Pacific Explorer is taking P&O in a new direction. How does she measure up? Bernadette Chua puts the ship through her paces.
Dora the Explorer features the adventures of a seven-year-old, her monkey Boots, Backpack and other friends. It’s one of TV maker Nickelodeon’s longest running TV shows.
Perhaps it’s her enduring appeal that led P&O to make Dora the ambassador for its latest ship. Dora launched Pacific Explorer a few months ago. The ship is P&O’s pièce de résistance – arguably its best addition to Australia’s largest home-ported fleet.
Dora’s favourite phrase – “If there’s a place you gotta go, I’m the one you need to know” – could have been invented for Explorer.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just a fun ship for families.
The decidedly upmarket Explorer also features the raciest show at sea, gin bars, night clubs, new food outlets and activities. Her bold promise is that no-one will be bored on board.
My travel companion, Rebecca, and I boarded the ship at her regular haunt, Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, and could immediately see the enormous effort that went into transforming the old Dawn Princess into a vibrant new P&O flag carrier.
Eat and drink
Pacific Explorer is a dining revolution for the P&O. While the Waterfront and The Pantry are staple eating areas (both have had a beautiful makeover), the star highlights are 400 Gradi, the new pizza joint by Johnny Di Francesco, and Taste of Salt by Luke Mangan.
400 Gradi serves authentic Italian fare including antipasto plates with an array of cured meats and cheese and pasta, but the stars are the pizzas.
Taste of Salt is a private dining experience within the Waterfront. The decadent seven-course degustation menu includes kingfish sashmi with ginger, eschallot and Persian feta, seared sea scallops with blue cheese polenta, grilled sirloin of beef with spices, mash, beans and shallots as well as Luke’s famous parfait. At $99 with matching wines, it is great value.
Other additions includes Luke’s, a new burger joint on deck 14 overlooking the pool with delicious burgers for just $5.
There are also lots of new bars. The Blue Room is the place for night owls. The cool bar is decorated in deep blue velvet couches and banquettes and when the DJ isn’t spinning tunes, it turns into a great jazz bar. The other highlight is The Bonded Store, a partnership with Sydney distillery Archie Rose. The small space has an old-world vibe and is decked out in leather and mock-croc armchairs with first edition book covers, old radios, typewriters and beakers. It offers a great range of gin and whisky from around the world and fantastic cocktails.
Daily itineraries are filled with activities such as cocktail making classes, dance lessons and even weight loss seminars. Pacific Explorer also has two heart-racing water slides. My favourite is the disco waterslide with flashing coloured lights and club hopping tunes. There are more thrilling activities to push your boundaries at the P&O Edge park. You can sail across the length of the ship on the zipline or Walk the Plank over the water. There are also Segway tours, trampolining and rock climbing. Prices start from $19 for individual activities or $149 for five. For gym buffs, there are classes ($19 each) from boxing and spin to Pilates.
P&O has invested in a number of new productions. From rock anthems to pop tunes, there is a show on every night. I’m generally not a huge fan of cruise ship entertainment, but Love Riot, P&O’s latest offering, is one of the best shows I’ve seen at sea or on land.
The evening starts with a special Love Riot dinner menu at the Waterfront, which includes scallop tataki with scallop roe, radish and wasabi dressing, veal and porcini pate, crab bisque with a lobster cotton ball and celery, slow-cooked beef short rib with red wine reduction and pumpkin puree. Dessert is a decadent salted dark chocolate sphere.
Once dinner is finished, we hear distant music: a remixed of Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, and dancers and acrobats in latex pink bondage corset dresses and Robocop suits appear to usher us into the theatre.
The show is raunchy – with a bit of nudity, but enjoyable with talented dancers, acrobats, jugglers, aerialists and gymnasts performing to a mix-taped of songs that feature the word love in the lyrics. Highlights include a hilarious unicyclist and an amazing contortionist from Austria, who swallowed an incredibly long balloon at the end of her act, and a juggler who began by throwing balls in the air and soon switched to blow up dolls, which had everyone laughing.
Love Riot is bright neon lights and action, with 3D glasses thrown into mix. It’s interactive and the performers get involved with the crowd.
Raunchy, risqué and like nothing you’ve seen on a cruise ship. Passengers can see the show for just $10 – or enjoy the Love Riot menu for an extra VIP experience – the waiters even perform a routine and some magic tricks.
Highs: Love Riot is phenomenal – a little bit raunchy and a little bit risque! Taste of Salt was lovely and decadent; if you want fine dining, this is a must.
Lows: The cabin decor is dated and in need of refurbishment to match the rest of the ship.
Best suited for: Families (the ship can accommodate 350 kids), first-time cruisers and explorers like Dora.
CRUISE LINE: P&O
VESSEL: Pacific Explorer
Star Rating: N/A
PASSENGER CAPACITY: 1,998
TOTAL CREW: 855
PASSENGER DECKS: 11
ENTERED SERVICE: 1997 as Dawn Princess; refitted 2017.
FACILITIES: Twelve complimentary dining venues plus specialty restaurants, range of bars, pubs and live music venues, fitness centre, Elemis Day Spa, beauty salon, waterpark, barefoot bowls.
BOOKINGS: 8-night A Taste of New Caledonia cruise on Pacific Explorer from $1,129 per person twin share (interior cabin) pocruises.com.au