By Joanna Hall, Cruise Critic contributor; photos courtesy of Ben Hall and P&O Cruises Australia
The eighth ship to cruise under the P&O Australia brand, and currently the oldest in the fleet, Pacific Pearl is a ship that has enjoyed many previous lives. She was originally launched as Sitmar FairMajesty and was then absorbed into the Princess fleet as Star Princess back in 1989. From 1997 to 2003, she was MV Arcadia for P&O Cruises in the U.K., then renamed Ocean Village in 2003 when the new brand was established. When Carnival shut down Ocean Village in 2008, Pacific Pearl was transferred to P&O Australia, making its debut in Australia at the end of 2010.
Before being introduced to the Australian market, however, Pacific Pearl had undergone a major multimillion-dollar refurbishment, which included a redesign of suites from top to bottom and the transformation of public rooms into elegant and contemporary spaces. A fresh look for standard staterooms and some appealing new features already introduced to siblings Pacific Dawn and Jewel had to wait for two subsequent minor refurbishments, the last of which was in August 2012.
Ultimately, although it is an older style ship, Pearl offers a better cruise experience today than it had done, largely thanks to the evolution of the P&O style and its response to feedback from passengers. On the plus side, most of the traces of its previous lives have been either erased or improved upon with the refurbishments. In particular, the standard cabins finally received a much-needed overhaul to bring them up to scratch, and the new interconnecting cabins offer more choices for families and groups. Pearl's culinary offerings have also been markedly improved upon across the board, with more choice and the type of flexibility that many cruisers demand today. And if there's one good thing about the ship's age, it's that it is solid and rides the fickle waves of the Tasman and South Pacific well.
There are still shortcomings which may disappoint, however, including a lack of balconies, a lack of open deck space and small pools for a ship of its size. Pearl is also a ship on which you can incur a lot of extra charges. There are no drink packages available, even for kids' soft drinks, for example, which can add up over the course of a cruise.
Overall, however, if you are looking for a more affordable high-seas holiday, are not fussed about sophistication and enjoy a very casual Australian style, it's worth considering.
Pacific Pearl Fellow Passengers
Passengers hail largely from Sydney and New South Wales when the ship is in Australia, and Auckland when it's in New Zealand, with a smattering of others coming from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Of age groups, Pearl attracts a healthy mix of younger couples, groups of friends, families with kids and teens, and seniors.
Pacific Pearl Dress Code
The daytime dress code is extremely casual, with most people in swimwear, shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. After 5:30 p.m., however, "smart casual" attire is required in public lounges and restaurants. On cruises of three to seven nights, there are one or two "cocktail" nights, where suggested attire is cocktail dresses for women and suits with ties optional for men. On Sydney cruises, more people tend to dress up for these nights.
Like its siblings, Pacific Pearl also has theme nights, such as country and western, pirate, and 60's rock 'n' roll, with a host of associated activities regarded as part of the P&O fun. Although dressing up is optional, these nights usually appear on cruises of seven nights or longer, and if you don't fancy bringing your own gear, you can buy accessories from the shops onboard.
Pacific Pearl Gratuity
As tipping is regarded as an optional practice in Australia, P&O dropped its compulsory service charges of A$7.50 a person in late 2010 across the fleet. Passengers don't have to tip; however, they are welcome to reward crewmembers if they feel they've gone above and beyond the call of duty.
First of all, this was our second P&O cruise after a gap of 13 years, we had low expectations about the ship, food and service but were determined to have a great time and with such a bargain price for this cruise, we were sure it would be ...continue
This is our second cruise, our first on the Pacific Dawn was good. Nice food, balcony room that was not too noisy. So for this short cruise, we thought we would treat ourselves to a mini suite. The mini suites are a good size, but on the Pearl ...continue
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This is the second time I have been on the Pearl and I enjoyed both cruises.
Our cabin had a lovely person(Donny) taking care of us and was never intrusive and alway very friendly. There was plenty of space for clothes and cupboard space ...continue