We have just returned from the first sector from Southampton to Dubai on Arcadia's Grand Odyssey (World Cruise).
CONDITION - The ship missed her planned refit in December and that may explain why there was more rust visible than one would normally see. This meant the crew were spending more time than usual on chipping off rust and repainting. On our sector this resulted in sections of the promenade deck being roped off each day for the maintenance work. Otherwise, although she is showing her age with general wear and tear, she appears to be reasonably well maintained.
CABIN - When entering our cabin for the first time, we were immediately confronted by a very strong smell of stale tobacco smoke. I asked our cabin steward if the previous occupants had been smoking in the cabin, but as he had only just joined the ship he did not know. He was, however, shocked at just how strong the smell was, as were others who came to inspect the cabin.
As the smell in the cabin was so strong, we propped the balcony door open, but after an hour or so, our clothes started to smell of smoke. I then asked if there was a spare cabin we could move to. Initially, I received a positive response, but was told the request had to be sent to "head office" as those on board the ship have no authority to allocate cabins. I was told this would take 2-3 days. I soon realised this was just an excuse, as further requests were met with " We have not heard from them yet".
In the meantime the cabin steward and his supervisor were so concerned, they promised to eliminate the smell. They first tried using an electric ioniser, which was useless. This was followed by shampooing the carpet 3 times, changing the curtains and bedspreads and washing the walls and ceiling. After a week, all traces of stale tobacco smoke had been removed and we were able to enjoy the following 11 days without smoke pollution.
FOOD -- The food was generally OK, but not up to the standard one used to get on P&O before the cost cutting. One has to bear in mind that many passengers paid only Â£1,200 for a balcony cabin on an 18 night cruise. (Sadly we paid a lot more.) With these bargain basement prices P&O have to cut back somewhere and the food is certainly one area. It is not that the kitchens cannot produce good food in large quantities. On the Captains night, or whatever they call it, the food was of very good quality and well presented.
If P&O want to save some money, why not give up the "silver service". Do we really need all those extra, often inappropriate vegetables, in addition to those already provided with your chosen main course.
On this cruise there was almost a weekly repetition of many dishes. It was also the first time I have seen the food available in the restaurant at lunch time duplicated in the self-service restaurant, where the food was very uninspiring, poor quality pub food. Nevertheless this may have been exactly what some passengers prefer.
As usual, it was difficult to find a seat in the Belvedere self-service restaurant at peak times, such as 12:30 to 13:30 for lunch, but this is understandable. Tables around the pool and on the aft deck were often occupied all day by people reading, but not eating. This is also understandable, because there are plenty of sun loungers, but very few upright chairs anywhere on the decks. In fact I have never seen so few of the upright chairs with adjustable backs.
DRINKS -- One very positive factor is that P&O still sell the drinks at reasonable prices and without an additional 15% service charge. There was a good choice of wine, with many bottles priced between Â£12.00 and Â£14.00. On a recent Cunard cruise I noticed the large number of people who did not drink wine at dinner, presumably due to the cost.
ENTERTAINMENT -- Another area where there have been cutbacks for many years. We had two very poor comedians and one who was much better. There were other typical cruise ship entertainers. With the exception of the good comedian and two very talented violinists, people were walking out of the theatre when the other lack lustre acts were performing.
There was one speaker who excelled and this was Ian Brown, a retired policeman who does the rounds of most P&O ships. His talks on crimes such as the Brinks Matt gold robbery were both informative and entertaining. He is also a very good comedian with perfect delivery and timing. The other comedians on board should watch and learn!
NOROVIRUS -- Thankfully no outbreak during our cruise, despite the poor standard of hygiene practised by some of the passengers, who still fail to wash their hands before leaving the toilets.
MANNERS -- I have lost count of the number of times women, sorry, it was always women, would push or reach in front of me when I had queued up in the Belvedere for food, coffee or water. You could understand it if they were Italian (other no queuing nations exist), but the British used to form orderly queues and wait their turn.
OVERALL - If you go on a P&O cruise it is wise not to have high expectations and you may then be pleasantly surprised when you do have a good meal, see a good entertainer, or just meet others on board who become friends.