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Jonathan Baldrey

Age: 40


Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: P & O Cruises

Ship: Arcadia

Sailing Date: December 29th, 2006

Itinerary: Barbados/Panama Canal

Have just returned from a two week cruise on Arcadia, "Tropical Delights" from Acapulco to Barbados via the Panama Canal. I found the other reviewer's comments really helpful, so hopefully someone will also benefit from mine.

This was my third cruise with P&O, previously we had been on Aurora and Adonia. Our impression of Arcadia was very disappointing. The ship looked shabby, lots of areas had flaking paint, marks on the walls and floor. Our balcony had stains all over the floor, we mentioned this three times and eventually someone came and cleaned it. There were some tiles next to a buffet counter beside the main pool which had lifted, leaving dangerous sharp tiles where people would be walking. After two hours of looking at this, I reported it and one of the staff put a little bollard over the damaged area. Admittedly, they did repair the tiles a couple of days later, but they replaced with a different color which added to the shabby look. If you're used to P&O ships being pristine, I think you'll find Arcadia a real disappointment. I was talking to another passenger who used to be a senior manager in P&O, and he said that the reason that the ship was so shabby is that it had been in the Caribbean for so long. Normally, when ships return to Southampton they get things fixed. Clearly P&O needs to make better arrangements, surely it must be possible to get a painter in the Caribbean? Another member of the executive team on the ship was chatting to us, and he said that since Carnival had taken over, there were cost cuts on top of cost cuts. He said that he thought most of the ships were getting shabbier as a result. One thing which you can't help noticing on Arcadia is the AWFUL mix of carpets and soft furnishings. The carpets are very heavily patterned and in bright colors, generally mixed with furniture which just simply doesn't go. You can't help thinking that they must have gotten the carpets on the cheap, as nobody could have paid good money for such old tat.

We did notice a few changes in P&O's product, brought in by the accountants to drive up profits, but detracting from the cruise experience. The free ice creams which P&O used to give out in the afternoons are, replaced by ice creams you can buy. The ship's staff constantly pushed the Orchid and Rhodes restaurants - the cookery demonstration was an advert for the Orchid, and even the cabaret artiste did a big plug for the paid-for restaurants. We didn't bother to use either, £15 a head additional charge seems quite steep given that food is supposed to be included, and the fact that the ship's company were pushing them so hard suggested that they weren't very popular. The menus in Rhodes are very similar to the restaurant, lots of steaks and big meat dishes, and the executive chef for the main restaurant also oversees Rhodes, so what is the difference?

We were told by a member of the executive team that P&O was increasingly getting rid of anything on board which didn't generate onboard spend. "If marketing had their way, we'd get rid of all the dancing on the ship because people can't dance and drink at the same time" was the comment. Card games have similarly been banished because they don't generate revenue, and there is no Traveling Alone Club on the ship, evidently because single people don't generate as much on board spend as couples. This is a real shame because cruising is such a popular option with singles. P&O explains these "innovations" as part of being contemporary. Another "innovation" is to have exactly the same entertainment EVERY cruise, so if you do a back to back cruise, you get the same shows, the same talks, everything repeated for the second cruise.

Having read the reviews of the flight to Acapulco, I decided against and booked flights on Air France out and BA back. I was really pleased we did, as most people talked about nothing else but the awful flights for the whole cruise. In most cases, people were stuck on a charter plane with almost zero legroom for 16 hours. On one flight, 6 people needed oxygen and the plane had to borrow additional oxygen from another when it refueled. On another flight, an admin error in P&O led to no food on the flight. When the flights arrived at Acapulco, there were 2 immigration officers for over 2000 arriving passengers, so most people evidently queued for up to 3 hours (having spent 16 on the plane). Then another 2 hours on a bus fighting its way through Acapulco traffic. Almost everyone said "never ever again". Simple advice, do not use the P&O flights under any circumstances.

So, onto the itinerary. We stopped in Zihautanejo (pretty little resort), Huatulco (beach, 2 bars, very little else), San Juan del Sur (we did the trip to Granada and loved it), Panama (loved walking around the old town), Panama Canal, Limon (we did the rainforest tram, good but very overpriced), Aruba (very americanised, did nothing for me), Port of Spain (I enjoyed this, but a lot of people thought it was a bit rough) and Barbados (has anyone not been here?). Personally, I think this cruise would have been much much better if they had started at Los Angeles, therefore enabling people to get scheduled flights easily. After that, they could go to Acapulco, so you'd get a proper day there, then spend more time on the pacific side of the canal, cutting out one or two of the Caribbean stops.

Weather was beautiful, if anything a little too hot. Much better and more predictable on the pacific side than the Caribbean. If you're going on this one, don't bother to pack anything warm you absolutely won't need it.

Food in the main restaurant was pretty standard P&O fare. Very very calorific, and no hint of a healthy option on any of the menus. The buffet had a good selection, if a little uninspired, but the Formica top tables and gross carpet made you feel you were eating in a transport cafe.

They laid on three parties on deck, which were all well attended and good fun. The Arcadia theatre company had variable performances. There were three gymnasts in the company, mainly for the Cirque de Arcadia show which was excellent. The four singers ranged from one chap who was excellent to one American girl who just couldn't hit the high notes any more and was awful.

The cabarets were disappointing. Hilary O'Neil almost died on stage the first night, she tried hard to make us laugh but pretty much failed and was embarrassing. The other male comedian was similarly unfunny and also nearly died during one of his performances.

You're probably thinking that I completely hated the cruise - this is wrong. To be honest, we had a good time. I was really interested in seeing Central America, and enjoyed the trips we did. I liked the child-free ship, and generally like the P&O cruises offer. So, I wouldn't recommend that you avoid this cruise.

All I would say, in summary, is don't have too high expectations of Arcadia. As a new ship, her shabbiness is disappointing. If you're a P&O regular, you will notice how they're making every attempt to get more and more onboard spend out of you. And, finally, whatever you do, DON'T GO ON THE CHARTER FLIGHTS to Acapulco.

Hope this has been helpful to someone.


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