Having never sailed with P&O before we were not too sure what to expect of a British cruise line. Friends who had cruised the Baltic previously with P&O on an adult only ship, which has since left the fleet, were not at all complimentary & were seriously put off cruising.
Firstly embarkation at Southampton seemed to go very slowly, it took over an hour to check-in. At one point, no passengers whatsoever were being checked in for about 20 minutes. There were no announcements of any problem so understandably passengers were getting a little impatient. Once checked in however, everything went more smoothly. Our cabin was ready & luggage didn't take too long to appear outside the door.
Out balcony stateroom was adequate if not particularly spacious. We liked the fact that a kettle & tea & coffee etc., were provided & there was a fridge which luckily was not full of the cruise lines costly drinks. Just 2 free bottles of water & an ice bucket. So plenty of room to chill the white wine, which P&O (unlike other cruise lines) are happy for passengers to bring on board for consumption in stateroom. We still bought wine with dinner and sampled many of the daily special drinks & cocktails, but taking some of our wine saved us a few pennies. Wines & other drinks on board were very sensibly priced & unlike the U.S. cruise ships no obligatory 15% service charge, which the Brits find very irritating.
We took the orientation tour, but still found the ship's layout confusing, as did many passengers we spoke to. The entertainment was excellent but the venues are too small for the size of ship & it was often impossible to get into the shows, in both the theatre & the lounges. Manhattan especially was so badly designed & the chairs took up so much room that once a few people were seated it was impossible to negotiate your way to an empty chair even if there was one. So ensure you get a seat early if you particularly want to see a show, the queue for the 8.45 theatre show started forming at least 30 mins before start - So be warned.
Having said that, we opted for Anytime dining and that worked very well - only had to wait once. We also tried all the fee paying dining options & for the most part they were excellent. We ate in the Glass House & tried a wine flight - excellent. Also went to an invitation only wine tasting -v.good.
However, having decided to eat there again on the final night of the cruise, we walked out when we were seated, then totally ignored & very irritated to see people being served, who came in after us - unacceptable for that standard of eatery.
Seventeen was brilliant, both service & food. The buffet restaurant, was always busy & seemed very cramped, although the food was good. The staff were a little over eager clearing tables, so don't leave your plate or drink to go & get something else unless you leave someone at the table on guard, otherwise it will be cleared away.
We didn't sample the spa, apart from a couple of talks that took place in there. Spas at sea are mostly overpriced we find.
We took the St.Petersburg tours & our guides were brilliant. Be warned though, If you are doing a full-day & then an evening tour, there is no fast track queue to get back on the ship before the evening tour & some people had barely 10 minutes to get back out to the next tour. P&O should get better organised.
One last thing - I have never before had to queue for the Ladies toilets on any ship but on Azura invariably you queue, as there are often only 2 or 3 in each area.
I would cruise with P&O again, but would try a different ship next time.
There was a fee for the shuttle bus in Copenhagen but there was ample seating on it. The city had experienced serious flooding the week before we docked & many places of interest were closed. The cost of eating & drinking in this port is prohibitive so plan to go back to ship for a late lunch. It is an easy walk back to the ship so no need to catch a shuttle back unless you have real problems walking. I have problems walking especially if there is even a slight incline but I managed the journey without any difficulty.
Used free shuttle into Helsinki. City tour bus was available at the port but only if you had enough cash for tickets, which we didn't so we paid for tickets at the tour stop in Helsinki with credit card & then took the tour bus which also took you back to the port at the end of tour. You could also pick up free audio-guides at the port but no-one told us & we didn't find out until too late.
Free shuttle into Stockholm, easy to walk round the city. Cruise lines map & city guide very useful. The boat tour gives the feet a rest & you can hop-on/hop-off at various venues.
Free shuttle from port. There was a market on the day we docked and some sort of celebration which was lovely. Tallinn was definitely our favourite port of call with a lovely square surrounded by bars & restaurants.
Due to the size of St. Petersburg, we felt it was necessary to take an organised tour. We were glad we did, the Hermitage is enormous and very grand as are many of the buildings in the city and the distance between the main sights is too far to negotiate on your own. The Peterhof Palace is sumptuous and quite a distance out of the centre but well worth the time on the coach.