Some background detail first of all.
P&O has been our cruise company of choice but I have been trying other cruise lines to review for my travel blog.
This cruise was a long awaited return, after just over a year away from P&O
Embarkation was relatively smooth apart from the appallingly managaged car parking which resulted in a half hour wait to drop off the car. Although strictly speaking not P&O's fault is is their recommended parking provider and provided as part of the select deal.
We were traveling with other family members, two adults and two children, who had a family suite.
Once parked check-in and security clearance was quick and even though we headed straight to our cabin once on board our bags beat us to the cabin - a promising start.
We met our cabin steward, Cathy, who was friendly and personable - a good start to the onboard experience …… little did we know at the time this would almost be the zenith of the cruise.
The safety drill was an improvement as you are no longer required to take your life jacket with you, although the demonstration was somewhat undermined by loud, fellow passengers noisily talking over the demonstration and / or finding the whole thing a joke.
We had selected “Freedom Dining” as we didn’t want to be tied to a fixed dining time, this also means you are on a different table each night and this led to a mixed experience. We took advantage of Freedom Dining on four of the nights, twice with just the adults and twice with the children as well. Service was decidedly mixed, on two of the nights the service was really good, as one would expect, on the other two totally indifferent with the waiting staff simply going through the motions. It may be coincidence but the two better experiences were when we dined with the children.
On another night we dined in the Sindhu restaurant and the service, as well as the food was exemplary with one of the best waiters we’ve ever encountered.
In terms of the staff generally we were shocked by the contrasts. A large number offered the standard of service you would expect from P&O, however a very significant minority had an almost, couldn’t care less attitude. The ship just felt generally unhappy.
A couple of examples, at one of the food outlets, the woman serving looked as though she had sucked a lemon and acted as if she was doing you a favour by serving you. Indeed a fair percentage of staff seemed to have lost the ability to smile or to be affable.
Yes, there has always been the odd staff member on any cruise but here it was much more noticeable and prevalent.
On another occasion we wanted an ice cream milkshake and were having trouble finding any on board. I went to reception to ask if any were available on board to be given the response “I don’t know, ask at one of the bars.”
The jolliest person on board seemed to be the Captain, who also seemed to think he was a stand up comedian …… he was certainly a refreshing change from some of the aloof Captain’s we’ve come across but I have to admit, after a week, some of of his jokes were becoming a bit boring.
I wasn’t overly impressed when he suggested two latecomers were cheered and applauded on board after being late back in Bergen – they may well have had a good reason for being late and the “welcome” could have been humiliating.
The sail away from Olden was brilliant - although this is down to the town rather than P&O
Turning to food, the food in the main dining rooms was of the usual high standard, although I don’t think I’m alone in being under the impression portion sizes are shrinking.
Food in the buffet was more variable ranging from good to inedible – I made the mistake of going for toad in the hole one night – the single sausage was OK but the batter was stodgy and undercooked.
The buffet was also too small for the numbers on board, especially at breakfast on the sea days.
On the final evening a "Family Disco" was advertised .... the children were looking forward to this but it was a con and a shambles. It wasn't a disco and there were no staff running it ..... basically it was a dance floor with a pre-recorded sound track, most of which was unsuitable for children. The only staff were bar staff trying to sell alcohol to the parents. When one of the parents complined to one of the bar staff, he shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
Obviously we speak to fellow passengers on board and it was interesting to note that everyone we spoke to who had sailed with P&O before all thought the standards on this cruise had dropped dramatically.
More tellingly, the family members we travelled with are both ex-P&O bridge officers and this is the first time they have been on a P&O ship in ten years and they were appalled by the drop in standards.
I wonder if it is down to the removal of the service charge and subsequent reduction in pay for staff …. Is this causing a reduction in morale?
We also found from a cabin steward, not ours in case P&O read this and decide to victimise our steward, they are now being asked to look after more cabins than they used to.
Whilst on board I had planned to book a future cruise with P&O to take advantage of the discounts and other benefits – after this experience I did not bother.
In the past I’ve been happy to pay more for the superior level of service with P&O. I am now of the view I can experience the same level of service with another Carnival company, Costa, for around two-thirds the price of P&O.
It will be a long time, if ever, before I sail with P&O again and that’s something I thought I would never say.
It seems P&O are aiming to dumb down to the lowest common denominator rather than providing a class service.
A typical P&O Balcony cabin .... big enough for two but not massive it served the purpose.
The balcony was adequate and a good bolt hole.
There were enough hangers for all our clothes.
The cabin was clean
Stavanger is a charming port with most of the attractions in walking distance of the ship.
The town is easy to explore nd if you don't want to venture outside the town centre there is no need to book a tour.
Travellers beware - this is one of those locations where P&O will try and rip you off.
The main attraction is the Flam scenic railway and it is well worth the ride.
P&O charge £98 for this excursion they also charge for children of all ages.
We booked the railway trip ourselves independently before we set off and paid £78 each for adults and the children under six travelled free.
The station is in walking distance of the ship, so no coach costs - how do P&O justify the mark up.
More importantly how can P&O justify charging for children under the age of six, when thyey travel free on the train? When challeged the excursion, sorry experience (they've been renamed) team responded they have to cover insurance costs and refreshments are provided for the children - that response would be comical if it wasn't so insulting
The P&O tour group were all crammed in a carriage together whilst those of us who booked independently had a choice of carriages, most of which were half full.
A stunninly beautiful village, lovely for walking and also the location where P&O really made my blood boil.
Bascially they lied and deliberately misled customers.
The evening before they announced over the PA they had a new excursion going up the reatively new Loen cable car, making the claim it would be cheaper than purchasing the trip locally - that was incorrect.
Going with P&O actually worked out over 60% more expensive than purchasing locally.
The chair lift organisers offer a free continuous shuttle bus from and to the ship and the cost of the cable car, although still expensive, is cheaper.
Additionally the P&O tour group were all crammed into a single godola, with a limited time at the top, whereas we were able to bide our time and go in a near empty gondola and savour the views, as well as having as long as we wanted at the top.
The sail away from Olden was wonderful, with the town playing farewell music over loud speakers and locals waving us off.
After all the other beautiful places Berfen was a bit of an anti-climax, personally I think it would be preferable to start in Bergen but appreciate, with sailing times, it may not be practica.
Bergen port is a working port and ugly, you need to catch a shuttle bus to reach the port entrance. By and large this worked effeciently with minimal queuing, although later on there were queues to return to the ship.
The town itself is pretty, although quite easy to get lost in.
The funicular is the main attraction however the queues to board were horrendous there were two cruise ships in that day.
The Bryggen area of the town with its painted buildings is also popular but crowded and most of the buildings are tourist traps in an slready expensive country.
The fish market is worth a visit but you may need to take out a bank loan if thinking of buying anything.