This was our 2nd cruise on P&O after sailing on Britannia last year which we had immensely enjoyed. The reason we chose this cruise was because the dates suited us well, the itinerary was interesting with new ports of call like La Verdon and Cherbourg in France which we hadn't been to before and the price was great with free parking at Southampton and £45pp on board credit. Moreover P&O removed gratuities from May this year.
We drove to Southampton from NW London which took only about 1hr 20mins. We drove straight to mayflower terminal, took the luggage off the car which was swiftly taken away by the porters, handed the keys of the car to an attendant who took the car and parked it in a secure car park. We made our way inside the terminal and were given a boarding card and asked to wait. Although our boarding time was 3pm on boarding paperwork, we were inside the terminal by 12pm. After a short wait, we were asked to go and check in and once that was complete, we boarded the ship by 12.45pm and were asked to go for lunch to the buffet. Whilst waiting for the lift, an announcement was made that cabins were ready. So we headed straight to the cabin to drop off our hand luggage. Our cabin was on deck 8 in forward part of the ship. Lovely cabin with a large balcony, good size of cabin with huge flat screen tv, lots of storage space and a bathroom with a bath rather than a shower cubicle. This was unusual as we hadn't had a balcony cabin with a bath since our cruise on Zuiderdam ( Holland & America line) back in 2003. The cabin was always kept clean by our room attendant, Ariel, who we saw daily. Couldn't fault with the cleanliness of the cabin. Luggage had arrived before we got to our cabins which was really very quick.
We then proceeded for lunch to the buffet restaurant on deck 9. Lunch was simple with not many vegetarian choices however was adequate. We then explored rest of the ship which was very elegant with 2 lovely pools ( one of which had a retractable roof), lots of deck space, plenty of indoor and outdoor bars, 2 speciality restaurants (Atul Kochhar's Indian restaurant Sindhu and Marco Pierres seafood restaurant), lovely 2 tier theatre, English style pub, casino, show room for music events, screening room for films, library, spa, gym and of course the main dining rooms. Everything looked great with new carpets and decor. Seemed the ship had a makeover recently. However what the ship lacked was a grand atrium like what Britannia had. The reception was on deck one which had a seating area and shore excursion and loyalty desks nearby but no coffee bar or anything. Hence most of the indoor activities occurred on decks 2 and 3.
Despite the inside of the ship being very elegant, the outside of the ship didn't seem to be very well maintained. Lots of rust marks everywhere. The ship needed to be painted through out on the outside. We rarely find this a problem on other ships as there are always crew members painting away but on this ship we never saw anyone maintaining the outside areas of the ship. However indoors was very well looked after which mattered more to us as passengers.
The mandatory safety drill occurred around 5.30pm and due to location of our cabin, we had to go to theatre for our drill. It took about 20mins or so and once that was complete we put the life jackets back in our cabins and headed for the sail away party on the open bar located on the aft of the ship. Since drinks are not included in the price of your cruise fare, you had to purchase all the soft and alcoholic drinks ( except coffee and tea unless you wanted costa coffee). The drink prices were reasonable with a pint of beer costing between£4 and £4.80. Small glass of wine was around £4 and large around £6. Bottles of wine started from around £17. You could choose to have all your drinks included at a cost of £40pp per day. As this was pricy, I guess not many would have chosen that. The good thing about P&O unlike many other cruise lines is that you could bring in 1L of wine or spirit per person when you board. Hence we took advantage of that and brought 1L of gin and wine. You could only drink these in the cabins though. However despite paying for beers, wines and some cocktails, we ended up with a surprisingly small bar bill.
We had chosen anytime dining so were allocated dining room on deck 3. Unfortunately there was always a wait to get seated in the dining room if you didn't want to share a table. Hence were given a buzzer and the waits were generally from 15 to 45mins on some evenings. This was the biggest disappointment for us as in most other cruise lines which offer freedom dining, this is not the case. I think P&O need to look at having more tables for 2s and 4s. However once we got our table, the service was great and the vegetarian food options were very good with a seperate vegetarian food menu on offer. Hence you didn't have to order meals in advance for following evening which was great. Loved there starters and mains and I don't think we had a single meal which we didn't like. Desserts were good too but less choice compared to some other cruise lines. However their cheese plate was excellent with different types of cheese on offer daily. Very pleased with that.
Show times in main theatre were at 8.45pm and 10.30pm daily. Due to the long waiting times to get a dinner table, we rarely could make to the 8.45pm show in time and found 10.30pm show very late. However managed to see most of the production shows which were all very good. Loved their circus (featuring music from Greatest showman) and Queen (featuring music by rock group Queen) shows. We were disappointed by the guest entertainers especially a guy called Grumblewood who somehow featured in 3 shows. Not sure why P&O can't get some good show performers. The 2 girl band Harmony had good voices but Motown music is not something we really like. Again they performed in 2 shows. Surely P&O could have got some other guest performers rather than repeating shows from same artists.
There were quizzes, karaoke, bingo, music performances, etc. happening in other bars and lounges of the ship every evening. So plenty to do in the ship and no chance of getting bored. Casino was not very big and only had 2 working poker machines. Films were shown daily in screening room but as it was a smaller venue, needed to get tickets in advance from library or reception. Never got a chance to go there as there was plenty of other things to do.
Buffet breakfasts and lunches were disappointing especially if you are a vegetarian. Not much choice compared to buffet meals in other ships we have been on. This is where P&O needs to significantly improve. Also on sea days, it was difficult to find seating in the buffet. Seems seating is a big issue on this ship, whether it's buffet or in main dining rooms. Didn't find that being a big issue on Britannia last year.
The speciality restaurant Sindhu was excellent and definitely worth £20pp. Highly recommend anyone who likes Indian food to go there for a meal. Service was good and unlike main dining room, your table was reserved and you were seated as soon as you got there. We didn't get a chance to go to Marco Pierres restaurant but menu looked good and even had a few items for vegetarians. Booking for that restaurant was £17.50pp with certain items like lobsters having a supplement.
There were 2 formal black tie nights where we had to wear suits for dinner. This was compulsory in Main dining rooms, speciality restaurants and most bars and lounges. I think P&O should make this optional like most cruise lines are doing these days. Not many want to bring suits whilst on vacation. Generally we enjoy captains night but this time the timing was odd at 8pm. Hence we missed most of it and got there at the tail end as we were late in finishing dinner thanks to long wait in getting a table despite getting to dining room early. Moreover as this ship doesn't have an atrium as such, the captains speech was in the retractable pool area which doesn't give the feel of a proper captains gala event of everyone being gathered around the atrium as we had done in Britannia last year.
All the ports of call were excellent and we were lucky to have no rain on any of the days. In fact in Guernsey and Santander, we had completely clear sunny days. In La Verdon and Cherbourg, it was partly cloudy but sunny and warm especially in Bordeaux where temperatures hit 26c. Both the sea days were dry too. The first sea day was very sunny and warm whilst second was bit cooler and partly cloudy.
We had shore excursions booked with P&O at every port. In Guernsey (the only tender port), we did an excursion to Isle of Sark. This was the best excursion we did. Took a 45min scenic ferry ride from Guernsey to Sark. Lovely car free island. First we did a walking coastal route tour for 2 hours and then had free time. So much to see and do on this pretty island. Would love to go back there again one day.
In Santander we did a trip to Bilbao and visited Guggenheim museum. Another lovely excursion however we felt we needed another couple of hours in Bilbao which is a lovely city. So will need to go back there again some day.
In La Verdon, we did a trip to Bordeaux. Passed through the vineyards and chateaus on our way there. Had few hours to explore this beautiful city on our own before going to a wine museum which was excellent.
In our last port of call, Cherbourg, we did an excursion to Mont St Michel which was an amazing experience. The only downside was that it was nearly 2.25 hours drive from Cherbourg each way through scenic countryside. However once we got there, we were mesmerised with the beauty and setting of this historic religious place. Spent 4 hours there (half with guide and rest free time) and time went fairly quickly before our drive back to ship. Highly recommend everyone to visit this place once in their lifetime.
The week went very quickly and enjoyed every moment of it. Plenty of activities to do on sea days and hence no time to get bored. Also the great weather helped to take advantage of the outdoors. The only issue we had was there was no hot water in cabins on our side of ship due to boiler breakdown for nearly 1.5 days. I had to report it several times before it got fixed. However they offered us to have hot showers in spa if we wanted to. Other than that, we encounters no problems. The service was very good in most areas of the ship and generally most staff greeted and smiled away. However staff in buffet areas were not very friendly and lacked knowledge of food on offer eg. on one sea day they had burgers in pool area but no chips or French fries. I asked around 3 members of staff about location of chips and was sent on a goose chase around the whole buffet area but never managed to find any.
Disembarkation was the best we had seen on any ship. We were asked to leave main baggage outside cabin on previous night which is a norm on most ships. On day of departure we were asked to vacate cabins by 8am after breakfast and wait in lounges. No sooner we got there, we were told we could leave ship if we wanted to (despite normal disembarkation time not scheduled till after 9am). We disembarked straight away and after collecting our luggage, proceeded to collect our car and were on the road soon after 8.30am and home before 10am.
I highly recommend this cruise for anyone wanting a stress free cruise without any hassle of flights and wanting to visit interesting ports in Spain, France and Channel Islands. We are already planning one for next year.
Excellent large cabin with lots of storage space and quite a large balcony too. Bathroom had a bath rather than shower cubicle. Large flat screen tv and a lovely sofa next to bed