What an amazing holiday and why did we wait 30 years to do a cruise?
We were awake early (4am) due to time difference so grabbed a coffee and made our way day to a viewing deck to watch the Pacific Dawn come in from its previous cruise. With the sun shining behind her, it was a sight to behold and well worth it. We met a few fellow passengers at the same time. Excitement levels were building!!!
You can drop your bags off early which we did at 8am and then went and had breakfast at a local café watching the loading of supplies and bags and the unloading of passengers.
Boarding was seamless and again get on board early. We targeted 11am and it took approx. 40 minutes. We could have been earlier if we wanted too. You can book your dinner, find your cabin and get your bearings. Bars are open and so are the restaurants for lunch!!! Munster stations for lifeboat drill before 2pm departure.
We were lucky with the weather with fine weather and smooth sailing all the way to Port Vila. On the homeward journey seas were supposedly 2.5m which caused a few bumps at the front and back of the ship at times, but it wasn’t rough, and I didn’t feel sick. I took no travel sickness tablets and I survived. My wife preferred to lie down on Thursday afternoon and slept but was fine on the Friday as she adjusted to the motion.
Highly recommend - research, research and research before you go from best cabins, Port tours (check out private operators too), meal times and what to do and avoid. Planning will lead you to a much better and successful cruise experience in our view. We were prepared!
You can book Port tours via CruiseControl well before you depart on your cruise. For tours with limited number of places available this is recommended. Only 200 people out of 2000 get to go snorkelling at Lifou and there were a lot of disappointed people on the day. Another advantage of booking via P&O means priority disembarkment to meet your planned tour and you are returned in time prior to the ship departing. Each Port has operators where ship berths with tour options and these are sometimes cheaper than arranging on board or pre-book with a reputable private operator. In Vila beware of paying up front as the operators have known to drop and leave you at your first destination! Paying when you get back to the ship gates avoids this issue. Friends arranged a private tour in Vila and again only paid upon returning to the Port gates but had a great day and a lot cheaper than available on the ship. Research, research and research.
Port Vila has cheapest duty free (will deliver to the ship) however the ship will match the price with a photo of the price and product. The product I wanted was only $1 more expensive on board, so I choose to not buy in Vila and get it on board. I found out 2 days after we left Vila, they had sold out on Day 2 of the cruise of the bottle I wanted!!
Another recommendation is booking a circular table at a set time each night for dinner in restaurant. You meet new people and food is amazing. We dined there most days for breakfast and dinner with great table service and great meals. No queuing for meals and no crowds. If you are still hungry after dinner – you can go upstairs to the Pantry or snack there earlier in the evening instead. We used to do pre-dinner drinks at 4:30pm and enjoyed a bucket of prawns ($15) with cheeses and sushi from buffet. You can cancel your booking on any night if you wish to go earlier or eat upstairs in Pantry Buffet selection. Indulgence Menu items cost extra if you wish to treat yourself. We didn’t go to the other paying restaurants. We booked at 8pm each night and looking back missed a few activities so planning is important. Pantry Buffet is busy between 5 & 7pm. There is a snack bar, but you pay extra and has chips, burgers etc.
There is so much to do on board and this is published daily in a newsletter which you receive the night before, so you can plan your next day if you wish. Take a highlighter and mark the activities you wish to do. Re-reading these newsletters now there were a few other things I wished I had gone to.
Plenty of trivia competitions and challenges. Again, another great way to meet people as you form up a team together from your table or those around you. Personal fav was musical trivia with Christian – a great chance for a sing song and laughs. The song title was easy (everyone sang it for you!!!) but the artist was little bit more challenging.
Whilst the entertainment shows weren’t to my liking, a search of You Tube shows there can be some great shows and it’s about your ship and timing!! On the other hand - the hypnotist and comedians were well worth it.
There are theme parties to attend at nights. These are known before you leave allowing you to plan your wardrobe accordingly. Lot easier for males than ladies. My formal wear one night had braces added for the Gatsby Party! Most people get dressed up but not compulsory. Just adds to fun.
We brought a drinks package – got a great deal at third of the normal price and drank lots of cocktails etc without worrying about the cost. On average we would have spent $40 - $60 per day. I doubt we would have brought the cocktails if we were paying for each drink but without worrying about a surprise bill at the end, we could try whatever we liked. Highly recommended.
There are photographers everywhere with formal photos on theme nights, boarding the ship, portside and various activities. All available for purchase. We did buy some nice formal photos from theme nights but did so as a digital version (approx. $20 per image) and you can then print and distribute as many as you need and want.
All up with port trips, photos, bingo night x2, prawns, indulgence meal, rum tasting activity and other minor expenses we spent an extra $500 over our cruise cost remembering we did have a drinks package which included water which we stored up in our cabin fridge.
If you have a special occasion do let restaurant staff know beforehand and your room stewards. They do make a fuss and make that special occasion even more memorable.
Disembarkment varies from 6:30am and from your allocated time is approx. 10 minutes. On average you will be off the boat by approx. between 7:30 and 8am.
If using, Go Catch promotion these are good services but run to the time you specify. If you are early you need to wait as they are very difficult to get hold of. Our flight arrived early so we were waiting for approx. an hour at the airport the night before and again we booked one for 9am and had an hour to wait after we had disembarked. Worked for us as there were four of us with bags and most taxis don’t take more than four.
There are a lot of negative reviews written but our experience was nothing but fantastic. Doing it with another couple or a group of friends is highly recommended or make friends on board and do activities together. Research and research so you know what to expect and you shouldn’t be disappointed. You can do as much as you like or as little as you like however where can you go on holiday and have so many activities at your disposal that are free and included in the price?
We are converted and will do another cruise without waiting 30 years.
Best advice for cabin selection if you are susceptible to motion sickness – pay extra for the middle of the boat. You hardly feel it and well worth the investment. The cabins may be dated but the bed is comfortable, extra pillows available on request, good shower pressure, plenty of room for two and our room stewards were more than helpful and accommodating with our requests. I have stayed in far worst hotels/motels, it’s not a five-star hotel and remember you are not in the cabin 24/7. We choose a window cabin on level 9 away from restaurants, casino, pool deck, party areas and lifts. Be aware of the location of the laundries, what’s at the end of your corridors and what is above and below your deck. Our room was quiet, and we hardly heard anyone outside, above or below our room. It was nice to look out in the morning at the new scenery or Port as we arrived. Level 9 is ideally located to everything and we made sure we walked up and down the stairs for some exercise to offset eating and drinking.