Oh dear Oh dear. We have cruised now with P&O for around 8 years, our previous sailing four years ago on board Oriana from Southampton to the Caribbean and back. Our Son got married on board and we had a wonderful time despite a storm at sea. There was plenty of things to do and the entertainment and food on board was varied and of good quality. Two years ago we went with friend on a Mediterranean cruise on board Royal Caribbean and although the ship was good, we praised at the time to our friends to try and used P&O as we felt it was so much better. How can a company change so much in four years. Read on.
Our first encounter was with the boarding disruption at Southampton. After travelling some two hours a distance of nearly 135 miles, one didn't expect to have to wait in a traffic hold up at the port entrance to the ship in an hour of traffic. This we we're first told was due to excess luggage after the world cruise and then to be told of a computer failure. The first excuse doesn't really hold true as this wouldn't have been the first time a cruise ship has returned from a world cruise, and the second excuse a feeble one unless the computers has not been checked or maintained (This comes from my son in law an IT whiz kid). It was a complete shambles and not a good start to the holiday.
When we eventually boarded we quickly explored the ship and ended up near the Crystal pool where the dome that is clearly advertised as "She even has one pool which can be covered by a sky dome" was being repaired and hand winched closed. This was really unsatisfactory as it was hand winched open and left open in all weathers, which proved a problem on one evening when the pool party that had to be held around the other pool, finished prematurely because rain stopped play,,,,,,,,,, Literally.
Over the period of our holiday there was little to keep most people we spoke to from young to elderly amused. The resident show theatre company we're of good standard and worked hard to entertain, but most of the guest acts of board were terrible. We have at home better street buskers than most of the acts were on board. We had to contend with a West End female vocalist that took great pleasure in informing everyone who she had rubbed shoulders with on her outstanding career and a Singer Songwriter who's claim to fame was writing, or co-writing a song for Barry Maniloe which incidentally was many years ago, and again took great pleasure in telling everyone how wonderful he was. The fact was that several people walked out of the Curzon Theatre and many more that I assume did not see him on his first performance, walked out on his second appearance at the Carmen's venue. He could not only crucify any song with his singing but even managed to destroy any credibility of piano playing with a Ragtime number. The most annoying and totally inappropriate artist was the after dinner speaker ex MP. This was conveniently placed to make sure everyone had an early night, as after watching a show at one end of the ship to go to the other end to listen to him, he killed the evenings dancing which followed. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to book an after dinner speaker who boasted of his serving on the government, boasted of his political party and boasted of his involvement of Dyson cleansers to the point of stating that P&O's use of the "Henry" hoovers was a huge mistake because they chuck loads of dust out and that we all should buy Dyson ones. And the truly tropical Caribbean style band. Or not. Apparently the leader of the band had a passport that was under six months expiry and missed the ship at Southampton. Now common sense would be find another band suitable through the hundreds of agencies in the UK and fly them out to the Azores. Simple. But oh no, the band was eventually flown out to Barbados and we celebrated Caribbean music after leaving Barbados and on route back to Madeira. Very apt. Who actually picks the acts? And do they only get them from agencies and not see who they have booked. I work with dramatics and have had some experience in booking acts for clubs, I only booked an act that I had seen, not on an agencies recommendation (they are going to be biased as they want a booking, and I'm sure that I could have done a better job.
The food was fantastic with a great selection and reasonable portions in the restaurant's, but this was four years ago. On this occasion the food was good but the quantity and selections, especially in the "Orangery" was poor compared to four years ago. I know that everyone is trying to cut costs, but there does come a point when people notice, and we were not alone. The only people we spoke to throughout our holiday that were none the wiser were first time cruisers.
The ship was looking tatty with worn carpets, lighting bulbs broken, hand dryers not working and general dEcor shabby. We have cruised before on Oriana and although an older ship, she was beautifully kept.
Now to P&O's first Lady Captain. Sarah Bretton! Did she and her staff have a personal hygiene phobia or do they all have highly contagious skin conditions? As when a hand of anyone was put out in the Formal Captain pictures to shake it was evident that this is not acceptable. And when I had a photo taken with me one side and my wife the other, my wife said to the Captain "is this ok" referring to the distance next to the Captain for a photo, to be told, "that's far enough". Also whilst speaking to a regular frequent traveller who was a gold member and had spoken to one of the Officers on board, said that they had been instructed not to shake hands with guests. Before I am given some mundane excuse as to why this is not done, take a look at your in-cabin advertisement for the Azura. Does it not show a sociable captain and officers mixing with their guests. If the captain in her wisdom doesn't like bodily contact then why not wear gloves or have a hand cleanser to hand, after all the whole ships guests have at least three hand cleanses a day with the sanitary hand cleanser. And another point is if the Captain doesn't want to get infected, I assume she doesn't touch any part of the ship, including the glasses she and her officers drink from.
I am not a smoker, but respect the areas set aside on board for smokers. This rule apparently doesn't apply to ships officers who made a brief visit to the pool night party. Non-smokers on the Starboard side, smokers on the port side and smoking officers who were apparently exempt, in the bar in the middle which incidentally didn't have ashtrays, so where did the ash go?
The Pools have Jacuzzis. I can understand that the pool in bad weather condition's is closed for safety, but why were the Jacuzzis affected. Or more to the point one. It was drained and left emptied and out of action for several days until it was refilled again.
And a final gripe, the Dance room ( Carmen's) placed very strategically at the Stern of the ship. I'm no expert on ship control but common sense would suggest that the venue in the rough sea conditions would be very unstable at the stern. The Discotheque was placed midship. No-one, and I mean No-one was using it until the early hours so why not make full use of the venue by changing the programme. Common senses again.
In conclusion both myself and wife found the whole experience this time with P & O a shambles. There is only so much you can cut back on and sadly in the four years in which we have not used P & O it shows immensely .
With more and more companies using Southampton as a base and all competitively priced, I can foresee that P & O will suffer unless a rethink is in hand. Don't get us wrong, we love cruising, but this experience has somewhat marred P & O's credibility as one of the top. And this would be such a shame.