A Very British Cruise Experience – Onboard with P&O
This was my fourth cruise and also my first cruise without a flight, hence this was always going to be an opportunity to get a very different cruise experience, from other cruise trips I had done before. Cruising the Caribbean last year, having to be de-iced (the airplane that is) as we sat on the tarmac, as the snow poured down at Heathrow Airport, London, we were already stressed. The threat of a cancelled flight and what would have been a ruined cruise, were looking likely at the time. Despite the cancellation of many flights that day, we did make it to Miami and somehow we were onboard for the 4 days cruise around the Caribbean with NCL cruises (before we would then spend a week in the Fort Lauderdale area – city I love.
Two years before that and a similarly stressful start the cruise from Venice, Italy, involved trying to get our bags across the city, whilst trying to understand the boat timetables (and my wife is Italian) and then to deal with the chaos that ensued in the baggage drop off area for the cruise (this was also an NCL cruise). It was after those two cruises that we decided that we would have to try a cruise only. No flights, no luggage limits, no having to carry luggage and no airports. We also wanted to experience a cruise where tipping did not become something that would seem stressful.
Agreeing to the standard tips per person per day for the cruise staff in the cost we paid before the cruise, and then finding tips added onto the drinks and then with a line for a tip on top of the tips, to add more on if we wished. it’s too much. Having already tipped, it seemed quite dispiriting also for staff on some cruises who seemed to expect tips. Nothing could defeat our love of cruising but we knew that there had to be a better way and even greater experience.
The dilemma when traveling from the UK on a cruise is that if you want to do so without any flight, you will often have to spend 2 days on the boat until you hit warmer weather. Unless you are lucky, you might start the first few days of your cruise enjoying cloudy weather, as you leave Southampton Port. Furthermore, if you are cruising down to the Canary Islands or down the coast of Portugal and Spain, you have to sail through the often dreaded Bay of Biscay, a place where the seas can be particularly rough. Apart from avoiding flights, experiencing a more British cruise (to avoid issues such as triple tipping) and to avoid the man-made and sterile Caribbean excursion on cruise line owned islands (such as Great Stirrup Cay) and which are very inauthentic, was the key plan. I just love ports which are real places and even if they are touristy (we are all tourists), I love to see real locals in these places.
The P&O Experience
With my reasons for trying a P&O cruise from Southampton, England, now let me tell you about the trip. The beauty of a no-fly cruise is as you can imagine, the chance to drive directly to the port. In order to avoid traffic and confusion in the port itself though, we booked for a space in one of the car parks which are on the outskirts of the city and which come with an organised mini-bus to the boat, with the car parking area in a secured area. We took the bags out of the boot of our car and they were put straight into the back of the mini-bus and the next time we touched them was in the cabin of the cruise boat! Bliss! So easy!
This particular cruise was an adults only one – meaning no children and it soon became clear as soon as we boarded, that the combination of P&O and no children, means a quite old age range on a P&O cruise. Some of the passengers checking in looked as though they might be lucky to survive the 10 days cruise. After a smooth check-in and soon onboard, we immediately felt at home. For British travelers having a kettle and tea-bags in the cabin, decent and proper tea bags in the buffet areas, for a nice cuppa, are essential basics, along with a decent pub on the boat, which the Arcadia has.
The cruise got off to a flying start and did at every port we left on the trip, with what P&O term a ‘Sail Away’ party. Union jack flags everywhere, staff doing a number of dance and singing routines to old classics from the war years, on the top deck. Not my cup of tea but as the champagne flowed and with a good atmosphere, the Sail Away parties are certainly are an experience, and immediately the experience felt a relaxed one.
Having tried outside cabins on previous cruises and realising that we rarely got to look out of the cabin window because we were rarely in the room, except to change, to sleep or during the hours when it was dark outside anyway. Add onto that the fact that you can put your television on, you can see the view from the front of the boat, as though your TV were a port window, we decided an inside cabin would be fine. I can honestly say that the only real difference to our holiday in terms of inside or outside cabin was that we saved a few hundred pounds in the cruise cost!
No Tipping Problems
The difference between cruises in locations such as the Caribbean which are heavily influenced by American cruisers, and Europe, such as on a P&O cruise (in Europe or wherever they travel given that P&O do world cruises) from the moment we got on the boat, was clear. USA is my favourite country to travel and NYC my favourite place worldwide and I spent 3 years travelling USA and thus have an affinity with America. On cruise ships though I found that issues surrounding tipping is too much for many of us European travellers, who like to relax whilst on holiday and not to be constantly pressured to give away money for the most basic task. Buy a beer from the pub onboard and there was no triple tipping expected and prices for a decent pint of beer (which not possible on the other cruises) was possible. The staff also looked much more relaxed i.e. with the worry of trying to allure customers into tipping. In fact it seems as though P&O give a small percentage of sales to staff and this works better for everyone involved.
A Unique Cultural experience
Certain elements of this very British cruise made the experience certainly more memorable and a far more interesting and fun experience than every other cruise we had been on, and this is even after factoring in the no-flight aspect. Afternoon tea with cream scones, pots of tea and an array of cakes and sandwiches, all made in the way you would expect if you were in the Dorchester Hotel, London, Decent beer, live Premiership football and Sail Away parties. What a fantastic cruise! P&O do have a very loyal following and they may or might not be to your liking. You might want to try though.
Paul mentions taking a no-fly cruise by cruising from a port near you, which does save time and money from flying to the starting port. I have tried that a few times, with shuttles to the port in Seattle and driving to Vancouver BC. The shuttles worked out well, but we did have a bit of a hitch in Vancouver (our own fault though.) We could have used some wayfinding assistance on that one!