Peace in the Pacific
Even on a family fun cruise there’s time to unwind
Items that will serve as seat-minders for your banana lounge on Pacific Aria’s beautifully appointed pool deck: beach bag or thongs, artfully arranged on supplied striped towel; plate or cardboard boat containing lunch from The Grill or The Pantry, displayed on towel as above (used paper cups and drained cocktail glasses need not apply); brick-sized paperback, its edges plumped by salty air; partner or friend, consciousness optional; medium to large child able to sit still for 10 minutes.
And here comes a medium one I made earlier, fresh from his daily ritual — a solo tour of the ship that takes in a survey of goodies on offer in The Pantry (you used to know it as the buffet) and the ship’s retail heart, the Atrium, where a child in possession of a Cruise Card linked to his mother’s bank account may enter the lolly shop on a slow ship to Nirvana.
The teenager, coaxed out of our balconied cabin and on to the Lido deck by the promise of tacos for lunch, lopes behind and flops on to my small piece of prime real estate … just in time. Stay put and knock yourself out on holiday Fanta, lads, I have an important appointment with a masseuse. The Elemis at Sea spa, where over the course of the 10-day cruise I will enjoy about 245 minutes of top-to-lacquered-toe wellness, is just a few metres from our poolside perch through automatic glass doors. It might as well be a world away.
If there is one aspect of this return cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia that keeps me wondering, it’s how the legions of creative souls behind the 2015 debut of Pacific Aria and its twin ship Pacific Eden — vessels built in 1994, comprehensively revamped with a “modern Australian” design and heralded as game changers for P&O in this region — have managed to pull off their (seemingly contradictory) mission to offer both an “intimate feel and more space”.
Through some kind of sophistry, Pacific Aria seems to absorb humans into its new furnishings, so that at no point during our nine nights aboard does this passenger — as prone to occasional misanthropy as the next tired parent — feel overwhelmed by the heaving humanity of 1500 school-holiday revellers.
The design of the public areas, restaurants and bars — here light and breezy, there velvety and nookish, but al- ways with an aesthetic that reaches for top-shelf and mostly gets there — has a lot to do with it. The retractable-roofed Lido pool deck, for example, where surely the vast majority of the passengers must plant their posteriors at some point, includes a wide main bar, an ice cream and coffee place, takeaway joint (The Grill) serving burgers, hot dogs and pulled pork things, a bandstand and a corner for table tennis (site of an increasingly popular and noisy tournament as the voyage progresses).
But here, among a couple of hundred people, including children, at least two of whom are refusing to attend the kids’ clubs up on deck 12, I am happy to while away the hours with a book and a cocktail menu.
Why? Because Pacific Aria’s decor is, well, pacifying. Even poolside, there’s a luxe-hotel vibe courtesy of standard lamps, artwork, potted plants, clever lighting and a palette of white and blue on blond timber. Single lounges fringe the pool and hot tubs, with an outer rim formed by nests of navy blue sofas and breezy white curtains that can be drawn for privacy.
Indoors, you discover why the hordes are not jammed above decks and wrestling over lounges and towels, even in the Oasis, an adults-only pool and bar that looks nice but that I find I can live without. For the less sybaritic there are several bars and lounge areas, mostly on deck 8, where the lighting is dimmed, and wide, carpeted corridors give way to more intimate, club-like spaces such as the Blue Room, Ocean Bar and Mix Bar adjacent to the casino.
On the same level are pan-Asian restaurant Dragon Lady and modern Italian Angelo’s, both new to the fleet, along with the fine-dining Salt Grill by Luke Mangan.
The adults-only Oasis sanctuary, top; Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, above left; The Pantry, above right