Buffets out, contemporary in: inside the P&O revolution
The decision by P&O Cruises to scrap buffets on their new ships has sparked a huge online reaction, but it's just one of many steps the industry giant has taken to revamp its image and attract more first-time passengers.
While meals on a tray are an intrinsic rite of passage with air travel, the buffet has always gone hand-in-hand with cruise holidays. But that's all set to change, as P&O's Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden abandon the group, free-for-all dining for a more contemporary set-up. "The Pantry" will be a food court-style of presentation, offering a gourmet delicatessen, fresh fish and chips and numerous other culinary options. Where you eat is also being upgraded, thanks to high tables, communal benches and banquettes. The Pantry is simply replacing the buffet, so it's part of the cruise package and will not cost extra.
A vociferous online response in Australasia
Unsurprisingly there has been a mixed response to the news, with many in the cruise community suspicious of the latest menu. While some are excited about the innovations, there is considerable scepticism online. There are fears over a lack of choice, with parents saying that buffet-style dining is perfect for kids.
But P&O Cruises spokesperson Ainsley Pope believes it's exactly what the cruising public is looking for: "P&O is known for maintaining our popularity through contemporary and quintessentially local offerings that are designed for Australian and New Zealanders and updated regularly."
"The arrival of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden gave us a great chance to really hone in on what the modern traveller wants from their holiday. The overwhelming message was that food was a major deciding factor in where and how they travel. So it was in many ways an easy decision to create new, cutting-edge dining opportunities on Aria and Eden, with some of the key elements to be rolled out across the fleet.
"As a cruise leader, banishing the buffet signifies a change in cruise trends which we believe our loyal and new-to-cruise guests will greatly enjoy" Pope said.
P&O invest heavily in the dining market
What isn't in doubt is the quality of additional eateries being introduced. A total of 15 bars, restaurants and cafes are opening for business on Aria and Eden, including the Pan-Asian cuisine of Dragon Lady and Italian restaurant Angelo's. The Salt Grill restaurant by Luke Mangan will be expanding to a bar to offer the chef's own cocktails, with a boutique winery presenting a unique opportunity to pre-order a quality bottle of red for dinner.
The pool area of Pacific Dawn is also undergoing a revolution of sorts, thanks to serene-looking day beds, white curtains, rugs and lamps. It's all part of P&O's updated look and branding announced earlier in the year. Described as "Like No Place On Earth", a fresh marketing campaign has focused on freedom and discovery, with new brochures, a revamped website and a blue livery exterior redesign.
P&O Cruises Senior Vice-President Tammy Marshall said the objectives are straightforward: "We're targeting people who haven't cruised before and we want to show them that cruising with P&O is an experience like no other."
Upgrading the online experience
The cruising giant has also expanded its online media presence, with a competition asking Facebook users to come up with the ship names Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria. P&O hailed the scheme a massive success - 30,000 suggestions came from Australia and New Zealand in a two-week period. Two winners won a cruise on the inaugural voyages.
What the future holds for P&O
Pacific Jewel is also having The Pantry added during a dry dock in 2015, indicating that P&O has major plans for this revolution in dining. And from Facebook interaction to banquettes and delicatessens, it's obvious that the oldest cruise line is re-inventing itself for battle in the ultra-competitive Australian and New Zealand cruise industry.
What do you think of the new look P&O? Will the brand repositioning work? Please leave your comments below.