We have sailed on the Arcadia twice before (2005 and 2007) so I was looking forward to voyaging on this lovely, child-free ship again.
Last January we went on the Ventura and I thought it showed a distinct drop in standards from the P&O cruises we have been used to, but thankfully this was not the case with Arcadia, which is as excellent as ever.
After our 6-hour train ride from the North-East down to Southampton we were off to a bad start with the worst embarkation we have ever experienced in 31 cruises. We had to stand and queue for an hour and a half; no seating was provided (apart from plastic chairs placed there for those less able to stand) and no refreshments were available. Instead of the usual "called to board by deck number" it was simply a free for all; we learned later that some people queued for over 2 hours. Not a good first impression for those cruising with P&O for the first time.
However, that was our only grumble as the rest of the cruise was excellent. Our balcony cabin, on Deck 6, was spacious, bright, clean and comfortable and was kept immaculate by Grenville, our cabin steward.
We had opted to dine on 1st sitting and we shared our table (187) with three other very pleasant couples. The selection and quality of the food was exceptional with decent portion sizes and very quick, efficient service. There was also an extensive range of wines at very reasonable prices.
The self-service buffet on deck 9 (Belvedere Buffet) tended to be a bit repetitive in its selection of dishes, but nonetheless the food was tasty and plentiful.
As we were at sea for 12 days out of the 18, there was a wide range of daytime activities from craft classes, to dancing, to joining a choir or going to presentations and lectures; this in addition to the usual deck activities such as quoits, shuffle-board or the use of the golf and cricket nets.
Evening entertainment tended to be a hit-or-miss affair; the guest performers were very good (a classical soprano, a male singer, a comedy magician, the Macdonald Brothers from X-factor and, on one night only, comedian Tom O'Connor) but the ship's own singers/dancers (Headliners Theatre Company) just put on the same old, same old music theatre excerpts. You know the ones I mean "Guys and Dolls", "West Side Story", "Singing in the Rain" with the cheesy songs and dances.
We used to like to go to the Rising Sun pub every evening after the show, where we could take part in the themed quizzes, do a bit of karaoke or just relax and listed to one of the resident bands. The bar waiters were quick, polite and friendly and bar prices were just the same as those you'd find in a typical British pub.
Our ports of call were: Tenerife, Recife (Brazil), Salvador de Bahia (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and disembarking the ship at Montevideo (Uruguay) and getting the ferry across the River Plate to spend a night in Buenos Aires (Argentina). For some people, Rio was the port they were most looking forward to visiting, but when we arrived the cloud was low and you couldn't see the top of Corcovado peak and Christ the Redeemer, although Sugar Loaf Mountain was visible. Luckily we've been to Rio before (for 3 days, in 2001) but it would have been disappointing for first time visitors not to be able to view the main sights. Can't help the weather though.
We crossed three major lines of latitude: Tropic of Cancer, Equator and Tropic of Capricorn, and the Arcadia's entertainment team put on a hilarious Line Crossing Ceremony.
All in all, we had a fantastic cruise and it was great to be back on board Arcadia again. The ports of call were a bit different (maybe not to everyone's taste) and we met interesting people in unusual places, while clocking over 6,300 nautical miles.