For many, cruising is a time hallowed tradition and holidaying on the open seas comes as naturally as breathing. But no matter how many cruise voyages you’ve been on, everyone was once cruising for the very first time. For me, that first time was in June of this year. With visions of tropical leisure in mind, I’d booked a South Pacific voyage on P&O’s Pacific Jewel out of Sydney.
I flew out of Auckland and arrived in the Harbour City just in time to experience the spectacular light displays of Vivid Sydney - it was a great way to kick off a journey that would include many visual treats of its own. When it came time to actually board the ship, I found it kind of a surreal experience. I don’t think it actually hit me that I was jumping aboard a cruise until I was standing in line and heard a group of girlfriends say “You ready to go on a cruise, girls?!” In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I was ready. The idea of being in the same place for a long period of time was a little overwhelming. But that feeling quickly evaporated once I stepped onboard.
After I got through the process of baggage drop-off, passport check and customs, I was free to head to my room. During the passport check I’d been issued with my cruise card - not only would this get me into my stateroom, but it would also double as my money card for the duration of the cruise. As soon as I got to my cabin I was greeted by the loveliest room attendants in the world - Ronaldo and Eddie. They knew me by name and welcomed me into the space that would be my home for the next eight nights. My cabin was a beaut - fully loaded with a shower, toilet, wardrobe, TV, fridge, extra blankets, water and anything else you’d get in a hotel room. I didn’t spend my time looking at the room to be honest, I walked straight out to my balcony and sat back with a drink to watch us sail off.
One thing I quickly discovered was that any worries about being “stuck” in one spot for nine days were completely unfounded. The vessel was more than big enough for me to lose myself - there was even a part of the ship I didn’t find until day six of the cruise. And with all that space came plenty to do. Over the nine days I spent sailing through the South Pacific, I attended shows, went to themed parties, exercised at the gym, rocked up to a number of niche workshops and (a personal highlight for me) watched Star Wars under the actual stars on a huge outdoor screen.
I didn’t spend all my time running around doing stuff though. Indulging and relaxing are high on most cruisers’ priority lists and it was no different for me. Enjoying all the delicious dishes on offer was definitely a big part of that indulgence. The Pantry was one of my favourite spots to grab a meal: the multi-ethnic variety of cuisine on offer ensured that I never got bored - that and the fact that the food at The Pantry changed every single day! Of course there were a lot more food options than just The Pantry. Aussie night at the Waterfront Restaurant was one of my faves (Waterfront has a different menu each night inspired by a different country) along with the amazing flavour combinations at the Salt Grill. The meals at the Pantry and Waterfront restaurants came included in my fare. To enjoy the Salt Grill, I had to dish out some extra dough but boy was it worth it. After all, it is the first Australian celebrity chef restaurant at sea - combining fresh Australian ingredients into signature dishes like the crab omelette, enoki mushroom salad with miso broth, and the famous liquorice parfait with lime syrup. What a treat!
Speaking of food, I got the chance to go on a Behind the Scenes Tour of the Pacific Jewel (a VIP experience which you can book on the ship if you fancy) and saw the chefs in action - amazing! The chefs and cooks fed almost 2,000 people per meal and went about it with precision. When they weren’t cooking, they were prepping, when they weren’t prepping, they were tidying up and they did a great job at it too. Each dish had to undergo a taste test and if it wasn’t good enough, it didn’t make it to the restaurant. I was in awe, I don’t think my mind comprehended the magnitude of the job at the time.
One of the biggest things that stood out to me about my South Pacific cruise on the Pacific Jewel was not food or the activities or even the destinations: it was the staff. They were super friendly and always made me feel at home, the general running of the ship went like clockwork and when we couldn’t get into port because of high winds, the staff quickly put together all kinds of activities to make sure staying onboard was fun - especially for those travelling with children. And those chefs in the kitchen, with all of the stress of preparing to feed 2,000 people per meal, never failed to smile or ask how my day was. 100 out of 10 for service, no question.
Overall, I came away from my first cruise pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do onboard the Pacific Jewel, impressed with the amazingly personal service I received and more than happy with the food and leisure opportunities. The one other thing that really surprised me was how much value for money I got. Food, entertainment, accommodation and travel are all bundled up into one, and you don’t have to worry about a thing for as long as you’re onboard. First time cruise travellers like myself have the chance to connect with other cruisers and see how passionate they were about cruising, while I could see for families it offered a fun and stress free alternative to more hands-on holidays.
Bottom line: would I cruise again? You bet your life! If you have any suggestions for a follow up cruise to try, let me know in the comments below. I’ve caught the cruising bug and am already looking forward to my next holiday on the waves.