Eye-catching, elegant and unpredictable: Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden's new look puts the "ohhh" into P&O. Forget what you may think about the line's old ships, this makeover has taken years off.
It would not be an exaggeration to describe some of the new spaces as luxurious, while the overall feel is relaxed and modern: part resort, part lounge room (at your most stylish friend's house).
The pool deck, although small, is one of the most beautiful on any ship in the world, and the restaurants and small bars look fantastic. Traditionalists may disagree, as it's clear that P&O is targeting a younger, cooler crowd.
While some passengers experienced a few issues with the service on both ships' inaugural sailings (we also lamented the long waits for food in Waterfront and for drinks in most bars), we're expecting the new crew will improve as they get into the swing of Aussie cruising.
After their November 2015 refurbishments, these two ex-Holland America Line vessels are almost identical, so take a look at our combined slideshow of Australia's latest resorts at sea: Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden.
--By Louise Goldsbury, Australia Editor
As soon as you board, head straight to the main pool before all the other passengers get on and cover up the beauty of this decadent deck. It's unlike anything you've seen on a ship based in Australia. The striking design matches, if not surpasses, many of the newest, much more expensive cruise ships.
The furniture around the pool would not be out of place at a five-star hotel. No more natty, saggy seats, these classy lounges are fresh and comfy. We predict peak chair-hogging on sunny days at sea.
The big news is the specialty restaurants — Angelo's (pictured here, serving Italian) and Dragon Lady (various Asian) — have no surcharge, so until further notice, are free of charge. But get in quick because demand is high and these dining venues close at 9 p.m.
Dragon Lady has the ship's sexiest decor, reminiscent of the hottest restaurants in Melbourne or Sydney, or Shanghai or Hong Kong for that matter. Don't worry if these cushions on the floor looks uncomfortable — there is space underneath the sunken tables to place your feet, so you are actually sitting down normally. There are also regular-looking tables and chairs in the main section of the restaurant.
Luke Mangan's popular Salt Grill is back, along with the adjoining Salt Grill bar, which is a great, quiet space for a pre-dinner drink. At the moment, this is the only restaurant that has a surcharge (AU$49).
Ocean Bar is meant to be the living room of the ship, while the back wall looks like a kitchen with its green cabinets. It's lovely and homely, perfect for reading or chatting in air-conditioned comfort. Come back at night for live music and dancing.
True blue beautiful, the Blue Room glows with natural light during the day, before transforming into a super-cool night spot with live blues, jazz, funk and R&B. Every night a different combination of the ship's musicians performs, so you never see the same band twice.
Modern art has given a lift to the lifts. Yes, that's an elevator. Keep an eye out for the fun and quirky artwork all over the ship. Be warned, though, the lifts are tiny so we recommend taking the stairs if you’re able-bodied and don’t like waiting.
Most of us can't afford the penthouse, but a suite is worth the splurge. The balconies on deck 10 are huge. Luckily, the cheap accommodation is pretty spacious too. Even the inside cabins are large enough for a lounge, a writing desk and a decent bed. A well-cruised passenger told us his inside cabin (category F) was about twice the size of other local cruise lines. Aria's and Eden's cabins weren't upgraded in the recent revamp so the decor is a little dated compared to the hip new look in public spaces, but linens and towels were replaced.
Wow, what happened to the Waterfront? Unrecognisable from other P&O ships, the main dining room is a lot lighter and more open, with household-style furnishings such as lamps and jars of flowers to make you feel at home.
There's something fun about going around to all The Pantry's outlets, having Indian, Mexican, sandwiches or stir fry served to you, like a Westfield food court without any prices. The queues and seating availability are hit and miss, depending what time of day you go, but the "not-a-buffet" system is a step up in our books, especially for hygiene.
To get away from most of the other 1500 passengers, the Oasis pool is an adults-only, wake-view delight. It takes a while for people to discover this aft deck hideaway, so most of the 80 sun lounges and four day beds are waiting for you.
Coming soon: a full review of Pacific Aria's cabins, food, entertainment and activities.