Some key points before the full review:
This was our first cruise with P&O, we had cruised twice previously with Cunard - this compared very favourably. On Cunard ships there seemed to be a 'Ball' every night and there were less formal opportunities to ballroom dance on this cruise if that was your thing but we don't so it didn't bother us. There was ball room dancing going on in Carmens in the afternoon and some evenings.
Cruise passengers are often elderly and/or with limited mobility - this can be frustrating at times but we will all be there eventually! Whether elderly or not most are very friendly and considerate but as always, anywhere, there are some who annoy.
Part of the holiday is finding your way round and learning how the systems work. The on board paper called 'Horizon' is left in your cabin mail slot just outside you door each evening at around 6.00pm. This gives details of all entertainment, events, times etc for the next day. In the cabin on arrival there is a folder with all the general information you will need and leaflet showing the TV listings for the on board channels.
There are regular Port Talks prior to each port visit and these are also available on the TV in the cabin. They do let you see what is available at each port and also remind you of trips you can purchase.
We are early risers and think nothing of being ready to go ashore before 8.00am having showered and breakfasted. We were often first off and first back again. We didn't take any tours as we prefer to do our own thing. We are not museum or cathedral types but enjoy soaking up the ambience of new places and looking at the people and architecture.
This was a Summer cruise during school holidays and there were a lot of young people and children on board but they were never a problem and were obviously enjoying themselves. They seemed to be well catered for in clubs on board. The captain had his family on board (4 children) and they also seemed to be enjoying their trip.
Embarkation - arrived for check in at one o'clock and porters took our bags from the boot of the car and that was it, the holiday had started. We joined the queue to check in and waited only a few minutes till we were through and heading on board. Cabins were not ready but food was so we went and had lunch in The Orangery and a look around the ship. By the time this was done we were able to go to our cabin.
Cabin A175, a balcony with a comfortable double bed on deck 11. Smart and clean. Amazing storage with neat cupboards with mirrors, lots of hanging and drawer space, small table, TV, two seater settee and good dressing table space. Not quite enough hangers for me but I had taken a few extra. I would say it is worth taking a dozen extra if you like to hang lots of tops as well as trousers and dresses, I also took some skirt hangers which was helpful. I was told by another guest that you only have to ask and your steward would get some wire ones for you. The cases went inside the wardrobe, one inside the other then flat against the wall of the inside section. This cabin had occasional noise from above but not such that we were frequently disturbed. The cabin was 50 feet from a launderette which did not disturb us but which was really useful when we wanted to use the facility. Planning your time to do the washing and taking your own powder cubes with built in softener could mean you would bring everything home clean. The machines and tumble dryers are easy to use and efficient. Only one 13 amp standard British socket was in the cabin so a bank of extra sockets on an extension lead was really useful.
Bathroom, again with great storage and neat little bath with shower over. Good, large containers of toiletries provided, shampoo, separate conditioner, moisturiser, and shower gel in the shower. Full range of towels, flannels etc. No dressing gowns as but I knew that and took ours which were able to hang on the inside of the bathroom door. Tea and coffee making facilities with biscuits were a nice touch. Wine glasses were provided and two bottles of water were in the fridge. I took ready mixed gin & tonic tins and a bottle of PLJ lemon juice to have each evening before leaving the cabin.
Balcony - this room had a sheltered balcony with a glass fronted section. There were two teak chairs with thick padded cushions and a small table. Very comfortable and pleasant to sit out on. Going into Venice this balcony provided the perfect place to watch and take photos rather than the crush on top.
We started with two sea days and there was a good variety of on board entertainment to choose from if you wanted but we were happy to sit out at the back and watch the comedy of sun bed movements. People watching is always fun. Plenty of sun beds and chairs and everyone had pool towels provided in the cabins. Attentive drinks waiters patrolled but not irritatingly so and occasional ice cream sellers also wandered the decks.
Breakfasts and lunches were available in The Orangery, self service, and Medina, table service. Breakfast and lunch also available in Cafe Bordeaux but there is an extra charge for dinner there. Plenty of good quality choice in all venues. Evening meals were served in Medina or Alexandria restaurants and our designated table, place and time were on a card in our cabin on arrival. We ate in Alexandria at the 6.30 sitting each evening. We had asked for a table for 2 but had booked too late for this so ended up on a table for 6. We enjoyed the company and got to know them really well over the 16 days. On the third day we were offered a table for two but we declined as we were enjoying the company on our table. Dinner menu was excellent and varied and the waiting staff were outstanding, just an appropriate level of familiarity and fun with excellent silver service.
Level of cabin care was excellent by Denzil who went the extra mile on several occasions. It is helpful for the cabin staff if you leave your card in the door to let them know they can get on and 'make up' the cabin as they have a lot to do and by putting the card in our cabin was cleaned before we came back from breakfast. I took a free standing air freshener for our cabin and this was great as every time we went back into the cabin it smelt fresh. We passed some cabins where doors were open and the smell coming out was less than fresh!
Malaga - docked then a short free bus transfer to the edge of town . To get to the bus we walked through a terminal building with some small shops. The handbag shop in the terminal building there sold the best range and cheapest we found anywhere. A handbag there cost â‚¬10 which I saw for â‚¬20 in both Venice and Corfu. Malaga is a smart, up-market place with good shops and lots of cafes. There was a beach within walking distance of the ship if you wanted to spend time there. We wandered for a couple of hours then returned to the ship.
Zakinthos - tendered ashore. Queued in Masquerade for timed tickets for tenders which caused a long queue that day following the cancellation of two trips due to high winds. We left on the first tender and simply wandered round the town for an hour. Very hot but a nice place to wander with lots of coffee opportunities if you wanted them. We were back on board by 11.30 then settled down on deck at the back to enjoy the quiet.
Dubrovnik - tendered again but better organisation of giving out time tickets and less queuing. We were into the town by 8.30 and enjoyed our wander round this beautiful city. Bought some lemon liqueur from a market stall in one of the squares. As far as we could see everywhere was happy to take Euros. It was very hot ashore so we did the minimum then sat and had coffee on the quay.
Venice - docked along with 5 other large cruise ships. We had been to Venice for a 3 night holiday previously so we didn't need to see the sights. We walked from the ship out of the dock area to find the 'People Mover' which we were told was a way to get into Place de Roma from where it is possible to wander through the maze of streets/bridges to the Rialto Bridge and other key sights. There were easy to spot signs for the people mover which is a mono rail. It took about ten minutes to walk to it. It costs 1 euro per person per trip and it is only one stop from the port area to Roma. We walked through the lovely streets as far as the Rialto Bridge although we were worried about finding our way back. In fact the return was signposted although we came back a different way.
Split - tendered port and we were in the town by 8.00 am. It was a Sunday but the market was there and interesting to wander through. The shops were opening up as we walked. The Riva was pleasant with lots of coffee opportunities then we cut right up the main street and right again at the top to wander through the old streets and the market. It was very hot and still so after an hour or so we went back to the ship and enjoyed the peace at the back on the Terrace pool wings. We didn't spend anything so don't know if they took Euros.
Corfu - tendered again as there were two other ships in port that day. Easy ashore then a free shuttle to the edge of the old town area which took ten minutes. We wandered through and around the town streets with lots of interesting shops selling touristy things but handbags were reasonable so bought two for presents. We found a cafe with free wifi so enjoyed a coffee and face time with our sons to catch up with the news. It was a very hot day again so we didn't dally and got back on board to enjoy the peace. We overheard a couple of people saying they had hired cars at Corfu to get out and see the island. This sounds a good idea as long as you plan the time carefully as you wouldn't want to miss the boat!
Three sea days followed and we enjoyed the laziness this allowed us. There were excellent, up to date films showing every day as well as extra entertainments if you wanted them. Sitting out at the back was our choice and although windy it was a real rest.
Oporto - final stop. Docked after a tricky handbrake turn into port. Shuttle buses were provided to the beach - nice and only 5 minutes away. Buses also provided to the main town which took about half an hour. Nice city, quite hilly to walk but good mixture of shops, coffee places and opportunities to buy and eat the most amazing cakes! We just wandered again, had coffee (with milk) and a naughty cake between us then went back to the ship for lunch.
Disembarkation -- this was well organised. Breakfast was available from 6.00am till 8.30 and you had to be clear of the cabin by 8.30am at the latest. We had been given colour coded disembarkation cards which were linked to times and we were last off. We were asked to sit in any of the public areas till our colour was called. Suitcases had to be packed and left outside the door of our cabin before 9.00pm on the last night and these appeared in a shed by deck to collect once we were allowed off. If you wanted to get off early and could manage your own cases you could disembark at 7.30am, in this case you kept your luggage with you. We only live 40 minutes from Southampton so we were last off, leaving the ship at 10.15am.
Sixteen nights is the longest we have cruised for and we were worried it might feel too long but it was fine. This is the easy way to visit lots of places whilst living in a moving 5* hotel. If you want to be busy you can, if you want to laze and read you can do that too. Sitting in the crows nest during the day to read is very quiet with a good view and the same place in the evening is also pleasant. There are many lounges around the ship where you can sit at any time, shops to browse with special offers each day, a Costa coffee outlet, a library and pub type area. It was possible to get food virtually all the time in 'The Orangery' but that would just be greedy! Take the stairs as often as possible as this gives you regular exercise and keeps the lifts running more smoothly. The promenade deck (7) gives you a mile walk for every three circuits you do and lots of people do this each day after half eight in the morning. It was possible to take drinks from The Orangery out onto the decks where we sat out each day. The juice machines only dispensed juice till mid-day each day but cold water wa on tap all the time.
The ship is elegant and the decor is in quiet muted colours. Seating areas are comfortable and pleasant.
The evening entertainment was of a very good standard and the ships singers & dancers 'The Headliners' were amazing, producing a different 45 minute show in the main theatre 'Curzons' most nights. The various bands and orchestra were of a very high standard as was the pianist who gave 8 concerts during the trip.
Smoking of other cruisers didn't really bother us and our neighbours didn't smoke on their balconies so that wasn't an issue either.
Internet access is available but is expensive. 50p a minute or you can buy packages of various amounts which works out cheaper. We passed MacDonald's in various places we visited so free wifi was to be found if you wanted to catch up with work/family/emails etc. As we discovered in Corfu there are lots of other free wifi places if you buy a drink. Mobile phones worked on board, only slightly more per text than at home but in Croatia the cost of texts and calls was a lot more expensive.
We weren't bothered too much with seasickness although I occasionally took Stugeron when it got rough and this kept me feeling well. I drank the water from the bathroom tap each evening and morning to take tablets and wasn't upset by this. Everyone used the hand sanitizer on entering eating places and cleanliness everywhere was at a very high standard.
Useful items to bring - block of extra sockets, air freshener for cabin and spray for bathroom, a few pegs, washing tablets, walkie talkies (if you have them), a light rug for sitting out on balcony, highlighters for identifying what you will do each day, a deck bag to carry all the things you may need and avoid too many returns to the cabin, thank you cards and other general type cards.
The Auto-Tip system cost us Â£100 for the 2 of us for our 16 nights. This seems very reasonable considering the level of service so we left this in place. We gave a further specific cash tip for our cabin steward and our 2 evening waiters.
This review was written while on the cruise so that details could be easily remembered. Would we cruise with P&O again - yes, without hesitation. We are now looking at the possibility of cruising back from Australia after a holiday out there in 2014. This would be a 60 day cruise so we must be happy with it.