The car drop off takes 40 mins waiting in the car, this is a poor parking system, we were told it is a holding pattern so not to block gate entrance, but no other dock in Southampton does it this way and the fast drop off at other terminals works fine. Maybe we arrived at the worst time @14:10, but the tickets told us to arrive for 14:30 and no more than half an hour before.
Embarkation was busy but flowing and fast track good for people with limited walking. There were rather a large number of guests waiting in the assistance area and the process seemed slow, so even though my wife and I use sticks and usually use this service we continued through the lounge.
As soon as we were on the ship, we were able to go to our cabin and divest ourselves of the hand luggage and suit carrier. This we were not able to do on some other cruise lines and lugging cases etc. around was very difficult.
The large cases arrived promptly about two hours after we boarded, which was excellent.
The restaurant's have plenty of room between the tables.
The initial waiter service was poor for how tables laid out during the first breakfast and dinner. We had to wait for more water/coffee and when asked another waiter he said someone would serve us but only from our team (which he didn't tell us and didn't pass message on), plus waited for menus themselves in some instances. The table layout is bad for both general waiting and wine waiter, as our table for dinner (93) is behind wall/piller for main waiters and at far end of area of wine waiter, so difficult to see or get hold of either of them. We had no wine menu on one night and again difficult to get hold of the waitress, when she finally arrived and we asked about the menu, she stated not enough menus to go round so only given to regular customers, as we ordered wine on two occasions and drank it over two days we were obviously not regular enough. This was outright rudeness!
Oriental Restaurant set up not like typical cruise ship and dark decor, seems to try and mimic a restaurant rather than ship. Other restaurant are more open, but food provision in these restaurant is more chaotic, we have been told by others.
Food for breakfast can be warm at best, again service depends on visibility. The porridge can be nice and hot, but also luke warm, it does vary a lot and getting there early ironically meant the porridge was colder. Toast is nice and crispy, not damp as with other lines who keep it covered to keep warm, but too soggy. Coffee in the Oriental very nice, also hot, but refills can be slow to come. If you ask for well done bacon for breakfast it comes crispy which is good. The general
food quality in the Oriental Restaurant is good. We didn't try the buffet breakfast.
It is good that the doors to the restaurant close to late guests in the Oriental Restaurant 15 mins after sitting commences.
The separate vegetarian menu is good, however if you have food from this it takes longer to prepare than from standard menu, so you will have to wait, which is not a problem, guests just need to know. The vegetables can be sparse e.g. Quarter of a potato,10 thick cut chips with steak. For the vegetarian meals sometimes it would be good to include separate vegetables. Also need to understand that vegetarians don't want everything to be soft. The sweet corn risotto was not great, the rice was undercooked. Steaks come as asked for and are generally good. The salmon was overdone and dry. The pheasant was dry and the shredded pheasant had a bone in it (about an inch and a half long) that I nearly swallowed. The low sugar desserts seem to lack taste e.g. Coffee and hazelnut cake was just a slab of cake with no coffee taste or hazelnut at all. The thyme and lemon stuffing that came with the roast chicken, wasn't anything like stuffing at all, much closer to thyme and lemon breadcrumbs.
The scrambled eggs were excellent, as were the soft boiled eggs. My wife ordered macaroni cheese with focaccia bread, it didn't come with the bread and that was not the first time the accompaniment didn't appear.
Drinks on-board were excellent value and greatly appreciated after other cruise lines. Does make daily drinks package seem very expensive at £40 per person per day. The wine packages are a good idea.
The buffet restaurant is generally good, with wide walkways and good seating, unlike other cruise lines where they "pack people in". There seems to be enough choice, but very limited fruit available during lunch, which is what we'd like to eat. Having had a good breakfast and dinner.
My wife wanted to go to the Good Friday service at 08:30, so we arrived at the Oriental Restaurant before 08:00, as from previous breakfasts it took 20 to 25 minutes to finish. This breakfast room considerably longer with scrambled eggs on toast for my wife arriving after 25 minutes which she had to bolt down to get to the service and didn't get her Danish pastry at all. Yet from where we were seated other guests in a different area, had their main breakfast delivered nearly 10 minutes before we did.
The TV is missing on board spend, which you have to go to reception and ask to be printed out, which is a waste of paper. The tv channels are very limited, however the destination videos are very interesting and worthwhile. The tv lost all channels on at least one occasion that I can confirm (around 17:00 onwards on Sunday the 14th of April) and I think on another occasion earlier in the cruise. Also lost signal temporarily a number of times.
The room steward is very friendly and remembers names (Ratheesh), he looks after us very well. Other staff outside generally do not say good morning (some do)? Though restaurant staff are pretty good. This improved the longer the cruise went on and by the end most said good morning, when on my walks around deck.
The bed is very comfortable and cabin E520 is quiet and nicely furnished. It does need small lights by each bedside for getting up in night/reading. Guests leave bathroom light on and door ajar with coat hanger so some light available, this wastes electricity. The balcony is small at around 1 metre in depth, this seems smaller than other ships we have been on and with the chairs and tables minimal room to squeeze by, especially if you have limited mobility.
The shower is excellent and spacious, the bathroom is well laid out but not large, I can see where some guests would think the layout is not ideal, especially larger people. The non slip floor in the bathroom is excellent.
The decor is a bit tired in places, floor 7 buttons missing in most lifts, some carpets, rails and stairs worn.
The ship is generally clean and the staff look like they work hard to keep it clean.
The lifts are a nightmare, they are too full for disabled people, miss floors when waiting and take an age, had to take stairs as gave up after 5 mins plus, others waited for over 15 mins. People end up getting in any lift going in the wrong direction. No stairs with middle lifts a massive mistake. When trying to get off for an excursion again had to give up with lifts after waiting 10 minutes for lifts in the middle of the ship and standing there with two sets of people with wheelchairs, as there are no stairs, a glaring mistake when designing this ship.
Also as lifts don't go to all floors it gets confusing to go to deck 5 from the rear from deck 6, you have to go up 1 along to mid ships and then down and when it is busy and you are in a wheelchair this takes ages. Lots of complaints about lifts and queues. Plus the rear lifts are the only ones you can use to get to the Oriental Restaurant, you can't walk there from other lifts, so they get ridiculously busy at dining times, especially in the evenings.
There are two independent lifts each side in the middle, so people press all three buttons (1 for the main bank of 4, and 1 for each of the side ones) then get in whichever they can, leaving the other two still stopping at that floor. All middle lifts need to be synchronised. As there are middle stairs (behind the doors) which can be used from floor 7 down, but not up, why not? On the lifts in the middle there are notices about letting less mobile people use them, these are totally ignored.
As this cruise has a number of sea days, at the beginning and end, a few children have taken to pressing all the lift buttons as they are unsupervised. I understand this is difficult for P&O, but the parents do need to have responsibility.
It was nice that bridge crew made an announcement over the tanoy when whales were spotted.
On Palm Sunday, an important Christian event, there is nothing mentioned or even a room set aside, as there is for the Jewish community. It is good there are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, though 23:30 is a bit late for the washing of the feet on Thursday and the liturgy on Friday (this is due to the crew being able to participate). I suppose this was the earliest P&O had rooms available? The Stations of the Cross on Food Friday was held in The Ivory Suite - a nice room, but only enough chairs for half of the people there, the rest had to stand.
The lack of a promenade deck is disappointing as we like to stroll around the outside. There is an area outside to sit in which confused us as we thought it was the promenade. Doors really heavy and difficult to move.
The facilities to keep hands clean (dispensers) are largely absent. My wife asked the restaurant manager and was told not necessary after a couple of days and also not that effective, soap and water much better, which is available (in the toilets by Oriental Restaurant so no one used them), in our view dispensers much better and more used, if they were there. The wash basins by buffet restaurant were used but only by a very few people.
It is good that there are close buttons on lifts.
Ports & Excursions
The different ports were excellent, with lots of variety. La Palma was our favourite due to not being too commercialised, but all offered interesting aspects and not what you would expect of these islands. Docking was handled quickly and efficiently, though there were the inevitable queues at peak times.
Excursions were good value (compared to other cruise lines) and pretty well run. Though on the one we undertook it was rushed to get the walks in and therefore faster than my wife or I can manage without discomfort (this was the one from the ship we did in La Palma - UNESCO wildlife and Rum). They did say they would take it easy, but certainly didn't for the last half, so we were the last to get to the rum tasting and worn out when we arrived. The tour of the facility was also rushed as we were quickly ushered between a couple of rooms with hasty explanations, to get to the tasting and buying something.
At Lisbon, we had to wait nearly 10 minutes to get onto the ship, having gone through security and on the moving gangway, in very cold conditions. This was due to the positioning of the gangway being moved upwards for the tidal flow, which is fair enough. However, over half this time was waiting for someone from the ship (other than the security personnel) to confirm it was safe, despite the Portuguese operator of the gangway confirming to the ships staff that it was. When the P&O officer arrived he tried to blame the delay on the gangway shutting itself down, which the operator refuted and plainly stated it was down to having to wait for him to arrive. We were cold and just wanted to get onto the ship. Whilst we understand the need to be safe, this was clearly "jobsworth!" and nothing to do with safety. The dozen or so passengers were not at all pleased.
Theatre & Shows
The theatre was over packed for the Strictly interviews, it would have been much better to run 2 events. Also, there is a rush to get into events. Even for the "Astonishing" magic show (which wasn't even mediocre and was certainly not a magic show, just another dance show!) it was a ridiculous rush to get seats and for people who can't walk quickly very frustrating as all the best seats were taken. Theatre layout is curious as not only is it not big enough for the size of the ship (for 2 performances) the staggered seating near the front, means three rows are at the same level therefore if you're shorter, like my wife, and sit on row 2 or 3 of a level you struggle to see. So we had to try to get seats in the first row, which, due to the rush, was not always possible. Much more sensible to properly stagger the seating. If you dine early, like we have to (as I am diabetic), a third show at 19:00 is during dining time, so the show you go for will be 20:30 which is always the full one.
The idea of having seats reserved next to aisles for disabled is great, but I recommend that the red signs on the deck 6 ones are made much larger and thus more obvious, as a number of people "didn't see them". It would be good to give out the "No saving of seats message" prior to a few minutes before the performance, as most shows were pretty full long before that and on a number of occasions people had been reserving seats for quite a while. Mind you on the flip side, neither my wife or I are particularly mobile so when doors open we can get caught in the rush to get good seats, so I try and go ahead, leaving my wife to catch up, which usually takes a minute or two.
Michael Kushner is an excellent speaker and his talks are really interesting, the shame is due to a number of them being in the Live Lounge (that only seats about 250 people) we were unable to listen to a couple as all the seats were taken well over 10 minutes prior to starting. The Headliners theatre was a much better venue.
There are a number of quizzes which are good fun, however the late afternoon one in Brodies bar starts at 17:30 and finished in about 20 minutes. Given that it takes another 10 minutes to get back to our room, we have 30 minutes to get ready for dinner and on formal night that is not long enough.
The singer's in lounges are good with a variety of songs and moods.
We were told by others the dance floor was much too small and it did seem so for the number of people trying to dance when we went passed, but it was a Strictly cruise and so this might have been an exception.
The cases need to be outside at 20:30, which is much earlier than other cruise lines.
The worse part of getting off the ship was that there is no place to store your luggage prior to disembarkation and you have to vacate your cabin by 08:00. So with both of us having mobility issues and needing sticks, we then had to contend with hand luggage and a suit carrier to take around with us, which made life very difficult. Some other cruise lines have luggage holding areas.
Cabins have to be cleared by 08:00. Not surprisingly the buffet restaurant gets very full.
Disembarkation requires you to go to a specific destination, ours was the headliners theatre. So you enter through deck 7 and have to make your way down the front (deck 6) as that is where they will start from. Walking downstairs is bad enough for us, but with 2 sets of carry on luggage and a suit carrier, plus 2 sticks it is almost impossible and leaves my wife and I knackered and very unhappy and hurt my wife’s shoulder quite badly. As we have some paperwork to hand, I left the theatre and met a P&O rep outside. I tell her about the difficulties of the process and how tired we both are and she says there is a disabled departure point (limelight club) that we should have gone to, or asked a rep before getting to the theatre. I said we weren't aware of the disabled departure (as it is not stated anywhere we found) and that by the time we knew how much hassle this would be we were already in the theatre. Also, there was a rep on deck 7 that saw us struggling down the stairs to get to the theatre (as APU the lifts were so jammed full of was impossible to get in the first 5 going down and people had been waiting over 10 minutes) who said nothing to us. So we were now stuck in the theatre waiting.
My wife and I registered as requiring assistance, so P&O knew we'd need help for both on and off the ship. So instead of the rep saying we should have asked, P&O knew and exactly which cabin we were in therefore the should have told us what to do as disabled passengers (especially as we had not done this before on P&O).
Also, there is an opportunity to self depart, which is a good idea, but we certainly couldn't cope with our main luggage. We asked reception about self departure and were told we would have to get all of our luggage off, and we stated there was no way we could do this having limited mobility, at no time did the receptionist mention assisted departure.
An announcement was made about leaving the lifts for wheelchairs or others of limited ability which was more of less ignored.
We understand that there is a process needed for so many people but some people ignored it and stood by the doors to get off first. There is realistically very little the crew can do to stop this. Our disembarkation time was scheduled for 08:45 to 09:15.
The staff handling the process were OK, but made a number of completely inaccurate statements:
1. Once the process started it would go quickly:
This started off in promising manner with the first 4 rows leaving at 08:40, then the next 2 at 08:45. We then had over a 20 minute wait for the next 3 rows (which we were in) and when finally called forward, more than the 3 rows requested tried to leave. We were in the 7th row and finally got out of the theatre around 09:15. One of your reps tried to stop us going out saying the queue was too big (which was ignored by the fed up guests), which it wasn't when we got there.
2. Adam knew exactly how we felt (and told us so repeatedly):
No, he didn’t as he’d never struggled with his luggage (the way we had to) and then sat and waited patiently for nearly an hour, listening to statements that were clearly inaccurate.
3. This was the fastest way off and no one else would be getting off before us:
When we finally got out of the theatre and headed for the gangway, lots of people (about half) in the queue for the gangway, had not come from the theatre at all. So, the best way to disembark was just to walk off! (especially as you didn’t need your departure sheet!)
4. You need your disembarkation sheet to get off at your allowed time:
No, you didn't, just your cruise card as we never had to show the sheet to anyone.
5. This has never happened before:
Well given the ridiculous nature of the debacle, if this was the best method P&O had of getting people off, then yes it would. Quite a few guests were vocal about the whole process and the fact queue jumping was going on.
As there was still over 50% of the theatre to go after us and it was now well past 09:15, I believe this was going to get even more heated.
Other cruise lines with similar size do not seem to have the same system and disembarkation is considerably easier. It would have been much quicker for use to just walk to the gangway on deck 5 and join the queue.
Actually, getting off the ship was pretty straightforward, however finding your luggage was another matter. We had been told the luggage was sorted in deck order, in clearly demarked zones. We were on deck E and eventually found our luggage among suitcases from deck F. In fact, there seemed to be no demarcation between E & F at all, so wasted a lot of time searching what was supposed to be the E piles!
At least getting the car from CPS was easy, so we drove off!
The whole process was a farce and needs serious overhauling to stop it being so painful and exhausting.
Having been on multiple other ships and itineraries overall my wife and would mark this as 7.5 out of 10, as there were some very good points, and some very bad ones.
On a scale against the other companies we would rate P&O above MSC and Royal Caribbean, on a par with Marella and below, Celebrity, Cunard and Oceania. Read Less