Review: P&O Cruises
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
P&O Arcadia - Southampton to Singapore - heaven or hell?
28 people found this review helpful
This is an honest, tell it how it is review. Being wholly objective, it may also carry a little excess baggage as I, a 63 year old, grappling with the transition from being a 2-4 week holidaymaker to a world traveller!
Passengers who joined and departed the ship following a three week leg where the routine is viewed as fresh and new might reasonably be considered as holidaymakers; quite a different animal from the diehards who come on board for the long-haul. The 500 or so who signed up for longish voyages are travellers and, they travel for many legitimate and differing reasons: boredom at home, company, to be looked after, to escape the British winter, non-flyers, repositioning, once in a lifetime adventure, etc. Many of these are ‘see you next year’ repeat world cruisers. Like I say, I am struggling with the transition!
Arcadia is a quiet, comfortable ship…like an old armchair (though a little tatty in places).
Overall, the dining experience was good (Belvedere excluded).
Entertainment; this particular Headliners Company were exceptional.
Some wonderful ports of call Alotau, San Francisco, Napier, Nha Trang, Singapore.
No fighting for deck chairs on Arcadia…acres of space.
Service was uniformly excellent throughout.
Dance hosts Brenda & Jeffrey converted many non-dancers. Superb.
Quiet ship, everyone in bed early…little to do after the theatre show.
No meaningful second entertainment / cabaret venue.
Due to the above, the ship was quiet from 9.30pm (i.e. post theatre).
Areas of the ship smelled foul throughout the 12 week cruise. (Mid-ships next to the shops).
Excessive use of smoke effect (mist) in the theatre. Universally slated by visiting entertainers and the viewing public.
The ship needs an overhaul not just an engine refit. Extremely dated.
Too many quizzes, day and night. Cheap and cheerful? No, just cheap!
If we want a quiz we go to our local. Not what we hoped for on a world tour.
The Meridian Restaurant delivered a good (not great) selection of food served warm (rarely if ever hot). The levels of service were influenced by variables such as the waiting team, distance of your table from the galley, dramas in the kitchen etc. Comparable with banquet catering served at say, a family wedding rather than a fine dining experience. None the less, the Meridian (main dining room) would score 4/5.
The Belvedere buffet was another story. The choice, quality and presentation of food was mediocre to poor. Even by P&O’s moderate standards this ‘restaurant’ left a lot to be desired. With the possible exception of Curry Night, this place should be avoided if possible. Score 2/5. Hence the overall dining score of 3/5.
Sindhu, P&O’s Asian fine dining restaurant seemed to attract mixed views; rather like Marmite! We don’t like Marmite so 2/5. The Ocean Grill (by day the ship’s officers mess, by night Marco Pierre White’s fine dining experience) was incredibly popular, with generally good to excellent reviews. Whether this popularity was due to the need to utilise the copious on-board spending money to be found on a World Cruise or, truly reflected the quality of food and service on offer might be debated. In our opinion, it is not as good as say The Epicurean Restaurant on Azura/Ventura where the extra charge is double that for The Ocean Grill. None the less, in terms of food quality, service and value for money it rates 4/5.
Dining room dress code
Interesting! At the start of the cruise, Southampton to say San Francisco, there were typically three formal nights each week… too many. As the passenger mix changed around the Pacific rim (many more Australians joined the ship), formal nights were reduced to one per week. The Aussies were welcome for any number of reasons and ruffled a few feathers with their ideas on formal wear! What’s wrong with a dash of colour and a hairy leg?
This was generally good to excellent. Of course it was somewhat limited in choice when compared to the restaurant however it was cooked to order, often hot and for the most part, delivered on time. Please note, some items were chargeable. In our experience, this is probably the only way to get warmish toast on board. 4/5.
Cafe Vivo, tucked away in the dark, no doubt as an afterthought of the ship’s architect; was illuminated by excellent staff who brought sunshine to it’s customers. Much too small and poorly positioned. 4/5.
P&O offers a largely British cruising experience. None the less, on this a World cruise, the passenger profile was truly mixed and included Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Americans, amongst many others.
Given the above passenger profile, the entertainment was not surprisingly geared towards British Commonwealth tastes.
It is not so long since P&O Cruise Directors proudly introduced their entertainment team of sixteen staff. On this cruise (a world cruise) the now Entertainment Manager introduced his team of six. A sign of the times?
Headliners Theatre personnel were excellent on this cruise. From memory, they presented nine different shows all of which we had seen on previous cruises; these were repeating for the third time during our 82 days on board Arcadia. Some might call this repetitive.
Guest entertainers (the usual suspects) were largely flown out to join the ship and varied in standard. For example, an “alternative comedian" who normally performs in a late night show lounge / night club venues on Arcadia’s sister ships found himself starring at Arcadia’s theatre. A poor fit, but little choice really since there is no alternative showroom / cabaret venue (see Cinema notes below). Local entertainers / cultural performers were also engaged as the ship moved from continent to continent
The Globe, a 200 seater utility room is used for dancing (users complain that the floor is much too small with tensions often mounting between sequence and ballroom dancers as they vie for space), classical recitals, occasional musical ‘jams’ featuring the ships orchestra and other in-house musicians.
Bars/Lounges. There is music of some description in each of the bars and lounges as the in-house musicians play their own brand of musical chairs and rotate venues each evening. No criticism of the musicians; however extensive their repertoire, some performances became tedious and repetitive over our twelve weeks on board.
The Retreat, another small, utilitarian facility is primarily used for ballroom, sequence or line dancing, either for lessons during the day, or, as an alternative to The Globe during the evening. The Retreat is much smaller than The Globe, therefore far from ideal.
Guest speakers were shipped out (from the UK) on a regular basis and once again varied in attractiveness dependent on your taste. Most notably, Eric (Knocker) Knowles, Wayne Sleep and Lord Michael Howard offered lectures on their chosen subjects and life in general. Listed like this it sounds varied and interesting however in reality, the overall quality of the speakers lacked sparkle. As an aside, does Mr Knowles reside permanently on cruise ships? We have seen him perform on four previous cruises in the past couple of years.
The Ocean Room is a multi-purpose facility busy delivering art, crafts and card lessons by day but, idle at night. Could be better utilised as a revenue earning second venue after dark.
The service throughout the ship was uniformly excellent, particularly the reception. Often receiving the brunt of complaints from frustrated passengers we witnessed the reception staff defuse potentially difficult circumstances. Dragana and Sandra were outstanding. 5/5.
The deluxe balcony cabin on D deck was both comfortable and serviceable, if a little tired in places. Previous cruiser’s mishaps on the room carpets and soft furnishings were permanent and there for all to see. The decor and layout is now dated with the ludicrously positioned bed lamps the butt of many visiting comedians. Constant warnings about the frailties of the toilet system seemed to be heeded by the guests. Our cabin’s w.c. backed up only once during the nearly three month cruise. The balcony and balcony furniture (2 x deck chairs, 1 x leg stool, 1 x service table) were also a little tired. The cabin stewards worked extremely hard to keep the room in good order and they are to be commended. The air-conditioning, whilst in theory adjustable, was fierce. Anecdotally, several passengers we met claimed to seek medical advice for sore throat/chest infections citing the air-con.
Shore Excursions 4/5
Normally we steer clear of these due to overpricing and generally being poor value for money. Somewhat different on the World Cruise it seems, with P&O upping their game considerably…on most occasions. Interesting itineraries, informative tour guides, great lunches when included, bottled water available on many tours etc. Even allowing for the exotic nature of the ports of call; in our opinion and to our surprise, most tours genuinely rated 4/5.
What a waste of space with only thirty seats some of which remained unserviceable and unavailable throughout the cruise. Previewing at the cinema tonight – shown in the cabin tomorrow night. The cinema, Cafe Vivo, Ocean room should be converted as one to a much bigger day time craft/arts/card room but convertible to a second venue/showroom at night. Cafe Vivo could be easily moved further aft where coffee is already served.
Having written, read, posted and re-read this review, I cannot help feeling that I have allowed it to exude a little too much negativity. Look, you call it as you see and experience it. Several of our shipmates thoroughly (five stars) enjoyed every aspect of the ship; they loved the knitting, colouring-in, sing-a-longs, craft, Spanish language, ballroom / sequence dancing and card classes. Given the length of this cruise there was inevitable repetition in food and entertainment; completely understandable and, perhaps on reflection, fully anticipatable. The ship is geared up for senior citizens, the proverbial old folks home at sea. Not quite ready for that just yet.
Ports of Call
Embarkation day. No time to visit this trip. From previous visits it could be said that Southampton is a utilitarian city, functional rather than spectacular.
Funchal, Madeira 5/5
Despite numerous visits to Funchal, the island capital never ceases to enchant. A ten to fifteen minute walk over mainly flat surfaces will bring you into the centre. Visit the fruit and flower market, take the cable car up to Monte and come back down on the famous wicker baskets. Taste the world renowned Madeira wine, enjoy the year round floral displays…the list goes on.
Bridgetown, Barbados 5/5
So you want a beach, take your pick…too many to choose from. You want history, visit the forts, English style churches, Bridgetown cricket ground (ten minutes walk from the ship), visit Trafalgar Square. Rum factories, fruit plantations, beautiful scenery. Barbados has the lot. The cruise terminal is situated approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes walk from the centre of Bridgetown, mostly on flat though slightly uneven surfaces. Normally it is hot so a taxi might be a good bet.
Willemstad, Curacao, Dutch Antilles 4/5
There are two main docking areas. If you are lucky you can enjoy a dramatic sail in/sail away as the ship encounters the narrowest and prettiest of harbour entrances; allowing you to converse with onlookers shoreside with the greatest of ease. Otherwise, you park-up at a more utilitarian pier just outside Willemstad’s walled centre. The city is small but perfectly formed with the entry over the floating bridge an obvious highlight. Beaches within fifteen minutes of the pier side. Willemstad, Curacao is colourful, vibrant and very Dutch. The town is predominately flat and accessible.
Huatalco, Mexico 3/5
A beach day. If you enjoy walking around the marina, limited shops and stalls then great, Otherwise, for me, the town has little to offer.
San Diego, California 4/5
They say it never rains in Southern California, well it can and it did…big time. This did not detract from an excellent promenade and a welcoming (relatively flat) city centre only five minutes from the port. Maritime museums, Aircraft carrier, Red October submarine, Dixie steamboats, you name , only five minutes walk from the ship.
Long Beach (Los Angeles), California 3/5
All that glitters might not be gold. We went to Hollywood from the port, nearly 1.5 hours by coach to get there, over 2 hours back…in fact you will need to take either a tour or taxi to visit anywhere of note perhaps with the exception of Long Beach. The traffic around downtown L.A. is horrendous, the ship departed leaving behind six late passengers who were caught up in traffic. Be warned! Oh yes, Hollywood? Think Blackpool or Southend but without the sticky rock. Tacky in the extreme!
San Francisco, California 5/5
If they had offered ten stars then thats what I would have given. Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge into the bay with Sausalito to the left, Alcatraz dead ahead, San Francisco with its cable cars to the right. Yes, heavenly. The ship ties-up next to a tram stop from which you can turn left and travel inexpensively into the city (six minutes) or, turn right and visit the various Pier 39 attractions and find the terminus for the cable car (five minutes). Take a tour, cross the bridge, visit Sausalito, go to Alcatraz, ride the cable car…fill your boots! If it is not stating the blindingly obvious, San Francisco is extremely hilly.
Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii 4/5
Honolulu… Pearl Harbor and beaches, right? Yes, of course, and much more besides. We took a tour to Pearl, interesting and historic, good to see…would we do it again…mmmh? Over commercialised but not tacky. Beaches, well we were there early February 19c, not quite bikini weather for me but pleasant enough to see the attraction. Honolulu is a great city, easy to find your way around and just about walkable from the ship berth, 25 mins.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia 3/5
What do you do when it rains (pours) in paradise? We knocked on the front door of a home in Bora Bora asking the resident for shelter. We were welcomed into the large covered porch area and offered a drink. Fifteen minutes later, we were babysitting as our host took off on her bike to the shop to buy provisions for her thirty or so other guests who had seen us enjoying local hospitality and decided to gatecrash! The lady was well rewarded from all concerned. Swimming, snorkelling, water sports, beaches are all great once the thunderstorms have passed. Beautiful, scenic and ideal for beach based activities…weather permitting. Extremely limited otherwise with the small town having very little to offer. Warning, there is no pier in Bora Bora; the ships lifeboats tender you ashore. This can lead to long queues with limited shelter, not ideal if either wet or extremely hot. Vaitape the main town is limited in appeal, indeed it could be described as basic or minimal and anything that is for sale is not cheap. The public transport is rudimentary (trucks with benches) and the service could not be described as regular. None of the above should put you off visiting this unique and welcoming island group.
Papeete, Tahiti 3/5
Despite benefiting from millions of Euros from the EU, Papeete and the Tahitian Islands still seemed a little underwhelming. The ship docks in the centre of the city and it is easily accessible. Pleasant enough to visit for a beer or coffee but unremarkable otherwise. The people were warm and welcoming and that will be the abiding memory. PS avoid the tour to the ocean bore-hole, expensive and slated by all on the coach.
Auckland, New Zealand 5/5
Terrific little city, even in the rain. Ship docks right in the centre, Easy to walk around although there are some slight hills to deal with. Go up the tower, terrific views day or night. Tremendous ambiance emanating from wonderful people. You must take the inexpensive twenty minute ferry across to Devonport; a hidden gem with its village feel, beautiful little shops and cafes. Lovely beaches.
Napier, New Zealand 5/5
We took a tour down to Kidnappers point, saw some sheep shearing and enjoyed wonderful scenery. Following afternoon tea we called back at Napier for an hour before re-boarding the Lollipop. Napier had a huge earthquake some years ago. The locals had the bright idea to rebuild the city in ArtDeco style…Wow! What a beautiful little city, terrific promenade, fantastic sights to be seen everywhere you go. Everything, and I mean everything was in ArtDeco style. Truly a wonder to behold.
Wellington, New Zealand 5/5
We took a morning tour along “the wild coast”. Lovely views, followed by some sheep dog trials and a stupendous morning coffee with cakes, sandwiches, pastries et al. Back to the capital city which is extremely attractive and small enough to be quite manageable by foot. Deciding not to take the cable car journey up into the hills above the city, we went to the harbour area instead. We were well rewarded. About five minutes from the “Beehive” New Zealand’s stunning parliament building, the harbour area has been developed sympathetically and is easy on the eye. All manner of water sports were visible in the bay as we took a beer in one of the many cafes and bars on offer. Idealic.
Sydney, Australia 5/5
Whats not to like? As with San Francisco, Auckland, Hong Kong etc we were there for two days. Yes, we visited the bridge, the opera house, blue mountains, Featherdale Park (kangaroos and much more) , Manly beach etc. Too much to do, so little time.
Brisbane, Australia 4/5
The ship berths 35 minutes by coach from the centre of Brisbane. We met friends on the south bank of the river which traverses Brisbane. This area is an attraction itself with a sizeable city beach, restaurants, theatres, attractions of all descriptions. Brisbane is an gorgeous city, beautifully manicured and cared for by the residents.
Yorkey’s Knob (Cairns), Australia 4/5
Once again, no harbour at Yorkey;s Knob so ships lifeboats tender you ashore. Situated approx thirty minutes outside Cairns, you will need to take the coach into town. Nothing much to see at the Knob just a small restaurant and bar. We took a tour on a period train to Kuranda, terrific views on the two hour journey. Recommended as an alternative to the Great Barrier reef. In the afternoon we visited Cairns. A pleasant, if sticky, one horse town with lovely outside pools and promenades. Kind of how I imagined it would be.
Alotau, Papua New Guinea 4/5
Like almost everyone else on the ship, we went on the Alotau Cultural Festival tour. The locals dress up and put on a colourful, musical and cultural extravaganza with a sail on a war canoe being the highlight of the trip. Beyond this tour the options are extremely limited. The very small town has little to offer and the folks are extremely poor by western standards.
Kochi, Japan 4/5
A ten minute courtesy coach journey brings you directly into town…the main bus station. From here you can walk into the small city (five minutes). Kochi Castle is beautiful, absolutely authentic and a terrific photo opportunity. Particularly attractive during cherry blossom time (March). The main shopping centre is extensive with a mix of up to date modernity laced with other enclaves of delicious traditional stalls displaying exquisite artisan wares. With the exception of the Castle which could be challenging with its great many steps, the city is otherwise quite flat and easily accessible. Good beaches within fifteen minutes of the city centre. Note, Japan is cold during February/ early March. Final word, the folks that we encountered must be amongst the most civil and respectful anywhere on our travels.
Osaka, Japan 4/5
The second largest city in Japan is just that…huge. There is a good metro and this offers the opportunity to travel throughout the city unescorted. On balance, better to take a tour to Kyoto perhaps on the “bullet train”. The ship berths next to a huge indoor shopping centre complete with an enormous ferris wheel which delivers a fantastic light show every evening; all of which is an attraction in itself.
Nagasaki, Japan 5/5
The ship berths near the centre of town, perhaps a fifteen minute walk over flat ground. Great terminal with lots of locals on hand to offer advice…how, what, why, where and when; terrific volunteers. We took the obligatory tour to the Epicentre Bomb Museum and Peace Park and found it to be harrowing and up-lifting in equal measure. Next time we would do this ourselves. Very easy by public transport…trams. Can recommend the Dejima Museum, ten minutes walk from the port. Fantastic opportunity for the ladies to wear authentic traditional kimonos and wander through the streets of this living museum. Great photo opportunities.
Busan, South Korea 4/5
From memory, the second largest city in South Korea. The ship was berthed some fifteen minutes by courtesy coach from the city centre. Brash and modern streets with all the familiar shopping brands and much more on offer. However you are never far away from market stalls selling everything you could ever imagine and then some. The fish market in particular is colourful, vibrant, exciting and, whilst it does of course smell a little, it is definitely worth a visit.
Shanghai, China 3/5
We were glad that we took the three stop tour (the old town district with its fabulous architecture, the Bund promenade area with its views of the city and the Shanghai tower), partly because of the heavy rain which prevailed throughout our visit. If the weather had been better the tour would have been much more rewarding. None the less, it was enjoyable.
Hong Kong, China 3/5
Not a happy place to visit at the moment. The locals are restless and unhappy with Britain for abandoning them and not offering sufficient support against China which it is said is suppressing their freedoms. Enough politics. As always, there is plenty to see and do. Try visiting Aberdeen Harbour and take a trip in a Sampan around Jumbo, the largest floating Chinese restaurant in the world. Visit Happy Valley Racetrack, take an evening ferry across Hong Kong Harbour enjoying the laser light show, nip across to Macau…the list goes on
Nha Trang, Vietnam 4/5
What a pleasant surprise! This is a resort on the up! The ship’s courtesy coach drove us past the most beautiful, manicured beaches before depositing us adjacent to a local hotel which offered toilet facilities and acted as a central point from which to explore this interesting town. Street vendors offered ‘knock-off’ versions of clothing, watches, sunglasses etc at stupidly low prices. I suppose you get what you pay for. Lots of lovely four and five star hotels situated along a tree lined promenade with excellent shaded areas for sitting down and admiring the views across the beaches. You will certainly hear more of Nha Trang as it develops further as holiday destination.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam 5/5
We took a tour around the city. The journey from the ship into the city took approximately one hour passing through paddy fields with both ox and buffalo also to be seen. Temples, temples and yet more temples en route. The city itself is full of history and bursting to tell its story. Long before the Americans arrived to lock horns with the V.C., Saigon was going about its business in the most spectacular way. We went to cultural museums, passed the war-time American embassy, wandered around the Saigon post-office (wow – get your camera ready), enjoyed a fantastic lunch with musical accompaniment, visited Chinese temples, took in a water puppet show and much more….what a day!
Laem Chebang for Bangkok, Thailand 3/5
Two hours to get there, three hours to come back. Heavy traffic enroute only gets worse once you get nearer to this enormous, sprawling city. It is not practical to travel into Bangkok unless you take a ship’s tour. The cruise company will offer numerous options…all expensive. There is absolutely nothing to see within five miles of the port. P&O offered a free 30 minute transfer into Pattaya; a serious option if you do not fancy a very long day much of it spent on a coach.
Pattaya, Thailand 4/5
The thirty minute courtesy coach journey took us through largely port related industrial areas before finally depositing us at the five star Bayview hotel situated thirty seconds from the beach front at Pattaya. The hotel offered clean restrooms and any other services required during our day at the beach. The beach is beautiful, set in a lovely blue bay with water warm enough to take a bath in. A very long and pleasant promenade affords easy access along the interesting waterfront with its watersports, cafes and many other attractions. Running parallel to the beach is a busy road, the other side of which are terrific stylish hotels, indoor shopping centres (welcome given the heat and humidity), Market stalls and more. The resort is said to have a red light district with its world famous lady-boys et al.
Not everyones cup of tea it seems, but we love Singapore. It has beaches, theme parks, musical concerts all accessible by monorail on Sentosa Island. Clarke and Robertson Quays offer vibrant nightlife, excellent food and entertainment by the riverside (mosquito central at night!). Merlion Park waterfront is alive with entertainment during the day but really comes into its own at night. Perhaps you prefer something a little more up-market? Try afternoon tea at the world famous Raffles Hotel (book in advance) then visit Orchid World. Advice, if you are lucky enough to be on a world cruise, do not consider buying any souvenirs, presents, clothing etc until you reach Singapore’s China Town. It has it all.
28 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.