P&O Pacific Explorer

I was very fortunate to be invited on the Agent Showcase sailing on the Pacific Explorer – the new ship in the P&O fleet. For those of you familiar with Princess, you will find your way around this ship easily as it is the Dawn Princess, after having had a total cosmetic makeover.

The first thing you will notice is the livery, inspired by the Southern Cross. I did not think I would like it at first, but it grew on me. The cabins are all very Princess in style still – the only thing different is the plaque on the door with your cabin number, and the safety video playing on the TV when you arrive. The décor and layout are essentially unchanged. The bathrooms are very small, the rooms are comfortable but not spacious. Perfectly adequate for one or 2 people, but if you were travelling with 3 or 4 people in the cabin, I would definitely recommend a balcony room. The balcony, although not large, comfortably seats 2, the railing is high, so don’t worry about that aspect. You will appreciate  the space so that one or two people can be outside whilst the other one or two are in and out of bathroom, getting changed etc…. and for a cruise more than a day or two, the fresh air aspect is well worth considering. Summer or winter, having some fresh sea air into the cabin makes a huge difference.

The layout of the ship as far as public areas is the same design as the Princess ships, but this is where the similarity ends. What an amazing, modern, stylish makeover to create the Pacific Explorer.

Let’s start with dining – the “buffet” restaurant (included in the fare) has been updated to the P&O Pantry – 9 different styles of food (salad, carvery, fish n chips, Indian, Mediterranean, Asian, Mexican, Bakery, and dessert) – the dining area is spacious, large, clean and light, and the overall experience is very pleasant. The food is fresh, presented well, tastes good, and it’s so nice to be served (and more hygienic!). While the ship is new, be prepared for some newer staff to be not quite as fast and efficient as some of the old hands, but you are cruising – what’s the rush? The Waterfront Dining Room is beautiful. Very stylish, subtle lighting, nice choice of menu options, and in the centre of the room the Luke Mangan degustation experience “A Taste of Salt”. The main dining room meals are included in the fare, the degustation is at a charge. Also included in the fare are dining options in Angelo’s Italian themed (I love the Sophia Loren chairs) and Dragon Lady (Asian themed). The most amazing tastes are on the Asian menu – both great dining options to choose. The speciality restaurants are new too – there is a Luke Mangan burger bar “Luke’s” on the pool deck, and a fabulous pizza option from an award winning Melbourne restauranteur called “400 Gradi”.

The bars and public areas on board are fabulous. The Explorer Hotel is light and open, casual and relaxed. The Bonded Bar is the ideal hidden bar (specialising in spirits) for that late night quiet drink, or the chance to blend your own gin. It just oozes glamour and atmosphere. The Blue Room is also very classy. Dark and jazzy, with cocktails a speciality, and a relaxed vibe, it’s a great place to hit the dance floor and bust some moves. This is the “nightclub” as such, but that is not the right description of this venue. Pool bars are obviously the place to be for live music, sail away parties, a drink on a sunny day by the pool, and here’s the thing……wine on tap! Yes – lovely Aussie and Kiwi wines on tap so you don’t have to wait in the queue for an easy drink whilst all the cocktails are being mixed!

As well as the pools and hot tubs, from the pool deck you can watch the adventurous souls take on “The Edge” – rock climbing, zip lines, walk the plank and more – and don’t forget the most fun waterslide I have seen……go to the waterpark (hours of fun for the kids) and as long as you meet the height safety limit, take on what I called the disco slide! Dark blue with multi colour lighting strips, funky music and a surprise half way (not telling!) you will want to go back for more and more. I went down 4 times and wanted to go more, but also wanted to be on deck as we sailed under the Harbour Bridge, which no matter how many times you do it, is still a thrill. Sailing our of Sydney Harbour is a fabulous way to being a cruise experience – it is a beautiful way to look at the city, and the sound of the ships horn as you go under the bridge really is a great way to signal the start of your holiday.

The kids clubs looked wonderful with all of the new fit out and new equipment and toys provided to keep the little ones entertained. The Spa facility and Gym were also very schmick and new and very inviting.

Entertainment  - where to begin? Over 200 musicians are contracted to P&O to provide an almost limitless variety of entertainment. Loads of live music in all of the bars and public areas, a hypnotist show, Rock Anthems, adults only comedy late at night. And then Black Circus. At first I was a little disappointed to hear that there was a $15 charge to see this show. Then I saw it and wow – worth it for sure. An adult combination of music, acrobatics, gymnastics, dance, wild costumes – so much going on I was not sure where to look.  This is not a show for the kids. It was however one of the most original things I have seen on a cruise ship. It may not be your cup of tea, but it appealed to me – it was daring and a just edgy enough.

Rock Anthem was an amazing production. My personal opinion was that the lead male vocalist needed to be stronger – his voice was wonderful but I thought not powerful enough to carry the huge calibre of performance required for these Rock Anthem songs – they are so well known and expectations are so high when you see them performed. Having said that I still enjoyed the experience – hi tech wrist bands for the audience, fabulous lighting, a great set, energetic dancing and a live band on stage – again some people will come in with high expectations and this may not be to your expectations, but it is still a great way to end the night after dinner, or maybe to start your night before you head to the bar to dance the night away.

Who would I recommend cruises on this ship? It is a fabulous family option – great facilities for the adults, the waterpark and slides and Edge provide good options to keep the kids (little and big!) happy without having to be in kids club every day. There are enough public areas and bars/dining options to give the adults variety. The pool area is welcoming, everyone loves NZ Natural Ice Cream, the ship has an energetic welcoming appeal. I would also send couples, groups of people celebrating a special occasion, and I would selective also send clients in the older age bracket. Age is a state of mind more than a number. This ship is fun, active, bright and sparkling. If you are a more demure couple looking for peace and quiet and a calm relaxing experience, I don’t think you will find it on Explorer yet. There will be too much excitement about this ship for a while, the waterslides and waterpark will bring the families, so you will need to be prepared for this. Remember that all the new features will make the Explorer cruises often be at a higher price point than its sister ships (Jewel, Dawn, Aria and Eden) so if you are wanting the P&O experience, there are other options. Bigger and bolder is not always the right choice for everyone. This is definitely a fun, lively ship and those who choose to give it a try will not be disappointed if this is what they are expecting. She looks amazing, she looks modern and stylish, well done P&O on a fabulous new addition to your fleet.

By Sarah Fenton

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