Our 21-day transpacific cruise on the P&O Arcadia began in Valparaiso, Chile. As one leg of a world cruise the boarding process differs a bit from ordinary cruises where the whole ship changes over to a new cruise. Only some passengers stay on for the entire voyage on a world cruise, which in this case took nearly 4 months crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans twice. Other passengers come and go at various points along the way. Some like us take just one leg of the cruise and others take more.
The cruise terminal in Valparaiso looks so like much abandoned building from the outside that we thought it was one. It is not near the dock, which is in a container port. You check in at the terminal near the public pier and then get bused to the ship. People already on board took the same buses from the ship to the terminal whether they were disembarking or just off on shore excursions or exploring on their own for the day. Valparaiso is famous for its street art murals on many buildings and the old funiculars on its steep hillsides.
Most cruises allow people to check in before boarding time and then wait in the terminal until time to board. On this one they did not open the check-in line until just before the boarding time and the people working there were from the ship rather than port employees. They also had no VIP boarding which ships normally have for passengers who have high standings in their loyalty programs or who have booked suites. Things work differently on a world cruise.
Our first night on the ship brought waves high enough to rock the boat all night. Far from not sleeping, it’s like being a baby getting rocked to sleep in a cradle. In the morning there were containers of barf bags by the elevators and some people took them so either they just wanted to be prepared or some felt queasy. The sea calmed down later in the day and we had good weather throughout most of the cruise.
This was our first time sailing with a British cruise line. Arcadia is quite a nice ship and is designated for adults only. We normally opt for dining where you have a time range in which you can show up, which is called by a different name on different lines. Things like your time or anytime dining. On this ship there was an extra charge for that. We booked on a discount site not long before the ship sailed and the freedom dining as it is called on P&O was probably already full as it was not even offered as an option. On cruises with lots of ports we prefer the flexibility of the freedom dining, but on long ocean crossings it’s nice to eat with the same people every night and make new onboard friends. Sometimes they become facebook friends and stay in contact after the cruise.
We had a table for 6 with an Australian and a British couple. Sometimes we didn’t recognize things on the menu, but the food was usually good and the English couple was always happy to explain unfamiliar foods like bubble and squeak or syllabub. We were about 2/3 of the way through the cruise before we realized our waiter didn’t like chocolate as he never recommended anything chocolate to a table full of chocoholics when asked for an opinion on the best dessert of the evening. On this ship after the regular dessert they always brought out a little plate with a bite-sized goodie for everyone with the after-dinner tea.
We had a balcony cabin on deck 5 this cruise. I’ve gotten so used to being a bottom dweller I sometimes would head down to the lower decks out of habit when I should have gone up. A deck near the middle is great for cruises with a lot of sea days because it’s never very many decks up or down to get anywhere. We enjoyed having a balcony again too.
Even though it was expensive we signed up for thermal package. It’s a real back saver on such a long voyage and we used it every day. They don’t have any spa cabins so only people who bought the thermal package could use the hydro pool, heated ceramic chairs, or aromatherapy steam room. They were never crowded except the one day when we skipped a port due to weather. People must have treated themselves to a one day pass that day since they missed their excursions. When the sea got a bit rough the water level in the pool always got lowered, but they filled it up again when it calmed. The pool is definitely nicer with more water in it.
Each of the ship’s three stairways has a different color carpet and a different sort of artwork to help people know where they are within the ship.
The ship always had group of temporary entertainers on board to keep passengers busy throughout the long crossing. They had guest lecturers daily with topics as diverse as computer security, birds, mystery writers and antiques during the time we spent on board. They had two speakers at a time and changed them in Tahiti along with some other temporary entertainers.
Passengers can also participate in art, Spanish, or bridge lessons from other guest entertainers who stayed for the entire cruise. Each day brought a number of games conducted by the ship’s own entertainment staff. Music, dancing, and dance lessons figure into the daily offerings as well as nightly theater shows from outside entertainers like comedians or musicians or the ship’s own cast with song and dance productions.
The fifth of our 9 sea days in a row after leaving Chile brought us past Easter Island. Some of the moai the island is famous for were just visible from the ship. We sailed past one side of the island, then turned and sailed by another side before turning away and continuing on towards Tahiti.
We enjoyed the view from the ship throughout the voyage. It mostly consisted of a lot of blue, blue water often topped by mini whitecaps. Out in the distance we could see the curve of the earth making it easy to understand how ancient people who thought the earth was flat would think they could fall off the edge if they got too close. The ship’s passage churned the water right next to and behind it to white or lighter blue. Now and then flying fish jumped out of the way, gliding above the water’s surface like little birds until they felt safe enough to disappear back into the water’s depths. White fluffy clouds often broke up the blue of the sky, a lighter shade than the sapphire blue water.
Sunshine graced most of our days, though we did have a few gray and rainy ones. The air temperature became noticeably warmer as we approached the island jewels of French Polynesia, but the weather that stayed so nice throughout much of our time at sea was not so cooperative for some of our ports.
Unfortunately we missed our port stop at Bora Bora due to stormy weather. I had really looked forward to snorkeling there, but better a missed port than the ship hitting a reef. We had 70mph winds that night with pretty high seas. The barf bags appeared by the elevators again. Some people did stay to their cabins, but plenty of people were out and about and feeling fine. Growing up I was always the one to get carsick, seasick, or sick on rides, but so far I have never been seasick on a cruise ship.
On board we discovered a new game called deck quoits. New to us anyway, not to the British that made up the majority of the ship’s passengers. It’s similar to the bean bag toss AKA cornhole played on some American ships. Instead of tossing bean bags at a little stand with holes in it, rope donuts get tossed toward a target painted on the deck with very specific rules about scoring. People could play on their own most of the time, but twice daily they held a very popular competition.
The first few times I never made it out of the first bracket (in other words never won a game) but then one day I made it all the way to the finals. They randomly assign partners so you are paired with someone different each game. Besides being a way to meet new people, it also keeps the ones who are dead serious about the game and really good at it from always pairing up with each other. My partner hadn’t made it to the finals yet this cruise and I hadn’t even made it out of the first bracket yet, but we managed to hold our own against a pair who had each won several times, only losing the final by a few points. I was just happy that I managed to score some points in each game.
I got 5 points in one go once, but at that point we only needed 2 for the win so it would have been better if I could have thrown like that when we really needed it like my partner did a couple times. In deck quoits the ladies get to throw from a line closer to the target than the men and teams are normally one man and one woman, but if more of one sex showed up than the other a team or two ended up both the same.
On our last day I had a team with another woman. Once again we made it to the finals – only this time my team won! I guess I’m an all or nothing gal because when I made it past the first bracket I made it to the finals. I even scored the winning points to end the game, winning my first and only gold sticker of the cruise. On the last day before disembarking they have a prize room set up for half an hour where passengers can exchange their stickers for prizes. The more stickers you win the better prizes you can choose. The British lady we had dinner with also went to the deck quoits regularly and up until this point none of us had won, but before this final we knew somebody from our table finally would as she was on the opposing team. I thought it would be her because she was a better player than me, but I got lucky and had both a good round and a good partner.
The ship also held shuffleboard competitions at the same time as deck quoits and throughout the day they had the usual trivia, bingo, and the other sorts of games always found on ships. Some days they also had blackjack or roulette tournaments in the casino. These had cash prizes so of course we didn’t win.
Each afternoon they had wii bowling. Most days each person got 2 rounds, but if there were a lot of people each person got only one. My first time I got the lowest score of anyone, but the next time I got 2nd place. I never won, but after that first day I got respectable scores each time. The Australian couple we ate dinner with started coming to that too and each of them won it once.
Food is always a big thing on cruise ships. In addition to the usual lunchtime fare sometimes they had barbecues on the Lido deck and on Sundays they had a big setup out by the pool for Sunday roast. On Valentines Day they had a chocolate buffet on the Lido.
The gym held a variety of exercise classes each day, some with a charge and others free. I tried a couple of the free ones and they really give you a good workout in half an hour even if you can’t do all the things they ask.
We skipped one day during the cruise because of crossing the international dateline. Cruise ships always have a daily newsletter with all the events and activities of the day. On P&O they call it Horizon. For the day we skipped they sent a spoof newsletter called Horisn’t. It listed all sorts of events for that day only that would never really happen since that day never happened. It was hilarious. Here’s a few samples:
Spa special of the day – Guaranteed Weight Loss
Brand new treatment! Guaranteed weight loss in our Piranha fish tank. Cost: An arm and a leg.
Tonight’s Themed Dinner- Airplane Food
Tonight’s dress code – your favorite superhero
Special of the day in the shops – Anything Goes! Today only your shop manager will happily helicopter in anything you want at no extra charge. You can collect your order on the next blue moon.
Activities for the day
SHARK BAITING – volunteers needed
WATER SKIING – hang on tight for the ride of your life
CAPTAIN’S JACKPOT BINGO – a full house in 10 numbers or less and you win the Captain to take home as a souvenir!
The spoof newsletter had classes like art forgery for beginners and kleptomaniac’s towel folding where you come with someone else’s towel. The afternoon fun included mobility scooter races and a food fight. In-cabin TV had recommended programs from various crew or passengers including Four Welders and a Funnel from the chief engineer, Faulty Showers from Kev the plumber, Bleaches from the cleaners, The Booze Brothers from the bar staff, Free Willy from Traveling Alone, The Man with the Iron Task from husbands doing the laundry, and from the medics Saving Ryan’s Privates. There was also a notice saying the entire crew got the day off.
After crossing the Pacific the ship made 3 stops in New Zealand before continuing on to Australia where our leg of the cruise ended. As Americans we were the rarity on this cruise since there were very few on the ship. Being a British ship, the majority of passengers came from the UK. Quite a few Aussies got on in Chile, as they only had to fly one way across the ocean. Some Chileans got on there for the same reason. In Auckland we picked up quite a few people from New Zealand and of course the ship had a smattering of passengers from other countries as well. The crew came mostly from India. Some came from other places, but very few from the USA or Canada.
We were 2 of a total of just 6 Americans on board. At one point we overheard someone say they thought of Americans as loud people with cameras. Just a day or two later as we stood in line at the poolside grill with cameras hanging around our necks one of the few other Americans made quite a scene yelling at the girl working there for not making him a rare burger even though doing so would be a health code violation she could get fired for.
Another time at the evening show the British comedian made a comment that the Americans in the audience wouldn’t get some of his jokes. We didn’t. I guess they had us pegged pretty well.