The first glimpse

SAM_2106For even the most experienced of cruisers, the first day onboard a new ship allows just a glimpse of her and what lies ahead. For a new cruiser, the first day can be hectic, sometimes chaotic, even disappointing to some. On the first day, we have to get to the ship from wherever, get onboard, get some lunch, get possession of our luggage, find our cabin, try to unpack in the face of competing requirements such as attending the ship’s safety lecture and the sailaway party – perhaps meeting friends, getting ready for our first dinner onboard. It would not surprise me if some first time cruisers would not want to get off the ship at the end of their first day. Indeed we observed a few in the queue in the buffet around 2 PM who were already expressing such sentiments. But, from the second day onwards, things usually start to look up for them.

Our boarding of Pacific Pearl today was quite uneventful – and considering that almost 2000 people have to be boarded, P&O AUS seems to have it all down to a fairly fine art. We arrived just a little before our appointed time  - to find that “open boarding” had been announced , so we basically went straight on and to our cabin. The hardest part of the whole day was dragging our luggage from the ferry terminal in Darling Harbour to the ship. Our first impression of her was that she was very small – but considering that our last two cruises had been on P&O Arcadia (approx 90,000 tonnes) and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 (140,000 tonnes) – perhaps this was only to ne expected. Everything inside the ship also seems small. But I am sure we will get along with “Pearlie” just fine over the next 28 days on our way to Tahiti.

For this cruise, we have broken one of my cruising “Three Commandments” – which are 1. Never sail south of Brisbane in Winter, 2. Never sail north of Brisbane in Summer and 3. Never sail across the Great Australian Bight from East to West. Having broken the first of these, we sailed in cold windy conditions and intermittent rain – with a warning from the Captain that the seas would be “lumpy” once we got outside Sydney Harbour. But, P&O AUS always put on a good sailaway party – especially for cruises from Sydney – regardless of the weather

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An early assessment

I find it very difficult to write reviews of cruiseships/cruises. I do not like the type of review that describes in detail what the writer did onboard during the day ( eg had bacon and eggs for breakfast – the bacon was cold) – and I find comparisons of ships to be unhelpful as they all have their good points and bad points. Furthermore - what I consider to be a good point, others may think it to be a bad point  and vice versa. So, I guess that all we can do is to present our thoughts as they occur to us – and leave others to attempt to make some sense of them. Our most recent cruise was on Queen Mary 2. Pacific Pearl is a LOT different to Queen Mary 2 (DUH!) – not only is QM2 more then twice the size/tonnage of Pearl , the daily cost to us was 3 times what we have paid for this cruise, the atmospheres onboard are totally different, the clientele onboard each ship are miles apart. Hence it really is very difficult to assess a Mini-Minor after having driven a Rolls Royce.

After only one short day onboard Pacific Pearl, I think it would be fair to say that anybody who has cruised with P&O AUS in the past on other ships of the Company and enjoyed the experience – will also enjoy Pearl.  But probably the converse will also be the case. From previous experience, I have always found the P&O AUS ships to be VERY laid back, relaxed, friendly – with absolutely no pretensions that may be found elsewhere. If you are considering cruising on P&O AUS ships, you will need to understand Australians and New Zealanders and enjoy their company. The vibe so far is good – but I am a little surprised at the number of children onboard (all of whom are well behaved). However I have been told that the children get reduced fares until the age of 12 – and a couple of weeks missed from school is more than made up by the experience they get during their cruise.

As I said above, all ships have their good and bad points – and most have some kind of WOW! factor that is unique or peculiar to them. I could point out quite a few that we have experienced on other ships. It seems to me that Pacific Pearl has everything that is needed in a cruise ship – but, it lacks a unique WOW! factor. Perhaps I have been on too many that do definitely have one – eg Pacific Dawn’s Dome, Oriana’s Promenade deck( and other things), QM2’s ??? (well, just QM2 itself!). But – can every ship really have some kind of WOW factor?? I don’t know. There are two things about Pacific Pearl that I don’t like – the artificial grass?? “growing” on top of cabinets in the Waterfront Dining Room (what “Designer” was/is responsible for it???) – and the entire Marquee Theatre. I had heard bad reports about the Marquee – and they are all true. I think that it would be the worst/most poorly laid out /designed Theatre that we have encountered on any ship that we have been on. I know that sounds harsh – but I would be interested to hear others thoughts on it. However, it has obviously existed since the ship was built 20 or so years ago, so perhaps my judgment of it at this early stage of the cruise is unfair.

I spent most of the day yesterday exploring the different parts of the ship. Some random photos (in the form of a slideshow)  can be found here.


Norfolk Island – the Gods are angry!

Having broken the First Commandment of Cruising (Thou shall not cruise south of Brisbane in Winter), the Gods are angry with us. For those who don’t believe in Gods, blame the deepening low pressure system which has developed to the north of New Zealand. It looks like we will be in it’s grip for another 24 hours.
During the night, the ship’s movement told me that we would not be landing on Norfolk Island in the morning. They have a floating pontoon on the Island which is lowered into the water from the existing wharf – but it could not be lowered today because of the sea swell. (MEMO to P&O AUS – it is probably not a good idea to schedule port stops at Norfolk during the Southern Hemisphere Winter).
But, our Captain gave us a good close look at the Island – circling it twice before proceeding towards Nuku’alofa. One positive that has come out of this is - how many people in the World can claim to have circumnavigated Norfolk Island in a cruise ship??

Early morning arrival at Norfolk Island. Ever hopeful – we did the usual things prior to a Port stop. We arose before sun-up, had breakfast, etc- got our tender tickets early to beat the crowds – but it wasn’t to be!!!
SAM_2210 A very brief encounter with what looks like a very nice island – we may fly back sometime and spend a week here.
EDIT – it is now almost 4 weeks later, and we are on our return leg of this cruise to Sydney. The weather is very calm, blue skies and a sea as flat as a mill pond! What a shame it was not like this on our way out.

Five days at sea

When you cruise in the Pacific, Indian or Atlantic Oceans, you quickly come to realise how big our Planet Earth is. The longest non-stop time we have spent at sea so far in our cruising has been seven days. That was because we missed a port in the Atlantic and it took us seven days to get from Southampton to Barbados. On this occasion, missing the stop at Norfolk Island has meant that we have had five days at sea, before our arrival in Nuku’alofa, Tonga tomorrow morning. We have experienced five day sectors before but I am sure that many onboard now would not have. I therefore anticipate that they will be very keen to get off the ship as soon as we clear Customs,etc.
However, the weather has improved – winds have abated and what little swell remains is now coming from behind us, making for a steady ship. The 12 Noon report from the Bridge said that the outside air temperature is 26C. It has certainly warmed up since we left the Tasman Sea – but it still doesn’t seem that warm to me. There is a “Snorkelling refresher class” planned for this afternoon – I think I will sit it out, the pool water is still too cold for me.
The time passes quite quickly at sea – I find that I have still not digested my Breakfast before it is lunchtime – and the same happens at night. We have taken to eating our evening meal at the late sitting because of this.  “Anytime dining” still involves distinct early and late sittings. We often eat early when we are at home (Pensioner hours) – but when on a cruise with full breakfasts and lunches, we cannot cope with an early Dinner.
Although only early into the 28 day cruise, the nightly entertainment has been good – Trevor Night, a double “Golden Guitar” winner and Adam Scicluna,  a very funny comic/singer (a big man with a big voice who doesn’t take himself too seriously). We missed the first of the Production Shows last night as we had a nice “Formal” Dinner with people we met at the OzCruiseClub Meet and Greet. You can only do so much – and we have seen quite a few of the Production Shows. Liars Club was well attended (and well done, therefore enjoyable) – as have been the quizzes which are being run by the Cruise Director and the Deputy Cruise Director together. It is good to see that they are keeping these quizzes at a very relaxed and enjoyable pace – far too many ship quizzes are taken far too seriously. They are meant to be a source of light entertainment for passengers.
We have been told that there are just a little more than 1600 passengers onboard (less than maximum) – so the ship does not feel overly crowded. The only time there are queues are during the peak times of the Buffet and the Show Theatre is always full. A redesign and rebuild of the Theatre would allow it to handle twice the number than what it does now- but I would not expect that to happen, the ship being over 20 years old.

SAM_2218 A little bit of swell is still with us – but is running in a SW direction, the same as our course to Tonga
SAM_2216 The sun is out – bright but not too hot – suits me!!
SAM_2204 Nightly entertainment has been good
SAM_2213 Have never before seen an Entertainer who performs in the main Theatre also perform in the lesser venues (here in the lower Atrium)
SAM_0077 I know that I asked for a “large Hoegaarden” – but this is ridiculous!!
SAM_2221 “Snorkelling refresher class” on P&O Pacific Pearl – in anticipation of the great snorkelling expected in Tonga, Rarotonga, French Polynesia, Fiji and New Caledonia. – I wonder what the working people are doing today??


I am not sure what to say about Nuka’alofa – as I do not wish to sound too negative about the place. Travel is not just about seeing beautiful places – but about seeing and experiencing all places. Nuku’alofa is the Capital of Tonga and well known. However, I think it is fair to say that it has it’s share of “problems” (as indeed other places also do!).  Not many years ago, the city was badly damaged by rioting and fires- it is recovering, but not yet recovered. I think it is also fair to say that many South Pacific places are doing quite well now from Tourism – but unfortunately, Nuku’alofa is not one of these.

This City is one port where travellers do really need to get out into the countryside and see the people and how they live– and the many points of scenic beauty. Perhaps the City itself may one day recover to the point where it may become a place to visit by itself.

We used the services of Toni– from Toni's Guesthouse to take seven of us on a seven hour drive around the island of Tongatapu. It was a very comprehensive tour and good value-for- money. Toni is a Lancashireman – who has lived in Tonga for 23 years. By the time he has done with you, you will know a lot about Tonga.

We noted, during our tour, that two countries are putting money into Tonga (or at least into the island of Tongatapu) – and cannot blame the Tongans for taking this money and support. However, allegedly,the money from the Japanese comes at a cost – involving voting in the United Nations regarding whaling. The money being put into the roads and Port system by the Chinese may also have a cost – but it is unknown at this time. I hope the cost does not involve the Sovereignty of Tonga in any way – but the size of the Chinese Embassy building in Nuku’alofa must be of some concern. I have previously read a little of the Chinese Government’s Foreign Policy called the “String of Pearls” Policy – I must do some more research on it when I get home. 

Nuku’alofa is and has been in the past a common Port of call for cruiseships – and I suppose will be also in the future. I recommend that fellow cruisers approach it with an open mind, get off the ship and have a good look around. It is not like home – and is worth visiting. It’s people are very friendly and welcoming.

SAM_2255           Local dress style in Tonga SAM_2276     The blowholes are working well today SAM_0142       Unusual coral/limestone formations
SAM_0118          BIG Tapa cloth, drying in the sun SAM_2259

The only double-headed coconut tree in the World??


Ancient Trilothon – only one in the South Pacific

VAVA’U, Tonga

Vava’u (pronounced Vavow) – what a GEM in the Crown of Tonga!!

I had not really heard of this place before we booked this cruise. I have to admit that I did not know much about Tonga at all – but that is what travel is for!. And even when I did some pre-cruise research, I did not read much about it that I could identify with. It is apparently the largest natural harbour in the South Pacific – and, during the winter months, home to many hundreds of visiting “yachties”. As an ex-sailor, that alone created some interest in the place for me. I also read that it is very popular for diving and fishing.

At most Ports we have arrived at on a cruise-ship, we have raced all over the place looking at “things” – we have almost never just relaxed and done “nothing”. As part of my research, I found a photo of the local Yacht Club – which looked very attractive, located right on the waterfront of the main town of Neiafu. I decided that this would be one place where we would simply enjoy a good few beers and lunch – and leave sightseeing to others. We looked all over the waterfront for this cruise club – it is not that big an area, and we could not find the club (although there was an ominous looking jetty, covered with the remains of a fire) . Yes – it was no longer with us. So, with some new friends made on the ship, we spent the better part of the day in Mango’s Bar and Restaurant – a new establishment, also right on the waterfront. An excellent choice – perfectly located with a view of the “Port of Refuge”, good inexpensive food and drinks. If we ever return, we will head back to it!!.

There is a blossoming tourism industry here – and I suspect that a week or so would be rewarding. I asked the Tourist Centre how we would get here from Australia – and unfortunately there are no direct flights – all flights coming into Tonga seem to come to Nuku’alofa. From there you can get to Vava’u by small airplane or weekly Ferry.

SAM_2323 Early morning arrival into the Port of Refuge SAM_2326        Pacific Pearl – quietly at anchor SAM_2338    Just one of the interesting visiting boats

    BUT – it is the Tropics – and it rains at some time every day!


a beautiful outlook, to enjoy some food and drinks


Breadfruit chippies! – nice!!

Points of difference

Pacific Pearl has two features which we have not experienced on other cruiseships – sufficiently significant that they are important “points of difference” .

The first is the Pacific Cirque circus/acrobatic team. They offer additional entertainment on the Lido Deck during days in Port – and also in the Atrium. They are very good and provide just that little “extra” to the norm that we have experienced before.

SAM_2293       Evening entertainment in the Atrium SAM_2299 SAM_0184  Setting up for a daytime Port performance

The second is the MUTS screen (Movies under the stars). We haven’t actually seen a “movie under the stars” yet – but have noticed that the music videos played during a sailaway (and even a morning arrival into a Port) seem to increase the liveliness of these events (for the better). They are also used by the young children sometimes during the day to play BIG SCREEN video games – which they seem to enjoy very much.

SAM_2247                 Early morning arrival SAM_2291                    KId’s video games SAM_2397               Sailaway music videos

Friday yesterday, Friday today

We had such a nice time yesterday, Friday 08 July – that we all decided to have another one, Friday 08 July,today. This was, of course, after we crossed the International Dateline during the night. There are some who have been having a little difficulty coming to grips with the concept. I haven’t met any of the lucky ones who had a birthday yesterday and again today!!

Rarotonga, Cook Islands


When you land in Ports on a cruise, you only ever really get a “glimpse” of the place, in the six hours or so that you are there. Sometimes you get a good enough glimpse to satisfy you, sometimes you have an unexpected great glimpse of it (such as the time we had a few hours left after doing a shore tour in Honolulu, went for a short walk not too far away from the ship – and finished up smack-bang in the middle of Honolulu’s Chinese New Year Parade!!). But this time for us, on the absolutely breathtakingly beautiful island of Rarotonga, we had one of those disappointments that come along every now and then. Such is life!!

We took a morning ship’s tour which took us around the Island. It was a good tour – BUT it travelled mainly over the inner circle road on the island, not the outer one which parallels the beautiful Coastal Lagoon. Hence we saw a lot of banana trees and coconuts – but not too much of the Lagoon. “Never mind”, we thought – when we finish we will find a nice bar/restaurant somewhere on the waterfront and enjoy the rest of the day. BUT – it was Sunday – and on Sunday, the town of Avarua (the largest town on the Island and where the ship docks) is firmly CLOSED FOR BUSINESS!! ….. Yes!Yes! – NOW we know what we SHOULD have done !!! Travelled on the local bus to Muri Lagoon – swum and snorkelled amongst the BIG fish there (have now seen others photos) and had food, wine and maybe song at one of the lovely touristy restaurants in the area (which WERE open for business).

But, in spite of this, we did come away with a good perception of what the Cook Islands are all about – and we very much liked what we saw. We had to do some serious reshuffling of our already long “bucket list” last night!!  It is much cleaner and neater than the ports we visited in Tonga – and a week here with transport (car or scooter) would be very nice indeed.

SAM_2395       Early morning arrival to Rarotonga SAM_2353       Tender into the town of Avarua SAM_2354               Cook Islands' welcome

  Lots of coconuts – watch where you walk!!


    This place looks wealthier than other       Pacific Islands – mind you, this is the Headquarters of a Church


    Beautiful singing inside the old Church – unlike anything I have heard before

    The lagoon stretches right around the island – except for a few breaks in the reef


 A passing parade of boats – while we   wait for the sailaway “party”


AAH! – the last tender returns to the mothership – now we are off to Tahiti!!

If it’s Tuesday – we must be in Tahiti.



It’s very easy to know when you have arrived in Tahiti (and other places in French Poynesia)


I think this may be one major reason why many sailors in the olden days, mutinied and sailed back to Tahiti


If you were blindfolded – and the blindfold then removed – you would instantly know where you are.

Our 4 day visit to the ports of Papeete (on the island of Tahiti), Moorea and Bora Bora, have been the highlight of this cruise – and also the highlight of all other cruises that we have been on – an especially memorable event. Originally, we were supposed to have a port day in Apea, Samoa – but this was cancelled and replaced by an additional day in Papeete. This turned out to be very good – having two days and (almost) two nights there was excellent and I only wish that other cruises allowed this.

I have heard other passengers expressing their preferences regarding which of the three islands visited that they liked best. But, for me, it is like trying to choose between Diamonds, Emeralds and Rubies. All are beautiful and each has it’s devotees. They all have similarities – crystal clear warm water, coral reefs and tropical fish, steep mountains, tropical fruit growing wild in abundance, easy access to both French and Polynesian cultures - and all have their own somewhat unique features. Tahiti has a wider range of facilities and is the most populated and developed. It also has the most magnificent rainforested interior. Moorea has magnificent steep and soaring mountains – more spectacular than the others. Bora Bora has it’s also spectacular and very large lagoon – which sparkles in the sun like nothing that I have ever seen before.

We got the impression that French Polynesia is suffering some hard times at the moment. It is winter and should be peak tourist season – but our own observations told us that there were few tourists about (including in the big fancy hotels) – and our tour guides on all three islands confirmed this. Perhaps it has to do with the current (2011) economic situation in Europe and the US.


Papeete – Day 1


I can understand that, for those cruise passengers who arrive around 9AM, depart at 4PM and only stay in the town of Papeete, there is a possibility that they may not like it much. However, our two day-two night visit allowed us to get much more out of our time there than we anticipated. On the morning of the first day, we simply walked/looked around the town area for a few hours. In the afternoon we went to a fancy hotel – swam, snorkelled, drank local beer and watched the sun set behind the mountains of Moorea from across the water between the two islands. In the evening we had dinner ashore – in the park on the waterfront where food stalls were setup (a local tradition). On the next day, we had a very long, strenuous – but very enjoyable 4WD tour into the heart of the interior rainforest mountains.  In that evening, before we sailed away – we enjoyed some good ale in a local boutique brewery on the main street. As we departed , it seemed common consensus was that everybody had enjoyed their stay in Papeete.

Personally, I thought that Papeete was much nicer and more attractive than I had been led to believe. There are nice parklands on the waterfront (I think that these may have been newly developed) and in other parts of the (admittedly very busy) town. There IS a certain “edginess” in some areas away from the waterfront – but I have certainly seen much worse in other International cities. If I were to revisit French Polynesia for a longer period of time in the future, I would not leave out some time on the island of Tahiti (including time in Papeete itself) – in spite of the recognised beauties of the smaller islands. Tahiti/Papeete have a lot going for them – even if the other islands were not visited.



Early morning approach – another beautiful day


The Tricolor at the mast for the first time on this cruise


Part of the Harbour from the ship – note the Polynesian style canoes


Walking around the town

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Memorial to Atom bomb tests


Presidential Palace


Parklands around town


French Colonial architecture

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Papeete Harbour


In the afternoon, a number of us got a taxi to Le Meridian hotel – a very nice and fancy hotel on the west coast of Tahiti, about 30 klms from Papeete (taxi fare 3000 XPF – around $35AUD – but split between 7 of us)

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where we enjoyed ourselves until the sun set behind Moorea.

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  A fitting end to a day in Paradise