We flew from Gatwick (Thompson charter) to join Arcadia at Barbados, sailed to Aruba, then through the Panama Canal, then Costa Rica, then Huatulco and Acapulco in Mexico, then finally to San Francisco, from where we flew back to Heathrow (but via Munich on Lufthansa scheduled).
These bizarre flight arrangements were not explained to us when we paid for our holiday - we only knew when the tickets arrived. If I had known of these Gatwick-out, Heathrow-in-via-Munich arrangements, I would not have booked. This is principally a criticism of the travel agency but is also indicative of P&O's indifferent attitude to customers' comforts off-ship.
Our outbound flight was two hours late, which meant we hardly saw Barbados. More importantly, two other Thompson charter flights from Gatwick were 14 hours late, so the ship sailed from Barbados very late, and lead to a shortened visit to Aruba. After that, the ship went back on schedule.
Arcadia is a good ship, and we were pleased with our balcony stateroom. it was a bit smaller than MSC, but was comfortable, and we had a supremely comfortable bed. The cabin steward (Lloyd) was superb, and helped us with minor problems like electrical adapters with no fuss.
The ship is large but seemed to have an endless number of public rooms, so it never felt full (it was fully occupied). The facilities on board were excellent, and there was a very wide range of activities freely available throughout the trip to help pass the time - on this cruise we had at least 6 days at sea so it was important to have something to do other than read or sunbathe!
Our main disappointment with this cruise was the choice and quality of the food, both in the self-service area, and in the main silver-service restaurant. We had assumed that P&O was a cut above the likes of Thomsons, but in fact the reverse is true in our view. However I have to say that the selection of wines and cocktails was superb and very, very good value.
The entertainment in the main Palladium theatre was again reasonable, with a couple of very good celebrity acts, but their in-house dance troupe wasn't really good at all - again Thomson's were leagues ahead.
The few shore excursions we did were superb value for money and well-organised - a real plus for P&O.
The overall ship organisation left something to be desired. There were several cases of inconsistent information being given out. The worst fiasco was in San Francisco where having told us to be aware that we were under the Golden Gate Bridge at 0500 (and to be immigration starting at 0645) it took no less than 5 hours to process all the passengers for immigration by 12:00 - contrary to popular rumour, the American immigration staff were very friendly, fast, and armed to the hilt! It was Arcadia who forgot to tell passengers to come down for processing, having previously told everyone NOT to attend at the published times due our late arrival in port (due to headwinds, no one's fault).
P&O did redeem themselves a bit in that they took us off ship to the airport at 14:00 (flight not due to 21:00) but treated us to an excellent 3 hour free tour of San Francisco - but why not tell us?! Most people didn't know they had a 3 hour tour, hadn't gone to the loo or eaten - they were just expecting a fast transit to the airport to sit around for 6 hours - as it turned out, we saw all the sights, and got to the airport just in time to check-in - excellent!
All-in-all, a superb cruise, the highlight being our transit through the Panama Canal. The cruise director provided a superb commentary throughout.
We did also dine in the Gary Rhodes 'franchise' restuarant for a modest extra cover charge of £10 - worth every penny - superb service and food -in fact just like the main restaurant shoud be.
Bascally a very good ship and itinerary, let down by the standards of catering and entertainment, which smacks of dumbing dowm/cost cutting by Carnival Corporation. I am afraid I now wouldn't recommend ANY Carnival-owned line to anyone - stick with Olsen, Thompson or MSC.