It’s not hard to see why P&O Cruises as a brand has stayed at the forefront of conversations about luxury cruisers, especially when you’re actually on board one of their ships. The cruise line has always been one of the first to leap forward with the times, responding to the common criticism that cruise ships are often too tacky in their attempt to cater to the everyday nuclear family, out of touch with contemporary needs and design.
The fleet’s two newer ships, Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria seem to be in a direct response to that, part of the major revamp across all ships that sail under the P&O Australia umbrella. I was lucky enough to grab a quick preview of Pacific Eden when it first arrived late last year, witnessing first-hand what a refurbishment inspired by modern Australia actually looked and felt like.
Having entered service in 1993 as a Holland America Line Ship, the Pacific Eden had been around for a long time before it was fully refurbished in 2015, then joining P&O Cruises as part of their 50% expansion in guest capacity and need to put more focus on the Australian cruise market as a market which deserves ships that aren’t stuck in the 90’s. That’s all evident once you step on board and see the changes here, many of which obviously cater to a more discerning diner.
30.8 metres wide and 219 metres long, the ship has nine passenger decks and room for 1500 passengers in addition to 597 crew members; that’s one crew member per three passengers. 630 rooms feature, accommodation ranging to suite budget and taste, with some very luxurious living quarters featuring at the higher price point. 129 of these rooms are interior, 120 are balcony rooms, 325 are oceanview, 28 are suites (with private balconies), and 1 is a penthouse with a private balcony; the rest are oceanview and balcony interconnecting cabins.
Granted, I was shown one of the penthouse suite and not one of the standard interior rooms or oceanview rooms, with the suite unsurprisingly impressive and comfortable: big, king sized beds, spacious lounges facing a mid-sized television, and a large dining table by the generous outdoor balcony area.
The bigger changes are seen in the public features. Namely the refocus on the contained dining scene on board with the elegant Waterfront Restaurant, a pan-Asian restaurant named Dragon Lady washed in neon mood lighting, a bright Italian restaurant named Angelo’s, an intimate Chef’s Table experience, and Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. While most are bright with clean design, all restaurants have a distinctive look and feel about them, especially Dragon Lady, which stands as the odd one out in terms of ambiance, edgy and obviously modeled off the more slick contemporary Japanese restaurants found across Australia.
Perhaps the biggest jump as far as dining goes is the leap away from RSL-esque buffet towards something more like a high-end marketplace/food court: The Pantry. It’s still a buffet as far as all-you-can-eat goes, but it’s designed more towards separate outlets. There’s the Mexican, the Indian, the Chinese, a garden bar with just salads, a sweets store with just desserts, and even a section dedicated entirely to meats and roast dinners (Fat Cow). It’s a smart move, and though I wasn’t able to sample any of the food to give it any proper kind of endorsement, the layout and concept is definitely in-line with an improved cruising experience.
One of the more exciting editions include a kind of Cellar Door experience on board, exclusively stocking wines from boutique Hunter Valley winery Glandore Estate Wines. It’s decked out with oak barrels and rows and rows of wine bottles, with the option for guests to have their favourite blends sent to one of the onboard restaurants to pair up with lunch or dinner. Unfortunately, I wasn’t shown the area on my tour of the ship, but it’s a very interesting idea nonetheless.
There’s also a nice focus on entertainment, with with everything from their onboard theatre to their laid-back jazz room, The Blue Room. Three shows – “Sideshow Alley”, “Twice Upon a Time”, and “Off the Charts” – run regularly with brief, digestible entertainment in mind. For the more overblown and dramatic, the top deck plays host to regular Gatsby & Bianco cocktail parties. Those looking for daytime activities a bit more involved will be glad to know that Pacific Eden features the P&O Edge Adventure Park with options including abseiling he funnel, walking the plank, zipping across the top decks on a flying fox, and spinning in a gravity free gyroscope.
Blue and white striped day beds line the top deck for the ship’s poolside experience, which also boasts a retractable roof and private cabanas at the rear of the ship, fashioned as a child-free oasis with sheer curtain and hanging pods. The decks are, of course, one of the most crucial parts of the ship and Pacific Eden plays it fairly simple here, seemingly valuing space over excessive features. Children would probably prefer the more age-specific areas of Turtle Cove, Shark Shack, and HQ Clubs which offer a wide range of activities from bungee trampolining to laser tag.
Of course, all the expected retail shops are here (including Pandora), as well the good ol’ casino and the necessary medical centre. A gym and health spa, sports courts, and whirpool spas help round out what’s available on the ship to provide more than enough between stops.
2017 will see Pacific Eden’s second Cairns season including four-night roundtrip itineraries to Alotau in Papa New Guinea with scenic cruising through Kawanasausau Strait and Milne Bay. There are also itineraries available that include first cruise calls to Fraser Island, with both Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden set to offer short breaks to the pristine Queensland island from Brisbane and Sydney. There are plenty of options available now that P&O have to space to adapt to a wide range of budgets in Australia. For more information and all cruises click HERE.
The writer was taken on a tour of Pacific Eden as a guest of P&O Australia.
Headline image supplied and used with permission.