Having sailed on a number of cruises with Celebrity and Azamara, I was getting rather fed up with their prices and their service charges. So a chance to sample another cruise line and I decided on a Panama canal transit with P&O Arcadia to Los Angeles on the first stage of their world circumvention.
I was a little concerned with some of the negative cruise reviews that I had read but was prepared to accept some downgrade on standards for the fairly large difference in price.
That said the first part started badly but that was not all down to P&O. We travelled down to Southampton by car and reached to within one mile of the cruise terminal to be met by total grid lock. Five cruise ships were departing that day and Southampton had road works but a big fat thumbs down to Southampton Council and the Police who did nothing to address or try to rectify this problem It took a further two hours to reach the terminal only to find a queue stretching and snaking out of the small terminal building (with no nearby toilets!). An hour plus later we boarded. No one to meet greet and guide and an immediate contrast in the lack of wow factor seen on Celebrity as we found our own way to our upgraded balcony cabin.
The cabin was a good size with a nice large flat screen television but cleaning standards were not as good as they should have been however a complaint rectified this with the exception of the balcony which with many others was totally neglected from cleaning throughout the cruise.
The negatives however stop here as there are many things that P&O do well.
Firstly having criticised their cleaning in places the hygiene practices to combat outbreaks of the dreaded Norovirus were very thorough. Onto some more cheerful subjects.
That night we made our way to the main dining room where we had booked to join a table of 8 on the first sitting. Our dining was extremely well managed by two very efficient and friendly waiters and a wine waiter with whom we enjoyed many laughs. Some regular P&O cruisers were bemoaning the loss of silver Service but in my opinion Silver Service is old hat with modern food presentation practices. We enjoyed some excellent food, very well prepared and served and for the first time in my cruise experiences it was served hot!
Drinks were reasonably priced and without the 15% service charge. I do not like Celebritys $12;50 dollar daily service charge followed by drinks served with 15% service charge and a cheeky gap on the bill for extra tips to be given,. I do believe in tipping and do so well, directly to those who give me good service and hope that the £3.50 daily service charge reaches those behind the scenes. Staying on food for a little while, the experiences at breakfast and lunch in the self service restaurant were also very good with no delays and comparative ease in finding vacant tables.
We did not frequent the theatre on many nights but those we did were to see shows delivered by the Headliners theatre company, and these were excellent productions. I also enjoyed some excellent lectures by ex flying squad policeman Ian Brown and some very good entertainment in the bars.
The weather on this cruise was fantastic throughout and finding deckchairs to sunbathe on was never a problem on the many deck locations available. another first in my cruising experience.
We went on a couple of tours, one in Barbados which was extremely good value with a top photographer taking us around some of the many beauty spots on the island. Tours in particular were better value than I have previously experienced on other cruise lines and the provision of free shuttle buses in some locations was a pleasant experience.
If you have not transited the Panama Canal yet then I urge you to do this soon as the various enlargement works I feel will take some of the magic and excitement away. The transit was something that Arcadia performed exceptionally well. There were talks on the construction of the canal, an informative commentary during the transit and excellent back up information in the form of documentaries on the television. Finally the photographic team did an outstanding job recording the event and compiling an excellent DVD.
Through the canal we sailed up to Guatemala and California. It would have been nice to have another stop on the way in Mexico, however the glorious weather and sea days watching Whales, Dolphins,Turtles and Flying Fish made some unforgettable memories.
Well done P&O. Overall a fantastic cruise and very good value for money. Thank you to all the friendly and efficient staff we met who worked so hard to make us enjoy our cruise. We will be back.