Overview of cruise Feb 22nd - March 7th on Arcadia.
CRUISE ITINERARY : Flew to Barbados, and visited Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba, Limon (Costa Rica), Panama Canal, Fuerta Amador, Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala), Huatulco (Mexico) and Acapulco. There were also 5 sea days and technically the Panama was also a sea day. This was a superb itinerary and I can highly recommend it to anyone. The ports all varied greatly and there was something for everyone. The transit of the Panama Canal was fantastic. It took all day, but it was well worth getting up at 6am for !!
WEATHER : Superb. Glorious weather every day. The lowest temperature was 79f and many days it was in the high 80's.
TOURS : I did tours in Grenada (Rum Runner) ; Limon (Banana Train) , Puerto Quetzal (La Antigua Guatemala on your own). All were good. I and my friends did our own things in the other places and often did things that tours were doing, but did them much more cheaply. It helped that I have a friend living on Bonaire who sorted that day out for us.
ARCADIA SERVICE : On the whole very good indeed from everyone. The Meridian Restaurant waiters worked very hard indeed due to the large size of the restaurant, they have to bring the food a long way. Breakfast room service does need to be looked at as it is very rarely delivered correctly. Every day they missed something off the list of requests. It wasn't just us. Everyone in our group who used this service reported a similar problem. They seem to think each cabin contains just one person and very rarely provide for 2 or more. The reception and tours staff appear not to be able to deal with complainants very well. I had no cause to complain but sometimes stood behind people who were and the staff tend to be very defensive and offer unsatisfactory explanations that tend to be fob offs. Customer service in this respect needs to be looked at. This ship appears to be somewhat worse than the other ships I have been on in that respect. The crew and staff are very friendly and pleasant, and bar service is good.
ENTERTAINMENTS STAFF / ENTERTAINMENT : worked very hard indeed. The men were very personable, although the girls tended to be a bit stand offish and really rather snooty. The Entertainments Officer was Gary Gladding and he did a good job. He did a commentary during the Panama passage which was superb. The singers and dancers were clearly chosen for one show (Cirque Arcadia) using their aerial and acrobatic abilities. The rest of the shows suffered as a result being rather bland and having no impact. The boys were very good dancers and looked good, the girls were less capable and were statuesque as opposed to dynamic. The 2 principal singers did little dancing and sang adequately, but none of the company were notable for vocal prowess. One of our party is a professional musical director in her own right and she thought the vocals of the team were abysmal at every show. The cabaret acts were Alan Stewart (very very good) ; Bobby Crush (who was himself as usual !!) ; a female singer more suited to a pub or cabaret club, and a classical pianist duo who I am told were very very good. Jon and Dan Snow were on board for lectures. I am told they were good. The Arcadia Orchestra were superb, and the other 4 bands on board were all good.
ARCADIA SHIP : The exterior looks magnificent and the ship is very handsome indeed. It is a large ship. The lack of a large atrium means there is no real focal point, and this makes the ships layout difficult to get to grips with. Using the scenic elevators as a focal point really helps. There are some impressive spaces such as Palladium Theatre and the Crows Nest and the Orchid Restaurant and Bar, but too many of the public rooms are rather bland and lacking in any real atmosphere, including Arcadian Rhodes. The Meridian restaurant is especially bland and lit too lightly and lacks ambience and atmosphere. There is an impressive amount of deck space and there was never a long search for a deck lounger (as there is on the other P&O ships). The sun deck above Orchid is often overlooked by many and there is always plenty of space up there. There is no dedicated cinema. Films were sometimes shown in Palladium Theatre, but usually were shown in the Ocean Room (a sort of lecture room with uncomfortable stacking seats) and as a result were poorly attended. Café Vivo is a fun little place which we visited almost every day. There are too many plain corridors and the photo shop seems to get bigger with every new ship. The lower floor of the 2 tear dining room has a bad vibration at the centre rear due to being right over the propulsion of the ship. The Belvedere Buffet is a real problem. The food is OK there, but the layout is confusing at first with its different sections causing different queues. There was no effective signage instructing folk in which direction to queue and this led to problems and conflict. There were many complaints about this place.
ARCADIA FOOD : Sadly, not as good as on the other P&O ships I have been on. The food in Arcadian Rhodes is superb, as it is in Orchid Restaurant, but in the main restaurant there is a real problem with the food being luke warm when it comes to the table. We were sat right in a far corner of the restaurant. We spoke to people sat near the kitchen doors who said their food was always piping hot. Our party of 29 were sat across 4 tables and at various times during the cruise, group members had to return meals that were almost cold. Not good I am afraid. The restaurant is just too big to be effective and as a result the waiters are having to work overtime to keep up with things. Some meals there were superb (especially the formal nights), many were as to be expected, but some were no better than one could get in any local bistro back home and that's not what we have come to expect of P&O ships. There is one place on the ship which must rank as the very worst food I have ever had afloat. The Neptune's Buffet Bistro by the pool. I ate here once and it was completely vile.
ARCADIA ATMOSPHERE : This was the first time I and my party had cruised on an over 18's ship , and it will probably be the last, unless we chose such a ship for the itinerary. OK, we didn't have the kids and teenagers (but they are usually well looked after and controlled on the family ships such as Oceania, Oriana and Aurora), but what we didn't have as a result was their parents, who are typically aged in their 30's, 40's and 50's. (We are in our 40's). There were very few of this age group on board and as a result the atmosphere on board was quite dull at times. By half past midnight the ship was dead apart from a few pockets of life and certainly by 1am there was nothing happening at all. There were a few younger couples who stood out because they were so few in number. The majority of the passengers were aged 60+ and while they seemed to be enjoying themselves, it can never be as lively as when you have all age groups on board.
THE BUG : sadly the last 3 days of the cruise had the dreaded bug on board. It appeared to be a mild form and was apparently brought back on board a Puerto Quetzal. 4 of my party got it, but it was being sick once and having a bit out the other end, and feeling unwell for a day. Didn't sound like norovirus. There were quite a few cases and the ship handled this well with the usual restrictions in place. Everything handed to you in buffet and restaurant, toilet doors remaining open etc etc. One anomaly in the restaurant. They handed the pre-packed sugar and salt to you with tongs, and then brought the toast in an open rack for all the table to handle !!!
We enjoyed this cruise very much, but found a lot more to criticize than usual. It didn't spoil anything however, and the experience was still far better than any land based holiday could be. I haven't been put off P&O yet, but there are many people wondering if standard are being cut too much in an effort to keep prices down. P&O might loose support to Princess Cruises if they are not careful.