Catching a P&O cruise to one of Australia’s best arts festivals: the path to Dark Mofo

A P&O ship, more specifically the Pacific Jewel, departs on a six-night cruise from Sydney’s White Bay Terminal to Hobart for the spectacle that is oddball-loving music and arts festival Dark Mofo. Already that’s a couple of hundred juxtaposing images, all to do with the stereo-typically gentle and older crowd of a cruise set against the subversive, hedonistic darkness that characteristics the 13-day festival. Did this P&O crowd know what they were in for on the cruise lines’ debut at Dark Mofo earlier this year? It seemed not for the most part, but as it turned out none of that really mattered once the ship and it’s bevvy of economy-boosting holidaymakers were wrapped in the unforgettable quirk of MONA’s brooding winter solstice homage. That much was reiterated to me as one of my fellow “cruiselings” (an actual adjective as far as cruise ship jargon goes), much older than myself, loudly exclaimed at the festival’s fiery Winter Feast that she never felt so alive. If ever there was a moment that reiterated to me that Dark Mofo was one of the most inspiriting festivals in Australia, that was it.

P&O bringing a typical – although there were quite a few younger groups – cruise crowd to Dark Mofo was a good thing – even a great thing; highlighting the raw power and left-field inspiration that has been elevating this festival ever since it’s beginnings in 2013, carrying it to more people (almost 2,000 on the cruise ship alone) than ever before.

Image supplied

There’s also the added bonus that this P&O package really is one of the most affordable ways to experience Dark Mofo. The debut deal was something along the lines of this: you spent 4 nights (two inbound, two outbound) on the impressive Pacific Jewel with a most-things-included package; sandwiched between those two-night stretches was time spent (two nights, three days) in Hobart experiencing the tail-end of Dark Mofo, with priority access to Winter Feast and MONA – two of the most essential activities – to boot. Accommodation was sorted since guests just stroll on back on-board the cruise, which was conveniently parked just a few minutes walk from the festival’s Dark Park, each night. By all means, it’s a viable option assuming you only want a few sips of whatever incredibly potent liquid the genius minds behind Dark Mofo mix up each year.

The ship’s cosy cafe, also doubling as the best Wi-Fi spot onboard. Image supplied.

What makes these “event cruises” most attractive is the recent push into modernity seen with many cruise ships around the world. Yes the idea of a “floating RSL” has been touted – sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly – by younger travellers for years, which is why recent times have been so interesting for big companies like P&O. Granted there are still those conservative and quite dated elements of the cruise ship that mostly extend to the classic pub-like atmosphere in some of the vessel’s more popular bars, and the uninspired colour schemes that come with it. But then you’ve got excellent additions to atone for all of that, a great example being “The Pantry”, replacing the usual quantity-over-quality buffet.

Piles of pollywaffles at The Pantry
The Oasis bar, not far from The Panty. Image supplied.

The Pantry is essentially the ship’s biggest evolution to date, not only offering food that is much better than your mass-produced buffet – not particularly memorable, but quite enjoyable – but also scoring high on sanitation. Guests aren’t handling the food and serving themselves; this is basically a boutique food court/hall with various offerings like Mexican, Indian, and “Asian” (mostly Chinese and Malaysian food) offerings alongside sandwich stations (with a nice selection of cheeses and cured meats) and even dedicated dessert stalls. The best part: this is still an all-you-can-eat approach that is included in the cost of the cruise, meaning you can go crazy with your dining desires or just hang out in what is often the liveliest part of the ship during most times throughout the day. If you can brave the cold, then there’s also an outdoor bar located nextdoor to the Pantry, at the front of the ship with deck chairs so you can sip on a Strawberry Daiquiri or down a Corona while throwing loving glances across a vast watery horizon as the ship makes its way to its destination.

Excellent prawn toast at Salt Grill by Luke Mangan
The desserts are fantastic at Salt Grill by Luke Mangan

Of course The Pantry isn’t the only food and drink option onboard. From small coffee shops and New Zealand Natural Ice Cream kiosks to busy bars and sprawling restaurants, including the intimate and up-scale Salt Grill by Luke Mangan (where there’s also excellent High Tea sessions on Sundays). There’s plenty on board to keep the hungry and thirsty fueled through the day, breaking up the impressive and constant stream of activities.

Inside Marquee, the ship’s dedicated theatre.

Every evening a 4-page edition of “P&O Good Times” is delivered to your room, detailing the next day’s timetable of activities available to suit passengers of all ages. These include the expected holidaymaker favourites like live comedy shows (many from one-time TV star Steady Eddy) and pub-style karaoke (an absolute must given how diverse cruise crowds are) as well as around 4-5 cinema screenings (most on a big screen hovering over Deck 14 – where the pool is located so you can essentially watch a film while chilling in a jacuzzi) each day. Get a few drinks in at any of the many bars that lay up and down the ship and you’ll start to see the appeal of a cruise holiday, with each day packed with various spaces (including a theatre, in-house casino and even a Segway course) hosting various crowds, all with the same undercurrent of energy that really gives the cruise some character.

Photo: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions, 2017

It being a Dark Mofo cruise didn’t really inspire changes to any of the aesthetics, nor the atmosphere, on board, which I feel was a missed opportunity. Rather, all the festival’s fiery energy and glowing shades of bright red would be saved for when we docked, immersive from the start with a siren song blasting across the waterfront to welcome us. You can read more about my complete Dark Mofo experience HERE, but just know that it’s now without a shadow of a doubt one of the Australia’s most unmissable events.

Lasers all around at Dark Park. Photo: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions, 2017

For more information about next year’s Dark Mofo cruise with P&O click HERE.

Feature image supplied

The writer travelled to Dark Mofo as a guest of P&O Cruises.