Most people shudder at the thought of living on a cruise ship for weeks at a time, but I ain’t one of them. Just lob plenty of food my way, and entertain my kids from morning till night, and I’ll elbow my way onboard your overpriced floating Motel-cum-retirement home.
I knew I was in for a treat when I came across a post while I was checking P&O’s official Facebook page for updates on my upcoming vacation in paradise.
A FELLOW CRUISELING! What a gem of a woman. Even her last name was hilarious. I couldn’t wait to meet her.
On the day when we were scheduled to depart however, we received an email saying that our 14-day cruise from Singapore would be delayed and we would be reimbursed — though rather unfairly — for our troubles. The reason? Pacific Dawn was in the middle of a facelift and refurbishments had taken longer than expected.
On the flip side, we would be the first to experience this new, tricked-out boat, complete with two waterslides and a water play area that’s oft trumpeted in its website. Surely THAT would be worth the wait.
The ship finally sailed into the port of Singapore the next day — or rather, NIGHT — ready to receive all 2,000 of us.
Though exhausted, the kids were all beside themselves with excitement as we made our way up the gangplank into a new Dawn. We headed straight for the buffet table together with other equally irate — and famished — passengers and seeing all these Australians clambering for food at 10pm like they were from some impoverished nation made my heart swell with tenderness.
We had eight days at sea. The rest will be spent in ports scattered across Indonesia and Australia (Much to my dismay, they were dropping Timor Leste from the itinerary because we were already behind schedule).
It was imperative, then, that our room was well-appointed enough to serve as a refuge from the hungry zombies outside. But we got frostbite the moment we walked in. The air-conditioning was all out of whack despite the recent repair works. We told our steward Ronnie, but he chose to laugh it off.
NO TIP FOR YOU, BUD.
Accommodations in our category (outside cabin with windows) were standard for a ship (meaning TINY AF), but my spirits lifted when I saw that there were plenty of storage space for our wardrobe.
The bed was actually 2 single beds pushed together, but in case that wasn’t enough space for 4 diminutive Asians, you could pull the top bunks out, which is what we didn’t do, as the boys loved pretending they were Evil Knieval and there were no pediatric hospitals onboard.
After surviving hypothermia in our makeshift igloo, we spent a grand day exploring — what else — the ship. Standing at 14 stories (slightly smaller than the previous ships I’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean), she was nonetheless a beauty, with gorgeous interiors awash in a subtle tropical theme and luxed up with designer-like pieces.
It took me by surprise since I was expecting a tacky 80s love boat experience, but this was wonderfully thought out and oh-so-Vogue.
I wished I could say the same for the food, but yeah, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner most days in The Pantry, where the food is served cafeteria-style and the quality no better. But there was one day that the ship decided to placate us with heaps of seafood (I guess they knew we were planning a mutiny if the eating conditions didn’t improve) but, try as I might, I couldn’t outwit all the strapping Australian sheilas to get my fair share of shrimps and mussels.
Most of the time however, I had to silence my inner Gordon Ramsey each time I scarfed down my meal. I was sure that they made a point of using the cheapest ingredients and hiring the worst chefs on the planet to cook for us.
The Indian corner held the most appeal, mainly because the server would just do a head waggle each time I came back with a constructive criticism (like “This roti is yucky, mate”). I assumed he was taking notes, unlike the other servers who would just scowl like I killed their momma. The kids did take a liking to the corn cakes however, so that’s what they had everyday till they pooped nothing but corn kernels.
Dinner in the fine-dining Plantation Restaurant was WORSE. We were so sick of abusing our bodies with bad food that, after a few days, we made a beeline for Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill, one of the ship’s several specialty restaurants that you had to pay for. The waiters were banned from scowling here and the scallops were badass.
I had hoped the days at sea would be spent in the lounge, sipping martini while racking my brains for the answer to a host of fascinating trivia questions.
This was our first cruise as a family and I learnt a valuable lesson: THERE WAS NO TIME TO BE BORED. Boredom was a luxury when you’re traveling with two high-needs children.
My three-year-old refused to go to the kid’s club without one of his parents so my hubby and I took turns playing baby basketball, singing nursery rhymes and doing the wiggle.
But seriously, I liked how well-equipped Turtle Cove was with toys and books. It was the best part of the ship, though I did not like that there was also iPads and computer games. These kids were still far too young, in my opinion, to have their brains fried to a crisp by technological devices. But the staff did make an effort, and there were activities galore, including a themed kiddy party every day.
The bubba got to pretend he was a pirate one day, and a butterfly the next. It makes me jealous.
As for adults stuff, we had spent more than a hundred Australian dollars each on a silver P&O Edge pass. It included activities like rock climbing, abseiling, walking the plank…you know, stuff that are usually offered for free on other cruises.
Shortly after boarding however, we were miffed when we found out that most guests were offered a blue card, which entitled them to most of the activities FOR FREE. What’s worse, was that the ‘adventure park’, as P&O liked to label it, was not fully ready. The funnel, where the park was, was still receiving a fresh coat of paint, sending wafts of toxic fumes our way, while the zip line was not even open!
Obviously we demanded for a refund and mentally flipped them the bird.
We could barely afford to take any time out to do our own thing anyway. The kids had, by day 6 into the cruise, picked up a whole litany of nasty bugs from the Kid’s Club, resulting in everything from runny noses to explosive diarrheas, one of which was severe enough to warrant a trip to the on-site clinic.
The doctor was an apathetic and highly incompetent woman who seemed positive that our child was having an ear infection despite being told repeatedly that his poop was runny and his tummy was rock hard (of course, that misdiagnosis was cleared up once she a good look into his ear canal). The elder sibling meanwhile had the pleasure of contracting hand, foot mouth disease, which he then passed along to me and his sibling as his way of saying ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY SUCKAS.
So as inviting as the spa or the hot tubs looked, I had to avoid these like the plague.
Instead, I attended the daily dance class, which was very popular among the elderly cruisers. It was a little yawnsome for Dance Queens like me, but I felt inspired watching these octogenarians ditch their walking aids and start grooving like #YOLO. There were also daily lectures on how to improve your life, but I cannot sit through one of these without an incredible amount of eye rolling.
Evenings were spent mostly in the The Marquee, watching some antiquated opera singer exercise her vocal chords on grossly unsuitable tunes like the Bohemian Rhapsody. Or some themed party.
Shows were either a hit or miss, but some headlining acts like Davidia were pretty funny, and I did snort with laughter, despite having to clap my hands over my ears on several occasions.
So then, I’m sure you’re wondering how it went with the ship’s star attractions. The waterpark and waterslides, including the one that that got Mrs. Roach so excited?
Well, we were informed that, like the adventure park, these would open halfway into our cruise. When the day came, it opened to great fanfare (with a dance party and free booze all around), only to close — for good — TWO HOURS LATER.
Yes, I’m not exaggerating.
Apparently, a woman CRACKED HER SKULL on the way down because the Splash Crew failed to properly monitor the number of sliders, thus causing a collision of sorts (I wonder if they were soba). They got an ambulance to take her to the Darwin hospital.
I just hope it wasn’t Mrs. Roach.