Like most of the passenger's aboard, we were doing this cruise to get away form the winter weather. This turned out to be a very lucky choice! From beginning to end we had wall to wall sunshine and calm seas with only a couple of bumpy days leaving and returning to UK home waters. We did have a bit of rain in Tobago and Antigua but it was brief and of the 'liquid sunshine' variety. We've never been so lucky on cruise of any length, let alone 55 nights.
We appreciated the new 'Grand Tour' features - a glass of fizz for everyone on boarding (which was quick in our case), a 'Half Way Round' and a 'Farewell Party' were both included and the Ligurian's had a tea at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami. Not the best of events sadly, tho' it was a good thought. It meant missing most of the attractions during our one day in this lovely city for a start and the organisation was poor. The hotel was fine (Entertainment Manager Hughie quickly found the best bar!) but they failed to get welcome drinks out onto very hot balcony quickly enough and queues formed which the ship's people did little to alleviate. Very big tables meant the food and drink was difficult to manage and a lady singer made conversation very difficult. Apart from Captain Pembridge's, the speeches were rather tedious and our Carnival host's excitement at the impending introduction of Iona was not the best choice of topic for the dyed in the wool 'small ship' audience! But it was good of P&O to lay the event on - they didn't have to. Leaving Ponta Delgada the old 'Great British Sailaway' was superseded by the new-style 'Celebration Sailaway'. Lots of live music from a house band some ice carving and enthusiastic dancing form the Hosts. Personally, we did't miss the jingoistic flag waving and community singing of the old Sailaways ; at least it was a pleasant change.
The destinations were all predictable in the Caribbean. Lots of tours from the excellent Excursions team - often ignored by the passengers who usually rushed ashore on the hunt for WiFi in order to tell their friends what a great time they were having in the Cruise Terminal - what,me cynical?! We had three days in Barbados owing to a medical emergency requiring a fast crossing. The third day we moved to the remote Flour Mill Berth across the main harbour. This would have been a bit of a disaster for a one-day call but it worked for us and lots of others. There was a good beach a couple of hundred yards away and the Mount Gay distillery visitors centre was even closer.
The island chain was a very busy part of the cruise but the weather meant that beaches were a good option everywhere. The highlight for us was a visit to Bob Marley's grave in Jamaica. The whole tour was deafening but quite compelling. We were provided with a meat pie for a snack and were offered unlimited Ganja (eagerly taken up by several passengers).The ports are always interesting and for the first time in the Caribbean we were struck by how many, and how many LARGE ships, were in port. In St Maarten we were not only in with Britannia and Azura but 3 other ships including Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas - 5500 passengers! Having never seen one of the sisters close up she was an awesome sight. In all there were 18000 pax in port - quite overwhelming the lovely town and island. In Cozumel there were even more - 8 ships and 20000 passengers. As we left, Celebrity Edge added a few thousand more.Though Cozumel did cope with the numbers better. We enjoyed chatting to the vast number of Americans who were almost exclusively absorbed by the Harry and Megan story which was live at the time.
For us, the highlight of the cruise was the USA. New Orleans is quite unique and the lively jazz music was everywhere. A number of early Mardi Gras parades made it a treat, For the first time we managed to get a trip on the only steam stern-wheeler 'Natchez'. A very imposing vessel providing our tour with a lovely meal and great sights. In Port Canaveral we went on a lagoon cruise looking at manatee, dolphin and exotic birds. Very well hosted and a marked contrast to all the busy places we'd been.
On the ship the entertainment was copious. Pleasingly there was almost always a 7pm show in Carmen's (the Show Lounge) as well as the main shows in the theatre. For the first time we experienced Club dining times of 6pm and 8pm - the half hour earlier start suited the late sitting particularly and the shows were timed to suit the dining times. One good move by the ship was to introduce a number of Italian evenings in the Beach House and Thai evenings in Sindhu. They made a good change to restaurants that inevitably became unappealing on a long cruise. Well done - a good initiative and apparently well-supported by passengers. We were told that this was because the cruise was 'older' (apparently the average age was 72 which we thought was pretty young!). There were a lot of (variable) tribute acts but some excellent comedians. Unfortunately the Headliners were sidelined a bit. A pity as they were a very good bunch - their 3 hour production of the comedy play 'Relatively Speaking' was played to appreciative and very full theatre.
Our main criticism was of the quizzes which is a staple of P&O's longer cruises. They are always a social event but the quality of the questions was very poor and the individual quiz attendances fell from dozens to less than 10 by the end of the cruise. Maybe not poor, probably badly targeted is more appropriate. The lazier entertainment hosts used the new quizzes provided by P&O. Each is shown on the pub's TVs and has three levels of difficulty - easy, moderate and hard. The general knowledge quizzes we were usually given were targeted at a very different generation to ours - one was even titled 'Family Friendly (9!)'; and this on a child-free ship! Some folk complained that the same people won every time (showing that the best quizzers always have the widest knowledge!) but that matters not to us - we play against our own (dismal) standard!
The passengers were generally very clubbable and the staff were as peerless as usual so we had a great trip. Many of the best crew were destined for Iona (or Virgin Cruises allegedly!) but the cruise was increasingly overshadowed by the emerging Coronavirus pandemic. A cruise ship is ripe for infection even in normal circumstances (we apparently had some 150 chest infections afflicting our cruise) and the publicity given to the problems of Diamond Princess, as well as the impact of the bug on Arcadia's and Cunard's world cruises, meant that we were always aware of what could have happened. We were lucky - what will happen to future cruises and the travel industry in general is yet to emerge. We have a number of future cruises booked - what will happen is anybody's guess
We've had this category of (smaller) balcony before and they are good value. Our stewardess, Araceli, was outstanding. She always had our cabin refreshed by the time we returned from breakfast and we don't think we were singled out for special treatment.
A bit of rain which only contributed to the community spirit. Good beaches and good food (and drink) and a very rude, but thoroughly entertaining, song by one of the crew!View All 123 Catamaran Sail Reviews
Could have done Cane Garden Bay on our own - the only significant part of the tour. And the Bay is still a shadow of its former selfView All undefined undefined Reviews
Far too many ships. We couldn't get off the pier - but found a good bar to share with friends form Azura
We were the only ship in and had the lovely beaches and bars to oursleves
Very noisy, very smoky but very differentView All undefined undefined Reviews
A very prosperous island. Pity about the need to tender (miles out of town!)
A purpose built facility highlighting aspects of Mayan life - food, drink, culture. The 'football' game was both entertaining and very dark and edgyView All undefined undefined Reviews
Too many Americans, and the town at the end of the 4 mile pier wasn't worth visiting
We love real steam ships and the food aboard was very good too.View All undefined undefined Reviews
The Ligurian event meant we missed doing anything else
Relaxing, novel and lots of wildlife. Well narrated tooView All 4 Shallow Water Dolphin Excursion Reviews
A stylish city
A good destination - for one, not two, days. Far too expensive to utilise the overnight properly. But the public transport makes touring easy
Pretty, inexpensive and friendly
Lovely food and lovely gardens. Far better than we imagined it would beView All undefined undefined Reviews