrity chef. There were other local "firsts," including the new oceanview Aqua HealthSpaFitness, which was dubbed Australasia's largest spa at sea. Also new are a chocolate cafe and a stage for circus and music performances on the ship's top deck. Since then, Pacific Jewel's last big refurbishment was in August 2013, with major enhancements and new additions including interconnecting cabins, a new nightclub, laser tag, 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, offering more choice and flexibility. 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, however -- in particular, tiny pools for a ship of this size. 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 casual Australian style, Pacific Jewel is worth considering.