This is our 2nd cruise on the Aria and 9th cruise overall. We've sailed with many different lines, some 5 star so I feel we can compare fairly with other cruises on offer from Australia. We booked this 4 night cruise to Hamilton Island and back to Brisbane for a great price when P&O were having one of their many online sales. I think we paid less than $100 AUD a night when they were trying to fill cabins.
We sailed with 2 other couples, and our cabin was 4216 interior on deck 4. We don't spend a lot of time in our cabin and it was nice being down low for the quiet and stability, particularly on our last night which was quite rough coming back into a storm in Brisbane. (My husband took 2 Kwells and slept through the whole thing, lol..)
We've been on this ship before and love the classy refurb done a couple of years ago and have always found the un-refurbished cabins spacious, clean and comfortable - we had our 10 yr old sharing with us last time. I was interested to see how things have changed for the better or worse since our cruise on Aria last June.
We booked our dinner reservations as soon as we got on board at the Monkey Bar outside Angelos and Dragon Lady. We got all the evenings and times we wanted. Dragon Lady was absolutely fantastic - the restaurant's decor is amazing, our server Mary-Beth was great and the food has really improved on last time. There was a perfect amount of time in between each course which is a big improvement on last time. A tip though - the portions are on the smaller side so we ordered 2 entrees each and some extra mains and it was great to try different flavours and share.
Angelos was lovely too, great atmosphere and tasty food - not 5 star, but perfect service and lovely wine selections. My husband loved his lamb shank and the salmon was good.
Waterfront is still pretty good - some tasty dishes and great service. They really try hard. I notice other cruisers have complained about dishes coming out cold. This only happened once to us in 5 days - my husband's egg benedict on our last morning came out cold and dried out like it had been pre-cooked and left sitting. Disappointing as the restaurant was nearly empty but he ordered 2 other things off the menu for breakfast that morning so he was quite satisfied.
We didn't try Salt this time - we were going to do it on our last night but it was quite rough and some of our group were feeling a little queasy, so we cancelled. Although it was superb last June.
The Pantry is in my opinion a good option for a quick lunch or dinner. It can be tricky getting a table, but the food is tasty and never cold - not sure why people have complained about this..? The Indian curries are to die for, the Mexican made to order tacos and burritos good too and on the other side you can pick up a cheese platter to enjoy by the pool with your drinks in the afternoon. The only disappointment was desserts at the Pantry - they were mass-produced and tasteless. But generally the Pantry is good and with staff serving you over the counter it keeps wastage and hygiene in check and the staff are lovely.
The ship is being well maintained - decks and railings were being re-painted and varnished during our cruise and deck chairs had new cushions rotating each day.
Entertainment - there was a FANTASTIC band on board (apparently they are finishing up with P&O at the end of the year after many many years) called Alter Ego. They are 4 very talented Asian guys and they played every request the audience threw at them - from Elvis to Jimmy Barnes! They had the entire Ocean Bar up dancing on the very first night!
The Gatsby party (on every cruise) in the nightclub is so much fun. Do yourselves a favour and dress up! Girls - cocktail dress and a feather headband from Lovisa... Guys - black and white trousers/shirt/tie/suspenders/hat combo... it's not hard. They had everyone up there in the nightclub with Alter Ego playing. I saw 19 year olds to 90 year olds on the dance floor. They also hand around complimentary champagne. Also go to the Gatsby dance classes earlier that day to learn the dances to do that night.
I love the acoustic guitar/singing at the Oasis adults only pool/bar deck at the back of the ship every afternoon from 4pm - very chilled and relaxing. They had a more upbeat band playing around the Lido deck which suited the atmosphere there with a few children in the pool and a bit more noise around. In comparison with Carnival, who we sailed with in April this year to Tahiti, P&O do this much better. They really maximise the best out of each area and put on some great bands in appropriate areas and parties too and get everyone involved.
The shows in the theatre were pretty good, on 2nd last night we had a comedian Peter Krause I'd seen before using the same material (yawn..) but the stand out was a talented trio of 3 girls from Victoria who sang songs from the 50's and 60's with a great routine going on.
All the buggies were booked out so we walked around Hamilton Island shops, visited the yacht club, pool areas and beach and wandered back to the boat. Some guests did the Reefworld day trip etc but we'd been before and actually enjoyed the atmosphere at the Oasis deck on the back of the ship compared to the public pool area at Hamilton.
One of our gripes with P&O is the watered down spirits and cocktails.. particularly at the pool bars.. not impressed when you are paying $9 for a rum & coke. Maybe stick to beer and wine if this is an issue.
The lifts were mainly all operating well (except when they are moving guests' luggage to where it needs to go). The gym and day spa is a great area, although we didn't use it this time.
Good coffee and T2 tea is available from Ocean Bar and the Ice-cream shop on the Lido deck at reasonable prices. The Grill on the Lido deck has unbelievable pulled pork burgers if you're still hungry..!
All in all we had a great 4 night cruise for unbelievable value and we felt like we'd been away for a week! We were lucky with the weather until the last afternoon/night but the Captain warned us and they modified the evening's activities and most retired early to their cabins. As he predicted, at exactly 1am we entered calm water and sailed back into Brisbane. Embarkation and disembarkation were very smooth, hardly any waiting.
Lowest deck and at the back. Calm and quiet, handy to lifts and restaurants/bars.