Bye, bye buffet … hello Pantry.
P&O Cruises, in one of the biggest transformations in Australian cruising history, has banned the buffet on its ships.
The traditional buffet will be replaced on P&O’s five Australian-based ships with the Pantry - a marketplace of fresh food outlets, not unlike an upmarket food court where customers order and are served their meals.
The company is describing this radical move as giving customers the chance to “move away from putting as much as they can on their plates, to customers eating what they want, what they enjoy.’’
The Pantry will offer customers the choice of ordering all-inclusive food from a gourmet delicatessen, fresh fish and chip shop, mouth-watering Mexican, Asian food, carvery delights and a curry house.
The Pantry is one part of P&O’s dramatic design revolution unveiled in Oslo last week by leading Swedish marine design team Tillberg Design.
Company partner and Art Director Fredrik Johansson said that what is planned for P&O’s new ships Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria would change Australian cruising forever.
The Aria will boast Penthouse suites, many more dining options including the private Chef’s Table degustation dining room for 14 guests, and a new-look adults-only pool.
“First of all the whole cruise industry has realised that design is a strong competition tool,’’ Johansson said.
“I think there is going to be a big transformation in the cruise industry and the first people who dare to take that step – like P&O Australia – I think will gain a lot of advantage from that. They will attract a new and partly unexplored passenger clientele, and a market segment that hasn’t been addressed by any cruise operators.
“It’s a lot about flexibility and freedom of choice, but it’s also about creating a seamless experience from booking, to checking in, to when you are on board.
“It’s less dictated by the ship – what you can see on board and what you can eat – it’s more personal. People want more freedom.
“You are not having a five-course meal anymore. You are dining at several outlets and having a much more diversified experience. It’s people eating what they want and where they want it.”
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The MS Ryndam, currently part of the Holland America Line, will go into dry dock in Singapore later this year where it will morph into the Pacific Aria.
When it emerges in November it will feel more like a resort than a traditional cruise ship. The design team say they have worked hard to give the ship an upmarket residential feel.
Much work has been done to create multiple meeting areas across the vessel. There aren't too many strong colours used in the design; it’s mainly neutral hues that accentuate space and create relaxing zones throughout the ship.
“It was a specific request from the owner to begin with that they wanted to move away from this formal upright mass-market look and much more into the private, intimate, more like a boutique hotel or a residential style,’’ Johansson said.
Boutique is the best word to describe the ship. At full capacity it will hold 1,500 passengers and a 10 percent limit has been put on the number of children allowed on board.
A lot of the modifications will appeal to a younger cruise demographic, especially venues such as The Blue Room, which is roughly modelled on a New Orleans speakeasy and will be home to jazz and blues performers.
The ship, compared with modern mega-liners, is very easy for passengers to navigate. Nothing is too far away, which will appeal to travellers who want a more intimate holiday.
“Historically it’s been a lot about designing timeless elegance, because it is a big investment and the design has to last for a long, long time,’’ Johansson said.
“The cruise industry is beginning to realise that it has to follow the pace of land-based establishments where there is a much quicker turn-over of themes, concepts and food. Styles are much more short lived.
“I think if we design something here and now to be launched next year, it will last maybe three or four years before some of it will feel outdated and will need to be replaced.
“So why not make it look nice, new and fresh now as opposed to something that looks timeless and elegant, but it looks dated already when you launch the ship.
“That’s the new approach a lot of cruise owners are going to take. Design something that looks fresh and really inviting right now.’’
Johansson says the new design of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden will inspire younger people to try cruising. Interior designer Petra Ryberg spent three weeks sailing on the MS Ryndam and also visited Australia to formulate the design plans, which will take 18 months from concept to delivery.
“We actually looked at hotels and restaurants for our inspiration, not other cruise ships,’’ Ryberg said.
“We don’t want it to feel pretentious at all. We want it to feel very residential and resort-like; a high-end hotel.’’
P&O’s signature Luke Mangan Salt Grill will stay, but will get a funky new design that includes a standout black and white carpet. Salt Grill is so popular with guests on P&O’s current ships that it is sometimes already booked out before the cruise starts.
The main dining room – the Waterfront – will be cut into three, and new restaurants Dragon Lady (Asian infusion) and Angelo’s (Italian) will offer guests even more dining options.
“Dragon Lady will only be open at night. It will be dark and moody with screens that give diners some privacy,’’ Rydberg said. “We are moving away from cramming in as many tables as possible. We want people to feel like they are sitting in someone’s living room or at an upscale restaurant.’’
P&O senior vice president Steve Myrmell said the ship will offer guests affordable luxury.
“Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden represent the next generation of P&O ships inspired by modern Australia,’’ he said. “It will be a relaxed vibe, casual enough to bring the sand in from the beach, but with a touch of sophistication that will feel luxurious and indulgent.’’
The new ships will be welcomed into P&O’s fleet Sydney Harbour on November 25.