Peace in the Pa­cific

Even on a fam­ily fun cruise there’s time to un­wind

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - CATHY OS­MOND

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

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