We didn’t know what to expect on Pacific Encounter as we were on one of the ship’s early sailings. There were no detailed Pacific Encounter reviews or information on any of the Pacific Encounter cabins, including the new Byron Beach Club suites, apart from what was on the P&O Pacific Encounter page on the P&O Cruises website. We also hadn’t sailed on Pacific Adventure yet. While we normally like to plan ahead, in some ways this made us look forward to the cruise even more. We couldn’t wait to get onboard to see what Pacific Encounter was like for ourselves!
Our trip began with a magical mystery tour to the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal. It’s like getting lost in an industrial estate that is still under construction with the occasional signpost saying you are almost there. Exiting the dusty backblocks near a waste management site, we arrived at the shiny new terminal and more importantly Pacific Encounter.
There’s no public transport at the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal so plan for a taxi, Uber or transfer if you aren’t able to drive out there yourself. If you are, the carparks at the terminal aren’t huge so book ahead or you might not get a spot. If you want to stay overnight at a hotel that’s (reasonably) close to the terminal, you’ll find some suggestions here.
The ship, like the terminal, is new or almost new with Pacific Encounter looking fresh from multi-million dollar refurbishment and a name change from Star Princess. Brisbane is the home port for Pacific Encounter which cruises from here on a year-round basis. When we arrived at the terminal, the bag drop and processing was very orderly and quick so the terminal does work well.
Download the P&O App and complete your required online paperwork before boarding as this needs to be shown at check-in and when you get on the ship. My app was a little hinky at first and kept disconnecting but once I got it working, it was great. In hindsight, it would have been better if we had printed out our paperwork as a backup instead of just relying on the app.
Pacific Encounter deck plan and finding your way around
We found the Pacific Encounter deck plan easy to follow. For anyone who had been on Star Princess, it would be even easier. Entering on Deck 5, we were greeted with The Lobby lounge and a glittering atrium that extended up to Decks 6 and 7. This area is designed to impress and it succeeds. Also located in this area is the important Avalon Café for morning coffee and the two bars, Lilly’s and Charlie’s.
This is the first area of the ship where you get to see the refurbished public areas that were re-engineered into all-new venues from the ship’s Princess days with all of the ship’s lounges, restaurants, and bars getting a full makeover. Also located on Deck 5 is the main restaurant called the Waterfront, a small library with novels you can borrow while you’re onboard, and the Destination Lounge which has seating but no views.
Before venturing any further, we went to our cabin located on Deck 9 where we found our cabin keys in the document holder next to our door. This was different to our last P&O cruise when we were handed our keys at check in. Our cabin was a mini suite with access to the Byron Beach Club, a new “suite retreat” on P&O’s two newest ships. The cabin was a nice size and had new carpet, linens and soft furnishings but the furniture and bathroom hadn’t changed from ship’s Star Princess days.
Also included in our room due to the Byron Beach Club was a basket of fruit, some fresh canapes and two large bottles of water. A welcome letter that listed all the Byron Beach Club inclusions like bathrobes, Byron Beach Club flip flops (to take home), access to Angelo’s restaurant for breakfast and daily snacks was also in our room. Our key card was coded for the Club entry on deck 16.
Some important safety procedures have also changed concerning mandatory life jackets and lifeboat drills. The procedure now is to watch the demonstration of putting on the life jacket on the TV in your cabin and then proceed to your muster station. Look at the back of your cabin door to find out where to go. The muster stations are staffed from the time you get onboard until sailaway so you can proceed there at your leisure to have your name checked off (don’t bring your life jacket). Watch the video and go sooner rather than later as it gets busier later in the day as more people get on board.
Our next stop after getting our muster station checked off was heading back to Deck 6 and the Dragon Lady restaurant. The reason you will want to go to Dragon Lady is not for the food at this point but to get your restaurant bookings made or reconfirmed. You can also book restaurants via the P&O app. Stationed at the Dragon Lady restaurant are 4-6 staff with a computer to assist in booking specialty and non-specialty restaurants for your cruise. Byron Beach Club guests get priority bookings but in our experience it’s always good to get restaurant bookings done early on any ship.
Pacific Encounter had plenty of choices for dining onboard with many free venues like the Waterfront Restaurant, and buffet called The Pantry that is similar to a food court plus free specialties like Angelo’s Italian and Dragon Lady for Asian fusion. Extra cost restaurants include Luke Mangan’s Salt Bar & Grill, 400 Gradi by Johnny Di Francesco and Shell and Bones which is located adjacent to The Pantry (this restaurant wasn’t open for dinner on our sailing). Quick eats at a charge are also available on the pool deck at Luke’s Burger Bar and Gradi Pronto plus cones and more at New Zealand Ice Cream.
Coffee lovers can head the Avalon Café or New Zealand Ice Cream for their daily early morning hit but have patience as even with multiple machines and good baristas, you do have lots of caffeine-starved passengers after an espresso style brew, especially in the mornings. The barista coffee onboard is very good and worth the spend but like most cruise ships, the free restaurant coffee is best avoided unless you’re (really, really) desperate for a caffeine hit.
The Bond Store bar on Deck 6 is decorated like a speakeasy and perfect for a romantic cocktail or small get-together. The Casino Bar is located in the casino (surprise, surprise) and is a bit bright and sterile. It’s best for a grab-and-go beverage on your way to another lounge or bar unless you want to hit the tables or play the pokies.
Up on Deck 7 are the cool cat areas with the tropical decor of the Encounter Hotel beckoning with a dance floor and afternoon/evening entertainment. It reminded us of a trendy Cairns pub and had a nice vibe at any time of day. Adjacent is the Ocean Bar which is a favourite hang-out in the mornings and afternoons for coffee aficionados who liked to grab a takeaway and come up here to enjoy the ocean views.
The place to be in my opinion is the Blue Room, a cool blues-themed bar and lounge that is ideal for late afternoon and pre-dinner drinks or a late evening nightcap. There is entertainment here in the afternoon and evening with cool tunes and vocals from guest artists. We liked the Encounter Hotel but often ended up here for a quiet late afternoon drink as the hotel doubled as a trivia venue around this time on our sailing and was often full.
Way up on Deck 14 are the sun lovers’ drinking spots like the Pool Bar and Oasis Bar at the stern. The Oasis is an adults-only area on the ship with its own pool and sun deck and was a popular hangover recovery zone in the mornings on my sailing. Later in the day, people got into the cocktails and went for a dip in the pool. Deck 15 has the Sky Bar which overlooks the main pool and big screen.
The Byron Beach Club is on Deck 16 and has its own pool, sun deck, bar and cabanas. The ship’s spoiler incorporates the Altitude Nightclub which is also a great spot to chill out and read during the day with 180 degree views. It’s perfect for watching the sunset if you can get a seat and at night it’s a disco and late night party hangout.
A must-do on Pacific Encounter is Blanc de Blanc, a strictly 18+ show that combines, comedy, circus and burlesque in the Black Circus Theatre. This sold out before the end of our cruise and costs $20 each or $120 for 2 for VIP seating. My top tip is get the VIP tickets as they come with a bottle of Champagne (expensive stuff that’s the real deal) and the best seats in the house.
The other big show on board our cruise was Musicology, a Broadway-style production of major music hits over the decades with all the sequins and feather action you expect on cruise ships. It was very entertaining and good for all ages. More entertainment was provided by guest performers in the main theatres and lounge and bar areas throughout the ship, all of it of a high quality.
Pools and splash action on Pacific Encounter are a to-be-continued affair as the ship’s waterslides are not being installed until 2023. The pools and spas that are on board are all worth a dip especially when the ship heads north or east for tropical island escapes. The main pool on Deck 14 is popular for all and the separate kid’s pool has a retractable roof for weather protection. The last pool on Deck 14 in the Oasis which has a good view of the ship’s wake.
One pool area that is a bit of a secret is the one on Deck 15 which has a little kids’ water play area and a small, deep pool for their parents. Also on Deck 15 is the Byron Beach Club pool area which is accessible through the spa but only for Club guests. We’ve written a detailed Byron Beach Club review if you would like to know more.
More things to do on board are the daily activities such as trivia, game shows and bingo that take place in the Encounter Hotel or Black Circus Theatre. All of these are very popular so get in early for seats. The ship also has a spa and a gym which has all new carpeting and equipment plus a dedicated workout studio for yoga and F45 fitness sessions (these classes cost extra). Free stretch and meditation classes are also available here so check the daily schedules for times.
The restaurants on board were very good at the paid and free venues we visited. The standout was Luke’s Bar and Grill, followed closely by Dragon Lady with breakfast at Angelo’s and 400 Gradi also rating highly. We didn’t have dinner at Angelo’s as our cruise was only three nights but other passengers said they enjoyed it. All of these restaurants had good service and décor that made us feel like we were having a special dining experience.
The main dining room was also of a high quality and worth a visit, especially on sea days for lunch. We didn’t try the pizza at Gradi Pronto for lunch but the ones we saw other passengers eating looked good. Our only disappointment food-wise was Luke’s Burger Bar which didn’t live up to the hype. For a cruise on what was a very new ship, it was impressive that my most major complaint was a disappointing burger. Compared to other cruise lines with free burger outlets this was a real miss.
We did note that the ship was training lots of new staff and at busy times the bars sometimes felt understaffed but all the passengers were patient and understanding. This should change with future sailings once the new crew members are up to speed. There were a lot of standouts on our cruise but the biggest bouquets need to go to the hard-working cabin stewards and the crew staffing all the drinking and dining venues. They provided the best service possible, even when they were run off their feet, and always with a smile.
Pacific Encounter cruise ship tips
1. Download the P&O App and pre-book as much as you can when you get onboard.
2. Book your dining early (Dragon Lady has staff on-boarding) for times and dates and try them all if you can, especially Luke’s Bar and Grill.
3. Book tickets for the Blanc de Blanc 18+ show on your first day and splash out for the VIP treatment.
4. Get to venues early for good seats as the theatres do get busy on full sailings.
5. Report any problems with your room to your cabin steward instead of contacting guest services. Often they can arrange to get things fixed like having a blown lightbulb replaced.
6. Be patient with new staff and fellow passengers. It has been a long time between cruises for most people plus there are lots of new cruisers and new crew onboard.
7. Have realistic expectations when it comes to your room as you do get what you pay for. Don’t expect a huge, fancy looking suite if you have paid a modest price for a regular cabin.
8. Find your favourite spot/lounge or bar but be prepared to share if it gets busy. Who knows, you might find a new friend or two.
9. Leave a tip for the cabin stewards they work exceptionally hard to make your cruises as pleasant and comfortable as possible.
10. Don’t forget the ship has plenty of guest laundries if you like to pack light and travel with carry on only. You and your clothes don’t smell like flowers after multiple days at sea.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of P&O Cruises and would not hesitate to cruise on this ship again as his own expense.
Want more great cruise advice? Check out our tips for choosing the perfect cruise, cruising with grandchildren, cruising with tweens and cruising with kids of all ages, solo cruising, Celebrity Edge, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas plus the best activities on Ovation of the Seas, doing a Transatlantic cruise with kids, cruising in Australia or Papua New Guinea, cruising on a megaship, scoring a bargain cruise fare, cruising the Mediterranean, making the most of a cruise ship kids club, luxury cruising with kids, and the Byron Beach Club onboard P&O Cruises. We have also reviewed Pacific Adventure, Pacific Encounter, Carnival Splendor, Voyager of the Seas, Nieuw Statendam, Viking Helgrim, Pride of America, Coral Expeditions in Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, Celebrity Solstice, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.