We enjoyed this cruise very much, partly because it was our first time to New Guinea but perhaps also because (this being our fifth cruise on 'the Dawn') our expectations regarding this old tub were blunted long ago (I say it fondly). Though built in 1990 and last refurbished in 2017, she looks about my age (70 this year). We're both a bit tired and very wrinkled.
To begin with, there were two big negatives (and a few smaller ones). First, having boarded at 11am, I did not receive my luggage until about 5 pm, when a note was attached to our cabin door telling me (peremptorily, because that's how you treat suspected crims) to visit Deck 3, where my bag would be opened in my presence and the contraband therein (identified by an unknown but not too efficient process) extracted. I did as I was told. The culprit, an innocent bottle of Gaviscon, was nestling on top of my shirts. Without apology (though without rudeness either) the young staff member hastily allowed me to depart. He did not even sniff the contents. No doubt he could tell (from a few remarks of mine) that such a move would be unwise. I think my anger was justified (though it was not the young man's fault). Maybe I should have known better. But if P&O were half as concerned with good customer relations as they are with their profits from alcohol, they would tell customers very clearly in pre-cruise advice not to pack bottles in their luggage. This would seem to be simple enough.
The second hiccup occurred when we retired that night (early, as befits our age and health). Our cabin was close to the atrium where loud music continued until well past 10 pm. Throb, throb, throb. Next day, our cabin was exchanged with no fuss and, indeed, the young lady on reception went out of her way to be pleasant and helpful. Mind you, we were initially warned that an exchange might not be possible because P&O ships tend to sail fully booked. So, good luck, rather than P&O management, was mostly responsible for the good outcome here.
The food in the Waterfront Restaurant is not good at all, very hit and miss. We booked for five evenings, but did not survive the first. I had a positively monstrous concoction: a base of dry rice and/or couscous (I couldn't tell what it was), black in colour and tasteless (another diner later said it 'looked like dirt and tasted like dirt), topped with a very few pieces of battered eggplant and artichoke. My friend had sliced beef that was so salty as to be inedible. Some diners at our table were happy, but we did not return to the Waterfront, and from the number of complaints we heard about its food we evidently made the right choice.
The Pantry was a different story. The food varied from OK through good to excellent. The curries are nothing short of superb, and are served with a great range of condiments, chutneys etc. It is a pity, though, that the cheapest quality short-grain rice is used in this Indian (and Asian) food. It rather spoils it. My only other complaint about food in The Pantry is the bread served at breakfast, which is clearly obtained from Coles (the $1 per loaf stuff).
Another negative: a so-called 'market' is held in the Dome once during the cruise, and involves some of the merchandise found in the Atrium shops. But while a very few items may be reduced, most are not. I checked out the mugs and Billabong shirts ($18 and $70 respectively, as in the shops). Nothing but a grand deception!
The musical entertainments on this cruise were also good. The Drawbridge Duo was 'standing room only' every night and deserved their popularity, as did an African American solo pianist. We don't go to the nightly stage shows, because on past cruises on this ship they have been either cringeworthy or ear-shattering or both. The talks on the wartime history of the places visited were very worthwhile.
One of the most striking features of a cruise on the Pacific Dawn is the easy going friendliness of staff and passengers alike. The staff cannot be faulted (though one girl on the breakfast toaster was always a bit grumpy - not a morning person, but we can empathise!). Smiles and greetings are frequent and natural. The same applies to the passengers, who are very friendly on the Dawn.
All in all, a very enjoyable trip.