As many of you know Sky Princess was transferred to P&O Australia and is operating as Pacific Sky out of Sydney. I was lucky enough to be the first passenger on her first cruise out of Sydney on 10/Nov/2000. The ship had just undergone a two-week, $10 million refurbishment and was completely refitted with a new exterior paint scheme and totally new interior finishes.
Boarding was a breeze: the ship was docked at Darling Harbour in Sydney and it was a huge terminal, with check-in counters according to cabin numbers making embarkation a quick and simple process. Once issued a boarding pass, we walked straight up to the gangway, had a photo taken and were on the ship, with the whole process taking no more than 10 minutes.
We entered the ship on Baja Deck (6) and were greeted by stewards who quickly showed us to cabin B130, which was forward on Baja Deck. The cabin was excellent! It was a standard outside 2/4 berth cabin measuring a generous 175 square feet! The cabin had two single beds and two pull-down bunks (which easily slid completely out of sight into the ceiling with the pull of a lever, which allowed for more space during the day). We had four people in our cabin: myself, my mother, sister and brother and there was plenty of storage space -- a wardrobe each!
The bathroom was great and the shower was huge! It even had a retractable clothes line in it (very handy for wet swim gear). Our room also had a dresser with chair, lamp and phone, a table with two chairs, a TV and a bedside table with lockable drawers. (And a call button for your cabin steward! Like on an aeroplane). Our cabin also had a built in hairdryer and two windows. Whilst onboard I had the opportunity to see all grades of cabin and each cabin was identical to ours in size and layout (inside rooms were also identical, only with a blank wall behind the curtains), except the suites and suites with balconies which were also of extremely high standard.
The Feel of the Ship
Once we had unpacked, I went exploring the ship and found it generally to be very light and open; at no time do you feel claustrophobic and the layout is relatively simple and easy to get used to. Getting around the ship is easy -- there are two main staircases and these are colour coded, with Gold being forward and Silver being aft, so it is easy to know on which end of the ship you are. The Gold staircase runs the full 11 decks of the ship from the cinema at the bottom to the Fitness centre at the top. Three talking elevators service each stair case (they tell you where they are going and what deck you are on).
Outdoor deck space is plentiful, especially aft where the deck was extended during her refit. Although the ship doesn't have a wraparound promenade (it doesn't reach all the way forward), I didn't find anyone who found this to be a problem. I actually found it to be an advantage as the deck was always sheltered from wind and was a very pleasant place to be, even at night.
Departure was marked with a 'Bon Voyage' party out on the rear deck, and sailing under the Harbour Bridge proved very popular. Cruising out through Sydney Harbour past the Opera House and through the spectacular Headlands really is an experience. We headed out to sea where we would spend the next two days (this inaugural cruise was a three-day cruise to nowhere).
Dining & Entertainment
We dined in the Regency (the larger of the two restaurants, they being Regency and Savoy) and were pleasantly surprised by the extremely high quality of the food -- excellent! We sat at a table for 6 and although not next to the window, they were large picture windows and you could see out from all tables. The service was also excellent and the restaurants were stunningly refurbished.
After dinner we went to the Pacific Sky Showroom (a 600-seat theatre forward on Promenade Deck) for the show 'Rhythms of the City,' which was outstanding. (On the second night they featured an illusionist who was surprisingly good.) After the show I checked out the casino, which was abuzz with activity. I then went to the nightclub, which was the best party on the high seas! This ship is very much a party ship and is very alive at night. The nightclub is half indoor and half outdoor (on a special rear deck fitted with lights and sound system) under the stars. The DJ was great and we partied well into the early morning around 5:30, by which time breakfast buffets were being set up on deck. Fresh coffee was much appreciated by the hundred or so of us who had danced right through the night!
Day 2 (At Sea)
Day 2 was spent at sea and I spent a lot of the day lying by the main pool on Lido Deck (10). The ship has three pools and an indoor whirlpool spa. All the deck chairs were new and very comfortable and there is plenty of deck space for everyone. Unlike modern liners, Pacific Sky's pools are all aft, and the rear of the ship is nicely layered. On the top deck, there is a running track, and there is a jogging club which runs early each morning. During the day I also went to the fitness centre on Sun Deck (11) and used the gym, which was impressive and has floor-to-ceiling windows. Here I also took a dip in the whirlpool (great after a workout) and popped into the sauna. Massages are available at a price. I had lunch at the buffet which was aft on Promenade Deck around one of the pools. It was very popular and the food was great, especially the desserts.
The Promenade Deck (8) is where you'll find a lot of the public rooms, including the Promenade Lounge (pleasant lounge next to the photo shop with full table service); the Sports Bar (great for sports enthusiast with a big screen that shows major sporting events live from around the world); the Veranda Lounge (elegant lounge with full bar service and live entertainment); Rodeo Drive (with kiosk, odd shop and mini department store); and of course, the fabulous Pizzeria open 24 hours with the best pizzas in the Pacific!
One deck down on Aloha Deck (7) are the two restaurants and the children's centre, with a special room for littlies and teenagers as well as the third pool. Two decks down on Caribe Deck (5) is the lobby with the Pursers Office/Reception, as well as the Tour Office. I found the reception staff to be both friendly and helpful, as were all the staff. Also on this deck is the Beautician and Hairdressing Salon. Two decks down on Emerald Deck (3) is the Medical Centre and two decks down again on Gala Deck (1) is the Cinema, which is modern and comfortable and showed the latest releases as well as some golden oldies. It had a balcony level and a stage, so was also used for live performances.
Some Problems and A Response
I have to mention, being the inaugural voyage of Pacific Sky, there were some teething problems. A new computer system which allowed drinks and onboard purchases to be charged to a 'Cruise Cash Card' gave trouble and resulted in long queues at some of the bars. Also, the ship had an entirely new crew that was still getting to know the ship, and this caused a few confusions. However I have spoken to passengers on the second and third cruises who have informed me that the computer troubles are now fixed and the staff seems to be settling in well. On that note, I should add that because of these teething problems, after arriving back in Sydney we were contacted by P&O, who apologised for the inconveniences and refunded half the cruise fare!
Overall, I had a fabulous cruise and would recommend it to anyone, especially families and young people, as it really is a 'Funship.' The ship, which was built in 1984, has been well looked after by Princess and the $10 million refit has it looking fantastic. She is a nice size (46000 tons) and is the largest ship permanently based in the South Pacific. It is also the last steamship ever built [Which makes her the SS Pacific Sky -- Ed.] and is therefore completely vibration-free. Also, there was no engine noise noticeable at any stage of our cruise, and the ship provided excellent smooth sailing even through some sizable swells on the second night. Being an Australian cruise product makes the atmosphere onboard laid back and casual, while the staff is warm and friendly. Pacific Sky is a 4-star ship and is very reasonably priced, and from me she earns a 10 out of 10 for overall cruise experience.
Rob Graham may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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