I probably wouldn't have written this if it wasn't for completely disagreeing with some of the previous reviews written about this ship and as a result starting this cruise with low expectations. So starting at the start, this is my impression.
Boarding: P&O combined with their parking partners CPS make this a stress free business. We arrived at Southampton at 1pm and joined a short holding queue for the CPS parking service. In a very short while we were at the front and unloading our main bags which were then spirited away by the porters. We then drove around the corner where our car was registered checked for damage and then taken away leaving us with our hand baggage and ready to check in. Check-in is a painless process, register a credit card, have a photograph taken get your ships ID/Room card and in our case straight to the ship. As we entered the ship we were greeted and told our room was ready straight away, the time 2.0pm.
Cabin: We had a large inside cabin on Grenada deck (same level as reception) Ok, no window or balcony but it is very big with an area for a settee and table. The cabin was spotless and of a very high standard. We met our steward and said hello and then made our way up to the Belvedere self-service restaurant for a snack.
Restaurants: Starting with the Belvedere, the first snack ended up being a curry and I was reminded instantly of previous cruises with P&O . The curry's are fantastic, of course many of the crew are Indian so if they can't get it right who can. The rest of the food is also of good quality with a reasonable range. We were back there a little later for a cream tea, excellent. It can get very busy here at peak times and you may have to share a table, it was rarely a serious problem and we met some nice people.
The Meridian Restaurant 2nd sitting on a table of 8 was the next meal (informal on the first night) There were only 6 of us but we all got along very well with some lively discussions. The food was excellent with staples such as steak and fish available most nights. We were by the staircase linking the upper and lower sections of the two tier restaurant and are waiters were very good. My food was always hot and well prepared, steaks were always cooked as requested and there were no problems with getting little additions from the waiters such as a little ice cream to go with apple pie. Our wine waiter was very good, only requiring a raised eyebrow to summon a further bottle of wine. We tried an afternoon tea at the Meridian but in general preferred the self-service option for lunch and dinner.
The Ocean Grill Restaurant (Marco Pierre White) Almost as soon as we arrived on board I went and booked this restaurant for the following evening as it was our wedding anniversary. I booked a window seat for two. On arrival the staff had sprinkled little hearts all over the table which was a nice touch. The food was superb and there was plenty of it with the timing of the courses done to perfection, neither rushed nor waiting with time to talk. Recommended.
Neptune Grill (by the pool) Only had one meal from here but it was freshly cooked and very good.
The Orchid, we didn't eat here but heard good comments about the place. It became quite popular and difficult to book.
Bars: We started slowly but soon came up to speed with lunch time drinks, early evening drinks, pre-dinner drinks, drinks at the table and post dinner drinks. All the bars are good but our favourite was the quiet Orchid Bar followed by the Crows nest, scene of the blood sport known as the syndicate quiz.
Entertainment: We saw a couple of shows in the evening at the Palladium, a singer and a comedian, both were very good. We also did some day time lectures which were very interesting. One chap Pete Finlay did a series of 5 lectures on Concorde in the Globe theatre, they were always packed and on some days he had to do a repeat performance (If you are reading this P&O give him the Palladium next time, he will fill it)
Gym and Spa: Ok went on board with good intentions and my gym kit but other than a visit to look around never made it back. It did look well stocked and a good place to work out.
The Spa was nice but I thought the packages were just a tad expensive with little chance of making full use of it with all the other activities that were going on.
Pools: We had some good weather on this trip but the pool roof was only pulled back on one day. Like the gym kit, the trunks never came out. The pool area seemed very popular for the sun loungers.
Decks: My favourite was the promenade deck and we covered my miles on this (3 laps to a mile) On sunny days the chairs were very popular. The sun decks were also popular on sunny days with no need to reserve chairs with towels, there always seemed to be plenty.
Library: Only used this for the internet, only the free stuff not paid for. This was a really nice area to be in and there seemed to be a good choice of books.
Shops: The shops were ok, but for me not as good as Oceana's also they always seemed to be shut when I needed something.
Photo Gallery: Didn't use this. In general the pictures are way over priced given the digital technology and they would do better to reduce the package costs and display the pictures on a computer screen.
Many people were turning the photographer away at dinner and at port. You get home put the pictures in a drawer and never look at them again. If you've been on a few cruises there are only so many pictures you want of you in your DJ/posh frock. Of course many people have their own cameras and modern cameras can take good snaps in even the worst conditions, so why bother? If they are not careful they will do themselves out of a job, especially as some of the pictures weren't that great with peoples eyes shut ect.
Cinema's: Didn't use them as we didn't have enough time with all that was going on. A good selection of films of the new to DVD era as opposed to in cinema's now.
General: The ship was always very tidy and the lifts smelt of polish, well at least the outside lifts which we used the most. I understand that some of the spaces have been redecorated recently and new carpets fitted, it all looked very good.
We were warned that the Belvedere was being refurbished during the cruise but other than the occasional banging and some drilling sounds (muffled) it caused no inconvenience to us.
Overall: I liked this ship and would sail on her again. It is difficult to know whether the ship has improved a lot in the last few months (when the bad reviews were written) or whether they were written by moaners who would find fault with anything but I didn't recognise the ship they were writing about.
Still not sure about auto-tipping but at least it is one less thing to think about. Still tipped the guy who did the alarm call with orange juice and coffee most mornings, anyone forced to wake me up deserves a medal rather than a tip.