Our cruise from Southampton to Bruge, a two day taster cruise that left on the 25th March 2011 and returned on the 27th March and cost us £350 per person plus extras, was a big disappointment I'm sorry to say. As quite experienced cruisers we wanted to taste the delights of P.& O. which we thought would be a real treat and cut above the others (Royal Caribbean and Princess). From the very beginning organisation was a real issue.
We arrived at the cruise terminal (Southampton) to be handed the colour coded cards with letters on, with no explanation as to the procedure other passengers filled us in, and over an hour later waiting in a huge hot hanger (please please tell me that's air conditioned in summer ?) we were called. Then you que for check in, then you que for security now I understand that some queing when dealing with 3000+ passengers must be inevitable but there are ways to handle large groups with courtesy and tact rather than making them feel like cattle, and this was not attempted here.
We arrived on board and a few staff were "hanging around" and we managed to find out where are cabin was ,but on previous cruises this has been handled as a warm welcome with smiles and grace, not so here.
Best Bit of cruise was the brass band on the dock which played us off, magic.
Our cabin was adequate, with furnishings as expected but the overall feel was that the decor, fabrics and flooring were very tired. A small TV on which little information was ever displayed and PAY per view films ! unlike Princess or Royal Caribbean where the latest movies run for free, with plenty of choice of other channels and information is updated daily in a rolling show recorded by the cruise director. (Dont even think P&O have a cruise director).
In the bathroom were decent size toiletries, but a shower curtain rather than a door. In the Room were tea and coffee making facilities and a fresh daisy, all small nice touches. On the balcony, nice furniture two loungers, one foot stool (every one else had two??) and an occasional table (what do occasional tables do the rest of the time? [I digress]).
We went for a wander around the ship and came back to find our case had been left outside someone else's cabin, luckily we walked past that particular cabin so reclaimed our case !!! can you imagine the problems we could have had had we not been lucky enough to spot it?
There was no explanation of where we could eat (this was the major problem of this cruise there was never any information or help or organisation), we ended up on the deck eating hot dogs and burgers although, I believe, we could have eaten a nice afternoon tea in the buffet but no one told us!
The restaurant was pleasant, the food and service excellent, we had first sitting 6.30pm and a table with two other couples and although we were strangers we got on well and I have no complaints about the restaurant and my partner was pleased to note that on the formal night people were denied access to the dining room if they were not adhering to the specified dress code. The breakfast (which we took in the buffet on deck 15) was also excellent with masses of choice and very nice food. My partner had full English and I had continental with fruit and yogurt all lovely and well presented. We will give credit where credit is due the staff and food served on this ship were top notch.
The entertainment on board for this two night cruise were awful, a bad comedian, two X-factor rejects, a sub standard tribute to the four tops and a George Micheal tribute act. I hope that normally on longer cruises the shows would be good but might have expected at £350 a head for two nights we deserved better. The crew also seemed to think this was a "Party Cruise" nobody billed it as a party cruise when we booked it, it was described as a "Taster" and we expected a taste of P.& O.'s usual standards.
Bruge and the shore excursion- We booked the four hour tour, boat ride and shopping advertised as "A Taste Of Bruge" £40 a head.
Our coach was half an hour late leaving the ship due to lots of chatting and checking lists by the P&O staff, so we were instantly late starting our walking tour. No problem for the guide who was 6'4" with a stride to match and decided to do the whole thing at top speed with no "comfort stops", in the end three of us ladies had to demand a toilet break which went down very badly and he went into a complete sulk when half the group decided not to continue with the tour and make their own way back to the ship (at considerable expense). If I were you I would book the "Bruge at your own pace" (£28)which is basically a transfer to and from the ship and look round Bruge at your leisure. A lady however told me that this was also fraught with disaster for some people as when they went to get the buses back, some how the buses filled before every one who had paid were seated on them. The driver of the last bus refused to carry these passengers, despite their having tickets and turning up in good time ( one was even in a wheelchair), and left them to make their own way back to the ship, ten miles away. Perhaps to make your own way to and from Bruge via the train is the best option as many more experienced passengers did. Bruge by the way is lovely. The boat "driver" we had was very funny and we tipped him because he was the best bit of the tour.
Disembarkation- We have been on many cruises and are used to the system, you keep the bare essentials with you and put your main case(s) outside the night before you dock. In the morning those who want to get off quick (and didn't put their cases out the night before) get off first. Then the others are kept in different lounges and called in order (usually colour coded) to avoid chaos, no one ques for longer than necessary and you wait in comfort! That's how they do it on other ships, not here though, lip service was paid to the organised way, we waited for the calls for disembarkation but after nothing for an half an hour my partner went to find out what was happening. He was told by a member of staff that they'd abandoned any attempt at organisation and everyone was now queing (3000+ people) to leave the ship by one gang plank!!! madness which we then had to join. What a rubbish way to end a rubbish weekend. Everyone was hot,tired and very fed up, it didn't have to be like that, the fact that the ship was late docking should not have caused this chaos.
When we got home a P.&O. brochure was awaiting us, and leafing through I was amazed to find that this ship is only 3 years old, it has not aged well. It needs a deep clean and preferably a complete refurbishment, it needs someone to organise the staff and provide more information, where are the little cards with maps of the ship ? (so handy on other cruises we've been on). The staff need to up their game be polite and informative (one spoke to me so rudely he alone would have put me off P.& O. single handedly) the general attitude seemed to be it's only a two day cruise we dont give a damn about the passengers. You will not be surprised that we will not be travelling with P.& O. again and are having our next cruise with Princess, they know how to treat their customers (and we've already booked it).
It saddens me that a great British company has been reduced to this.