With the early part of any year in our business being slow, this year I decided to re-visit my old ‘stand-by’, joining a cruise and entertain the happy holiday go-eras on P&O’s Pacific Explorer.
To say it was an amazing surprise would be an understatement. I’ve been cruising from ports around the world for around five decades and a huge amount of those cruises were on board Sitmar’s (later P&O) ships and TSS Fairstar. I’ve worked on 45 cruises and was almost ready to say that part of my working life was finished. The standards had dropped and treatment and support systems for entertainers had diminished, it seemed, in favour of profits. But P&O have really stepped up in the face of burgeoning competition from not only its own sister cruise companies, Princess and Carnival Cruises, but also Holland-America, Cunard, Royal Caribbean and a plethora of other companies looking to Australia for safe, and fertile grounds to exploit.
The value in a holiday afloat has never been better. Around $140 a night will get you your hotel room, about as much food as you can eat, entertainment of world class standards, security aboard and many other benefits. Of course for $140 a night you don’t get a king bed suite, but if you are going on a holiday just to stay in your bedroom, why not save your money and stay at home.
I want to say here that the food providoring on P&O ships has far surpassed all previous experiences out of Australian ports. The various dining options have changed a huge amount and the cuisines are over seen by famous Aussie chefs such as Luke Mangan.
For some of the outside of the ordinary dining opportunities there is a small added price to pay (I do mean small) but the delivery of terrific dishes is certainly worth more than the small impost. e.g. a Mangan Burger on the open deck just a few dollars and a dinner or late night Pizza in the beautifully appointed Pizzeria complete with White table cloths, comfortable seating and fine glassware (items so often absent from restaurants today, makes a pleasant excursion from the regular buffet serveries. Also, for no extra cost one can book a table at 3 of the a la carte restaurants on board Explorer, serving regularly varied menus throughout the cruise.
Of course there is a lot of alcohol served aboard the ship throughout the day, however one doesn’t have to imbibe. I have to say though, we did discover a premium, yet moderately priced Chianti Classico red wine which augmented the menu beautifully in Angelo’s, the Italian restaurant on board.
OK, so what are the downsides of a cruising holiday? Well Fairstar often took us into ports where a chance to experience other cultures, buy unique cultural souvenirs and various items of value at tax (GST) free prices. The mindset of cruise lines to only go to ports that are basically uninhabited or closed for Sunday trading (Noumea is almost always the port of call on a Sunday,makes one understand that if there is nothing outside of what the ship has to sell, the holiday money will be spent on board to me is a bit of a cynical idea. If you think you’re getting a bargain by going to any of the concessions on board unfortunately you’ll be disappointed. The prices in Australia are definitely competitive, if not cheaper and the ship board souvenirs (or merchandise as it’s called elsewhere) are expensive, considering there is no GST to pay (another 10% profit)
I’ve cruised throughout the Pacific, South-East Asia, The Americas, The Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and Europe, and the most memorable cruises have included the places where I’ve had a kaleidoscope on cultural experiences that have taught me to have a much wider view of the world than I might otherwise have had.
This all brings me to the entertainment. The musicians are from all over the world and are brilliant. In my support band I had a brilliant Pianist (Music Director) from the UK, a drummer from Colombia, a guitarist from Venezuela, a bassist from Argentina and a 2nd keyboard player from Brazil. They were all so good, I felt like they’d been playing my music for years.
On the outside decks and through some of the lounges, there was an Indonesian covers-band, who were sensational across all types of genres. Then we had a number of Aussie cabaret artistes as well as cruise staff drawn from international entertainment sources.
But part from me, of course (hehe) the highlight entertainment of the cruise was a production called “Love Riot” which consisted of a brilliantly produced burlesque styled presentation of circus skills, dance, comedy and music. There was a charge for this show, but it was well worth the expense because you’re only likely to see a production like this ashore for Spiegeltent prices.
Over all I had a great time in a brilliant working environment and enjoyed relaxing during my spare time.
I have to say, I just love meeting people who are in “holiday-mode”, they have a cheerful nature and seem to treat each other with great respect.
Before I log-off, I want to give a big cheer to the P&O staff, from the the head office who make embarking and disembarking such a breeze, through to the Cruise Director and her staff, the Cabin, Bar and wait-staff and especially to those of whom the passengers see little, the Officers, sailors and maintenance crews, the Chefs and Galley staff, and the Hotel staff all of whom combine to make your holiday relaxing, memorable, stress free – and especially happy.