Add a review of your last cruise for a chance to win £100 in Amazon Vouchers*

Arcadia, Northern Europe


I chose this cruise because the itinerary and timing suited my needs. I had a dozen sea cruises and 3 river cruises under my belt, but had never used P&O before. I believed, though, that they had a good reputation.

Other reviews I have seen mention the truncated visit to Amsterdam and missed visit to Zeebrugge. Regrettable and disappointing as these were, I do not complain about them - I think one must accept that at sea one is always at the mercy of the weather.

There is, however, a great deal else to complain about: wild horses wouldn't get me on another P&O ship. It was as if a budget holiday camp chain had decided to start a cruise line and this was their first attempt. To take things roughly in order -

Embarkation was chaotic and confusing. Hordes of people milling around, long waits for lifts. (Little did I know then that long waits for everything are the norm on P&O.) After several attempts to get directions to my cabin it was finally explained that I wasn’t supposed to be going to my cabin, I had to report to my muster station first. I can actually see the sense in this for a big ship, but perhaps telling people up front what the procedure is would be a good idea? In the past, on smaller ships, I have always done full muster drill - with lifejacket - after locating my cabin. Nowhere in my documentation was this short-cut procedure mentioned, nor was I told at any point in the terminal, at the entry port or by the first “guides” that I spoke to. This was, however, nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the utter shambles of disembarkation. Let us stick to chronological order, though.

Wi-Fi was very expensive at £12 per day, weirdly cumbersome to connect and log in, and just to rub salt into the wound, kept logging itself out so you had to go through the whole palaver several times a day.

The drinks package was also very expensive – virtually £40 per day, £20-25 is more typical. What is more, despite being titled the “Ultimate Drinks Package” it was far from all-inclusive. Apparently in P&O’s own special version of the English language there is something beyond “ultimate” (but they don’t offer it).

I also noticed there was no reception, just a voucher for a free drink. Personally I wasn’t at all bothered by this but I know some people were. Not impressed by the free drink, though, which turned out to be a pretty naff “prosecco-style product”.

I found that I was booked for “Freedom Dining”. I hadn’t asked for this, in fact when I noticed it in my details on the website I messaged, through the site, asking to be changed. This message was acknowledged but, I discovered on arrival, ignored. It seems Freedom Dining is supposed to mean that you are free to dine when you wish. It means nothing of the kind. It should be renamed “Mystery Dining” because what it actually means is that you simply don’t know when you will get to eat. Whatever time you turn up there will be a queue: up to half the length of the ship! I found this quite appalling and intolerable. Thank Heaven for Norovirus. There was an outbreak on board and by the second half of the cruise so many were confined to their cabins that the dining room was never full and the queues subsided – though still not to zero! This queueing alone was enough to guarantee I will never set foot on a P&O ship again. They even have the cheek to offer a “virtual queue” on their “My Holiday” pseudo-app. This would only be a marginal improvement even if it worked – but of course it didn’t. Incidentally, nor did the booking facility for the premium restaurants. In fact very little on “My Holiday” did work.

When you finally do get to a table the food is OK, nothing special but OK. Starters a little bland, portions perhaps a little small, cheese plate rather stingy and exactly the same every night. You could do as well in any pub, better in many. But OK. Service, however, was tediously, frustratingly slow. Individual stewards were working hard and trying to please but ineffectually, with little or no co-ordination, too few numbers and too high a proportion of inexperienced staff. Drinks orders were often met with blank expressions – they’d simply never heard of what you were asking for. A whole layer of management seemed to be missing – the section heads that I have been accustomed to in any large restaurant appeared to be completely absent.

Queuing seems to be a major feature of the P&O experience. On returning from an excursion – one of their own excursions – in Copenhagen, we found a queue to get back on board two-thirds the length of the ship! This is the Baltic in December, remember, and it is dark by now. We were outside in the cold for half an hour, I myself was still shivering when I finally made it to the dinner table. Two officers came out to apologise to those waiting, but nothing was actually done about it even though people were getting seriously cold. This was absolutely, totally, unacceptable. There was only one entry port open, one x-ray and one metal detector in use – the same facilities you would find on a ship a quarter of the size! Given the demographics of cruise passengers, P&O can consider themselves very lucky they didn’t have any casualties that night.

The ship had numerous leaks through the upper decks, buckets were strewn about all over the place. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – especially as one of the worst (a 7-bucketer) was coming right through a smoke detector. (Presumably an ex-smoke-detector by this time.)

The heating was simply inadequate for high latitudes in winter, probably not helped by the fact that several doors did not close properly and the gangways cannot be isolated from the main interior space of the ship except on Deck A. In Norway people were dining in outdoor jumpers and even coats. The heating also seems to be uncontrollable, since farther south it was often uncomfortably hot! Given those multiple deck leaks whenever there is rain or spray, this is strictly a fair weather ship in its present condition.

On previous cruises I have been accustomed to a number of interesting talks, usually related to the itinerary or seafaring. On this cruise there was only 1 speaker from the Tower of London and he was only scheduled to appear twice in 10 days (admittedly he put in an extra performance on one of the extra sea days following a port cancellation).

Finally we return to Southampton. I have booked for “Express” self-help disembarkation. It has already been made clear that I must adhere strictly to my assigned timeslot for disembarkation. I should have realised, of course, that strict adherence applies only to me, not to P&O. I receive a chit giving me a timeslot of 07:15 - 07:45. The chit specifies Deck 2. And Deck 1. And Deck 2 again. By this time I am not surprised. Deck 2 wins the vote, so I proceed to Deck 2. It turns out to be Deck 1. I carry on down. I reach Deck 1 at 07:30 – right in the middle of the slot. The lift foyer and stairwells are a heaving mass of people and luggage as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear. People have been arriving since just before the timeslot, and at this point – half way through the slot – the gangway is STILL NOT OPEN! A security person eventually appears to say they are still adjusting it. For crying out loud! This is a regular berth in their home port! How hard can it be? Did it not occur to anyone that getting all this sorted BEFORE disembarkation started might just be a rather good idea? Have they never done this before?

Finally we start to move, things get heated and voices are raised as multiple queues converge on the one entry port. Multiple queues have formed because people have been following contradictory instructions from different crew members apparently just “winging it” on their own initiative with no co-ordination. This, it seems, is the P&O way. Eventually, sometime after 8, I make it ashore. What a wonderful way to end a holiday.

“Have they never done this before?” That just about sums up the whole experience. Never before have I witnessed such a sustained and comprehensive display of rank incompetence. Hopefully I never shall again.

Post Date: 28/03/2023
Cruise Overall
Ship Overall
Service Onboard
Public Rooms
Boarding & Disembarking
Value for Money
Review Images
Customer Reviews
Graham wrote a review in Aug, 2021
Arcadia is an adult only ship. The crew from the Captain down were excellent and the cabin steward was exceptional. The food was very good at all times and in all restaurants. The morning messages...
Marion wrote a review in Aug, 2021
treated like royalty by staff although in one of the ordinary cabins. staff excellent and destinations wonderful
Nick wrote a review in Aug, 2021
Covid testing excellent, very well organised. Embarking, an absolute fiasco, queing for well over an hour and by the time we were actually on the ship, over two hours. Our acknowledged booking to eat ...
Skelly wrote a review in Aug, 2021
Iona maiden voyage 7th August, one week no ports touring the UK. The weather was not good, not P&O fault but did detract as a UK based holiday. We had a new conservatory mini suite that was absolutely...

Related Cruises

Western Europe
  • 3 Nights
  • P&O Cruises, Arcadia
Scandinavia And Baltic Sea
  • 16 Nights
  • P&O Cruises, Arcadia
  • Stockholm, Klaipeda, Warnemünde, Aarhus
Norwegian Fjords
  • 12 Nights
  • P&O Cruises, Arcadia
  • Ålesund, Nordfjordeid, Haugesund
World Cruise
  • 99 Nights
  • P&O Cruises, Arcadia
  • Cabo San Lucas, San Francisco, California, Hilo, Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii