My BF was keen to go again after our last (and first) cruise on the biggest ship in the world, Harmony of the Seas. We considered many and in the end chose a Norwegian Fjords cruise.
I did have to be talked into it, but was convinced, on the basis that this was probably the only way i’d have ever got to see Norway. I had long resigned myself to the fact that we would never go to Norway, on account of the fact that it is so expensive, and there are very few (or no) flights from near where we live. Even if you can fly into the capital, the small villages you can see on this cruise like Olden would have taken ages to get to overland. Plus, seeing the fjords is best done on a boat anyway, so the alternative would be to struggle to get there by land, only to go on a boat for a fjords cruise anyway! Plus, this was one place where it is cheaper to cruise there than stay on land (flights + hotel + 2 meals a day would have been too expensive for us). So Norway it was!
We chose P&O as it was going on the dates we had booked off work, and it seemed to offer the best value. Plus 2 sets of our friends have gone and enjoyed it. We were going on one of P&O’s smaller ships, the Arcadia, but we were interested to try it since it would be infinitely smaller than Harmony of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. I will write a blog later comparing the two.
So here is an account of our time on board:
The Food was a definite highlight of the trip. The main restaurant was lovely – quite posh with very attentive service, and very good presentation and taste. You select from a menu like a normal restaurant. I’m not as keen on this as you have to make your choice based on the menu, and you only get one shot. Just a like a normal restaurant, I guess! 🙂 Most of the time I loved it, but one night I had a mushroom tart which wasn’t great. But overall the food was fantastic.
If you’re feeling like being more casual, the buffet was also absolutely lovely and had a good range of foods – an extensive salad bar, a cold seafood selection (prawns, smoked salmon etc), lovely hot foods, and desserts. The desserts were nice but the mains were the highlight! The menu changed daily and you had themed dinner nights eg. Indian night, Mediterranean night, etc. The staff here were excellent and very prompt to offer drinks, clear tables, etc. We loved it here and I found that I ate much more healthily than normal – it turns out that when there’s salad and seafood available, I will always flock to that! 🙂
We went to afternoon tea one day. This was a real treat, and you pay a lot of money in posh hotels in the UK for this. I think in some posh London hotels it’s £50 each for afternoon tea. I can’t imagine that would be better than this! You get tea served to the table (or coffee, as i’m awkward!), and waiters go round with savoury treats – sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiches. Then, you have a plate of the most pretty and delicious cakes on your table, so you just help yourself! This is defo something to try, and it’s all included in the price.
There were also 2 restaurants (one Marco Pierre White restaurant, and one Indian restaurant) which you have to pay about £20 each for. We didn’t try these; as another couple said, we have paid enough for the cruise and the food that is included is lovely, so why would we pay more for that? Maybe if you have onboard spending money to burn…
It was so hedonistic to have food on tap (almost) any time of day and night. It meant that we could operate on our own time, and if we fancied a lie-in, we could have it and not miss breakfast. My Mum warned me that I would put on weight, and I will concede that we ate more than I’d expected. What happens on the Cruise, Stays on the Cruise!! ha ha! But after feeling full on day 1, I made an effort to eat lighter, so I always had cereal and yoghurt for breakfast instead of a fry-up etc.
You can also get room service which is free unless you order certain things, but we didn’t do this.
For drinks, there is free water, tea and coffee on the ship. At breakfast there was also juice (orange, apple and one other). If you want other drinks like Coke, Lemonade, or Alcohol, you have to pay for it. The prices were reasonable however, and we bought a drinks card for £35 for 20 Pepsi / Lemonades. This works out to £1.75 a drink, and they were pint glasses so it was fair value.
There were 2 main swimming pools; one indoor and one outdoor, and around 5 hot tubs. The outdoor pools and 2 hot tubs were situated on the back deck with a lovely view over the back of the ship. The indoor ones were under a glass roof, which we think was retractable (but it was always closed on our cruise!). Most people enjoyed the indoor ones due to the warmer climate, but we loved the outdoor pools because they were emptier. We sailed down Songefjorden in a hot tub which was a lovely experience.
There was also a hydrotherapy pool, but we didn’t use that as you had had to pay £20 extra.
We did use the tennis court, which doubles up as a basketball court and cricket pitch at different times of day. This was a bit of fun and a way to burn off some energy after all the food!
We also tried the golf driving range thing (basically a tent with a tee in it, and you hit the ball at the back wall of the tent) but I didn’t think this was great – pretty much a gimmick!
There were also shuffleboard lines drawn on deck so we had a go at that too!
Every day a newsletter is put in your cabin with the programme for the next day, and there were lots of talks, classes, and sports competitions. Some of the talks are also broadcast on the TV in your rooms afterwards, as a “catch up” service, so we heard an interesting talk on the Marie Celeste from a historian. We also went to the Rock n Roll and Jive dance class. This was really good, and the instructors taught the fancy footwork, so me and my BF are now able to do a basic dance as partners – a big achievement! 🙂
I shouldn’t forget the Casino also, which had slots, roulette and blackjack. This was fun and is opposite a pub – the Rising Sun, where there were pub quizzes, karaoke, or bands playing.
In terms of Entertainment, there was one large theatre which had a headliner show every evening, showing at 8.30pm and 10.30pm. We saw a singer, a trumpet player, and a theatre company doing musical / dance numbers. To be honest, I didn’t come away thinking “that was amazing!”, but it was certainly entertaining and good enough to keep you entertained for an hour or so.
There were also several bands who played throughout the ship in different bars, and we spent many an evening watching them. They were really good and my fave was “Blue Wave” who played a lot of 60s and 70s classics.
We paid extra (about £150 each extra) for a balcony cabin. I’m normally loathed to pay more for things, but I decided it was important for me, as I get sea sick, so the ability to see the horizon and get fresh air whenever I need it (even at 3am in my nightie!) was essential. It’s possible that I would be Ok in an inside cabin, but having devoted 1 week and lots of money to this holiday, it’s not a chance I want to take. I either have a balcony or I don’t go.
The cabin was very comfortable and clean, with a sitting area (sofa, coffee table, desk) as well as the bed area, en suite bathroom, and balcony. They allocate a “cabin steward” to every block of cabins. I think I upset our cabin steward as I put the “do not disturb” sign on our door and he seemed most put out that he could not clean the room. After this we seemed to get on OK and I think he wised-up and realised that if we didn’t require any cleaning, he could go off shift earlier! 🙂
On this cruise we could not choose our cabin (or, you could if you paid quite a lot more), and we were allocated one half way down the ship (great!) but right at the front of the ship, which is not what I would have chosen, due to worries about sea sickness. But it turned out to be absolutely fine. We didn’t feel the movement of the ship in the cabin any more than the rest of the ship.
The service was excellent on the ship. There were so many staff so you never had to wait for service, and everyone was so attentive and nice. That said, I feel that staff should be adequately paid by their employers, so that any charitable giving from me can be to charities who are saving lives or fighting cancer etc. But for some reason it is acceptable and expected that we tip. P&O automatically adds a £6 per person per day onto your credit card for a tip, so on a 7 day cruise for both of us this adds up to £84. These charges are applied to your account, along with anything else you have spent onboard, on the last evening of the cruise. However this is a discretionary amount so if you want to, you can go to Customer Services before the last evening and ask to vary it or even remove it.
Embarkation and Debarkation
Unfortunately, boarding was a nightmare. We were given a time to arrive (no choice) and those who arrived in their slot were went to the back of a queue and handed a piece of paper (a public health declaration to say if we had had diarrhoea or vomiting in the last day or similar, which we needed to sign and date). I couldn’t find a pen so we had to wait until the desk. There were plenty of check-in agents behind desks who checked us in, and then we were given a ticket and sent upstairs to take a seat. When we got upstairs there was a sea of people – basically a warehouse of people sitting down and waiting to go through security. We waited about 30-40 minutes here, but obv at the time you have no idea how long you’re gonna be there so it’s frustrating. When we finally went through security we walked onto the ship no problem. Also, although it’s not that important, the dock that the ship was parked at (gate 4, berth 38-39) was pretty far from Southampton centre and the train station so it took us about an hour to walk there.
However Debarkation was brilliant. We were invited to choose a disembarkation slot. We chose the latest one: 9.45 – 10am. We still had to be out of our cabin by 8am, and out of breakfast by 8.30am, so we went to breakfast with our bags and sat around having a leisurely breakfast by the pool, my BF lay on a sunbed, and then before we knew it it was time to go to our disembarkation point. It was stress free, and as relaxing as an early morning can be. It also helped that the ship had put their clocks back the night before, so when we had to clear the cabin by 8, it was really 9am.
On P&O (on our ship anyway) the life-jackets are stored in the cabins. Before we left port we had the muster drill, and we were asked to return to our cabin and get our life-jacket. It wasn’t in the cupboard labelled “lifejacket” and we found it in another cupboard – so it was a good job we had this drill! We then had to congregate in our pre-allocated point. Ours was the large theatre, which was full – so about 700 people. I think there were 3 assembly points on the ship. What worried me about this was the pace at which we proceeded to our muster point. The demographic is older and we moved at a snail’s pace down the stairs (you obv can’t use the lifts). I said to my BF “if there’s a slow emergency, like the ship slowly sinks over several hours, we’ll get there in time, but if there is a fast emergency, we are in trouble!”. I think smaller muster stations works better, but I guess it also depends on the size of the ship. The staff demonstrated the life-jackets and then we were all asked to put our own life jacket on, which I thought was fantastic, and means people are much more likely to be able to use them if they ever had to. They asked us to swipe our ID card with staff on the way out, but we forgot and there was no staff member asking us to do so on the way in or out of the drill. This is a little worrying as they don’t know if we attended or not! (We took photos of each other in our lifejackets during the muster drill so we have proof that we did!)
Over the course of the week they then tested the safety alarm (7 short blasts and 1 long) once or twice more to make sure we all remembered it. I thought that was brilliant also. Also, they did two more drills for staff during the course of the week – one when we were in dock and the staff had to practise their “abandon ship” drill. It was interesting to see them launch all the lifeboats, and it made me feel much safer, as I strongly agree that it is important that staff and guests practice what you would actually do, rather than learn it once in theory. They also did a “man overboard” drill one morning, but I was in bed so I didn’t get up to see what they did – (I would have poked my head over the balcony to watch but it was on the other side of the ship!).
So what did i think after my 7-day cruise? I loved it! It was very relaxing so if you want to live the easy life and have a complete break from the norm, this is fantastic. You are also spoilt by all the facilities, pools, food etc. It is a blissful experience.
It is also like Christmas morning every day when you wake up not knowing what the view will be from your window! And for someone like me who loves sightseeing from the top deck of ferries, there is plenty of that! We saw container ships, a ship carrying a crane, oil rigs, a baby dolphin / porpoise, and a potential sighting of a pod of dolphins (a lady said she saw them jumping out of the water, but by the time we got there all we could see was splashing and a dark shape which we couldn’t be certain wasn’t a rock!).
Overall, we loved the cruise. We visited Stavenger, Olden, Flam, and Bergen. See my next blogs about each of these places!
Next blog: Stavenger, Norway
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