Having broken the back of the laundry after Xmas & New Year cruising in the Med onboard Arcadia (Cruise J218) we can now reflect on the cruise .... at our dispassionate leisure. It is nice to get back to simple fare like mince and tatties, beef hotpots and the like, although the food on board was excellent too - despite the hi-falutin' names given to some of the courses.
(Our previous (and first) cruise on Arcadia (J202) in April/May 2012 was not a particularly pleasurable experience for us. However, we are very pleased to report that our initial misgivings of a repeat cruise aboard Arcadia were largely dispelled.)
We're both getting on in years. My wife is disabled and 95% confined to a wheelchair so it is always a welcome break for me not to have to shop, cook and look after the household maintenance and fiscal admin and, instead, getting some sea air, visual stimulation and gastronomic pampering a la P&O style.
Arcadia was completely free of noro-virus on boarding. It remained so for the whole of the 18-night cruise thanks to the particularly strict hygiene protocols imposed by P&O for the first two days of the cruise and, of course, the compliance of all the passengers and crew. (I 'elbowed' my choice of deck in the lifts etc.)
The weather was a good deal better than we expected for December and January even for the Med. We were on the starboard side (that's the right hand side looking towards the sharp-end for you landlubbers.) and we were favoured by being on the sunniest side of the ship especially in port (it really is the luck of the draw between which side of the ship gets the sun when berthed alongside). In Livorno (N Italy) it touched 100F full frontal (but only 90F in the shade) on the balcony of our cabin. Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) touched 94F full frontal the day before.
Outbound the Bay of Biscay was a bit choppy but a mill-pond on the return crossing but otherwise never too turbulent elsewhere.
Online, I had pre-booked a private taxi tour of Lisbon which turned out to be cheaper and better than any arranged P & O excursions tour. Our charming and helpful mini-skirted driver, Maria, was there waiting for us at the bottom of the gang-way with a freshly-valetted, sparkling car. (This is the second time we have successfully used the 'Net to book a taxi-tour - the last time being Madeira on a previous cruise.) At the ship's side in Livorno we joined 4 other passengers on an ad hoc 3-hour mini-bus tour to Pisa for Euros 20 each. It was well worth it. Even the cups of cafe latte and cappuccino we had in a cafe were no more than one would expect to pay in Starbucks back home or even in the Cafe Vivo on board ship - with a direct view of the Leaning Tower thrown in for free!
Our favourite port-of-call was Barcelona - we both loved the relaxed atmosphere of the warm and sunny Ramblas and surrounding areas with visitors of all ages just strolling about, care-free. Everywhere was neat and well-kempt with easy wheelchair access. Our least favourite port visit was Gibraltar where the shuttle-bus driver was very curt, rude and most unwelcoming. So much so that we returned to the ship rather than go shopping and spend our money for Gibraltar's economic benefit. (It just so happened our side of the ship gave us an awesome view of The Rock itself .... and to make us feel at-home, a Morrison's grocery store directly opposite to us!) We were told afterwards that the driver was probably a Spaniard from Algeciras. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was also berthed alongside so there was a total of 4,000+ passengers and up to 1,600 crew let loose on Gibraltar .... we were afterwards told it was jam-packed and not easy-going for wheel-chairs.
The ever-attentive, cheerful, friendly, mostly Indian waiters and cabin stewards are a significant part of the P & O brand of cruising - we only hope that P & O never lose sight of this fact. They are not excessively subservient nowadays and will engage in friendly repartee when given half the chance. Be stuffy with them and they'll be stuffy with you. We thanked our cabin steward for some little deed he had done for us - he replied, with a broad appreciative grin that it was his duty! Try and find that attitude in the UK - if you can!
We cannot comment on the entertainment provided on board as we didn't partake of any part of it. Being on 2nd sitting for dinner - complete with a G & T before, a large glass of wine during, and usually a large Courvoisier to accompany coffee ... we were only too happy to return to our cabin, get comfortable in pyjamas and dressing gown and relax, even sit on the balcony looking up at the stars, perchance to dream.
We feel we have to comment about some of the moaning minnies and maurices we encountered on board. It may be the downside of Arcadia being an Adults-only ship(?). Some were uncomfortable with us joining their lift and looked down their noses at my wife in her wheelchair almost as if being unable to walk might be catching! (Beware the mirrors in the lifts that catch all the expressions of all the occupants from all angles!). We encountered some older passengers who languidly strolled the corridors without a thought for any others. There were times when they'd just stop dead to look at something (like a photograph in The Gallery or a ship in a glass display case.) and who'd get an unexpected surprise of some part of a wheelchair gently but firmly reminding them that they could be more aware of who and what may be just behind them. I just cannot stop the momentum of a wheelchair as quickly as they can stop!
We encountered an elderly trio (who we came to refer to as the Gruesome Threesome) who, within minutes of our asking to join their table in the crowded Piano Bar for a pre-prandial drink, who then spotted an just-vacated table nearby and quite abruptly moved to it, without a by-your-leave. It was then we noticed that they didn't have any drinks to move ... so they were maybe rabidly tee-total. The Temperance Three? But how UNfriendly and intolerant can you get?
There was one memorable breakfasting old dear who complained at length that the knife provided for buttering her toast was rather too heavy for her! We guessed that she just had to find something to moan about. (And that was at the very start of her day!). Where's all that indomitable spirit that's often said about the older generation? And my goodness! Some of those apparently frail little old dears can seriously pack the food away. 'Full English' breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and 6-course dinners ....... their plates were cleared. Maybe they complained about the food because they couldn't get enough of it?
Any way - to round off and despite some of the foregoing, this Christmas and New Year cruise was most enjoyable and memorable for us.
(We are both determined to spend our money rather than allow our savings interest be taxed to contribute to the free provision of a 4/5 bed-roomed detached house in a desirable area of London for the likes of Hook Hamza and his family. So, to this end, our next cruise is already booked for April/May 2013 on board Adonia (the smallest of the seven P & O ships accommodating only 710 passengers instead of the Arcadia's 2000+). The cruise is to the central Med this time. Because it is a smaller ship it can get into the smaller ports that cannot accommodate the bigger ships like Arcadia. The cruise dates cover both our birthdays (don't ask!) and visits eight ports amongst which are Cartagena in Spain, Sarande in Albania (should be very interesting?), Kotor in Montenegro, Rijeka in Croatia, and our very favourite destination city of Venice .... for the second time.) It hardly seems worth unpacking from our last cruise!