Having read the previous review of the same cruise by Rakugoka I find it fascinating to see just how subjective a review can be, as it is clearly based upon one's own experiences, but of a similar event.
Anyway, this was our first P&O experience, and the beginning could be seen as a good start, or a bad one, depending on how you look at it. To ensure your baggage arrives at your appointed cabin P&O very kindly e-mail you a label to attach to your case(s). As these labels are not of the type you would see attached at the baggage check-in at the Airport, we felt there was a risk of them becoming detached during the handling of our suitcase at either Birmingham or Genoa (or in-between) and so had intended to sellotape them to the bags once we collected them at Genoa. However, we had not been made aware that, once the bags were deposited at Birmingham check-in, we would not be expected to see them again until they were delivered to our cabin and so missed the opportunity to attach our labels indicating our cabin number. Several anxious hours ensued upon arrival at the ship, and many visits to Reception, to seek reassurance that our 'unlabelled' bags would still find their way to our cabin. Fortunately, they did eventually turn up and so, relieved, we then settled in for our departure form Genoa.
The other point of annoyance from a P&O novice point of view was that it was nowhere clearly stated that, in fact, the transfer from Genoa Aipoprt to the ship was included. After much searching and deliberation on Cruise Critic we had decided to get a Taxi from the Airport to the ship, only to find in fact, the organisation was so good, they had actually laid on a bus, which was brilliant, but so glad we hadn't booked a private transfer as this would have been a waste of money.
I suppose, in a nutshell, it would have helped considerably if the P&O cruise personliser had made these points more clearly.
I would concur with the previous reviewers observations regarding the check-in process at Genoa, with a single line having to pass the photographer, and you could clearly see that the 20 or so check-in staff were never fully utilised, meaning the photo process was causing a bottleneck. Many people chose not to have their picture taken but nonetheless still had to run the gauntlet of staff trying to 'persuade' you to have your picture taken (which was later for sale at over £14 but they didn't tell you this at the time!). It would have been much more efficient to separate the queues into 2, for those wanting their photo taken and those that did not but, I suspect, this may have resulted in a significant lost opportunity for P&O to try and tease a bit more cash out of you, as it would be quite likely far less people would have gone down the photo op queue than by their current method.
So, having settled in to our cabin, met our brilliant Steward Iris, and eaten all the chocolates which greeted us, we set-sail. There was also a bottle of Champagne in our cabin, which we struggled to decide what to do with, as we're both not particularly fond of the stuff.
We had booked a Balcony Cabin which was superb. Very well appointed, nice balcony, very clean, and was made available to us ahead of the scheduled 4pm.
Iris (male by the way) was superb, very friendly; helpful and efficient, and never showed any problems with the daily clean, or evening turn-down. On previous cruises we had become used to niceties such as the customary folded towel animals on our bed on one or more evenings but this didn't happen on this cruise. Don't know if this is by design on a P&O cruise, or just that Iris's artistic side wasn't up to it. This isn't a complaint by the way, just an observation.
We had also selected the Freedom dining package, meaning we could attend our appointed Restaurant any time during the evening 'window' and, being the anti-social type we are, always requested a table to for 2 as opposed to sharing. One each occasion we were advised we would have to wait, and were handed a pager to notify us when our table was ready. Most times this was a very short wait, and were quickly seated at our table. The food, we found, was excellent, both on the 'Classic' menu (which stayed the same throughout) and the alternative menu which varied from day to day. I would say that, of the thing you would note as standing out, would be that everything was supremely efficient'.
2 of the nights were designated as Black-Tie which, as people that prefer not to partake of these, we were forced into the option of either using one of the themed Restaurants (at an additional cover charge), or to take advantage of the Buffet style restaurants on the Lido Deck. Unfortunately, P&O chose to make all of the Buffet Restaurants themed also, on these nights (one being a Thai night, and the other a Curry night). As we were keen on neither we felt the only option was to attend a Restaurant at additional cost. We chose the Glass House on both occasions, which was excellent, but we once again felt, the 'system' was designed to encourage you to spend your cash as, to us, it would have made more sense to split the themed offerings in the buffet restaurants to a night which was different from the Black-Tie night, or at least still provide a normal buffet service in one or more of the 4 buffet restaurants.
At each port, there were a number of excursions on offer. We only took one excursion, to Pisa, to see the Leaning Tower, but we opted to book one on-line from crusingexcursions.com which was around half the price of the P&O one, and still with an excellent guide, and the bus returned us directly to the ship.
The cabins (or 'State Rooms' as they like to call them) are provided with a flat screen TV (2 in our cabin) which has channels devoted primarily to P&O sales, news (BBC and Sky) and Sky Sports News. There is a channel where you can purchase movies at around £2 each, or a small selection of TV shows which were free of charge. There is also an interactive service, where you can order room service, view your account etc, and also receive messages.
Rather annoyingly, if there are messages waiting, you are forced into reading these before you can progress onto viewing any TV channels. On 2 occasions, were advised 'you have 5 web mail messages waiting for you' which, if you clicked on this, you were then taken to a screen advising you take out a subscription for their internet access (e.g. £35 for 90 mins) before you can view your web-mail. I personally felt this was misleading and, potentially, dishonest, as P&O could not actually KNOW you had e-mail messages waiting, and this was just a ploy to get you to buy their internet services.
I also not, regarding their Internet Service, they offer it with a caveat that you shouldn't expect it to be very quick, as it is accessed via satellite. To me, this is akin to offering you meal in a restaurant for £20 but don't expect it to be very good! - If it's not a 'good' service, then it should be offered free-of-charge.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience, the ship was very clean, well appointed, and the staff, whilst not always falling over themselves to go the extra mile were however, always pleasant and, once again, I feel compelled to use the word 'efficient'. I would say P&O's emphasis was on efficiency, as opposed to customer service. We were constantly left feeling like they wanted us to buy 'extras' which is understandable, to a limit but, somehow, we just felt as thought they were continually trying to extract just a little bit more, all of the time. Despite the little niggles, as previously described, we would seriously consider going back to P&O, but not to the same ship.