To temper what I am about to write, I will start by saying I never write reviews as I am aware that peoples' opinions are varied and what may be excellent to some is terrible to another. I also don't like the idea of complaining for the sake of making a fuss - however our experience on Arcadia visiting the Norwegian fjords was without doubt the worst holiday we have ever had. What I comment upon will undoubtedly cause controversy and probably offence, but I intend this as an accurate reflection of what our experience actually was.
In defence of P&O, their formula works for them and they didn't actually do anything wrong; some of the issues with our holiday were actually outwith their control so it is not actually the abysmal time we had which I object to, more the feeling of being misled by what we would receive, this being our first ever cruise.
Firstly, it seems to have been a mistake opting for an adults only cruise. The lack of children was substituted for a population whose average age was easily in excess of 70 and consequently ALL "entertainment" was aimed at this age group. There was absolutely nothing to do unless you wanted to watch variations on the Royal Variety Performance or play bingo. Trying to negotiate the ship, or worse still disembark at ports, was a nightmare due to the sheer volume of wheelchairs, walking frames and groups of people congregating about lifts and gangplanks. There were at least 20 people onboard with highly complex developmental problems in motorised carriages and although I don't begrudge any of these people enjoying their holidays having to watch people being spoon fed or worse, fed through tubes, at dining tables in the restaurant of an evening was not how I envisaged our cruise from the promotional material received. In many respects we felt like we were trapped on a floating nursing home.
Worse than this however was the issue of the majority of other passengers (which is why I feel a bit bad that P&O are receiving poor feedback). The average weight of most of the passengers was about 25 stones and some of these peoples' manners and behaviour could have made primates blush. One evening we visited the Crow's Nest bar to be sat at a table next to five women in their 60s having a belching competition. On the rare occasion we went to the buffet Belvedere cafeteria we were astounded by the pushing and shouting and sheer volume of food consumed by people as well as the swearing and general unpleasantness of our fellow passengers. Between my partner and I we came to "fondly" refer to the Belvedere as "stuff 'til you chuck"!
As far as I could ascertain, the ship was merely a cheap catering joint to uncouth, drunken, beer swilling, obese people entirely from the North of England who would consume vast quantities of fried food all day. Watching people drinking pints of lager at breakfast was not pleasant, and neither was it uncommon.
Walking the decks was marred by a perm-fog of cigarette smoke. Evenings set out as blacktie were seemingly ignored by some to no response and although if people want to wear alternative attire that should be no problem but allowing people in shorts, vests and flip-flops into cocktail bars ruins the ambience somewhat.
In order to escape some of the hoards we often went to the East and Ocean Grill restaurants which had a premium of £40 per night added as well as our wine bill which made the whole experience quite costly for an all-inclusive cruise. If you wanted to use the steam room or jacuzzi there was an additional charge of £100 per person for 7 days which we thought was extortionate until cabin fever set in about day 4 and we capitulated only to be told we couldn't use these facilities unless we purchased them at the start of the cruise.
I also feel the choice of ports of call could have been better selected - we spent two days of 10 hours each at Andlesnes and Olden which although undeniably beautiful were lacking in amenities. Indeed in Olden, the only thing to do was to visit the Briksdal glacier. This was 15km away from the port and could only be visited via a P&O arranged excursion at a cost of £120. It seems that unless paying an exorbitant price to P&O to bus you about with people it was obvious we had nothing in common with we were pretty much captive on the ship. On the one day we visited Bergen, European city of culture in 2008 we were only granted 5 hours shore leave, and even then had to wait to disembark while the legions of wheelchairs were taken down the gangplank. How it is possible to visit an entire city in fewer than 5 hours I am not certain - I would have greatly liked to attend a concert at the Grieghallen but sadly this was not to be.
In room entertainment was terrible, there were essentially no TV or film choices at all in the cabins and what was minimally provided did not seem to work most of the time. However, this was not too much of a problem since the TV resolution was so poor actually making sense of the image was impossible.
The cabin was clean and tidy and linen was replaced daily. I have absolutely no complaints about the cabin staff, nor any of the staff in general actually who were mainly courteous and efficient in trying circumstances. Indeed I witnessed one of the other passengers shout and swear in a waiter's face when he reminded him to use the alcohol hand gel prior to entering the restaurant. I cannot praise the staff highly enough.
The general decor in the communal areas was reasonable but in the cabins was very tired and in need of replacing. It resembles 1990s Laura Ashley currently which is unusual since it was initially decorated in 2004.
Ultimately, we were expecting to travel to Norway in style with likeminded, childless, professional people who were cultured and interesting and to be able to soak up the life of northern Europe and the rugged beauty of the fjords and all promotional literature from P&O continued to perpetuate this misapprehension.
Basically we got a floating budget holiday resort reminiscent of Pontins. It was like an 18-30s holiday for the working class middle aged and elderly, although worse since 18-30s holidays expect a certain level of customer care. By the end of the week we felt like we had been in prison and couldn't wait to disembark at Southampton.
If you want sophistication and culture I would advise avoiding this at all costs. If you don't care where you go, what you do and are only interesting in getting drunk and eating as much cheap, processed food as you can before you vomit and wallowing in Butlins style camaraderie then go for it!
(Incidentally, my partner and I are both 32)