P&O Cruises offers some of the most competitive rates in the industry. But what exactly do the advertised cruise prices include? And after paying your fare, can you cruise for free? We paid for our own cruise and tried to spend as little as possible onboard to find out if P&O offers true value for money.
P&O Cruise Inclusions
As well as ensuring a safe passage to great destinations and comfortable cabins, P&O has plenty of free activities, entertainment and dining. Here's a list of everything that is included as part of your standard P&O cruise fare.
1. All-you-can-eat free food
It's easily doable to dine for the entire duration of your cruise without paying a penny. P&O offers four fee-free dining outlets that offer an array of dining options. Food is certainly something you're never far from on any of P&O's fleet, so be prepared to move the belt up a couple of notches.
Waterfront Restaurant (main dining room)
Passengers are free to dine at the Waterfront Restaurant. As P&O's main dining room, it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for the duration of your time at sea and passengers don't need to book in advance. The best part is that it is fee free.
The menu offers premium options, which include roast duckling, rib-eye steak and grilled prawns for no additional surcharge. The restaurant also provides a daily themed selection, with steak and mushroom pie or mixed berry pavlova offered from the Aussie-themed menu.
For younger passengers, a fixed kids menu is available at all of the restaurants onboard. You can expect to see the usual favourites, such as chicken nuggets, burgers or spaghetti bolognaise.
In addition, passengers can enjoy a silver service breakfast at Waterfront, where eggs are cooked to your liking, along with complimentary chilled orange and apple juice, milk, tea, coffee and iced water.
P&O appears to have undertaken some cost-saving measures, from smaller portion sizes to a lack of staff. On our cruise, waiters seemed overburdened and unable to efficiently meet demands, resulting in a slow service. This is not to say the crew were not attentive because their service was flawless during quieter times.
Although some dishes were less than inspiring, the outstanding variety and elegant surroundings made for an enjoyable culinary experience. We were suitably impressed, especially considering the heavily discounted fare we scored during a P&O sale.
The Pantry (buffet alternative)
Instead of a traditional cruise ship buffet, The Pantry resembles a modern food hall with crew in suspenders and newsboy caps positioned behind a series of glass stations, ready and waiting to serve hungry passengers. Open for a breakfast, lunch and dinner, P&O's innovative dining concept ensures food is served up fresh and hot in never ending supplies.
Passengers can eat as much as they want, completely for free, from eight themed areas. These include: the hot roast carvery options from Fat Cow; fish and chips from Hooks; crisp salad from McGregor's Garden; generous burritos from Mexicana; laksa and stir fry from Stix; Indian from the Curry House; fresh baked bread, soups and sandwiches from Kettle & Bun and sweet treats, such as chocolate brownies and jelly, from Sugar Bar.
During breakfast, complimentary chilled orange and apple juice is available, along with milk, tea, coffee and fruit-infused water.
Congestion did occur when we were onboard at popular stations such as Fat Cow for the hot breakfast of poached eggs and bacon. Hook's seafood paella was a particularly sought-after option at lunchtime. However, the queues were relatively fast moving and the food never ran out. The only annoyance we found about the layout was the need to queue up at several stations to build a meal. At breakfast you go to McGregor's Garden for fruit, Kettle & Bun for toast, and then onto the Fat Cow for eggs.
The Pantry's fee-free dining is the most popular place for a quick and casual meal. Shared benches, communal tables and sofas surrounding coffee tables create a warm and welcoming atmosphere while admiring the ocean views.
The popularity of The Pantry means finding a table, or even a spare stool by the window, can take time. It was even harder for larger groups wanting to sit together, and sometimes they'd have to make do with separate tables.
Angelo's (contemporary Italian)
The elegant surroundings of Angelo's might fool most passengers into thinking that it's a pricey affair. This contemporary dining room with a Vespa parked at the front is one of the two fee-free speciality restaurants onboard.
The chocolate-hued walls, cream leather seats and large gold-framed, monochrome images of the Italian Riviera set the tone of this sophisticated modern Italian eatery. Passengers are served cracked pepper from giant pepper pots and -- for an extra cost -- can sip their wine from a hot pink high-heeled shoe.
The four-course Italian menu takes passengers on a journey across Italy: there's antipasti to start; slow-cooked osso bucco or an assortment of pasta and risotto as a main; crisp salads; and sweet treats such as a chocolate and strawberry tiramisu or cheese platter.
There were definitely a few misses on the menu, but most meals were delicious. Food arrived promptly, despite our big group of three families, and the various courses were steadily paced with good-sized portions. Attentive staff and a friendly atmosphere made for a wonderful evening meal and a rather upmarket alternative to The Pantry or The Waterfront.
Dragon Lady (Asian fusion)
Our favourite fee-free restaurant was Dragon Lady, a sexy and modern Asian specialty restaurant that offers exceptional service. With the emphasis on exclusivity, Dragon Lady could easily charge for its experience, making it a welcome addition to the dining options included in the fare.
The venue offers a luxurious setting for a romantic meal. Dark wood furniture, deep purple drapes and authentic panelling are illuminated by blue neon lights, making it feel incredibly intimate. We ate at the back of the dining room, on top of silk cushions around a sunken Japanese table. Our large group with kids didn't faze the wait staff.
Guests are greeted with a shot of watermelon, lychee, lime or mint juice while they peruse the origami folded menu. It's certainly a refreshing start. Popular dishes included tempura sushi, spicy beef ribs and a must-try signature apple caramel milkshake dessert. Portions are small, however, you can select multiple servings across each section. The general guide is two or three per person.
Reservations for Dragon Lady and Angelo's are essential to secure limited seating. Subsequent bookings can be made on a separate occasion to allow everybody at least one sitting at both of the fee-free speciality restaurants.
2. Unlimited water, tea & coffee
Passengers do not have to buy drink packages to stay hydrated onboard. Free, chilled water is available near the main pool, at the gym, in The Pantry and restaurants, and from dispensers at the bars. While there are no fridges available in rooms, the tap water in the cabin is drinkable: the water is either distilled from seawater or loaded onboard at the home port.
There is also a good selection of teas and instant coffee available at various drinks stations around the ship and inside your cabin. Complimentary apple and orange juice, low-fat and skimmed milk and fruit-infused water is served during breakfast at The Waterfront or self-serve at The Pantry.
3. No tipping
Compulsory tipping is not enforced on Australia-based P&O ships and surcharges for service are never applied to passenger accounts. Gratuities are not automatically added at any restaurant, bar or spa, although a blank space is left on the bill, allowing passengers to tip at their own discretion.
4. Live entertainment
Live free entertainment is staged every night throughout the ship for passengers to enjoy. The Marquee (a 600-seat, two-level theatre) hosts musicals, game shows, magicians, comedians and other performing artists.
However talented the performers may be, if a stage show about a post-apocalyptic world or a motley crew of sideshow alley characters singing semi-recent hits is not to your taste, passengers can instead opt for a pianist performing Billy Joel classics in Mix Bar; a jazz quartet taking requests in the Blue Room; or a feature film held in the Torquay Theatre.
5. Free hosted activities
The 'Pacific Daily' newsletter (which arrives in the cabin each day) is packed full of free hosted activities. The Marquee could be hosting a live cooking demonstration. In the Atrium staff preside over games of Pictionary, paper helicopter competitions and Mindful Colouring sessions. Dotted around the various bars and lounges are themed trivia competitions, origami lessons and meditation classes. Passengers are also encouraged to join in a table tennis competition, participate in a shuffleboard tournament, or play water balloon soccer up on the Sports Deck.
6. Included recreation
Pools and Hot Tubs
There are two free pools onboard most P&O ships. The main pool is framed by a statue of dolphins and flanked by twin hot tubs. All passengers are welcome, including kids. During your time at sea, live performances are held on the small nearby stage, creating a buzz of activity with plenty of passengers enjoying a drink at the Pool Bar, chilling out under the cabanas, or relaxing in an over-sized armchair. The pool remains a popular option even in bad weather, due, in part, to its retractable roof.
At the rear of the ship is the Oasis Pool for adults only. It overlooks the ship's wake and provides a relaxing space, free from music and children. This is a tranquil spot to enjoy the sunset, read a book from a hanging chair or recline, cocktail in hand, on one of the poolside loungers.
Gym & Wellness
Passengers have free use of the ship's large air-conditioned fitness facility with ocean views from the wrap-around floor to ceiling windows. The gym has premium fitness equipment including recumbent exercise bikes with programmable screens, treadmills, rowing machines, workout machines and weights. The Aerobics Studio offers free fitness classes, including early morning stretching sessions, boot camps and abdominal workouts. Other sessions like Detox For Health and Weight are also held for free here and generally act as a precursor to a paid fitness class or service at Elemis Spa.
7. Complimentary Kids Club
Families have access to a fully supervised, complimentary kids' club program, run by qualified youth staff and separated into four age groups.
Turtle Cove (2 to 6 years)
Turtle Cove is designed for kids aged between two and six years. The daily program comprises: arts and crafts (such as drawing and origami); 'Fun Games' (both inside and outside); and some free play with plenty of toys, as well as a couple of video consoles. Night-time entertainment usually involves some supervised games, storytime, or a lie-down movie night at 8.30pm.
On our cruise aboard the Pacific Eden, Turtle Cove was a small room, tucked away toward the rear of the ship with a maximum capacity of 18 (6:1 kid-to-staff ratio). The service faced problems when more than 30 families had registered and many missed out on a place, particularly during the day. The only way to secure a spot when Turtle Cove was full was to be wait-listed and notified if a child signs out. This was a disappointment for numerous families wishing to make use of Turtle Cove and its facilities as part of their cruise holiday.
Apart from swapping in different games and arts and crafts for others, the structure of the daily program stayed the same. Some of the kids in our group became bored with the activities, especially with a movie every night, opting to stay with their parents, which defeats the purpose of family cruising. Perhaps it was due to the high child-to-staff ratio and numerous groups signing in each day that some staff struggled to remember the names of the children and their parents.
For first-time cruisers that have no experience with other kids' club programs, Turtle Cove is good, especially for younger kids. We were comfortable that our children (aged between three and six) were being cared for and the activities were mostly engaging. Most kids (including my own) were eager to attend Turtle Cove and found it enjoyable. Ours only missed out on two of the seven days we cruised and this was only through us not signing in right at the club's opening time.
Shark Shack (7 to 10 years)
Shark Shack for kids aged seven to 10 years seemed like the place to be. It's a large room adjacent to Turtle Cove that accommodates up to 60 kids and there were no problems signing kids up.
As the largest kids' club, it was understandably frenetic. Although the program of activities didn't differ much from Turtle Cove, the kids really seemed to enjoy the dance parties at night, video game consoles to play, balloon stomping, bead-making and other arts and crafts activities. Most talked about were the Foosball battles, and an occasional Nintendo WII competition on the big screen. Some of the older Turtle Cove kids were desperate to join in on Shark Shack but were not allowed.
HQ Teens (11 to 14 years)
Teens aged between 11 and 14 can sign themselves in and out of the small HQ room that is separate from the junior kids' clubs. This is a purpose-built facility for teens to hang out in or participate in supervised activities. They can have a jam session with the guitar, drums and piano, go on a dress up scavenger hunt around the ship, make beads, listen to music, play video or board games, and participate in hosted outdoor activities on the sports deck.
HQ+ Teens (15 to 17 years)
For teens aged 15 to 17 years old, there's a small alcove with a lounge, music overhead and video consoles. While this age group would drop in to play video games and occasionally participate in organised activities -- such as Dodgeball and Uno or meet for the under 18s disco and mocktail parties held at the Dome -- they were usually happy to float around the cruise ship, sometimes seen huddled together playing cards on the aft of the ship.
8. Family Shows and Parties
P&O's youth activity program excels at live shows and family parties, organised by the kids' club staff. These shows are held in The Marquee's two-level theatre complex, complete with full production elements, including sound, lighting and video.
Turtle Cove and Shark Shack kids make cameos in the performance of TC and Skippers Island Adventures dressed in spacesuits or animal costumes alongside mascots TC the Turtle and Skipper the Shark. The kids' club also rehearse and perform in a Time to Shine Talent Show. Kids are encouraged to show off their talents on stage, as well as participate in the most adorable group performances while parents gush and snap away like paparazzi.
Youth staff also facilitates several kids' parties that are in the theme of the main parties onboard, such as White Night and Gatsby Night. These include games, live music, dancing and balloons and are held at the Dome, a well-equipped area complete with dance floor and glimmering disco ball.
9. DVD Library
A DVD Library is available for passengers to enjoy a movie on a small TV and DVD supplied in each cabin room. By submitting a request slip to the room steward, passengers can also choose a movie each night from the DVD list, which includes a good selection of recent releases.
P&O Extra Costs
As you can see, a lot comes included in P&O's standard fare; however, there are some optional extras that might tempt you to part with some hard-earned cash.
1. Drinks Packages
Despite the hefty price tag, drink packages remain a popular purchase on P&O Cruises. This is most likely influenced by their strict 'no outside alcohol' onboard policy. It's clearly a money-making initiative, but big drinkers or cruisers who do not want to be hit with unexpected beverage charges may benefit from these deals.
The Lot Beverage Package is the most expensive option in terms of drinks packages. It is only available on cruises that are seven nights or longer. It costs $105 per person per day ($95 pp per day, if purchased prior to the ship's launch). The package includes unlimited, soda, espresso coffee and T2 tea, juice blends, mocktails, 500ml bottled water, beer, cider, energy drink and wine, spirits and cocktails up to $15 in value.
The Premium Beverage Package costs $89 per person per day ($79pp per day, pre-purchased before setting off). This package includes everything that The Lot provides, except for energy drinks, espresso coffee and T2 tea. The package is only available on cruises seven nights or longer.
The Refreshments Drinks Package costs $25 per person, per day ($19pp per day, pre-purchased before setting sail) and includes unlimited glasses of Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sunkist Orange, Lemonade, Solo, tonic water, soda water and ginger ale, 600ml bottled water, juice blends and mocktails, as well as tea and coffee.
The Soft Drinks package is $7 per person per day and includes unlimited glasses of Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sunkist Orange, Lemonade, Solo, tonic water, soda water and ginger ale.
Water is not permitted to be brought onboard, however, P&O permits passengers to carry up to 24 cans of soft drink per person, loosely packed into their personal luggage. A six-pack of 1.5 litre bottles of water can be delivered to your cabin for a cost of $19.80 or $39 for 12 bottles.
2. Barista coffee
For coffee lovers that need higher quality beans than those offered with the free instant coffee onboard, a barista-brewed coffee is an essential that most passengers were willing to pay for.
A Short Black, Macchiato or hot chocolate costs $3.30 for a regular and a large is $3.80, while a cappuccino, a flat white and a cafe latte cost $3.90 for a regular and $4.60 for a large. A shot of espresso costs just 50c.
The Refreshment Drinks Package or The Lot Beverage Package includes espresso coffee. These offer the best value for money if you just can't function without a proper coffee in the morning.
3. Paid dining
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
P&O Cruises has partnered with celebrity chef Luke Mangan to create a premium paid speciality restaurant at sea. For an extra $49 per person for dinner ($39 for lunch on select sea days), the three-course menu offers juicy premium steaks and mouth-watering seafood options in a secluded and intimate setting. The levels of service are sublime and it's value for money compared to Luke Mangan's onshore restaurants.
From the menu, starters include seared sea scallops with blue cheese polenta and truffle oil, or prawn toast with corn salsa from the tapas section. Oyster lovers can enjoy fresh oysters for an extra $2 each.
The mains typically prove the most difficult selection, with a variety of meats from the grill, including a 1kg bone in rib eye to share, or seafood options such as grilled tuna or lobster tail that has a surcharge of $22. The easiest choices for me were definitely at dessert time: options included the signature liquorice parfait and the most delicious strawberry cheesecake with popping candy.
Passengers can also opt for more than the recommended two sides that accompany mains and even seconds on their dessert.
High tea is served from 3pm on select days and costs $20. Reservations are essential so book in early during your cruise to avoid disappointment. You'll also likely get the freshest seafood and steaks if you secure a seat on the first evening of your cruise.
At a cost of $95 per person, the Chef's Table is an intimate private dining room experience where P&O's Executive Chef guides up to 14 passengers through a nine-course degustation menu paired with exclusive wines.
The experience includes welcome drinks and canapes and a tour of the kitchen galley. A similar degustation onshore with wine would cost considerably more and most foodies agree it's worth the splurge.
The Grill, which is tucked away in the corner by the main pool, serves up snack-size pizzas, burgers, hot chips, nachos, meat pies and hot dogs from 12.30pm until late. It's the only hot food option when all other dining options are closed between 3pm and 5pm. Prices are low but not free and probably the reason behind the lack of queues: hot chips, burgers, pies and hot dogs cost $3; pizzas $9; and buckets of prawns $15.
To save a bit of money, Kettle and Bun in the Pantry remain open during this time with soup, sandwiches and wraps that will easily fill the void before dinner commences. Apart from the prawns, we think The Grill should be free.
4. Room Service
Room service onboard P&O comes at an extra cost, including breakfast. Although the prices are reasonable they are high enough to deter most passengers from using the service, particularly when other cruise lines offer room service for free.
Both hot and cold breakfasts are available. Passengers can choose a-la carte or a set breakfast. Costs for individual items are as follows: cereals, yoghurt and stewed fruit $5; bakery items $3; and coffee, tea or juice $3. Continental breakfast with a choice of beverage, bakery item, cereal yoghurt and platter cost $10. There are four hot breakfast sets at $10 including The Big Breakfast with bacon, eggs, baked beans and toast.
From the In-Room Menu available from 10am to 11pm snacks include: potato chips for $2.90; sandwiches, salads and pies for $9; $9.50 pizza; and cheesecake, chocolate fudge, fruit or cheese at $6. Outside of room service hours, there are eight items available 24 hours a day. Options include wedges and nachos, burgers and lasagna.
5. Ice Cream
Passengers looking for the humble free soft serve ice cream that is synonymous with cruising will unfortunately not find it onboard P&O Cruises; instead, ice cream is available for purchase at the New Zealand Natural Ice Cream parlour. A generous scoop of ice cream, sorbet or frozen yoghurt, is served in a waffle cone or cup and costs $5, two scoops $6.50 and three scoops for $7.50. Decadent sundaes are large enough to share. One particularly delectable creation is the Chocabloca Sundae, with three huge scoops of chocolate icecream, drizzled in chocolate sauce and topped with wafers, whipped cream and nuts for $9.50.
New Zealand Natural Ice Cream was also the best place for a barista brew to be enjoyed with a slice of free banana bread. However, other flavoured sweet breads and muffins cost $3 and croissants $4. Also available to purchase are milkshakes. A small shake costs $5 and a regular one $6. Thickshakes cost $6.50 for a small and a regular is $9.
Although prices were similar to what is found onshore and the quality better than a self-serve machine, most passengers thought a $9 milkshake was excessive and went without.
6. Shore Excursions
Shore excursions organised by P&O at designated port stops are the most convenient way to explore a destination but not the best value. The benefit of taking P&O's tours is that the ship will not depart without you, whereas independently organised tours do not grant passengers the same peace of mind. Another benefits is that P&O tour passengers get priority treatment and are usually the first people off the ship. You can pay onboard via your ship account, though this does come at an inflated cost and neglects to offer discounts for seniors, groups or children.
Sometimes, a P&O shore excursion can provide exclusive opportunities for P&O guests. Examples include the cultural festival at Alotau in Papua New Guinea, where guests can see traditional dress and performances, and attend a market with stalls featuring local arts and crafts exclusive for P&O guests. All this comes at a cost -- $35.99 per person -- whereas hiring a car with both a private guide and a driver to explore the island for a few hours costs about $50 for four people.
Wi-Fi via satellite is available throughout the ship, with five Internet packages to choose from. Each package allows one device to be logged in at a time. The connection is adequate though slow, especially when the ship is out at sea.
P&O's Social Media package allows Wi-Fi access to social channels including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at $10 unlimited per day. There's a Bronze package, which costs $19 per cruise and is restricted to 100MB usage. The Silver package costs $39 per cruise for up to 250 MB. A Gold package costs $69 per cruise for 500MB and Platinum costs $99 per cruise with unlimited data. Alternatively, the platinum package can be purchased daily for $20. Club members who also purchase a photo package can enjoy the Platinum package at a discounted rate of $79 per cruise.
A much-appreciated facility is the coin-operated self-serve launderettes on P&O ships. On Pacific Eden there are three, each with several washing and drying machines that accept gold tokens. A wash costs $3, including washing powder, and a 75-minute dry costs $3 with several cycles available. The dry cycle is sometimes not enough and, when washing a standard load of summer clothes, it took more than one cycle to completely dry and another $3 was needed. There's also an iron and ironing board available as well as a communal laundry basket. These are free to use for all passengers.
A Laundry Service is available onboard with a 'Same Day Express' option, which costs 50 per cent extra or a 'Regular Next Day' service returned by 6pm the following day. A paper laundry bag is provided in the cabin and the steward will collect. Passengers should be aware that this is for a wash and press, or press-only service, as there is no dry cleaning available.
To wash and press underwear costs $2 per item, shorts $5, jeans and trousers $7.50 and a dress is $8.50. Press-only items cost $2 for a t-shirt, $3 for a skirt, $6 for a jacket or $13 for an evening dress or two piece suit.
9. Photo gallery
Ship photographers capture passengers throughout the duration of the cruise. Their presence is noticed as soon as you board, at port stops, at the restaurants, during time at sea and around the Atrium for formal and informal portraits with pop-up studios.
Photos taken are chronologically displayed on the photo boards in the Photo Gallery. Here, you can purchase printed photos individually or purchase a photo package. Photos a-la carte cost $19.99 each, but the best value for money can be found with the package deals if you are wanting to purchase multiple, professional photographs.
The $29.99 Paparazzi Club Package includes two digital and printed boarding photos, a USB drive shaped like a floating ship, free digital files of purchased photos loaded onto the USB, a $10 social media internet voucher, club membership that grants 20 per cent off Unlimited Photo Package, $50 off LIFE Package and $20 off the Scenes DVD. This package is available on the day you set sail.
The Unlimited Photo Package is the best deal; the catch is it must be purchased in the first three days of cruising. After that, the package price increases. This photography package includes all prints of every passenger in the same cabin. If you are travelling with other guests, an additional $99 per person in a cabin can be added to your package. This can be extended by $99 for each room, provided they are family members.
The best value for money is found by purchasing the $29 Paparazzi Club Package on the first day and using the 20 per cent discount to purchase the Unlimited Package. The Unlimited Package then comes with additional Paparazzi Club benefits where every print can also be loaded onto a USB stick. By purchasing the Paparazzi Club and applying the discount on the Unlimited package the total amount is discounted to $189.99
Otherwise, individual prints are $19.99 each, three print packages cost $49.00 and five print packages go for $79.99. A USB stick can also be purchased that can be loaded with a digital copy of every paid-for print at a cost of $16.
LIFE Photography (Photo Studio)
Passengers can book a studio session with a ship photographer to take professional portraits with no obligation to buy or pay a session fee. Free sparkling wine and beer or soft drinks are offered for no extra charge during the shoot. After the session, a photographer schedules a free private viewing to present the photos. Professional prints start at $49 depending on the size and format, such as a mounted frame or canvas, and is delivered directly to your home.
10. P&O Edge Adventure Park
The P&O Edge Adventure Park is located on the top deck, at the rear of the ship. This is the headquarters for 14 outdoor activities. These active experiences are valid for kids aged 6 to 16 years and particularly good for teens. This gives them something to do other than loiter around the ship or occasionally hang out at HQ.
Each P&O Edge activity can be individually purchased as follows.
Abseil -- $34 per adult; $29 for kids.
Cargo Net -- $24 per adult; $14 for kids.
Flat Line, Gyroscope and Slackline Surfing -- $19 per adult; $14 for kids.
Flying Fox, Bungy Tramp and Walk the Plank -- $24 per adult; $19 for kids.
High Ropes Challenge -- $34 adult; $29 for kids.
Knotted Rope Funnel Climb -- $34 per adult; $24 for kids.
Rock Climbing -- $34 per adult; $29 for kids.
Titanic Experience -- $44 per adult; $34 for kids.
Bungy Tramp -- $39 per adult; $34 for kids per hour.
Laser Tag -- $24 per adult; $19 for kids.
Bull Simulator Ride -- $14 per adult; $10 for kids.
Segway Obstacle Course -- $44 per adult; $39 for kids.
P&O Edge Adrenalin VIP Pass in Bronze, Silver and Gold are available and allow each pass holder up to two turns of an activity every day at sea. The money can add up especially for families with multiple kids and the facilities better utilised if it was for free at least for teens rather than an added extra.
The Bronze VIP package costs $99 for adults and $89 for kids and includes, abseiling, cargo net, flat line, flying fox, gyroscope, high ropes, knotted rope funnel climb, slackline surfing, the Titanic experience and walk the plank. The Silver VIP package costs $139 for adults and $119 for kids and is inclusive of all the Bronze VIP pass and includes bungy tramp and laser tag. The Gold VIP package includes all 14 activities and costs $165 for adults and $129 for kids.
11. Elemis at Sea
The Elemis Spa menu offers an extensive list of treatments for the face and body, as well as medi-spa cosmetic treatments and an exclusive thermal suite facility. A 50-minute anti-aging facial costs $182 and a full-hour long skin resurfacing treatment costs $229. Treatments for the body start at $186 for an acupuncture session; Swedish massage from $149; and lime and ginger salt glow for $194. These prices are for a 50-minute session.
Look out for daily specials such as the 'Top to Toe' package, advertised for $169. This included a glass of Champagne, full body massage, scalp massage, booster facial and foot massage.
The Elemis salon provides an excellent array of beauty treatments for a fee. Passengers can get pampered for formal night with a women's blow dry or men's shave. There's also waxing, manicure, pedicure, eyelash tinting or extension, and teeth whitening.
Men's grooming starts from $20 for a tidy up, to a complete deep clean and shave for $94. Costs for a full hair set and blow dry start at $44 and colour costs $119 for a whole head. Lash tinting costs $36 and a full set of lashes cost $123. At the nail bar, manicures start at $63 and leg waxing start at $50.
Specials are advertised throughout your stay onboard. These include teeth whitening for $139 and hair packages, including cut, colour, highlights and blow dries for $169.
Passengers can pay $29 for a day pass to access the Thermal Suite. This is marketed as a self-renewal chamber for relaxation and rejuvenation. Unwind in heated lounge chairs set in an aromatic grotto offering wet and dry heat to cleanse the body and soothe aching joints and muscles. Cool off in the chilled shower jets provided. A full cruise pass allows passengers to enjoy the Thermal Suite for the duration of the cruise and starts from $179 per person or $299 for a couple.
Elemis at Sea operates fitness programs in the aerobics studio. A 45-minute yoga or pilates session costs $14 and three sets of 45-minute spin classes cost $30.
12. Child Minding
Once the free kids' club closes at 10.30pm, late evening childminding is available in Turtle Cove and Shark Shack until 1am. The fare is nominal at $5 per hour and $2 per hour per sibling. Parents must book by 8pm to ensure staff are available. In-room babysitting is not offered by P&O Cruises.
13. Satellite Phone
It's free to make internal calls from your cabin. These include dialling the reception, room service, restaurants, housekeeping and other cabins. For external calls, via the cabin's satellite phone, it costs $7 per minute, automatically billed to your ship account. At the rates charged, it may work out cheaper to have a mobile phone on roaming or connect via Internet using applications like Whatsapp or Skype.
Shopping onboard P&O is a popular pasttime with cosmetics, alcohol, watches and jewellery sold tax and duty free. Prices did not appear significantly cheaper than onshore. For example, J'Adore perfume cost $99; a Swarovski bracelet is $149; and a Tag Heuer luxury watch is priced at $2,627.
The reason the duty free drew large crowds of shoppers is the apparent bargains from daily specials including 10 per cent off the ticketed price, which includes fine jewellery, alcohol, cigarettes and luxury watches. There was also a promise of price matching an identical product if it was cheaper onshore, which appealed to many passengers.
Another busy shop was Essentials, which sells P&O branded merchandise and emergency items like lanyards (two for $12); sunglasses ($38); swimwear (from $60); resort wear (from $50); hats ($30); reef shoes ($15); snorkel sets ($50); generic iPhone cables ($10); feminine hygiene products ($13); sunscreen ($25) and Panadol ($9.99).
Confectionary is available next door in Chocobloc, which sells pick-and-mix lollies ($7 for a small cup); giant Toblerones ($11.99); Daryl Lee Liquorice ($6.99); and Pringles (three tubes for $15). Look out for specials including 10 per cent off purchase on the first day, and buy two Toblerones and get one free.
The Pandora Shop opens from 2.30pm to 10pm and offers a wide selection of its bracelets and signature charms at 10 per cent off the onshore price.
The Casino was a hive of activity in the evenings with many Aussies enjoying a flutter. Passengers were seen trying their luck on the numerous pokie machines that had a tantalising 1c per line minimum play. The roulette table was a big draw with $2 minimum bets. Texas Hold'em Poker could be enjoyed in a $1 and $2 no-limit cash games and passengers could join in on a poker or blackjack tournament for $30 with a $500 cash prize for the winner.
Large crowds turned out for the bingo held in the Marquee theatre. Tickets cost $30 for six games and the prize pool at one stage snowballed to $2,000. Bingo dabbers could be purchased for $3.50.
17. Cellar Door
P&O's Cellar Door offers wine seminars and tastings of the Glandore Estate boutique wines. Passengers learn about the wine-making process and taste six generous helpings of wine.
18. Mix Bar masterclass
At the Mix Bar, passengers can sign up for a whiskey masterclass to learn about the history and process of creating a good whiskey and sampling four generous drams of the finest whiskey for $16. Rum lovers can enjoy a fun fact session on making rum, while sipping four samples for $25. There are also cocktail and martini master classes, where the staff take you through four different blends and explain how to mix a good drink. Passengers can sign up at a cost of $25.
Our final verdict
Even a heavily discounted fare allows you to visit exotic destinations in style and comfort, enjoy good food at any time, participate in a diverse program of activities, be entertained day and night, use the pools, hot tubs and sun deck, and have access to free, supervised kids care all included. Although some aspects, such as P&O Edge or a room service breakfast, should be included in our opinion, it was a real bonus to pay nothing extra for so many dining venues, including speciality restaurants.
It was comforting to discover we could cruise without paying 1c more than our fares. Being able to pay for the extra things we wanted, while skipping the activities that didn't interest us, felt like a reasonable deal. When combined with the ease of Australian currency and no tipping, P&O Cruises becomes a very affordable cruise ship choice for an enjoyable holiday and exceptional value for money.