The first weekend of September 2018 saw us taking a 3-night cruise aboard the P&O Cruises ship Arcadia. Arcadia was the fifth cruise we’d taken with P&O, the fourth different ship with that line, and our first experience of any Vista-class of cruise ship which are run by four different operators at this time. The cruise would take us on a round trip from Southampton to France and the Channel Islands.

Embarkation at Southampton was a very familiar affair. Living in Portsmouth allows us to leave packing and driving along to the cruise terminal fairly late, queue for a little while as CPS sort out the parking for the car, then wander in with our hand luggage (as it was just a short trip), grab a card to allow us to queue briefly to get our cruise cards, pass through security, then board. We know what to expect in terms of CPS parking times and rough travel conditions so our timing is pretty much spot on at this point for boarding and entering our cabin precisely when we’re supposed to.

When we booked our cruise on Arcadia we left it fairly late as we were trying to work out how to use up what remained of our holiday allowance in the year. Subsequently, for the first time since our second cruise many years back now we didn’t choose where we would be on the ship (where we wanted wasn’t available), opting instead to pay for a guaranteed balcony and leaving it to chance. The main pros of doing this are that you know you’re going to get a balcony and you’re going to be paying the lowest price. The cons, of course, are that the balcony could be anywhere; fore, aft, mid, high, low. You might be near where the smokers congregate. You might be beneath the running track or pool. For a weekend cruise we took the gamble and it turned out absolutely fine. Our actual grade was a couple above the lowest class of balcony and we were situated just forward of midships on the port side. We prefer the starboard side but as you can read in our dolphin encounter this turned out to be a very fortuitous allocation.

Cabin D72

Our cabin on Arcadia was D72, an EB grade classed as a Deluxe Balcony. A little wider and a little shorter with just a minor layout difference but in all other respects comparable to a mini-suite on a Grand-class Princess ship (such as our Star Princess room in 2016). A curtain separated a seating area from the bed and the bathroom contained a bath and shower rather than simply a shower unit. Storage space was more-or-less identical to any other ship although a small cupboard over the sofa in the seating area was a novel addition. This would be a good cabin to have on any cruise with the only thing to be aware of being the single UK plug socket available by the dressing table. For some reason there were two European sockets also available but for a UK cruiseline this seemed an odd configuration. P&O provide tea and coffee-making facilities in their cabins which we’re still not keen about but each to their own and it’s not as if we’re forced to use it.


The balcony depth was somewhere between a Royal-class balcony (too shallow) and a Grand-class balcony (fabulous) making it just about adequate (i.e. you could turn a chair to face outwards and sit on it, just). The view was perfectly fine and the lifeboats just below, partially obscuring the promenade deck, did not spoil the scenery at all.

Bars On Arcadia

Now, while we’re keen to review cruises and share information about the ships that isn’t our primary reason for getting on them; like most sane people we’re there to enjoy ourselves and relax. On a longer cruise we can do both things because there are sea days and plenty of opportunities for heading off, exploring. With this Arcadia cruise only having two full days aboard and both of those being port stops there was less chance (and less inclination if I’m being honest) to check out every lounge, every bar, every type of entertainment, etc. in detail. Prior to muster, though, we took a quick wander up to the top deck to have a nose at one of the two pools up there. This was the centrally-located Neptune Pool, capable of being covered by the Skydome apparatus and the pool we determined to be the quieter of the two on that deck. Another pool, Aquarius, is at the aft of the ship but its exposed location, large deck area for sunbathing, and loud sound system meant it was absolutely rammed with people when we briefly visited it after our stop in Guernsey. Aquarius appears to be the party pool and Neptune is the more relaxing pool. We’re not party people. The downside to Neptune is that there are limited seats and loungers around and no easy access to the deck above (no steps up from around the pool area) but it would certainly be our preference as a place to swim on a longer cruise on Arcadia.

We had time for one drink before muster drill so walked through the East Bar (not serving drinks until the evening) then forward to the Crow’s Nest.

Muster for us took place in the Ocean Grill speciality restaurant, a place we’d booked a table for that first evening prior to embarking our cruise as we’d chosen a Select Price cruise with P&O and had some on board spending money to play around with. Even though we couldn’t choose our cabin we still opted for the Select Price option in order to make sure that for the following two nights we would be able to dine when we wanted and not when decided by Arcadia’s staff. We’re not fans of fixed dining times. The muster was pretty reasonable as P&O musters go although I’m still going to take the opportunity here to recommend that P&O (and everyone else) adopt the Princess Cruises approach of not needing to take the life jacket with you; it means the stairs aren’t packed afterwards with people returning the safety equipment to their cabins and proper cruise drinking can commence immediately.

Muster done we had a decision to make: the sailaway party by the Aquarius pool or grabbing some drinks at wherever was open. You might remember that we’re not party people so a tour of the three bars in close proximity on F deck was our very easy choice.

First up was the Rising Sun pub. It’s odd to admit but P&O are not our first choice for cruising as, if we’re travelling abroad, we like to get away from things we consider British. A foreign holiday is better if it’s culturally and socially different as much as possible from what we could get at home; it just makes the break better. That’s mostly why we don’t really like seeing kettles in cruise ship cabins. All that said, we do like the pubs they have on P&O cruise ships and the Rising Sun on Arcadia is a really nice example of one. I’d go even further and say that Arcadia’s pub is the best pub on any of the four P&O ships we’ve cruised on.

However, in what has fast become a P&O cruising tradition where we’re concerned, yet again the pub did not have the first beer I tried to order. I know, I know, it’s a first world problem, but cruises aren’t super cheap, the ship had literally docked in Southampton that morning, and there’s just no excuse for not having all the things you’ve seen fit to print up in your bar menus actually on board at the very start of a cruise no matter how short it is. On the plus side it was just this one drink that wasn’t available making our Arcadia experience significantly better than our cruise on Oriana earlier in the year.

From the pub we headed through the gallery, past the atrium, and aft to the Spinnaker Bar. A bell and model ship decorated this otherwise very quiet location.

By the atrium was a long, thin bar area called Intermezzo that we then had a couple of drinks in before heading off to shower and change for our meal. We had some nice views of the Isle of Wight that we were passing by on our starboard side but the most memorable thing about this bar was the manner in which the Martinis we ordered turned up. Call us old-fashioned but we like our Martinis in Martini glasses. The drinks were fine, of course, but for many drinks the drink is an experience that includes the glassware and we felt this did change it somewhat and not positively.



Ocean Grill Speciality Dining

Our first evening on Arcadia saw us try the speciality dining at Marco Pierre White‘s Ocean Grill restaurant. Food on cruise ships is generally very good so the speciality restaurants have to put in a little more effort to warrant parting with your money. Was the Ocean Grill worth the extra? This is a tricky one to say for certain. For us, we weren’t blown away by the food with one exception and on one of the subsequent nights on the short cruise they had a Marco Pierre White menu in the main dining room which included several of the elements we’d paid extra for but for free, putting a bit of a dampener on the experience too. You want to feel you’ve got something you couldn’t have got otherwise and that was only partially true here. The food was all cooked perfectly and tasted fine but it overall just lacked a little something difficult to describe. This isn’t a unique observation of the Ocean Grill on Arcadia as we felt the same about the Epicurean on Azura last year too. We’re possibly just spoilt.


For starters I had the Cured Gressingham Duck Carpaccio and my wife had the Crevette Cocktail

The main course for my wife was the Fillet of Bass while my main course, the Pork Cheek and Pork Belly, was the standout course. Had everything else been as tasty, as good-looking, and felt as special as that one course then we’d have no hesitation in recommending the Ocean Grill dining experience on Arcadia.

Dessert was cheesecake for my wife and chocolate tart for me. The cheesecake felt like another case of style over substance – it looked impressive in its bowl but this ended up making it awkward to eat properly – while the tart seemed to be not far removed from what you’d expect in the main dining room anyway. Both fine, just both unspectacular.

Some chocolates (that were also presented in the main dining room) and a quick visit and a smile for the camera from the head chef rounded off our Ocean Grill evening on Arcadia. We’re glad to have done it and on a longer cruise on the ship we might even do it again as there are plenty of other dishes to try and see if they would impress more but we’d possibly try to arrange it for the same night the similar menu was being offered in the ship at large so as to not feel quite so aggrieved at the extra cost.

One final gripe about our speciality dining night: my cruise card was taken twice, the first being when we bought wine (as expected), the second being… for no reason we could think of. More importantly, it wasn’t returned – something we didn’t realise until later – so I had to get a replacement from reception. This process was very swift, though, so well done P&O there.

We concluded our first night on Arcadia with a couple of drinks in The Globe, listening to the live band then the DJ, and watching some of our fellow passengers get up and dance. I’d like to say this part of the cruise was uneventful but another P&O staple made an appearance here in the form of completely the wrong drink being delivered.

Ports

For this cruise we visited Cherbourg (see: Arcadia, France posts) and St Peter Port (see: Arcadia, Guernsey posts). Disembarkation at both ports was simple and efficient and different in each case. Cherbourg simply involved walking off and into the French city while St Peter Port required taking a tender ashore, a process as simple as taking a ticket and waiting in the very attractive theatre until our number was called before being led to the boat.

We didn’t choose this cruise because of its itinerary in particular (although it was nice to actually dock at the French port we were supposed to, a first on any cruise for us) which was just as well as Cherbourg on a Saturday and St Peter Port on a Sunday aren’t exactly overflowing with activities for casual tourists. The weather was good, though, and we knew mostly what to expect on each day and weren’t disappointed at all.

Main Dining Room

Arcadia’s main dining room is split over two floors, a feature present in quite a few ship designs but a first for us. Its large size and openness made it very attractive indeed – probably the prettiest room we’ve dined in on our cruises – but our experiences on the two nights we ate there were very different affairs. While the final night was without fault the previous evening had been bad enough to lead us to see if there were any speciality options instead (no luck; we’d been handed a leaflet for Sindhu’s, a restaurant we’ve never tried on P&O to date, and phoned to book soon after to be told it was booked up, making us wonder what the purpose of the leaflet had been). That bad experience was the formal night and started with the longest wait to be seated we’ve ever had followed by some shocking service on our table for ten: two people were handed courses before they’d finished the ones before while I entered a now-traditional P&O invisibility period and ended up being offered no bread nor any water (much to the amusement of the people with whom we were seated). I did eventually get a glass of water when everyone had a top-up to get their second glass but this was simply not good enough for a four-course meal. Our waiter couldn’t have been more indifferent to our table if he’d tried. If we hadn’t had similar poor service on previous P&O cruises we’d have made more of a deal of it but we’ve started to accept that they’re just not quite good enough in this area of cruising and it’s one of those things. Food, as mentioned earlier, was very good.

Gameshow

We’re not ones for cruise ship entertainment usually but we did find ourselves in The Globe one of the evenings just as a gameshow based almost exactly on The Chase started. Called The Pursuit, it was well produced and hosted and sated our desire for a bit of trivia that we’d not been able to fulfill to that point. I was particularly pleased with our seating location which produced some great light and shadows for photography during the show.


Prior to the gameshow taking place we’d been in The Globe along with one other couple (not together; they were seated away from us) and we’d had a drink. Finishing our drink we’d looked around to see if we could get another. We counted seven stewards in the lounge (so staff almost outnumbered passengers 2-to-1), all of whom were as far from us as possible and talking to one another. We were in clear view of them and decided to see how long it would be until one of them noticed our empty glasses. After nearly ten minutes of sitting there and looking at one another with raised eyebrows and shakes of the head I then pulled out my phone and started a timer running then left it on the table. That did the trick and we were then served inside a minute. Not good enough by far, P&O.

Miscellaneous

The following photos were taken at various points over our short cruise on Arcadia.

The art gallery and various bits of artwork around the ship were very nice and a lot of it suited our tastes; some of the best we’ve seen at sea.

A prominent feature of Arcadia should be the colourful glassware at the top of the atrium. Something that shouldn’t be so prominent are buckets to catch leaks from air conditioning units. There were an awful lot of these around the ship in lounges and corridors (we saw at least half a dozen) but hopefully this is just a temporary thing until the equipment is fixed properly.


We did finally get to have a drink in the East Bar on one of the nights when we took one look at how packed the Crow’s Nest was and thought better of trying to find a seat. East was practically empty and had some lovely views across the pool at night but there is a doorway to the right side of the bar through which the staff members would periodically walk and every time resulted in a flash of intense white light from the room the other side flooding the otherwise subdued, atmospheric bar. Our recommendation would be to sit to the left of the bar if you can.

We also finally did spend a little time by the Aquarius pool at the ship’s aft on the final morning as it was the only place with seats where we could have breakfast before departure. The buffet offerings on Arcadia were better than we were expecting from our past cruises with P&O so another plus point foodwise there.

Arcadia Cruise Summary

I know there’s a lot of moaning in this review of Arcadia but there’s no point reviewing something if you’re not going to pick out the bad points as well as the good; the world doesn’t need another person claiming everything is fantastic and you’ll never get the cruise lines to improve their offering if they don’t get honest feedback. P&O still have a problem with consistency of service and in our opinion they need to just ramp their speciality dining offerings up a notch, though that’s partly the fault of having such good quality offerings in the main dining room.

We liked Arcadia a lot. We’re still Grand-class fans more than we are Vista-class but the ship design had a lot to recommend it. She’s at the lower end of the size of ship we’d like to take a longer cruise on but we’d have no problem at all taking one on her and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her if asked.

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