My husband and I had done only 1 cruise before embarking on Arcadia in February 2008 to cruise the Caribbean, The Panama Canal and up to Acapulco. Our first cruise was on QE2 and so we thought it would be interesting to compare P&O with the Cunard experience.
Our flight from Manchester to Barbados was good and we had upgraded on the First Choice Flight. We had been fortunate as people who had travelled with Thomas Cook also from Manchester were disgusted with their flight seats and the space, or lack of it, in economy. Transfer from the aircraft to the cruise terminal in Bridgetown was excellent and we were soon in our cabin. We thought the cabin was about the same size as the one we had on QE2. However, this time we had a balcony which was a definite advantage over the 2 portholes on QE2. The cabin was well appointed although there was no shampoo provided. I thought this was penny pinching to the extreme. You get shampoo in a basic motorway lodge in the UK. Also there were no dressing gowns which we had had on QE2. Our room steward was from Goa and he knew a hotel we had stayed at there some years ago. He was very polite and efficient.
We had booked for second sitting at dinner but when on board discovered that this did not start until 20.45. As we did not want to eat that late we changed to first sitting at 18.30. The only alternative to this for dinner (unless you wanted to pay extra) was to go to the Belvedere Buffet Food Court which was about as exciting as a works canteen in decor and facilities. We soon found that dining at 18.30 was a little early as we missed a lot of the sailaway parties so we decided that if we cruised again with P&O we would choose Freedom Dining.
The food was OK but a definite notch down from what we had on QE2. The waiter service in the dining room was good except for delivery of the vegetables on to you plate. They were plonked anywhere on the plate (often over the food that was already on there) rather than being nicely placed in a suitable space on the plate (as we had on QE2). Likewise, on QE2, the petits fours came on a large tray and you were invited to choose. On Arcadia, a few biscuits were literally dumped on a small plate - some not even the right way up and the plate just left on the table. I know the waiters are hard pressed to get diners out of the restaurant to get the tables relaid for the second sitting but it is these small things which leave the wrong impression in peoples' minds. The Belvedere Food Court was self - service. We had breakfast there most days but only dined there on 2 nights. It is the most confusing place to find your way around as they have different types of food on each side of the serving area. Getting a coffee or tea was often a scramble as people converged on the 2 machines dispensing the water and coffee. This was not a good place to be if you visited it at a busy time.
About a week into the cruise, our wine waitress announced that they would shortly run out of bottles of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and this proved to be true. Then about 3/4 days before the end of the cruise you could not get a proper tonic anywhere on the ship. They had slimline which does not taste right with gin or vodka but no proper tonic!! We think that there should be some tightening up on the re-ordering of items to be taken on board at each port.
The weather for the entire cruise was fantastic - virtually wall to wall sunshine every day. The itinerary was varied and interesting and involved new places for us to visit. The Panama Canal transit was the highlight. We did quite a few organized trips when in port. In Aruba we did a snorkeling trip which took us to a shipwrecked vessel. This was very dangerous and most people were out of the water and back on board the snorkel vessel within a few minutes. P&O should review whether to keep this trip on their books. We did an evening trip to Panama City which was billed as a walking tour. However we soon found out that the tour guides were to take us to 2 museums instead. This did not go down at all well with us and our fellow passengers. Spending time in a museum at 22.00 after a full day transiting the Panama Canal was not most people's idea of fun. The best trip was in Huatulco where we went on an Eco Bird Watch walk.
We were not that interested in taking part in the daytime activities on board ship when at sea, preferring instead to find a sun bed and relax. However, the evening entertainment was pretty abysmal. As mentioned we were in first sitting for dinner and this meant that by 20.15 we were just about finished in the dining room and looking for some entertainment. We soon found that if you did not want to go to the show (or perhaps did want to go but could not get a seat) there was nothing else going on throughout the ship for at least an hour - say between 20.30 and 21.30. We visited various bars including the pub and when we got there the act was playing but as soon as the dining room announced that it was time for second sitting dinner, all the acts closed down and the place was like a ghost ship. This is not good enough.
With about 2 days to go to the end of the cruise, it was announced that there had been an outbreak of the Norovirus disease and various cleanliness measures were brought in. Fortunately we were not affected but we thought that in general and prior to the outbreak of the disease, there was a more lax approach to disinfecting hands on entry to restaurants than there was on QE2.
Unfortunately the night before disembarkation it was announced that our flight was delayed by 8 hours and as we had to be out of our cabin by 07.00 on the day of disembarkation, this made for a long hot and tiring day before we even got to the airport. It also meant that we were soon mingling with new passengers who had arrived at Acapulco early and who could not all gain access to their cabins!! We were very much on our own at the airport as there were no P&O staff in attendance. I thought this was surprising. It was as if once you had left the ship P&O were not bothered about you.
In summary we enjoyed the cruise overall but there were some shortfalls and it was not to the standard we had on QE2. However, undaunted, we have booked to go on Ventura so will see if she is any different.