This was our 14th cruise but, after my wife suffered a stroke last summer, this was our first in an accessible cabin as wheelchair users, and it was just as enjoyable as all the rest. For anyone in a similar situation I would definitely recommend trying a P&O cruise, they really do try to ensure that your disability will not be a handicap to you having a good time.
We had travelled down from Yorkshire the day before so were able to have a late breakfast before a leisurely drive to the port, arriving about noon. CPS, the car parking group, really do a great job helping to unload your luggage and ensuring you have everything to hand before swapping your car keys for a credit card sized receipt to retrieve your car on your return. Once in the Ocean Terminal we were directed to the mobility “holding” area and added our name to their list. After about 20 minutes we were taken to a special mobility check in and from here we went straight onto the ship. I missed the announcement advising that cabins would not be ready until 2:00pm, as a result we were in our cabin by 12:45, and fortunately it was ready...
I knew that accessible balcony cabins were 50% wider than normal ones but had not realised how much bigger this would make them feel. The standard walk in closet/wardrobe on Grand Princess Class ships is missing and even though the bathroom is bigger than normal this still leaves an extremely spacious bedroom area. Behind the large door is a space large enough to park the wheelchair, then a 4 door wardrobe with 75% of it for full length hanging space with a shelf above and the other has about 5 or 6 narrow shelves plus the cabin safe. The rest of that wall has a counter with the tea and coffee equipment etc. with the fridge and a cupboard underneath and above it the TV. , then the kneehole for the vanity area; on the bedhead wall there are 2 four drawer units both with an open shelf under the units top. And if you can fill all these cupboards and drawers, then you are taking too many clothes on holiday. The bathroom has a drop down shower seat; there are grab rails on the 2 walls and a shower curtain round the open sides. There is very limited shelf space around the sink and no cupboards anywhere, about the only downside though, and the picture of a Ventura wheelchair cabin on the website does not really do justice to the size and quality of the bathroom. The balcony, of course, is also 50% wider and this certainly makes it feel roomier. Our cabin was on A deck but I am looking forward sometime to booking a C deck cabin which with its double depth and the extra length should feel very spacious.
Getting around on the ship with a wheelchair does create additional problems but none are major, waiting for lifts is probably the worst especially at busy times, and you do need to plan your movements to ensure you reach the correct floor area to access the venue you want, promenade deck 7, and Lido deck 15, are the only public room decks which give full access from stem to stern, so these become your major motorway routes. My wife did complain that some of the floor joints were a bit bumpy, but she blamed my driving for this. We travelled with my Son, DIL and 8 month old Grandson so our sunbathing was mainly confined to deck 16 aft, not the easiest of places to get to in a wheelchair, but we managed. My wife’s mobility out of the wheelchair is limited and very slow, but she was content to use the chair for her sunbathing and I am fairly confident that on our own we would be able to find many places where we could sunbathe.
Going ashore was fairly easy and P&O had it well organised, at the gangway 3 staff would descend on the wheelchair and carefully manoeuvre my wife down the ramp, same thing in reverse on our return. At some ports P&O even arranged for wheelchair accessible buses to supplement the free shuttles. The dire warnings in the pre cruise package that large tidal variations could compromise wheelchair users getting ashore never materialised.
We chose freedom dining which uses the Meridian dining room on deck 5 which is easily accessed from the midship lifts, my wife stayed in the wheelchair for all her meals, including any we had in the buffet or speciality restaurants. Fortunately all the tables easily accommodated the wheelchair and gave her a comfortable dining position; I imagine that would apply to most wheelchairs.
As regards the standard of the food on board there have been a number of negative comments about declining standards of quality and choice recently but we found both to be at or above our recent Celebrity and Princess experiences; and quite improved from our only other P&O cruise on Arcadia in 2006. You would need to be a very fussy eater not to find something to your taste either in the MDR’s or the buffet.
The entertainment was of quite a good standard, and the headliners theatre group was probably the best we have seen on any of our cruises, but the highlight was undoubtedly Steve Larkins as Mercury Rising, a Freddie Mercury tribute act. One tip is that deck 6 has, in our view, the best seating area for wheelchairs, most of the rows have plenty of space at the ends for a wheelchair and my wife stayed in her chair while I sat alongside.
One very pleasant surprise on this cruise was the age profile of the passengers, even discounting the children, this cruise had by far the lowest average age of any of our previous cruises, and I think that this no doubt added to our enjoyment. In addition to lots of young families there were also lots of young couples aboard, and it was wonderful to see them all dressed up in their finery on formal nights, as well as the men sporting jackets on the semi-formal evenings.
Overall we were very pleased with just about everything on this cruise. The service in the MDR was in the main excellent and the tables in the buffet were constantly cleared and cleaned, our cabin steward did everything that we requested and kept the cabin clean and tidy. Bar stewards were plentiful but not too pushy and of course drink prices on P&O are much lower than on US cruise lines. But probably the most satisfying aspect was how well we coped with the wheelchair. We were able to enjoy virtually everything that we used to do previously, and it was much easier and far less stressful than we had anticipated. As a consequence we will certainly be continuing to cruise in future.