It can be almost impossible to please all palates aboard a cruise ship, however, it's obvious the food and beverage team aboard P&O has tried to satisfy the vast majority of passengers' tastes by providing a wide variety of cuisines. In general, the food is very good to high quality, depending on where you dine. Salt Grill, Chef's Table and Shell & Bones are our top-three picks. Service is very attentive and offered by an enthusiastic and well-trained international crew, largely hailing from Indonesia, India and the Philippines.
As well as The Pantry (the alternative to the buffet), passengers can dine for free in Waterfront Restaurant, the main dining room, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The other four dining options all incur an additional charge: Chef's Table provides a degustation dining experience for up to 12 guests; Salt Grill is the signature Luke Mangan restaurant; Shell and Bones is the newest addition to ship; and the Grill offers more casual nosh including pizzas, burgers and hot dogs throughout the day and night. In addition, passengers can grab a coffee and snack from The Cafe (Deck 12, front), or Charlie's Bar (Deck 5, midship).
If you follow a special diet, such as gluten-free or vegetarian, let your travel agent know -- or the cruise line if you book directly. Menus for dinner feature at least one vegetarian dish (without meat or fish), and there are usually plenty of options available in the buffet for lunch. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you can request gluten-free bread and pre-order a specially made dish for each dinner a day in advance.
* May require additional fees
Waterfront (Deck 7, aft): As the main dining room, the Waterfront Restaurant is open for all three meals; however, passengers are strongly encouraged to book a dinner time on embarkation day, which will be their set time for the entirety of the cruise. There are numerous options to choose from and each day there is a specially themed dish to correspond with a particular cuisine. For example, the croque-monsieur French baguette is on the breakfast menu. The quality of the food options is very good and the service is fast, friendly and professional. Here's a tip: feel free to order more than one entree, main or dessert. And let your waiter know of any food intolerances before dining.
In terms of decor, Waterfront is looking old and worn. The general feel of the room is not overly appealing and lacks warmth. The overall colour scheme, including outdated window coverings, linen and other decorative features are a nod to the 1990s and could be improved.
The Pantry (Deck 12 aft): Unlike traditional cruise buffets, The Pantry (which has been rolled out across the entire P&O fleet) offers passengers a variety of international cuisines at nine different food stations. It's a great concept for hygiene purposes as the food is served by the crew. The downfall is that queues can build up quickly at popular stations and seating can be hard to negotiate at busy times, especially for older or less mobile passengers. The dishes change daily, and there's something to please most people.
Most popular on our cruise was the Mexican food station, with passengers waiting in line the longest. The salad bar was fresh and flavoursome and the adjoining station served delicious, hearty soups. Sadly, Sugar Bar lacked imagination; all desserts were sickly sweet and repetitive.
Passengers can use the automatic hot beverage stations all day. Options include machine-dispensed coffee and tea bags. During meal service, fruit-flavoured cordial is also available.
Charlie's Bar (Deck 5, midship): If you're craving cake or cookies with a coffee (or any other drink) while sitting at the Atrium, Charlie's is open from early to late in the evening. Slices of cake are priced from AU$5.
Chef's Table (Deck 7, aft); AU$119 per person: Chef's Table is the priciest dining option on Pacific Jewel; however, passengers are treated to a multi-course meal, complete with matching wines and personal service from the executive chef. The exclusivity of the meal, which is set in a private room in the Waterfront Restaurant, made the experience a highlight of our cruise and the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion. The dishes were indulgent, carefully prepared and excellent quality. It was a pleasure to meet the chefs who were responsible for creating the inspired and artistic dishes. The pride of the executive chef in showing off his team was particularly charming.
Salt Grill (Deck 12, forward); AU$30 for lunch, AU$50 for dinner: This well-regarded eatery, established by Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangan, is synonymous with sophistication. Over the years, P&O's loyal passengers have come to appreciate the fine dining restaurant with its signature dishes. Our meal at Salt on Pacific Jewel was of extremely high quality and the service faultless. Passengers here get the sense that they're far removed from other dining experiences on the rest of the ship. The surcharge is well justified. A must-try is the liquorice parfait dessert.
Shell & Bones (Deck 12, mid-ship); a la carte pricing: A great eatery for those who love seafood, Shell & Bones also caters for carnivores and vegetarians. Standout dishes are the chilled seafood extravaganza and the hot seafood extravaganza. While the menu notes these dishes serve two, the multi-tiered platters were piled high with enough delicious seafood to feed four people. Add on the numerous sides and sauces, and it was almost impossible to find room on our table for a wine glass. With prices ranging from AU$10 to AU$50, the value for money was very good.
Situated at the rear of The Pantry, Shell and Bones doesn't have its own dining room; at night it is converted into a separate dining space with a partition. But the area has been decorated attractively with beach-style pieces such as oars and seafood motifs. With a relaxed ambiance, it's a welcome addition for passengers who prefer a more intimate dining experience.
The Cafe (Deck 12, midship); a la carte pricing: With real coffee, and tasty treats, this casual cafe has been updated beautifully with soft furnishings that complement the refurbished parts of the rest of the ship's public areas. It's a great spot to sit, especially if it's cold outside, and enjoy watching the sea.
The Grill (Deck 12, midship); a la carte pricing: Burgers, hotdogs, bacon and egg rolls, pizzas and buckets of prawns are all available at The Grill for most of the day. While the charges are nominal (ranging from AU$3 to AU$20), many passengers were wary to pay for these meals, especially since the location is in close proximity to the free Pantry. Had the weather been better on our cruise, more passengers probably would have taken advantage of The Grill's poolside location.
Room Service: Available from 10 am to 11 pm, passengers can have pizza, pasta, a sandwich, salad, soup, sweets or a late-night snack or drink delivered to their cabins. Food is charged per item.