AS PACIFIC EXPLORER PREPARES TO RELOCATE TO HER NEW HOMEPORT OF BRISBANE, IT’S TIME TO START SEEING CRUISING IN A NEW LIGHT
The sun is peeping through the Opera House’s sails, turning the harbour to rippled gold as the city slumbers. Snuggled in a doona, my eyes drift open to a dreamlike panorama of the Sydney landmark. Gliding back to port under cloak of darkness, the Pacific Explorer has pulled up in the postcard position.
On my maiden voyage, I’d underestimated the magic of waking up to a new waterfront view every day.
It’s not the only thing I had wrong about cruising, and I’m not the only cruising convert to admit it.
More than one million Queenslanders have sailed with P&O since 2012 and it’s considered one of the cruiseline’s heartland states. As local demand continues to soar, P&O flagship Pacific Explorer will relocate to her new homeport of Brisbane next year.
While I’ve always been more of a selfguided traveller, I hopped on her recent Sydney sojourn to whet the appetite.
It completely changed my perception of cruising.
ME BEFORE CRUISING: I’ll get bored stuck at sea ME ON A CRUISE: What time is bingo? Because I’ve got a pretty packed schedule Can the journey actually be better than the destination? If anything was going to test the theory it’d be a cruise to nowhere.
Setting out from Sydney and drifting up the east coast, there are no shore excursions on this three-night comedy cruise … ain’t nobody got time for that.
Lawn bowls, line dancing with Libby, live music, sun-bed trivia challenges, whisky and wine tasting, cooking demos, craft — it’s exhausting just reading the daily line-up of activities, some for a reasonable fee, most of them free.
The entertainment is top-notch, headlined by stand-up sensation Harley Breen (the guy who went there in TV series Taboo, and goes even further live … what’s said on the cruise, stays on the cruise). Love Riot is another hit, a slick, adults-only variety show romp through comedy, circus and acrobatics best enjoyed with a cocktail in hand.
After all that I need a little lie down, and serene spa retreat Elemis at Sea is the place to do it. The aroma stone therapy massage is bliss.
ME BEFORE CRUISING: Buffets aren’t my thing
ME ON A CRUISE: Sign me up for the seven-course chef’s table I expected quantity — and the multicultural smorgasbord at The Pantry does genuinely appear to be bottomless — but the quality, variety and value is a revelation on the food front.
After raising a pina colada to the dwindling shore at the Sailaway Party, the feasting begins.
Pacific Explorer brings with it access to celebrity chef Luke Mangan’s on-board dining experiences Luke’s and A Taste of Salt.
The semi-alfresco Luke’s is the best spot to soak up the sunshine, surveying the main pools and big screen.
It specialises in unpretentious but expertly executed fare — burgers, hot dogs, fish and steak.
The scent of truffle and parmesan fries fills the air, making it impossible to walk past without ordering a bowl. Wagon Wheel ice cream sandwiches are a must too.
At the other end of the spectrum is the exclusive A Taste of Salt chef’s table, hosted behind heavy curtains in a private dining
room. Here you can taste many of the dishes Luke is famous for — ginger-dressed kingfish sashimi; seared scallops with blue-cheese polenta and truffle oil; and licorice parfait licked with lime syrup — with insightful wine pairings.
The old-school service is irreproachable, reviving fading fine-dining traditions to do the first-class fare justice. It was the highlight of my trip. ME BEFORE CRUISING: I’ll get cabin fever ME ON A CRUISE: If anybody’s looking From a very comfy bed to hidden hairdryers to duly delivered champagne and canapes, everything I expect from a comfortable hotel is replicated in my floating pad.
If you aren’t prone to FOMO, nightcaps and new-release in-room movies make a compelling case for staying in.
While efficient housekeeping is normally one of the things you take for granted, here it rates a mention.
The pair assigned to my room are a delight and I look forward to their calling cards, including towel art creatures I can’t bear to dismantle and cute cruise-themed poems pinned to the mirror.
But sometimes it’s what’s outside that counts.
It’s hard to get bored with a balcony, so snag a waterfront window seat when you’re booking for the kind of entrancing, ever-changing view landlubbers can only dream of.
for me, I’ll be in my room