De­signed to please

The buf­fet has been ban­ished aboard Pa­cific Aria

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SUSAN KURO­SAWA

There are gran­ite-topped din­ing coun­ters with groovy stools, a chic Asian restau­rant that looks uplifted from a Shang­hai Tang em­po­rium, and el­e­va­tors with trompel’oeil ef­fects that have you all but en­ter­ing tulip-filled fields, gaz­ing upon Tus­can hills or strolling to­wards an is­land jetty. Su­perchef Luke Man­gan is in charge of the gourmet of­fer­ings at Salt Grill and its ad­join­ing bar has wing-backed pod seat­ing that would not be out of place in the lobby of, say, a New York or Lon­don bou­tique ho­tel.

At An­gelo’s, where the menus are as Ital­ian as its name sug­gests, there’s a white Vespa mo­tor-scooter parked by the door­way that, with a glass panel popped on top, serves as the maitre-d’s desk, leather chairs and crisp napery, and framed pic­tures of con­ti­nen­tal movie stars on the walls. Lav­ishly fea­tured in th­ese coolly el­e­gant sur­rounds are im­ages of Sophia Loren at her most sul­try. Crunch on rose­mary-scented bread­sticks. Tuck into the likes of osso bucco, lin­guine vongole or gar­licky, lemony sar­dines. I’ll have a Cam­pari, per fa­vore.

This is P&O’s newly launched Pa­cific Aria, which takes the ex­pected de­sign tem­plate of a mid-mar­ket cruise ship and el­e­vates it to some­thing quite re­mark­able.

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary, too, is the no­tion of that cruise stal­wart, the all-you-can-eat buf­fet. Sim­ply put, there aren’t any smor­gas­bord spreads. The bright and airy Pantry, on Deck 11, is more a semi-cir­cu­lar mar­ket­place of food stands where pas­sen­gers line up to be served and then take their laden trays to dine at eclec­tic seat­ing, from tall benches and ban­quettes to so­fas and clus­ters of ta­bles with cherry-red chairs and group­ings of pot­ted herbs and laven­der (not real plants, but for­giv­ably so). Ex­pect dis­plays of co­ral-shaped ornaments, shells and cof­fee-ta­ble books; tow­ers of brightly coloured cof­fee tum­blers; and cafe black­boards. In style, it’s a lit­tle bit Aussie beach­house meets Scandi-in­flu­enced Ikea, and it works a treat.

There’s the ex­pected fish and chips and Mex­i­can wraps on of­fer, but also thick deli sand­wiches, In­dian thali sets of cur­ries and condi­ments, pan-Asian stir-fries, a salad bar known as McGre­gor’s Gar­den (a nice homage to Beatrix Pot­ter and Peter Rab­bit), the un­am­bigu­ously named Fat Cow for com­mit­ted car­ni­vores, and Sugar Bar to scoop up all man­ner of sweet in­dul­gences. Even the a la carte main din­ing room, the high-ceilinged Wa­ter­front Restau­rant, which serves break­fast, lunch and din­ner, has a res­i­den­tial ho­tel feel with fash­ion­able de­signer con­ceits such as big glass jars, ta­ble lamps with drum shades and a caramel-latte pal­ette.

Pa­cific Aria, and its twin, Pa­cific Eden, were of­fi­cially named at Fort Deni­son on Novem­ber 25 by “god­moth­ers” Jes­sica Mauboy and Kate Ritchie re­spec­tively, all part of a Five Ships spec­tac­u­lar that sent Sydney into a spin as the three other mem­bers of Aus­tralia’s P&O fleet — Pa­cific Jewel, Pa­cific Dawn and Pa­cific Pearl — joined the har­bour spec­tac­u­lar, cul­mi­nat­ing in all-white Bianco deck par­ties on board each liner as the sun went down and a spray of fire­works over the Opera House. The an­nual so-called wave sea­son was thereby launched in splashy style.

I board Pa­cific Aria that evening for its two-night maiden voy­age to Brisbane. This sam­pler cruise is very en­joy­able, al­though ser­vice is still in shake-down mode and needs to be much sharper. The 630 cab­ins and suites are be­ing pro­gres­sively re­fur­bished but come with good beds, fine linens and plenty of stor­age; it would be worth the ex­tra to book a bal­cony cabin, of which there are 120. If you go for the Pent­house, with its ram­bling se­ries of rooms and full-length win­dows, you may well feel as if you’ve scored top digs at, say, a Ritz-Carl­ton ho­tel. But no mat­ter which cat­e­gory, lit­tle ex­tras are abun­dant — call for a yoga mat or an ice bucket to be de­liv­ered, ask the pil­low concierge to sort your sleep­ing pref­er­ences, place shoes out­side for an overnight pol­ish. Do be aware this is not a new ship — it was built for Hol­land Amer­ica Line as Ryn­dam in 1994 — but when the ac­com­mo­da­tion up- grades are com­plete, you’d be hard pressed to guess its age. Pa­cific Eden was launched in 1993, also for HAL, as Sta­ten­dam.

There’s an adults-only pool area, the Oa­sis, with cur­tained ca­banas and retro swing chairs, and a top-deck all­weather pool with clever re­tractable roof and lounges in groovy navy-and-white stripes. En­ter­tain­ment and ac­tiv­i­ties fit the cruise-ship for­mula of trivia quizzes and jack­pot bingo but there are also cook­ing classes con­ducted in an open kitchen, an “ad­ven­ture park” of 14 “blood­pump­ing” ac­tiv­i­ties for the fit and fear­less (you can walk the plank or ab­seil, if you should so de­sire), and a pretty good se­lec­tion of shops, in­clud­ing a Pan­dora out­let. In the main pub­lic ar­eas, such as the cen­tral atrium, ex­pect the­atri­cal light­ing and vo­lu­mi­nous cur­tain drops.

Clock­wise from top, chic bar de­sign; Dragon Lady restau­rant; the Pantry; Lido Pool on Deck 11; Vespa out­side An­gelo’s restau­rant

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