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P&O Pacific Explorer

Home > Sydney > Accommodation | Cruises | Family | Fun for Children
by Lisa W (subscribe)
I am a passionate traveller, foodie and explorer mum and love discovering new hot-spots, family-friendly cafes and hidden gems.
Published December 10th 2022
Cruising is the BEST budget-busting family holiday
Cruising is back, baby! The best value family holiday has now sailed back onto our shores and if you haven't yet booked a cruise, allow me to convince you why your next holiday should be on a floating resort on sea.

"Ooh no! It's not for me!"

So many people dismiss cruising without giving it a go.

"Ooooh no, it's for old people!"

"Ooooh no, it's full of drunken teenagers running riot!"

"Ooooh no, I can't deal being trapped in a tiny cabin!".

I must admit when we booked one of the first post-COVID cruises on board the P&O Pacific Explorer, I had my own reservations. I was a bit of a cruising snob, having sailed on the glorious QE2 and Royal Caribbean luxury liners. I had pretty much resigned myself that this cruise was going to be a "floating RSL". But hey, it was the only cruise line brave enough to battle those COVID scaredy cats so I thought I would give it a go.

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Let's go cruising - on board the P&O Pacific Explorer Pic: Lisa Wolff

Toss the myths overboard

But let me tell you, those myths need to be tossed straight into the ocean. For a cruise ship with a reputation of being on the lower budget side of the scale, the P&O Pacific Explorer blasted all my low expectations straight out of the water.

The Pacific Explorer, affectionately known as "Dora (the explorer)" is in my opinion, a great size for a cruise liner. Its maximum passenger capacity is around 2,000. Basically, this means that you don't need a GPS to find your way around and the queues aren't as intense. I recently cruised on board the Carnival Splendor, which can house over 3,000 passengers and the congestion and crowds were, at times, out of control.

The BEST Holiday

A cruise is a true holiday - you really don't have to worry about anything. Your bed is made twice a day, there's never-ending food without the need to step foot into a kitchen, beer is on tap and there's an itinerary of activities and entertainment to pick from. Plus if you've taking young 'uns on board, the kids / teens club is sheer paradise. It's the only getaway where I can really switch off and relax with a book and a tall cocktail, without worrying about preparing the next meal or keeping bored kids entertained.

Cruise feasts

Eating is a big part of cruise life, with BIG being the operative word as extra kilograms are probably the only unwanted souvenir of a cruise holiday.

Meals on board Pacific Explorer work differently to many other liners. Most cruise ships offer a main dining room, a buffet and some paid-for restaurants.

On "Dora" there are three free restaurants as well as food-court style dining. You have a choice of the Waterfront, which is essentially modern-Australian food, Angelo's an Italian restaurant and an Asian-style diner called Dragon Lady. The Pantry is made up of a number of different themed areas, with a different menu each meal session. There is Mexican, Indian, fish, and the Sugar Bar, which specialises in desserts.

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Delicious meal from the Waterfront Pic: Lisa Wolff

The only obstacle is that capacity is limited for the three main restaurants so it is best to pre-book these as soon as you board the ship. It is not necessary to make a booking for the buffet eatery but it can get busy at peak meal times.

There are also paid-for restaurants - Lukes, 400 Gradi, A Taste of Salt and Shell & Bones which we didn't try. They all have a good reputation but we found the included meals were more than enough for us. Next time, we may splurge on a dinner at Lukes.

Desserts (and the kids' menus) were a downer

The food was generally delicious. My only disappointment was the desserts in the Pantry. Those lurid green and pink coloured cream cakes were just not to my taste. Also, the kids struggled a bit with the children's menu. The creators of the youth menu clearly do not have kids themselves as there was not a nugget or cheese pizza in sight and the food options were way too sophisticated for my kids' palates. Plus the names of the food items were bizarre - "I don't want anything" was the name of one of the menu items and another was Roasted tomato and Capsicum chowder. I don't know any kid that would willingly pick that for dinner. Thank goodness the dessert was popular with jelly, cookies and ice-cream on offer.

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Colourful desserts Pic: Lisa Wolff

Busy or lazy: you choose

There is a daily schedule (printed and on the P&O app) which details all the activities and entertainment available, as well as the times for live music and the opening hours of the restaurants and bars.

I love that on a cruise you can choose to be as busy or as lazy as you want. I know for some people the most idyllic holiday would be chilling by the pool with a cocktail and a book. However, I suffer from intense FOMO on a cruise and I make sure I attack the schedule with a highlighter the night before so that I know what activities I don't want to miss.

There is usually at least one dance class every day (which the kids and I loved) as well as a variety of trivia (the cruise director's trivia is the BEST). Bingo is super popular but it's not cheap or you can simply relax in one of the many lounges and enjoy the live music. There are movies out on the pool deck or in the theatre and three swimming pools (one is adult-only), waterslides and whirlpools. There is a fully-equipped gym and spa on board with a couple of free fitness classes as well as ones you have to pay for.

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Movies by the pool Pic: Lisa Wolff

P&O are well known for their popular themed nights. During our cruise, we experienced the White party, Back to School and Gatsby. Back to school wasn't my favourite but both the White party and Gatsby were a lot of fun. For Gatsby, the entertainment team hosted 1920s dance classes and we performed our own flash mob during the big Gatsby party. Since we have younger kids, we didn't boogie on until late, but we certainly got a taste for the themed parties and also got some fabulous family photos with all of us dressed up. My tip is to head to the 2-dollar shop before your cruise and grab some cheap dress-ups and accessories - it's really fun to participate.

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Getting into Gatsby Pic: Lisa Wolff

Stage shows

There is a daily evening show in the show theatres. Some of them are ticketed at around $20 per person, others are adult-only but many are family-friendly and definitely worth seeing. During our cruise, we saw the hilarious James Bustar, as well as Rock: Anthem of the Ages.

There is usually a show at 7pm and then it is repeated at 9pm. We often had an early dinner at 5:15pm and then caught the early show. But you can just make the schedule work for you.

Port visits

For me, the cruise ship is the journey and the destination all in one. I know some people would pick cruises based on its port itinerary but generally, in my opinion, the cruise is all about the actual ship.

Most people love exploring the ports and spend loads of dollars on shore excursions (which can be booked through P&O). I've been known to stay on the liner as others explore a stopover.

During our Pacific Explorer cruise, we stopped off at Airlie Beach and Cairns. We disembarked at both ports and enjoyed a casual explore but we were back on aboard at midday for lunch. Moreton Island / Tangalooma is a tender port which means that ship can't dock near the Island and passengers need to take small boats to reach the shore. This can be a slow process to get thousands of eager cruisers off and back on the ship but you just need to get into holiday mode and go with the flow.

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On board the tender Pic: Lisa Wolff

Tangalooma is a popular spot for swimming, snorkelling out at the wrecks and sand dune sliding. But all my kids wanted to do was to go back to the ship so they could swim in the pool and use the water slides without the crowds.

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Enjoying the sun on Moreton Island / Tangalooma Pic: Lisa Wolff

Kids' fun

Talking about kids, there are action-packed kids / teen clubs which my kids enjoyed. You can grab a schedule of activities and the kids can come and go as they please (the younger ones need to be signed in and out by their parents). It's a great spot where children can escape their parents and parents can grab a bit of child-free time.

Cruise staff

Our cruise director (Julie) and her entertainment team during our cruise were absolutely spectacular. Julie's hot rhythms Zumba-style classes on the deck were a highlight of our holiday. The teams change around regularly but the staff are generally wonderful, so friendly and helpful. Our cabin attendants were brilliant and we loved coming back to a spotlessly clean cabin with the most adorable towel animals.


When it comes to cabins, you basically book what fits in your budget. Our cruise was a bit of a spontaneous one so we booked the cheapest fare available - which is a guaranteed interior cabin. This means that your room is only assigned a few days before your cruise. Next cruise, though, I would pay a bit extra so I could pick my own cabin. We didn't mind the interior cabins at all but if your budget can extend further, a balcony or a mini-suite would be more comfortable.

Best for the budget

No holiday is perfect, but cruising for us, is a budget no-brainer. Booking a hotel within Australia for a family of 5 is exorbitant. Then add food, activities and transport and it's bye-bye budget. If you can nab a special offer, you can cruise for around $100 - $150 per person per day and that includes just about everything. Plus if you live close to the wharf, you can even catch a ferry or a train to board the ship. It really is the best-value holiday we've found.

So what are you waiting for? Life's a cruise and I'll see you on the sea!

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Why? Cruising on board a family-friendly ship is the best, budget-beating holiday
When: P&O Pacific Explorer offers cruises throughout the year
Phone: 13 24 94
Where: Around Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands
Cost: Varies according to the cruise itinerary and cabin
Your Comment
I get seasick very easily so sea voyages are not for me but my sister-in-law is a cruise ship fan.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10397) 39 days ago
It looks an incredible adventure. I think I would find it hard to move from that pool deck :)
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|6205) 57 days ago
Cruising with the devil P&O
I got back 2 days ago.... all written above is a missleading ....
Management disaster - no organisatio at all,
exhausted employees, customer service 0, under paid artist, half restarants closed bar closed (notice given once you board) changing of internary up to departure, only few bars open after six to 12 and 1 bar open after 12 ... for all complaints their excuse is terms & conditions ...
Food for dogs - same food every day, dry bread, overcooked meat, curry and nachos. After 8pm no food on the boat.... kids food i do not even want to talk about..... ice cream 7 dollars scoop
Entartaiment - sucks terble artist, only 3 grups musicians, all other entertaiment you need to buy tickets
Kids - terrable - my one hated to go there, only 15min and she did not want to see the room
Prices - more expensive than australia, they hode the menu.... water 5$, soft drink 3$, whiskey & pepsy small 12$ double 25$, beer pint 14$ Cocktails 16$ full with sugary syrups- after the boat expect hearh attack from sugar overdose and final bill.....
Islands day visits - missorganisation ( complete haos ( if you are one of 50% lucky passinger you might see something for an hour max than go back on the line for 3h )
It system & chat - total fail - no working
Receptions waiting time - forever due to so many people complain
Rubbish everywhere, masks in the pools dust in the rooms, food on the floors, glasses everywhere...
So many issues that i have no space and time to write here




I have traveled with many other cruises and i love it 👍 but P&O is worst tha 2 star hotel in ukraine during a war....


by murat (score: 0|2) 27 days ago
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