An Exclusive Chefs Table Showcase – P & O Cruises (Pacific Dawn)

So much to tell you about, I really don’t know where to start!

Firstly, we have just enjoyed our first short cruise, a mini break. Wow! After having always cruised on longer holidays, this one was a superb, refreshing, clear the mind sort of cruise. Oh and did I mention the theme was Food & Wine…aaah wonderful!

Ive decided to start with the Exclusive Chefs table dinner we attended. Limited to 14 lucky cruisers, my first mission onboard the ship was to book. First names down, nailed it!Yes there is a cover charge, yes it is over $100 per person, BUT! the charge does include the matching wines, superb food, with everything fully explained by your wonderful hosts.

On this occasion, we were fortunate to have our culinary creative Chef, Prue Daly who started out with the purchase of a unique inverted bakery in Deagon Qld. Prue had partnered with Peter Gross who was representing Black Pearl Epicure, Brisbane, and last but definitely not least, Tim Davidson representing Wirra Wirra Wines, South Australia.Located near the entry of the Waterfront restaurant, a wonderful wall of wine, provided the backdrop for this highly anticipated evening.

Our hosts were not only engaging, extremely informative, but also very entertaining. The three personalities blended well and provided the guests with an outstanding evening. A mention here to the staff, both back and front of house. Their skills and assistance were above and beyond expectation, for that, I give you a big thank you!Lets get down to the business at hand, indulging in this delicious degustation feast.

Our starter dish consisted of oysters, au naturel. Simple, yet eye catching presentation, they did pair wonderfully with Wirra Wirra’s Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc. Prue offered a little tip here, try one of the oysters after pouring a little bit of the Sauvignon Blanc over it. She was right! This completely changed the taste of the oyster compared to the first one. Try it sometime, with this particular wine, it really was a superb little experiment.

The pale straw colour of the wine, with the odd glimpse of green, added to a bouquet bursting with lime, passion fruit, grapefruit and gooseberry, created a wonderful mix, which saw lime juice, enliven the mouth, finishing eventually with the grassy lemon and fruity palate. Yes, I’ve spend a bit of time describing this wine, as you will find it paired with a couple more dishes on this menu.

We moved onto the Chicken Pate and Goats curd. Hiding beneath the thick layer of melted butter, which, as Prue advised, was entirely your choice of eating or moving aside to indulge in the mouthwatering pate lurking underneath. The butter was to provide an interesting touch to presentation. Most certainly did that, with its bright colour and smooth finish.

The light, creamy texture of the goats curd, provided a fresh, clean flavour to match the delicious pate. Team this with the Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc, and we have another winning dish.Beautifully soft Gorgonzola Gnocchi followed, delivering a wow factor to the taste buds and teaming exceptionally well with the Scrubby Rise Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, hinting at mulberry, dried herbs and raspberry. A bold wine, enhanced by the delicious creamy, cheese enriched gnocchi. Another superb match, perfectly showcasing the produce of all our hosts.

Time to cleanse the palate. Exactly what this Green Bean, Cow Feta, Hazelnut and Fennel Salad was designed to do. Would have to say, this delightfully simple dish, served its purpose well. Enticing cow feta, followed by the soft fennel salad and finished with a crunch of green bean and hazelnut, was just superb. Match this with the zesty lime of the Hiding Champion Sauvignon Blanc and again we race past the winners post!

Palates now cleansed, we moved on to the main dish of the evening. A wonderfully superb Peppered Lamb rack , resting on a Wild Mushroom and Leek Risotto. The intense, ripe tannins of the blended Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot, boldly marched on the palate, providing an extra zest to the succulent peppered lamb and superbly blended softness of the risotto.

How did we finish? Well by now everyone was overflowing with an overwhelming amount of good food & wine, as well as great company. Wth much laughter, hilarity and camaraderie, we moved on to the final dish.Time for the sweet, savoury finish. The visually appealing Berry Cheesecake tasted as good as it looked! Simply delicious! Paired with the deep golden sweetness of the Margan Botrytis Semillon, the burst of berries from the creamy cheesecake was certainly an awesome finish to what can only be described as a superb meal and evening.

But wait there’s more! Black Pearl Epicure supplied some vastly different cheese blends to end the meal. Cream and a dash of sharpness were really the final taste sensations of the evening.

Thank you to our engaging hosts who provided us all with a superb evening of insider knowledge, wining, dining and hilarious entertainment. Support all of their businesses, and don’t forget to book yourself in to this awesome opportunity on your next cruise.

We received a copy of Prue’s the Grass Tree Kitchen Cookbook, autographed by all three hosts, a special copy of the menu and a wonderful group photo to keep the memory alive.

Oh for those of us celebrating our special day, a surprise little plate!

Make sure you treat yourself! Not only are you creating an enriching memory, these experiences are great for the soul!

Port Denarau – Fiji

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Right next to the expensive looking boats bobbing around on their moorings, is a modernised shopping area. This area has been designed with tourists in mind. Port Denarau itself is located close to the Nadi airport, as well as a number of resorts.

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Restaurants abound here, including Hard Rock Cafe. There’s even McDonalds in Fiji which, I to be honest I found a shame.

Maybe I’m just used to Vanuatu where these takeaway places are unheard of. However you are most definitely spoilt for choice with many restaurants in this precinct. If you are coming off a cruise ship, you probably won’t be looking for a meal, although you won’t have trouble finding a table somewhere to watch the world go by as you enjoy a cold Fiji Local beer or cocktail.

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Jacks is one of the popular shops within the precinct for souvenir’s and gifts.
Here, one of the shop assistants will probably carry your shopping basket and accompany you round the store, happily giving you answers to any questions you may have.

Upstairs, on the left of the shopping centre, there is a large duty free shop catering for all you duty free purchases. Just below this shop, you will find the Bula Bus. These are continuous and you can hop on for a very nominal fee, to either take a sightseeing tour around or hop on and off at your leisure, whenever you find something of interest to you.

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Enjoy your time here, this is definitely a tourist orientated spot. Very pretty, clean, tidy and with most tastes catered for.

Lifou -New Caledonia

As your ship cruises into the bay, you will spot the lonely white church atop the point of the island. Shortly you will hear the anchor drop as the ship starts the process of disembarking passengers to head over to this uplifted limestone island.

Pretty. This is the word I have most often heard people use to describe Lifou. (Lifu). Tenders transport passengers across to the island. The wharf is over a beautiful beach area where snorkelling is popular. Here there are some colourful fish, and if you are in the right place at the right time, you could swim with large turtles who inhabit the bay.

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The village directly off the wharf, contains a cluster of thatched native huts. Vibrant markets full of locally made and other trinkets, take up a large partially enclosed area. Hair braiding, local foods and other activities are also on offer.

From the dock area you can walk to different areas close by. Keep in mind that although you will see mini buses etc as you land, these are pre booked for tours and your chance of finding a driver to take you around the island would be slim, if at all. The church and snorkelling bay on the other side of the point are a relatively close walk, not flat however with some uphill walking involved.

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As with any of the island stops, there are a variety of tours which can be prebooked. This is the only stop where we have prebooked a tour, to the Vanilla Farm. This one was definitely worth booking and hence a post with write up on the tour will be published in the next couple of days.

We did speak with a family at the wharf, prior to boarding the ship, who were very disappointed after having booked a swim with the turtles, which was not cheap. Unfortunately on this day, they never saw a turtle on their tour. However three large turtles appeared close to the wharf, casually feeding as they cruised around the bay. Somewhat bitter sweet for this family who did get to see turtles, without needing to pay.

Keep an eye out for this whale like point topped with a church, on your cruise, it means you are about to drop anchor at Lifou.

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Mystery Island, Vanuatu

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Straight up I will admit a soft spot for this beautiful uninhabited island. There is something about cruising into the area and seeing this tiny little island for the first time, which helps realign your perspective on life. The sun combines with the aqua blue sea closely surrounding the island, to create gorgeous sparkling diamonds, dancing across the top of the water.

Yes uninhabited, also taboo to stay on the island overnight, however there is an airfield running the length of the island. Perhaps not the most upmarket airport terminal around, but most certainly very cute!

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Ni Vanuatu travel by boat from nearby islands to sell their crafts and provide entertainment to cruise ship visitors. Permanent market huts are set up on the island to cater towards the visitors. Kindy children sit in their groups beneath the big shady tree branches, singing songs, while their curious eyes follow the ship passengers. You can tell when someone has stopped to listen, the volume of the singing increases, as the children throw all their enthusiasm into the songs. A delightful sound as you traverse the island.

Photo opportunities with ‘cannibals’ are provided. I must admit a giggle at this cannibal who was having a heated discussion on his mobile phone during our stopover.

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Our second visit to the island was Christmas Day last year. To spend Christmas Day snorkelling these beautiful waters was an incredibly relaxing experience. One of the hardest decisions for the day, do we walk round the island on the whiter than white sand, or wander down the middle, along the grass airfield. Sand tracks meandering through the shady trees thriving on the island, provide another option for exploring.

A word of warning should you choose the airfield option, this airfield us in regular use, you may need to duck for cover as a plane comes in for landing. Even on Christmas morning, two flights arrived and departed, somewhat unexpected on an island like this.

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Definitely a place for snorkelling, you will no doubt find the beckoning of the gorgeous aqua sea, very difficult to resist. A nice quiet area is located down the opposite end of the island to where you land. Fewer people make the five-ten minute trek down there, preferring to stay close to the landing dock. Leaving you to enjoy a peaceful uninterrupted snorkel. You may even find yourself in middle of a school of darting fish.

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Be sure to take a cruise stopping off at Mystery Island, you won’t regret your decision.

Salt Grill – by Luke Mangan

Time to write about our favourite fine dining whilst cruising experience. We have enjoyed the pleasurable culinary experience, which is Salt Grill, on a number of occasions, mainly onboard Pacific Dawn, with one dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Surfers Paradise.

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We discovered Salt Grill on our first cruise. There is a surcharge for this restaurant as it is not one of the included meal options onboard. For us though, it was well worth the surcharge.

Service here has always been impeccable. Well above the standard we have ever experienced anywhere else. Staff are well trained, attentive, and, if you interact with them, they will respond in kind. Each cruise, we have found by the second or third dinner, drinks appear without ordering, based on what they remember we ordered previously. A small personal touch some might not enjoy, but we do,

Now, upon boarding for a cruise, we unpack before visiting Salt Grill to book in for dinner on the first evening. They always have a half price surcharge on the first evening as well as for the last couple of sea day lunches. Throughout the cruise Salt Grill is dinner only, however the decision to open for lunch on the last couple of sea days, with a half price surcharge, has been a popular one.

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The complimentary breads delivered to the table after your arrival, are most enjoyable. By now you are starting to realise the thought put into marketing of the celebrity chef. Olive oil accompaniment is Luke’s own, dishes are marked with Salt Grill, by Luke Mangan, and a list of items to buy, including the olive oil is on the menu. All however, completed somewhat tastefully, without the overpowering of most marketing.

We adore the food presentation in this restaurant, with meals beautifully presented every time. The menu isn’t what I would classify as extensive, however it does cater for most tastes. Meals we have enjoyed, at both restaurants have been of high quality.

After enjoying the onboard experience so much during our first two cruises, withdrawal symptoms sent us searching for Salt Grill in Australia. An email booking through to the Hilton in Surfers Paradise explained we had loved Salt Grill so much onboard, that we were now wanting to find that experience in Australia. A booking was duly confirmed for us to celebrate our anniversary. We were not disappointed. The night we dined, we were given a very quiet area, private area to ourselves. Our waitstaff were fabulous, with a great sense of humour. Food was divine, topped off with a complimentary dessert from the kitchen.

Yes we are definitely devotees of Salt Grill. One or two other restaurants have come close, one in fact equal, however we are still searching for the one to beat our experiences at Luke Mangans restaurants.

Cruising Insights

Time to share a few more onboard cruising insights.

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Absolutely adore the sense of humour our cabin stewards have had. Treat the staff with respect and they will brighten your day, every day! These beautiful people generally work the first three months on board of 12 hour shifts, seven days per week at sea, for board and lodgings only. Yes they are unpaid. After the trial three months, they are paid a salary- usually not a big salary. For most of the cabin/hospitality crew, their earnings are sent home to their families. Depending on contracts, crew can be on board for 3, 6, 8 or more months at a time. That’s why you become their family.

On the Christmas cruise last year all the different staff were excited about finishing work on Christmas Eve and heading back to the crew deck for secret santas and a Christmas party for each crew area, except the cabin stewards. We were told by our steward it was left to the manager of each crew area to organise the party for their staff. Unfortunately cabin crew missed out.

Spare some time for your crew. Most of these people, especially cabin & hospitality, think and treat the cruisers like royalty, no matter which cabin you are staying in. They generally love to interact, and will do anything to make your cruise memorable. We have never had bad service on three cruises. We have however observed some people treat staff with disrespect , there are some amazingly ignorant people in this world.

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Atrium Christmas Markets on board Pacific Dawn. Look carefully and you can see the fake snow. There is duty free shopping and a variety of shops onboard. No doubt you are looking for a bargain. After a few days on board there will probably be a sea day with markets. These are popular, and you can find some good buys here. Keep in mind though, there will be more, and sometimes better specials later in the cruise. Often the last few sea days before you return home, is the opportunity to pick up a bargain, as they roll more sales to tempt as many cruisers as they can.

Most South Pacific cruises will include a stop at Port Vila. Onboard, they will tell you the duty free alcohol is cheaper than Vila. It’s not. They will also tell you that if you buy onboard then find it cheaper in Vila, take a photo and bring if back to ship then they will match the price. Well good luck taking a photo- you are not allowed to take a photo in Vila’s duty free. I can assure you though the alcohol etc is much cheaper there than the ship. Much cheaper!

Yes you pay for your alcohol on board, however, you can still come across some palate soaking freebies! Art auctions, normally held over a few days, attend these, enjoy the free bubbles…..as you view the artworks, always a fantastic selection of memorabilia and art. The champagne waterfall…more free bubbles! Attend a whiskey tasting or cocktail making class or a wine tasting. It might cost you the price of a couple of drinks but for that you’ll get to taste or make at least double that. Keep an eye out in the daily newsletter, check all the listings for the next day, you can have a great time on board for quite cheap. Enjoy!

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Whiskey tasting, yes water supplied but you also have the opportunity to taste some very expensive whiskey. Well worth it!

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Cruising – what you need to know

Flash back time… Let’s take a look at the life of cruising. We have taken three cruises out of Brisbane…my opinion – we need more ! Time to answer the questions of those who haven’t yet cruised.

Best place to book through? Check out every site you can find. For instance, P & O Cruises, Oz Cruising, Cruiseabout. What are you looking for? Compare the prices remembering to check if you receive some cabin credit, that can be a big plus. If you feel safer going through a travel agent then do so, it may be a similar price.

Booking early is usually an advantage as prices do increase periodically. By early I’m talking 12 months. Keep in mind, you pay $100-200 per person deposit usually, with the balance not due until around 75 days prior to sailing. To avoid credit card fees, ask for the EFT details, that way you can direct deposit into their account. Although make sure you include the correct reference details or you may end up paying for someone else’s cruise….! This is also a great way to pay your cruise off bit by bit. Each time I processed an EFT, I have always rung the booking agency to let them know.

If you’re willing to take a chance a few weeks out, you could be lucky as they sell any unbooked cabinets cheap. An excellent option if you’re not locked into dates. You too could wake up to these views.
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Which cabin is better? Well what do you want to do? Suggestion .. If you’re there to party opt for the cheaper inside or outside cabins. After all you only want somewhere to sleep and shower. Usually these cabins are lower in the ship. Not a bad choice if you’re worried about seasickness. The most balanced cabin on the ship will be the lowest level in the middle of the ship.

On the other hand if you want to relax and have some quiet time consider a balcony. Check the options carefully, the balcony cabin could well be close to the same price as a mini suite or even suite. Check the extras for each to decide what is most likely to be an advantage to you. Keep in mind, suites are generally close to top deck, towards the front of ship. However stabilisers do mean you barely notice the ship movement, unless it’s a very rough day. The beauty of being higher up the ship- you are closer to the pool deck.

Can you book an inside cabin and be upgraded to a suite? No. Even if it’s your honeymoon, anniversary etc, are you aware how ,many others are on the ship celebrating?…..It won’t happen. You may be upgraded from one level to another on your first cruise in a similar cabin or it may be the next grade up. Once the company establishes your spending pattern, plus if you’ve booked very early and paid before payment was due, the next cruise may see you upgraded to the next cabin level, only if it is available. Free upgrades are not generally advised in advance, you will be told on check in.

What is the attraction for cruising-? To be honest we have stayed here and there but when we cruise you unpack your bags on the first night then wake up to find you’ve arrived in different ports most days. Twice a day, no matter which cabin you book, your steward cleans, tidies and finally turns your cabin down. Food is included and supplied, a seemingly endless supply. Buy a bottle of wine in the cheaper bar then you can take it from bar to bar or back to your cabin, no need to worry about who is driving here!

Food, an important and major decision for my hubby each day. There is the buffet, which to be honest we prefer. Eat when it suits you plus you can choose your own tables. Whereas fine dining, you either eat with the same group of people every meal or you are placed at a random group table.

Our preference was buffet or the specialty restaurants on board. The fine dining was mechanical, rushed and definitely not as enjoyable as the other choices. However this is simply due to the volume of people they have to push through the dining room each sitting. The food on the other hand was superb, I would say that after three cruises we have never had a bad meal on board.

The main fine dining restaurant plus the buffet are included in your cruise price so no more to pay here. There are always a couple of specialty restaurants on board where you will pay a per head surcharge. A surcharge we were willing to pay to enjoy a smaller more personalised restaurant and service. For instance an eight course quiet evening at the Asian restaurant attracted a $20 per head surcharge, definitely worthwhile.

If you want to avoid the crowds on the pool deck, wait for in port days, head back to the ship before the main groups do and enjoy a chilled out time.

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Are cruises over run with kids? No, mainly due to the fact that under maritime law, there is a maximum of each age group, ie under 5 years etc, for each cruise. Plus kids clubs are awesome and any kids we did meet were usually rushing off to their next kids club activity. This applied on the Christmas Cruise we went on too. Yes the pool deck is a popular area for families, there generally is however an adults only bar, sun and pool area.

When first boarding your cruise, visit your cabin to work out your location in the ship and unpack if you like. For this first afternoon only, always take your lifejackets with you as you make your way round orientating yourself to where to find everything. The reason, there is always an emergency drill which everyone on board, including crew must attend. Generally this happens just before the ship sails.

Once this is over, ditch the life jackets in your cabin and head on up for the farewell party on the pool deck. Tip- send one person back to the cabin while one or more head up to secure your table on the pool deck.

Or if you’re not into crowds, pick one of the other quieter bars and chill out with those first cocktails ! No cash anywhere, your cruise card pays for all those extras, feel free to have reception print you off your account every few days to keep track of expenditure. On P & O it’s only your drinks and on board shopping with maybe a few extras here and there that you pay for. If you have kids, they receive their own cruise card. Make sure they understand that yes if opens the cabin door and pays for shopping and things but you still have to pay at the other end! We met some people who had trouble spending their on board credit, so if you’re a non drinker or on a budget you can cruise just for the cost of the cruise.

Different destinations will reviewed over coming months. Happy to provide more information if required. Leave a comment here or like Dine Live Travel on Facebook to send a private message.

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