The 1500-passenger Pacific Aria will cruise from Brisbane and Sydney in 2016, offering themed short breaks, including stops at Queensland’s Fraser Island, and Pacific and Papua New Guinea itineraries. A three-night food-and-wine roundtrip departs Brisbane on March 18; specials apply for bookings made by December 31. More: 132 494; pocruises.com.au.
So, an ideal day at sea would include a treatment at the Elemis Spa, a warren that adjoins a well-equipped gym and the Thermal Suites, where you can recline on heated mosaic-tiled couches and stare out to sea. Then perhaps a towering burger from the Grill, a small poolside outlet on Deck 11, followed by a proper espresso and therapeutic cone from the New Zealand Ice Cream stand nearby (such snacks are charged separately). For dinner, Dragon Lady, with its blue-black decor, oriental murals (Hokusai’s great wave looms large) and soft lighting, is my pick of the restaurants and aside from the conventional seating there are two low Japanese-style tables screened in an alcove where you sit on cushions but, thankfully, can pop your legs into a recess rather than kneel. The menu ranges from China and Japan to Vietnam and Indonesia, with stopovers for the likes of Singapore soft-shell crab and oddly, but delightfully, appetisers of vegetable crisps.
Or plonk me, please, at the mulberry-accented Salt Grill, where Mangan’s signature crab omelette with miso broth is the star pick. Salt Grill is a franchise across P&O Cruises’ Australia-based five-ship fleet but Pacific Eden’s almost-identical offering is defined by a red colour theme.
Showtime? Pacific Aria’s highlight performance is Sideshow Alley, which lacks a clear narrative but comes with terrific songs and a touch of Tim Burton macabre. Anecdotal evidence suggests Pacific Eden’s Twice Upon a Time is the winner, though, and on both ships there are comedy club nights and other live entertainment in the dual-level Marquee.
Then I’d opt for a late-night drink in the Blue Room, with its live music, jazz motifs, inventive trumpet lighting, chrome surfaces, velvety seating and moody colours.
Another unexpected touch is a Glandore Estate Wines outlet — “Australia’s first cellar door at sea” — where tastings are available, or buy a bottle and have it sent to your chosen lunch or dinner venues. This is also a feature aboard Pacific Eden, all very civilised and flexible, just like this new wave of cruising Australian style, no longer a one-size-fits-all approach but most thoughtfully conceived and really rather grown up.
Susan Kurosawa was a guest of P&O Cruises.