This morning, Dan and I returned home from a ‘Pacific Island Hopper’ cruise aboard the Pacific Dawn, which is part of P&O Australia’s fleet. The cruise lasted for seven nights and saw us visit ports in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. It was my first cruising experience and it was one that I will fondly remember! While I battle with my ‘sea legs’ now that I am back on land (my laptop looks like it is swaying right now), I would like to share my insights on why I am now well and truly a part of the cruising fan club.
Firstly, I will review each of the three ports that we visited. On the outset, I want to say that we did not book any shore tours through P&O. I had read a number of reviews that suggested exploring each of the ports on our own accord, as a more cost effective alternative to P&O’s shore tours. And I am glad we did, because we got to see everything we wanted at our own pace and at a cheaper price.
Noumea, New Caledonia
We only spent half a day in our first port, Noumea. We converted $100 Australian dollars into 7500 Pacific Francs, which lasted both of us for Noumea and Lifou (this was mainly spent on food – there was hardly any shopping to be had in either port and some places accepted Australian dollars). Cruising into Noumea was a gorgeous sight, as the ship made its way between a number of beautiful islands. I had heard some negative reviews about Noumea, so I did not go there with very high expectations. And, upon walking through the old and dull area around the port, I could understand why some people were less than impressed. However, we paid $5 each to catch a hop-on, hop-off bus to explore other areas. We found ourselves in beautiful Anse Vata beach, where we indulged in the French culture and ate crepes at Le Faré, overlooking the ocean. Considering that I spent the same time last year in the French Riviera, this was a temporary cure for my nostalgia. I even took pleasure in paying a quick visit to a Casino Supermarché, before hopping back on the ship.
Lifou, New Caledonia
The day we spent in Lifou was undoubtedly my highlight of the whole trip. Lifou is a picturesque, tiny island paradise. We were able to simply walk to all of the sights that we wanted to see. This included walking up to the church of Our Lady of Lourdes to get a beautiful panorama over the island and the Pacific Dawn anchored offshore. We then spent most of the time snorkelling in the stunning Jinek Bay. For future travellers, please note that you now need to purchase a $15 marine pass in order to simply get in the water here (for more information, click here). While it is possible to hire snorkel gear on the island, we brought our own from home to avoid any hassle. The reef itself is probably the most colourful one I have seen and there are also many different types of exquisite fish. Snorkelling with clownfish definitely made my day. The rest of our time on Lifou was spent strolling around and enjoying the performances of the adorable local children – I even had the pleasure of dancing with some of them!
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Our time spent in Port Vila was somewhat different to what I expected. We did not convert any money for this port, as all places accepted Australian dollars. Once ashore, we easily found ourselves a driver and I managed to haggle the price down to $100 for the whole day. He took us to a couple of lookouts and then surprisingly took us to his home, where he asked us to pay money to his sister-in-law in order for her to show us their traditional way of life in their village. This was slightly confronting. The island paradise image I had pictured of Vanuatu was quickly shattered by the muddy, tin shacks I saw before me. Dan graciously gave them some money, as we sipped on a coconut that they picked for us and learnt about the food they grow. We then drove to the Mele Cascades, where the $25 entry fee was definitely worth the price. The waterfalls were absolutely gorgeous and we had fun exploring them. This was one of my favourite parts of the cruise. We spent the rest of the time in the shopping district of Lini Highway, but I found the shopping to be extremely overrated. However, I thoroughly enjoyed having lunch at the Nambawan Cafe, with beautiful views over the water.
Aboard the Pacific Dawn
Considering that four out of the seven days of the cruise were spent entirely aboard the Pacific Dawn, I thought I should review this as well. I am not going to go into the specifications of the beautiful Pacific Dawn itself (for that information, click here), but rather what it was actually like to be a passenger. I could summarise this experience very succinctly – it was impeccable. The service and the facilities provided by P&O were second-to-none. I have never been surrounded by such genuinely friendly and efficient staff. Whether it be the wait staff, the stewards or the entertainers, they were extremely accommodating and added a fantastic vibe to the ship. Tipping generously on the first day created great rapport with our favourite bartender, who continually went out of his way to make sure we always had a cocktail in hand for the rest of the cruise.
P&O cleverly has a ‘cashless’ cruise card system onboard, in which passengers load money on to their individual cruise card (or link a credit/debit card to it) to pay for onboard purchases. In doing so, it is very easy forget that you are using up real money. Considering that all meals from the Waterfront and Plantation restaurants are included in the ticket price, additional onboard purchases can be kept to a minimum. However, it is hard to resist the absolutely delicious range of cocktails they have onboard, especially when they only cost around $10 each! We also enjoyed a bottle of Moët & Chandon over dinner one evening, so it is easy to rack up a sizeable bill on drinks while onboard. In addition to alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, other onboard costs that are not included in the ticket price can include meals at the other restaurants, snacks, cocktail mixing classes (I can certainly vouch for the martini class!), professional photos and general P&O souvenirs.
In terms of the accommodation itself, I could not fault our room at all. We had an oceanview room with a double bed on Deck 9. It was surprisingly spacious. I am definitely glad that we paid the extra money for an oceanview room, as opposed to an interior room, because it was fantastic to wake up to great views and to have natural sunlight in the room. As a note to any future travellers, take a power board – there is only one powerpoint in the room. Deck 9 was also a fantastic location on the ship, as it was central to all of the main attractions onboard. Some people warn against staying in the upper decks, as they experience more motion and can lead more quickly to seasickness, but we had no issue with this. That said, the cruise was not particularly rough and we took Avomine tablets as a precaution, which seemed to work perfectly.
All in all, I absolutely loved this cruise and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Cruising is such an affordable and fun way to travel, so it is only a matter of time before I find myself on another one!