This was my first P&O cruise and I didn't have to look far to find it, as the Pacific Dawn calls Brisbane's Portside Cruise Terminal its home.
The Pacific Dawn sails every Saturday and takes the same route, arriving in Noumea on the Monday, Lifou (photo above) on Tuesday and Port Vila on Wednesday, before heading back to Brisbane. My cruise varied slightly in that when we got to Lifou, Cyclone Jasmine was hovering over Port Vila so, rather than put anyone at risk, the ship headed back to Noumea for a second visit. We then stopped off for re-fuelling in Gladstone (440km north of Brisbane) on the way back.
Yes, I was excited - after all, I'm an unashamed cruise junkie.
P&O is a 3-star cruise line. It does a good job doing what it does; it serves a purpose. If you're not looking for the expense of a 4-5 star cruise line, then the Pacific Dawn could be for you. If you're a young, first time cruiser looking for a fun time, then it's a pretty safe bet the Pacific Dawn is definitely for you.
In fact, the Pacific Dawn has a reputation as a bit of a party ship. Having said that, several of my 'non-twenties/thirties' friends had been on the Pacific Dawn and they hadn't reported anything too over the top. Still, I checked out a few Facebook pages before I left and I was lead to think partying might be high on the agenda of several - many - of the passengers, especially the younger ones, if the following quotes were any guide:
"Drinking the night before departure.....gotta line the stomach! :) lol!"
"Are clothes optional on this cruise?"
"Currently waiting at Sydney Domestic airport. Three days in Brissy then cruise to party and party and party and party and pa-r pa-r pa-r party!"
I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).
I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).
CONTENTS OF THIS BLOG
- Two important things to do before you cruise
- Portside Cruise Terminal and embarkation/disembarkation process
- The Pacific Dawn
- Nautical Terms
- The Sailaway Party
- The Atrium
- My Room
- Cruise Card and Gratuities
- Food and Dining (what's included in your fare/what's not)
- Drinks and Bars
- Entertainment and R'n'R
- Child/Youth Facilities
- Exercise Options
- Photos (and the photo gallery on board)
- Clothes (what to take) and Laundry
- Aqua Health Spa Fitness
- On Board Newsletter and Information
- Ports of Call
*All prices are in Australian dollars, as of February 2012.
**Before I go any further, I must let you know that, after the resounding success of my Radiance of the Seas blog, a cruise agent (Cruise Sale Finder) saw it, loved it, and asked if I'd like to go on a cruise for them (paid by them) and write a blog for them. Being the cruise junkie I am, I thought about the offer for a nano-second before saying 'YES!' The cruise they sent me on is this one you are about to experience here.
TWO IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU CRUISE
1) If you intend using your credit card while you are away, tell your credit card provider that you are going overseas, so they don't think your credit card has been compromised and someone in a foreign land has suddenly started making purchases. The last thing you want to deal with when you get home is a cancelled credit card and having to sort out all your direct debits etc when your bank sends you a new one. While it's good that credit card security works this way, it's a hassle you don't need.
2) Similarly to your credit card, contact your mobile phone provider and have your phone switched to international call roaming. The costs are very high if you do make (and receive) calls but it's a security blanket should you need to use your phone in an emergency. IMPORTANT - turn off data roaming on your phone (I have no firm tips on this, as it will vary from phone to phone). While you may not make calls while you are away, any data that is uploaded or downloaded (emails or apps, for instance) will be charged at a far, far more expensive rate.
PORTSIDE CRUISE TERMINAL
I already have a blog post on the Portside Cruise Terminal and the embarkation/disembarkation process I went through on this Pacific Dawn cruise. You can read about it HERE.
THE PACIFIC DAWN
She was originally ordered by Sitmar Cruises. However, to cut a long story short (trust me, it's long!), she was delivered to Princess Cruises as Regal Princess (1991 - 2007), before undergoing a major refurbishment and being sold to P&O and renamed Pacific Dawn by Olympic gold medalist, Cathy Freeman, in November 2007. She had a further refurbishment in May, 2010, and is due for another in April 2012.
Some stats -
Length: 245 m (804 ft)
Beam: 32 m (105 ft)
Draught: 8 m (26 ft)
Speed: 19.5 kn (36km/h)
Capacity: 1,900 passengers
Decks: 11 passenger decks
Balcony cabins: 184
The Pacific Dawn docked at Noumea.
Here's a few that may appear in the blog:
Fore - Near or toward the front of the ship
Aft - Near or toward the rear of the ship
Bow - The very front of the ship
Stern - The very back of the ship
Port - The left of the ship, facing towards the front
Starboard - The right of the ship, facing towards the front
Draft - Depth of water measured from the waterline to the bottom of the ship's hull
Bridge - The 'command centre' in the forward part of the ship
Gangway - The stairway or ramp connecting the ship to the shore
Tender - A small vessel, usually a lifeboat, used to transport passengers from the ship to the shore when the ship is at anchor
THE SAILAWAY PARTY
The Sailaway party is a tradition on all P&O cruises (Australia, at least). The Pacific Dawn departs Portside (Brisbane) at 2pm each Saturday and our Sailaway party started immediately after our safety drill at 1.30pm. For many of the passengers it was a case of life jackets down, drinking boots on!
The Sailaway party takes place on the pool deck and, because it's the start of the cruise and everyone is on a high, it's soon packed with eager passengers to see what's going on. It's a chance for people to mix and get familiar with the faces they'll be seeing over the next week but it also gives the entertainment team to the opportunity to show what's on offer. This involves a brief 'show and tell' from many of the entertainment acts, including the band, singers, acrobats and other things such as dance lessons. You get maybe 10 - 15 minutes of each to get a feel of what to expect.
Of course, the Lido Pool Bar is going full steam and they have a cocktail special going where you pay $10 for your cocktail and get the P&O cocktail 'glass' its served in (blue or yellow plastic with the letter's P&O on the side). As well as the bar, there were several other tables around the pool deck also selling the cocktails. Needless to say, it proved very popular.
Pacific Cirque acrobats perform.
The Pacific Entertainers belt out some tunes.
The party pauses as the countdown begins to signal the Pacific Dawn passing under the
Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges as it leaves Brisbane - the official 'we've left Brisbane' moment.
Then the party continues...dancing lessons (the Nutbush, from memory).
Kicking back as the band plays during the Sailaway party.
In one respect the pool deck is the focal point of the Pacific Dawn. In another respect, so is the Atrium, which sits in the middle of, and between, Decks 5 - 7.
Among other things, the Atrium is the retail centre of the ship and all the shops, including the photo shop, the tour desk and the reception are there. Its also windowless and you feel like you're in a hotel lobby more than on a cruise ship, aided by a very grand staircase leading from Deck 5 to Deck 6.
Standing on the grand central staircase looking back into the Atrium.
The grand central staircase leading from Deck 5 to Deck 6.
The Reception desk - often the busiest place on the ship!
Shops on one side...
...and shops on the other side.
My room was an 'Outside with Balcony'. It was a comfortable 19.5 square metres, although I'm not sure if this included the balcony. It included most of what you'd expect in a hotel room - flat screen TV, desk and chair, private ensuite, bar fridge, wardrobe and safety deposit box.
The bed, two singles together, was comfy (always important!) and the 'walk-in wardrobe' next to the bathroom was very cool. The bathroom, which was ample, had a huge shower cublicle! You could fit three people in there comfortably.
The room with balcony beyond. The photo was taken when I first entered and, on the bed,
are two robes you could buy (I think they were around the $30 mark).
The moment you open the packet, you've bought them, so watch out!
Also, the bottled water on the table at the left was $3.95/bottle.
Out to the balcony.
The wardrobe and 'chest of drawers', with the bathroom door handle at right.
Above the chest of drawers is the safe and life vests.
In the middle of the photo, directly below where the rolled towels are, is the bar fridge.
Looking back to the door to the cabin.
The full length mirror.
The bathroom, looking one way...and the other (HUGE shower cubicle and great shower head!).
*See the before and after photos of the Pacific Dawn refurbishment that occurred after I cruised on her.
TV Guide (you're meant to be out doing stuff!):
CRUISE CARD and GRATUITIES
You get your Cruise Card at the start of the boarding process in the cruise terminal on the day you leave.
Once you have your Cruise Card, you can safely put your wallet and credit cards in the safe in your room. Your cruise card is your wallet and room key. Buy/bring a lanyard and wear your Cruise Card around your neck (like everyone else).
A Cruise Card on its lanyard
Because the Pacific Dawn's home port is Brisbane, gratuities (tipping) is much like anywhere else in Australia i.e. it isn't an essential part of the cruise. Having said that, I treated Salt Grill and La Luna like a normal restaurant and tipped as per normal. Every time you buy something - a drink, a snack, something from the shop - you have you sign a piece of paper, and there is room on there for a tip, so you are able to tip if you so desire.
My room attendant, Veriuta, was great, and I left her a tip when I departed on the final day. Not only did she keep the room looking great, she also left groovy towel 'sculptures' in my room on most nights.
An elephant towel sculpture left in my room one night by Veriuta
FOOD and DINING
INCLUDED in your fare -
Cafe del Sol (buffet)
Continental Breakfast: 6am
Full breakfast: 6.30am - 11am
Lunch (sea day): 11.30am - 2.30pm
Lunch (port day): 11.30am - 3pm
Dinner: 5.30pm - 9.30pm
I love buffets and was somewhat keen to partake in the delights of what the Cafe del Sol had to offer.
However - and I hate to start off on a negative note - I was a little underwhelmed.
The buffet was more like a cafeteria set up. You got a tray, your cutlery, your plate/s, placed the tray on a bench and followed the queue past all the food, loading your tray/plates as you went. This could be annoying when you got stuck behind a 'slow driver' who was intent on trying a spoonful of everything on offer...maybe...or maybe not...before moving on.
The other thing was that you loaded up your tray/plates with everything and then went and sat down. At the start of the buffet the seating bordered the queue to form a somewhat narrow aisle of sorts. This meant you couldn't really go back and cut into the queue if you wanted to get a part of your meal, unless you entered the 'aisle' from the start and appeared to push ahead of those in the queue, or entered from the other end and still appeared to cut in on those in the queue.
The food itself was good. Not great, but good (sometimes okay). Once again, think 'cafeteria'. The selection was limited but this was possibly because of the queue system. The Cafe del Sol had two entrances, one each on the port and starboard sides. Because of this, the food/queue was mirrored on both sides, culminating for both at the carvery. The times I went to the Cafe del Sol (it wasn't my first choice) I went with the 'safe' options - cereals, yoghurt (container), fruit, cold meats, cheese, toast, bread rolls, jams, juices, desserts (although many of the cakes had the same sponge base).
More often than not I found the cooked dishes were a bit hit and miss and often lacked 'heat' i.e. weren't (heat) hot enough - the breakfast sausages were a tad bland (and a touch on the cold side the times I got to them), the chicken stir fry had big chunks of cabbage scattered throughout (both times I tried it) and the beef stroganoff had more than its fair share of gristle - the accompanying rice pilaf was boiled white rice with tiny cubes of what looked to be boiled vegetables. To be fair, I didn't try every hot dish every night but this was because I'd been put off early on in the cruise.
Before I go any further, I love food and don't consider myself a food snob - I am not hoping for a job as judges on Masterchef. I think airline food is great, and have lived off cafeteria food in numerous jobs over the years (I've been known to cut mold off bread and toast it!). It's because of this I hate to appear to be critical of the food being served. I just know what I thought at the time.
To show I'm not totally biased, on the last night of the cruise I was sat near a young bloke in Cafe del Sol who, by the looks of things, had spent most of the cruise dining on beer...and more beer. His plate was piled high (obviously catching up) and as he wolfed into his mountain of food he turned to the table next to him and declared something along the lines of - "This food is bloody sensational!"
Some of what was on offer...
yoghurt (small containers)
Fruit in syrup
Bread rolls - white and wholemeal
orange or apple juice
Eggs - scrambled/fried
Salads - green/greek/pasta/potato
Bread rolls - white and wholemeal
Selection of hot dishes
Cafe del Sol.
The 'cafeteria-style' trays, queue and set up at Cafe del Sol.
Selection of the cakes on offer for dessert.
(I love dessert - it's my favourite meal of the day!
The three front cakes were all nice but comprised the same sponge)
Palm Court Dining Room
Breakfast (sea day): 7.30am - 9.30am
Breakfast (port day): 7am - 9am
Lunch: Noon - 2pm
Dinner: 5.30pm - 10pm
This was the main dining room of the ship. You can either book ahead or arrive and be seated. Like all main dining rooms, seating is a lottery, but that gets you talking to fellow passengers, which is always interesting.
A couple of times I asked to be seated on my own (due to illness, mainly) and the reception to my request both times was less than enthusiastic. One time I rolled up and, after meeting a stone wall, ended up speaking to the maitre'd who organised a table for me. The other time I phoned ahead and was met with the same stone wall and ended up not going (due to illness). I understand that dining in the main dining room means being seated with other passengers but the reception to both my requests was less than professional.
The one thing I noticed about the Palm Court Dining Room was that many of the dishes were served in the same rectangular, deep dishes. There was a touch of 'mass production' about it. The food? The taste? Good (not great, but definitely much better than okay). Each time I ate there - I preferred it to Cafe del Sol - I went away happy but the food didn't 'rock my boat' (no pun intended).
The menus are as follows:
The Palm Court Dining Room.
Pool Deck BBQ
Occasionally on the pool deck they had a free BBQ (it seemed to be a random process). Once again, it was good but wasn't sensational. Little things such as the buns tasting half a day past their due date and being twice as big as the meat patties (it's always the little things). And, once again, the hot food lacked heat i.e. weren't (heat) hot enough. I love potato salad (all varieties) but one night the potato salad was sitting in a pool of white liquid. To be fair, I didn't try it, so it could have tasted great. But potato salad sitting in a pool of runny liquid? Not appealing.
BBQ on the pool deck.
Room service breakfast (limited)
The full room service menu isn't free but there was on offer a limited breakfast available of pastries, toast, cereal, jams, juice and tea/coffee (filtered only).
Lunchtime on the Pool Deck
At lunchtime each day rolls - meat and salad - were available on the Pool Deck, laid out on a table under cover and in the shade. It was a self-service set up and I had them a on a couple of occasions. They were very good.
NOT INCLUDED in your fare -
The room service menu isn't extensive but has enough options:
Entrees and soups - $5
Example - Clear chicken consomme, steamed won tons, spring onions and bean sprouts
Pasta and pie favourites - $7
Example - Chunky steak and mushroom pie in Guinness gravy, roasted onion mash and garden peas
Sandwiches - $8
Example - Roast beef, dill pickles, onion shavings and grain mustard mayonnaise on dark rye
Sweet tooth - $5
Example - Chocolate fudge slice, hazelnut sponge and rich, dark chocolate
Snacks and drinks are also available:
Champagne - up to $144 for a bottle of Moet grand vintage
Bottle of white wine - up to $46 for a Glandore Estate DJP Chardonnay
Bottle of red wine - up to $48 for a Katnook Founder's Block Cab Sav
Selection of bottled beers up to $7.95 for a Corona
Snacks up to $4.95 (mini cookies in a cup)
Room service anyone?
Charlie's Bar on the 5th deck in the Atrium had large cookies for $2 each or 3 for $5.
Charlie's Bar - cookies come at a cost.
The Grill is located on the port side of the pool deck next to Cafe del Sol. It has a limited menu and, as the name suggests, it's grill-based food.
Kebabs ($7.50 - $9.50)
Garlic prawn basket (1/2 kilo - $13, 1 kilo - $26)
Outback chicken wings (1/2 kilo - $5.50, 1 kilo - $8.50)
Giant Aussie steak sandwich - $11.50
Aussie outback burger - $7
Potato or mixed fresh salad, potato wedges or chips - $2
The one time I got food from there (burger and wedges), the burger was done and plated before they realised wedges were also needed, and they were then put into the deep fry. The burger was fine but nothing to write home about. It was a meat pattie on a bread bun with a bit of salad. The chips were good.
Sundaes Ice Cream Bar
Located on the starboard side of the pool deck next to Cafe del Sol. I love ice cream but the times I had some it tasted a bit bland.
Milkshakes - $4.95
Soft serve - $2.25 (cone or cup), toppings 50c each
Floats (ice cream and soda) - $4.95
Red Bull float - $5.95
One scoop - $1.75
Two scoops - $2.75
Three scoops - $3.75
Toppings - 50c each, 3 for $1
Sundaes - $5.50
My 'triple chocolate' being scooped out at Sundae's Ice Cream Bar.
Many cruise lines, including P&O, have taken on a celebrity chef to open a restaurant on their ship/s.
In this case, the restaurant is Salt Grill and the celebrity name behind it is Luke Mangan, multi-award winning chef and owner of Glass Brasserie in Sydney, The Palace Hotel in South Melbourne and Salt Tokyo.
Like all these 'celebrity' restaurants, there is a one-off fee you have to pay to dine there. In this case, it's $40pp for dinner. Lunch at Salt Grill is also available on the last two days of the cruise and the fee is $30pp. The menu appears to be the same and I couldn't see anywhere stating the reason for the price difference.
Whether $40pp or $30pp, this fee is inclusive of everything on the menu but doesn't include wine or drinks.
There was also a couple of further surcharges on the menu.
I ate there for dinner and it was easily the dining highlight of the cruise. Considering you would pay upwards of $40 for one main course at Glass Brasserie, $40pp is extremely reasonable for the three courses on offer.
Charcutiere plate (bresaola, cappicola, prosciutto)
Seared sea scallops, blue cheese polenta, truffle oil
Lamb cutlets (Victoria), grain-fed, provencale herbs
Fillet 200g, 150 days grain-fed, black angus
Carrots with dukkah
Roast curried pumpkin, feta & coriander
Meredith sheep’s milk yoghurt cheesecake, textures of passionfruit
Chocolate tasting plate
The lamb cutlets were huge and the steak was cooked to perfection. The sides matched beautifully.
Everything about the meal was delicious and one of those rare occasions when you can eat an entree, main and dessert and still feel comfortable afterwards. Unlike the Palm Court dining room, there are plenty of tables for two and you don't have to share your dining experience. Having said that, the tables are in quite close proximity and you invariably end up having a great chat with whoever is sat next to you.
The Chocolate Tasting Plate at Salt Grill.
La Luna is the 'Asian Fusion' restaurant on board and, like Salt Grill, a fee is charged to dine there ($20pp).
The first thing that struck me about La Luna was the name, La Luna translating as 'the moon' in Italian. I'd never been to an Italian restaurant called the Red Dragon!
Names aside, La Luna serves an 8-course degustation banquet over 2 hrs. This is a good thing, as it gives you plenty of time between courses to digest what you've eaten. The food was better than good - worth the $20pp - but not as great as Salt Grill.
My La Luna experience didn't get off to a good start. When I arrived I was offered a glass of champagne, which took around 10 minutes to arrive (I'd started on the first of the eight dishes) and, while the glass felt cold, the champagne definitely wasn't! There's nothing worse than champagne that is somewhere between cold and room temperature, so I asked for it to be taken back. When I told the waitress this she stood and felt the glass a couple of times, as if making up her own mind. The care factor was less than enthusiastic.
Pickles (to start)
Cabbage sauteed with black mustard seeds and turmeric
Celery salad, dried shrimp, roasted sesame oil
Asparagus, capsicum and eggplant salad, roasted in numbing three flavours
Sweet guandong blur ginger duck salad, star anise, rock sugar and crushed shallots
Coriander, soy and fennel lamb, crisp fried noodles
Stuffed bitter lemon, bean curd in heaven and fire, black bean sauce
Lemongrass and coconut creme brulee, chillies brined and candied
Spiced almonds two ways, mandarin and apricot sauce
The spices used in the dishes at La Luna - present on the plate when I sat down.
One funny moment occurred when a woman who'd just been to Cafe del Sol, which is located right next door (and is separated by low screens), wandered in with her loaded dinner tray. You could just about see her eyes light up when she saw the mood lighting (the buffet is brightly lit) and a few empty tables (the buffet is usually chock-a-block). The smile on her face soon disappeared when she was 'escorted' out of La Luna by the wait staff.
The main courses brought out as part of the 8-course degustation menu.
DRINK and BARS
As is the case with all cruise ships, most of the Pacific Dawn's income comes from the sale of drinks - mainly alcohol. The Pacific Dawn is no different, and there were many places where you could get a 'bevy':
Lido Pool Bar
Legends Bar (casino)
The Dome (niteclub)
The Show Lounge
Bar prices were roughly the same across the board:
Crown Lager $6.95
Pure Blonde $6.95
Wine, by the glass: $8.00 / $9.00
Wine by the bottle: Range from $29 to well over $150, medium range around $35 - $40
Spirits and Mixers: $6.95 - $8.95
Cocktails: $10 (when on special on the pool deck) and others $12 - $16 in all bars
All sodas/soft drinks: $2.75
Being a whisky fan, the Promenade Bar had a great selection of single malts, up to $45/nip for a Talisker 25yo. Their top tequila (Gran Patron Platinum Silver, Jalisco, Mexico) was $32/nip and a 100ml bottle of their Seppeltsfield 100yo Tawny came in at $350.
If caffeine is your poison, then best to head to Charlie's Bar on Deck 5.
Coffee and tea: $2.75 - $4
Iced coffee/frappe: $4
Alcoholic coffee: $8.95
Lido Pool Bar on the 'Island' theme night.
Lido Cafe, looking out to the pool deck.
The Bengal Bar and the Promenade Bar (next photo) had a lovely
art deco feel to them and were a nice reprise from
the pool deck if you wanted a quiet drink.
Legends Bar (in the casino).
The Dome niteclub.
Mix at Bacchus Bar.
The Show Lounge - drinks available.
ENTERTAINMENT and R'n'R
There's lots to do and see, shared among the venues:
The pool deck
On board art
I know it's a well-worn joke but cruise entertainment is no longer restricted to just shuffleboard (it probably never was but it's a reputation that has stuck). As always, the entertainment on offer is always mixed and varied:
Line Dancing Class
Power of Seaweed and Aromatherapy Seminar
Teeth Whitening Seminar
50+ Years Married Get Together
Wii @ Sea Bowling
...to mention but a few!
As well as having their primary function, many places doubled as entertainment venues.
The Bengal Bar and Mix Cocktail Bar, for example, were used as venues for such things as 'Acupuncture Chinese Herbal Medicine Seminar', 'Pet Lovers Get Together (come and discuss your beloved pets with our Entertainment team)', and 'Secrets to a Flatter Stomach Seminar'. Some of the entertainment items, such as 'Couples Massage Class' and 'Martini with the Master' involved a fee ($45 and $16 respectively).
The Showlounge doubled as the cinema and the Atrium was used quite a lot at night and even held its own market one day.
During the day the pool deck was pretty subdued, although there was often the ship's band playing on the raised stage in the middle of the pool deck, but once the sun started to dip, it became party central.
If you're looking for peace and quiet no matter the time of day, then the Oasis located at the back of the ship is for you. There's a bar but no band and it is a slightly older crowd with only peace and quiet on their mind. There is no band and no swimming pool - only a couple of hot tubs. No party/entertainment events were held there.
The library wasn't somewhere I frequented. Still, it was well stocked and there were board games there as well. If you're wanting a quiet place to read, or sit and relax, there are numerous areas, including The Dome niteclub, the area outside the Bengal Bar and Promenade Bar, and the Atrium.
Art is everywhere on the Pacific Dawn, from the stairwells to the public corridors. There is an 'art gallery' on Deck 7 approaching the Palm Court Dining Room but this is really just a part of the hallway leading to the dining room more than anything.
The pool deck during the day - somewhat subdued.
The pool deck warms up as the afternoon progresses and, by night, it's pumping.
Same view as the top photo but around 12 hours later.
Here it is on 'Island' theme night.
Putting challenge on the pool deck.
Boys v Girls volleyball in the adult pool.
The band rocks the pool deck during the afternoon.
Or you can just hang about in the pool.
The Show Lounge - bingo central!
'Pacific Popstars' (passenger karaoke contest) auditions in the Show Lounge.
The Pacific Entertainers perform a routine from the
'Motor City, a Tribute to the Best of Motown' show.
Pacific Seahorse racing in the Show Lounge.
The Oasis - adults only area if you want a quiet, relaxing time.
Line dancing lessons in the Dome niteclub.
Clint Paddison performs at the Sit Down Comedy Club in the Dome.
Market time in the Atrium.
The 636-glass champagne fountain (and balloon drop) in the Atrium.
Pacific Cirque acrobats perform in the Atrium.
Juggling lesson in the Atrium.
Karaoke in the Bengal Bar.
The library - books and games.
Deckchairs on Deck 7 proved a popular 'quiet' place to relax out of the sun
and watch the world go by.
The Dome niteclub during the day is a good day to relax and, among other things, read.
Deck 7, outside the Bengal Bar and Promenade Bar is a nice place
to sit and read, or just relax.
The Atrium - plenty of places to sit and relax.
Art in the stairwells.
The 'art gallery' on Deck 7.
It's not really entertainment or r'n'r but balloons on doors were
a frequent sight on birthdays and anniversaries.
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There nothing worse than going on holiday with your parents and having to hang out with them, doing 'adult' stuff (okay, that's a two way street for adults, too). The Pacific Dawn certainly caters when it comes to keeping all ages entertained, and there are four separate areas for differing 'non-adult' age groups -
Turtle Cove (3yo - 6yo)
Shark Attack (7yo - 10yo)
HQ (11yo - 14yo)
HQ+ (15yo - 17yo)
From tables to draw at in Turtle Cove to a giant flatscreen and bean bags in HQ+, there is something for all ages and there was always a procession of kids/youths heading into all of these areas.
Turtle Cove and Shark Attack are located in the middle of the ship on Deck 6, while HQ & HQ+ are located up on Deck 14 and at the back of the ship, and can only be accessed by walking across the open deck area. I don't known if it was intentional or not but the fact that the youths get the feeling they're 'leaving' the ship and walking to their own area, while the smaller kids stay within the ship, 'close' to their parents, seems a good idea.
Turtle Cove (3yo - 6yo).
Shark Attack (7yo - 10yo).
HQ (11yo - 14yo).
HQ+ (15yo - 17yo).
There are two pools on the pool deck, one of them being a 'kids' pool. This is a good thing as the adult pool often has volleyball matches and other goings on. And, keeping an eye on the kids in their pool is, at all times, a 'Youth Security' member of staff.
A Youth Security officer looking over the kids pool on the pool deck.
Pools x 2
There are two pools on the pool deck but their purpose is for splashing about. Doing laps isn't really on the cards, although it is possible early in the morning when it's quiet i.e. the usual pool-dwellers are recovering, and, preferably, when the ship is in port (no rocking and rolling to get the pool swell up).
The walking/running circuit is on deck 14 and overlooks the pool deck. To assist the flow of things, they ask that walkers go one way and runners go the other. Six-and-a-half laps of the circuit is equal to one mile (1.6 km).
The gym is on Deck 2 and open from 10.30am - 10pm. There are no windows (they could be dangerous - you're on/below the waterline). It was quite well outfitted and a popular place for some of those on board.
It isn't advertised as exercise but taking the internal stairs instead of the lifts really added to the fitness regime and helped take some of the kilos off that you might have accumulated. You can easily rack up several hundred steps a day, the equivalent of 'a few' calories.
There was also other exercise you can do such as table tennis and dance classes.
An early morning swim.
The walking/running circuit above the pool deck.
The gym on Deck 2.
Dance your way to fitness.
Volleyball in the adult pool.
Take the stairs and burn off those calories!
Internet is available but not cheap (understandably). WiFi is available but only on Decks 5 - 7. There is an internet cafe on board (Deck 8) with quite a few computers. It's a busy/popular room.
Pay as you surf - 75c/minute
100 minutes - $55 (55c/minute)
150 minutes - $75 (50c/minute)
250 minutes - $100 (40c/minute)
I found the best reception for the WiFi was on Deck 5, next to the ATM machines (next to the reception desk).
The internet cafe on Deck 8.
All the shops are located in the Atrium and the 'precinct' resembles a small shopping plaza. The selection on sale is good and pretty much everything is covered (not surprisingly, it's not supermarket level, so still take everything with you):
- Duty free (x2 shops): jewellery, watches, make up, perfume and hand bags.
- Beach Culture: Swimmers, bikinis, summer dresses, thongs (footwear variety), T-shirts/singlets, sunglasses, hats.
- Resort Collection: This is mainly P&O/Pacific Dawn merchandise - fridge magnets, stubby coolers, shirts, bags teddy bears etc.
- Essentials: Think mini, mini, mini corner store - personal care items such as band aids and sunscreen, as well as lollies, chocolate etc. This is also where the duty free alcohol was sold.
- Photo Gallery (talked about a little bit further on in the blog).
One side - Resort Collection and Beach Culture (Deck 7) and one of the duty free stores (Deck 6).
The other side - the photo gallery (Deck 7), where you can see all the photos that have been taken
during the cruise and order to your hearts content. One of the duty free stores is below (Deck 6).
One of the duty free stores - specialising in perfume and make up.
Beach Culture for everything 'beach'.
While it's not touted as a shop, the Aqua Hut is located on the pool deck.
It's not very big and deals mainly in hiring and/or selling snorkelling gear,
while also selling things like sunscreen and lanyards.
Take your camera. There's plenty to photograph and no one minds that you do. It wasn't only me that photographed the ship to within an inch of its life. There were plenty of others recounting every aspect of their cruise (it doesn't take long before you get used to photographing your meal if you so desire).
There is a big team of ship photographers to recount, in photos and video, your every move. On theme nights and formal nights they have studio lights and backdrops set up around the ship, where they can take your photo, looking good in your formal clothes or in your 'get up' for the theme night (Pirate night, Island night, Country and Western night).
The photo gallery is located on Deck 7 and there are photos galore you can choose from. You will invariably get snapped sitting by the pool, at dinner, getting on and off the ship and doing a whole lot more. The photos begin at the very start when you board the ship and you are stood in front of a tacky (but funny) backdrop - this time a sunset through palm trees with the Pacific Dawn. I got two prints (25 x 20cm - 10 x 8 inch) for $29.95, otherwise it was one for $19.95.
There are also packages where you can buy four photos (25 x 20cm - 10 x 8 inch) and get one free, or buy six and get two free. Enlargements (60 x 40cm - 24 x 20 inch) are available, with shipping included in the price. They don't have price lists printed anywhere, so your best bet is to visit the photo desk, also on Deck 7, and tell them what you have in mind.
The 2-set cruise DVD sells for $49.95 but I bought mine for $29.95 with a special offer I got for buying my 'boarding' photos. There is also a 2-set DVD of the Pacific Dawn 'behind the scenes' - visiting the engine room, the bridge, the kitchens etc.
The cruise DVD is worth the money. One DVD is all ship footage and the other is onshore footage - both go for around an hour. While it serves as a fun reminder of your time on the ship, it's also something nice to show friends and family, as it gives an overall feel of what happened on the cruise.
The production values are good and the onshore/tour footage is extensive, showing most, if not all, of the tours in the ports of call. There was a bit of file footage but it didn't impede the rest of the DVD. It's all about the people on your cruise having fun.
The DVD doesn't show every aspect of the ship i.e. it doesn't take you on a tour of the ship. I surmise the 'behind the scenes' DVD does that. This is more people driven. Everyone likes to see themselves on 'the tele' and it gives the friends and family something to look forward to when you get them over for the 'cruise and cocktail' night at your place upon return!
The photos start when you board - this time a beautiful tropical sunset as the backdrop
(Brisbane never looked so good!).
The flash fires and another couple get their photo taken on one of the two cocktail (formal) nights.
The photo shop on Deck 7, where you can buy all those birthday and Christmas presents
of you and your beloved/s dressed up for a cocktail (formal) night or just having fun.
CLOTHES and LAUNDRY
There is an on board laundry service and two self-service coin-operated launderettes, both with with ironing facilities, on Decks 5 and 10.
Some price examples of the on board laundry service:
Wash and Press
Socks/pair - $1.50
T-shirt - $3
Shirt/blouse - $4.50
Shorts - $5
Jeans/trousers - $7.50
Dress - $8.50
Shorts - $3
Jacket - $6
Suit (two piece) - $13
Evening dress - $16
All you do is fill in the form in your room...there is a same day service (in by 9am, back by 6pm), but it's 50% extra. Otherwise, in by 9am and have it returned by 6pm the following day.
The on board laundry form you'll find in your cabin.
Alternatively, there are the two self-service coin-operated launderettes (Decks 5 & 10). This is a DIY service and is like the local laundrette near wherever it is you live. Costs are 3 x $1 (AUS) coins in the washing machine and $1 each for washing powder (I brought my own) and softener. There are dryers - also 3 x $1 coins and the irons are free.
POWER ON BOARD
Pacific Dawn cabins have one Australian style socket (220v) and American style sockets (110v), located on the dressing table. If you have a universal adapter, it will work in one or both of these sockets.
While 50HZ (Hertz) is the standard electricity frequency in Australia, Pacific Dawn can only deliver electricity at 60HZ (Hertz).
I knew I was going to have a few electrical appliances and took a multi-port powerboard, which came in very useful.
AQUA HEALTH SPA FITNESS
Located on Deck 2, at Aqua Health Spa Fitness you can work out in the gym, have a massage and then get your hair done!
They offer a range of services, including all of the above and more:
Aroma spa ocean wrap in warm seaweed that will decongest, detoxify and stimulate your body systems (75 mins, $215 - 100 mins, $285)
Detox slimming treatment (50 minutes, $175)
Teeth whitening (30 minute treatment, $219 special)
20 20 20 - 60 minutes (choose any three for $139) from scalp massage, foot and ankle massage, lime and ginger body scrub, mini facial, back, neck and shoulder massage, hot stones back, neck and shoulder massage (add $20)
Aqua Health Spa Fitness reception desk - looking through to the hair/beauty salon.
ON BOARD NEWSLETTER and INFORMATION
The Pacific Daily is delivered to the 'letter box' outside your room each night. It is full of information as to what is happening the next day - what is on and where. As well, if you are in port that day there are shore excursion details, and things such as deals that might be on offer at places such as Aqua Health Spa Fitness.
A Pacific Daily is delivered each day of your cruise.
The Pacific Daily is full of information. See PDF version here.
At noon each day the captain and cruise director give an update over the ship's PA system. This can be heard in all public areas and not your cabin so, if you are in your cabin and want to have a listen, then open your cabin door a little. If the message is urgent, then it will be 'piped' into your cabin. I only got one update in the cabin and that was regards Cyclone Jasmine.
If you are looking to find your way around the ship, then there are deck plan maps located at several places on each floor.
You are here!
These deck plans are located at several places on each deck, usually where
the stairwells are located (fore, aft and midships).
PORTS OF CALL
New Caledonia is a French colony and Noumea, the capital, is its economic and cosmopolitan heart, boasting, among other things, French fine dining restaurants, designer boutiques, beaches, and colonial mansions. Not surprisingly, it proclaims to be the Paris of the Pacific! French is the spoken language but most locals have a grasp of English, especially those in the tourist industry.
Midnight Cowboy admires the view as we near Noumea.
We arrived in Noumea, our first port of call, at 3pm, and were greeted by what looked to be a traditional war dance of some sort by a group of local 'warriors' on the edge of the wharf. It was very musical and equally spectacular, even from Deck 7 of the ship as we neared.
The 'warriors' greet us at the wharf.
Everyone gathers to see the warriors welcome us into Noumea.
Once ashore (the photographers were there to snap anyone wanting their photo taken with the warriors - I declined), I made my way to where all the ship tour groups left from. This was a large car park area next to the cruise terminal. Here I was impressed how one person with a megaphone could co-ordinate several hundred people, possibly more, and get them all onto their tour modes of transport in orderly fashion.
I normally prefer to 'go it alone' when I do the shore tour thing and something has to be said for the ship tour way of doing things. You do pay more but everything is done for you. This may seem the lazy way out but, after the relaxing time on the ship, having to then switch the brain on can be a bit of a shock to the system!
The tour vehicles begin to gather next to the ship.
The fact we'd arrived so late in the day meant my options were limited, so I booked myself on the 'Tchou Tchou' train ($59pp), a motorised 'train' like the sort you see kids on at theme parks or shopping centres (you're a tourist - this is what you do!).
The TT train takes you on a tour of the city, with tour guide supplying commentary, of the city and surrounding area. The tour takes two hours and stops twice, both times at lookouts. Well, the first is an out and out lookout and the second is at the Notre Dame du Pacifique, a statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Several companies run TT train tours, so you tend to bump into each other at various times. Also, after 3pm the TT train is only run by whatever cruise ship is in port, so you have to book your tour through the ship.
The Tchou Tchou train.
Tourists sit on a gun, placed there by the Australian Army during WWII, at the first lookout.
One of the views from the first lookout.
The Tchou Tchou train is a common sight and just about every local
waves enthusiastically as you pass by.
The cross marks the spot where one of Noumea's two guillotines was located.
The nickel smelter in Noumea - New Caledonia has around 10% of the world's nickel deposits.
The Notre Dame de Pacific overlooking Noumea.
A wall covered in art in the Noumea CBD.
We returned to the ship where I had a shower, changed and headed back out...as far as the restaurants on the wharf next to the ship that, as well as great food, also have WiFi. With the Pacific Dawn as a backdrop, I had a lovely meal at L'Impala and surfed the internet a little.
Many from the ship take advantage of the WiFi at the restaurants on the wharf next to the ship.
Two locals enjoy dinner at L'Impala with the Pacific Dawn as the backdrop.
I'd heard reports that Noumea was 'a bit rough around the edges' and didn't think I'd like it too much. However, aided by the TT train, the opposite was true - it's surrounded by ocean and most of the city has ocean views, so that's a good start! That aside, there was nothing I saw that made me think it was a bit rough in any way. Having said that, the streets of Noumea after dark might be a different matter if you decide to go for an evening stroll.
*NOTE - Noumea pretty much shuts up shop on Sunday and Monday, so shopping and non-tourist trade is limited.
All aboard! Passengers board at night after the end of their tours.
Lifou, our second port of call, is the largest atoll in the world (1,146 sq km) and one of several islands that make up the Loyalty Islands, 190 km to the north-east of New Caledonia's mainland.
While, for many (me included), atolls evoke images of low-lying sandy islands covered in palm trees, Lifou is made of fossil coral with a wide, flat centre surrounded by cliffs. Before you start having doubts, Lifou, due to its size, has a diverse landscape comprising limestone caves, beautiful white beaches, and coral reefs full of marine life (Lifou is known for its snorkeling).
The amazingly blue water approaching Lifou.
A church on Lifou.
Once again, I booked a tour through the on board tour desk. This time the 'Forest and Secret Grotto walk'. We dropped anchor off Lifou and this meant we had to be tendered into the island.
Tenders are small boats, often the ship's life boats, that act as a shuttle service between the ship and shore. They run all day, usually at 15 minute intervals (give or take). You need a tender ticket (free) to get on one of the tenders and, once again, the advantage of booking a ship tour is that your tender ticket is taken care of. Then, once ashore, you are taken to your tour vehicle and away you go. Lazy, perhaps, but the peace of mind keeps your mind in the relaxed state it has grown used to on board.
NOTE - those who have booked tours through the ship get preference when the tender tickets are handed out and, if you decide to go it alone, you may have to wait until all the ship tours have gone ashore before you are able to.
A tender nears the jetty as another tender departs the ship.
I thought the Forest and Secret Grotto walk would involve a good hike but, in short, it doesn't. All up you walk a few hundred metres. However, the guide (ours, a local, didn't seem to think his English was good - it was excellent!) stopped at many of the trees and plants along the way and explained each one's use in what we refer to as bush medicine and bush tucker ('food', for non-Antipodeans).
We all found it funny that we often walked only a matter of metres from one tree to another before stopping. This was fine - we got used to it - and the explanations of how the tree/plant was used (eradicating headache, helping pregnant women etc) were interesting. It made you realise how most of us look at a forest and see a bunch of trees, whereas the indigenous people of Lifou, or any land, see something totally different.
Our tour group pulls up at the forest.
Our guide tells us about one of the trees.
The 'flower arrangement' in our guide's hair.
When it came to the grotto, I'd envisioned a large, cavernous type grotto with massive stalagmites and stalactites. It wasn't quite as expansive as this (though, apparently they do exist on other parts of the island). The grotto was entered through a large hole in the ground and the 'cavern' itself was around 10x10 metres (35x35 feet), and about 2 metres (7 feet) in height, descending as you got to the edges of the space.
What was so lovely about it was that the grotto was lit by candles sitting among the rocks - as if it had been set up for a romantic dinner. There were some small stalagmites and stalactites and at one end of the space was a small opening through which you look into another small cavern with more stalagmites and stalactites (there were torches provided, which were used to light this smaller space). As you can see from the photo below, I opted not to use flash photography (it would have killed the ambience) and, for those keen photographers among you, the exposure was 1/8 second at f4, rated at 6400ISO - it was dark!
After we'd ooh-ed and aah-ed in the grotto we continued the walk and were shown some of the traps that were used to catch animals such as coconut crabs, wild pigs and birds. It was fascinating to see the simple, but effective, ingenuity involved. Our tour guide was joined by the owner of the property we were on (no land is sold on Lifou, only handed down through the generations) who explained how the traps worked, in French, yet with his gestures and enthusiastic explanations so we knew exactly what he meant.
Inside the grotto.
Some stalactites visible inside the grotto.
A coconut crab - the type caught in one of the traps we were shown.
We enjoy a snack at a small shelter on the owner's property.
Back at the jetty, we walked through the markets that were there. What was nice about these markets was that they didn't look like they'd set up especially for the cruise ship i.e. there was nothing tacky about them. You got the impression that, despite being conveniently placed at the end of the jetty, they were used as a part of daily life and you just happened to be wandering through on the day your cruise ship was in port.
I drank from a freshly cut coconut and had a skewered meat stick and watched as other enjoyed a swim (I have to admit I'm not the world's greatest lover of having a dip in the ocean…I know, I know, I was on a tropical island...get off my case!).
The markets at the jetty.
Get your hair braided as you take in the view.
The Pacific Dawn sits off Lifou.
With the weather closing in, I decided to head back to the ship and lined up on the jetty waiting for a tender. The thing was, everyone else had seen the weather closing in and, as one, had thought the same thing, so the tender queue ran the length of the jetty (long enough!). As one tender filled and departed, another slowly lumbered into the jetty with its load of 150 people. I knew I'd get onto the tender arriving but I was still a cut lunch away from the end of the jetty.
In one of those great 'will it or won't it' moments, those of us waiting on the jetty watched a squall make its way across the water in what appeared to be our direction. We all stood there, like rabbits in the headlights, with nowhere to go and nowhere to shelter, as it started to rain...gently at first, then bucketing down: 'it's raining...it's RAINING...IT'S RAINING!!!' I threw my towel over my shoes, which I were carrying, and my camera bag, so they were protected, while the rest of me got drenched.
Noumea Part 2
I'd heard good things about our third port of call, Port Vila on the island of Vanuatu, and was looking forward to getting there. However, a little thing called Cyclone Jasmine threw a spanner in the works and decided to park itself right on top of Port Vila. The ship's captain thought better of playing chicken with a cyclone and we headed back to Noumea for a second time. The advantage this time was that we were going to get there first thing in the morning and have the day there.
When the decision was made to return to Noumea, this meant all the tours etc that had been planned for Port Vila went out the window. As a result, the tour desk on the Pacific Dawn was, to put it into cylconic terms, hammered, as the cancelled tours were refunded and new ones booked in Noumea. I was lucky because, while I had booked a ship tour in Noumea the day before, I had booked a tour in Port Vila with Short Excursions, a tour company recommended to me by Cruise Sale Finder. They also had a couple of tours available in Noumea and I emailed my contact and let him work things out, thus avoiding the carnage otherwise known as the Pacific Dawn tour desk (okay, a little dramatic).
I'd originally thought I was doing a Noumea Explorer and Cultural Pass tour (hop on, hop off bus - AUS$44 per person/$31 per child, including all attraction entry fees) but when I arrived at the Short Excursions desk inside the cruise terminal, I was offered another service - a Noumea Explorer and Cultural Pass tour with my own personal driver/guide (AUS$140pp - minimum of four people - and includes all attraction entry fees and light refreshments). I was being given a little VIP treatment and, considering my life are normally 'hum drum', I thought, 'Why not?' Anyway, the personal guided tour sounded great and local knowledge can never be beaten.
I was told my driver wouldn't speak English but this didn't bother me, as I'd have a map and the tour desk would show him where I wanted to go. I'm also fluent in 'pointing and gesturing' (the universal language). Minutes later I was told my driver would, in fact, speak English - and I was introduced to Eric.
Rather than stick to the tour as such, Eric took me on his version of the tour, sharing with me 'his' Noumea. We did the 'tourist' stuff as well, stopping at the Zoological and Botanical Gardens (Parc Forestier de Nouméa) and the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, where Eric acted as tour guide and passed on much knowledge I wouldn't have otherwise known about.
The Zoological and Botanical Gardens are set in quite expansive grounds and to walk around them takes a good hour or more. The zoo part comprised two sections, one housing native Noumean wildlife and the other section more 'mainstream' wildlife. The zoo isn't huge, as one would expect from a small city as Noumea, but the surrounds are lovely.
The Musée de Nouvelle-Calédonie (I didn't get the chance to go in).
One of the more wealthy parts of town (some real estate prices rival that of Sydney Harbour).
The Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
A Pacific flying fox stretched its wings at the the Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
A monkey hangs onto the side of its enclosure. A little sad to see.
The Tjibaou Cultural Centre (designed by Renzo Piano who, coincidentally, designed the Pacific Dawn) is also set in quite expansive grounds - including a Melanesian village - and the cultural centre building itself is a spectacular example of modern architecture blended with, and incorporating, traditional design. One obvious aspect of this is the louvres installed at the base of the building that, when opened, send the prevailing breezes streaming through the building. The traditional works of art on display were quite spectacular, including a wonderful photo of the Noumean 'last supper' - a take on da Vinci's Last Supper (photos were not allowed inside the building, so I'm unable to share it with you).
The Tjibaou Cultural Centre.
The Melanesian village at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre.
The inside of a traditional Kanak Great House in the Melanesian village.
Eric also took me to a few sites I'd been to/seen on the Tchou Tchou train two days before but I didn't have the heart to tell him. He took me all over the place and I actually didn't get to a couple of places I'd highlighted. Still, I saw a side of Noumea many tourists wouldn't normally get the chance to see and that's often the best way. Eric's charismatic approach to playing tour guide was infectious and it was sad to say goodbye when he dropped me back at the ship.
Paragliding Noumea-style - at the first lookout we stopped at on the Tchou Tchou train two days earlier.
The fruit and fish market.
Inside the Cathédrale Saint-Joseph de Noumea.
Joan of Arc statue outside Cathédrale Saint-Joseph de Noumea.
Porcelain sculpture at the Notre Dame de Pacific
(where we also stopped on the Tchou Tchou train).
We were late leaving Noumea due to one of the tours running behind schedule (not sure why).
The officers on the bridge watched the wharf like eagles, waiting for the first sign of tour buses.
* * * * *
Until next time...Bon voyage!
*If you booked a cruise on the Pacific Dawn as a result of this post, please tell me - TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com
See the before and after photos of the Pacific Dawn refurbishment that occurred after I cruised on her.
While we were still at sea and preparing to disembark on the Saturday morning I heard there had been a fight in the Dome niteclub on the Thursday night, while most of the ship slept. Apparently it had been a good old fashioned 'wild west' bar room brawl and a bit of damage had been done (tables trashed, among other things).
I subsequently heard several stories about how many people had been involved, but none of these were substantiated. What did happen was that 16 passengers - all male and all predominantly young (20s) - were taken from the ship when we stopped for refuelling in Gladstone, just over 400km north of Brisbane on Friday (this isn't usual but there had been a problem with fuel supplies in Brisbane).
The incident was big news 'on shore' and reports said the ship detoured to Gladstone to get drop off the passengers but this isn't true. We knew the ship was going to Gladstone on Thursday afternoon. Understandably the ship didn't publicise what had happened to the passengers, so it was no surprise I/we didn't hear about it until we did.
The passengers were given no leeway and taken from the ship because of P&O's 'zero tolerance' policy, and this is a good thing. The message might sink in to others. Having said that, there didn't appear to much in the way of measures to curb the amount of alcohol being served (the P&O website has an alcohol policy but it doesn't mention anything about not serving alcohol to intoxicated people). Alcohol is one way cruises make their money and the incident happened at around 1am, when some of those involved could have been drinking for a good amount of time (some bars open at 10am).
All photos by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
© Use of photos must be via written permission