We chose to go on this cruise as a post winter break and it was made even more pleasant with an upgrade to a higher grade of balcony cabin. Not having sailed with P&O for some years and never on one of their large ships it was interesting to make the comparisons between the other major players in the cruise industry. The embarkation at Southampton was somewhat frantic since we were given an embarkation time of 1530 on our e-tickets. I knew 1530 would be cutting it a bit fine so we opted to arrive at 1300 only to be greeted with a 1 hour wait as they had only just started boarding. It was a sign of things to come that numerous stretched limos spilled their contents onto the car park and the hen parties made everyone aware of their presence . I reckon the female/male ratio on the cruise was 3.5 to 1. There were a few families with young children but not many.
Eventually we boarded and our cabin was ready and appeared to be well prepared with all the fittings in good order and toiletries provided, not to mention a well stocked tea tray. It certainly does make a difference to be able to make your own tea or coffee first thing in the morning. No sign any more of bathrobes and no postcards of the ship included in the guest information pack - probably because of cutbacks but possibly because it was just a 2 nighter. Maybe someone knows the real reason? We made our way to the Waterside buffet and its annexe, the Beach House, where I felt the servery areas were very cramped, possibly because only half of Waterside was open. The salad bar was adequate however the hot choices were somewhat limited and the presentation quite unappealing. Hand sanitising dispensers were placed here but there was little effort by staff to encourage their use.
The safety briefing was very thorough supported by a lengthy discourse by the Captain possibly brought about by recent cruise ship incidents. The sail away was a disappointment and no sign of a live band or the entertainment team and their flag waving patriotism , as was always evident before. This was also the case leaving Zeebrugge. All we had was a backing track played loudly.
Ramblas is a Spanish themed wine bar and it was here that we indulged in a couple of pre dinner drinks. They also serve Tapas here at a modest charge but we did not indulge in that so soon before dinner. We were allocated Second sitting in the Saffron Dining Room where we had pleasant company with 3 other couples, 2 of which were on their first taste of cruising. The menu choices were ok but the service was rushed. P&O still practice serving the vegetables separately in a bid to save something of silver service for their image, but it fails. They would be better to follow suit with the others and serve it all plated. A pleasant New Zealand Sauvignon was £17.50 per bottle. The wine waiter made sure we drank it all. We did not use the alternative cover charge dining venues.
The first evening entertainment had plenty of variety and we seen Clem Curtiss of Foundations fame who still packed them in the Arena theatre. At 72 he was still a good act. A female vocalist also provided lively entertainment in the Tamarind Club and then we went to Havana - the nightclub where all the Hen parties were in full swing. We found Metropolis on Deck 18 was more to our taste and bopped the night away till 0230.
Day 2 in Zeebrugge and we took the courtesy bus to the station for the short train ride into Brugge. It’s a pleasant city worth a stroll for 3 or 4 hours and there are plenty of photo opportunities and sights to see. Lunch in the main square was a little pricey but that’s what you expect in a major tourist city. The ships tour was £32 per head but the courtesy bus and train was less than 5 euros return.
The ship sailed at 1745 and the second evening was pretty much a repeat of the first except the Headliners Theatre show took place although this was not to our taste. We spent the evening enjoying a few drinks in company and ended up in the Tamarind Club again before a bedtime snack at 2 am. Despite the large number of hen nights and a few stag dos there were no incidents that we seen where drunken behaviour was evident . Most people were having a great time in good mood. There are plenty of venues to offer something for everyone and the ship appears well enough maintained
Would we sail again on a longer cruise with P&O?. I don’t know to be honest. The product is ok but that’s all it is. The menus are boring and the service a bit rushed. I know things on a weekend bash do not represent a true cruise experience but I have seen enough to know what I like and I would probably only cruise P&O if the itinerary was what I was looking for.
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Times cruised before: 10+ Sailed: March, 2012
Quality of Food
Saffron for Dinner, Waterside buffet for the rest
Clem Curtiss was very good, the rest were good.
Done our own thing using the courtesy bus and train.
Mostly good service but quite a lot of glum faces. Wine waiter poured wine with the delicacy of an air raid but our cabin steward was good.
Somewaht limited probably due to the nature of the 2 night cruise. Lots of Spa promotions.