This was a Christmas cruise and as such perhaps anomalous of other experiences, but my main bugbear was a feeling that I wasn't getting value for money. My dad went on the Oceana 2 weeks prior, and paid £750 for the balcony cabin next door to the one we later got for £2600. At the end of his cruise he was told if he wanted to do a back to back, he could have his same cabin for another 12 days for £449. So while I appreciate that there is a premium to be paid for holiday cruises ( I am a teacher and can only travel during those times) it meant I couldn't help feeling that I was eating the same food, watching the same shows, visiting the same ports as my dad had, only for almost 4 times the price - and my cruise was 2 nights less!
Still that can't be helped and I'm sure is the same for all cruise lines. I haven't sailed with P&O before, my previous 7 cruises have been on RCI (3), NCL (1), Carnival (1) Cunard (1) and Celebrity (1).
The entertainment on the Oceana was great I thought - the Headliners shows were really fun and had extremely talented performers. The food was much better than I expected - always hot (we had Freedom dining and this may have been the difference) and with plenty of choice, though I do get tired of the whole fancy food thing on any cruise about halfway! I certainly disagree with a reviewer who complained about lack of choices as breakfast - we ate in Plaza buffet, dining room and Cafe Jardin for breakfast and I can't imagine what we could have wanted that wasn't available - maybe some American choices like grits I suppose, but the Continental and English breakfasts were very varied and good. I do wish there had been more choices of bread though - it was sliced white or brown, small white or brown rolls. None of the lovely fruited, grain or malted crusty loaves I remember on Celebrity, or any 'slice-your-own' baguettes etc. Still the afternoon tea was lovely, though at 4pm, too late for me to try more than once, due to proximity to dinner! I'd have happily skipped lunch and had afternoon tea instead if it was served from 2 or 3pm. The food is indeed very English, so if you like to go on holiday and eat outside your usual experience, this may be lacking in diverse cuisine. I managed to try several things I hadn't had before like pheasant and partridge though, so I was quite happy! Other positives were the staff, our waiters, barstaff and stewards were all exemplary. Cleanliness was good also and there were nice touches like bathroom amenities (The White Company) and quality coffee, tea and biscuits in staterooms, always topped up generously as soon as we made our preferences known.
Now for my big criticism, and the reason I would be unlikely to pick P&O again. The nickel-and diming. The prices on P&O seem comparatively competitive, compared to other lines. I was happy to see the soda package was less than the one I always get on Royal Caribbean - until they told me it was for 20 sodas only. If I pay for a package, it's because I DON'T want to consider whether or not I am thirsty enough to order a Diet Coke during a show. I want to have the freedom to get one without considering the cost, because I've already paid for that privilege! I don't want to have to calculate and keep trackof the number of sodas and whether my package will run out with 2 days to go. Let's be honest - they are well-drinks, poured over whole glasses of ice, I doubt even I am able to consume enough Diet Coke for them to make a loss on the same unlimited packages that other lines offer. I decided against the package, and it left me feeling irritated from the get-go.
Then the beauty salon. £41 for a haircut, I arranged with a spa receptionist who agreed my hair (a chin length bob) was short. That's cheaper than my salon at home, so yay! Then I turned up for the appointment and was told 'Oh no, your hair is MEDIUM length, that will be £48'. So I left. Not because £7 is a huge amount, but again, because it left a sense of being scammed. The internet packages are also cheaper than RCI, but my brother spent time almost every day in the Library trying to find out why it didn't work properly, only to be told the whole system was down, so when he disembarked he still had almost 2 unused hours on his package. I paid for laundry, and they hung a sweater up to dry so it came back to me 8 inches longer than before. I registered a muted complaint at the front desk, saying I knew I couldn't get a refund or anything as they have a disclaimer on the laundry slips, but I wanted to suggest they don't hang woollens up to dry in future so it doesn't happen to anyone else. I never heard back from them, not even an acknowledgment. The best value for money is the alcoholic drinks - I don't drink but everyone in my party and other passengers said they were commensurate with pub prices and wine at dinner was reasonable.
The other extra we paid for that annoyed me was the meal at the speciality restaurant, Cafe Jardin. We always eat at least once in the speciality places on cruise ships, and I have never been told how many dishes you can order (3 - a starter, main and dessert). I asked for a seafood starter and also a salad from the appetiser section, but the waiter seemed alarmed and said he didn't think that was possible and would have to ask the chef. I was mortified - as if I had asked for 4 desserts or something, and he said perhaps I could settle for a side salad, so I agreed happily. It never came. And again, left me feeling that I was being unrealistically greedy or trying to get one over on them, when in fact it's standard practice in the steakhouse on Carnival, Chops Grille/Portofinos on RCI, Cagney's on NCL etc that you can order what you like from the menu, just as you can in the MDR.
So my advice to P&O would be to nix the White Company amenities - no one but me in my party had even heard of them, and though I appreciated them, I'd rather have had an unlimited soda package, without quibbling over how many Cokes make me seem like a freeloader :) RCI don't give you a crappy square of waxy chocolate on your pillow any more, but they at least let me drink 21 Diet Cokes. They don't give us a free small bottle of water in our mini-fridge like P&O do, but at least they don't begrudge me a salad with my otherwise vegetable-free pork Milanese when I've paid a cover charge. And to be honest - I know I am moaning a bit much at this point - but a free bottle of water on Day 1 only sort of highlighted the fact that I wasn't to be given any more without paying.
Lastly, this isn't a complaint as it's hardly P&O's fault, but just a warning for other would-be Xmas cruise travellers out of Southampton. I've never been on a ship that rocked this violently - the weather was poor, and the Bay of Biscay crossing can be bad in winter, but pretty much everyone I spoke to agreed this was EXTREMELY rocky, one of the ship's officers my brother spoke to in the sauna told him over 300 people had paid for a seasickness injection (£80) and I met plenty of people who spent all 4 sea days in their cabins. I could tell it was bad because of the unusual number of room service trays in corridors on those days, though I didn't experience any seasickness myself. So if you are prone to this, don't go on that route at this time of year, a piano fell over at one point and we often heard crashes from the art gallery!
To end on a positive note though, I was pleased when I called to ask if I could bring a bottle of champagne on board for us to have on Xmas Day as it was a gift. P&O have no issue with you bringing a reasonable quantity of alcohol for consumption in your room, which is a nice change as once we won a bottle of wine on an RCI cruise, and they wouldn't even give us a corkscrew to open it and drink in our cabins, even though they gave us the wine!