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P&O Pacific Encounter Review

Pacific Encounter in Brisbane

We have just finished a 4 night cruise from Brisbane to Airlie Beach on the P&O Pacific Encounter. And sitting down to write this review I found myself a little confused.

There were some aspects that we really enjoyed, and others left us a little disappointed. It was then that I realised to be objective, I needed to understand what the Pacific Encounter is meant to be and who she is meant to serve.

What Is The Pacific Encounter?

We started our cruising life on P&O’s Pacific Dawn many years ago. Being our first couple of cruises, we loved it! 9 nights of being waited on, no cooking, no cleaning, great entertainment and plenty of booze.

13 years on and we have changed as have our wants and needs when travelling. We have cruised extensively on Princess ships, tried Norwegian and recently Royal Caribbean. We feel confident we have dialled in what we want from a cruise and sadly, P&O Pacific Encounter isn’t it.

View of the atrium on Pacific Encounter
The beautiful 3 storey atrium on Decks 5, 6 & 7 on the Pacific Encounter

This isn’t the fault of the Pacific Encounter, we just aren’t the demographic she is built for any longer.

The Pacific Encounter is a budget friendly, family friendly, party and group friendly party ship. She isn’t setup for over 50’s who are looking for top quality service and entertainment.

90% of the Pacific Encounter cruises are short 3 and 4 night cruises structured for people and groups to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other life events.

The Pacific Encounter is the equivalent of a 3 start hotel, so there is no point checking in and then complaining that you don’t get 5 star amenities and service.

Pacific Encounter Layout & Condition

Anyone who has cruised on Princess will be able to tell she is an ex Princess ship – Star Princess built in 2002. She was transferred to P&O Australia in 2022.

Lookiing to the front of the Pacific Encounter from the promenade deck
Looking to the front of the Pacific Encounter from the stairs on the promenade deck

She holds a maximum of 2600 passengers in 1299 passenger cabins and 1100 staff in 627 staff cabins.

Passenger decks start at deck 4 and finish at deck 18 which is the elevated Altitude night club on the rear of the ship. As per usual maritime tradition, there is no deck 13.

There are some passenger cabins at the front of deck 5, none on decks 6 & 7, then decks 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12 are only passenger cabins. The last few passenger cabins are located at the front of deck 14.

Most of the public areas are on Deck 5, 6 & 7 including most of the restaurants, both included and speciality (extra cost) and the different bars and theatres.

There is quite a bit to see and do on decks 14, 15, 16 & 17 including the general pool, adults only pool plus The Pantry and the spa and gym area.

Review Of Our Ocean View Cabin 8319

It was comfortable and well appointed, albeit on the small side. We had it setup in a twin bed configuration. Bed comfort is such a personal taste kind of issue. Pauline loved her bed and I hated mine. I like a firm mattress and I felt like I was falling into this bed and had trouble getting out.

View from cabin 8319 on Pacific Encounter
Our partially obstructed ocean view from cabin 8319 on Pacific Encounter

The bathroom was small but had the essentials. It is definitely a 1 person at a time bathroom. There is no way 2 people could be in there at the same time.

The air conditioning worked great. We like it cool and love being able to snuggle up in bed under a doona at night and this room did that great.

There was 2 small sitting chairs, a hair dryer and a very good mini fridge. In fact, the fridge was almost too good. Soft drink cans were on the point of freezing.

The lighting wasn’t great, I think they had old globes that gave off a very yellow light and not a lot of it. It was one area that could definitely be improved.

Watch our comprehensive video review of cabin 8319 below.

YouTube Video

Food & Dining Review

We ate at three different restaurants over our 4 night cruise;

–              The Pantry

–              Waterfront Restaurant

–              Dragon Lady

Straight off I will say that I was impressed with the food. I am vegetarian, my wife isn’t and we were able to find something at each location for each meal without issue.

The Pantry Review Deck 14

The Pantry was really good. It is busy and there are 2 back to back restaurants on Deck 14 Aft. They are right next to each other but operate separately. If you are going to meet someone in The Pantry it can be confusing due to the 2 spaces having the same name and being back to back.

Putting that aside, the concept and the food was really good every time we ate there which included a mix of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A selection of vegetable curries from The Pantry on Pacific Encounter
A selection of very tasty vegetarian options available in The Pantry

To be honest, I was very impressed and would recommend The Pantry to everyone.

The Pantry is setup with different stations. There was a Roast Section called Fat Cow, Indian called Curry House, Mexican called Mexicana, Italian section with great pasta’s called Nic & Toni’s, Fish & Chips called Hooks, Asian called Stix, Salad station, Dessert, and finally a soup and bakery station.

The old days of poor personal hygiene with people serving themselves and having all the food open are thankfully long gone. After you walk around and decide what you feel like eating, you walk up to that station and ask for it. The staff give you a fresh plate and will dish up exactly what you want.

It’s OK to go to multiple stations. For example, I would often get a vegetarian pasta dish and then some curry’s and rice.

What Pauline and I found different on this cruise in The Pantry was the food had some spice and was very tasty. We have often talked to each other about food being a bit plain.

We understand that with over 2500 to serve, the chefs have a thin line to walk to make food attractive for all, but I like a bit of spice, some bite, and some chilli or curry and The Pantry delivered.

A bowl of vegetable noodles from Stix in The Pantry on Pacific Encounter
A bowl of noodles from Stix in The Pantry

The other outstanding and to be honest a HUGE positive for us was, the food was bordering on HOT on most occasions. This is previously unheard of, and it made the food just so much tastier. Well done P&O on this innovation.

As I’ve mentioned there was a great selection of vegetarian options every meal and it did change and I enjoyed the variety. We also noticed a wide range of gluten free and sugar free options.

My dear wife is a confirmed carnivore and found the meat options to be of a high standard as well. She had multiple dishes of chicken, beef and pork and was happy with everything.

Waterfront Restaurant Deck 5 Midship

We found that on the P&O app, all the restaurants appeared booked out. We walked up and where able to make reservations easily for dinner and for breakfast and lunch we just walked up and were seated immediately.

As soon as I looked at the menu, I had a massive problem. The Waterfront is supposed to be an included restaurant, yet half (give or take) of the menu incurs an additional charge.

I believe that if the restaurant is an included option in your fare, than most, if not all the options should be at no cost.

$6 for a hot dog in an “included” restaurant, $4.50 for some sweet potato fries as a side dish as examples is ridiculous and an introduction into the penny pinching, nickel and diming that P&O now do onboard and we will discuss later.

Putting these annoyances aside, the food was really good. I loved the Mac and Cheese bites and the vanilla bite desert was incredible!

We had a variety of meals and loved every one of them, even when they were not quite what we expected.

An example is the bruschetta with salad which had way more salad than we were expecting, and it wasn’t presented how we are used to seeing bruschetta but it was still very tasty and went down without any complaints.

To our surprise, the food in here was also very warm to hot. I actually had a smoked tomato soup that was too hot to eat! Amazing, but appreciated.

Dragon Lady Restaurant Deck 6 Aft

First off, this is a pain to get to. Dragon Lady is located all by itself at the aft (rear) of deck 6. To get there you have to go to the aft (rear) lifts and get off at deck 6. It is the only thing accessible from these lifts on deck 6. If you are in the atrium or other venues on decks 5, 6 or 7 you have to go to the rear lifts.

Once you find it, the service was outstanding. From our welcome, through to seating and the meal service was almost too good. We had multiple people asking if there was anything we wanted or needed. A full 5 star service.

The food was very, very good. We had the full 3 courses, and I loved every bite. The waitress did recommend 2 serves of the vegetarian noodles and she was spot on. One serve wouldn’t have been enough, so well done again.

The vegetable spring rolls were hot and crispy with an unusual dipping sauce which complemented the spring roll perfectly. The vegetable noodles came with a soy and hoisin sauce which was subtle in taste but worked very well.

Pauline had the Mongolian beef and loved it. The beef was in thin strips and had been cooked perfectly. It was tender and full of the marinade flavour but still allowed the beef taste to shine through.

We finished with the most amazing vanilla custard bites and ice cream which was fantastic. Crispy, deep fried little custard bites paired with a creamy vanilla ice cream was an amazing end to the meal.

Being picky again, the number of paid options in an “included” restaurant was really annoying. The whole Yum Cha section comes at a price as does the boa buns.

Unfortunately, this was only a short 4 night cruise and that was all the variety we could fit in. I have found some recent blogs where the did make it to the other restaurants. You can read these reviews by clicking on the below links.

Public Areas & Bars

Before we sailed we wondered when was Pacific Encounter last refurbished? It turns out she was refurbished in January 2021 on her handover from Princess to P&O.

As expected, there are loads of public areas for drinking, relaxing, partying and generally having a good time.

Playing cards and relaxing on a sea day on Pacific Encounter
A relaxing game of cards on a sea day

As we talked about at the beginning of this post, you need to remember what the Pacific Encounter is. She is a 3.5 star motel. She is getting old and tired and it is obvious that is the case when you start having a look.

Don’t get us wrong, she is still a great ship and anytime I’m cruising it’s a great time. However, she is showing very obvious signs of wear and tear and possibly not the same level of attention or capability of the maintenance team.

A scene from the show Seven on Pacific Explorer
A shot from one of the great production shows – Seven

No where was this more obvious than in the beautiful Marquee Theatre. It’s a beautiful theatre that is home to the large production shows but there are literally dozens of chairs out of action with “Defective/broken chair” signs.

The state of these chairs is a shame as the actual shows were far better than my expectations and they get a very strong thumb up from us.

The dance floor in Altitude night club Pacific Encounter

The singers and dancers were very good as were the props and lighting. We really enjoyed the shows and rate them as up there with the very best we have seen on any ship. Well done P&O Pacific Encounter and your entertainment staff.

Waiters/Drink Staff

We had sailed on P&O several times, but it has been a few years now and the changes in this area are very obvious.

Years ago, the second you sat down on the pool deck or in the atrium, a waiter would be asking if you would like a drink and then get it for you.

Not now………..

We spent many hours sitting in various areas including around the pools, in restaurants, in bars, in the atrium and didn’t have a single drink waiter approach us in the 4 days onboard.

Ian & Pauline relaxing in adults only area on Pacific Encounter

The reduction in service staff was huge and very noticeable. If you want a drink, be prepared to go and line up and wait for it.

To us, this was a huge disappointment and really changed the whole vibe. Sitting down and relaxing while someone takes your order and the delivers an ice cold Pina Colada is part of the whole relaxation thing that is one of our favourite parts of cruising.

The level of service on ships has always been one of the attractions to us. Spending a few days being waited on and spoilt was such a relaxing, refreshing change to normal daily life. But sadly, this area is just not the same as it used to be and a really sad example of cruising in 2024 with P&O.

Luckily, the standard of service in the Waterfront and Dragon Lady restaurants was very good. The waiters were friendly, the service quick and the food better than we expected.

Eating in the included restaurants is highly recommended in our review.

Penny Pinching or Nickel & Diming

Geez this annoyed us and grated on us more and more as the cruise went on.

No included room service food of any description. 30% or more of the menus in the included restaurants carrying a cost. No included steaks or seafood. The only included drinks were water juice, tea and coffee in the morning and then water and tea or coffee during the day. No juice or similar anywhere after 10.30am.

Dragon Lady menu showing items that cost extra
Cheesecake desert in the Waterfront restaurant on the Pacific Encounter

The café’s making espresso coffee were OK but always had a long queue and service was slow. At $5.20 for a coffee, it wasn’t bad value when they had the returnable/reuseable plastic cups. However, when they ran out, which happened every morning during the coffee rush, the replacement porcelain cups were absolutely tiny and to be honest a bit of a rip off.

No complimentary hot dogs, burgers or chips anywhere to be seen. No complimentary pizza. It just goes on and on. So much that once was included in your cruise fare now comes with a cost.

We had a habit of getting a late pizza and it used to be free. Sadly those days are gone unless you want to spend $15 give or take depending on exactly which pizza you ordered.

You may think you are getting a cheap cruise, but once you factor in all these new charges, you probably aren’t saving as much as you thought you were.

Onboard Entertainment

This isn’t as big and detailed as I originally planned as yours truly hurt his back and spent 2 days in a wheelchair on strong painkillers but here’s what I did experience.

Folded wheelchair in cabin 8319 Pacific Encounter
My wheelchair folded up in our cabin 8319 on Pacific Encounter

We saw 2 stage shows and both productions where outstanding!

On the first night we saw 1 or one and it was a slow start but built to a energetic powerful finale.

The next night was Seven as in the 7 deadly sins being Pride, Greed, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth. This was a powerful performance from the very beginning.

Pacific Encounter Promo for Seven stage show

The sets, the props, the lighting, the singing and the dancing where absolute top shelf.

This was a great show and 45 minutes disappeared in a flash. The crowd really enjoyed it with a thunderous and lengthy round of applause. A huge well done to the cast. Each of you were fantastic.

There was also another show in the Black Circus area – aft of deck 7 called Blanc de Blanc Uncorked but you have to pay to see this show. On principal I will not pay to see a how on a cruise ship, so I have no review of this show. Talking to other cruisers it does sound pretty raunchy and definitely is an 18+ show.

We had a chance to listen to some of the singers/musicians onboard and found them to be quite good. I would suggest keeping an eye on the daily Goodtimes to see who is performing and getting there early to enjoy some music and a drink or 2.

Summary Of the Pacific Encounter for Over 50 Travellers

Any cruise is a good cruise in my book. It’s just the degree of good that varies based on numerous points.

Adult only pool on P&O Pacific Encounter
The adult only pool on Deck 14 aft. No swimming as it was a bit cool

Our review of the Pacific Encounter gives a bug thumbs up for food quality, the standard of the stage shows and general value for money on a dollars per night basis.

Areas that aren’t up to scratch and get a big thumbs down are the drink waiters, the penny pinching, the standard of maintenance and the general atmosphere being more of a younger, party crowd.

Will we cruise again on P&O – yes. We know what we are going to get and will set our expectations accordingly. I mean who can refuse a super cheap cruise after all?

If you’re looking for a review of another ship that sails from Brisbane, check out our Princess Cruises Coral Princess review by clicking here

And of course,if you are looking to book a P&O cruise, get in touch with our travel agent Sharon at Deluxe Travel & Cruise

Finally, if you prefer to book direct with P&O, click here.

1 thought on “P&O Pacific Encounter Review”

  1. The excessive pay wall on cruises has been really bothering me these few years – $70 for a show then penny pinching around every corner? It’s something I seriously have to be cautious of on my trips so I don’t overspend! Great little review

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