Oh Dear! P & O seem to have lost the plot.
I’ve recently returned from a 15 day cruise to the Caribbean on board P & O Ventura. I’ve cruised with P & O previously as well as with other Cruise Lines. I feel that since their ... Read More
Oh Dear! P & O seem to have lost the plot.
I’ve recently returned from a 15 day cruise to the Caribbean on board P & O Ventura. I’ve cruised with P & O previously as well as with other Cruise Lines. I feel that since their amalgamation with Carnival Lines, P & O’s standards have fallen drastically in all areas.
The sorry story begins at the online booking stage when, for a period of time, our arrival by air back at Gatwick seemed to alternate between North and South Terminals resulting in my having to change my parking arrangements several times.
At Southampton, I was advised there was a computer failure and check-in was severely delayed. Fortunately, I had priority boarding and was not affected. Many other passengers were severely delayed with some still boarding after the advised time of departure. I learned also that many passengers had to leave their passports at the check-in terminal and retrieve them the following day on board. A worrying fact for some I would imagine in these times of identity theft. I also spoke to one passenger in possession of a Canadian passport who had done the responsible thing and checked his Visa requirements. When he tried to retrieve his passport from Reception he was abruptly (And incorrectly) informed that he did require a Visa, that he would not be able to leave the ship at any port of call and that his passport would be retained until his return to Southampton. It was only after several heated discussions and his final insistence that he speak with the Captain that the error was admitted and his passport returned.
Our cabin was really very nice and apart from the stained carpet together with ripped and stained bed sheets was very comfortable. Our literature advised that in addition to Champagne and chocolates we would be met with a luxurious bouquet of flowers. This amounted to a single bloom in a specimen vase, although there was an attractive display of artificial flowers.
On the plus side, our cabin Stewardess was wonderful; always smiling, helpful and pleasant. Nothing was too much trouble for her. This was even more remarkable towards the end of our cruise as she had no doubt heard about the Typhoon which had devastated many parts of her country.
The cabin televisions worked well even if the interactive system was painfully slow. I was astonished to find however that if I wanted to watch a movie in my cabin I would be charged £1.99 on each occasion. Not a huge sum, but outrageous to think that on previous cruises the movie channel was complimentary. The interactive system also provided a messaging system and messages appeared in my inbox on a daily basis. However, without exception these messages were purely inviting me to buy something or the other.
I had arranged fixed time dining and had confirmed I would be seated on a table for four (Myself and the three others in my party). On the first evening in the Bay Tree restaurant we were placed on a table for eight with four perfect strangers. It was only after a great deal of wrangling that we finally managed to secure a table for four even though our requested arrangement was confirmed to me at time of booking. I was looking forward to the “Dining Experience” as previously on P & O cruises the food in the dining rooms had been excellent. Sadly, each dish seemed to be prepared en masse, served and cleared very quickly without ceremony in an apparent attempt to clear the dining room as quickly as possible. The food itself was, for the most part, quite bland. Wines were reasonably priced but the wine was poured quickly in one visit by the Wine Waiter and the bottle swept away. What should have been a leisurely fine dining event was in fact a hurried, second rate disappointment. The dining room was very noisy, due to a large extent that P & O seem to prefer a greater number of tables seating six, eight or ten rather than tables for two or four. Our table seemed to be located in a particularly noisy area and I had noticed another table for four in a quieter spot that had been occupied only once in the entire cruise. We asked if we could move to that table but were told it would not be possible as the original occupants might at some stage choose to dine there. In addition, there was one table which had eight occupants on the first evening but after three or four evenings one passenger was left to eat entirely alone. This may have been his preference but I did think that he should at least have been approached to see if he would like to move to another table.
I noticed that the Dining Room was becoming progressively less busy as the cruise went on. It seems that other passengers too were avoiding the “Fine Dining Experience”. One evening I thought we should try the Dinner Menu in one of the buffet restaurants on Deck 15. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised as the food here seemed to be freshly cooked to order and a definite improvement on that served in the Dining Room.
At Breakfast, my preference with one other of my party was to eat in the Saffron Restaurant. Each morning we requested a table for two and each morning we were told none was available and we would have to wait. Generally, after a few minutes we were shown to a table for two only to observe that there were at least twelve tables for two available. I can only guess at the reason for this and conclude it was more convenient for the Waiters to serve large, rather than smaller tables.
Breakfast was generally good if you excuse the bullet proof toast that was supplied and Waiters seeming to misunderstand or ignore requests. “One croissant please” generally resulted in two being served. There were also many inconstancies in service; for example one day baked beans would be served directly on the plate and the next day in a ramekin. Not the end of the world I know but typical of the niggling little differences in service I experienced.
Having met and had conversations with many fellow passengers, I was left reeling with regard to the discrepancies in pricing. Leaning over the balcony one day and talking to my next door neighbours I learned they had paid more than double the amount I had paid for an identical cabin and had one night less on board than me. I feel what I paid was reasonable but was shocked to find another set of passengers in the same grade of cabin had paid considerably less than I had. I also spoke to one couple who had booked an inside cabin at a much lower price but were able to upgrade to a Superior Deluxe cabin for a nominal charge. I would advise anyone considering a P & O Cruise in the future to monitor online how bookings are going and to leave making a reservation until a few weeks or even a few days before departure.
The cruise was marred, in part, by some of the passengers. There seemed to be quite a lot of less than good behaviour. The rule about reserving Sun Loungers was totally ignored with towels and books etc., being left on loungers from early in the morning. One night I couldn’t sleep and went for a stroll around the ship at 4.30 a.m. I was amazed to see that as early as 5a.m. there were passengers reserving the loungers in the best spots. This isn’t the fault of P & O but they do nothing to enforce the rule as is the practice on other cruise lines. On one occasion the Sun Lounger issue led to an altercation between two female passengers which at one stage it seemed was about to degenerate to the physical. Also, there were several instances where quite young children were playing in and around the pools late at night, unsupervised. Again this was not acted upon by any member of staff. I have to add this is the first time I have seen paper cups, glasses and food wrappers left in the lifts and on stairways.
The pools didn’t appear to be heated and the forward adults only “Endless Pool” seemed to be working for a short while on the first day but didn’t function again after that.
I’ve never been a great fan of the shows on board so I’m in no position to criticise them either way. However, when we are promised “Gentle Calypso music under the stars on a warm Caribbean evening”, that is what I expect. I had the stars and the warm evening, but the gentle calypso was the resident reggae band belting out the same numbers at ear splitting decibels; there is a limit to how many times in fifteen days you can listen to a poor rendition of “I shot the Sheriff”. This band frequently went into “Jam” sessions where a repetitive rhythm was played for an extensive period of time. It seemed as though the band were playing for their own enjoyment rather than that of the passengers.
Communication seemed to be an ongoing difficulty. One day when leaving the ship, passengers were advised to disembark forward, Deck 4. We attempted to do so but were told by the gangway staff that instead we would have go back up to Deck 5 and use the exit by the Coffee Shop. This exit was closed and we were advised to go back down to Deck4 where once again we were instructed to go back up to Deck 5. At this point, I used an internal ‘phone to call reception and ask where exactly we should disembark. I was told that we should definitely exit up on Deck 5. On arriving there we found the exit still closed. By this time, we had collected a group of twelve or so people who had also been going back and forth between Decks 4 and 5. I spoke to a Reception Officer and explained our dilemma. She herself called Reception to tell them they should stop sending passengers to Deck 5 for disembarkation. As a group, we insisted this Officer accompany us back to Deck 4. When we arrived and were this time allowed to disembark those Officers who had refused us earlier had now miraculously disappeared.
One morning I was standing out on my balcony when I was drenched with water. I thought it was a sudden and heavy rain shower but looking up I saw someone hosing down part of the ship. I had to shout at him to stop as my clothes and books on the balcony table were saturated. Half an hour later, a message broadcast from the Bridge advised passengers that cleaning of outside areas was due to take place and we were requested not to use our balconies for a short while; a reasonable request, but in my case thirty minutes late.
All passengers were required to complete several forms for “Landing” in Barbados. The forms were delivered to our cabin in an envelope. One of the forms was a luggage declaration form. As there were two sets of every other form in the envelope but only one luggage declaration I called reception to ask if a separate form was needed for each passenger and was advised assuredly that only one of these forms was needed per cabin. Only when I had almost finished completing the form did I see that if passengers were of different surnames, a separate form would be required for each passenger so I had completed the form incorrectly regarding the amount of luggage. I called reception to say that I had been given incorrect information and they said two forms would be sent up. The forms didn’t arrive so I went to collect them myself. I said quite clearly to the Reception Officer that I needed two forms. He went off and after a short while came back with one! This is only one more example of where I felt I was not being listened to.
On our final day we had to vacate our cabin by 9a.m. We rose at 7a.m. in time for breakfast and to give our cabin a final check etc. We disembarked at 1.15p.m. and were transported to the Airport. Security checks were carried out quite quickly so we had quite a long wait for our flight at 4.45p.m. The flight time was about eight hours, arriving back at Gatwick at approximately 5.30a.m. U.K. time. Being so early in the morning, our passage through Gatwick was quite swift. We then had a drive home of about an hour and a half. All in all a very long day. I appreciate it’s difficult to strike a happy balance between those passengers departing and those arriving but I do consider to eject us from our cabins so early is unreasonable given our flight departure was not for almost eight hours (Some passengers were booked on flights later than this).
The flight home with Thomas Cook airlines was the worst I have ever experienced. I don’t expect Business Class standards on a charter flight but a rock hard seat is unacceptable for a flight of this duration. My upper thighs were aching for days afterwards even though I did manage to stand up and move around several times during the flight. In addition, as soon as we took off and began to climb, water started to pour down in our laps. It was flooding out of a light diffuser above our heads. We called the Flight Attendant as soon as possible who responded by offering us a tissue. I pointed out my concern was more about where the water was coming from. She told us it was from the air conditioning and that the Flight Engineer had checked it and deemed it to be safe. I asked her if the Flight Engineer had checked it and was aware of the situation why hadn’t he done something about it. She then replied “I feel like you’re having a go at me”, offered me another tissue and looked as though she was about to burst into tears. I dread to think how she might react in a true emergency. The aircraft looked dirty and generally well worn.
Whilst on the ship, the subject of hygiene was addressed strongly (And quite rightly), although there were inconstancies in procedures here. Sometimes at restaurant entry points a waiter would dispense anti-bacterial gel into everyone’s hands. On other occasions this didn’t happen and the bottles of gel that were present were empty. It was somewhat disconcerting therefore to see one of the flight attendants rub her hands across her nostrils and mouth, across her hair then position her hands around the spout of a teapot while she spoke to a colleague. Needless to say, I declined the offer of tea and coffee for the duration of the flight. It’s sufficient to say the food on this flight was disgusting.
Cruising with P & O used to be a delightful and memorable experience. It’s still memorable, but for the wrong reasons. If you’re happy with Benidorm on sea then choose a P & O cruise. If you’re looking for something special forget P & O. Choose instead one of the Cruise companies that still know how to provide a memorable experience. They may cost more of course but perhaps that’s the price of civilised company, professionalism and real service.