Max Williams rates his budget cruise to South Australia

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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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Written by MaxWilliams



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