We are seasoned cruisers but had never sailed with P&O before; after experiencing the Adonia, we never will again.
The problem is not that it is a small ship - we tend to choose those - and the itinerary was grand: the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Hiroshima - astonishing; the layout of the ship was good and the cabins were better than many. So what was wrong?
For us, it was like little more than a faded Victorian sea-side hotel in the off-season: the food was acceptable but old-fashioned, sprouts and carrots served silver-service regardless of what menu option you had chosen; in general, meat was tough and an entire dining room had to send back steaks on one occasion: diners were unable to cut through them. Curries were served almost daily but it was universally acknowledged that they were bland: 'we can't serve real curries; the people wouldn't like it,' staff told.us Only once on the cruise was any tribute paid to the food of the location: Asian night buffet offered sushi and stir fried noodles ... as one would expect, the sushi was chilled - so were the 'hot' noodles dishes. And the dining experience itself was pretentious.
We don't mind formality, in fact we choose ships where smart dressing is the norm and formal nights require black tie. But to dress for 'formal' dinner [on four occasions in just over two weeks] and then sit down at fixed tables where some guests were wearing the suggested 'ballgown' [!] and be presented with a menu from which most people chose battered fish and chips with mushy peas, seemed ludicrous. The service was intermittent and occasionally downright rude, [dreadful at breakfast]; the largely Indian staff were mainly extremely pleasant as individuals but casual, ill-trained, mostly unsupervised, seemingly uninterested and poorly motivated. This was hardly surprising as, bar the appearance of three or four unidentified chaps standing chatting at the entrance to the dining room, there was no evidence of anything akin to a maitre d'.
In a sense, it was fully observed, but the three-tier dress code was ridiculous: 'ship's casual' [generally after port days] meant anything from clothes you would hesitate to garden in, through simple day-dresses and smart separates, to glittery, sequined gear and sparkly handbags, in short, whatever you had not sent to the outrageously expensive laundry. 'Semi formal' [11 nights] was worse: 'jackets' for men generally meant sports coat worn over open-necked shirt teamed with, on several occasions, bright orange trainers; for ladies, cocktail wear and costume jewellery; a great deal of visible and aging flesh seemed obligatory.
The decor was dark and drab, public areas done up with endless swags of fabric, paneled walls hung with non-nondescript, un-themed oil paintings and water colours and, worst of all, teeming with dust-covered plastic plants and artificial flowers. And it was dirty: gigantic mirrors, door-handles, lifts and balustrades were covered in hand-prints, fixed chair covers were grimy, many occasional tables smeared and streaky. Public toilets were often un-cleaned, blocked, and un-checked. There was almost no evidence of attention to hygiene around the ship: hand sanitizers were rare [none at all in the main or speciality restaurants] seldom used and never policed; in the buffet, kitchen staff worked with holes in their plastic gloves and spills on the Conservatory floor were not wiped up until hours later at the end of service.
This lack of attention to cleanliness and presentation had perhaps filtered downwards from the senior staff of ship's officers who keenly resembled the cast of Dad's Army in appearance and approach: as well as wearing a disastrously old-fashioned uniform [an attempt to ape Royal Naval Officers of a bygone era?] most wore 'whites' which were yellowed with age and wear, and we could only pity the female staff in their flapping, strained, ankle-length 'skirts', supposed, we assumed, to look like the wide-legged 'sailors' trews' of yesteryear.
So what was good about the Adonia? In truth, not much.
Administrative procedures, in general, were very smooth and efficient; most information was clear and straightforward
Excursions were good but only because of the opportunities they presented; they were expensive, often ill-planned and on two out of four trips, we suffered from having really poor guides, boiling hot coaches and broken p.a. systems.
The cabins were fine, the bathrooms newly kitted out and storage adequate though ill-planned. Many cabins, however, flooded; buckets stood along the corridor to catch drips and de-humidifiers ran to dry sodden carpets. Housekeeping was perfunctory: our cabin steward never introduced himself, we rarely saw him and toiletries remained unreplaced.
Though a deal of it was mediocre or poor, the entertainment did include some class acts: a world renowned Chinese concert pianist, a fantastic traditional Chinese musician and singer, and a four man vocal group who put on a creditable performance. During sea days, terrific tutorials from the art specialist, Easa Ali, prevented me from throwing myself overboard in despair.
The added-cost, speciality restaurants, to which we succumbed with increasing regularity, were excellent both in terms of imaginative food and perfect service, but we were dismayed to find that of the fourteen tables available, three served as the staff canteen on several nights.
And just four members of staff made our voyage memorable: two Phillipinos in the Conservatory who served us with a smile and great warmth, a friendly, efficient and charming Indian/ Burmese lady in the Ocean Grill, and an amazing Indian, a section head and head waiter, the only man on the ship who was consistently doing his job to the standards we would have expected, with efficiency, enthusiasm and concern.
Other than that, staff wise, the experience was impersonal: when we left the ship and returned there was a mechanically voiced 'Goodbye!' and 'Welcome back!' from a taped message; most staff failed to offer a greeting in the corridors, unless spoken to first and, on the first formal night, having made the effort to dress and queue to greet the captain we were utterly shocked to be informed that 'the captain will not shake hands with you'! Why on earth not? Infection risk? On this ship, you must be joking: use a sanitiser or wear gloves! If the queen can do it ....
Undoubtedly, this is a negative review yet we believe that some 70% of passengers will have enjoyed the cruise, indeed have always sailed with P&O and would not dream of sailing with any other line. 'You stick with what you know,' we were told by one of the many fantastically loyal customers.
And therein lies the problem: these customers are loyal; they take multiple cruises, they travel the world, they are the niche market to which P&O caters: British standards, British tastes. But what will happen when they go ... and go they will; they are assuredly a dying breed.
We had a wonderful cruise: we visited amazing places, saw fantastic sights and met some delightful people ... but we also encountered on board narrowness and staidness, arrogance, unwillingness to try the new, and at times, real intolerance and even racism.
So, if that's what P&O wants in its passengers, they have succeeded wonderfully. As for the rest of us? We must find another line where cruising is about liveliness, light-heartedness and joy, about a sense of delight and awe at your experience and an openness of attitude that suits the 21st century.