P&O Cruises Australia used to be the only cruising fleet permanently based in Australia; today, it has the largest year-round fleet in Australia. The company, which is owned by Carnival Corp., currently operates five ships cruising to local ports around the country, in the South Pacific and southeast Asia, with itineraries expanded to feature countries such as New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. For many years, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Jewel and Pacific Dawn made up the fleet. In 2015, two ships -- Ryndam and Statendam -- were transferred from Holland America to P&O and renamed Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden. In 2017, Pacific Pearl left the fleet and Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess was transferred and renamed Pacific Explorer.
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P&O's Australian history dates back more than 75 years, and the P&O connection goes back even further. British-based P&O first visited the island nation in 1857, playing an important role in the Royal Mail, wartime assistance and the surge of immigration to Australia. On the leisure front, P&O pioneered pleasure cruising in the waters off Australia in 1932. The first cruise was with 23,000-tonne liner Strathaird, which sailed from Sydney to Norfolk Island with 1,100 passengers and offered such niceties as ballroom dancing, live theatre and elegant dining. The idea caught on. Today, P&O Cruises is a more modern affair.
As the popularity of cruising Down Under is growing, so is P&O. It has added many new destinations within Australasia, from regional towns to Papua New Guinea and South Pacific islands. Short cruises, often with theme such as comedy, have also boomed under P&O, as well as event-focused cruises to attend the Melbourne Cup, State of Origin or the Australian Open.
Top P&O Australia Ships
P&O Australia offers a lively, mainstream experience with a friendly international crew that's used to dealing with the congenial and fun-loving Aussie crowd. The focus is on budget and value for money, rather than luxury, but recent refurbishments have greatly enhanced the decor.
The line is popular across multiple generations, from singles and families to seniors; children are kept busy with good kids clubs staffed by qualified teachers and childcare workers. In fact, the line has won accolades for its family-friendly atmosphere.
Culinary choices include the main Waterfront dining room, The Pantry with eight or nine outlets in one food court setting, specialty restaurants, including the free Angelo's (Italian) and Dragon Lady (Asian), plus Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, which costs extra. Snacks at the poolside grill also come with a price. The cuisine has been improved over the years, and it generally receives favourable ratings from passengers, especially in the smaller venues.
Onboard activities are far ranging, and they include fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, mixology classes, live bands, dancing, game shows, table tennis, casinos, cabaret shows, karaoke, deck parties, spa treatments, trivia quizzes, in-cabin movies, shuffleboard, bingo, dance classes, themed nights and parties, talent shows, enrichment lectures and port talks. P&O Edge is an adventure park that uses the ship as its equipment; for example, abseiling across the bow or climbing the funnel (charges apply). Also popular are short theme cruises with a focus on food and wine or health and fitness, featuring speakers, presentations and special activities.
P&O ships do not have formal nights with black tie requirements. Instead, there's usually one or two party nights (check your itinerary), with themes such as the Great Gatsby or the Bianco party, which calls for white clothing.
The Australian dollar is the onboard currency. Enforced tipping isn't an Australian custom, so gratuities are not added automatically to passengers' onboard bills.
Passengers come mostly from Australia and a few from New Zealand. Families and couples dominate, and it's a relatively younger crowd than found on some other lines, with an average age around 42 to 47 years old.
P&O Australia Fleet
All the line's ships hailed from other brands within Carnival Corp. They all received refurbishments and Australian touches before joining the P&O Cruises Australia fleet.
In May 2017, the fleet welcomed the Pacific Explorer, which is the former Dawn Princess, to be transferred from Princess Cruises. This 77,441-tonne, 2,000-passenger ship carries more people than any other current P&O ship and has a similar contemporary design to Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden. A few differences for Pacific Explorer are a cabaret-style theatre and burlesque show, barefoot bowls and waterslides. Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, formerly Holland America's Ryndam and Statendam, introduced P&O's fresh new look when they were extensively refurbished and joined the fleet in November 2015. Aside from classy pool and cabana areas, the sister ships have complimentary specialty dining venues such as Angelo's Italian and Dragon Lady (Asian), as well as The Pantry and Waterfront Restaurant.
The 63,500-tonne, 1,800-passenger Pacific Pearl left P&O in April 2017 to join Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), where it sails as Columbus from June 2017.
Rounding out the fleet is 70,310-tonne, 2,020-passenger Pacific Dawn, the line's first mega-ship, which was built in 1991 and joined P&O in 2007. Refurbished in 2014, it was the first P&O ship to launch the line's navy and white livery and the 'Like No Place on Earth' tagline across its stern. The pool deck, some of the cabins, public areas, promenade deck and Waterfront restaurant were updated, while the private Chef's Table venue was added. P&O Edge Adventure Park was also installed above the Lido deck. In 2017, Pacific Dawn received two waterslides -- a first for P&O in Australia -- as well as The Pantry food court, an interactive kids-only play area and several other revamped public spaces.
Finally, there's similarly sized Pacific Jewel, the 70,310-tonne, 1,950-passenger former Ocean Village Two, which joined the fleet in 2009. Jewel was the first of the cruise line’s ships to replace the buffet with The Pantry's eight food outlets and it also features P&O’s first Pandora jewellery shop. Jewel was refurbished in 2018 to receive lawn bowls, a seafood eatery and upgraded decor in the bars.