Prior to this cruise we had done five with P&O and had always recommended the company to anyone who would listen.However, the warning signs of reducing standards have been there for some time, but we now feel they have passed the tipping point.It is still remarkable value: drinks are cheap, shuttle buses are normally free, in comparison to American lines.
First, departure. We were 20 minutes late leaving Southampton due to traffic congestion. Nevertheless, it took from Saturday evening to 7.30pm on the Tuesday just to get to Gibralter, the captain blaming late departure, engine trouble and bad weather for this. But they knew this in advance. Why not call into Vigo or Lisbon on the way instead? And the restaurants were besieged at 6pm when they opened, with 45 minute waits in formal and self-service. Why did no-one foresee that this was inevitable and open earlier? One got the impression that there was no-one with an overview of events.
Dining: Food was generally good in formal restaurants, less so in self-service.Service was patchy. It could take 45 minutes in the evening to complete a meal on a table for two, 2 hours plus if on a larger table.
Formal nights: the captain's cocktail party was cancelled the second night because of rough seas, yet remained a formal night of dressing up. On Celebrity, formal dress was cancelled because of the danger to ladies of wearing high heels in bad weather. Not so on P&O in worst weather. Why? A cynic would point to the burgeoning formal picture industry on board.
Entertainment: Remains poor. The night of departure, the dance troop were performing and some of us queued for 45 minutes for seats. Yet apart from the tedious and worn out " Introduction to the Entertainment Team" which took 15 minutes, the show lasted just 20 minutes more, the cruise director said "because you must all be tired." Thoughtful, eh?
Martin Bell, the BBC war correspondent gave two well- attended talks, and the delightful 86 year-old Colin Burring gave a series of highly informative and entertaining naval-based seminars. The formal entertainers were less satisfactory. Why this increasing and demeaning process of comedians dragging unwilling passengers on stage to humiliate them? People would often only sit at the back to avoid this. The worst I've seen on this was a cod Cuban comic/illusionist who I won't deign to give publicity to, who coerced a woman on stage, got her to perform a towelling motion between her legs with a scarf, then sniffed it and pulled a face. Hilarious. The only class act was a female Welsh singer.Two other male impressionist/comics were funny and talented, but simply didn't have two fresh acts, and one threw a bit of a strop because he felt the audience wasn't appreciative enough (!).
Finally, ports of call.If you do this cruise, think twice about walking around in Livorno, Italy. Gangs of pick-pockets operate openly, with no police presence. My wife twice had her bag targeted. Watch out for non- local youngsters.
We were due to call in the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, but were diverted to the one- horse town of Alghero. The ship's log recorded winds were at force 7/8, yet it was considered safe to take us in by tender.The one we returned in was buffeted by huge waves/ wash,with water coming in from all angles, and for several minutes we felt our lives have never been so seriously at risk as they were then, with people laughing hysterically, and some screaming.I swore then I would personally never travel again in a P&O tender, which means I won't do another cruise with this company.The captain later spoke and said passenger safety was of paramount importance to P&O. Just as well!