A 3-day ‘Food & Wine’ cruise on the Pacific Dawn sounds like the ultimate getaway: a chance to enjoy an indulgent weekend, all laid on with a minimum of fuss – no passport, no long plane flight, lots of dining choice, faultless service, and time away from business phone calls and electronic media. What better way to relax!
It’s our second cruise, the first being with the Princess line. At around $550 each all-inclusive for three nights in a twin share balcony cabin, it’s an affordable short holiday. We embark with open minds, determined to have a great time, to seize some entertainment opportunities and to have a well-earned rest.
Pacific Dawn (formerly Regal Princess) was sold by Princess to P & O, renamed Pacific Dawn by Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman, in November 2007. She holds 1900 passengers and is 245m long! Plenty of room to exercise!
The cruise leaves from Portside, Brisbane, so tucked away behind buildings that it’s difficult to see the ship as you approach. Though we’re not due to depart until 4pm, some travellers board early and have lunch on board. We check out our comfortable yet compact room and balcony. Our bags have not arrived, so we take the opportunity to look around the ship. Already, the sun deck is full, people soaking up the sun in deck chairs, cocktails in hand. Some are maximising value by having lunch on board.
There’s a raft of activities to do on board. From bingo to parties, shopping to spa and beauty treatments, health lectures to cooking and wine tasting, most people find plenty to do. Some choose to do nothing at all except eat, read or watch movies and sleep!
For us, the trip’s purpose was to experience some of the food and wine offerings, so we begin by booking the three nights’ dinners and some specialty classes. With our ‘cruise card’ linked to our credit card, this is an easy procedure. (There are no cash transactions on board.)
Our first day was patchy. Having read on P & O’s website that we could take on board one bottle of wine each, our bags were confiscated and we only found and retrieved them at 6pm at a ‘corkage charge’ or $30! We had not garnished information about dress codes for parties and events, and with a broken night’s sleep (‘Man Overboard’ and ensuing updates for half an hour around midnight), we woke to the second day somewhat shattered, but determined to make a go of it!
In terms of dining, Pacific Dawn offers the buffet restaurant Plantation, à la carte dining at the Waterfront restaurant, as well as specialty restaurants Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, Luna – an Asian-themed dining room sectioned off from Plantation restaurant, and private group dining at the Chef’s Table, the last three options requiring an extra charge per guest. We choose to dine at Luna and Salt Grill, foregoing the $129pp charge on the Chef’s Table which, surprisingly, is not held in the kitchen, but in a section of the Waterfront restaurant. (We also noted that there was no tour of the ship’s kitchens either.)
On our first night, we dine at Waterfront, as we did for breakfasts and lunches at sea. While not lavish, the food in Waterfront is adequate and sometimes good. By paying a little extra, you can enjoy luxury dishes such as king prawns and lobster, washed down with a glass of wine and basking in the attentive service.
We spend our days relaxing and taking classes – four cooking demonstrations (Prue Daley from The Grass Tree Kitchen, two from MKR 2015 winners Will and Steve – the Gourmet Pommies, and Luke Mangan) and a wine tasting with Glandore Estate’s winemaker Duane Roy (an extra $22pp).
Mostly entertainment value, the demonstrations varied in complexity, interest and information value. Food and beer pairing, cocktail making and the art of the martini were also on offer for an extra charge.
The specialty restaurant dinners prove to be the pinnacle of the trip.
The degustation at Luna (a rather unusual Italian name for an Asian restaurant), is a great choice for the surcharge of $29pp. Luna’s eight-course menu (including sashimi, sushi, tataki, gyoza, tempura, ocean trout, yakitori and brulee or panna cotta) is a step up from the food at Waterfront, however not as ambient or interesting as Salt Grill.
The highlight of our cruise is dinner on our last evening – a 3-course meal at Salt Grill. Seating 120 people, it pays to book as soon as you board the ship, as this is an unmissable experience. We are unperturbed by the surcharge of $49pp for lunch and $59pp for dinner, as it’s still a reasonable price compared to Mangan’s Salt Grill restaurants on shore, and the Gold Coast no longer has a Salt Grill.
Our meal begins with some excellent bread served with Mangan’s signature dukkah, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (all for sale by the bottle, we’re told). We’ve order different dishes for each course so that we can share: the ‘Glass’ Sydney crab omelette with enoki mushrooms, fish sauce and miso broth one of Mangan’s signature dishes. At the table, a zesty umami-filled miso mustard broth is poured over the delicate crab-filled omelette, the salad of enoki mushrooms, coriander, mint and chilli bringing abundant flavour to the dish. Our other entree, Seared scallops with blue cheese-laced polenta cooked in milk, is accompanied by shitake mushrooms and rocket.
Mains of Curry style snapper (with abundantly rich Indonesian flavours) and a Riverina grain-fed Scotch fillet come with a choice of three sides (from ten options).
We finish with two of Mangan’s signature desserts, Floating island with fresh berries and Frangelico anglaise, and Liquorice parfait with lime syrup and tuile. Fabulous!
In his cooking demonstration that afternoon, Luke Mangan had told the story of a girl he dated (now Princess Mary of Denmark) falling for a prince, and how he’d been asked to cater for their wedding, the requested dessert being the Liquorice parfait! Who knows!
Salt Grill is a magnificent meal to cap off our cruise, ameliorating a less than impressive start.
A food and wine cruise would be a great way to celebrate a special occasion, to spend time with family or friends, or even a great holiday to shout your grownup children!
For dedicated foodies, though? Not all of it. The ‘Food & Wine’ cruise was (in our view), while pleasant and relaxing, a mainstream food experience.
Terminal: Portside Wharf, 39 Hercules St, Hamilton, Queensland
Ph: 00 11 1 321 837 6300