With capacity for 1,220 passengers, Vasco da Gama feels delightfully small compared to other mainstream cruise ships. This compact size allows a more leisurely, classic style of cruising as well as itineraries to less touristy ports, with most departing from Adelaide or Fremantle.
Before joining Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) in April 2019, the ship was refurbished in 2015 when it sailed as Pacific Eden for P&O Cruises Australia. Its appearance hasn't changed much since those days, but there are some other significant differences.
Here's what we discovered on a four-night 'South Australian Icons' cruise.
If you miss Eden, Vasco is the perfect replacement (unless you have kids -- but more on that later). Everything seems strangely familiar. The decor of the bars, restaurants and cabins has hardly been touched. They haven't even taken down the signs for things that no longer exist, such as Hook's Fish & Chips. From the pool deck to the furniture, the carpet and the artwork, it's all still there.
Only the casino has been reduced and rearranged to provide more room for people to play board games. The other tweak is in the Oasis, where the bar is closed on port days and on some shorter cruises, but waiters will still be there to take drinks orders, which they fetch from another bar. Otherwise, past passengers will feel totally at home. Is it too soon to take a nostalgic cruise on a ship that left less than a year ago? We don't think so.
The biggest change is the lack of children. Families are allowed, however, there are no kids clubs anymore. If enough under-18s are booked on a cruise during the school holidays, CMV will organise a few activities for them, but don't expect too much. Vasco da Gama is squarely aimed at couples and solo travellers.
This adult-friendly atmosphere also suits the ship's size. The two small pools don’t get too crowded, the daily program is lighter and the evening entertainment is low key. While other cruise lines keep getting bigger and bolder, CMV is holding onto these older, more intimate vessels for people who prefer to relax in peace and quiet. Silent spaces include a library, a study, several bars that are virtually empty during the day, the board games area near the casino and various decks with nothing but a few sun-loungers. And yes, the promenade deck can be walked around unobstructed.
Vasco da Gama has 40 cabins, each designated to accommodate one person -- and they're not your usual tiny cramped studio as these are standard rooms that used to be twin-share cabins on Pacific Eden. A singles program includes a welcome cocktail party to meet like-minded passengers, and solo passengers can be seated on communal tables in the Waterfront main dining room. The size and ambience of the ship generally makes it easier to mingle, too.
There are seven dining venues on Vasco da Gama and five are complimentary, such as Club Bistro (the buffet previously known as The Pantry), Waterfront Restaurant, the smaller Waterfront Eurasia (formerly Dragon Lady), Waterfront Mediterranean (formerly Angelo's), and poolside burgers and hot dogs at Alfresco Grill. The selection at the buffet is limited compared to other ships, and the crew dish out your food so portions are controlled, but this reduces wastage and sanitary issues. Continental breakfast can also be delivered free to your cabin.
For a great steakhouse ($49 per head), The Grill does a superb surf 'n' turf. Another treat is the nine-course Chef’s Table degustation accompanied by wines and a galley tour for $109 per person. The executive chef hosts the evening, introducing each dish, but there's really too much food so you might want to pace yourself or skip lunch that day. This private dining room experience feels very VIP at a table for 14 getting served by several waiters.
Cappuccino's is the spot to trot for a decent flat white or espresso, along with a selection of teas, cakes, shakes and icecream. All of these premium items cost extra, but the Lido pool deck location is pleasant. The free coffee machine in Club Bistro is OK if you're not too fussy about your beans. Another machine dispenses filtered water and juices. Drawing on its British heritage, CMV has kept the kettles in suites and balcony cabins (along with teabags, instant coffee, sugar and longlife milk) and small fridges stocked with water, soft drinks, wine and spirits.
Most costs are reasonable, including alcohol, except for a few expensive exceptions. Wi-fi is slow and starts at $19 for 100mb, up to $99 for 1GB. A burger is free from Alfresco Grill but $15 through room service. Self-service laundrettes are cheaper than the laundry service but the washing machine costs $8, plus $3 to use the dryer. The good news is the onboard currency is Australian dollars and there's no tipping.
Vasco da Gama offers cruises from Adelaide, Fremantle, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, Hong Kong, London and other ports in Europe.