Max Williams rates his budget cruise to South Australia

Is a budget cruise a great way to see South Australia?

Max sails to South Australia

There it is at Station Pier – P&O’s Pacific Jewel – waiting to whisk 1900 passengers away on an exciting six-night cruise to Adelaide, stopping at Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln on the way.

It is late afternoon on a warm summer day in Melbourne. We join the queue to register, then go through security. The alcohol patrol is about and has already confiscated supplies from naïve passengers at the X-ray station. Those who have tried to get their gin or vodka through screening will need to reclaim their contraband at the end of the cruise, as all unsealed containers are emptied in front of them.

As with all cruises, our bags are taken away at check-in and we’ll have to wait for them to be delivered to our cabin. Whilst we do that, we opt for the table-serviced Waterfront restaurant for dinner, much nicer than joining most of the other passengers at the Pantry, which is a ‘Coles cafeteria’ buffet-style arrangement.

There must be an age demographic spanning eight decades here, and most passengers seem to be from Victoria. It’s near the end of the school holidays so there are many young families on board as well. There are people of all shapes and sizes. I try not to cringe as I view some passengers loading their plates as though it is their last meal. I guess this cruise is popular because of its low price point combined with the fact you can continually eat all day. Okay, so I’m being politically incorrect and judgemental, which is why I am not going to mention the missing teeth and tats!

The cruise cost a little under $1000 per person, which is very good value. We paid a little extra to get a midship Ocean View cabin, not that we have ever suffered from sea sickness, but being in the ship’s centre makes for a steadier sail.

We leave port at 9pm. What a nice feeling it is to stand on the ship’s aft watching Melbourne’s lights disappear. The four-metre swell during the night, and all the next day at sea is somewhat uncomfortable and it’s difficult to walk the decks without looking like a drunk. The sick bags are out and by the time we make our first stop at Kangaroo Island there are fewer to be found.

Food and service
While the ship is not as glamorous as others we have been on, the service is good and the food is fair. I would say that the phrase “you get what you pay for” has never been truer in this instance.

On one night there were chockies on our pillow, but none of the usual toiletries were provided in our Ocean View cabin, although they may have been supplied for a balcony or suite cabin.

If you get tired of the free food, there are other paid speciality restaurants to choose from, such as Luna, which is Japanese, and The Grill, which is as the name suggests.

We pay $50 each and book a speciality dinner at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill – which we have booked for the homeward sea day. Hopefully, it’s worth the extra dough …

Of course, most of the money made on these inexpensive cruises comes from all the extras – beverages, wifi, shore excursions, speciality coffees, ice cream, onboard retail and merchandise, casino, spa treatments, etc.

The casino is only open ‘at sea’ days – something to do with Government regulations. A great thing about these domestic cruises is that there are no taxes added and no mandatory gratuities, unlike others where you can pay up to 18 per cent tax on every purchase onboard and at least $6.50 a day, per person, on gratuities. When the added expense is in US dollars (which most are), then add more for the currency conversion. We gave our cleaners a cash tip at the end of the cruise. They were always pleasant, cheerful and greeted us by name whenever we saw them. Most staff, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, don’t get paid much and many have families to support back home.

Entertainment and activities
The onboard entertainment is varied and non-stop and you should be able to find something to keep you amused throughout the cruise. There are several bands and solo artists on board providing a variety of music for all ages – cocktail, jazz, country and western, rock, and modern pop. Of course, mingled with all of this, is the DJ who fires up his lights and smoke machine at the end of the day for the nightly disco.

Comedians perform on the sea days – both raunchy and definitely R-rated. Stay away if you are offended by anything politically incorrect. Very funny and lots of laughs if you are not. On one of the other show nights there is a very talented performer, Nathan Foley, who takes the audience on a four-decade musical foray. I opted for full use of the sauna facilities for the whole cruise. At a cost of $100 a single or $149 a double, it was good value and very relaxing.

We selected a ship’s shore excursion for both Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln mainly because there weren’t other suitable options available. I wouldn’t bother with the Kangaroo Island three-hour return tour ($100 each) to Kingscote (the main town on KI), which only gives us a glimmer of the third largest island in Australia. The commentary by a local was poor, as was the audio system. We did see a few of the unique dark grey kangaroos though. It’s best to spend at least three days here on a self-drive tour, although I believe that the car ferry and accommodation are very expensive. From what I’ve read, there is otherwise lots to see on this island.

The $50 per person 90-minute tour of Port Lincoln, our second stop, is well worth the time and money. Great commentary and tour of this fishing town, which is known for its tuna industry and of course the Olympic weightlifting medallist Dean Lukin.

Glenelg Beach
We made use of the excellent (and free) Adelaide Greeter service. On a 40°C day, our volunteer greeter met us at the central train station. It’s a 40-minute train ride from the Outer Harbour station where the ship docks. For over two-and-a-half hours, Gavin walked us up North Terrace past historic buildings including Parliament and Government houses to the Botanic Gardens, then through arcades and down Rundle Mall, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Adelaide. We offered Gavin some money, which he refused. He was happy to give up his Sunday morning to show off his home town. What a fantastic free service for tourists. Make use of it – you won’t be disappointed. You must book a few days in advance – just go to the Adelaide tourism website. Greeters do their stuff in several cities all over the world.

We also had time to head to Glenelg on the free tram ride (seniors travel free on weekends). It takes about 30 minutes from the city. It’s very touristy here and you will see the usual cafés and bars – but it’s nice to sit down in an air-conditioned café and people-watch over a light lunch and coffee. A cool breeze off the water complements a nice walk along the sandy beach. This is really a lovely place to chill out for a couple of hours.

So, we are back on board and ready for our special dinner at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill. This is by far the best meal we have had on this cruise. The service and food quality is excellent. On other cruises, we have experienced a high level of quality and service without having to pay extra for it. However, this is a budget cruise and as such was acceptable for what it was.

The cruise and its destinations have whetted our appetite to see more of South Australia. We are keen to do a driving tour of its wine regions sometime down the track, but this was certainly a good way to get a taste of the Great Australian Bight and the shores upon which it laps.

Have you been on an Australian cruise? With which line did you sail? Would you recommend such a cruise to our members?

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    COMMENTS

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    MICK
    17th Nov 2018
    8:31am
    Cruising is no way to see a place. Having said that we did a Mediterranean cruise a few years back and it was fantastic. Mainly because we hit a port every day and the locations were able to be walked easily in a day although one was an all day walk.
    I can't see the point walking around a town which is not historical or large with the exception of one like Sydney where you can at least get to see the harbour, which will keep you going all day.
    I've read about the sort of cruise you did: poor mans cruises where some of our more problematic citizens as well as yahoos looking for a party go. Apologies for being judgemental but from all accounts they are what they are. Our Mediterranean cruise was mostly older people and very few young folk and onboard was fine.
    Personally you can keep cruising period. For older people whose mobility is limited. I'd hate a cruise where yahoos abound and not sure why one would you ever do that to themselves.
    Pass the Ductape
    17th Nov 2018
    9:20am
    Yes - we know exactly what you mean Mick.
    roy
    17th Nov 2018
    6:55pm
    Such pearls of wisdom from MICK as usual!
    Pass the Ductape
    17th Nov 2018
    9:14am
    Did a cruise on the OLD Pacific Pearl to Hobart. Wife and I first timers and it wasn't the best experience. We thought we'd be in for a fantastic time if the loading process was anything to go by. Boarding was the best part of the trip! The staff at the terminal were magnificent. Efficient, friendly - and seemed to know the answers to every question we posed. But people need to understand that the fare is only about half what you're likely to spend (if you're lucky) because once on board, you're a captive audience and boy, do they know how to charge - for everything - except the buffet style meals which included pretty basic items you'd get in any café restaurant on land - but there was plenty to go around. The newly baked bread rolls were the best. We thought we'd splurge out and booked a cabin in the middle of the ship on the top level (bad mistake). Noise from people moving about all day on the play decks was phenomenal - and right above us! Tables and chairs scrapping across the top deck from dawn to dusk made resting in our high priced cabin a nightmare. We also found watching the shows put on at night a little off-putting because it seemed no matter you sat, there was always something blocking your view, (pillars etc.) unless you sat right down in the front rows to the performance. The show (adult comedy) we really would have enjoyed, only began at around 11.30pm. By this time we were well and truly sleeping. Kiddies running back and forth in the corridor outside our cabin during the trip didn't help either - but that seems to be the way parents let their kids behave these days so unless you feel the need to get into a bun fight with other passengers, what else can you do but put up with it! All in all we liked the trip, but would think twice before committing so much money again over such a short period of time. We think there are better ways to enjoy your money other than spending great heaps of it on a cruise. However, our experience is possibly not typical so we're prepared to keep an open mind. Other passengers we spoke to on the cruise; those who'd gone on other cruises before, told us that that the particular one we were on, certainly wasn't up to scratch when they considered the others - so go figure.
    MICK
    17th Nov 2018
    9:27am
    Pretty accurate from all accounts Ductape.
    I can relate to the add on costs. Shore excursions comes to mind as being at the top of the list. These were heavily promoted for our Mediterranean trip but we resisted and saved more than the actual cruise cost. In the end one did not need a guide and the only thing missing was a commentary...but we observed on a land tour after the cruise that the guides make a fair bit of it up to embellish the tale so we knew we had made the right call going it alone. Other well seasoned travellers did likewise and mostly those left were conned.
    We also stayed with the included meals. They were actually good but seemed to not change during the trip, but that was acceptable.
    We'll likely not cruise again. If so certainly not on a bogan adventure. That is something older travellers do not need.
    Pass the Ductape
    18th Nov 2018
    8:57am
    That's right Mick. Perhaps it was because we were from an older generation where people of our day had a lot more respect for others, that we found the trip a little off-putting. Passengers in younger groups appeared very self-centred, pushy, demanding, obnoxious and downright rude on many occasions!

    Shore excursions (poor value for what you actually received if you booked them on board ship) were very rushed, organised to the second almost.....done I suppose to accommodate as many people on each bus trip as possible. Hardly time to scratch yourself. Tour guides forever telling people to - "Hurry along please!" We felt a bit like cattle being processed into crates for transport to the slaughter house.

    There were two other things that come to mind on our trip, both which we found a little disconcerting. The first was - because cash was unacceptable, you had to use your credit card (understandably) and as such, credit card surcharges applied to everything you might wish to purchase. But we were also touched up for a compulsory donation of two dollars each, again attached to your credit card, and attributed to some kind of charity to do with under-privileged children living in island communities.

    It was only two dollars, but you paid up whether you agreed to it or not. We'd never come across this kind of thing before and considering the number of passengers on board, a nice little earner for someone. We can only assume the money got to those 'under-privileged kiddies'.

    Secondly, we booked ourselves in to one of fancy restaurants on board for a slap-up treat before the trip was over. One chance to do this I thought - and only other party besides us eating at a different table and no wonder - for a start, the cover charge was ridiculously expensive.

    I ordered three lobster tails and first to admit I'm no connoisseur when it comes to fancy dinning, but the tails were miniature in size and simply had no taste - which indicated to me that they’d had come straight from the freezer where they’d been stored for god knows how many years....they obviously saw me coming.

    We were seated right next to a large window looking out over the ocean, but being dark, nothing to see - expect the large amount of vomit which had splattered all down the outside of the glass pane from some unfortunate seasick person on the deck above. They’d obviously thought the high cover charge was way too much as well!
    mogo51
    17th Nov 2018
    9:53am
    Thank you for the excellent critique of your cruise. I have only ever been on a Pacific Is cruise about 40 years ago. So things would have certainly changed in that time. Pleased you enjoyed yourselves.
    Cowboy Jim
    17th Nov 2018
    3:48pm
    Did my first trip in January 1969 and things certainly did change, some are better than others. The duty free alcohol and cigarettes after 15 miles out to sea is certainly no more but then I do not expect it either, 20c a can of beer and 15c a pack of ciggies was the way then and if you saw a cheap bottle of rum on shore you just brought it on. No X-ray machine waiting for you upon return. So far have about 500 days on the ocean and I still enjoy it, like flying to Europe and coming home by ship, rather the Panama than the Suez Canals.
    Cost of living has increased everywhere and I just go with the flow - if I could not afford it I would not go.
    Pass the Ductape
    18th Nov 2018
    9:06am
    Hey Jim - yes things have changed alright! Bottle the cheapest wine was about $20 when we went four years ago, but this only lasted about 3 days - then all they supplied were bottles costing $30 or more! Crappiest wine we ever had as well!
    ozrog
    17th Nov 2018
    11:46am
    You lost me right at the beginning when they took away the gin and other alcohol people were taking on board. These cruises do not work out cheap as you usually pay for everything onboard from bottled water to coffee, alcohol and on shore tours so really they are not cheap and when you have to pay a large onboard bill including tips probably in US converted to aus. Buyer be ware.
    Cowboy Jim
    17th Nov 2018
    3:49pm
    ozgrog - just see above, you are on the money!
    Jim
    17th Nov 2018
    12:03pm
    My wife and I do 4/5 cruises a year, usually with Royal Caribbean, which in my opinion is the best cruise line, but each to their own, my wife quite likes Princess cruises, if you have paid $1000 for a cruise of 6 days you have paid over the odds, but I have noticed P&O prices are increasing, we don’t use them unless we are in Europe where the ships seem to be of a higher quality, we like the fact that you can get a taste for a country by cruising there first and if you like it you can return later, but as Mick has said don’t expect to get a good feel for a country with the short amount of time you are there, it’s a bit like coach travel, which we also don’t mind as long as we are staying in a central spot for the whole trip and going out on day trips around the area, don’t forget when in Europe you can travel to different countries in a few hours, we spend 2/3 months each year in Europe, we are fortunate we have family that live in different parts and are quite happy to see us, so no charge for accommodation, which of course is recipricol when they visit us. Back to cruising the more you cruise the more benefits you get, on RC we get free drinks between 4pm and 8pm in the diamond lounge or you have access to 3 free drinks during the same hours anywhere on the ship, we also get 1 day free internet, we get a free photograph each and there are a few other benefits, there are a few benefits on Princess but not as many as on RC, on all cruise lines look for their specials many cost less $80 per day and if you are flexible and can leave last minute. It was mention about Adelaide that travel is free on the weekend for pensioners, it’s actually free on all days when travelling outside peak hours, and if you are not from SA you can get free travel for 2 weeks during off peak times.
    FrankC
    17th Nov 2018
    3:21pm
    We traveled on the Pacific dawn, back in 2007 or 8, . Yes the costs of coffee teas cakes etc. etc., certainly add up Having a card that replaces your own credit card does not help you keep account of your spending. I was uinfortunate to get a respiratory infection on the 3rd day, and had to visit the ships medic. he fixed me up, at a cost of $210, yes $210. So my advice is ,don't cruise without insurance. We were on E deck, ( level 6 ) and the disco was on level 12, so didn't hear it at all, and it was quiet at night. They tried to charge my wife and I each for gratuities, I challenged this, and won. It doesn't matter whether there is one , or two people in the cabin, he is till cleaning it,and making the bed.
    Mollymoo
    17th Nov 2018
    3:36pm
    I went on a comedy cruise with P and O what a rort, everything cost money. We were on the boat 3 days and my drinks bill was higher than the cost of the cruise and that was just a couple of drinks before dinner and perhaps a bottle of wine with dinner. They don't offer a package on short cruises, I agree about the Pantry it was like eating in a food court. I also agree about the late time for the shows, I was tucked up in bed most night. Would I cruise again, maybe but definitely not with P and O again.


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