Upon returning from my first cruise experience late last year, I had no idea that my next cruise would be so soon. I was a little bit scarred from the rough seas I experienced on the last few days, but sure, I still went to check out Queen Mary II and Queen Elizabeth when both cruise ships crossed paths in Sydney earlier this year and dreamed about cruising again. I was as excited as I was delighted when P&O Cruises invited myself and three other bloggers to join Luke Mangan onboard the Pacific Pearl last month.
Highlights of this three-night trip include many many meals at Luke Mangan's Salt grill; an indulgent hot stones massage at the health, spa and fitness centre; a special dinner at the chefs table; in-room pre-dinner canapes and post-dinner petit fours; and so much more.
Other than the swaying and occasional stumble, I could almost forget I was on a cruise ship.
After a quick glance at our Deck 11 cabins, which are some of the best rooms on the ship, we hung out at the deck with cocktails in hand.
Cameras were flashing away from all angles as we sailed beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Our mini-suites featured our very own private balcony, bathrobe and slippers, complimentary bottled water, and daily fresh fruit platters - with bananas. Bananas haven't made an appearance in my diet since the natural disaster in Queensland caused banana prices to skyrocket. Oh how good they taste...
If you're new to cruising and are wondering what type of people cruise, let me just say it really varies. There are families, newly weds, retirees, couples and groups of friends, both old and young.
Here's one of my favourite shots taken while we were out at sea near Noumea:
By night, it's pretty chilly so those that are sensible, stay indoors.
Cruising is a relaxed way to travel as all your accommodation and food are included in the cost. For those seeking a little pampering, there's a health and fitness centre onboard which offers a relaxation area with a range of T2 teas, a wet area with steam and sauna rooms, as well as heated lounges.
A $150 spa credit had been arranged for us, so I book myself in for a hot stone therapy massage (normally 50 minutes for $164) for just an additional $14. It is muscle-soothing awesomeness.
I even go to the gym that following day just to keep up with all the eating. The gym is well equipped but rather popular with other cruise passengers. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise since all we're all doing is lounging around and eating!
For entertainment, there are nightclubs, martini masterclasses, a range of shows including 'La Vignette', a spectacular acrobatic performance by Pacific Cirque; there's a casino, hot tubs, bingo, shuffleboard, wine tasting, trivia, karaoke, and there's also Luke Mangan.
His culinary demonstration was hilarious.
He also personally served us time after time, after time.
Most dining is 'free' onboard (because it's included in the cruise price). My brothers and I definitely took advantage of that when we cruised last year. There aren't many opportunities in life where you can order as many courses as you like from an a la carte menu without having to 'pay'.
To dine at Salt grill, passengers pay a $40 cover charge, which is an absolute bargain once you see what's on the menu.
Our first meal at Salt grill was dinner on the first night. We were eager and hungry and happily let Luke take care of our ordering.
This turned into a degustation style feast, spanning four hours! We started with rustic Pollastrini sardines served from the tin with garlic toast. There were also house-baked breads on the table including a sensational fennel and raisin loaf.
We were then served a small cup of coconut broth with Sydney spice - a blend of 15 spices including kaffir lime, curry and cinnamon; prawn toast with smoked corn salsa, kingfish carpaccio with ginger, eschallot and Persian feta; and a salad of prawns, cos lettuce, avocado and mango salsa with chardonnay vinaigrette.
This is Luke's type of food. Simple and delicious.
Next was the crab omelette, a signature dish from Luke's Glass restaurant in Sydney. The salad of mint, coriander, enoki mushrooms and chilli brings the dish to life.There are 11 side dishes available at Salt grill. We had four of them, and I'm sure that if our table could fit any more, we would've! There were truffled mashed potatoes, crushed peas with mint sauce, roast curried pumpkin with feta and coriander, and a salad of rocket with blue cheese, pear and candied walnuts.
This amazing array of sides turned into something magical when paired with pieces of succulent perfectly seared Black Angus sirloin.
The feast didn't stop there. Luke also sent out two of his signature liquorice parfait with lime syrup, lime segments and tuile; two Meredith Sheep's milk yoghurt cheesecakes with textures of passionfruit; and two floating islands with fresh fruit and Frangelico anglaise.
The restaurant was almost empty by this stage. We spotted Luke and his crew devouring some cheeses at a table nearby and we simply couldn't resist but to have some of that too. With some truffled honey of course!
I didn't expect to wake up for breakfast at all, but we made it just in time for the last hour of the breakfast buffet at Plantation Restaurant. I had some bircher muesli, fresh fruit, hash browns, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, scrambled eggs, some rather sad looking sausages, and some bacon. Hungry much?
From there, I waddled my way to the deck for some Winter sun and not too long later, was ready for lunch. Whether cruising or not, my life revolves around my meals :)
As it had only been a few hours since breakfast, we all opted for a light lunch at Waterfront Restaurant and settled with the seared beef steak salad with mango, daikon and red radish, dressed with a toasted sesame and soy vinaigrette. We also ordered a side serving of steamed vegetables and calamari and chips for safe measure.
After a gym session, a nap, and a snack of in-room canapes, we returned to Waterfront Restaurant for dinner.
I love how chirpy the staff are. Rommel, below, was quick to demonstrate his napkin folding skills when we showed interest. Check out his impressive napkin Sydney Opera House below!
That following morning, we were back at Salt grill.
It was like our last meal. We ordered everything and anything we hadn't yet tried.
Starters to share were plump oysters, both natural and tempura. The crunchy tempura batter on the oysters were delectable. There were also charcutiere plates with shavings of bresaola, cappicola and proscuitto, and Spanish Ortiz Ondarroa anchovies with garlic toast.
We were careful to order different entrees so that we'd be able to sample a good portion of the menu. I had the beautifully char-grilled quail with zucchini, currants, pinenuts and basil but had food envy all round!
As our stomachs had been in training the last two days, we knew we were ready to level up on the number of side dishes and even ordered full-sized mains.
I took this indulgent lunch seriously and had the most sumptuous lobster tail ($22 surcharge) grilled with Moroccan spices.
Despite being so full, we couldn't turn away Luke's coconut rice pudding with mango sorbet and fresh mango slices. It was creamy and lusciously refreshing.
Ironically, it was our final meal onboard Pacific Pearl that same night.
The Chef's Table is a new concept introduced by P&O earlier this year. The Chef's Table dinner is offered three times on every Pacific Pearl cruise and is priced at $75/head including wine, the three hour dining experience starting with pre-dinner cocktails, canapes, a tour of the ship's main kitchen, and dinner with the chef introducing and explaining all seven courses.
The kitchen is an extraordinary fine-tuned system that was fascinating to inspect. My year 9 science teacher used to always say "a place for everything and everything in its place". While she was referencing the tidying up of used bunsen burners and test tubes, it is totally brought into context in this enormous 24 hour kitchen.
The Chef's Table is set in the Wine Room, at the centre of Waterfront Restaurant. It's a spacious yet intimate dining space, that surprisingly removes you from the all the action of the restaurant floor.
We're served an exquisite selection of dishes, from steamed crab with shellfish soup to roasted wagyu beef tenderloin with Bordelaise sauce, garlic potato mash, pancetta and peas.
The cruise ship continues its route around the South Pacific Islands but we disembark at Noumea and fly back to Sydney.
It's a not too shabby way to spend a few nights huh?
JENIUS travelled on the Pacific Pearl as a guest of P&O Cruises.