We saw this 12 night cruise advertised. The price was simply incredible and represented excellent value for money. Our only other cruise experience was three years ago on P & O's Arcadia. The itinerary was virtually the same as this and it was also in November. Frankly - we didn't enjoy that cruise and decided that cruise holidays weren't for us. The regimented dining times and being allocated a 8.30 pm sitting on a table with six others was the biggest negative for us. What a difference freedom dining makes!! I understand that this is now available across the fleet but double check before you book. To be able to sit in a formal restaurant with waiter service at a table for two - pretty much at a time of your choice has really converted us back to cruise holidays. We saw the holiday on the internet on the Saturday, made the necessary arrangements for cat sitting and booked it the next day on the Sunday. We sailed out of Southampton the day after that. Perhaps the fact that I paid a quarter of the price for this cruise enabled us to enjoy it all the more. Admittedly, our first cruise was in a top grade balcony cabin and this time we were in an inside cabin. However, we were perfectly happy with our cabin.
The dining experience throughout the ship was astonishing. I booked this cruise the day before it departed and was told that I could not request an earlier dining sitting. My dining time would be allocated on board and could not be changed. When we got to our cabin there was no information as to what our sitting would be. Our cabin attendant asked us what sitting we were on - he wanted to know so he could carry out the evening turn-down service without disturbing us. We told him we didn't know but would find out. I called reception and they told me I had to contact the Oriental restaurant myself. I eventually found out that I was unable to eat in the Oriental restaurant in the evening at all. I was told I had been allocated the Peninsular Restaurant which was freedom dining. I confess that I was a little put out at first to discover that I was effectively barred from using the Oriental Restaurant in the evening but after my first experience in the Peninsular and discovering that the menu/furnishings/service/ambience was identical to that of the Oriental, I was more than happy. What a difference freedom dining makes. The restaurant is open from 6 to 9.30 pm. If a table for two isn't immediately available then you are given a pager which activates when one becomes free. On our twelve night cruise we were given a pager once and only had to wait about 25 minutes before a table was ready. The rest of the time we seated immediately after queuing outside for not more than five minutes or so. The food was incredible with service to match. Fine dining at it's best. We felt no need to eat at their speciality restaurants - the food service and ambience in the Peninsular was faultless. We bought the Captains wine collection - 12 bottles of our choice from a pretty comprehensive list for £169 (£14.08 a bottle) That represented excellent value for money - we enjoyed some great wines for that price. (The red wine - Old Vines, Zinfandel was our particular favourite) There was a more expensive option called the Commodores wine package at £197.50 for twelve bottles of your choice from a different list. When you buy either package you are given a booklet with twelve vouchers and then each time you wish to have a bottle of wine in any of the restaurants or in your cabin, you surrender one of your vouchers when you make your choice from the list. Smaller wine packages were also available if you wanted less bottles. The Conservatory buffet restaurant had an incredible range of dishes available - the quality and quantities of everything that you could eat were staggering. As you would expect from a buffet restaurant - it isn't the best of dining experiences. It also depends on the time you choose to eat - especially so for breakfast. I'm an early riser and had a fantastic relaxed breakfast on a table for two with just a handful of other passengers at 7 am each day. Between 8.30 and 10.30 am it was awful - no tables free with hordes of people queuing to get to the buffet. It was a similar situation at lunchtime - you really needed to get there for midday when the lunch buffet started to get a table and avoid the worst of the crowds. On occasions I noticed would be diners stood next to occupied tables waiting for them to be vacated. Not a dining experience to relish for either the seated diner or those waiting. There was a card on each table in the Conservatory asking diners to vacate their table when they had finished their meal as a courtesy to others. From my observations, courtesy was in pretty short supply with some passengers. Once they had a table - they were going to hold onto it. So unnecessary with so many indoor public sitting areas that they could retire to after finishing their lunch. You could also take breakfast in the Peninsular restaurant - cooked to order and with waiter service. No choice of a table for two at breakfast though - you had to sit at a large table with other passengers. If you want a full English but wish to tweak the quantities - five rashers of bacon and two sausages for example - they are more than happy to tailor make it to your requirements - just ask. Tomato juice was also available in the Peninsular at breakfast but not to my knowledge in the Conservatory buffet. We didn't try the Al Fresco cafe for breakfast so can't comment on that. We had a couple of strange experiences with the initial meet and greet service at the Oriental restaurant at lunchtime. It wasn't often open for lunch and when it was on two occasions when we went to have lunch there, the waiter at the door seemed to be actively discouraging us from eating there - saying that it was just a simple buffet and that we would be better eating at the Peninsular restaurant. It seemed that he was trying to manage his workload by discouraging diners. We got fed up with that and through a show of determination managed to get past him once and enjoyed a really nice carvery buffet. I regret that the coffee on board, with the exception of the Costa coffee in Tiffany's, (which had to be paid for - £2.15 for a small Americano) was revolting. Completely undrinkable for me. That applied to all the restaurants. The sachets supplied in the room were Dowe Egberts and were fine. My advice would be if you appreciate decent coffee, take your own or pay for the Costa Coffee in Tiffany's.
Cabin: Yes it was small but the bed was large and comfortable. It had a small seating area, a fridge, TV, tea and coffee making facilities, safe and hairdryer. The en-suite was again small, but had a good powerful shower. We asked for the two single beds to be put together to make a large Queen sized bed which we prefer. However, if you leave them as two separate single beds - that affords you more room around the bed - especially the gap between the bed and the dressing table which was really tight when arranged as a double. Our cabin attendant was Clive from Goa. He was charming and efficient - a credit to P & O. The choice of TV channels available was limited but adequate - it was nice to be able to get Sky News (most of the time) The thing we really didn't like about the room was the wardrobe. The hanging rail went from front to back making hanging and retrieving clothes difficult. I know it's a space saving measure but it really isn't user friendly. We had two maintenance issues with our cabin which were dealt with quickly and effectively once reported to reception. One was a squeaking crew door next to our cabin. A bit of oil or WD40 sorted that out. The other was the shower temperature which became scalding hot and would not turn down. That was accompanied by the en-suite sink tap only giving out hot water no matter what setting you adjusted it to. That was reported in the morning and was fixed by the evening. Our cabin was immediately below the Conservatory buffet restaurant and we did experience quite a lot of chair scraping noises and heavy footfalls as a result, but not to a degree that disturbed us unduly.