Pacific Explorer: Inside the massive cruise ship sailing out of Auckland for the next five months

Take a look inside the Pacific Explorer, the P&O Cruise Ship based in Auckland for five months in 2023.
Pacific Explorer is sailing out of Auckland through to the end of November. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

The Pacific Explorer sailed into Auckland's Waitematā Harbour last week to launch its five-month Aotearoa season for 2023, offering New Zealanders a variety of holiday options.

It arrived on the morning of Friday, June 30 before setting sail again that evening, taking thousands of passengers out of New Zealand for a nine-day cruise with stops in New Caledonia in Vanuatu.

Many of the customers onboard are Kiwis and many will either be on their first-ever cruise, or their first in a few years since the COVID-19 pandemic. Damian Hewitt is the cruise director onboard Pacific Explorer and he insists it's a great ship to introduce people to the world of cruising.

"There's just something about this ship. It's got heart to it - it's not huge but it's not small either," Hewitt told Newshub.

"The crew feel like family. They see the guests a lot more, they want to spend time with them and you want to spend time with them because all you're doing is walking past them and you're with them. You see them a lot more. There's something about that that makes this ship a bit more relaxing, a bit more like home and a bit more comfortable."

Sunset over the top deck of the P&O Pacific Explorer.
Sunset over the top deck. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

Last year, Pacific Explorer was the first cruise ship to return to Aotearoa for the return of cruise tourism post- pandemic.

Owners P&O Cruises were happy with customer feedback on its 2022 season, with Hewitt attributing a lot of that to the laid-back, family feel onboard. 

"We're not a very fussy cruise line. You pay to be here, you want to relax and have a great time, so we're not the type of people to be like, 'You have to wear this, you have to do that'," he said.

"It's a very inclusive cruise line. Anybody is welcome to come and join us and they're going to have a great time, whatever happens. We're also very adaptable to whoever we have on the ship."

Turtle Cove is a kids club for 2-5 year-olds on the P&O Pacific Explorer.
Turtle Cove is a kids club for 2-5 year-olds. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

Many other cruise ships do indeed enforce a dress code for various areas, which Pacific Explorer does not. There are, however, special nights where guests are asked to dress on theme. 

"So when we say dress code there, that's more of a… theme of the night. You can get involved if you want to, if you don't, that's fine, you can still come along and join in," said Hewitt.

Those themed nights take place at some of the ship's seven bars and nightclubs, where passengers can head after dining at one of the 18 options onboard.

There's also a casino, two large theatres for shows, arts and crafts classes, movie nights and multiple kids clubs with childminding services on offer.

P&O Pacific Explorer Dragon Lady restaurant.
The Dragon Lady restaurant. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

On the top deck there are hydroslides and a pool as well as a big screen, while lower down there are wellness options like spa treatments, yoga sessions, hot tubs, a barber and a gym with treadmills right by the windows, so you can gaze out at the ocean while working up a sweat.

Pacific Explorer's maiden voyage with P&O Cruises was in 2017 and its last refurbishment was in 2020. Like other modern cruise ships owned by the Carnival Corporation or Royal Caribbean, it's basically a floating holiday town.

For the next five months, that town is calling New Zealand home.

P&O Cruises Pacific Explorer's top deck hydroslides.
Hydroslides with a view. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

"Cruising out of a new homeport always brings a new kind of vibe of the people from different places," Hewitt told Newshub.

"People have different ways of enjoying themselves and partying, or doing what they want to on a cruise ship. Coming from New Zealand, there's going to be a nice, new, fresh vibe to the ship, a new kind of culture and way of enjoying a holiday."

In addition to the cruises on offer to people based in Aotearoa, cruise ships of course bring foreign tourists - and their money - into the country.

P&O Cruises also recently announced a $5 million investment in local New Zealand food and beverages that sees the company partner with the likes of Good George, Neat Meats, Boundary Road Brewery and Sea Services.

"Sourcing products locally provides economic support to New Zealand that extends further than just the port towns we visit," said Marguerite Fitzgerald, president of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia.

"Guests travelling on Pacific Explorer in the coming months will be treated to sustainable produce sourced from farms across the North and South Islands, as well as local New Zealand beer and wine."

Pacific Explorer dining options.
Two of the eateries onboard. Photo credit: P&O Cruises

Pacific Explorer is 261m in length, has a gross tonnage of 77,441 and features 999 rooms. The lower berths are able to host 1998 guests with a maximum capacity of 2395, with up to 856 crew for the New Zealand 2023 season. 

The nine-day round-trip with stops in New Caledonia and Vanuatu is the Pacific Island Hopper cruise, which will be undertaken a number of times over the coming months.

Also on offer are other Pacific cruises like the Fiji Encounter and Tongan Discovery, domestic cruises around the North and South Islands, and themed cruises to nowhere like the '80s Themed Cruise and the Comedy Cruise.

Finally on November 29, the Pacific Explorer will set sail from a New Zealand homebase for the last time this year on a five-day one-way cruise to Melbourne.