For this review I shall cover the dining, the cabin, the staff and the activities/entertainment
on the P&O cruise ship Pacific Jewel.
Starting with the dining, you have three choices.
The Waterfront Restaurant, the Pantry, and the extra charge restaurants.
The Waterfront Restaurant
The menu consists of four sections. The entrees, mains, With A Twist (an item can be served as an entrée or main) and INDULGE. Dessert menus are separate.
I have included a photos from a leaflet headed “Your DINING Choices”, which was in the compendium of information for the Pacific Jewel cruise ship, and photos of two sections of a typical menu (“With a Twist) and (INDULGE).
In “Your DINING Choices” under the heading “Free Included in Your Cruise Fare” the Waterfront restaurant claims an extensive range of a la carte menu items, a menu that changes daily, and a sophisticated selection of both classic dishes and cutting edge cuisine. This is a blatant fabrication.
First, the menu did change, but not daily. There were never more than three items to choose from in any section (except “INDULGE” - more on that later). Secondly, almost every main was pasta, chicken or fish, or some commonplace dish like beef pot roast, chicken lasagne, or sausage rolls (yes, sausage rolls), flank steak. A typical dinner might be meat balls, or meat loaf or sliders on a large portion of some form of potatoes, rice, or pasta. Vegetables were available, but they were never served with the meal unless you asked for them. This is cutting edge cuisine?
I had fish for one meal and squid for another. Both had a strong odour, usually caused by being stored too long. When you put your nose next to a fresh fish, all you should smell is the sea or no odour at all. Cooking will not cause a fish to have an odour unless you cook it in stale oil.
But what about the “INDULGE” section of the menu? Steak tartare for an entrée, double aged York Sirloin Steak, or Lobster Tail Tempura? This may not be cutting edge, but it certainly sounds tempting. But Wait! There’s more! The steak tartare entrée is an extra $8.00AUD and the sirloin steak is an extra $19.00AUD. The lobster tail tempura is only $29.00AUD.
Hang on! Where have I got it wrong? The Dining Choices leaflet said “Free Included in Your Cruise Fare” and the first item under that is the Waterfront Restaurant. There is no mention of extra charges for anything in the Waterfront restaurant.
I think the daily menus for the Waterfront restaurant are for the most part boring and bland and I suspect that they are that way for two reasons. One, the ingredients are cheap, and two, if you want the truly nice food that their advertising promises on your cruise holiday, you have to pay more. This can add a significant cost to your budget.
The dessert menu was no different. If you wanted something less banal you could pay $9.00AUD for the fruit pavlova. It did, however, give me the best laugh I have had in a long time. In the daily selection of the dessert menu was listed “Specialty Ice Cream”. When I asked what the specialty ice creams were, the response was “Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry”. If you want something besides chocolate, vanilla and strawberry there is an ice cream kiosk (not in the restaurant) where you can get a single dip for only $5.00AUD. Yep, that’s right. $5.00 for one dip. Be sure you avoid your kids spotting this place.
The Extra Charge Restaurants
Like most cruise ships, the P&O does offer dining choices if you want something extra and are willing to pay extra for it. The P&O has four: Salt Grill (celebrity chef dining), The Grill (al fresco burgers, pizza’s, pies and chips), Chef’s Table (very expensive degustation with wine pairings), and Shell & Bones (seafood and grill). We did not use the extra charge restaurants so I cannot say anything other than that they are available.
The Pantry is a food court style of service from seven kiosks in a horse shoe arrangement around the aft end of the ship. Seating is organized on the outside of the food service area. We ate all our dinner meals in the Waterfront restaurant, so cannot say what the food was like for dinner in the Pantry, but I was told that they served the same thing as the restaurant. We ate our lunches at the Pantry.
Each of the food kiosks are named. Stix (Asian noodles, rice and stir fry - usually chicken), Kettle & Bun (Soup - one choice, sandwiches - two choices), Mexican (Taco or Wrap), Hook’s Fish & Chips (F&C, squid, seafood Paella), Curry House (bread, usually one Indian dish). And lastly, the Fat Cow. They claim roasts of chicken, leg of lamb, pork, beef, ham. I absolutely never saw a piece of ham, roasted or otherwise, on offer for the whole 10-day cruise at any meal in any location. Likewise I never saw a pork roast (I would have had it - love crackling), or beef roast, though it may be possible that after day after day of chicken on offer I quit stopping at the Fat Cow and may possibly have missed something. One thing about that, you could be sure that if you missed something one day, it would probably be there tomorrow as the menu seldom changed.
Each kiosk offers their food in different dishware. For instance, soup would naturally be served in a bowl. A sandwich on a saucer sized plate. Fish and chips are served in a wire basket lined with faux newspaper. Others serve with a dinner size plate, and desserts are presented in a small bowl.
So what’s the big deal? Simply this. You only have two hands. There are no trays - none. If you want, say, soup and sandwich and a cup of coffee, that’s two trips to your table. One to deliver the soup and sandwich and one to fetch the coffee and return. Then you might want some dessert. That’s another trip. If you are like most cruisers you want to sample a bit of this and a bit of that. After all, this is your chance to try something or have something you might not cook at home. But you have to work for it. And if you can, imagine someone who uses a walking stick to help get around, and has only one hand to hold something. Remember, no trays. Oh, almost forgot. The silverware is wrapped in a cloth serviette and holding it in your hand makes it difficult to hold anything else in that hand. I put it in my pocket, but the ladies don’t always have pockets.
So to summarize, the Pantry may be the most hygienic way to serve food (you can’t serve yourself like you could in a smorgasbord style) but it is terribly inefficient and frustrating to the diner. Everything, absolutely everything, is self serve. No staff to fill your water glass, fetch a cup of tea or coffee, or to help you with your food to your table. No trays. And the food is plebeian. Hardly the culinary adventure or deferential treatment you expect on a cruise holiday.
Every staff member we had any thing to do with was absolutely marvellous. Friendly, helpful, always a happy greeting. The cabin staff added a few moments of humour with their “towel art”. A dog, peacock, monkey, etc. Photos attached. It was nice that a few of the staff remembered us from previous cruises (even on another cruise ship).
For the evenings “shows” the level of quality can best be described as the performers were either on their way up or down. Primarily solo singers, musician, magician.
A gym is available and is included in the cruise cost, but special classes could attract a cost.
There are special areas and activities for kids, and they are separated by age in three groups. I overheard (more than once) how it was hard to get the kids to leave to go for a meal, and they wanted to go back asap. My travel agent told me that P&O limits the number of kids that they will take on any given cruise, probably so they can keep a minder/child ratio for most effective results. Sounds like they have got it spot on with the kiddies.
Other activities, e.g., the casino, bingo, trivia quizzes are pretty much standard on all cruise ships we have been on. Movies in the cabin were very limited. There were many movies on deck twelve, usually billed as movies under the stars, but these were mostly shown during the day. Not ideal lighting conditions, and the viewing is from deck chairs around the swimming pool. An open area is not an ideal venue for good acoustics so the sound suffers. Dialogue can be lost when someone shouts or screams (as kids do when they play in the pool), or even adults talking in a loud voice as they pass by.
So, would I recommend a P&O cruise on the Pacific Jewel? Only if it is on their absolutely must do bucket list and they cannot afford to book another cruise line. For anyone else I would want to make sure they knew what was really included, the quality of what’s included, and the extra costs that can be involved.
We had an ocean view cabin, which was adequate and as expected. A photo shows the bed, and you can draw your own conclusions re: comfort.
There is no tea service in the cabin and if you want a coffee/tea you can get it free in the Pantry. The coffee is disgusting. Probably some cheap instant coffee. Of course, you can always buy a barista coffee for $3.50-$4.50AUD. You have to go fetch it though, or pay for room service. Contradictorily, the coffee at dinner time in the Waterfront restaurant was very nice.