We recently returned from our second cruise with P&O, a seven night ‘Island Hopper’ from Brisbane. We had 3 stops to look forward to, Noumea, Lifou (both a part of New Caledonia) and Port Vila (the capital of Vanuatu). The first 2 days of the cruise, and the last 2 would be ‘sea days’ which basically means you don’t stop anywhere.
As you set off from Brisbane there is a ‘Sailaway Party’ on the top deck which gets everyone pumped up and ready for the week ahead. As the ship passes under the Gateway bridge and out of Brisbane there seems as if there are barely 2 metres of clearance between the ship and the bridge.
We had gone for an internal room which is the cheapest option, because having done this cruise before we realised we would only be using the room for sleeping and having no window didn’t bother either of us. The first couple of days the sea was quite choppy and created a gentle sway when lying in bed. This surprisingly didn’t bother me at all and in fact helped us to sleep quite soundly.
Whilst on-board you are issued with a swipe card that you can link to your credit card. This makes it incredibly easy (maybe too easy) to make purchases throughout the week. Apart from one or two items in the shops the only additional money we spent on-board was for drinks. Cocktails were $12 AUD which is about the same as pub prices in Brisbane.
On our previous cruise we had met a couple and become friends, but had not seen them since that last cruise. In a weird twist of fate, we bumped into them again on this cruise. What are the odds? Only ever met them twice and each time has been aboard the Pacific Dawn!
There are two major dining areas which are included in the cost of the cruise. The Waterfront Restaurant which is in a more formal setting, and The Pantry, which is more of a food court experience. Apart from 2 occasions early in the week we ate exclusively at The Waterfront. Our experience of The Pantry wasn’t good, neither of us enjoyed anything we ate there, but speaking to other passengers, they seemed to prefer it.
Dinner at The Waterfront has to be booked, but if you go to the restaurant as soon as you are settled in your cabin you can pre-book for the whole week and get the seating arrangement you prefer.
Apart from a 3 course set menu for dinner, The Waterfront offered a different country’s cuisine each evening which added to the variety, and was something I particularly enjoyed.
There are other dining options on-board which are an additional cost. The Salt Grill restaurant and Shell and Bones, for a more upmarket meal, but also a very affordable area called The Grill which served pizza, burgers, hot chips etc. The burgers were only $3 AUD for example.
More information on the dining options aboard the Pacific Dawn can be found here
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the on-board entertainment. I had read some reviews of this cruise which had likened the entertainment to a school performance, but this wasn’t the impression I got. The live music was to a pretty good standard and I thought the evening musical productions throughout the week were excellent.
Apart from music, there were the usual assortment of game show type entertainment and quizzes, bingo and comedians etc. The comedians catered for the adults and started around 10:30pm. We went to see one, but didn’t find him particularly good.
There were some classes that carried an additional cost, such as wine tasting and cocktail making, but that is to be expected.
So what did we get up to when ashore?
Due to high winds the ship had to dock at the container port in Noumea, instead of its usual spot. This meant buses had to be used to ferry people across to the town and delayed the disembarkation process considerably. By the time we got off and had a quick look around there wasn’t a lot of time left to do much else. Although, having been to Noumea before, your options are very limited anyway. We could have got a bus around to Lemon Bay, but there really isn’t too much there and we barely had 2 hours. We returned to the ship less than an hour after getting off.
The Pacific Dawn is too large to dock at Lifou’s tiny jetty, so tenders (small boats) are used to ferry passengers across. The process of getting everyone across seemed to take a lot longer than I remembered, but we finally made it ashore.
If you have low vision
For a reason I just can’t fathom, the corridors alongside the two main bars on the ship were kept in almost total darkness. This made it a little tricky to navigate at busy times in the evening.
I found the rooms uncluttered and easy to navigate, and the ship is well serviced by a number of lifts. There are areas of the ship that get very busy at certain times but I didn’t find this overwhelming.
When arriving at Lifou you are greeted by a local market with locals offering hair braiding and massages, and some tour options. We decided to explore ourselves and set off for a walk to a church which sat on top of a hill. The climb wasn’t too strenuous and the view from the top was worth the climb. We then walked around to the next bay where a number of people were snorkelling.
We spent a pleasant afternoon on Lifou, having a drink and watching the local children sing and dance for the tourists.
Click to see what we got up to on our excursion in Vanuata
Overall we had a very enjoyable week aboard the Pacific Dawn. The staff are very friendly and go out of their way to make your cruise as enjoyable as possible. I can certainly see why people get the ‘cruising bug’ and return time after time. We met several people on-board who were seasoned cruisers.