Firstly, I will highlight the good points. The cabins were good and kept totally clean throughout the cruise by our steward, who spoke little English, but was good at his job. Some of the reception staff were helpful and friendly, but some were not. We were allocated a table in the Peninsular restaurant, and, although we would normally use alternative dining due to my sons dietary needs and disabilities, we had to use the Peninsular as food in the conservatory was so awful!
During our cruise, there were a number of Norovirus cases, and apparently, due to this, precautions were obviously taken with regards to stopping self service in the conservatory and Alfresco's. We do feel that if the use of hand gel had been insisted upon earlier in the cruise, this may not have happened. It always amazes us that some people absolutely refuse to use the gel that is there to safeguard them! We feel that if there was one member of staff allocated to making sure this was used, it would save problems in the long run.
The food in the conservatory was dire. The choice was extremely limited and the themed dinner buffets made it useless to us as all food in there was spicy. The themes were Indian, Thai, Mexican, Caribbean, Country and Western, with no alternatives. We have never been on a ship where the is so little choice. Also, portion control was practised, which again, we have never had on any ship we have been on. This is the first cruise where 3 of our party has not put on any weight at all. On one occasion, I asked for some Cheddar cheese to accompany crackers in the conservatory. I was given a piece of cheese which was approximately the size of half a cheese triangle. I asked if I could have more and was told that was a portion. We accept that the staff had to serve the food due to the virus on board, but many dozens of people felt that P & O saved an awful lot of money on food during the cruise. We also appreciate that some people are greedy and take food they do not eat. This was not the case, the portions were minute.
Alfresco was where we ate our breakfast most days. The staff were good, but again, portion control was practised. My son eats only soft food and so a cheese omelette was the perfect choice. The omelettes were thinner than most crepes and although he has a small appetite, we needed to go back for another omelette for him each day. We were served to one piece of bacon and half a tomato. Scramble eggs were being served by the half spoonful.
The Peninsular was good and they tried very hard to cater for my children. I cannot fault them at all.
As this was a Christmas cruise, we expected the atmosphere to be festive and the entertainment to match the season. This was absolutely not the case! After the first 3 days, I found myself apologising to my family for taking them away from Christmas. Even the staff were unable to disagree that it seemed Christmas was cancelled. On Christmas Eve, it seemed we may have Christmas after all. Santa arrived on deck accompanied by Christmas music. The choir sang and were really good. Later, the crew sang Carols, and the show, 'Jingle all the way' was very festive. Apart from church services, that's where it ended! Christmas day was a huge anti-climax with very little to do. The only difference to the normal days entertainment was that words were added, ie frosty shuffleboard, Rudolph carpet bowls etc. It was pathetic! Christmas dinner in the Peninsular was good and quite festive.
I can truthfully say that I have never heard so many people saying that they couldn't wait to get back to Southampton. I am not just talking about the usual moaners that all ships have, but families and people who had travelled with P & O many times. We spoke to many, many people who felt this way and the staff were apologising for the lack of Christmas. I had people who were horrible to my children, which has never happened on any other cruise.
I have never been so glad to leave a ship and return home and will never travel with P & O again. I will also not recommend them to family or friends. We feel we lost our Christmas