* Prices may differ from that shown
This year Mr P and I took our first cruise. Although lots of family and friends had cruised and raved about it, we were quite unsure as to whether cruising was for us. Turns out it is!
~~Where to sail~~
The world is pretty much your oyster. There are a huge number of routes varying in length and destinations. There are 7 ships in the P&O fleet and on the recommendation of friends we picked the Arcadia, an adult only ship. Classified as mid-sized, it’s by no means small, capable accommodating over 2000 passengers.
Obviously, the cost rises (quite significantly) with the grade of cabin. At the very least, I’d advise anyone to go for an outside cabin if they possibly can. Dinner companions had opted for an inside cabin and found their cabin really claustrophobic. The webcam view from the bow of the boat broadcast on one of the tv channels became their window onto the world for their time on board.
~~Life on board~~
I took numerous books to read; I hardly looked at one.
Food and Drink: You could eat all day if you wanted to! The food and service was really quite exceptional in all of the restaurants with a wide choice from the self service restaurant to East, Atul Kochhar’s oriental restaurant where the food was sublime. Atul Kochhar was actually on board during our cruise and did a great cookery demonstration in the main theatre.
There were lots of places to have a drink too including a couple of piano bars, a pub and our all-time favourite, the Crow’s Nest where we worked our way through the cocktail menu.
So much to do: You could exercise in the well equipped gym, swim in one of the two pools or use the sports court. You could be pampered in the spa, spend your money in the casino, be entertained in the huge theatre, take in a film in the boutique cinema, learn how to dance, do a jigsaw in the library and of course do a little shopping. There was something going on all the time and all the day’s activities were listed in the daily Horizon paper which was delivered to the cabin every evening.
Clearly this will depend on your route but there are lots of options for trips and excursions. For those used to independent travel, you may want to just do your own thing.
The port guides give all the details of whether or not there is a shuttle bus available and the distances to the main towns and tourist attractions. Our experience with excursions was a bit hit and miss so my advice would be to choose carefully.
From the moment we arrived at Southampton at the start of our cruise to the moment we returned, I would give P&O a big fat 5 out of 5.
++A longer version of this review is published on Ciao – 500 words is just not enough!++
This is my favourite ship of all time. It is geared for the UK market and even though she has been in service for some years, she has not lost any of her luxurious charm. When we first sailed on this ship, my first impression was that it was 'all cabins' but this is only the look from the outside. Inside it is very spacious and the Atrium I stunning. We always enjoyed coffee at 11am in the Atrium café where service is swift and polite. We never had to wait for a table.
Cabins. We have sailed in both an inside and a balcony cabin and I would certainly recommend paying that little bit extra for a balcony. It is you own little bit of private space to enjoy the views of the sea and the ports. The balcony has two chairs or loungers and a coffee table. There is the advantage that you can smoke on your balcony but not anywhere inside the ship (fair enough).
Our last cabin contained a double bed, a dressing table, a two seated sofas, which could also be turned into a bed if you were travelling with children. There was a coffee table and a small fridge I the room. A small television is in every room and this broadcasts adverts on what activities are coming up. It also gives talks on the next ports of call. We used to watch these whilst we were having breakfast in bed.
Room service. For us, the advantage of free room service is a must. We always have breakfast delivered to our room and enjoy it in bed. (Lazy monkeys). Having said that, on the odd occasion when we did get up early the Conservatory café serves an excellent self service breakfast. There is everything you could wish for but be aware! Seating is sometimes limited during the busy times. 8.30am to 9.30am are the busiest times and should be avoided at all costs.
On our last sailing we were alarmed by the fact that the lifeboat drill wasn't carried out until the following morning, when the ship was already way out at sea. Fortunately, for us, we knew the ship's layout very well so if there had have been an emergency, we would have known exactly where to go but for other people...it could have been a problem.
Fine Dining - In the evening the Conservatory turns into 'the Bistro' where fantastic steaks can be eaten. There is a small charge for this but it is well worth the money. In the main dining room, there is a first and second sitting meal. The food is varied and of excellent quality. On a two week cruise, you never get offered the same thing twice. We choice a table for two and we were treated so well. The service was excellent and quick.
On our last sailing we did a transatlantic crossing. We love the sea and we love watching it but please be aware that on a transatlantic cruise, you have six full days at sea without making land. For some of our fellow travellers, this became boring. We love it but it isn't for everyone. The other thing to bear in mind is that a crossing from Southampton to Galveston is a two week cruise and you often get poor weather before you get down to the Bahamas. We had one day when a storm raged and the doctor was called out to many of our fellow passengers to administer sea sickness injections. Having, said that, we have also done this route before when the sea has been as still as a millpond all the way.
Bringing your own alcohol on board! A word to the wise. if you do go ashore and take advantage of the cheap booze, it will be taken off you as you get back on board and then delivered back to your room when you are ready to disembark. The cynical people among you might think that this policy forces you to buy drinks from the ship, but I couldn't possibly comment.
Drink prices. These are no more than you would pay in a pub in the UK. There are great offers on every day for 'cocktail of the day'. I took advantage of one of these offers and had two cocktails and promptly fell asleep on my sun lounger for the rest of the afternoon. They are quite strong so handle with care.
The swimming pools: The Crystal and Riviera Pools are on the Lido deck and get very busy on the 'at sea' days, so you have to get up early and send one of your party to go and get your sun loungers before they all go. Both pools are slightly heated and comfortable to swim in. There is a much quieter and well sheltered pool on D Deck at the aft of the ship (that's the back end for all you land lubbers). This tends to be easer to get a sun lounger and it is also much quieter. There is, however, still an excellent bar service provided. For those of you who like the shade, there is lots more shade to be had around this pool.
D Deck also has the ships cinema where all the new films are shown on a regular basis. There is also the library and Tiffany's Court coffee lounge on this Deck, so it's great for the whole day.
P O cruises offer luxury to the British market. I like the fact you can drive to Southampton and board a ship that takes you anywhere in the world.
On arriving at Southampton, where you have free parking if you book early enough, you pull up at the dock side, a lady/gentleman is stood waiting, they book your car in, take your keys off you and a gentleman with a trolley takes all your luggage out of your boot and the next time you see it , its outside your room.
You then make your way to embarkation. They check you in which is fast moving, take your photograph, give you a credit card with your photo on, which is for purchasing drinks and shop items on board and also for opening your cabin. And boarding the ship when your in dock. A greaat idea, save carrying your passport which can be locked in the safe free of charge in your cabin.
On boarding your chosen ship, there are a few, The ventura which holds about 3000, to the Oriana which holds 1800. You are directing to the top floor dining room, this is standard with all their ships because they want the passengers out the way while they load the suitcases.
I think this is a brilliant idea and your suitcase soon arrives at your door.
The entertainment on board is excellent and there are numerous live shows each night. From an outing to the theatre (each show is performed twice a night) to a bar/lounge stage show. Where theres comedians, groups , singers and other performers.
Theres also films shown a couple of times a day , and the films are up to date. If you fancy a quiz, theres those too. Also a night out at the casino, bingo and slots.
There is entertainment all hours of the day laid on, also a gym, beauty rooms, hairdressers. Every ship has swimming pools on and it varies from ship to ship, but theres normally an adult only pool and a childrens pool on every ship.
Theres kids clubs upto the age of 18 and once you get your kids in there they are very reluctant to come out.
Each time you dock at the various ports of call, there are numerous excursions, these can be quite expensive and usually if your a family of 4 , it would be cheaper to hire a taxi at port side and do the excursion yourself. P&O are one of the few companies that lay on a free courtesy bus that takes you into the nearest town if its too far to walk, and always let you know via the ships newspaper what the arrangements are and if its suitable for disabled. Where possible they do use disabled buses.
Food as anyone can tell you is given in abundance and is totally free, evening meal is 5 courses and you can dress up or dress down, its your choice and if you dont want to go in the restaurant, you can go up top to the self service restaurant where the food is the same, but you have to collect it, this is avantageous if you want to try all the dishes or if you require something less formal.
P&O restaurants are excellent, theres always one open, and the food is hot, tasty and good on the eye, I will say though on the Ventura the seaside restaurant gets extremely full at peak times which can make it difficult for you to find a seat.
On disembarkation, everyone has a coloured card and a time and fairplay P&O can empty there ship of 3000 people in 3 hours. They take your cases off for you so when you leave you collect them from a big hanger type building.
Cruising so easy, and relaxing, I have been on other lines and this is one of my favourites, especially the Oriana and its sister ship the Aurora. I have tried the Ventura on two occasions, and there nothing wrong with it, but for me its to big and I like the intimacy of the "smaller" for want of a better word of the other ships.
I also like that children are ages upto 17 for prices as opposed to 12 on other ships
Now bear in mind when you read this review that I am a quite hard to please being a hard-core Cunard and some of you may have read my Cunard review. I am not so experienced with P&O but have been on the Oriana three times and the Oceana once so I feel I can give a reasonable opinion on the cruise line. I went on a Mediterranean cruise on the Oceana and then a northern Europe, Mediterranean and British Isles and France cruise on the Oriana.
I cruise with my grandparents generally and two of these cruises were with them and then the other two were on a group trip with our travel agent who invited the regular cruisers to join them for their yearly trip. So the two experiences did differ, which I will go into later.
P&O are of the same group as Cunard but are more targeted at families with the exception of a couple of adult-only ships. There is certainly a place in the market for P&O as it is still predominantly a British clientele with cruises doing roundtrips to Southampton but it is slightly less expensive that Cunard as well. The ships are a little more Carnival-ish (i.e. Americanised) and to me they don't have as much character but as I said you must excuse the snobbery from me! Everything is lots of lights and glass and it is quite pleasant with the open atriums when you enter the ship. There is at least a lot of light coming into the interiors.
The two ships I went on both had far more children on board than we would have hoped. Admittedly three of the cruises were during school holiday time and then the other wasn't but still even on this cruise there were a lot of children. Yet I found that there were few people my age. There seemed to be a lot between the 4-14 age bracket but then it jumped to newly weds, parents and old people. So I felt a little lonely. I did meet a 15 year old who did karaoke with me and I did hang around with him on karaoke nights until one night he said why don't we go and sit with my friends because they have come to hear me sing. I did so only to find that his oldest "friends" were 10, 12,13 and 14 and the others were below the age of 8. I was sitting with the kid's club...This rather made me look like the babysitter on board and actually I was old enough to be the mother of some of those children! Slightly embarrassing, even more so when I heard remarks from the kids club about my karaoke buddy being my new boyfriend. I found myself trying to escape the kids club for the rest of the cruise...Not P&O's fault of course but just to let you know the age range!
So we had a suite, which was very modern and large. It had a sectioned double bed, whirlpool bath, a double sofa bed for me in the sitting area, a table, two TVs, mini bar and balcony. It was very cream and modern with a light woody furnishings (I say "woody" as I am not quite sure if it was wood due to recent restrictions on ships). It really was a lovely cabin and it also had two dressing tables and a desk so it was never an issue with three of us being in the cabin getting ready for dinner together.
On the restaurant seatings are in two sittings and in two restaurants. We have dined in both and I have to say they pale in comparison to Cunard. The ceilings are very low and it is all a bit plastic-ish in decor. The food was of course nice and probably what I would expect but once again not to Cunard standards. However there was an excellent 24 hour food place that had a salad bar, served jacket potatoes, toasties, pasta, pizza, desserts and fresh fruit and this was really useful because we had access all day so it didn't really matter what time you boarded the ship or if you weren't hungry because there would always be that option. The self-service buffet breakfast was also great and the 24 hour room service. The only criticism I had with the room service was that on the last night before disembarking I asked for some cheese and ham sandwiches and I was informed that the menu was off and salmon was the only option. With one of us being vegetarian and the other not liking fish we asked for an alternative stating our reasons. Only salmon. I asked if they meant to tell me that there was no cheese or egg on board. No there are none on board until Southampton. Now I knew this to be a load of rubbish because there were eggs in the morning. We were even refused toast! It was a case of OK we have had your money and your tips so now we don't need to bother with you. It really was such a disappointment and to not have a vegetarian option was ridiculous! However the morning breakfast was superb and they left it open later than on most cruiselines so we felt a lot better about disembarking.
The crew were generally very helpful and did their job but didn't really go beyond that. I can't say that I warmed to any particular crew member and the entertainment staff were rarely seen. The activities were standard of cruise ships with bingo, dance classes, quizzes, karaoke, deck sports etc. One night there was a problem with the karaoke but they managed to fix it. There were also no dance hosts, which was disappointing for me as I didn't have a ballroom dance partner. This put me off going to the ballroom activities on the Oceana. All ships have a nightclub and i have to say that Hemisphere's wasn't too bad on the Oriana. One cruise it was raving until the early hours but then on another cruise it was pretty much empty. A bit hit and miss depending on the cruise crowd I think. There were other bars to choose from but this was probably my favourite as it had more atmosphere.
The smoking policy on board was probably the worst for me because there was one bar at the top of the ship where you could smoke, which was miles away from the restaurant so consequently I had to go outside, which on the way around the British Isles was not fun. Especially in formal wear. I had a rather embarrassing mishap when I went to go outside on deck to the smoking part and the wind was blowing terribly. So I managed to push the door open and get through just before it slammed down behind me. It was formal night and I was wearing a strapless sequin dress (i.e. with nothing underneath!) and as the door slammed behind me my dress got stuck in the door so as I walked forward my dress got pulled down to my waist. All in full view of the restaurant smokers. At least I made a name for myself that cruise!
Overall P&O are basically a cheaper British option. The old ships are nothing compared to the glitzy Carnival ships but that may all change with the new ones coming in. Prices are reasonable and the entertainment is reasonable. But sorry I'm still with Cunard on this one! However as a second choice of cruise line this would be it.
I travelled abroad the 'Ventura' in August 2008, just a couple of months after it was first launched.
Staff: The staff onboard this cruise were absolutely incredible. Really couldn't do enough for you. You were always greeted with a smile and a 'good morning', and were polite, friendly and helpful without exception.
The Food: Top notch food, offering a wide variety to choose from in all restaraunts and buffets. (I enjoyed it so much I put on 11lbs over the 2 weeks - less said about that the better, ahem). Excellent standard of hygeine and cleanliness throughtout.
The Cabins: Really comfortable cabins, surprising amount of space. The cabin stewards without fail ensured that fresh towels were provided on a daily basis, and would clean to a really high standard. Unbelievably comfortable beds and pillows and adjustable air conditioning. Can't fault it.
The Children: Although, I don't feel this very fair to put as a disadvantage on the part of P & O, I would warn that if you do want a bit of peace and quiet to perhaps opt for the adult only ships they have on offer, as children's activities were of top priority on this ship.
After 3 or 4 years of myself, my fiance and my brother winding our parents up for going on cruises year after year - saying that its for the more mature generation (we know it's for everyone - but the reaction we were getting was hilarious), our parents decided to prove us wrong and take us on a mini cruise to bruge (so that worked out really well)!
They wanted to show us just what it was all about, how big these liners were, and how enjoyable and versatile they could be.
Now, all the P&O liners, which depart from the UK depart from Southampton, so no matter where you are you need to get there. Most of the cruises depart around tea time, so that those travelling a long way do not have to travel overnight for a morning departure. We travelled from the north east of england, we set off around 7am and arrived around 2ish. If you choose not to drive, there is a bus service that willbring you all the way.
As there is no 'check in time', people arrive at different times of the day, so there is less chance of there being any cues - you literally turn up, give your cases to the staff, go through passport control and onto the liner (and settle down with a lovely glass of vino). By the time you get to your cabin, your cases are there - all ready and waiting - fantastic.
A big advantage - which i'm sure all you other females (and maybe males) will agree, is that you are not flying, so therefore there is no weight restriction on what you choose to bring! Wonderful!
Now, before you get on board, you are asked to let the staff swipe your credit or debit card, and they give you a swipe card in return, which allows you to get into your room, and you also pay for anything you buy on board with this card. There is no cash taken on board and everything will be charged to the card at the end of your cruise. I did feel a bit dubious as I like to know what I am spending but it was far less than I thought.
All of the food is included in the price of your holiday. This is all of your meals and any snacks that you require throughout the day (or night). The only extra expense is your drinks (and even then there are some places that provide soft drinks, tea and coffee for free). You pay for your excursions and anything that you buy on board.
For this cruise we were on the Oceana - and it was huge! As you arrive onboard you enter the atrium an are greeted by a mass of sparkling gold handrails, palm trees, mahogony bars, glass elevators, shops, wonderful decor and the most pleasant staff you could wish for.
Now the features on board differ from liner to liner but you can visit the P&O website to find exactly what is onboard each one. The Oceana has 12 bars, a gym and sports court, a casino, nightclub, plenty of restaurants and places to snack, 4 pools, a spa and a 500 + seat theatre.
We got ourselves back to the main deck to set sail where we had the option to buy champagne (at a reasonable price of £3 per person) for when we set sail. We all took advantage of this and we had the privilege of listening to a brass band play to us on the dock side as we departed into the channel.
The bars that are on board range from a more lively sports bar, to a more relaxed kind of bar so that there is something to suit all tastes. The food options are also very varied so there is something to suit all tastes.
These range from outside and inside staterooms, staterooms with balcony, mini suites and suites. The price of your holiday depends what room you stay in, where you are going and how long you are going for. We stayed in an inside cabin as it was only for a few days and no - they are not the biggest of rooms, but big enough. Every room is equipped with TV, bathroom (with a bath or shower), desk, plenty of wardrobe space and a fridge. The outside suites have a window and the suites have more space altogether - even room for a settee. The rooms are well decorated and extremely clean, and the staff come in twice a day to clean, change bedding, give towels, put chocolates on your pillow (my favourite), and generally tidy up for you. Every morning you are given a newsletter, with what is on, the predicted temperature and other articles of interest - so you won't miss out!
FOOD AND DRINK
You will be given the option by your tour operator when you book to 'freedom dine' on an evening (dine when you like, if tables are available) or have a set time every evening in which to dine. I would recommend booking a table as the restaurants fill quickly. You don't have to dine in the main dining areas every night, you can still just get a snack from another area. There is a big choice on he menu to suit most tastes (apart from my brother who decided he wanted steak and chips - which they actually made specially!). There are always at least 5 courses which can be a lot, and when I didn't finish my main, the waiters thought there was something wrong and offered to make me 'anything I wanted'. Wow, what restaurants do that? - I had to explain I was full.
You can probably get any drink you require on board these ships, and a common myth is that they are overpriced. I found I paid the same or sometimes very slightly more onboard as I do at home. Another thing to remember is that the prices are in pound stirling, so at times like these when the pound is weak, it makes no difference! If you go to a country with the euro, you pay a lot more now due to the exchange rate.
One word - commendable. They are so hard working, so polite, so eager to please and well presented. I have never been cared for as much on any holiday, or even in any hotels here. They make the experience so special.
You can tip the staff at the end of your holiday when you get the balance due and you can also leave money in your cabin for the staff member who cleans your room (you get the same one whole holiday). It is not compulsory but you will feel they really deserve it when you leave.
Excursions are available in every port and there is a variety to suit all budgets and tastes. You can simply get on a coach and go to the nearest town or you can visit the sights, go kayaking, cycling, water parks, wine tasting or simply lie on the beach. Again this depends where you are going - and if you want to stay on board - that's fine too.
This was an experience for me that was out of this world - so much so that my fiance proposed soon after and we are getting married this August on board the Oriana in the middle of a mediterranean cruise. Beause it is a wedding, there has been a lot of communication between ourselves and P&O over the last month, and even the staff that work behind the scenes are exceptional and they have given me everything I wanted, even if it wasn't an option in the brochure. I have so much faith in the day going as smoothly as possible because of their capable hands.
The price may seem a bit much but once you go, you see you get your money's worth over and over!
Remember to take some of the local currency for your excursions!