We booked this cruise because it was the only one we could do with P&O in the time slot we had available. The more we thought about it, the more we thought it would be interesting to do, but we didn't expect great weather, and given the type of cruise, we expected an aged clientele and a sedate atmosphere. We weren't disappointed with regards to the latter, of which more later !! I must add at this juncture that we are loyal P&O clients and have only ever cruised P&O, on all the ships (apart from Adonia).
THE WEATHER - We didnt expect great weather and the cruise got off to a poor start with torrential rain for embarkation and sailaway. It was the worst rain in the south for some time. Sailaway was a washout with most passengers staying indoors and only a handful braving the elements, although they might still have been settling in and unpacking due to the delays in embarkation (of which more later). However from the next day onwards we were SO lucky. The weather was with us all the way. I was able to wear shorts all the time, we had plenty of sun and good weather, with only a bit of rain on 2 days. Some days were incredible (especially Shetland which was glorious), and a great deal of sunbathing and swimming was done at the Stern Aquarius Pool. The good weather was the talk of the ship and mentioned by the captain at every sailaway. (5/5 rating)
EMBARKATION - Utterly shambolic and the worst I have ever experienced in 12 cruises. We were at the Mayflower Terminal. The problems might have been better coped with at the Ocean terminal as everyone would have been sat down. We arrived at 1.20 and there was a long queue out of the door, but moving quickly. Then it came to a grinding halt. A computer failure on the ship had thrown down all the land based computers (so we were eventually told by one of the stewards). The queue didn't move for 50 minutes. It snaked out of the door and down the car drop off area. Many people were having trouble standing for so long. There was 2 short announcements apologising, but these were largely inaudible. The result - a lot of very angry and distressed people. Given the very aged clientele, the queue was slow moving anyway, but after enduring this queue, we then had to queue for the security scanners, then queue all the way along the ramps and corridors onto the ship. We arrived at 1.20 and boarded at 3.20 (2 hours in total). Ok, it wasn't totally their fault (they cant help computer problems) BUT they could have given us more information. For the first time ever our cases beat us to the cabin !!! (1/5 rating)
THE PORTS AND ITINERARY - Well, what can I say. FABULOUS PORTS. This was a 13 night cruise (so 12 full days) with just 2 sea days and 10 ports. We were all on our knees by the end. It was tiring. I need a holiday to get over this one. Firstly it was weird doing a cruise to British and Irish ports. Everything ashore is familiar, no need for currency transactions (apart from Dublin and Cobh which use the Euro). (5/5 rating) Very briefly :
SEA DAY 1 (Fri) - To fill the time we sailed a third of the way to Norway then turned and came back in. Glorious weather. I got sunburnt due to not using a high enough factor.
NEWCASTLE (Sat) - A fabulous city with a great riverside. Good shopping centre and plenty to see. We didn't do a tour. Pity the ship didn't advise of the metro closure between Wallsend and Tyneside. Inadvertently we did the right thing by going to Percy Main and getting the metro bus replacement to Wallsend. The P&O shuttle was taking passengers to Tyneside where they were totally confused by having to get the train going north round the loop on a longer journey. The shuttle should have gone to Percy Main. Shorter journey, nearer the dock and less confusing. However maybe they didnt know in advance. We docked at Tyne Docks and the sail out was great past North and South Shields and Tynemouth with loads of people out to watch us go.
EDINBURGH (Sun) - We moored off South Queensferry right by the Firth of Forth Rail Bridge. Tendering seemed efficient. We did the Edinburgh on Your Own Trip, as did a lot of passengers. A long day and worth it, but a lot were right royally p*ssed off to find local buses waiting on shore offering to take you to Town and back for just £10. Less than half what P&O were charging. Edinburgh was brilliant. Very busy due to the Fringe still being on. It was a manic day and great fun. It was gloriously sunny all day (apart from one short rain shower) .
INVERGORDON (Mon) - This is a small town on the Cromarty Firth. Lovely and quiet. We did the Inverness and Loch Ness trip. We had 90 minutes in Inverness which was really quiet for a Monday. Lovely town. Loch Ness was spectacular but to be honest the trip would have been better if we had got more time at the Loch and less time in the Visitor Centre which wasn't very good. We had 90 mins at the latter. The nearest we got to the Loch was overlooking Urquart castle. When we returned we managed an hour wandering round Invergordon which has loads of murals painted on walls to brighten the place up. At sailaway we had a Scottish Bagpipe band playing on the Quayside. Weather was dull and windy but not at all unpleasant.
LERWICK (Tues) - The Shetland Isles were stunning. The weather was warm sunny and glorious all day. We moored and tendered in. Lerwick is a lovely little town with good facilities (it has a late opening Tescos for instance), and some nice walks round the town and surrounds. We spent 2 hours there then did an afternoon tour right down to the southern tip (Sumburgh Head) to see the Iron age settlements. Great to see some of the island. What a stunning place. It seemed this was everyones highlight although what it would have been like on a wet and wild day I don't know.
SEA DAY 2 (Wed) - sailing down through the Western Isles. Started and ended sunny. Heavy rain for 2 hours in middle of day.
GREENOCK (Thurs) - We didn't go into Glasgow but did the tour to Loch Lomond and other lochs and glens, which returned across the car ferry from Dunnoon to Gourock. This was a very interesting and scenic tour. We were back on the ship by 1.30 but decided not to pop into Greenock as others had said it was a rather dull little town. Weather was sunny at sailaway and we sat in the Crows Nest as we sailed down the Firth of Clyde for a scenic sail out after being entertained by a pipe band playing on the quayside with a man dressed in a large blow up version of a Scotsman complete with kilt, parading around to the music.
LIVERPOOL (Fri) - This was the only port on this cruise I have been to previously. Its changed a lot. What a fabulous city. We docked right by the Liver Birds. The new Liverpool Museum has opened nearby and this was very interesting (and free !) The Beatles Story is also nearby (rather expensive !!) as are the Albert Docks and it is only a short walk into the city. After doing the museum and docks, we got the Hop on Hop Off bus all round the city, then went into the centre and up to the top of the radio Tower for stunning views all around the region. The sailaway was fantastic with Beatles Music and Ferry Cross The Mersey blaring out. Weather dull but warm. A word of warning. If you want to do the Ferry trip, you cant when a large cruise ship is in as it docks at the Ferry Pontoon. So we could see the ferry chugging up and down between the two terminals on the other side but the cross river trip is closed on Cruise Ship days.
BELFAST (Sat) - How interesting to see places whose names we are familiar with from The Troubles (Craigavon Estate, Crumlin RD etc). We did a tour to Giants Causeway which is a trek across Antrim but worth it as this Heritage Sight is simply stunning. We had about 2 hours there before returning via Ballycastle. We then got a 30 min tour round the city thrown in for good measure. Back on board by 2pm. It was sunny and warm all day.
DUBLIN (Sun) - Pleasant weather with a torrential rain storm mid afternoon. We did the Hop on Hop off bus after wandering round the city. It was very busy indeed. What a great place. Loads of bridges on the river. No queues for the shuttle to and from the ship to the city centre. Lots of passengers made a bee line for the Guinness Distillery. I don't drink so couldn't think of anything worse !!! Our table companions found it a trifle disappointing though with poor tasting Guinness !! A good day all round. Sailaway wasn't until 8 so we were out and about on the ship by the time we left. Eurodam and Ocean Princess were also docked with us.
COBH (Mon) - Weather hot and sunny all day. What a wonderful little place Cobh is and with the ship docked right next to the railway station and harbour front, just a short walk. I could have spent all day here but my partner wanted to go to Cork in the afternoon. So we spent 2 hours in Cobh where there are colourful buildings, lovely walks, a cathedral, a visitor centre and a lovely genteel atmosphere. It seems most of the ship decided to do the same as the taxis had poor business (so we were told by one) and the trains to Cork were almost empty. The hourly service is augmented to half hourly when a ship is in. It takes 23 minutes and costs 6 Euros 55c return. The trains are 2 coach sprinter style trains. Cork is a lovely river side city that is easily walk able. We spent 2 hours there than returned on the train. Another great day with a lovely sailaway.
GUERNSEY (Tues) - Another hot and glorious day, like mid summer. As most folk wanted to get off, the wait for a tender to shore was about 60 minutes. For the return mid after noon, the queue was enormous. They were running 5 tenders but it was a busy day for them. We took the number 7 bus round the Island. It costs just £1, takes 70 minutes and you see all the island. But be warned it is the service bus and gets quite full, especially after calling at the airport !! We also wandered round St. Peter Port. Prinsendaam was moored by us so it was a busy day. Sailaway (The traditional Great British sailaway) was well supported and fun.
So, a hectic schedule, great weather and a wonderful cruise as regards the ports and points of interest.
THE SHIP : I know Arcadia has a lot of supporters, but when I sailed on her in 2008 I said (on this site) that she was in my opinion, the poorest of the P&O Ships and my opinion has not changed at all. Some food is still lukewarm and not quite up to the standard of the other ships, the crew are not as friendly or efficient as the other ships, and a general air of tiredness pervades everything on board. The ship itself is looking incredibly shabby on the outside and much of the furniture inside is showing signs of wear and tear on the arms. She isnt the flashiest of ships anyway, but she now looks dated and worn. Sorry, that's my opinion and I am entitled to it. It will upset a number of readers of this blog, but hey ho. In all public rooms there were lights not working (no attempt to repair them at all) even the colour changing lights in the restaurant stopped working after day 3 with all but one of them staying white and one staying green, the cabin balconies are shabby and dirty (we had to clean ours before we could sit in it) the deck furniture dirty, the stern decks were filthy at times, the swimming pools are shabby (although they repainted the Aquarius pool on the penultimate day of our cruise), the magradome (which was closed throughout our cruise) has rubber bits hanging down from it and the paintwork is shabby, the surrounds of the swimming pools are shabby and rusty. The crows nest windows have repair tape across them in 2 places and the leather seats are shabby and worn. I could go on and on. I accept these are sea going ships with huge wear and tear from the elements and the passengers but why is it that the other ships in the fleet don't appear so shabby. Arcadia isnt the oldest by any means. Good points about the ship - The scenic lifts midships (although they were not clean inside) the views from Crows Nest, lots of deck space, large swimming pools, the new bijou screening room, The Neptune Grill, the Globe Show lounge, the increased space round the Aquarius Pool. Annoying aspects of the ship - a coffee shop that has no atmosphere, shops that are really just part of the walk through corridor, odd layout of decks 3 and 2 (the main public room decks) and a theatre that falls uneasily between being a theatre and an overblown show lounge. (Overall rating 2/5).
THE FOOD : Ho Hum. Now there's a story !!! In 2008, I cruised on Arcadia with 27 other friends. 10 of whom moaned about the food saying it was often lukewarm, It was, but I found it warm enough. However 3 of them started returning lukewarm food and then complained to the restaurant manager. I was mortified by this and banned them from doing it again on that cruise. I came on this cruise with my partner who is a chef. I said nothing about past experience hoping it was a one off. Within 2 days he was moaning about the luke warm food as were many other people. I banned him from sending food back , although at our first afternoon tea I returned the crumpet handed to me as it was stone cold. I don't know what it is with this ship but there must be a big issue with the kitchens and the size of dining room., The quality is there, the meals were often tasty and always well presented, but some were just NOT WARM ENOUGH. Unusually we got comments forms just three days into the cruise, concentrating on specific areas (as well as full ones at the end) and we entered our concerns about the food. Someone did ring our cabin and spoke with my partner about it. That said, The soups were all good and hot, and Arcadian Rhodes is superb and well worth the cover charge and the take aways from the Neptune Grill are very good AND HOT. The Belvedere Buffet restaurant is OK. Its layout is still confusing but the food wasn't at all bad. We did not use the Orchid at all but heard varied reports, most moaning that the small portions meant it was not worth the cover charge. My partner will talk to anyone at the drop of a hat so we always talk to loads of people on any cruise we do. Across the ship we heard people moaning about the food in the Meridian Restaurant, some very loudly so. This cruise doesn't appear to have scored well in that department. (rating 2.5/5)
SERVICE : Good, but it doesn't have quite the finesse of the other ships. For instance in the dining room our table waiters constantly forgot who had ordered what. We were forever swapping the plates around. It became quite a joke. They were nice guys and we never ever complained as they are clearly over worked, but why is it this never happens to us on the other ships. The dinner plates were almost thrown on to the table in front of us. It was fast service but with no style or care. The reception staff are just downright surly and rude. Once again we were never there to complain, just to get currency or ask for other things. We were served quickly and efficiently but without a smile as if we were an intrusion on their day. Maybe we just got them at bad moments. Between Day 1 and the last evening we never saw our cabin Steward once. There was no attempt to interact with us and we were often around the cabin when he was nearby, so he had opportunity. He serviced the room efficiently so no complaints but when the steward doesn't make any attempt to interact, even when we try to start a conversation, then it just isnt so good. Once again this happened on my last cruise on this ship, but never on the other ships. Maybe he didn't know how to deal with a same sex couple - who knows !! Throughout the ship staff looked bored and listless. (rating 3/5)
CLEANLINESS : The interior of the windows of the belvedere restaurant were grubby and this did not give a good impression. They were never cleaned, or so it seemed. I could run a finger through the dust in some areas of public rooms, on shelves and side areas. The aft decks were dreadfully dirty. Our cabin balcony was a disgrace. Once again we didn't complain, but merely cleaned it ourselves in order to sit out on it. The nets in our cabin were filthy dirty at the bottom which gave a poor impression. I am not convinced the cleaning regime on this ship is up to scratch. (rating 3/5)
THE CABIN : Not bad. We had a balcony cabin on B deck aft. The last one before you turn the corner for the cabins overlooking the stern. Decent sized balcony (although we had to clean it first ) . Dirty net curtains and a stained bed cover. Tiny TV. Not much wardrobe space, but sufficient although a longer cruise would present a problem. Nice sized bathroom which was clean. Not bad size cabin either. Our cabin was one of the ones bolted on the stern area in the re-modelling. We found lots of bits of paper and card folded and inserted into nooks and crannies, perhaps by previous occupants, to stop vibration. It was a quiet cabin and we had no grumbles. At the stern you expect more vibration but as the ship never went faster than about 12 knots most of the time, that wasn't an issue. When we did go faster we expected the vibration and throb of the engine. Its par for the course and reminds one that you are on a ship. There was only ONE three pin plug, which was an inconvenience. Lots of mirrors, but lack of drawer space. (Rating 4/5)
THE PASSENGERS / ENTERTAINMENT : being an adults only ship, the clientele tends to be older, and given the nature of the cruise we expected an aged clientele, and so it was. We got friendly with some of the entertainers and bands, and were told the average age was 71 on this cruise. The entertainments team were fighting an uphill battle all the way. By 11.30 each evening the ship was like a ghost town. The band in the show lounge (inspiration) usually were left with about 6 people to play to after that time (including us). The theatre shows were greatly enjoyed but audience response was muted because the elderly patrons just don't respond in the same way that younger folk do. (I know this as I do a lot of stage work myself and an elderly audience is a nightmare as they might be enjoying it, but they don't show that enjoyment and any entertainer needs feedback.) The majority of passengers appeared to be Portunus gold (the gold luncheon was full to bursting), Portunus members, or past cruisers. We came across no new cruisers. As a result, there were a lot of moans as people were disappointed with aspects of the cruise. We heard a lot of moans about the food. We try not to moan on the cruise as we are there to enjoy ourselves. This kind of blog is the place to voice criticisms after the event, but my goodness there were some prize moaners on this cruise. Luckily our table (we were the kids on the block, 4 couples in our 50's) got on well and we had a good time. There were a handful of passengers in their 20's and 30's. We spoke to some and they were hating the ship (loving the cruise though). I would have loved to have read the comments forms at the end. The entertainment standard was good (apart from a dreadful comedian with teeth that were unnaturally white), with great headliners shows, good bands and musicians, and a fantastic Beatles Tribute band. I did feel for them though, as it must have been very hard work trying to get anything out of the passengers. There was also a good classical piano duet, and the Arcadia Orchestra did two concerts in the Crows Nest all of which were good. At the final sailaway from Guernsey the cruise director (Tracey Clegg) gave three cheers for the cruise and weather and got a great response, and then gave three cheers for P&O and got a very muted response and some laughing. Oh dear. It was a butt clenching moment but said it all about the attitude of a lot of the passengers. On the subject of the cruise director Tracey Clegg - she needs to give a more confident face to the public. She often wasn't confident in what she said to us from stage, often stumbling over her words. She did not inspire confidence. However she was better than one of her assistants, who went by the name of Magic Martin. He was an irritant who I, along with some of the folk we chatted to, wanted to smash in the face. I think the word PRAT comes to mind. He would stalk the decks and public rooms with a look of self importance. (rating Passengers 1/5, entertainment 4/5, Tracey Clegg 2/5, Inspiration Show Band 10/5 !!!)
Clearly lots of people will have loved this cruise and loved the ship. If it was my first cruise I would have been dismayed at the very elderly passengers and very sedate atmosphere, but I know the family ships have more to offer. However the more cruises you do, the more expectant you become. There are signs of cost cutting and I am not surprised. It's a business and it has to pay. Everyone we spoke to, and all our table as well, had booked the cruise just weeks before hand, as we had, in order to get good deals. We spoke to 2 ladies who had managed to get an inside cabin for just £600 each. We paid £1100 each for a balcony cabin. And that seemed more then some had paid. The company has to cut costs therefore and they will cut the items that perhaps will be missed least. Hors d'oeuvre's have disappeared off the menu, stilton only on formal nights (On Azura in April it was available every night), many ladies moaned that there was NO BINGO - shock horror (although that might have been because of few sea days) and lots of other little things. Nothing that really spoils the cruise, but you start to notice the tightening of the purse strings, and compare the experience with 5 years ago and you certainly notice that it isn't quite as good.
Would I go on P&O again - YES. I Love P&O. but the other ships in the fleet are far better and I hope my two cruises in 2012 are on Azura and Aurora (definitely the best chips in the fleet IMHO, although Oriana and Oceana aren't far behind) They cant get it right all of the time and the quality of this cruise was still higher than a land based holiday, despite the problems. We never let niggles spoil our holiday (as some people do) and keep the moans for after the event. I try not to upset the crew and personnel, they are all trying their best (even if its not as good as other ships) but I do hope the food issue isnt apparent on any more cruises otherwise my chef partner might not want to come anymore and I couldn't do without my cruises !!!!!! Of course the alternative would be to try another cruise line. We almost booked a Cunard cruise this year but I just cannot bring myself to accept the class system that Cunard still operate (the more you pay for your cabin the better the restaurant in which you eat) . In addition , I don't know if I could cope with the more multi national clientele on Cunard, RCI, Princess or Celebrity and the high onboard prices and constant assaults on you to pay out for this or that. P&O is certainly more reserved, to suit the British cruiser and I like that , but are their standards slipping just too much ?