Thursday, 15 February 2018

Last Minute Cruise: Like No Place on Earth

When a friend told us she was going on this P&O cruise, I decided to look at the prices. It was a 3 night /4 day food and wine cruise to nowhere. Booking 11 days before the departure, we were able to take advantage of last minute fares. Included in the fare is the accommodation, meals, and entertainment. Cruises are really good value. It was a Food and Wine Cruise, and there were some free cooking demonstrations, which were very good, and a lot of demonstrations and tastings that cost extra.Embarkation was quick and easy. Once on board we were informed that our cabin was ready, however we went up to Deck 12 to the pool and got our first drink. Next stop was the Pantry, also on Deck 12, for lunch. After lunch we went to see our cabin.
We had booked an obstructed window view cabin and we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no obstruction, unless the two paint drops on the window are classed as an obstruction. The cabin, 9218, was smaller than other cabins in other ships that we have had, but it was clean and set out well. We do not spend a lot of time in the cabin, mainly to sleep. The bathroom was tiny, and the shower had no light. The worst part was the 'evil' toilet flush. We are use to the 'vacuum' type flush on ships, but this one ended with a loud explosion bang at the end of each flush – very scary! We didn't complain as it was only a three night cruise, but on a longer cruise it would have been very annoying. The bed was comfortable and placed in front of the window, which we thought was weird as to look out one had to kneel on the bed. The TV had the usual channels and also played recent movies free of charge. The channels, especially the movies channels were not as good as last time we sailed on P&O. Room Service is available at a cost, so we didn't bother. On a longer cruise we would get croissants the day before, and I would get tea in the morning to take back to the room for our pre breakfast.
Good Times is the name of the daily activities leaflet that is delivered each evening to you room.
Food was ok, nothing special. Included in the fare is the Waterfront Restaurant and The Pantry. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Pantry, which consists of a number of different food stations. The Pantry was opened for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast was the same each day, luckily I like the same breakfast each day. Eggs Benedict was not that good, but the scrambles eggs were great. Lunch had the different stations. Peter liked the Curry House. There was also a Mexican station, and 2 Kettle and Bun stations, which was the one I had each day. It is a sandwich, soup and salad bar. One day the sandwiches were soggy, but overall the food was ok. There were two dessert bars, a Hooks Fish and Chips – I had that one evening before dinner (dinners were not that good). Also a meat Fat Cow station and Stix stir fries and noodles, and a Nic and Toni's Mediterranean seafood and pasta. The stations are tiny and the food was nice but there was a limited variety from day to day. The biggest problem with the Pantry was the lack of seating. There is a lot of high bench seating, which is very uncomfortable. It was difficult to find cutlery as it was not located at each section. Cutlery was often in baskets hidden behind poles, and most baskets were very tall, I couldn't reach the cutlery if it was almost empty.
The Waterfront Restaurant is on Deck 7, and is included in the cruise price. It is also open for breakfast lunch and dinner. We had difficulty booking online, so had to line up for 35 minutes to book for each night. We couldn't get a table for 4 the first night, so we had a shared table. The following night our booking had disappeared, so it was a shared table once again. We did make our disappointment known and the following night we were seated in a different part of the restaurant at a table for four. This section not only looked more elegant but it had different staff who were very attentive and that made our evening more enjoyable. There is a three course menu with a choice of 3 entrees, 3 mains and maybe four desserts. There are also extra mains for extra dollars. We found the choices very limited. The first evening we were seated with a gluten free passenger, who although she had informed P&O in the booking process, she only had a choice of one meal. They didn't go back to the Waterfront. I ordered two entrees for my meal, and I was glad I had visited the Pantry the hour earlier to have some fish and chips. The second night there was nothing on the menu I liked at all, so only had a vegetarian salad, which was ok, but I was left hungry and the only food now available was pastries and junk to purchase. At this stage we were thinking if we sailed with P&O again we would not go to the Waterfront at all. The third and last evening, when we were seated at the correct table, the choices were still limited, and I chose two entrees and we had time for dessert. The evening before, the service was so slow that we had to leave before dessert to get to the evening show. The last evening was the only meal I enjoyed, and that was also partly due to the great staff we had that night. Missing in the eating areas are biscuits/cookies and cheese.
For dinner seating, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have it so well organised. Easy to book. Same table, same staff each evening. No queuing for table, just walk in and sit down. So easy!
Other eating venues cost extra. The Shell and Bones had reasonable a-la-carte prices, it is open for dinner only and is sectioned off in the Pantry – meaning less seating for dinner in the Pantry – and includes meat and chicken dishes as well as seafood. There are 11 choices for dinner, plus sides. We had lunch twice in this area, and it was not air-conditioned, but relied on the air-conditioning from the pantry.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan was located Deck 12 Fwd opposite the cafe. Luke Mangan was the first Australian chef to have a restaurant at sea. The menu was large and the prices reasonable. It was open for lunch and dinner. The restaurant looked lovely.
The Cafe is also located on Deck 12 Fwd. They serve T2Tea and coffees and cakes and pastries, all for an extra cost. We had a refreshment package, so drinks from the Cafe were included in the package. WE were surprised at how small the cafe was. There was also a Cafe menu on Deck 5 Mid at Charlies Bar.
Located on Deck 12 Aft outside the Pantry is The Grill and is open for lunch and dinner. The Grill sells hamburgers, pizza slices, pies, chips and prawns. Most cost $3 with the prawns $19 for 15 prawns. On the port side outside the Pantry is the New Zealand Natural Ice-Cream. Large serves also at an additional cost.
Pacific Dawn also has the usual shopping arcade along with the duty free, and a convenience shop that sells lollies and chocolates by weight – just like at the cinemas. The library is just a cupboard in the 'simulator' room on deck 8 fwd, and there were not a lot of books. There are also games available to borrow. As it is in the 'simulator' room it was only open a couple of hours per day. The racing car simulator costs $25 for 15 minutes. Two pools are advertised, but there is only one small pool and a wading kids type pool. There are 4 whirlpool spas, two on deck 12 an two on deck 10 in the Adults Only Oasis. Sadly, both times we were there, there were also children. There was a jogging track – good except for the smokers on one side that one has to jog past. The fitness centre (gym?) was way down on deck 2 so didn't go there – no view.
The Entertainment was great. I recall the Sail Away party last time we cruised with P&O and this one, although more subdued, was good. We spent it on the pool deck and then in the Dome. Great view in the Dome, so will head there early if there is a next time. There were two theme night, which I thought was too much for a three night cruise. The first was a Bianco night – wear white – and I always take my white pants and white top for formal nights on a cruise, so that was no problem. The second theme night was a Gatsby Theme, so we had great fun dressing up for that. The Gatsby party afterwards included free bubbles.
The Marque Theatre can seat 740, and would often have two performances for each shows, so it is possible that guests will have to stand. There was a one show only adult comedy act and we arrived at the theatre 15 minutes early and found seats at the back. Those who came later had to stand. The seats were comfortable to a point, and the good thing was there were tables to put drinks on, something Royal Caribbean lack. A lot of the inside activities took place at the Atrium, which also sadly lacked enough seating for passengers. The Atrium is 3 levels mid ship on decks 5, 6, and 7.
There was live music in the afternoons and evenings and the pool screen screened free movies on two nights. There was also a free movie screened in the Marque Theatre late the last night. Bingo was held in the Theatre a few times at extra cost. There was a Gatsby headband making class for $12, and dancing lessons – fun, for a Gatsby flash dance. The trivia was excellent and the entertainment staff were so much fun. The ship has two self service laundries, which is good. We didn't see the usual Art Auction, but there was an Icon selling area, but no auction. Maybe the cruise was too short for an auction.
Pacific Dawn has 795 cabins that can accommodate 1546 – 2000 guests. This cruise had over 2000 passengers. The ship has 11 guest decks. Deck 12 is the Pantry, pool, Cafe, and Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. Deck 14 (there is no 13) is The Dome Nightclub, and Deck 15 is the waterslide. The Dawn is 245m long and was built in Italy and registered in London in 1991. Originally named Regal Princess and christened by Margaret Thatcher in New York 1991, it was renamed Pacific Dawn in 2007 by Cathy Freeman. It was last refurbished in 2017. The maximum speed is 22.5 knots
There are 9 bars on board.
1 – Charlie's Bar, Deck 5 mid, opposite reception/atrium. Serves coffees and teas in the mornings.
2 – Promenade Bar and Lounge Deck 7, open in the afternoons and evenings.
3 – Ocean Bar is located on deck 7 mid and serves the atrium area of deck 7.
4 – Orient Bar is the pub on the ship and serves draught beers.
5 – Lido Pool Bar/ Top Deck 12 mid
6 – Dome Cabaret Lounge and night club Deck 14 Fwd
7 – Casino Bar. The casino is very tiny, which was refreshing on a cruise ship
8 - There is a bar in the Marque Theatre, but it is table service only, and I must say the service was very good.
9 – The Oasis, Adult only area, has a bar.
P&O do not do alcoholic drink packages on short cruises. They do have a Soft Drink package for glasses of soft drink only ($7 a day if pre-purchased, and $7.50 if purchased on board) and a Refreshment package that includes glasses of soft drink, juice, mocktails, tea, coffee, and bottled water ($19 a day if pre-purchased and $25 if purchased on board). We both got the Refreshment Package, and it was good value for me, but not so much for Peter. I only purchased one cocktail and it was awful. It was a Toblerone at a cost of $12. It didn't taste like there was any alcohol in it, and it didn't taste very chocolatey. Tasted like vanilla flavoured milk. Certainly not worth $12, so I stuck with the mocktails after that. There were only three mocktails available – very limited compared to other ships – passionfruit (which was my favourite), watermelon, and lychee. There was no fresh juice available on board, only concentrate. The alcohol package is $79 a day if pre-purchased ($89 on board) excluding tea/coffee, or $95 a day if pre-purchased including tea and coffee ($105 on board)
Disembarkation was easy. We requested late departure time and were given 8.05am as a guide. We know from experience that if one gets to the designated area for departure, then one has to wait. The longest we have waited was 45 minutes. We will not do that again. It was requested that we were out of our cabins by 7.30. We did that, as we know the cabin staff have a lot to do to get ready for the next cruise. We headed up to the Pantry for breakfast. This was the first day we were able to get a window table. We had breakfast, and about 8.25 we were informed that all passengers could head straight to deck 5 to disembark, which we did. The whole process was very easy.
Would we sail with P&O again? Yes.
Would we sail on Pacific Dawn again? Yes
Would we do another short cruise again? I think we would. We like the longer cruises, but it is amazing how much one can fit into 3 or 4 days.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Best Made Plans Often Get Changed

After our two days in Gulgong we headed north-east to Scone (which rhymes with 'bone'). We have driven through Scone a number of times, but never stayed overnight. As we were coming in on a country road, it was strange not to drive through the town but to drive straight to the Golf Club, where we stayed for the night. The Golf Club has a fenced off area for overnight self contained camping. It is situated near the old 1870 lock up and constable's quarters. Today it houses the Scone Historical Museum and Records Centre. Next door is the old courthouse built in 1882, with the first courthouse, built in 1849 at the rear with a large stone wall that backs onto the Golf Club. Today it is a theatre.
We were fortunate that my cousin was also visiting Scone that night, so we had a lovely dinner in the Golf Club. The meal was very good, but so big. Scone is known as the Horse Capital of Australia and there are many horse sculptures throughout the small town. The area was first surveyed by Henry Dangar in 1824, and gazetted as Scone in 1837. There are many old buildings in streets around the main highway, and we may find out about them next time.
Our plan was to head to Chaffey Dam near Tamworth for a few days before our ten days at the Country Music Festival. However, our daughter was in and out of hospital with her pregnancy, so we decided to sadly skip the festival and head closer to home. There were already a number of vans camped around the dam, and we found a flat piece of ground with afternoon sun, so we set up.
I love the sunsets here at Chaffey - I love sunsets.
The next morning we paid our $5 fee and headed into Tamworth to met some friends for lunch before heading to Guyra. I did stop at Spotlight, as one does, to get some purple fabric. We had a good catch up with our friends at a cafe called Nouvelle Cafe, near the Rugby Park on Peel Street.
After lunch, and few hours drive north we came to Guyra. Guyra has a Lamb and Potato (and tomato) festival each January. We drive past the festival each year on our way to Tamworth. We set up at Mother of Ducks Lagoon (free camp), well I set up while Peter chatted to the neighbours. Peter always talks to everyone, and he does find out some interesting facts.
We had a couple of drinks while watching the golfers and then headed over to the Bowls Club for dinner. The food at the club has always been great and good value.
The next morning we went up to the main street to see what the festival was about. There were a lot of market stalls, food and crafts. It was interesting. Apparently there are a lot of local activities in different venues, but we only went to the markets. 
Next stop was our favourite Clifton, back in Queensland. Someone was in our regular spot so we set up next door. We actually liked it there.
For $10 a night for power and water, Clifton Recreation Grounds is a place we often stay before heading home, almost like we don't want to go home and we want to keep camping.
The next morning we relaxed and I got out the sewing machine to make a quick lap quilt... but, best made plans..... we packed up and headed home after only one night, so we could help at home.
This is why 💗
4 hours old.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Step Back in Time

We left Parkes and headed along the Renshaw McGirr Way to Yeoval. What a lovely little town, and childhood home to A.B. Patterson. We will come back when we have more time, and visit all the statues along the way. The next stop was Wellington to see the site of the last recorded pistol duel in NSW. A plaque is situated in Teamsters Park that states that the duel took place in 1954 between Dr Samuel Curtis and Mr B Sheriden due to the influence of liquor. Researching, this may have been the last duel in Australia. B Sheriden was the local magistrate. The duel was over a women who both men thought was 'theirs'. They had been drinking in the nearby Lion of Waterloo and decided to take pistols to the nearby Teamsters Park to solve the issue. The guns misfired and both men fell to the ground drunk.
Not far away is the Lion of Waterloo that is believed to be the oldest licensed hotel west of the Blue Mountains that is still standing. It was built in 1841, not long after the plans for Wellington were drawn up in 1839. The pub and nearby park were used by Cobb & Co as a stop. Wellington was gazetted a town in 1846.
We then continued on the Goolma Road to Gulgong for the night. We pulled into Gulgong Showground, where there were already a large number of vans. The cost is $16 per night for power and water. The caretakers Colleen and Steve were lovely and even invited all the campers to happy hour where they provided cheese and snacks we provided our own drinks and chairs. It was a great idea and we met some lovely people. We decided to stay two nights and spend some time in the town the next day looking around.
 When I read that Gulgong had over 130 heritage-listed buildings I didn't believe it until we walked around the streets. So many interesting and historical buildings. Gulgong is a gold town. Gold was discovered there in 1870 with a large strike at Red Hill. Prior to the gold discovery the Gulgong area was a sheep property.
We parked beside the information centre, which is only opened on the weekend, and walked along the main streets, stopping at symbols on the symbol trail, and not knowing what they were. We stopped at a sign which showed a map of a historic walk and planned our trip, when a local pulled up in his car and gave us a copy of a history walking tour of Gulgong. BONUS, although we did need to walk back to see things we didn't know were there LOL. The booklet also had a symbol trail meaning – good to know. The symbol trail are symbols that swagmen and travellers would leave in the dirt for other travellers to let them know is the places were friendly or not. There are about 70 tiles laid out on the streets.
Gulgong and Henry Lawson are on the first $10. He lived very near to Gulgong. His father was a builder and Henry helped him build some of the houses in Gulgong. There is a Henry Lawson Discovery Centre in the town, and every June long weekend, Gulgong hosts the Henry Lawson Festival. Henry Lawson was born in Grenfell but went to school between Mudgee and Gulgong.
There is also a Chinese Festival in October. The Chinese flocked to gold fields in the 1800's and many gold towns have Chinese heritage. Both festivals would be good to visit.
The main Mayne Street has Australia’s oldest operating opera house, the Prince of Wales opened in 1871, and Dame Nellie Melba performed there. There is a replica mine at Red Hill, wher the first gold strike was, that looked interesting but we didn't go there.
There is a Pioneer Museum which other campers went to and said it was good. It is located in the old bakery and produce store. We have been to so many country museums in the past few years that we don't often pay for museums now, although I do like to see the antique sewing machines. But I guess we will visit next time we are in Gulgong.
We were very impressed with Gulgong. It was like going back in time.