We joined Arcadia in Los Angeles, at the start of the second sector of her World Cruise, and disembarked 7½ weeks later in Dubai. It was our first time on this ship, and the longest cruise we have yet experienced.
We found Arcadia to be a very welcoming ship, and she very soon wrapped herself around us and became ‘home’.
As with most cruises we have taken, we’ve come home with a bag full of impressions, some good, some not so good. Our comments here are intended to be positive and constructive, and we hope readers will take them this way too.
Arcadia had just undergone a refit which seems to have worked well for the public areas, but not so well perhaps for the cabins, which have retained tired-looking bathrooms and limited storage space for such a long cruise. Our cabin was on C deck, overlooking the stern, and contrary to some passengers’ perception of these cabins we experienced very little engine noise, and a very sheltered balcony which we used a lot. Arcadia does however have a rather strange arrangement on the stern, with balconies on D deck being larger, but completely covered by the C deck one above (very little sun), and those on E deck being completely open to the sky and to those looking down on them from above (so very little privacy) Future cruisers beware!
With the refit also came the introduction of ‘Freedom Dining’ on the upper level of the Meridian Restaurant, and the abandonment of ‘silver service’. Both changes worked well for us. Restaurant Manager Rajeev was adept at matching us to the size of table we wanted, and we rarely experienced queues. Until the very end of the cruise we also enjoyed meeting different folk each night (and at breakfast and lunch, since we took most meals here). The lack of ‘silver service’ actually meant that our food came quicker, on (very) hot plates, and looking as the chef intended. On the whole, the standard of food was very high, and we made only 3 visits to the two speciality restaurants, the main advantage being to escape the noise in the Meridian at its busiest times. Service in the Restaurants and throughout the ship was superb.
Daytime activities could have proved problematic on such a long cruise. We enjoy dancing and in Jeffery Dobinson (ably assisted by Brenda Twigg) we found one of the best teachers we have ever had. He quite literally ‘made’ the cruise for us. The ‘downside’ was that his lessons had to be held in The Retreat, up on Deck 10, a room intended for Yoga and gentler fitness classes, NOT for ballroom dancing ( with its low ceiling and unsuitable floor). The ship added its own movements to the dancing, too!
Other venues were also badly matched to the activities planned for them, and far too many events started at around 11am, making choices difficult. Painting classes were held in the Globe, a gloomy space with no natural light (but the obvious choice for dancing!), and quizzes in The Rising Sun, right next to the noisy Casino. Classical artists had to perform in the Crow’s Nest Bar, where new screens put in at the refit meant that they could be seen properly only by a select few sitting right in front of the piano. The acoustics there were poor, with low ceilings and thick carpets. On just three occasions they were moved to the Palladium, a much better space for them. We particularly enjoyed Allan Schiller, the pianist (by far and away the best of the performers) and the clarinet and piano duo of James and Maciej.
Another example of mismatching was the siting of the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party in the Neptune Pool area. With the roof closed, this event was unbearably noisy, and the Captain’s speech could not be heard. Surely the Palladium Theatre would have been a better choice? We noticed that areas such as the Spinnaker and Intermezzo Bars were not used for events at all, because they remain ‘open plan’. Maybe that was why they didn’t seem popular as bars, either!
Arcadia is fortunate in having a number of launderettes, but they are quite ridiculously inadequate for the 2000 or so passengers on a World Cruise of more than 90 days, there being only 4 machines available on each of decks C, D and E, and a further small launderette on Deck E which seemed to be kept a secret for those ‘in the know’. They were rumoured to be the source of all gossip, but you had to do all your gossiping standing up ----- no chairs!!
As to trips ashore, we did not take many of the ship’s excursions, but those we did do were generally well-planned and enjoyable. We do wish, though, that the planners wouldn’t assume that we all need toilet stops and ‘shopping time’, which eat into time better spent at more interesting places. On the Mumbai tour, for example, we had 1¼ hours ‘shopping time’, but only 5 minutes at the ‘Gateway to India’!
The Port Talks on board were excellent, and Sam was always ready to give her advice to independent travellers, too.
On the ship itself, a guided ‘behind the scenes’ tour (culminating in a visit to the Bridge to meet the Captain) was advertised, but we were horrified to discover that a charge of £75 would be made for each person! Whatever happened to FREE visits to the Bridge, or indeed the tour of the Galley on ‘Chocoholics’ afternoons? Needless to say, we didn’t go.
Evening entertainment was a bit ‘hit and miss’. The ship’s own Headliners were brilliant (particularly the ‘Killer Queen’ show), but we got far too many ‘crossover’ acts (two violinists, two pianists, even two sets of tenors!). The Palladium is a lovely, comfortable venue, but sight lines are obscured by pillars and high-back sofas, and it was often impossible to find a seat at the first show if you arrived after 8pm. We enjoyed the regular dances in The Globe, though after the first few weeks things did get a bit repetitive!
Internet use on board most cruise ships continues to be fraught with difficulties, and the charges that P&O make for it are quite outrageous, given its slow speed. We had reason to query charges twice, because the connection had been lost, and we were clocking up the pounds and pence simply getting back on to email. I guess most of us are not interested in using the service every day, or even every week, but we do like to keep in touch with family and friends on a very long cruise like this one. Passengers could be seen scurrying ashore with laptops at every port of call, to the cruise terminals and beyond, just to get a connection at an acceptable price. We managed 2 dollars an hour in Singapore; on the ship, this would have added £30 to our bill! Free Internet use should be included in the cruise fare, and if this causes problems with bandwidth on board, passengers can be allotted specific times to access it.
These few ‘moans’ apart, we had a fabulous cruise which was excellent value for money.