With plenty of tasty complimentary dining options, and just one specialty restaurant tempting you to splurge, Pacific Aria is ideal for food-loving cruisers on a budget. There are two complimentary choices for breakfast and lunch (The Pantry or Waterfront) and four choices for dinner (The Pantry, Waterfront, Dragon Lady and Angelo's). If you consider there are eight outlets within The Pantry, you'll be losing count in the end.
Passengers can reserve one or two sittings at Angelo's and Dragon Lady (depending on the length of the cruise) at The Bar outside these restaurants on embarkation day. Bookings are also available each day from 8 am throughout the cruise, although these popular restaurants often fill up fast.
Bookings for Waterfront can also be made here. There are no set traditional seating times at Waterfront, but a traditional dining experience is available on request. Simply nominate your preferred booking time and number of diners, and you'll be assigned the same time, table and waiter throughout the cruise.
Special dietary needs are taken care of with clearly marked menus throughout the ship, together with the option to speak with restaurant managers at each venue on boarding or during the cruise. Special dietary requirements are handled graciously and efficiently, with daily menus provided in advance on request.
Waterfront (Deck 7): The single-level main dining room is light, airy and open plan. A compact a la carte menu is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a mix of classic and contemporary dishes, featuring flavours from around the globe. An 'Indulge' section on the menu features a handful of for-a-fee menu items at each sitting. However, the regular offerings are varied enough to cater for most tastes.
Waterfront is open from 7 am to 9 am for breakfast, noon to 1.30 pm for lunch, and 5 pm to 9 pm for dinner. Lunch is offered in Waterfront on embarkation day.
The Pantry (Deck 11): The Pantry takes the place of the traditional cruise ship buffet: there is a row of outlets with crew serving the food behind glass counters to a queue of customers. Each outlet has a different cuisine such as Mexican, Indian, Asian, roasts, fish and chips, sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts.
In the mornings, breakfast items are served at each outlet, such as fresh fruit and yoghurt at Macgregor's Garden and hot English breakfast at Hook's. There is a separate queue for each outlet, so you still have to line up, but we never waited more than a few minutes to be served.
The food quality is good, hot and tasty; even the bread is freshly baked onboard every day -- but this is not five-star fine dining, so keep your expectations reasonable. Seating can be limited during peak times so it's best to dine early or late when tables are easier to come by. Choose from regular tables with chairs or padded-back banquettes, which can accommodate one to eight people. Shared high/long tables seat up to 20 people, with those along the windows offering water views.
The Pantry is open from 6.30 am to 10.30 am for breakfast, then reopens for lunch service from 11.30 am to 2.30 pm. It closes in the late afternoon and serves dinner from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.
Dragon Lady (Deck 8): Delicious pan-Asian dishes and attentive service are a hit at Dragon Lady, our favourite fee-free restaurant on the ship. Low lighting and tables with plenty of space between them make this a good choice for couples, although the menu is accessible enough for most kids, too. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian and Singaporean specialties are served banquet-style so the idea is to order several to share. Choose additional dishes if you're hungry, as portions are on the small side. Dragon Lady is open for dinner only; bookings are essential and available at The Bar.
Angelo's (Deck 8): This Italian restaurant is elegant and a little more formal than Dragon Lady, and has a menu divided into five traditional sections: antipasti (appetisers), primi (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes) and dolci e formaggi (sweets and cheese). Dishes are traditional Italian favourites, and desserts arrive on a dessert trolley. Despite the more formal atmosphere, Angelo's is fine for kids thanks to the familiar Italian dishes on the menu. Angelo's is open for dinner only; bookings are essential and available at The Bar.
Blue Room (Deck 8); a la carte: From early morning, this lounge is used as a place to catch up for coffee, tea, giant cookies and biscotti -- all for an extra fee. By night, the Blue Room turns into a live music venue.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan (Deck 8); $29 Afternoon Tea; $49 Lunch on select Sea Days; $59 Dinner: With attentive service, linen tablecloths, elegant glassware and a focus on top-quality Aussie steak and seafood, the surcharges at this celebrity chef restaurant are justified; the equivalent feast on land would probably cost triple. Vegetarian options are limited, but meat and seafood lovers will be in their element.
Chef's Table (Deck 8); $115: This exclusive experience is held in a small, gorgeous dining room for a maximum 14 people. Hosted by Aria's executive chef, the evening begins with cocktails and canapes, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley (kitchen). Once seated, diners are guided through each course of the set menu and its matching wines. Chef's Table is offered every evening and takes three to four hours. Head straight to The Bar on Deck 8 on your first day to book your special occasion.
The Grill (Deck 11); a la carte pricing: Located near the pool is a kiosk catering for post-swim hunger-busting when you don't want to change out of your swimmers and line up at The Pantry, or during the times when other dining venues are closed. All-day breakfast wraps, burgers (pulled pork or beef), pies, nachos, hot dogs and the like start at a modest $3 each. This hole-in-the-wall is perfect for an easy snack on lazy days by the pool.
New Zealand Natural Ice Cream (Deck 11); a la carte pricing: 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. Instead you have to pay for a scoop of New Zealand Natural Ice Cream (plus a few more dollars for two or three scoops). Tucked in the back corner of the pool deck, the cute parlour also sells thickshakes, iced coffee, specialty coffees and teas, and even a few liqueur coffees with cream.
Room Service; a la carte pricing: Food, soft drinks and bottled water are available 24 hours a day, while beer, wine and Champagne can be delivered to your cabin between 10 am and 11 pm. Each item is priced individually.
Breakfast must be ordered the night before, with a specified time for delivery. While breakfast is free everywhere else on the ship, you have to pay for it if you use room service, starting at $3 for each item. Light meals such as paninis, burgers, and pies, priced at less than $10 per plate, can also be delivered to your cabin.