When the history of cruising in Australia is written, there should be a special chapter devoted to P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Explorer.

History is sadly the right word with the P&O flagship having recently sailed out of Sydney Harbour for the last time.

It’s a pity this beautiful ship’s departure didn’t inspire more of a sense of occasion to mark her contribution to Australian cruising.

However, Pacific Explorer’s legion of fans made up for it by taking to social media to express their sadness in saying goodbye from Sydney to their favourite cruise ship. “So sad” was on repeat cycle in the comment bars.

Quite apart from its macro contribution to cruising, Pacific Explorer inspired lots of individual impacts — positive ones — on passengers who saw her as their ship.

Ships have personalities. It’s well known that cruise devotees fall in love with their first ship and, for lots of new-to-cruise fans, Pacific Explorer was their first.

And when that cruising history chapter is written, Pacific Explorer will be in full frame remembering the sentinel events in the recent story of cruising.

Explorer was centre stage when cruise ships were ordered out of Australia in 2020 in the early days of the pandemic.

Who could forget the emotion of legendary cruise director Zoltina-J Medwik-Daley on ‘A Current Affair’ as Pacific Explorer sailed out of Sydney, then bound for an uncertain future?

Screenshot 2024 07 07 at 10.00.54 PM

Pacific Explorer was again centre stage for the return and resurgence of cruising in becoming the first cruise ship allowed to return to Australia with the withdrawal of the cruise ban.

The “firsts” kept coming following Pacific Explorer’s return in April 2022. Weeks later, she became the first cruise ship to berth at the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal.

It’s important to understand Pacific Explorer’s place in the cruising pantheon. Over the years, local cruise fans might have loved P&O and, in doing so, accepted the reality of the line being the repository of older ships.

Pacific Explorer sent from Sydney Harbour in 2022
Pacific Explorer forced out of Sydney during Covid

But they also hankered for the cruising holy grail of the first ever newbuild ship for the Australian market. A promised newbuild came exquisitely close but it wasn’t to be.

P&O fans just put their heads down and got on with their cruising. Pacific Explorer became the next best thing — the newbuild you’re having when you’re not getting a newbuild.

She started life as Dawn Princess in 1997 but by the time she emerged as Pacific Explorer in June 2017 it was unmistakably a P&O ship in look, feel and onboard entertainment and attractions.

So much creative energy had been devoted to making the flagship the embodiment of what P&O perceived as the contemporary face of Australian cruising.

When Dora the Explorer and the Nickelodeon gang named the ship in a ceremony at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, there was a happy injection of cheeky Australian humour.

How Dora the Explorer got to name the latest P&O ship
Sture Myrmell, Dora the Explorer and friends name the Pacific Explorer

It was a good thing that former CEO Sture Myrmell was both a good bloke and a very good sport because he was called upon to be drenched with green slime at the climax of the naming ceremony. And he loved it!

When that cruising history is written, Pacific Explorer will be up there with the greats. She will be in the same rarified company as Strathaird, the P&O ship that wrote the first chapter of Australia’s cruising story in 1932, and the Fairstar “funship”.

Should anyone need a clue as to the place Pacific Explorer will occupy in the hearts and minds of her fans, consider this.

It is 27 years since Fairstar ended her cruising days but there is still a Facebook page devoted to her memory where former passengers and crew can rekindle the magic of their favourite holidays at sea.

A safe guess is that Pacific Explorer’s devoted passengers will be celebrating their favourite ship for many years to come when and wherever there is a chance to reminisce about a very special white lady of the sea.

David Jones was Carnival Australia corporate communications manager from 2009 to 2022.

Pacific Explorer will sail from Fremantle until March 2025. See cruises here