We chilled out, dined and partied away on The Food and Wine cruise with P&O Explorer as we sailed out to sea on a Friday evening with an easy check-in that afternoon. The only set back was that our cruise sailed from the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Rozelle, there is no immediate public transport here, note to planners, the redundant rail lines, though severed in places, could be reconnected to the now Light Rail lines from which it originally spurred from to serve this very area, either way, it’s a pain not to have public transport options from a Terminal that is not used as a one-off site.
We boarded this liner with so much excitement and anticipation, according to the P&O website, this ship has had a multi-million dollar transformation adding a lot of features and attractions. She is the biggest in the fleet and was built in 1997 with 15 decks and total of 998 cabins and formerly sailing as Dawn Princess, though billed as the biggest, it actually felt smaller inside than the Pacific Eden which we had sailed on before.
Our room was 9195 on deck 9 with a balcony. I think this is the smallest room that we have ever occupied compared to our previous cruises, it was supposed to be an “Upgraded Room” as part of the direct booking deal, I would have been interested to see what the lesser room had to offer… Everything was functional with a newish carpet, complete with a sign saying “YES!, we do clean under the bed” which was next to pieces of fluff. Our cabin had twin beds, flat screen tv, bar-fridge, side drawers complete with previous occupants hair and “bits”, we would have been happier with the drawers being cleaned as a priority rather than under the bed considering the effort. Australian, European and US power points, desk with chair, telephone, safety deposit box, controlled air conditioning, wardrobe and storage, bathroom with towels and toiletries. There is a fee to access the Wi-Fi and if you want to use the bathrobe, sleepers and umbrella – total cost $35 will be charged to your account but will become your souvenirs at the end of the cruise. The balcony had two chairs which looked like they had been scrounged from the latest rubbish clean-up, one complete with some kind of faecal matter on the arm and a small round table, sadly the balcony was not properly maintained, it was rusty in places and quite small, considering the furnishings, not a pleasant place to sit added with the ever present smell of sewerage wafting about the ship.
The Atrium / Reception / Shore Excursion:
Located on Deck 5, the Atrium has light colour schemes which work nicely with the warm minimalist decor, soft lighting and airy vibes and modern pieces of furniture. The reception area and stairway handrails were polished and sanitised frequently, as noted throughout the ship. The Atrium was the venue for evening events like the Bianco – White Party and Gatsby – 1920s, during the day it’s a place to chillax, listen to live music if it’s scheduled, have a coffee break, shopping, reception enquiries, sweet snacks and people watching.
All these restaurants are free; the Waterfront on Deck 5 is the main dining area that serves a la carte whilst the The Pantry on Deck 14 is the casual eatery that serves a variety of food from different stations similar to that of a food court, both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. At The Pantry, you can enjoy a range of salads, bread, fish and chips, stir fry, burgers, a selection of curries plus all things sweet and savoury. Depending on the time of the day, The Pantry can get very busy, also note that it does have opening times. One of the things that bothered me on this cruise in this dining area was all the sweaty bare-chested barely clothed men wandering around semi-drunk with bottles in hand, it didn’t feel sanitary sometimes.
Other dining areas can be found on Deck 6; Angelo’s – Italian fare. Our pick here are the Marinated Seafood Salad for entree and the Slow-Cooked Lamb Shank for main. Opposite is Dragon Lady – a modern Asian fusion, we liked the pre-dinner freshly Squeezed Watermelon and Crispy fried kumara, beetroot and parsnip chips and we were wowed by the Dragon Man’s Whisky and Wasabi Brûlée. Due to their popularity, bookings for these two are essentials. (Link here for our previous review of these restaurants onboard Pacific Eden as the menus are similar.)
Seating for 14 guests, The Chef’s Table (A Taste of Salt on Deck 5), is a dedicated separate room located inside the Waterfront Restaurant that serves a degustation menu curated by Luke Mangan. The Chef’s Table is very popular, so book it straight away after boarding. If you’re craving for a pizza, 400 Gradi on Deck 8 is the one, it’s a stunning restaurant with ocean views and The Atrium, shame we didn’t have the time to check this out. Cappuccino and all your espresso coffees, including subs and cakes can be purchased at Charlie’s Bar on Deck 5. For lovers of hot dogs, burgers, prawns and chicken wings and much more can be enjoyed by the poolside and casual eatery Lukes on Deck 14. Still on Deck 14, Shell & Bones is a new restaurant serving seafood and steaks but open for dinner only. If you prefer to stay in your cabin instead of queuing up, room service is always available. If your cruise is longer than 3 – nights, you’ll be able to dine at all the restaurants, shorter cruising gives you limited options so the best thing is to plan ahead what type of food and venue you want during your cruise, and where required book a table as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.
Although the cocktails can be a bit pricey, we liked The Bonded Store on Deck 7 for an evening tipple or for a night cap. It’s drenched in a faux-sophisticated ambience, and best appreciated either with likeminded people or when it’s not too busy, but certainly not with scores of screaming halo wearing Hen/Birthday partying groups of women. During our cruise, a mixologist was present behind the bar creating new tastes and ideas and was amazing to watch. This bar is in partnership with Archie Rose Distilling Co., the Gin selection is top notch. Still on the same deck, the ever popular Blue Room is a good place for live music, late night dance and drinks. It’s dark, noisy and a can get bit rough thanks to the all day bingers piling in, open till late with security staff on the door, it felt more like The Blue Waterfall that once graced Stockport, but without the steps! On the other end, the Explorer Hotel offers a regular style pub with floral plush seating and a lighter deco. You can enjoy range of tap beer, wine, cocktails and soft drinks before singing your heart out during the popular karaoke spots, maybe join up for the trivia or just kick back and catch some live music. As with most of the venues on the ship, there are other activities that take place here during the day, which are published daily in your ships entertainment guide.
There are scheduled shows and lots of other things happening, just check out the P&O Good Times flyer for all entertainment info. We watched part of the ‘Lets Misbehave’ at the Marquee, which showcases the amazing talent of the crew which was visually stunning. Pokies are plentiful on Deck 8 at the Casino if you want to try your luck at sea. Black Circus is a glamorous cabaret-style venue but we didn’t get the chance to watch any shows here as we chose to eat late, and this choice conflicted with the start of some the show times.
There are bars on Deck 12 and 15, very handy to get a drink while you’re having a dip in one of the pools or soaking up the sun. Oasis is the adult’s only pool area, it has a bar and plenty of deck chairs. Spa lovers can indulge at the Elemis At Sea Spa on Deck 12, or get physical at the Fitness Centre on the same deck. For thrill seekers, the Edge Adventure Park is not for the faint hearted which offers adrenalin pumping packages for the young and not so young at heart. There are two waterslides, the longest and wildest currently on any Australian cruise ship.
Overall we had a good time despite some misses, like the standard of the room, the stench that haunted the decks and the behaviour of some of the groups that treated the vessel as if it were an extension of one of their boozy backyard barbeques, dressing up might be funny for the first day, but after the third, enough. Dress regulations if any, were not enforced in food areas. The food in general was alright, though it didn’t feel as good or well executed as the Pacific Eden, but the staff in general offered sincere customer service considering what they had to put with from some of the passengers.
This cruise was paid for by ourselves.