We have spent a lot of time raving about our cruise to Papau New Guinea and a lot of that has focused on what an incredible destination PNG was to experience.
This was our first cruise as a family and as soon as the cruise ended, we were trying to plan our next. That tells you how much we enjoyed the week we spent on the P&O ship Pacific Eden. We were so impressed with the ship, the service, the quality of the food and entertainment aboard and how family-friendly the ship was. As independent travelers cruising wasn’t on my radar and I didn’t expect to enjoy cruising as much as we did. I am so glad we gave it a chance though as it was an awesome holiday. Cruising is a great way to blend exploration with relaxation as you explore exotic ports of call, but are also pampered in luxury.
Also Read: Tips for Cruising with Kids
Here is our Pacific Eden review where we share everything from dining options to the kids club.
- 1 Embarkation
- 2 First Impressions
- 3 Our Staterooms
- 4 Family of 5 plus
- 5 Dining
- 6 Kids Club
- 7 P&O Edge
- 8 Entertainment
- 9 Tendering
- 10 Shore Excursions
- 11 Service
- 12 Pools and Common Areas
- 13 WIFI
- 14 Motion and Sea Sickness
- 15 Disembarkation
- 16 Other Info
Our sailing was out of Cairns in Queensland. They have a lovely cruise port area with parks and lookouts by the ocean. They have to get a lot of people on a ship in a few hours, so I wasn’t sure how this would go. Luckily, embarkation went really smoothly and we were on the ship in less then an hour.
We were given an embarkation time slot online and while there were some queues when we arrived, they moved quickly. Come prepared with your cabin luggage tags printed out and attached to your suitcases. Also make sure that all your cruise paperwork is filled out ahead of time. We had to complete a health form, a PNG form and have our passports and e-tickets ready.
After leaving our bags we checked in and received our cruise cards. Having a lanyard to attach your cruise card to is essential. I tried to be cool and not wear one the first day, but it really is so practical. We were given lanyards from our cruise agent, Cruise About. You can buy them aboard or bring your own. Next up was Australian immigration, then an embarkation photo and on we went.
Once on the ship, I was impressed with the modern Australian décor. We had cruised before and I remember glitzy, over-the-top interiors. I much prefered the muted Aussie styling with sophisticated restaurants, comfy lounge seating around the pool and a very modern feel.
Immediately upon boarding, you want to use your first hour to do some important planning that will benefit you throughout the cruise. First, you want to make reservations for the specialty restaurants (Angelo’s, Dragon Lady, Salt ($) and Captain’s Table($)) and the Waterfront dining room. You are welcome to make as many reservations as you want. By the end of the first evening, there was very little availability at these restaurants, so it pays to get it organized first thing.
We also went up to the Kids Club so that the kids could get oriented there and we needed to complete the paperwork for each child. Our next stop was visiting the P&O Edge office to buy gold passes for the kids and sign them up for their first activities the following day.
Our bags were waiting for us outside of our staterooms. We had two outside rooms side by side on the 5th floor. The rooms on Pacific Eden are known to be a nice size and we found the rooms really functional. We had a triple room and a twin room. The triple room had two twin beds with one bunk over one of them. Although Pacific Eden in an older ship, we found the rooms to be in really good shape. There was some rust on the shower faucet, but other then that it was perfect.
Our rooms also had a sofa, which was great to have. The bathrooms featured a full tub/shower and was very spacious. Our room stewards Viddy and Edy were very sweet and took the time to get to know our names. The kids were delighted with the towel animals that they found in their rooms each evening.
Each evening the P&O Goodtimes newsletter for the next day and kids club schedules were left in our cabin. It is incredible how many activities there are to do on the ship and if you are like me, a highlighter is very helpful to make sure you don’t miss the things you want to do. My more high tech husband liked using the Whats On app, where he could see the activities, menus, etc on his phone (doesn’t require internet).
Family of 5 plus
I know many larger families aren’t sure how cruising can work for them and I had the same concerns before we booked our cruise as well. P&O staterooms can only accommodate four people in a cabin, making it a challenge for families of 5 or 6. P&O also requires that an adult 18+ sleeps in each room, making the possibility of a kids room out of the question.
Here is the best way for larger families to book cruise accommodation:
- Book early and grab the interconnected cabins. These go quickly, but are the best bets for families.
- If you can’t get interconnected cabins, select cabins side-by-side. One parent will still have to sleep in each stateroom, but you will conveniently be located together.
- If you are on a real budget or booking last minute, you can select the guaranteed cabins where P&O will assign you a stateroom before the sailing. This could mean that your cabins are on different floors. This is what we originally had booked because we were trying to keep costs down. Our plan was to put the kids to sleep in one cabin, hang out together in that cabin and then one of us would just go to the other cabin to sleep. What we didn’t count on was the late evenings we would have and so we usually went to sleep at the same time as the kids. Therefore, while having cabins apart may not be completely ideal, it is possible and the most economical.
Cruises are known for their food and there are lots of options aboard the Pacific Eden. You can eat at the Pantry (casual food stations), the Waterfront main dining room, the specialty restaurants, the poolside grill and café and ice cream shop. P&O does offer room service, but at an additional cost.
There are times throughout the day where you will have to pay for food (from 3-5:30pm and after 9pm). If you are cruising with kids, they have a Kids Dinner in the Pantry at 4:15 each day, which was great for the kids to grab a snack after a port day. You can get proper coffees at the poolside ice cream shop ($3.50-5/coffees, $5-7.50/ice creams). The poolside grill serves hot dogs, nachos and pizza ($5-10).
The Pantry is P&O’s revolutionized buffet and is definitely a step up from the cruise ship buffets of old. The Pantry features a number of food stations from contemporary Australian cuisine, to Indian thalis to Mexican tacos. The specials at each of the stations change daily and there are lots of options available.
A staff member serves you your food, eliminating the risk of guest contamination and then you find a seat. We did find it was sometimes difficult to get a table for our family of 5. While the food was good in the Pantry, we preferred the sit-down restaurants where we found the food and service better. We also found we ate less when we were eating at table service restaurants.
This is where we ate most of our meals as we preferred the table service. It is open for breakfast and dinner and lunch on port days. The first night of the cruise we booked reservations most nights for dinner.
They do have a kids menu, but our kids really enjoyed ordering off the main menu, which rotated daily. We are vegetarian and there was always one veg choice and one fish/seafood choice. We found the food to be really good and enjoyed our meals there.
The Asian specialty restaurant on the Pacific Eden has a really cozy and modern ambiance. We found the food to be good, although our service was only okay here. Although we loved the Waterfront, it was nice to try somewhere different.
This is the Italian restaurant and the ship and it didn’t have many vegetarian options. The food was good, but this was probably our least favorite of the specialty restaurants. You definitely want to make your reservations for the whole cruise on the first evening as they get entirely booked out.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
We had read the hype about this premium restaurant with a $49pp surcharge and it definitely lived up to it. The quality of the food and level of service was impeccable and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. You can order a starter, main and dessert each, along with a few sides. My vegetarian husband treated himself to a beautiful steak while I had the ahi tuna, which was really great. Everything we ordered was suburb and it is definitely worth treating yourself to a meal at Salt Grill.
They are only open for dinner and high tea on sea day, but reservations are essential.
This was our first ever experience with a kids club and it was something the kids were really looking forward to. P&O’s Kids Club is divided into four categories: Turtle Cove for 2-6 year olds, Shark Shack for 7-10 year olds, HQ for 11-14 year olds and HQ+ for older teens.
One of the things I was really impressed with is the flexibility of the Kids Club. Our 10 year old daughter really wanted to be in the HQ area and I was expecting the age groups to be hard cut offs. In fact, they will allow you to move them up or down one year so you can choose the group that is best for your child. Likewise, our youngest at 6 is a very independent kid who was much happier to be in Shark Shack with his brother then in the Turtle Cove little kid group.
Every day there was a great schedule of activities for the kids to participate in and our kids were eager to go to Kids Club every day once we returned to the ship. This schedule was delivered to our stateroom the evening prior so the kids could check what activities they wanted to participate in. They did crafts, played basketball on the outdoor courts, completed scavenger hunts and had dance parties in the evening.
At the end of the cruise, there was a kids’ performance and it was so neat to see the friendships that had formed. We used the opportunity a few nights to go out for a date night dinner, which was such a treat.
Kids in HQ and above can sign themselves in and out, but Turtle Cove and Shark Shack require an adult to sign them in and out. There was only one instance on the cruise when the kids club was at capacity, but we came back 30 minutes later and our kids were able to sign in. It was great to give the kids so much independence on the ship to meet their new friends and grab their own snacks.
We loved the full-day availability of kids club on P&O. For Turtle Cove and Shark Shack they opened at 9 am and didn’t close until 10:30pm. HQ and HQ+ didn’t close until 1am, but there were breaks for lunch and dinner. We found the kids club staff to be really friendly and it was obvious our kids loved going there each day.
Since the kids loved kids club so much, it gave us an opportunity to have dinner dates and spend time together. I love spending time with my kids on vacation, but it was nice to have both family time and couple time.
The P&O Edge Adventure Park on the Pacific Eden was another thing our kids were super excited about. Each ship offers up to 19 adventure activities ranging from ziplines to high ropes courses, to laser tag, to segways.
The best way to experience the Edge activities is to buy a VIP Pass where you can do all of the activities on the ship for one price. We bought the Gold VIP Pass which allowed them to do all of the activities. It worked out to two activities on sea days and one on port days. If you buy your pass online in advance or on the first day, you will receive a discount.
Adults are more than welcome to participate and I did secretly want to try the Walk the Plank activity. But which did our kids enjoy the most?
Ella: Walk the Plank because it was scary, but fun.
Gavin: Segways. I really liked driving them and it was cool to drive on top of a cruise ship.
Miles: Bungee Tramp. It felt so bouncy and so fun.
We were really impressed with the staff running the activities and the quality of equipment. The staff are specially trained and safety is definitely their number one priority.
The one thing we did find tricky was getting booked into the Edge activities each day. You can only sign up one day in advance and often by the time we got to them, there were very few spots open. This is definitely an area I think they could streamline to make it easier for guests.
The entertainment was something we only caught on to mid-way through our trip as we discovered all the great bands and entertainers that were on board. We loved listening to The Beats on the pool deck or the acoustic duo in a lounge. We also went to a few of the performances in the large Marquee, which were really impressive shows especially Sideshow Alley. The kids loved the magician the one night and our daughter really enjoyed the dance show. The final party on the last evening was really fun with all of the entertainers involved and a champagne toast.
There is also a cinema on board, but we didn’t have time to check that out.
Since the islands of Papua New Guinea are so remote, 3 out of the 4 ports we visited were tendered ports. It was only in Alotau that we were docked.
For the most part the tenders ran really smoothly. In our first port of Kitava, there was a large swell making embarking and disembarking really slow and it took a few hours to get everyone off the ship. The best recommendation is to disembark earlier (from 8:15 am) as the peak demand is 9:30-11:30 am. You go to the Marquee to get a tender time slot and then you wait there until your time before heading down to the tender area.
We did have VIP tender passes given to us by P&O, which allowed us to go right down to the boarding area. P&O sometimes offers promotions if you book early that include VIP tender passes; it is a huge benefit, so look out for that!
We didn’t do any of the ship’s shore excursions and were able to organize activities once we were onshore. You can read our full post on our PNG cruise ports and tips.
Overall, we found the service on the ship to be good. Our stateroom stewards were extremely friendly and personable. Since the ship uses an anytime dining format, you don’t really get to know the restaurant staff that well. We found some restaurant staff really cheery and attentive and others not so much. There were a couple of times where we had to wait a really long time to place our orders in the restaurants and then once we were really rushed through our meal.
P&O Australia operates with tips included in your cruise fare (love this!) and I do think this does affect service slightly. We did tip our room stewards, but it would have been hard to tip others since we didn’t consistently have the same staff.
Pools and Common Areas
On the Pacific Eden, there are two pools. The first is on the deck 11, with two Jacuzzis. The Pacific Eden has a retractable roof, which is great for rainy or cool days. The lounge chairs are really new and plush and there is quite a bit of shaded area, which of course is in high demand. There are also conversational seating areas with super comfy pillows on this deck. On our first sea day, the seas were really rough and the pool was sloshing around quite a bit. I have seen other cruise lines that have closed the pools when it is like this, but P&O kept them open, much to my children’s delight.
The other pool is on deck 10 at the rear and is the adult’s only area. There isn’t a lot of shaded area near this pool, but it is a beautiful and quiet spot to relax.
We really appreciated the modern décor of the common areas on the Pacific Eden. There were lots of lounge and bar areas throughout the ship, each with a different feel. Although the ship is an older ship, the common areas were in excellent shape due to its 2017 refit.
While I love the idea of being unplugged on holiday, it just isn’t a reality for us. We both purchased the Platinum Unlimited package at $99/per cruise. My husband was able to use the WIFI for work and even went back to the ship one day to make a skype call. Being satellite, there were times where it was extremely slow, but overall we were happy with the WIFI considering we were in the Pacific Ocean far, far from anywhere.
Motion and Sea Sickness
Since the Pacific Eden is a smaller ship, you are more likely to feel the motion of the seas. On our first sea day it was rough and some people did feel sea sick. I wouldn’t let this dissuade you from going on a cruise though, as there are lots of remedies to pack to assist with sea sickness. The rest of our cruise we experienced calm waters and I loved going to sleep each night with the very slight gentle rock of the boat.
Disembarkation took longer than embarkation since so many people had bought lots of woodcarvings requiring close inspection at Quarantine back in Australia. Although they were very careful at inspecting the items, they were very lenient and we did not see anyone have anything taken away. They did sometimes request that you put the item in the freezer at home or they did spray a few things. It took us 75 minutes to disembark.
You are supposed to put your bags out between 5-8pm the night prior, but next time I would skip that and just bring our bags off ourselves. You were given a time slot between 7:20-9:20 am. Since we had a later spot, we enjoyed our last meal at the Waterfront. I would give yourselves plenty of time on disembarkation day and book a flight later in the day.
- All prices on the ship are in Australian dollars.
- Tipping is included in the cruise fare.
- Bring a lanyard or purchase one from the ship’s shop to keep your cruise card handy.
- We didn’t get many photographs taken by the ship’s photographers, but wish we did afterwards. They take great photos and we did end up purchasing one nice family one from a theme night ($29).
- On our 7-night cruise, there were 3 theme nights which seemed a bit much (Gatsby, Bianco and Back to School). It really is optional to dress up and I would say it was less than 25% who were dressed according to theme. Next time, I will look up online the theme nights and come prepared.
- There is a spa and casino on the ship, but we didn’t participate in either.
- You can purchase alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink packages. In fact if you book your cruise in advance, this is often thrown in as a promotion.
- Watch out for the great duty-free prices. You cannot consume them on board, but they are worthwhile for bringing home.
We hope you found this P&O Pacific Eden review helpful. If you have any questions, leave us a comment and we will get back to you.
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Disclaimer: We paid for our cruise ourselves, but P&O Cruises Australia did host us on a number of on-board extras.