P&O Cruises offers some of the most competitive rates in the industry. But if you are looking for a cheap P&O cruise fare what exactly do the advertised cruise prices include? And after paying your fare, can you cruise for free?
We've done the research and tried to spend as little as possible onboard the ship's flagship Pacific Explorer to find out if P&O offers true value for money.
You may also be able to snag a P&O last-minute fare or a late deal if you are flexible on dates.
P&O is not all-inclusive (though the fare does include tips), but it has plenty of free activities, free entertainment and free dining to prevent you shelling out for extras on your cruise.
Here's a list of everything that is included as part of your standard P&O cruise fare.
It's easy to dine for the entire duration of your cruise without paying extra. 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)
You can dine for free at the Waterfront Restaurant, P&O's main dining room, for breakfast, lunch (on sea days and some port days) and dinner with no need to book in advance. The menu offers premium options, which include rib-eye steak and grilled prawns, for no additional surcharge.
In addition, there's table service breakfast at Waterfront, with a choice of hot and cold dishes, along with complimentary orange and apple juice, milk, tea, coffee and iced water.
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 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 area including a carvery, a Mexican-themed option, Asian cuisine and Indian from the Curry House.
Angelo's (contemporary Italian)
The elegant surroundings of Angelo's might fool most passengers into thinking that it's a pricey affair. However, this contemporary dining room with a Vespa parked at the front is one of the two fee-free speciality restaurants onboard.
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.
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.
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. The menu features popular dishes such as tempura sushi, spicy beef ribs and a peanut butter parfait for dessert. Portions are small, however, you can select multiple servings across each section. The general guide is two or three per person.
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.
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.
Live free entertainment is staged every night throughout the ship for passengers to enjoy. The main theatre hosts musicals, game shows, magicians, comedians and other performing artists.
If a musical is not to your taste, you can opt for a pianist performing Billy Joel classics in Mix Bar; a jazz quartet taking requests in the Blue Room; or a feature film in the Torquay Theatre.
The 'Pacific Daily' newsletter (which arrives in the cabin each day) is packed full of free hosted activities. The theatre 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.
Pools and Hot Tubs
There are at least two free pools on each ship, all of which have a kids waterpark and waterslides (except for Pacific Encounter which is having Twin Racer slides installed in March 2023). Live performances are held on the small stage near the main pool, 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.
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. Pacific Adventure also has the Byron Bay Beach Club, an exclusive retreat with a private outdoor pool, whirlpool spas and comfortable seating on the top deck of the ship. This is only available to suite and selected mini suite guests.
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 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.
Families have access to a fully supervised, complimentary kids' club, run by qualified youth staff. Kids are divided into four different age groups from two to teens, with an excellent programme of activities and entertainment on offer.
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.
Youth staff also facilitate 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.
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, could be included in our opinion, it was a 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 offers exceptional value for money.