My wife and I, both 60, chose this cruise mainly because it sailed from Southampton and because it went to Madeira and the Canaries. We are fed up with flying out to meet cruise ships and the ridiculous airline baggage allowances. We can get more luggage allowance going to our holiday villa in Florida than we can on a fly/cruise package where formal wear is required in addition to everyday holiday wear.
This was our first cruise with P&O and I have to say that the embarkation experience was almost pleasurable, fast, efficient and without hassle. We arrived 40 minutes early and were onboard within 30 minutes of arriving. First impressions of the Arcadia were good. It is modern, clean and has a wide variety of eating and drinking venues.
We had a rear balcony stateroom on deck C which we chose to be able to relax watching the ship's wake with a G&T in hand. This choice ended being not as rosy as it may seem as, when the ship is making 20 knots or so and the wind was in the right direction, there was a constant spray of water drawn onto the balcony. We also experienced smuts of oil from the funnel. Not too unbearable but worth noting. The balcony furniture is bare hardwood with cushions which were grubby and, as we later found, not waterproof. A shower of rain soaked into the cushions and then soaked our clothing as we sat on them.
The stateroom was adequate in size with plenty of storage space and a fair sized bathroom. Our Steward, Joe, kept it immaculate and was always willing to help in any way. As there is quite a narrow gap between the end of the bed and the wall, P&O should consider fitting curved-end mattresses as some other cruise lines do to prevent painful collisions with passenger's legs.
Dining was an interesting experience. We had chosen the first sitting at 18:30 and were lucky enough to get a table for 2 in the Meridian (main) restaurant. Our waiters, Clary and Dinesh were wonderful and nothing was too much trouble. My wife is a fussy eater and when she did not fancy a choice from the menu Clary would have something made up especially in the kitchen. Our wine waiter, Brian, was also excellent and would have a glass of my favourite wine on the table within a minute or two of sitting down. He would also show us the next day's menus so that I could decide what wine I fancied.
We did not try the Arcadian Rhodes as I personally dislike his style of cooking and we never felt the need to try the Oasis fusion restaurant. All in all, the main restaurant food was good although a little too much emphasis on red meat for my wife's liking. We had breakfast in the Meridian once and found the service to be good but, the opening hours were restricted and did not suit us.
Now the negative! The food in the Belvedere (self-service) restaurant was awful! Breakfast was the only reasonable offering but the food was often cold or at best lukewarm and the toast seemed like it had been made in an oven rendering it hard and almost burnt. We did try dinner there once on Italian night and I have to say that their interpretation of Italian food was not a pleasurable experience. Lunches were very boring and things like mashed potato with puddles of cooking oil and cottage pie which I am convinced was made from tinned mince were inedible. We often opted to have a burger or hotdog from the Neptune Pool Grill instead.
I don't expect to pay for a "luxury" cruise and be offered things like toad in the hole, pasties and a limited choice of vegetables. I want exciting tasty food which is hot!
Bar service was generally very good except on the Aquarius sun deck at the rear of the ship. A wait of 10 minutes for a waiter was not uncommon. We had to complain three times, once about a hair in my breakfast, once about rudeness to my wife by a barman and once about a prawn sandwich in the Belvedere which did not label its sandwiches after 22:00. I am allergic to prawns and was lucky that I noticed before any damage was done. All complaints were responded to with profuse apologies from the relevant managers and one even offered us a free drink at that night's sail-away party.
Apart from the above, we enjoyed our cruise although we were unlucky to have a Hoorah Henry and Henrietta in the next stateroom who always slammed their balcony door, constantly dragged their balcony furniture across the balcony and talked at the top of their voices both inside and outside of their stateroom. We learned so much about their personal lives that I could write a book on the subject.
The entertainment was very poor! Someone once said that cruise ship entertainers are either "Has-beens" or "Wannabes" and I think they were right. One "top" act was a singer who professed to sing operatic music but, didn't have an operatic voice, tried to sing a Freddie Mercury song and failed and his operatic attempts were embarrassing as he was clearly fighting to reach some notes. He did have a very good voice but needs some advice on what to sing.
The onboard entertainments team tried hard but failed to entertain. Disembarkation was even better than embarkation and it took just 10 minutes from being called to disembark to being stood by our car with our suitcases.
Plenty of storage, large balcony, good size bathroom, tea and coffee facilities, poor balcony furniture.