We have taken many cruises across the world (including this one in Europe in January), but we had yet to take one from our home country of Australia.
This is because cruises in this country are just not the great deal they can be overseas, especially now we are a family of 5. In fact, taking a one week cruise on the P & O Pacific Dawn is one of the most expensive holidays we have had!
We have also been hesitant because they don’t have the best reputation. It’s known for being full of bogans (for my international readers, find a definition here) and we really didn’t know quite what to expect. Would it be another Kuta?
It seems it’s not just me that has been hesitant either – quite a few people told me that they were curious and hesitant as well and that they wanted a full report – so here it is!
Below, you will find our full P & O Pacific Dawn review from our 7 day South Pacific cruise.
The cruise departed from Brisbane and visited Noumea, Lifou (both in New Caledonia) and Port Vila (Vanuatu).
We were travelling with our family of 5 with kids aged 8, 6 and 2 as well as being lucky enough to have friends join us on this cruise who are a family of 4. It was extra awesome to get to share the experience with friends.
P & O Pacific Dawn Ship Tour
The best way to describe the ship, the facilities, our P & O Pacific Dawn cabin and what it looked like is just to show you.
The following video our kids made is the best way to have a snapshot of what he ship is like.
P & O Pacific Dawn With A Family Of 5
Cruising with a family of 5 is frustrating when it comes to cost and P & O is no exception. It’s 4 people maximum to a cabin so we had to buy two which is substantially more expensive.
To make it even more annoying, it cost an extra $1000 to be able to guarantee neighbouring cabins. I think this is quite unfair when we are already paying a lot for that second cabin.
This is because their base fares don’t include room selection so we had to pay for room selection to be placed together.
On the upside, we at least got connecting rooms and it was nice having that space.
Booking is also over complicated with two cabins. They treated each one as a separate booking but with many of the same details so I wasn’t able to log in to one of the bookings to do things like pay and book extras. I had to ring to do anything and this is frustrating for someone who hates getting on the phone and seemed pointless.
Eating at the Pantry (the main non-fancy restaurant) was also frustrating as the vast majority of tables are for 2 or 4 – or they were high tables with stools which don’t work with a little one.
Firstly, the food is very good. I enjoyed everything I ate.
I liked that the Pantry (which is the P & O twist on the usual cruise buffet option) is lots of food stalls and people serve you rather than helping yourself. It was much better quality than usual buffets.
The Waterfront, the fancy included restaurant, had great food. There is a choice to pay a surcharge for some different choices as well. I did this on one night and the seafood paella I ordered was a whole other level and well worth the extra $8. However, all the “free” food I had was great too.
The crew are friendly (although not as much as other cruises we have done). I also found it nice to be around my own culture. It does make it that bit easier and more comfortable to be part of the dominant culture on the ship.
I also did not find the cruise too bogan. Although you may soon find yourself walking around the ship with a stubby attached to your hand often, but that’s just sensible 😉
While I wouldn’t say the internet is awesome, I did think it was ok for a cruise and the price very good ($79 for the week). Keep in mind they don’t guarantee it works in cabins. We were in a very central spot so I could use it if I sat next to the cabin door. It was slow but fine if you are like me and just need to keep up on email and social media.
I liked the ship. The Pacific Dawn has a good amount of facilties for a smaller ship and I liked it’s design. We especially enjoyed the water areas on top and the big screen. They are lots of fun and we enjoyed watching the movies up there.
Embarkation and disembarkation were smooth and easy. I particularly liked disembarkation. Super quick.
Definitely the price. It cost about $4,600 for us for a week basically getting cheapest option we could as a family of 5. At the time I booked, it would have been about $2,400 for cheapest room for a family of 4. I also wish the booking hadn’t been so complicated.
I did not find the service very good. People were friendly but things did not just happen like they should and there were little stresses at times that impacted our holiday because of this.
Like we had no pool towels for the last two days. I rung several times and they would say they were coming straight away, I would wait an hour (when I could have been enjoying our holiday) and they still wouldn’t come. We ended up having to find where they were stored and take them!
Service was so slow at The Waterfront one night that we left without any food. It took them a few days to get our regularly booked table with the right number of chairs and place settings.
Things in general in restaurants and bars were quite slow and not consistent.
I also do not like that you need to book tables for dinner on the first day to be guaranteed a spot every night in the better restaurants. This was easy, however.
I would have liked more variety of activities on board – there only seemed to be movies, trivia, evening shows and health seminars.
It was quite rough at times on our cruise and some of the kids were sick.
I do want to add that if you’ve never cruised before, you may not notice some of these things and they may not bother you.
There were two things that went beyond bad into the ugly column on this cruise.
Firstly, dirty sheets were put on our beds one day – dirty to the point of two of them having very noticeable blood stains! Just disgusting. All 4 beds across our cabins had dirty sheets put on them. Obviously, I was really not impressed with our cabin servicing.
Secondly is how P & O advertises itself as having kids club from age 2. We actually booked this cruise when we did as it was just after our youngest child’s second birthday and we were excited to get some adult time.
Then we found out – after paying all that money – that it’s only for toilet trained kids. This should be much more noticeable on their site. I actually googled before booking just in case this was true and came up with a page on their site where it explicitly said that they didn’t need to be – but it turned out this was just for their cruises from the UK. Thanks P & O.
On board, the rules get sillier. I was upfront with the staff that he wasn’t toilet trained and they said it was fine to leave him three times, but he had to be in underpants and they would buzz us when he wet and we would have to get him.
Why not just let him wear a nappy and buzz us to change him?!
It turned out to be a moot point as I would never have left a two year old there anyway. I went with him a couple of times to play (you can take younger kids or kids in nappies if you go with them) and there just wasn’t enough supervision to leave a two year old. Mostly, there was only 1 or 2 carers watching the kids and they were usually running an activity with the older ones.
They also played the music really loudly so they couldn’t hear any kids crying or yelling for help :-/ I broke up a physical fight myself between two kids I didn’t know.
I would consider this kids club only good for older three year olds up. And I really think P & O should stop advertising it for 2 year olds. It’s just not.
I was also unimpressed that only toilet trained kids can use the water play area on top. It looks designed for toddlers (it was boring for my older kids), but you can’t wear a swim nappy in it.
One of my kids slipped over when using it and, despite the fact I was only a couple of metres away and straight to him, I was told off by staff for not watching them closely enough. Seriously.
P & O vs Other Cruise Lines
This was my fourth cruise line and sixth cruise so it’s hard not to make comparisons.
It was very similar to other cruises I have done on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC. It has a twist because the dominant culture is Australian but this made it more comfortable and easy for us.
A huge plus is that there are no gratuitites. However, there was a noticeable difference between the service levels on this cruise and the amazing service we have had previously so I am not sure that is a good thing in reality.
I found there were less activities and it annoyed me that there was no automatic dinner booking if we wanted it. Room service is not included. We only got two towel animals across our two cabins throughout the cruise.
On P & O we were able to attend kids club with our 2 year old so that was a win over other cruise lines where they haven’t been able to go at all when too young. Of course, it was also a loss because they wouldn’t let him go alone.
On the upside, the food was the best we have had. The focus was definitely on quality and not quantity (unlike American cruises we have done).
The focus of this cruise was on fun rather than gorging ourselves which I definitely liked. Everything was more easy going, no doubt thanks to all the Australians.
Overall, we were very happy with our P & O cruise and we would do it again. It would be great if they worked on service levels, but I do think we are probably quite fussy in this area as we have had such amazing experiences in the past.
I think they should up the age at kids club or be better prepared to handle two year olds and I would not do one of their cruises again without my kids being older so our youngest could use all facilities.
We enjoyed the stops – we just wish we had picked a cruise where we had more of them. It was fun to explore and we particularly enjoyed Lifou. Noumea was somewhat boring especially as we did not arrive until 3pm so there wasn’t time to go further afield.
If you are thinking about doing a P & O cruise, I say do it!
Have you done a P & O cruise? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
Sharon is a proud Melbournian mum of 3 who blogs for a living in between parenting and satiating her travel addition.