We returned in the early hours of this morning from Ventura's repositioning cruise to the Caribbean, having joined the ship at Malaga. (We should have arrived home 24 hours previously, but a medical emergency saw our plane diverted to the Azores!}
Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but the cruise itself would have been interesting for any sociologist. Generally, the P and O experience is "safe." The food is good without being hugely imaginative and the standard of service and the quality of cabins is also pretty good. However, for those who have cruised before, be it with P and O or other lines, there is a certain, intangible feeling that, due to today's very competitive market, some corners have been cut and the overall experience is not what it once was. A number of "serial" cruisers were heard to voice the above comment, and I think I would agree with them. e.g. Why bother to kit up for a formal night if the dining experience is absolutely the same as any other night? Why not some theme or just something to make it a little special? Also, silly little mistakes such as, only one film per day during the six days crossing the Atlantic, but two per day(and better films) whilst in the West Indies, when most passengers were not aboard! Also, the entertainment was variable; perhaps inevitable when trying to cater for all tastes.
However, the most noticeable aspect, and much commented upon by various people we met when "freedom" dining, was the clientele: or should I say the pretty sharply drawn social differences in the clientele. To be blunt, the very competitive prices of cruising these days seems to be attracting people who might once have felt more at home at Butlin's , with the ship tending to divide between those who enjoyed this aspect and tended to mainly frequent the Lido Deck and self service restaurants and the others who avoided such areas as much as possible.
P and O have something of a problem facing them because of this clientele shift. First although the rumour mill was rife, it seems safe to say that a small group were ejected from the ship at St Maarten for a) Violence and b) attempted shoplifting; something I had not encountered before on a cruise. Second, having looked around the upper decks early in the cruise, the sight of ranked masses of sun beds, many less than 12 inches apart made me very glad we had a balcony. Again we were to hear that some people were placing towels on sunbeds early in the morning and attempting to keep them even when missing for hours and indeed, trying to reserve more than one so that they could move from sun to shade as they required. There were reports of this causing heated exchanges and if true, it is something that P and O must police and get to grips with.
Third, far from being an interesting meeting of various people, all too often, the quality of conversation when breakfasting or dining, was, in my opinion, not very stimulating. "Freedom" dining does not help here, because people are always at the "getting to know you" stage and hence conversation becomes very repetitive.
So, it was OK, but the prices seem to be encouraging a change in the character of cruising and the result is something that begins NOT to look like an elegant holiday experience. The problem for P and O is that we all like to pay less, but if competitive prices change the clientele, then the character of cruising will change and those who once enjoyed it might well move to other lines that charge more (e.g. Cunard and Celebrity)and the cheaper cruises will indeed become floating holiday camps. Would the company be happy with this image as long as they are making money?
I have returned home feeling a little sorry for the ship and its crew. The former is perfectly satisfactory and the latter hard working, pleasant and obliging and neither they, nor to a certain extent P and O, are responsible for the type of custom they have to cater for, but both my wife and I might well think about cruising less often but paying higher prices in order to (hopefully) experience the atmosphere that we think cruising should exude.
Cabin was satisfactory, with good sized hanging space.