By Joanna Hall, Cruise Critic contributor; photos courtesy of Ben Hall and P&O Cruises Australia
The sixth ship to cruise under the P&O Australia brand and currently the oldest in the fleet, Pacific Pearl has enjoyed many previous lives. It was originally launched as Sitmar FairMajesty and was then absorbed into the Princess fleet as Star Princess back in 1989. From 1997 to 2003, it 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 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 until two subsequent minor refurbishments, the last of which was in August 2012.
Ultimately, although it is an older style ship, most of the traces of its previous lives have been either erased or improved upon. In particular, the standard cabins finally received a much-needed overhaul to bring them up to scratch, and new interconnecting cabins offer more choices for families and groups. Pacific Pearl's culinary offerings have also been markedly improved, with more choice and flexibility. 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, with a lack of balconies, a lack of open deck space and small pools for a ship of its size. Pacific Pearl is also a ship on which you can incur many extra charges. There are no drink packages available, for example, even for soft drinks, which can add up over the course of a cruise.
Overall, however, if you're looking for a more affordable high-seas holiday and enjoy the ultra-casual Australian style of cruising, it's worth considering.
Pacific Pearl Fellow Passengers
When the ship cruises from Sydney, most passengers hail largely from there and the rest of New South Wales, with a smattering of others coming from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. When the ship homeports in Auckland between April and May, however, passengers are mostly local or from other parts of New Zealand. When it comes to age groups, the ship attracts a healthy mix of younger couples, groups of friends, families with kids and teens, and seniors, although it varies according to seasons and itineraries. For example, there are more families and up to 700 kids during school holidays, and fewer on shorter themed cruises.
Pacific Pearl Dress Code
The daytime dress code is extremely casual, with most people wearing 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, and '60s rock 'n' roll, with a host of associated activities regarded as part of the P&O fun. Dressing up is optional, and if you don't fancy bringing your own gear, you can buy accessories from the shops onboard. P&O has also recently expanded theme nights to feature on shorter cruises. They were usually only on the program on cruises of seven nights or longer.
Pacific Pearl Gratuity
As tipping is an optional practice in Australia, P&O dropped compulsory service charges back in 2010. Passengers don't have to tip, but they're welcome to reward a crew member if they feel he or she has gone above and beyond the call of duty.
This was our 11th cruise and 3rd and last with P&O. It was not value for money and there was certainly constant pressure from P&O staff to part with it. The items available were limited in range and overpriced. But I get ahead of ...continue
This was my second time on the Pearl and I am sorry to say that this was the last. The ship itself is in serious need of scrapping in my opinion. She is showing her age despite the "refurbishment" a few years ago. The design of the ship is poor. ...continue
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This was our 3rd trip on the Pearl and 1st to PNG.
Departure - White Bay meant taxi from Town Hall, costs $25 each way.
Made mistake of getting there same time as everyone else, so over 1 hour line up, next time remember to turn ...continue