We just returned from an 8 day cruise on the P&O Australia Pacific Explorer to New Caledonia for 8 nights from Sydney in May 2018. Unfortunately we had so so weather, ending with a stomach churching bigger than forecast 6m slop from a ... Read More
We just returned from an 8 day cruise on the P&O Australia Pacific Explorer to New Caledonia for 8 nights from Sydney in May 2018. Unfortunately we had so so weather, ending with a stomach churching bigger than forecast 6m slop from a low off the NSW coast that delayed our arrival into Sydney and made sleep difficult.
This was our 5th cruise in 4 years having sailed on Carnival Spirit, Sun Princess (twice) and the Dawn Princess, and we wanted to see what P&O was like in Australia given the party reputation and there was a great special on when we wanted to travel, and we would earn points with Princess.
Overall, the standard of service was similar, the average age, younger, there were more physical and youth activities available. The ship had a more Aussie feel, and entertainment content was more Australian. The included food value seems to be lower than Princess, with the option to pay for more expensive food options – eg Prawns or steak. This possibly leads to lower fares.
The Pacific Explorer is the refitted Dawn Princess, and having sailed on the ship before and its sister ship, the Sun Princess, we were very familiar with the ship layout. The refit appears to have focussed on the lounge areas, bars, dining rooms and youth plus the addition of the P&O Edge attractions and water slides. Apparently there was also some new engineering updates made.
The lounge areas and dining rooms have been nicely updated in Australian contemporary styles, with a variety of new chairs and lounges in the bars. Every window alcove is now a chair or lounging area with cushions. Compared to Princess ships, we no longer felt we were in an American hotel. It felt Aussie. There were very few structural changes, so there are a few odd things such as where the rotating doors have been removed in the Blue room, but it now has a stage as well as a dance floor. However we were disappointed to find that the library had become a youth lounge.
We did note that The Marquee, the main performance venue, had not had a refit. The upholstery on some of the chairs is becoming worn.
We managed to get an Oceanview room, which appeared to be about the same size as internal cabins we’ve had on this class of ship. Clearly most of the cabins remain the same as before the refit. Unfortunately we ended up with a cabin very forward, which made for interesting rides during the bit sloppy sea. The video system is not play on demand as on the Sun Princess, but the content is mostly Australian which was a pleasant change.
The dining experience was quite different, with no set dining tables that we could discern. The best option would be book all dinners shortly after boarding, as we found many venues booked up, or only had share tables available. The food was good quality and well cooked in general, although prawn fans will have to pay for the privilege – we had King Prawns in the The Pantry on the last lunch only. The lack of set tables means it is harder to get to know dining companions and serving staff, so more like the Princess Anytime dining experience. This is probably more the expectation of modern cruisers.
In The Waterfront we were surprised to find only 3 starters, 3 main course dishes + 3 dishes that could be either entre or main course included in the fare that changed daily. There were a number of other options which could be purchased. In Alferedo’s there is a longer set menu with an Italian theme with a dessert cart, and the Dragon Lady has a modern Asian menu, although all desserts are western which was a bit of clash. None of the main restaurants are going to server more expensive dishes such as steaks or prawns. You need to pay for this at one of the other venues, and we didn’t go to them.
The Pantry on deck 14 has had a bit of a refit, with a new colour scheme and what look like plants on the tables (but closer inspection shows them to be plastic). There are number of themed food stations pus salad and soup bar. This means most food is served to patrons, avoiding issues of a buffet, however adding communication issues with staff! Some of the staff just don’t understand how to dish up some of the food in a reasonable way. The food was ok quality for this style of service. The cakes varied between good and bizarre. For some reason they were unable to make decent donuts. As usual it is impossible to make a decent cuppa using the non-boiling water provided.
All the bars also server espresso coffees but you pay per drink, same as for alcohol and soft drinks. The Espresso coffee was acceptable. Watch out if you get a cake at Charlie’s Bar on desk 5 – they charge for those!
We didn’t use room service – you pay extra for it compared to the free service on Princess.
On Princess Cruises we seen 3 different passenger group profiles. IN all, there is a leaning to more mature passengers. We’ve seen a broader age range of a 2 night cruise from Brisbane to Sydney, a generally more mature age range on a winter South Pacific cruise where we , in our mid 50s, were amongst the youngest, but both cruises were mostly from Australia/NZ, and a much wider agen range and broader nationality range on a NZ cruise. On this late Autumn non school holiday P& O cruise there was a much broader range, with about 20 young families, a few young adults, but still significant number of retirement age. There also was a wider ethnic profile. We didn’t witness any stupid behaviour, although we didn’t attend most of the late night parties.
The standard of entertainment was very high, possibly higher than on Princess, and the shows were Australian produced, so more accessible. Of the 2 production shows we saw, only 1 had a live band. The volume for all production shows was very high and constant, which I don’t think is necessary. Rather than having 2 signers and 8 dancers, the group had 2 signers who could dance a bit, 2 dancers who could sing, and 6 dancers. Other entertainment were a magician, and the Cover Girls, the ship band, who also played jazz in the Blues Room, and some other soloists and duos.
The crew were similarly capable to Princess ships, with stewards and dining staff being generally capable and friendly.
We didn’t make use of the youth and children’s services so can’t comment.
We didn’t make use of P&O Edge & water slides so can’t comment.
We didn’t use the Casino either, but we did note that it has much more tables and machines than on the same class Princess ship.
Generally boarding, tender and disembarkation procedures were similar to Princess. At check in you are able to link your ship board account with a credit card, something you can do pre-check in online with Princess. Tours were similar, perhaps with some higher activity options than princess. We were able to book online prior to cruise.
There is an online wifi accessed application making the daily schedule available on your mobile device.
Changes prior to and during the cruise were well communicated. Read Less