We're 60 year old Australians with only 8 previous cruises with which to compare. This cruise was offered to us by email 3 weeks prior at a great last minute price. Back in the 80's & 90's we had cruised to some of these islands.
This is the first cruise to which we didn't have to fly as we live near Brisbane. The shuttle service offered by the nearby car storage was efficient. Embarkation went smoothly with lines moving quickly. The wait for your number to be called was reasonable considering we were early. Once on board, we were directed to our cabin where we left our hand luggage and went exploring, followed by lunch. The ship left on time at 2 pm. One of our suitcases took until late afternoon to appear.
Built in 1991 this ship was showing its age but the recent refurbishment helped it feel modern. Public areas were nicer than we expected. As it was originally the Regal Princess there was similarities to that line. There was some rough weather on this cruise with some seasickness experienced by other passengers. Perhaps a more modern ship would have handled the waves better.
Our ocean-view cabin was very pleasing and surprisingly large. With the bed head on the side wall the window view was quite good. The bed was comfortable with 4 pillows supplied. This was the first time our suitcases couldn't fit under the bed but there was a space on both sides of the window behind the curtain where we could stow them.
We liked the open style walk-in type robe which had good hanging space. The shower was a generous size. One of the things changed during the refurbishment were new flat-screen TVs (a bit small). The small fridge was handy for keeping our supply of Coke & snacks cold.
Our only disappointment was that the floor had obviously not been vacuumed and the plug was jammed fast in the basin. When we pointed this out to our cabin steward he apologised profusely and immediately rectified the problems. He seemed very efficient at his job.
Food & drinks:
Overall we found the service in the main dining room (Palm Court) to be fine but the standard of food was inferior ' maybe they were hoping more people would use the extra-charge restaurants (which we didn't use). There was a noticeable lack of seafood other than fish ' not even the usual prawn cocktails (as my DW is not a seafood lover she was happy with the quality). We were pleased with being able to choose side vegetables on the menu. Although you were supposed to book each night for dinner, we sat with a lovely couple from our Cruise Critic roll call and they were able to organise the same table and dining time for the whole cruise. It is relaxing having the same dinner companions and the same dining room staff got to know our preferences.
After experiencing the long lines at the buffet (Caf' Del Sol) the first morning, we used the MRD for breakfast every other morning. The food seemed better and the atmosphere more relaxing for breakfast.
We did use the buffet for lunch but wished there were separate food stations as on other ships ' trays are still supplied. Some times the line stretched almost out the door! There were rolls and French fries available outside on the deck. Food at the buffet is not available 24/7 as on Princess ships and the times varied between sea and port days. Disappointedly burgers, prawns and ice-cream were only available for a price (except vanilla ice-cream was available in the MRD at night). The only exception was on the last day at lunch when prawns were offered at the buffet ' maybe they hadn't sold enough! Coffee and tea was available 24/7 but there were no cookies at any time ' except by buying them from the coffee shop! Also we missed the freshly made waffles for breakfast offered on some other ships.
There was no drink packages offered ' a can of soft drink was expensive at $2.75. Wine choices and price were similar to other cruise lines. Room service was $3 for delivery.
We were pleased to see hand-sanitizers at MRD and the buffet. Also the public toilets had the main door open and/or paper towels supplied to open them.
Staff and service on board:
Generally the staff were friendly and polite. The service was as expected for a 3 star ship.
We enjoyed the shows in the main theatre as we have done on other cruises. These are the highlight of our evening. The lighting and costumes in the production shows were spectacular and the performers on the stage worked hard to entertain. The other entertainers were good as was the Cruise director. Also in the atrium on 2 nights an acrobatic group from Columbia performed - they were just amazing. This was viewable from three decks with the only downsize was the lack of seating provided.
The program of activities from which to choose was fine. Some of our highlights were the humorous culinary demonstration in the theatre & the passenger singing competition. We did miss not having the informative enrichment lectures offered my other lines.
At the open games/card venue offered by the ship, we found 3 lovely passengers with whom we played cards every day.
Shore Excursions & Destinations:
We normally try to avoid shore excursions organised by ships as we feel that they were too expensive. On this cruise we were happy to do our own thing. Armed with maps & information collected before the cruise, we easily explored ourselves.
Three of the 4 ports required using tenders and the delays with these were reasonable. As the weather was very wet at the 1st port, Isle of Pines (and we'd been there before), we stayed on the ship. At the next, Mystery Island we walked around the island and snorkelled. The 3rd stop was Port Villa, the only docking port where we did our own walking tour followed by shopping ' duty-free alcohol was the only thing cheap there (e.g. 2L bottle of Jim Beam for $20). The last port, Lifou Isle was disappointing as the lovely snorkelling beach (Jinek Bay) was difficult to access as the steps were washed away last year and still not replaced ' don't forget they're on island time!. The only means of accessing the beach was by a primitive ladder that had slippery and widely spaced rungs. My DW did not want to risk it.
Being one of the last groups to leave the ship, we were delayed way past the scheduled time of departure. Maybe disembarkation was delayed by customs. Anyway, we weren't in any rush as we only had to collect our car from storage and drive home.
As we paid $72 each per day for an ocean-view cabin which is less than half the usual promoted special price for this cruise, we certainly had value for money. Anyone paying the usual price may have felt different. This is only rated a 3 star ship by P&O and as such is not to the usual standard of Princess or Holland America which are owned by the same company, Carnival Corporation. Australians are a bit of a captive segment as until recently P&O had no competition here. In the present economic climate this has changed but Carnival still requires Australians to book through the local agent thus missing out on discounts offered to Americans. Also P&O doesn't have a loyalty program like its sisters' lines.
Being retired we could take advantage of the late special. Anyone with children would need to book early as there were 300 children on this cruise and it wasn't school holidays!
In our opinion the ship, service and entertainment are generally satisfactory but the quality of the food could have improved for seafood lovers. We would recommend P&O at the right price and would sail again with them.