Pacific Encounter dishes up an appealing selection of free and for-a-fee dining options, with the majority of the extra cost venues priced so they don’t break the bank. Overall, you’ll find plenty of tasty food on Pacific Encounter, whether you pay extra or stick with the fee-free options. While it’s tempting to splash out on a treat here and there, there is no need if you’re on a tight budget as the free restaurants are very good. The main dining room is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the option to book a table or arrive as a walk-in. Room service is available 24/7 and costs extra.
Pacific Encounter officially has four fee free dining options, but with eight different outlets ranging from salads to seriously good Indian at The Pantry, it could be said there are 11 to choose from. The Waterfront on Deck 5 is the ship’s main dining room with an elegant beige, cream, and burnt gold colour scheme that wouldn’t look out of place at an upmarket CBD restaurant.
Breakfast offers a selection of café style items such as croque monsieur or smashed avo and poached eggs on toast. Lunch has cafe fare such as fish and chips and gourmet sandwiches, plus a changing selection of dishes such as traditional spaghetti bolognaise or chicken pad thai. Dinner consists of a changing selection of starters, mains, and desserts plus there’s an option to purchase a couple of additional dishes like Surf & Turf for a fee.
The Pantry. Similar to a food court, P&O's take on the traditional cruise ship buffet involves choosing from a menu at each venue with dishes served by a staff member stationed behind a glass counter. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the outlets include satisfying options for every taste and mood such as Mexicana (tacos), Hook's (fish and chips), Curry House (Indian), Stix (Asian), Kettle & Bun (sandwiches, soups and salads), McGregor's Garden (salad bar) and Sugar Bar (desserts).
Breakfast includes international options such as congee and fried noodles at Stix and cruise ship morning staples such as fresh fruit and yoghurt at Macgregor's Garden. The usual bacon, toast and cereal is also spread out across the outlets.
The food quality is good, hot, and tasty with plenty of turnover to keep things fresh. Curry House dishes are excellent (but not too spicy for those who don’t like it hot) and sandwiches and rolls from Kettle & Bun are made with bread that is baked fresh daily. We found portion sizes to be generous but if you want a bigger serving, just ask.
The Pantry has ocean views and is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows which let in lots of natural light. Seating ranges from lounge chairs to long benches along the main thoroughfare and high tables running along the windows, the latter two options coming with stools. These tables offer a convivial way to meet, and chat with, other passengers. Families and groups can choose from a variety of regular tables with chairs or padded-back banquettes.
Tip: If the seating area inside the Pantry is full, you can take your food into the adjoining Shell & Bones restaurant provided it's not open for dinner.
Angelos. Surrounded by classic black and white photographs, and sitting under the watchful eye of Sophia Loren at linen-napped tables, diners are treated to a contemporary four course Italian meal featuring pastas, risottos, salads and classic desserts. The menu is divided into different sections - antipasti (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes) and dolce (dessert) – with highlights including sauteed potato gnocchi, slow cooked lamb shoulder, or a classic insalata calprese. A couple of additional for-a-fee dishes like crumbed veal cutlet can be ordered here as well but prices for these are rather steep. Angelo’s is open for dinner daily.
Tip: Breakfast is also served here for Byron Beach Club guests, with dishes you won’t find elsewhere on the ship like a Japanese inspired omelette or lemon muffin topped with smashed honeycomb.
Dragon Lady. Whether you are an adventurous diner, or someone who prefers classic Chinese takeaway, there is something to suit all tastes at Dragon Lady. Dishes sometimes meld elements from different cuisines, such as Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian or Singaporean. Choose from entrees such as coriander and turmeric beef satays or green mango and prawn salad. Larger dishes include massaman beef curry or ramen fried chicken. A couple of desserts like matcha green tea cheesecake provide a sweet finish. Dragon Lady is open for dinner daily.
Tip: Due to the design of the ship, access to Dragon Lady is only available via Deck 7 or the aft elevators.
You don’t need to pay a lot to enjoy the for-a-fee dining options on Pacific Encounter, with options like high-end burgers and gourmet pool deck pizzas helping your holiday dollar go further. All of the restaurants are priced a la carte, with each dish costing less than what you would pay on land.
Pricing for the two upmarket restaurants noted below assumes you'll order an entrée, main and dessert. Drinks aren't included in the estimates. Restaurants designated at $ cost under $12 per person, $$ will run between $12-$30 per person, $$$ will run between $30-$50 per person; $$$$ indicates $50 or more per person.
Luke's Bar & Grill: $$$$:
From the professional welcome to the top-quality steaks (some of the best you will find on the high seas ) and premium dishes like lobster tail, Luke’s Bar & Grill is well worth the extra spend. The celebrity chef’s most icopantryshes -- crab omelette and liquorice parfait -- are here along with meats and fish served every which way, from battered to steamed or grilled. Leave room for dessert, it's worth it.
Tip: Opting for the set price two or three courses option offers significant savings if you're craving some of the more expensive items on the menu.
400 Gradi $$:
Open for lunch and dinner, 400 Gradi is an Italian restaurant overseen by award-winning Melbourne chef, Johnny Di Francesco. Along with a large choice of pizzas, there are multiple starters, pastas and dessert options that are worth saving room for. Prices are on the a la carte menu are affordable, making this restaurant one of the best value for-a-fee dining options on the ship.
Tip: Get a group together and enjoy a shared meal "family style" so you can sample more of the many dishes on offer, especially the pizzas.
Shell & Bones: $$
Each evening the rear of The Pantry is closed off to create a separate pay-as-you-dine restaurant. There is more ‘shell’ than ‘bones’ on the compact menu which features dishes such as Singapore-style crab, a hot seafood extravaganza and Portuguese-style roast chicken. There is one dessert which is designed to share and comes with New Zealand Natural ice-cream.
Tip: The kids menu featuring two options - fish fingers or a seafood party plate – is free at this restaurant, making it a good option for cost-conscious families.
Luke's Burger Bar: $
Luke's Burger Bar is an al fresco takeaway dining option offering burgers with fillings such as barramundi, fried chicken wings, and truffle fries. We thought our burger and fries were rather overpriced but if you feel like a burger, this is your go to venue.
Tip: Byron Beach Club guests can order (for-a-fee) dishes from Luke’s Burger Bar and Gradi Pronto and have them delivered to their deck chair at the Byron Beach Club.
Gradi Pronto: $$
Grab pizza and pasta to go at Gradi Pronto on the pool deck, with a choice of classics like Capricciosa or the destination focussed Australiana.
Tip: The pizzas here are substantially cheaper than what you’ll pay at Gradi 400, making this dining spot perfect for a relaxed takeaway dinner on your balcony or a poolside feast.
Avalon Cafe: $
This cafe serves for-a-fee light meals and snacks such as wraps, chicken salads, and soba noodle and tofu poke bowls. Espresso coffee and sweets are also available here.
Tip: If you have a discerning sweet tooth, this café offers more upmarket options than you’ll find in the buffet, like deconstructed red velvet cake served in a glass and café-style lemon meringue tarts.
Charlie's Bar: $
Located in the heart of the three-storey atrium, Charlie’s Bar serves espresso coffee and alcoholic drinks. The sea views make this a lovely place to relax and unwind at any time of day.
New Zealand Natural Ice Cream: $
One black mark for this family-friendly ship is the lack of free ice cream, which you won't find at The Pantry or via a poolside self-serve machine. Milkshakes, thickshakes, iced coffee, specialty coffees and teas are also available at an additional charge.
Our top picks for dinner at no additional cost are Angelo’s or Dragon Lady, the two fee-free specialty dining venues, which combine sophisticated decor with friendly, personal service and interesting menus. If you don’t mind paying for something special, Luke’s Bar & Grill offers a fine dining experience that makes for a lovely date night. For something more casual but equally impressive, Gradi 400 is a Neapolitan-style pizzeria restaurant which also dishes up excellent pasta.
Tip: Book all of your dinings online in advance or on embarkation day as the most coveted dining options like Luke’s Bar & Grill, Angelo's and Dragon Lady fill up fast, particularly on shorter cruises.
Allergies and food restrictions are well accommodated at most restaurants, but the line recommends mentioning any food requirements when you book. Vegetarian, gluten free, nut free, and lactose free dishes are clearly noted on most menus. Vegan dishes are available on request.
If you have a food allergy, tell the maitre’d at each restaurant when you check in and ask your waitstaff to provide additional information if you are unsure about any of the dishes.