We had never travelled with this line before but as this cruise from Sydney to Southampton through the Suez was on our bucket list, we packed our formal wear and headed off to Sydney to join our ship Arcadia.
We had an easy boarding as we arrived mid afternoon and were on board and into our cabin C129 by 3pm.
It was called a midships Deluxe Balcony with Bath/Shower and was clean, muted colours with good size balcony, a very comfortable bed, with a sofa and chair and desk with fridge. The bathroom was small but had a bath. We had plenty of hanging room but few drawers for storage and a safe, the tiniest one we have ever seen. Very narrow passage between bathroom and wardrobes made passing each other difficult if the doors were both open. Good wide screen TV on the wall but as we learnt the rotation of shows was abysmal and repetetive. Plenty of storage room for cases under the beds, poor lighting for reading in bed and for donning makeup at the desk, but better in the bathroom. We had problems with our shower, with no really hot water for the first few days, but this was resolved when we spoke to our cabin attendant. We also had problems with the aircon being too warm and this again was resolved by the ships engineers after reporting it. Our first cabin attendant was rude and unfriendly and only interested in tips (they were his first words to us, how to take the tips off and then just give it to him and when we said we wouldnt virtually ignored the rest of the cruise). However, he kept the cabin clean. Our new Cabin Attendant from Mumbai onwards was fantastic.
Arcadia has a very different layout to other ships we have been on and so this made finding things a little difficult at first, but we found it very well set out with lots of lovely quiet places to sit and read, or chat especially when the weather was cooler. The only complaint was the pool decks that had limited shade and no sun beds in a shady spot for those who dont like being in the sun. Both pools were well used and the Solarium pool with the closing roof was lovely. Unfortunately, the area where pool lounges are on most ships, along the shady sides under cover are taken up on Arcadia with tables and chairs. However, as we are not sun bunnies we didnt find hard to endure as it was lovely to sit outside and eat breakfast and lunch.
Sea Day Activities
This is an area where this ship absolutely excels. We both thought the range and types of activites wonderfully varied and interesting. We could line, tap or ballroom dance our way across the world, play bingo, go to many varieties of quizzes, (music, geography, progressive, sport, Battle of the Sexes) table tennis, golf putting, tennis, deck quoits, interactive bowling, bridge classes and playing, whist, Spanish classes, knit and natter groups, art and craft lessons, ipad and digital camera classes, pilates, yoga, walk a mile, stretch classes, port talks, spa and fitness classes and talks,classical concerts, Arcadia vocalists and lots of music from various groups throughout the ship in the evening as well as Radio Arcadia run by DJ Martin, who ran music comps and played requests from late afternoon till late.
We had wonderful guest speakers on board.
Terry Brown an ex-detective who gave some very interesting and entertaining talks on interviewing techniques, as a prelude for running a 3 say Murder Mystery where there were 12 suspects and the audience was divided into 20 or so groups as the detectives and they had to work out the who, how and whys.
Dale Templar, from Human Planet, was a fabulous speaker giving insights into the filming and the photographers for this wonderful series, using film clips and amusing anecdotes.
Tony Davies, a retired Squadron Leader in the RAF also provided some very interesting insights into the Vulcans and the Red Arrows acrobatic flying team.
John Lyons, who played George from Taste of Frost, was a fantastic speaker giving 3 wonderful talks on his life and then about the series and the pranks that were played over the 17 years of the series with footage and out takes making it very funny.
Nick Slope spoke of Ships and Captains, Bligh and Nelson, Nelsons women, then the Battles of the Somme, Jutland, and Gallipolli, all very interesting.
Paul from the Amethyst duo also did some wonderful talks and guitar playing in his talks on the History of the Guitar.
Again, we thought this ship excelled in this area. We had a new Cruise Director, Dom Hones on board from Auckland, and everyone said how the ship had a different feel. We was a magnificent CD excuding energy and inspiring his wonderful Entertainment Team, all of whom were friendly, relaxed, chatty and personable and some of the best Entertainment crew we have ever had at sea.
The Headliners theatre group, especially the dancers, were excellent and their Destination Dance and Killer Queen shows were magnificent. The Singers were great some nights and not so great others. But they energetically danced and sang their way through 12 productions as we saw about 3 shows a week, including Reel to Reel, Night of a Thousand Stars, and Another Show, Another Opening.
Other night time entertainment included Matthew McGurk a wonderful magician, Brian Conley, a celebrity entertainer and comedian, who was very funny, David Kidd, a Tom Jones impersonator, Kenny Martyn, a multi intrumentalist, Zoe Tyler, a fabulous vocalist, Gareth Oliver, ventriloquist extraordinaire, Eliot Pace, a great pianist and singer, Tim O'Connor a celebrity comedian, Pam Ayers,and Marti Webb, a West End vocalist.
The bands on board were mixed, and there was no music between 5.30 -6.30 for those of us on Freedom dining, only Radio Arcadia, so we tended to have a pre dinner drink in our rooms instead of visiting a bar!! Our favourite band was Inspiration, but the Sunshine Band we thought was boring. Amethyst Duo were good, but the piano playing by Clare Saunders was excruciating.
The Passenger Talent and Crew Talent shows were also very good.
Sailaway Parties and Deck Parties
Having never experienced these before we didnt know what to expect. Well, we certainly never missed one after our first, as they were so much fun. We sang and danced and enjoyed a good variety of music led by Dom and his crew, and we experienced the GREAT BRITISH SAILAWAY only once, in Lisbon when the traditional English songs were on show. We just loved these and from Melbourne onwards these were the joyous farewells to some wonderful ports and set the scene for a happy and relaxed cruise.
Meridian- Freedom Dining. We had never done this before and really enjoyed the experience of meeting new people every night and being able to dine when we wanted. We would ask Rajeev for a 2/4/6 and he would seat us accordingly to what he had available. We only had to wait for 10 minutes one night to be seated at a table for 2, but we were more than happy with that. It seems the most popular times for eating were 6pm so if you avoided that time, you could easily get a good table. We found service was mostly excellent with some off nights, but that happens everywhere. Dinner menus were repeated but there was enough choice that you did not have to eat the same thing. Thought lack of ice cream other than at dinner poor and dessert choices bland.
Breakfasts in Meridian were terriific, with the daily specials of Kedgeree on Wednesdays and Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon on Sundays very much looked forward to by us and many others. It was a nice change to have a quiet table for 2 at breakfast without any problems. Otherwise we had room service breakfasts, but these got very monotonous and we would resort to going up to the Belvedere Buffet restaurant and getting our choices and bringing them down to the cabin to eat. We did have breakfast in the Belvedere when we wanted hot breakfast and on port days and choices were good. We found the set up of the Belvedere compared to other buffets at sea rather old fashioned and slow.
Their Indian and Thai buffets were excellent and well attended.
Deck BBQ's and Pool Deck BBQ had a great choice of food and we enjoyed these very much.
Ocean Grill, we enjoyed several times and apart from one long wait for starters one night, was always delicious, with a good choice of mains, starters and desserts (though the size of desserts made wastage a big problem) and service impeccable.
East, the Asian fusion restaurant was our favourite and we also visited here several nights. Views over the sea were lovely, the food absolutely delicious and spicey if you wanted it, and the service very good. We noticed sometimes the sauces were overly salted and for our no added salt palates, very hard to like.
We thought this was better priced as it was all inclusive for food, whereas, Ocean Grill charges for extras, ie for a prawn with your surf and turf 6 pound!!
We mainly arrange these ourselves, but as our ports in Egypt were cancelled and we had Salalah, Oman and Aqaba, Jordan added, we signed up for ships tours. These ports were excellent and we enjoyed both tours, especially the tour to Petra which included a fabulous lunch. The other port where we had a ships tour was Lisbon, where we opted for the tour to Obidos, which was a gem and we thought the prices were about what other cruise lines ask, so were happy with the pricing.
In Malta, after the port talk, we went to the Excursions Desk to talk to Dan, who comes from Malta and he was able to set us up with a private driver and for 8 hours for 4 people at a very reasonable cost, and we had a fantastic day there, seeing many things lots of others couldnt using the Hop On Hop Off buses.
The crossing of the Suez Canal was a real highlight for us and we had the experience of the Excursion Team leader pointing out things of interest along the way. This also happened in Lisbon as we sailed up the river.
Several offers were made during our voyage, some better than others, but a haircut was 20 pound plus tip and a session in the hydrotherapy pool and sauna was was 10 pounds per session, but a special of 150 pound for the whole cruise was offered at the beginning of each sector and lots of people used this offer. Other offers included Lime and Ginger body scrub 79 pd save 30 pd and 3 in one offers at varying prices.
There are 3, formal, jacket required and casual. We had anticipated this and enjoyed dressing up but it began to pall by the end of 6 1/2 weeks. You were not allowed to wear shorts even into the buffet at night, with several men being informed it was not appropriate dress. Even in the bars, you could not enter unless you followed the dress code of the day. We could see that this is to maintain a standard of dress, but thought it was a bit over the top in the buffet.
We honestly loved this ship, from her Captain, Aseem Hashmi, with his informative and amusing midday talks and updates, to the wonderful crew who looked after us so well, the Entertainment team who made it such fun, the wonderful people who joined us on tours, for drinks, dinners and quizzes, and our wonderful ports of call, it was an amazing voyage, one we will never forget and one we will repeat in the future. Thank you Arcadia for making the whole experience so delightful.