Welcome aboard the good ship P&O Pacific Eden, bound for Kangaroo Island, from Melbourne. We will be away at sea shortly. You won’t feel much in the way of movement until we’re through Port Phillip Heads, and then suddenly, here’s the Southern Ocean, charmingly grey and choppy. Then you’ll know you’re alive. (Here’s the hotline to the Medical Officer, and his sea sickness pills, and here’s the phone number for Elemis Spa, which contains the excellent Dr Ouch and his expensive acupuncture needles, guaranteed to work unless they don’t).
Please, tramp the many stairs, or take the elevator to Deck 11.
Upon staggering from the stairs, or neatly stepping from the elevator, you will step out onto the deck. Immediately in front of you are two bubbling spa pools. Expect these to be full of families at all times. And I mean, at all times, from 7.30am through to whenever the pool closes for the night. The families will always consist of:
- a small whining girl in pink bathers that don’t fit quite right. She wants to go into the big pool, but can’t convince an adult to go with her.
- a slightly older brother who kicks water at his sister to wind her up. It works
- a mother who is self-conscious in her bathers, and moves quickly from lounge chair to pool, dropping her sarong only at the last minute to reveal an average body that shows nothing out of the ordinary, but she thinks she is somehow offensive in her cellulite and the scars of living
- a father who is trying to ignore his kids, and act deaf and dumb. The father is either of average weight, or….and this seems to be mandatory in at least one of the two families currently using the spa pools, is grossly overweight, with hair everywhere, and huge man boobs that will float and jiggle in the water like two underset blancmanges.
They will have towels minding four deck chairs, right next to the sign that requests that passengers not reserve deck chairs with towels or other belongings for long periods of time.
They will move from chairs to pool, to spa for most of the day.
Behind the spa pools is a large complex metal sculpture of leaping dolphins, and behind that, the pool itself. The pool is about 7 x 7 metres and around 2 metres deep. Deck chairs line the edges, far enough away that splashing isn’t too much of a problem. The pool is sunk a little so that shiply swaying doesn’t create a flooding problem, except when, on Day 3, there’s that sudden huge gust of wind at 50 knots, that sends the ship keeling over a little about 25 degrees, and the pool slops out one side, then the other, when the boat rights itself. At least the deck is clean.
There are pavilions along the edges of the enclosed deck, and they are taken from early morning to late evening. Some families park and elderly member there to reserve the spot.
At the far end of the pool area is a wet bar, and boy, is that in use. Breakfast beers, wines, and cocktails are the go, and keep them coming all day. You can pre-purchase a soft drink package, a booze package, and a gambling package (for the casino on Deck 8). None of them are cheap. The in-room water bottle package is $15 for 6 bottles of water, and you will be searched upon boarding for water bottles. They will be confiscated. You drink bottled water bought on board, or you drink from the taps, which are linked to the ship’s water tanks.
Stewards come and go, ferrying drinks and snacks. There is a snacks bar. If the three slap-up meals a day aren’t enough from the in-with-your-ticket restaurant or food court-style eaterie, there are about 10 other dining options, and each one doubles as yet another bar. During the day, between meals, pizzas and buckets of prawns can be ordered brought pool-side.
Further on, towards the stern, is The Pantry, the food court-style eating area that is most popular. Families can usually find something to feed finicky toddlers, even if it’s white toast and Vegemite for breakfast, and jelly and chips for all other meals. Meanwhile, everyone else stuffs their faces with a variety of food ranging from fish and chips, to Mexican, to Asian, to a roast. And I mean – stuff! Too much food, and everyone goes crazy, going back again and again for just that one more taste of something, one more meringue, one more small slab of chocolate mud cake.
Tea and coffee and powdered milk at the end of The Pantry.
No one will go hungry on any watch, ever.
The serving staff are cheerful, and always urging you to have more on your plate. They are quick to whisk away dirty dishes and cutlery.
Two tall thin girls are turned away from dining because they are wearing only bikinis and towels. They want to take their food back poolside. They are told there is a dress standard. They suddenly pretend not to speak English. The steward is not fooled, and keeps repeating: “You cannot come in unless you are dressed.”
You will spend a lot of time here on Deck 11. You will eat here at The Pantry, sit by the pool, people-watch, read, sunbake if so inclined, and wait in vain for one of the spa pools to be empty.
On the last morning, you will see people gutsing down food so they can disembark when their colour code is called. You will see a man throw a tantrum because the bar is shut. No more drinkipoos now that the ship’s run is over. No sir, see, the bar is actually all wrapped up in cling film. It’s 7am, sir, perhaps you don’t need 48 beers with your eggs.
Welcome aboard, one and all. We hope you enjoy your cruise with us.
NB: This is written about 2 hours after getting home. Please note that the author has just spent 5 days in a cabin with husband and autistic adult son, both of whom snore, burp, and fart like it's a Olympic event. She has spent 5 days managing said son, and while he was an angel, it wasn't a restful time for her. Her opinions may mellow and gel more clearly, given time. The three of us have concluded that cruising is not quite our cup of tea, and will not be repeating the experience. However, I acknowledge that others LOVE cruising, and I talked to a lady who's done 15 cruises in 4 years, and said this one was lowest on her scoreboard thus far.
Photo: A Prawn in the Sea of life _ macinate