There are plenty of free dining options on Pacific Eden, although we found some to be better than others, particularly during peak times. Our top pick for dinner was either Angelo's or Dragon Lady, the two fee-free specialty dining venues, which combine sophisticated decor with friendly, personal service and interesting menus. It is hard to believe these are fee-free; hopefully they will stay that way.
While the onboard dining information says bookings are 'recommended' for these two venues, we would suggest you book immediately on embarkation day. Angelo's and Dragon Lady fill up fast, particularly on shorter cruises when some passengers who leave it too late to book can miss out. Visit the small bar located outside the two restaurants on Deck 8 (unofficially known as the Monkey Bar due to its wallpaper motif) to book a table.
Passengers can make one reservation at each restaurant at the beginning of each cruise, a fair system that means passengers have the chance to try each restaurant once, provided the cruise is longer than a few nights. Everybody is allowed to make additional bookings in each venue after a few days, provided there is space available. Walk-ins are also an option, particularly if you are willing to dine early or late, or seas are high.
Waterfront Restaurant (Deck 7): The main dining room on Eden (and sister Aria) has an elegant beige, cream, and burnt gold colour scheme that wouldn't look out of place at an upmarket CBD restaurant, although the food and service do not really live up to the sublime surrounds. This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, although we found ourselves favouring The Pantry over this dining option by the end of our cruise.
Staff seemed run off their feet at the Waterfront, even when it did not seem particularly busy, and had no time for the friendly banter that usually accompanies meals in a ship's main dining room. Items sometimes arrived in a haphazard order, particularly during lunch, with mains coming at markedly different times, and wine being brought to the table after we had finished eating.
However, all of the menus offered an appealing selection of items that were generally a cut above what we expected, particularly at breakfast. The breakfast selection is split into two sides -- eight sweet and eight savoury dishes -- with options such as grilled black pudding with fried eggs, onion potatoes, bacon rashers and sticky apple jam or berry and ricotta hotcakes with rosewater mascarpone. Classics such as thick-cut banana bread and eggs Benedict also feature. If you come in for breakfast on a sea day and can get a prime window table, Waterfront Restaurant is a lovely spot to sit back and enjoy a leisurely meal.
Lunch features popular cafe fare such as hamburgers, fish and chips and gourmet salads, plus a changing selection of dishes such as pork and ale stew or Indonesian chicken satay. Dinner consists of a changing selection of four starters, five mains, five desserts and an international themed section with one choice for each course, e.g., German with a cold charcuterie platter followed by schnitzel and Black Forest cake, which also changes daily. If you wish, you can order dishes from the regular and international sections of the menu.
Waterfront is open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on sea days), noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch (sea days), and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner. An express lunch is offered on embarkation day from noon to 1:30 pm. The seating system is open so bookings are not required. When the restaurant gets busy, diners are given a buzzer so they enjoy a drink at one of the bars and return to the restaurant when their table is ready. For those who like to eat dinner before going to the early show in the theatre, a 5 p.m. matinee dinner is available but must be booked in advance.
The Pantry (Deck 11): P&O has skipped the traditional cruise ship buffet in favour of The Pantry, a light and airy dining area with a choice of eight different outlets ranging from salads to some seriously good Indian. Similar to a food court, passengers choose items from a menu at each venue and are served by a staff member stationed behind a glass counter.
The Pantry has ocean views and is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that let in lots of natural light. Seating ranges from lounge chairs to long benches along the main thoroughfare and high tables running along the windows, the latter two options coming with stools. These tables offer a convivial way to meet, and chat with, other passengers although the stools could be difficult for the elderly or small kids to climb onto.
Families and groups can choose from a variety of regular tables with chairs or padded-back banquettes, which can accommodate one to eight people; the high/long tables have enough stools to seat 20 people. If you are travelling in a large group, it could be wise to avoid peak times, however our party of three seldom had trouble getting a table (although we did have to share with other cruisers on a few occasions, not that we minded).
The eight outlets, which also have their own designs, are Mexicana (tacos), Hook's (fish and chips), Curry House (Indian), Stix (Asian), Fat Cow (for meat lovers), Kettle & Bun (sandwiches, soups and salads), McGregor's Garden (salad bar) and Sugar Bar (desserts).
In the mornings, breakfast items are served at each outlet, such as congee and fried noodles at Stix; fresh fruit and yoghurt at Macgregor's Garden; hot English breakfast at Hook's; a breakfast carving, poached eggs and muffins at Fat Cow; pancakes, French toast, fresh and stewed fruit at the Curry House; and pastries at the Sugar Bar, as well as the usual bacon, toast and cereal, spread out over a number of outlets.
Depending on what you feel like eating, you may need to visit different outlets to build your preferred breakfast. Our go-to meal involved a visit to Fat Cow for a muffin, followed by a stop next door at Hook's for a fried egg and bacon to top it with. However, this wasn't a problem as we waited less than a minute at each outlet. After a few days, the staff started reaching for our preferred order as we approached their station, something that gave this dining experience a personal touch.
The food quality is good, hot and tasty with plenty of turnover to keep things fresh. Curry House dishes are excellent (but not too spicy for those who don't like it hot) and sandwiches and rolls from Kettle & Bun are made with bread that is baked fresh daily. We found portion sizes to be generous but if you want a bigger serving, just ask. We much preferred The Pantry to Waterfront Restaurant, both for the overall quality and variety of the food and the staff, who got to know regular customers and remembered their preferences.
Open from 6 a.m. for the early birds, full breakfast service runs from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. The Pantry reopens for lunch service from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on sea days), closes in the late afternoon and serves dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Kettle & Bun is the exception, remaining open from 11:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.
Dragon Lady (Deck 8): Originally a surcharge was planned for this new-to-P&O pan-Asian specialty restaurant but it is free of charge (for now).
This sultry den of deliciousness, with its low lighting and secluded tables and booths, is the perfect 'date night' venue. However, it is also good for groups of friends, particularly if you are seated in the back section of the restaurant that features cushions on a raised floor. Don't be put off at first sight: it is just like sitting on a chair, thanks to a clever sunken floor. Women should avoid wearing a tight dress or short skirt when dining in this area, unless they possess ninja-like nimbleness.
Asian waitresses in Oriental costumes add an authentic touch, providing attentive service and helpful advice regarding the menu that arrives folded up like origami. Dishes sometimes meld elements from different cuisines, such as Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian or Singaporean. Whether you are an adventurous diner, or someone who prefers classic Chinese takeaway, there is something to suit all tastes.
Diners are welcomed with a refreshing watermelon, lychee, lime and mint juice shooter and crispy kumara, beetroot and parsnip chips accompanied by spicy dipping sauces. If you prefer your Asian spicy, the sauces can be added to the meals that, on the whole, tend to be more mild than wild. Choose from six entrees in the To Embrace section, which features dishes such as miso-poached chicken and Thai red curry chicken soup. The Essentials include larger dishes such as grilled snapper Marsala or spicy peanut and vegetable noodles with bok choy and lotus root, a highlight on the night we dined. Desserts can be found in the section entitled To Cool and Calm, with the likes of caramelised banana cheesecake or rich, warm dark chocolate brownie, providing a sweet finish.
Dragon Lady is open for dinner, bookings are essential and should be made as soon as you get onboard, particularly if you have a preferred dining time.
Angelo's (Deck 8): Angelo's is best described as sophisticated, with white leather chairs and smart linen-napped tables. Surrounded by black-and-white photographs, and sitting under the watchful eye of Sophia Loren, diners are treated to a contemporary four-course Italian meal. The menu is divided into different sections: primi (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes) and dolci e formaggi (sweets and cheese). Begin with crispy grissini breadsticks, an Italian sausage and potato soup or roasted cauliflower served with Romesco sauce, followed by a fennel and spinach risotto with pork confit or an impressive twist on a classic carbonara, featuring chicken, peas and pancetta. Desserts such as lemon olive oil cake or vanilla panna cotta are a highlight and worth leaving room for. Bookings are also essential for Angelo's and should be made as soon as you get onboard.
With the surcharges dropped for two of the specialty restaurants (Angelo's and Dragon Lady), this leaves the unusual situation where you only have to pay for the most decadent and most basic venues. At one extreme are a celebrity chef restaurant, Salt Grill, and a 14-seat Chef's Table dining experience, and at the other end are tea, coffee, ice cream, hot dogs and burgers (although you can get fee-free burgers during lunch in the main dining room).
Reservations for Salt Grill and the Chef's Table can be booked on embarkation day. Other venues do not require a reservation.
Blue Room (Deck 8); a la carte: By night, the Blue Room is a popular live music venue, but it also serves coffee, tea, cookies and biscotti -- all for an extra fee. Groups favour the large tables surrounded by couches while couples prefer a cosy window seat. Ocean views and music-themed artwork add visual appeal to this versatile venue.
Salt Grill by Luke Mangan (Deck 8); $20 to $49: From the professional welcome to the top-quality steaks (some of the best you will find on the high seas) and premium dishes like lobster tail, Salt Grill is well-worth the extra spend. The restaurant's most iconic dishes -- crab omelette and liquorice parfait with lime syrup -- are here along with meats and fish served every which way, from battered to steamed to grilled, with teriyaki wok-fried vegetables and coconut sambal. Leave room for dessert, it's worth it.
Created by celebrity chef Luke Mangan, this signature restaurant is open for dinner daily ($49 per person) and on select sea days for lunch ($39) and high tea ($20). Fresh oysters and sashimi cost an additional $2 each. Lobster tail incurs a $22 surcharge per person. Reservations are essential, preferably as soon as you board to avoid missing out.
Chef's Table (Deck 8); $95: Join up to 14 fellow passengers for a nine-course set-menu degustation dinner, accompanied by matching wines, in an elegant private dining room. Hosted by Eden's executive chef, this memorable evening begins with cocktails and canapés, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley (kitchen), before diners are guided through each course and its matching wines. Provided you arrive hungry (and thirsty), this experience offers excellent value, particularly when you consider the generous wine pours. A group photo and copy of the menu are included in the cost. Chef's Table is offered on multiple evenings throughout each cruise and takes three to four hours. Head to the Monkey Bar to reserve your seats, sooner rather than later.
The Grill (Deck 11); prices from $3: Located near the pool is a kiosk catering to those seeking a casual bite to eat at a reasonable price. Burgers (pulled pork or beef), wraps, pies, nachos, chips and gourmet hot dogs cost $3 each; pizza costs $9. Prawns in a bucket cost $15. An all-day brekkie (bacon and egg roll or chorizo and egg wrap) is also available for $3. If you don't want to change out of your swimmers, and don't mind paying a little extra, The Grill offers a convenient alternative to The Pantry.
New Zealand Natural Ice Cream (Deck 11); prices from $3: One black mark for this family-friendly ship is the lack of free poolside ice cream. Instead you have to pay $5 for a scoop of New Zealand Natural Ice Cream (plus a few more dollars for two or three scoops; sundaes are also available) at a kiosk located at one end of the pool deck. Milkshakes, thick shakes, iced coffee, specialty coffees and teas are also available at an additional charge. Don't be fooled by the fact this is an ice-cream shop, as the espresso-style drinks here are the best on the ship.
Room Service: Food, soft drinks and bottled water are available 24 hours, while beer, wine and Champagne can be delivered to your cabin from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each item is priced individually.
Breakfast must be ordered the night before, with a specified time for delivery. While breakfast is free everywhere else on the ship, you have to pay for it if you use room service. Prices range from $3 each for toast, croissants, pastries, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and juice; $5 each for cereal, yoghurt and platters of cheese, fruit or meat; and $10 for a hot cooked breakfast. A $10 breakfast set includes one drink, bakery item, cereal, yoghurt and platter; a $15 set includes a drink, bakery item and hot breakfast item.
Light meals, priced at less than $10 per plate, can also be delivered to your cabin. The menu includes sandwiches (roast beef, tuna or chicken), toasted three-cheese panini, an Aussie outback burger, pizza, lasagne, steak and mushroom pie, wedges, nachos, soups and salads. Desserts include citrus cheesecake, chocolate fudge slice, cheese plate and sliced seasonal fruit. Cheaper snacks include packets of potato chips, peanuts and cashews for $3 to $5.