Arcadia: Canaries, Nov 2010.
10.45pm, no buses were coming into the village and taxis could only manage to the foot of the hill two miles distant from the house. The snow was lying in mounds on both sides of the road and only a few foolhardy souls, in possession of four wheel drive vehicles were venturing out onto the roads. There was no option open to us other than to phone a friend with a four by four and petition him into taking us into Glasgow, where we would transfer to our pre booked coach to Southampton.
In Glasgow the temperature was -15 and the bus station had run out of all coffee and tea making facilities as on the previous night the station had had to provide overnight accommodation to a hundred or more stranded souls, as the city's transport system ground to a halt as a result of the worst snowfall in memory.
The coach however departed on schedule, but without any tea or coffee making facilities or toilets, as a result of frozen pipes. The driver however did make reasonable time in spite of the weather and did provide us with regular refreshment stops.
Around 2pm we reached Southampton and our first experience of P&O began. Transition from dockside check in to ship was smooth and efficient , as the staff processed some 2000 passengers ( other organisations could learn much by studying the methods employed by cruise companies in efficiently processing large volumes of people)
The ship was spic and span without much of the glitz and sparkle of rivals, presenting a quintessentially British air about it with dark polished wood and grained leather. It was elegant and dare I say traditional in outlook: I liked it and over the next two weeks she would continue to grow in my affection.
My cabin was beautifully turned out, with ample storage space a large double bed, coloured TV ,fridge, settee and an adequate balcony. Needless to say the balcony provided an abundance of fresh air at night ,a welcome location for an unhurried breakfast and a most welcome haven at the end of a hectic day ashore for the imbibing of several gin and tonics as the ship slipped its moorings in the early evening. This was particularly so on leaving behind the beautiful island of Madeira with its incredible Christmas panorama of coloured twinkling lights.
I do not intend to say much about the ports ,having visited the Canaries many times previously and I'm sure they have been more than adequately covered by other cruisers. Suffice to say that the highlights of this particular cruise for me were both Madeira and Santiago De Compostella, surely one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. (nr port of Vigo)
My first impressions of P&O are generally favourable when compared to my previous experience of solely American themed ships. Here's what I think.
Drinks and Wine list. The wine list was more varied in the range of countries represented and the prices were fair. There was even an excellent house red provided at a nominal £10. My last outing, on Celebrity, saw an average price of $28 from mostly a selection of US produce. Drinks likewise were reasonably priced , in some cases cheaper than at home, and nothing was added. ( on US ships a percentage mark up is added to every drink). Duty free could be had at any time and taken immediately to your room for private consumption.( expressly forbidden on US ships). Cocktails were widely available and again reasonably priced with a new cocktail being selected each day as " cocktail of the day" and available at around £3 ( half the price of US ships)
Transfers. This has been my first and only cruise were I have not had to pay a transfer to reach the main city or town from portside. Last year I regularly paid $10. Again, a big plus for P&O.
Entertainment. The major productions were on a par with other big cruise lines but again more inclined towards a British audience. The small cinema on board provided modern films to British taste (eg Young Victoria) and repeated them on a regular basis. The TV again provided a good range of programmes and modern films with both British and Continental appeal. The library maintained a good selection of material more inclined towards a British clientele .( British biographies etc)
Quizzes ,which were a regular and well attended feature were aimed again at a British audience, with a more eclectic intellect..( US ships ask mainly about US topics with little international input). The art gallery on board provided a good range of art work both for perusal and sale , although I did miss the "art auctions", regular features on US ships. More could be done on the "lecture" opportunities available .I could have given better presentations on both Vettriano and Perez.
Lectures& Talks . These daily features were most relevant to a British audience and were both entertaining and informative, featuring a journalist, professor of history and political science and a Concorde engineer. On one occasion the captain was interviewed by the cruise director and regaled the audience with some exciting and funny stories from earlier in his career at sea. On another day the Headliners theatre cast presented themselves on stage and again opened themselves up to questions from the cruise director. I enjoyed all of these events..
In the evenings there was a variety of entertainment provided both in the theatre and around the many bars and smaller venues on board. This could range from a jazz band in traditional pub setting, or dance band in the ballroom, to the full theatre extravaganza, or quiet intimate surroundings of the crow's nest for a classical piano recital. There was always something to entertain.
Formal evenings. There were more formal evenings on P&O than on other lines so far experienced. Likewise with the semi-formal evenings ,sometimes indistinguishable from the more formal evenings. If you like dressing up, then P&O is for you. I must admit the formal evenings herald a touch of class to the cruise and I like them. (mitigates against having too many "bears") I must say however that since Arcadia is an adults only ship ,perhaps there's not so much of a sense of occasion on the more family friendly ships?
Dining. The formal dining room was two tiered and offered two sittings,. one at 6.30 and the other at 8.30. I had mixed reactions about the food and service. I just felt that something was lacking. One day I would be disappointed in the food or service and on another day I would rave about it. There just didn't appear to be consistency from the kitchens! I have no real gripes to make about the food other than to say that I have had better on other cruise lines. Having said that however ,other cruisers thought that the food was exceptional and that I was just being awkward. One person I spoke to said that the food on Arcadia was better than the QE2. I just suppose that you can't please all the people all the time!
I didn't get the opportunity to visit the Gary Rhodes restaurant but I did hear good reports. I did on the other hand visit the Orchid restaurant ( Asian cuisine at £10 pp supplement) which was exceptional. Here the food and service excelled my expectations and perhaps was a reflection on the levels I had expected from the formal dining room. On the night that I visited, the captain and his senior staff were seated adjacent to my table. This spoke volumes. I highly recommend a visit to the Orchid.
The self service restaurant on the 9th floor of the ship never disappointed. There was always a great range of hot and cold dishes to be had (24/7) ,served in the most pleasant surroundings (except at breakfast time when it was crowded). In the evenings the tables here were draped in white linen tablecloths and place settings already set out. This was the place to go if you didn't fancy the formal events.
Room Service. I used this on several occasions and was never disappointed. The room service manual offered all sorts of things from drinks to meals and snacks and duty free. Late afternoon sandwiches were most welcome as was the odd breakfast. Every day I was the beneficiary of freshly sliced lemon and lime , courtesy of room service, for my pre prandial G&T.
Overall my first experience of P&O was most enjoyable and a precursor of more to come. This cruise had much to commend it, from its child free environment with its quintessentially British outlook through its wide entertainment and friendly and efficient staff. I will definitely travel with P&O again.
Fair size with all modern conveniences. Reasoanble balcony. No complaints