Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Guys' Guide to Surviving a P&O South Pacific Cruise

Well having just finished my first ever cruise I thought it was time for a review for the benefit of potential travellers. I travelled with my partner (and her daughter) on P&O's Pacific Pearl. The schedule was:
  • Sydney
  • Sea
  • Sea
  • Noumea
  • Sea
  • Mystery island
  • Port Vila, Vanuatu
  • Sea
  • Port Denarau
  • Dravuni island
  • Suva
  • Sea
  • Isle of pines
  • Sea
  • Sea
  • Sydney

Yep 15 nights. So rather than write a novel, I'll put things under key headings.

Sea sickness

Well I have always suffered from sea sickness and this was my biggest fear in ruining the trip. So I dosed up on Travacalm Original for the first two nights - which were a bit rocky. Afterwards it calmed down so I stopped taking them. And I was fine for the rest of the trip - no matter how rough, no matter how much I drank or even when I lay down in bed. If you suffer from this, don't waste your money on pressure bracelets. As one woman, who was wearing two (!) said to me: "These are great! They take two days to work but after that they're brilliant". I probably rolled my eyes at that point and I held back from telling her that it takes two days for your sea legs to kick in - after all she'd spent $30 on those bits of elastic and plastic.

Woo factor

FFS P&O! This was one of my biggest beefs. Being on the open seas there is little regulation on woo.  The woo factor was a good 8 out of 10. Sick of spending your hard earned on quality things like beer or whiskey? Then why not try the Aqua ionithermie super detox! "This unique anti-cellulite and detoxification treatment works with stimuli and algae to reduce cellulite and toxin deposits from the stomach, thighs and buttocks on women and the stomach region on men. Lose up to 8 inches of external toxins in one session. Only $175"

I did learn something I admit. That the official measurement of external toxins is inches. What is an external toxin though? Wouldn't just soap work? I accidentally sat through a talk by the big muscular health dude, but when he started talking about algae having the highest alkalinity and so you need to cover yourself in it, my eyes rolled a full 360 degrees I'm sure. He loved using big sounding medical words, and they lapped it up. Especially when he then said the program is a mere (insert hundreds of dollars here).

Just when you've hardened yourself to the algae woo then the acupuncture lady kicks in offering more bullshit woo, but this time a risky one. Covering yourself in hot seaweed for $200 won't hurt anyone, but puncturing your skin with needles using ungloved hands is risky!! Even the latest studies say poking with toothpicks is just as effective- with no risk. The same study showed a massage is actually better. Go with that.

So, by all means go down to Aqua on level 2 for a spa or massage, but save your money on the other rubbishy woo bullshit.

The view

And I'm not talking out your cabin window here either. This is a guys' viewpoint. So I rock up expecting to see row after row of scantily clad babes sunning themselves continuously whilst I hope for a wardrobe malfunction. And unlike algae, viewing hot babes does have a health benefit for people like me. It relaxes me and reduces stress. But no. Most people on the cruise are old and fat like me. Note that most of the crew (who seem all young and beautiful) are not allowed to use the facilities with guests. Pity because it would fix the view problem.

Compulsory reading

No one told me it was compulsory to read 50 Shades of Grey whilst on board. It seemed to be the only book being read. By the women anyway. The guys using Kindles we're probably reading it too though.


At its best - bloody excellent. At its worst - not so hot. You have a number of places to eat. Luke Mangan has his "Salt Grill" on board and the food is top notch. Brilliant service too. Luke was on board for a few nights and he wandered up to our table to say hello, which was a nice touch. Note there is a $40 pp surcharge for this. Use it at least once - it's worth it.

Next down the pecking order is The Waterfront which is a full service restaurant with no cover charge. You have to pre-book to get a seat (rock up at 5:30pm the day before to secure a spot). You also have to dress up at night (this keeps the cashed up bogans out - mostly). Some dishes are brilliant. Some not so good. They cook a half decent steak - but not as good as Luke.

Finally The Plantation is a buffet which is open most of the time. Good choice available and most of the food is not too bad at all. The Lamb Vindaloo was as nice as I have ever tasted. The automatic coffee machines, however, dispense dishwater. Avoid. Note you can fork out $3.50 for an espresso at a nearby coffee and chocolate bar. And that brings us to...


Your fare includes most food, but not drinks. And here's the rub. You are not allowed to bring alcohol on board and at between $5.50-$7.50 per beer an average bloke will knock up quite a few $$$ in the hot tropical weather. Throw in cocktails for her followed by kids' soft drink and the bill mounts. My advice - don't worry about it. Just have fun. There's no designated driver so enjoy yourself and worry about the bill later. Besides - no woman likes a tight guy.

A warning - if you're so pissed you do something obnoxious they will PUT YOU OFF THE SHIP and you have to fly home at your own expense. This happened to about half a dozen people on our cruise (so the rumours said). Good behaviour is expected and punishment is swift. A fair system though. No louts to deal with.

Watch out for the whiskey tasting, it was excellent. For $16 you get four single malts and finishing off with a Laphroaig. Great value. Strangely, a shot of Laphroaig is $10 - the equal cheapest on the list.

Some of the shore tours include free beer. The Fijian beer is not too bad, but drinking lots on a hot tropical island whilst getting sunburnt does not add up to a good time the next day. Dehydration is bad news. It knocked me flat.


Yes there is massive amounts of this hellish stuff - and very little of it for guys. Make sure your woman has a female friend to accompany her (there is no way she's going to go by herself to those bustling island towns with charlatans and pick pockets - and nor should she). Failing that, make sure you wear the best most comfy shoes you own and make sure she's got brand new high heels that will rub a blister up real quick. Otherwise you're in for hour upon hour of the worst torture imaginable.


Excellent. Everything from live shows, magic, acrobatics, quoits and golf chipping competitions. All sounds trite but actually is quite good. Retro Soul was the party band on our ship and Michelle is the lead singer and she is excellent. In fact the whole band are top notch musicians. Justin on bass looks a bit bored sometimes, but when he gets to let loose he is just awesome. Same with Chris on drums. He looks a bit hemmed in with some of the songs, but when he gets to solo or get going his right hand work is just brilliant. Nice work guys.

Which leads me to the talent show. Guests get to offer their skills up for a talent show at the end of the cruise. I thought I'd have a go at a drum solo and so I rocked up to the sign ups. "No sorry, you can't play drums, insurance won't let us. You might get a drumstick up your nose or something"

FFS P&O! You ship us to shore on rocking boats in 50 knot winds, people fall out of bunks and spend two nights in hospital, you allow kids to swim in a pool that is sloshing like crazy on the high seas and you won't let someone play drums because of insurance!! This sucked big time. Everyone else got to do their thing but not us drummers. I'm sure that's racist. Or drummist or something. My final star rating for this whole cruise has been reduced by one because of this single event. Insurance my arse.


Just brilliant. Special note goes to the cleaners. Whenever their was a spill or someone couldn't handle the rocking boat on the first day for two, teams of masked ninjas would appear and whisk away anything offensive. Toilet floods - no worries, rip up the carpet, clean it, rinse it, dry it, put it back. Some kid chucks his poo in the kids pool - no worries, drain it and refill it. I was worried about this side of things, but with 700 staff - all fantastic. Also, there is alcoholic hand wash everywhere and they make you use it before eating. Try not to and they pounce. This is to stop gastro spreading like wildfire. I was impressed by this. Hand sanitation has dramatically lowered infections in hospitals - it really does work. Avinash looked after our cabin the whole time and he too was excellent.


Expensive. 75 cents a minute via satellite. Forget it. Stay off the grid and enjoy the break.


Smoking is restricted to certain starboard portions of the ship outside. This includes next to the pool. And as any non smoker knows - this just sucks. The smell wafts over and you're constantly walking through the death stick addicts and their fumes. The saddest sight of all is seeing the young hot girl sucking away on a cancer tube and sitting next to the forty year old woman smoker who looks 80 and not realising that that's what she's going to look like.

Starboard level 7 is where the smokers should only be allowed to go - and if they chuck their butt overboard then make them go get it.


As a newly qualified astrophysicist I found riding the lifts whilst at sea quite intriguing. A non-Newtonian reference frame inside another non-Newtonian reference frame. Quite freaky. I wondered if they ever cancelled each other out. 

The stars at night were not very impressive. Mainly cloudy sky conditions meant I hardly saw any. Pity.

I did await the call from the bridge: "Does any passenger have skills in mathematics?" so I could proudly go and explain how the sine rule doesn't work for angles greater than 90 degrees or help them out with multiple derivatives to determine the nature of stationary points. But the call never came.

You're not allowed on the bridge at any time and so the Italian captain on our cruise gave a two hour technical talk on the boat and navigation history. He was very frank, honest and witty. Like when showing photos of 14 m waves from the bridge and saying "they don't tell you about this in the brochures". Or when he had to get from New Caledonia to Sydney between TWO cyclones and that he was "shitting his pants". The boat can handle 15 m waves and after hearing that, our pathetic 5 m waves seemed trivial. I trust engineers - after all, they use calculus.

Hints and tips

    The bar at the back of the ship is the best. Sheltered, with spas and no kids allowed. Really great. The view was better there too. :-)

    Ship run tours are expensive, but good. Do them for city visits only (not remote islands) - they keep the women away from shopping.

    Do the whiskey tasting. As often as possible.

    Go watch the acrobats. When in the atrium plant yourself on the platform halfway down the stairs. The view is brilliant.

    Do your onboard shopping  (by "yours" I mean "hers") later in the cruise. There's lots of shops but they drop prices drastically later on. Guy shopping is hopeless. As in most cities.

    For singles, note that the staff can't "fraternise" with you (under penalty of being chucked off the ship). The rumour mill said we lost two for having sex with us patrons. So don't get your hopes up.

    The staff spend many months at sea continuously. I don't normally tip, but I geniuinely wanted to this time.

    A cashless system is run on board. Your id card is used for everything. Just remember that your kids can rack up bills to your credit card - and they will. Horror stories of them shouting drinks for the entire room abound. You can restrict their card, and you probably should.

    Don't do the following, (in order):
         Get your back hair removed using hair removal cream
         A week later get badly sunburnt on your back whilst snorkelling

    Otherwise the hair regrowth feels like the acupuncture lady is running around sticking random needles in your back every 10 seconds. In other words, 24 hours of HELL!

    In Port Vila, you will be mercilessly hounded by locals when you step out of the gate. Don't pay more than $5 for a taxi ride into town and also don't leave your return ride too close to departure - prices will dramatically rise!

    In the outskirts of Fiji, "Bula" is a pleasant greeting. In the capital Suva it means "give me your money and I'll give you some cheap trinket".

    In Suva beware the young pick pockets. Innocent and sweet looking. Ours looked about 10. She was cunning, but I'd read too many Frederick Forsyth novels. She had no chance. Game, set and match to Jim.

    The toilets use a suction system to flush. Like in aeroplanes. If you have a large bum and you can seal the seat with it I think it would be possible to disembowel yourself. So don't muck around with it.

    Keep the toilet lid shut when not in use. The towel  and facewasher rack is above it and they fall in.

    If you have more than two people in a room (and so a bunk is used) the double bed cannot be set up - for safety reasons. Apparently it is better for the kidlet to roll out of the bunk onto the hard steel floor rather than on you. So if you and yours like cuddling up after the munchkins are sleeping - forget it.

    The shower is roomy and there's a lock on the door.

    The last two items are linked. You figure it out.

    A 15 night cruise is too long for most kids. The kids' program is excellent, but if you have a single child, bring a friend or better yet another family. (Solves the shopping problem too!)

    The pool is not heated. If sailing away in autumn it will be unusable for many days. Even for Tasmanians. But not for kids, they're impervious to cold.

    An Australian 20 cent coin now accidentally lies a couple of kilometres below sea level at latitude 20° 5' 9" S and longitude 173° 42' 49" E . If you find it, please return it to me.  Thank you.