Pacific Explorer waterslides

P&O's latest ship, Pacific Explorer, launches 22 June 2017 on its inaugural cruise departing Sydney. After a 12-day transformation in dry dock, the former Dawn Princess will emerge with new venues, entertainment and interior design. We asked Cruise Critic members from our P&O Cruises discussion board to submit questions for the line's president Sture Myrmell. Here are his answers.

Q: What are the major challenges involved in refurbishing an existing ship?

A: The biggest hurdle is making the most of the short time we have in dry dock, so detailed planning and preparation is key to transforming a ship into an iconic P&O Cruises ship. In comparison, an average hotel renovation can take months. Twelve days for a cruise ship refurbishment is a phenomenal achievement.

Q: Has P&O made any changes to Pacific Explorer based on lessons learned from your previous two transformed ships, Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria?

A: Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria introduced new concepts of multiple inclusive dining options, intimate bars and a stylish yet relaxed interior design. Pacific Explorer is evolving those concepts further and introduces even more choice in terms of dining, entertainment and activities.

Pacific Explorer is an evolution of the design work made on Pacific Eden and Aria. We are expanding our food offering beyond the trio of inclusive restaurants (Waterfront, Dragon Lady and Angelo's) and The Pantry, introducing award-winning pizzas in Johnny de Francesco's 400 Gradi restaurant, and two new concepts by Luke Mangan -- the degustation experience at A Taste of Salt and the fast-casual alfresco option at Luke's.

We are also adding to our entertainment line-up in way of an exciting dinner and cabaret concept by Scott Maidment, producer of shows like Blanc de Blanc. And we are further enhancing the idea of having multiple intimate venues offering a range of entertainment and experiences exemplified by the new concept bar The Bonded Store by award-winning Sydney distillery Archie Rose.

Q: What are the major differences between Pacific Explorer and its sister ships, Pacific Eden, Pacific Aria and Pacific Dawn?

A: Pacific Explorer will carry many of the same exciting features that have become a trademark of the P&O fleet in recent years. This includes a stylish modern Australian décor prevalent in public spaces such as the atrium and bars and lounges, plus a broad range of dining choices headlined by The Pantry, an international marketplace of nine fresh food outlets.

Similar to sister-ship Pacific Dawn, Pacific Explorer will be fitted with the longest and wildest waterslides at sea and an interactive water park. One slide is transparent so that spectators can watch guests shoot through its twists and turns, while the other slide is multi-coloured, with music pumping through it to give guests a high-impact ride to the bottom.

 Pacific Explorer waterslide

Pacific Explorer will also wear the signature Southern Cross livery emblazoned on her hull, which was debuted by Pacific Dawn in March this year.

New and exclusive to Pacific Explorer are two new 'fast-casual' dining options: Luke's, a poolside grill by Australian chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan and 400 Gradi, a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria by award-winning Melbourne chef Johnny Di Francesco.

Relaxation and good times will also be on the menu in Pacific Explorer's elegant new small bar, The Bonded Store, featuring a cocktail list created in partnership with Sydney-based award-winning Archie Rose Distilling Co, as well as whisky and gin-making classes.

Guests can also enjoy a cocktail or two on the upper deck playing outdoor lawn bowls – an Australian cruise ship first.

 Pacific Explorer Lukes

Q: What influenced the decision to swap Salt Grill for a burger bar on Pacific Explorer?

A: Salt Grill continues to be a huge success across our fleet since we launched the concept on Pacific Jewel and Pacific Dawn nearly a decade ago.

When we develop new concepts, we always look at what is happening in the Australian market, and in the planning of Pacific Explorer we decided to incorporate some of the quality fast-casual trends we see in capital cities around the country. So we are introducing 'Luke's' which is a wonderful al fresco fast-casual dining option offering burgers with fillings such as barramundi, soy-spiced chicken wings and a wagon wheel ice cream sandwich dessert.

But we also wanted to build on the tremendous success we have had with Salt Grill, so we have developed a Luke Mangan 7-course degustation experience called 'A Taste of Salt', matched by Australian wines.

The new dining options reflect our commitment to offering guests with huge amounts of meal-choices and new and stylish places to relax and dine with family and friends.

Q: Is there a cost for Luke's and 400 Gradi on Pacific Explorer?

Editor's Note: Luke's prices range from $6 for chips to $18 for grilled prawns and Caesar salad; gourmet burgers are $10 to $15. At 400 Gradi, starters cost from $4 to $9, pizzas are $12 to $16, the charcuteries board is $25, salads $9 and desserts $6 to $7. A Taste of Salt seven-course degustation dinner with matching wines at the Chef's Table costs $99.

Q: Can you tell us more about Black Circus?

A: Black Circus is a glamorous new cabaret entertainment venue onboard Pacific Explorer for guests aged 18 and over and will debut the explosive new production, 'Love Riot'. The new show is the brain-child of internationally recognised and award winning production company, Strut & Fret (Blanc de Blanc, Limbo, Fear & Delight) and will feature world-class dance, comedy, circus and acrobatics. Love Riot is directed by Scott Maidment, one of the creative masterminds behind Madonna's recent Rebel Heart Tour, with choreography by LA's Kevin Maher and set and costume design by James Browne.

Editor's Note: 'Love Riot', held in Black Circus, will cost $15 per person for general admission including a cocktail and souvenir glass. VIP entry costs $29 and includes dinner, cocktail and souvenir glass.

Q: Will the barefoot bowls and waterslides be free?

A: Absolutely. The new waterslides and splash park and outdoor lawn bowls are included in the cruise fare. Guests can also enjoy 12 unique dining experiences, intimate live performances from a wide selection of talented Australian musicians and access to our popular themed parties as part of their cruise fare.

Q: Which new shows can we expect to see on Pacific Explorer?

A: 'Love Riot' will be the must-do entertainment offering onboard Pacific Explorer and will feature a hand-picked cast of elite performers from around the globe. It's sure to get people talking!

Our latest ship will also showcase 'Seven', based on the Seven Deadly Sins, a visual feast, twisting and turning through scenes of fantasy based around the well-known vices. The high energy 'Rock' will be a crowd favourite showcasing anthems of all ages in a concert-style show with super high energy. 'Let's Misbehave' is a brand new Gatsby-inspired show with gorgeous costumes and big production. Perfect to watch pre-Gatsby party. 'Off the Charts' is a concert-style production offering a rollercoaster ride through some of the musical smash hits of the noughties. Finally, 'Slumber' is an original production with a bed as the central theme and touches on these aspects with a dream-like treatment.

Guests onboard can also enjoy our three themed parties: the memorable Gatsby party inspired by the roaring twenties, the dazzling Bianco White party and the retro Back to School dance party, which are all included in the cruise fare.

Q: Are you adding or upgrading cabins during the refurbishment?

A: We are making some changes to the staterooms -- adding a number of family and inter-connecting cabins.

Q: Do any of the staterooms offer tea and coffee making facilities?

A: As on our other ships, we are focusing on providing quality coffee in a number of bars around the ship. We have the best coffee program in the market, backed by frequent training, equipment and quality control.

 Pacific Explorer pub

Q: Is there a thermal suite in the spa on Pacific Explorer?

A: Pacific Explorer won't have thermal suites but will have an excellent spa, fitness and wellness facility that offers a full menu of quality services. Our team of qualified therapists will be available daily offering a variety of treatments and therapies.

Q: Are the saunas on Pacific Explorer separate for men and women? 

A: Yes, Pacific Explorer will feature new saunas and steam rooms separated for men and women.

Q: Is there an adults-only pool on Pacific Explorer?

A: Our latest ship will sport the adults-only Oasis, a relaxing retreat with sun lounges, a dedicated bar and a child-free plunge pool and Jacuzzis.

Q: What will Australian cruisers love most about Pacific Explorer?

A: Pacific Explorer is the next stage in the evolution of P&O, building on our very popular modern Australian holiday offering with some exciting new features. We've taken the winning features of our existing ships and added a whole new layer of excitement with some big wow moments like the waterslides and the bowling green and The Bonded Store, which we're sure will put a smile on our guests' faces. It really will be a ship that offers something for everyone and we can't wait to show her off to our guests.

--By Tiana Templeman, Cruise Critic contributor