The objective of our first cruise was to get to places best accessed from the sea and to return to past haunts: the destination, not the journey. Thanks to the reviews on this site and elsewhere we had a good idea of the ship and how ... Read More
The objective of our first cruise was to get to places best accessed from the sea and to return to past haunts: the destination, not the journey. Thanks to the reviews on this site and elsewhere we had a good idea of the ship and how things worked and did not have to figure out much from zero.
The destinations worked out well, we had great snorkelling on Conflict Is, Kiriwina and Gizo. Lots of tropical fish, even if the coral not as spectacular as what we saw in Fiji.
Paying an outrigger canoe on Kiriwina worked well to take us away from the landing beach where coral was badly damaged. Dive Gizo took us to their private island 20 minutes from the main harbour, with good snorkelling and diving and a delicious local lunch of grilled fish and veges. Tooling around in a dugout canoe made me appreciate how much easier modern watercraft are to use.
Going back to Rabaul after it was wiped out by the 1994 volcanic eruption was an eerie experience. The pre-arranged day-long Paivu Tours tour was well run and much cheaper than the ship offerings. In Honiara we just hired a cab outside the harbour with an arranged itinerary and fixed price and kept ahead of the ship's tours.
Hand-crafted carvings were plentiful in Kiriwina, attractive woven bags best on Conflict Islands, and other nice carvings in Honiara near the museum and on the wharf. The demonstration village at the end of the market path in Kiriwina is very interesting and well done but lamentably sparsely patronized by the cruisers. All traders accept Aussie dollars, but local currencies are easiest for them.
Tender operations for the shore visits were run very efficiently, we did not waste much time queuing.
The main unexpected issue for us was that the ship's decor, services, activities and catering are pitched to please the two main groups, 70+ and bogans. The decor and food (except Angelo's) are straight out of the 1980s. Common areas are rather garishly fitted out, the unabashedly downmarket Casino being the worst. Some of the adjacent bars have the atmosphere of a 1920s Shanghai brothel.
Entertainment is also aimed at the above two customer groups: ho-hum stage show, bingo, comedy based on four-letter words, rounded out by snake-oil merchant "health" offerings and discount sale of plastic sandals.
Service is fine, staff are attentive and cheerful, sometimes a bit forced cheerful, clearly acting on instructions.
Sharing a table at restaurants greatly facilitated booking and allowed us to meet many interesting people from all walks of life, some real off-left-field experiences.
Food presentation was very attractive in all restaurants, and service was also good with just a couple of minor hitches.
We found the portion sizes perfect, unlike much chatter on the Internet.
Food quality did vary markedly, though.
We were thoroughly impressed with the food at Angelo's. Authentic Italian flavours and meal preparation, not drowned in heavy sauces, were well paired with good varietal wines. Management and the chef deserve a medal.
The Waterfront was a mixed bag, ranging from some very nice meals (eg, a tasty vegetarian burrito) to some poor ones (eg, veal schnitzel and a so-called swordfish salad that had practically no fish in a mound of cold tomato-flavoured spaghetti).
Breakfast was pretty well what one could have at the Pantry, but served with much more ceremony over much longer time. The classier environment in the restaurant was the only drawcard.
The Dragon Lady showed less extremes in food quality, but the meals were uniformly very pedestrian implementations of the Asian originals, as it used to be done in last-century Oz. It was a major pain to order wine at the restaurant, as they are weirdly unprepared for such an option. The restaurant décor was far too dark and the faint blue lighting neither functional nor atmospheric.
The advertised menu of the Salt restaurant was too boring for us to spend extra money on, with little apart from heavy dishes of red meat.
The Pantry was very functional with good basic choices and a good range of seating and attractive decor. Some offerings like the battered fish were excellent in their own category, a great lunch to repeat paired with lots of fresh salad. The dessert menu, however, is stuck in the last century with boring sponge cakes and jellies.
We wanted to spend the extra money on the reportedly impressive culinary experience at the Chef's Table, but could not get in.
The quality of coffee was appalling in the Pantry and at the Waterfront, the latter's brewed offering no better than the Pantry's instant with reconstituted milk powder. Only two outlets of espresso coffee on the ship, with just adequate quality, were insufficient at this day and age. There is just no excuse for this with the availability of espresso vending machines.
In all, though, it was a relaxing holiday. We organized our own shore activities based on info from the Internet and had a great time. The ship was a pleasant and convenient means of transport, and once we sussed the restaurants there was good food to be had. Read Less