I travelled on the Pacific Aria in January 2017 and had a fantastic time! We did an 11 night cruise out of Brisbane, departing mid-January and stopping at Noumea, Isle of Pines, Mystery Island, Port Vila and Santo. I like to plan ahead ... Read More
I travelled on the Pacific Aria in January 2017 and had a fantastic time! We did an 11 night cruise out of Brisbane, departing mid-January and stopping at Noumea, Isle of Pines, Mystery Island, Port Vila and Santo. I like to plan ahead and read extensive reviews before I travel, so in order to make this review as detailed as possible, I’ll divide it into sections.
Background: I travelled with my husband and a group of friends – five couples, making ten of us in total. My husband and I had cruised once before, on the Pacific Dawn back in 2012. One other lady in our group had cruised once or twice before and the rest were all first-timers. Ages range from mid-twenties to early thirties.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
We thoroughly enjoyed the food on board – I don’t think I had a single meal that I didn’t enjoy. We mostly went to the Pantry for lunches and the other restaurants for dinners (I’m not a breakfast person, but I understand from my friends that the French toast in the Pantry was great but the bacon could have been crispier). Dress code in the restaurants varied. The Pantry stayed casual all day, including dinner, while the restaurants were mostly smart casual. Personally, I would have liked the dress code to be upheld a bit more.
The Pantry: Much prefer this to the traditional buffet. Staff were happy to put more or less on your plate if you asked. Very much enjoyed Hook's fish and chips and the Mexican station as well. Delicious! I was disappointed by Sugar Bar and didn't think much of the offerings there. It was fairly obvious that there was one basic cake mixture that was used for every item, with different flavourings and toppings each day. Not much of an issue as the desserts at the restaurants were excellent, so I saved my desserts for dinners, rather than lunches. Several friends raved about the curries but I didn't try them myself.
Waterfront: The food was enjoyable, but a little bland. I found the menu a bit limited as well. I would choose the Pantry over the Waterfront as the food was comparable (if not better), there was more variety and it was so much quicker and easier with no need to dress up. Service was excellent.
Dragon Lady: The menu here changes halfway through the cruise. This isn’t my usual choice of cuisine but I surprised myself by enjoying the food thoroughly. Décor is lovely and service very good.
Angelo's: We ate here twice and again, the menu changes halfway through the cruise. The staff were all fantastic and very welcoming, and the food was excellent. I love Italian food and have high standards – I highly recommend the spaghetti and meatballs and Italian sausage and potato soup. I would happily pay to go to Angelo’s off the ship.
Salt Grill: Excellent! The wait staff are (maybe a bit too) attentive and the food was incredible on both occasions that I ate here. The chocolate tart with honeycomb and bananas was sublime - I ordered it both times, it was so good! Absolutely worth the $49 cover charge but they also did a lunch for $39 (same menu) on the last two days, as well as a high tea (I can’t remember the price for the high tea but the menu looked yummy). Enquire early about these because although I didn’t see either the lunch or high tea advertised anywhere, they did book out.
Chef's Table: If you like good food, run, do not walk, RUN to the Monkey Bar the second you step on board the ship and book your spot on the Chef’s Table. They only offer this on shore days and only sit 14 people per night, so places are limited. I cannot rate the Chef’s Table highly enough. You start off with canapes and prosecco in the lounge, then move to the table for a further seven courses, all with wine pairings. The Executive Chef came in and spoke to us about how he runs the kitchens on the ship – he was very enthusiastic and obviously loves what he does. Our waiters were friendly, professional, helpful and recognised us around the ship during the rest of the cruise. This was easily the best meal I've ever had – each course and wine pairing were perfection.
The Grill: Friends told me they enjoyed the burgers they had and felt they were well-priced at $3. I had a pizza and thought it was average – not much topping and a bit bland. Probably the worst meal I had on board.
Drinks: Drinks service was excellent and I was very pleased to see Fruit Tingles at $12 – I pay $18-20 for these normally! Most cocktails were around $12-18 which I thought was reasonable. The boys were drinking VB or XXXX, but I know there was a wider range than that. Each of the restaurants had different wine lists and we felt that there were a lot of good options. I was very impressed by drinks staff in bars and at the Marquee. They were able to take multiple orders and key cards and always remembered which lanyard and drink belonged to each person. However, we ended up taking our cards off our lanyards before handing it over because if the drinks spilt at all, your lanyard ended up wet.
Embarkation and disembarkation both ran very smoothly. No issues at all.
I was very impressed with the condition of the ship and the obvious care that goes into it. We saw people cleaning the interior (including scrubbing each and every wall and surface) just about every day of our cruise. I liked the decor and the quirky artwork around the bars and in the Pantry.
The rooms were clean, there was plenty of storage space and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the rooms were large enough to include a couch (our last room on the Pacific Dawn was very small in comparison). It was fairly easy to find our way around. The weather was very calm apart from one day, so we didn’t have much motion at all. Obviously it has a lot to do with the weather at the time, but I don’t think the Aria rocked nearly as much as the Dawn did.
Staff were all friendly and very hardworking. I think I only came across two staff members who seemed to be in a bad mood every day, other than that everyone was lovely and provided excellent service.
There were a lot of different trivia sessions each day which were a lot of fun. We loved ‘Name That Tune’ every night in the Ocean Bar and so did a lot of other people – it was standing room only every night and people really got into the spirit of it, singing along and cheering loudly for correct answers.
The three theme nights were great and a lot of people got involved. Back to School night was probably my least favourite because it was pretty much just the band playing in the Dome and people dancing. Costumes ranged from actual school uniforms to the more revealing schoolgirl costumes and everything in between. White Night was basically a big party held on the Lido Deck with live music and dancing. We had a lot of trouble finding men’s white trousers (without paying a fortune for something that my husband isn’t going to wear again, unless he gets called up for the Backstreet Boys Reunion Tour) and thought that shorts weren’t allowed during the evenings, but there were plenty of men wearing white shorts. Gatsby night was a lot of fun, but a lot of people got involved and there wasn’t really enough room in the Mix Bar for everyone so there were a lot of people standing around the edges and unable to really get into things.
The entertainment was a bit hit and miss. I enjoyed the comedians (neither were for the easily offended) and the hypnotist, as well as some of the musicians, but some of the other performers were not to my taste.
We did a bourbon tasting class that was excellent and friends enjoyed the cocktail making class that they did. These classes were always full and looked like a lot of fun.
While I didn’t use the gym itself, I did go to the (additional fee) yoga classes. Not the best yoga classes I’ve ever done, but good enough that I went back. I also did their ‘Yoga on the Beach’ session on Isle of Pines, which was beautiful. For the purposes of this review, I asked my husband for feedback on the gym facilities and he told me he was pleasantly surprised by the range of machines available in the gym. I was told that dumbbells were the only free weights available for obvious reasons (not being a gym goer in the slightest, I’m not entirely sure what those obvious reasons are though, so I just smiled knowledgably; perhaps you will have more insight) and there was plenty of cardio equipment, including treadmills, cross-trainers, bikes, spin-bikes and a rowing machine. Another bonus is that the gym is on Deck 11 at the front of the ship, so you get some great views.
The day spa looked great, but I didn't book in for anything as the treatments were all significantly more expensive than day spas I've been to on shore. They also kept trying to upsell their pseudo-science skincare/weight loss treatments.
Noumea: Much improved from the last time I was there, when it was very run down. We did the Wine and Cheese Tchou Tchou Train tour and enjoyed it, as well as a Hop On, Hop Off bus tour that we booked from the cruise terminal. Very friendly locals.
Isle of Pines: Friends loved the snorkelling here. I didn’t do any tours, but it was a lovely place to walk around. Beware of food costs here – if you don’t want to eat at one of the roadside tents, there’s a hotel/restaurant which charges $11 for a plastic takeaway container of fries.
Mystery Island: Again, no shore tours here but it’s a lovely island to walk around and relax on. More good snorkelling here too.
Port Vila: I did the Waterfall Eco Tour and it was fantastic! It included a nature walk where our guide told us all about the plants and what they were used for which was really interesting. The waterfall was beautiful and I appreciated that they had round inflatables for those who weren't confident swimmers.
Santo – I did two tours here. The Blue Lagoon was beautiful but very deep and was daunting to some of the weaker swimmers as there wasn’t really any edges to hold onto and it is incredibly deep right from the edge. The Village and Firewalking tour was excellent – probably the highlight of my trip. We went for a walk down the street as well and the locals were very pushy about taxi rides and tours (apparently it was the same in Port Vila). As you leave the ship, there were lots of groups asking for donations and some of them were more aggressive than others. I felt very uncomfortable at first, but the second day, when I was more prepared for it, was much better. If you’re looking to buy duty-free alcohol, Vanuatu is your best bet as it’s much cheaper than on the ship.
Things that could be improved but in no way affected my enjoyment of the cruise:
• The rooms were a bit dated, especially in the bathrooms, but they were clean, tidy and spacious.
• Other reviews mentioned that the shower is over the bath and to be honest, I read those and thought people were just being overly fussy. However, the bath is much deeper than I expected and I had to hold on to the hand rail every time I stepped in or out. If you have mobility issues, be sure to let P&O know well in advance so you can make other arrangements.
• The Pantry needs more tables and needs to do away with the low coffee tables. It’s hard to eat anything other than a sandwich on those! Also, the wire baskets used by some of the stations need to go. They’re lined with paper and it’s impossible to use a knife and fork with them.
• None of the restaurants had the capacity to sit ten people at one table apart from the Waterfront, which had one ten-person table. We tried to book six- and four-person tables (well in advance) and were consistently told that the only bookings were at 5:15pm or 8:00pm, despite clearly seeing that the restaurant was nowhere near full at other times.
• Enjoyed the New Zealand ice cream bar but felt that it was overpriced (although I understand this is probably out of P&O's control). The muffins and cakes here were delicious but too big. We frequently saw people leaving half their muffin as it was too big to finish. I'd rather pay less for a smaller cake that I can finish but obviously that doesn't make as much money.
• Karaoke was held most nights in the Ocean Bar. Now, I love karaoke, but it was very difficult to pay attention to the shows in the Marquee when someone was mutilating Wonderwall 20 metres away.
Overall, thoroughly enjoyed this holiday, as did the vast majority of the other people on board. P&O will always be a low-cost cruise line and as long as you don’t go in expecting champagne on a beer budget, you’ll have a great time. Read Less