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Published on Oct 02, 2014

P&O take a brand new course

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.

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  • Oct 23, 2014 by Greg Sorich

    The old P&o trick save a buck anywhere ,just lost me bye P&O

  • Oct 7, 2014 by J.Robson

    With the changers mentioned for the Eateries, sounds like it is an improvement which was needed. I feel confident in booking another cruise.

  • Oct 6, 2014 by Lorraine W

    I have cruised on a variety of P and O ships and have thoroughly enjoyed the buffet for meals and also the restaurant as we'll. I think the buffet is definitely the way to go for a family with children particularly if you have a fussy eater in the family at least you have a variety to tempt them with. I personally feel both buffet and restaurant should be left to cater for everyone's needs.

  • Oct 6, 2014 by jacquie tootell

    I will be going on my fifth cruise Feb 2015. The buffet has never really appealed to me much. I think the new pantry is a great idea, your on holidays I like to be waited on. Sit back & relax enjoy being taken care of. Great idea

  • Oct 5, 2014 by Keith

    (for those who seem unwilling/unable to read the article in full) ......"The pantry is replacing the buffet, so it's part of the cruise package AND WILL NOT COST EXTRA".....

  • Oct 5, 2014 by Anne Foley

    Fantastic forward thinking. As a 14 time cruiser, 1/2 with P&O, I feel the change is what's needed to keep P&O up there with the "big boys". I can't wait to sail on the 2 new ships as it will b a whole new experience for me. Good luck P & O & tku.

  • Oct 5, 2014 by Sandra Krnel

    Cruised with 26 others on the Dawn Princess and we LOVED the buffet. We ate there for brekkie & lunch and had 3 tables reserved together in a Dining room for dinners. Would never consider cruising on a liner without a Buffet - so much more casual & relaxing, with a big choice and not restricted by having to choose one item from a menu. It's not broken - don't fix it - simple!!! Thank you.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by George Atkinson

    I think it is a backward step on ships of your size. It is just another money making activity that will move even more people to other shipping lines. Even the freebies offered in some of these dining options at certain hours will cost I suspect after a set hour. Just like when you moved the buffet closing hours earlier than a few years ago. At present buffet's on other lines are open later.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Geoffrey

    Cannot wait until I cruise Eden in Nov15 I am looking forward to the new dining concept,what a good idea.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by barry moore

    After 15 cruises (P&O & other cruise lines) we value the freedom of choice in food requirements. Dining rooms great for a pampered experience when time isn't important. Buffets great when time considerations imposed. Also freedom of choice in self serve wide range of food groups is good. What you propose seems to be more like additional dining room experiences. How will that benefit?

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Ray

    May be OK for some, but my first cruise was on a P&O boat, and a highlight was the buffet, which served a wide variety of dishes and you could choose how much. The sceptic in me asks why, and the sceptic answers that it's a chance for the cruise line to charge more for "speciality" dining (same as for Luke Mangan etc). Don't know why they had to change a winning formula, unless for more money.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Marie Gooch

    Most Australians are very, very casual in their dressing and they do not like to dress up at all. It will deter them cruising on any P.O. We have lots of feed back from friends and others that they are not happy and would or will change cruise plans, especially those under 50 years old, 80 % of them claim that they don't even have a tie or jacket and refuse to buy one or wear one. Unfortunately.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Sue Arnott

    I like buffets carnival had food station and it was. Terrible didn't work for me I love cruiseing wear you have a buffet instead of running around try to see what you might like princess has buffets which is great don't change

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Nigel Williams

    We prefer to eat at the Buffet especially on casual nights or we are in Ports and get back late on shore outings/excursions. Also we like to go to the floor shows every night and we find it is too much of a rush as the formal dining takes a lot longer, especially guests who turn up late. Many times we havent been able to get a seat in the Theatre if you arrive more than 30 minutes before the show

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Steven

    I assume the deletion of buffet and provision of new dining areas will be at additional cost to the guest. I also believe additional pressure will be on the ala cart dining which we have used on our 7 cruises.

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Robin Panic

    Not being a fan of the Buffet style of choosing your meal and then finding a table, I am wholeheartedly in favour of the new idea, unfortunately I can see problems with families with young children travelling as the buffet is an easy way for them to have a meal. But not for me I am delighted with the idea. Well done P & O

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Kay Newman

    Does this mean that we will be paying extra for meals which were once included in the cruise price?

  • Oct 2, 2014 by Catherine A.

    Love it, love it, love it. Having returned recently from a pacific jewel cruise where the buffet was way below par I am all for scrapping the buffet.