When I heard that Australia was getting another “new ship”, and she was going to be a gem called Pacific Pearl, my first thought was great! The market here has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and as a cruise fan myself, it’s a case of the more ships to choose from the better as far as I am concerned.
Then, when I heard that she dates back to 1988, I have to admit my heart sank a bit. We have a bit of a reputation of only getting old ships Down Under, some of which have had quite colourful previous lives! In the case of Pearl, she was launched in 1988 as part of the Sitmar fleet, then cruised for Princess, P&O UK and most recently Ocean Village…..to put it mildly, this ship has been around a bit.
When I first saw her docked at Circular Quay last week, however, from the outside at least she looked pretty good, bearing P&O’s signature white livery, literally glistening on a stinker of a hot day weather-wise. But a cruise ship’s exterior look isn’t so important for many cruise lovers; it’s what’s inside that counts, and when I finally got on board my first impressions were that things were going to be okay.
There are many telltale signs of a ship’s age; like cars, they built them differently in the old days. In the case of Pearl she is a ship with a broad girth, boasting expansive stairwells and wide corridors like ships of a bygone era which is quite a nice feature. In fact, I was immediately reminded of the Queen Mary which was retired into the hotel business in Long Beach, California, and had the widest corridors I have ever seen on a ship!
Much money has been sunk into this ship, and the public areas have benefitted the most. The lounges are elegant and have funky designs, and the main dining room, The Waterfront, is a fabulous contemporary space which has steered away from tradition. It has colour, gossamer curtains separating small areas, and has many nooks and crannies like the feel of a real restaurant.
Which brings me to food, a very important part of any cruise today. Overall the food was good, even if there was a slight leaning towards British-style cuisine which was a bit surprising. There aren’t too many cruise ships serving peas, parsnips and turnips for dinner, and when my bowl of mixed steamed veggies turned out to be solely cauliflower I wasn’t hugely impressed. But Pearl Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill is undoubtedly a highlight, and something well worth starving yourself all day for if you have the willpower.
Probably the only disappointments were the two small swimming pools – Olympic-sized hand basins as the cruise director described them on stage – and my stateroom. One of only 28 with a private balcony (there are also 36 suites with balconies), it appears that not too much of the renovation money has been spent there besides new carpets and curtains, and a flat screen TV.
The dark wood closets and panelling on the lower halves of the walls were drab, scratched and faded in places, and the odd choice of faux suede inlays on the upper halves of the walls were already showing signs of wear and tear after only a few months in service. As for the bathroom….it was beyond compact, and came with a broken toilet seat which didn’t get fixed (even though I mentioned it on day one of a three-night cruise).
Back to more positive stuff, however, and the crew were top notch across the board. The entertainment also rated highly; this inaugural cruise was dedicated to comedy (it will be repeated next year), and boasted an impressive lineup of talent including Ivor Richards, a Souse who had everyone rolling in the aisles on the last night. Sadly I didn’t make the big gala comedy show….we missed it by two hours having to much fun and stuffing my face in Salt.
Australians are likely to love this ship for many reasons. Perhaps not for it’s slightly shabby staterooms, nor its hand basin sized pools, but for its quite glamorous public areas, good food and the generally lively, youthful vibe. Not bad for an old dame of the high seas! Happy Cruising!