Arcadia is one of the line's three adult-only vessels and became one of the first P&O ships to offer weddings because its Bermudian registry allows captains to marry couples at sea.
Arcadia offers a raft of attractive facilities including excellent entertainment and top-notch speciality dining to appeal to P&O's mature and predominantly British passengers who rate style, ambience and a relaxed atmosphere over gimmicks and adrenaline-fuelled activities.
Arcadia has an interesting background: Unlike P&O's purpose-built vessels, Arcadia was originally ordered in 2000 by Holland America Line, destined to become the fifth Vista-class ship. Then it was allocated to Cunard as the next Queen Victoria, before being launched in 2005 under the P&O Cruises brand. (Ship aficionados can spot tell-tale signs of its previously intended guise, such as an adapted Cunard-style funnel). The atrium is also smaller, and not quite the heart of the ship as it is on its sister vessels.
Based in Southampton and sailing on a variety of itineraries from short taster cruises to round-the-world voyages, the bright (but tasteful) refit brings Arcadia in line with the fleet's newer vessels.
By day the atmosphere is easy-going, and most passengers opt for casual shirts, shorts, trousers and beachwear. From 6 p.m. the dress code is formal or "evening casual" in bars and restaurants. There are usually four formal nights on two-week cruises (usually on sea days) and for cruises over seven nights there is a black and white themed ball. P&O cruisers love to dress up and even on three-night itineraries you can expect one formal night.
P&O defines evening casual as separates or dresses for ladies and open-neck polo shirts and casual trousers (not shorts) for men. Smart dark denim is also fine but not trainers, football shirts or tracksuits and passengers typically err towards the smarter side of casual.
Black tie nights are glamorous affairs, with passengers keen to go with the flow rather than buck the trend. If you want to break out a full-length ball gown on formal evenings you won't look out of place. For men, dinner jackets or tuxedos are the norm, but a dark lounge or business suit and tie can be worn as an alternative.
The two-level Palladium Theatre, located forward and accessible from Deck 1, 2 and 3, presents solid cruise ship entertainment. You won't find West End shows with jaw-dropping special effects, but you can expect a good spread of crowd-pleasing song and dance revues, bands and comics aimed at British tastes. On our cruise there was a fantastic male harmony group, The 4 Tunes, who performed songs from the shows and a great set of numbers by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Comedian John Martin, who holds the Guinness World Record for non-stop joke telling (101 hours and 39 minutes), certainly put his rib-tickling stamina to the test. One night, when the resident in-house performance group Headliners Theatre Company were forced to pull the plug on their "Killer Queen" show, due to a combination of injury and illness, John stepped into the breach at the very last minute and took the stage with another complete show (and, possibly not surprisingly, a whole new repertoire of jokes).
The theatre hosts two shows nightly, at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., to accommodate the two set dining times. There are two small waiting areas near the lower entrance, where you can sit and have a drink next to giant egg-shaped sculptures. Inside, the theatre offers comfortable raked individual seats and banquettes, plus stools against bar-style tables in "the gods" at the back of the auditorium on Deck 3 (useful for any late arrivals). There are also two boxes with six seats in each, but the large plastic safety screen across the front is reflective and rather distracting if you want a really good view of the stage.
Organised activities include traditional staples such as shuffleboard, deck quoits and talks about forthcoming ports or general interest topics including art. From 2 p.m. the entertainment hosts spin easy-listening tunes around the Aquarius Pool, where things liven up during sail away dance parties featuring a cocktail of the day (additional charge).
The versatile Globe venue (Deck 2) screens recently released films twice daily (on our cruise these included "Wild", "The Theory of Everything" and "Into the Woods"). There is no need to reserve seats for these films. The Globe is also used for prize bingo. Team and individual quizzes are held regularly in various lounges, and passengers can also pick up trivia and quiz sheets from the library to fill in at leisure.
The intimate 30-seat Screening Room cinema, on Deck 3, shows the same films as the Globe at 12:05 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. daily. Due to the small size of the room, complimentary tickets need to be reserved in advance from the librarian. The huge, extremely comfortable high-backed seats, which include a drink holder and small table beside each one, can be almost fully reclined and when the lights went down in the dark red room I'm sure we weren't the only ones to nod off at some point!
Complimentary dance classes take place on all cruises with seven or more days at sea and there are also art classes, bridge sessions and guest speakers (two on cruises over 20 nights duration).
There's live music at various bars and lounges around the ship. Karaoke fans can exercise their vocal chords in the Rising Sun, while the Globe moves seamlessly from Latin and ballroom dancing at the beginning of the evening to a disco for night owls. The large Monte Carlo casino, on Deck 2, has slot machines and gaming tables and is open from 8:30 p.m. until late.
Intermezzo (Deck 2): This classy, small bar is richly decorated in shades of deep blue and red and is ideally placed for a cocktail before dinner at the adjoining Ocean Grill. It is open from 5 p.m. until late. Throughout the bars, drinks are reasonably priced compared with other lines and don't incur an additional service charge. Draught beers, such as John Smith's and Carling, are £3.85 a pint, the majority of cocktails are £4.50 and a glass of wine starts at £3.75.
The Rising Sun (Deck 2): Decorated with sporting and musical memorabilia, the vessel's popular "pub" offers a selection of bottled and on tap beers, broadcasts sport on wide-screen TVs and has a small stage for resident bands and karaoke fans. The pub is open from 11 a.m. to late.
Spinnaker Bar (Deck 2): The ship's largest bar is next to the lower level entrance to the Meridian Restaurant, so gets busy around dining times. The maritime-themed area is broken up with some interesting seascapes, detailed models of old sailing ships and a brass ship's bell. Open 8 a.m. to late.
The Globe (Deck 2): Also completely renovated during the refit, this area has now been completely closed off to improve the sound quality inside and reduce the level of noise outside. Party animals can dance the night away without disturbing other passengers. After any daytime activities, the venue is open in the evening from 7 p.m. until late.
Caffe Vivo (Deck 3): Lacking natural light, this small, tucked away café seems to be a bit of a space filler and afterthought. The cakes and pastries look delicious, but you need to buy a speciality coffee or other drink in order to get one. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Piano Bar (Deck 9): Another elegant area, providing a wonderful view of the circular richly coloured atrium roof with its subtle changing light patterns. Open 10 a.m. to late.
Aquarius Bar (Deck 9): This bar serves the pool of the same name and is buzzing during sail aways and al-fresco entertainment sessions. Open 10 a.m. to late.
Neptune Bar (Deck 9): The semi-circular bar can also be found beside its pool namesake and is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Crow's Nest (Deck 10): Situated forward, right at the top of the ship, this lovely venue was transformed during the refit, with new flooring, seating, lighting, an extended bar and partition walls to break up the space. With its panoramic windows, it's the perfect spot to relax during the day and enjoy pre- and post-dinner drinks with live music in the evening. It is open from 11 a.m. to late.
East Bar (Deck 11): A contemporary Asia-themed bar, with wicker seating and pretty plant decorations, it overlooks the Neptune Pool and is popular with guests dining in the adjoining East restaurant. Open to all passengers from 5 p.m. to late.
There are two pools on the Lido Deck (Deck 9). The Aquarius Pool, located aft and used for sail away parties, is the noisiest and most crowded, particularly on sunny days. It has ample sunbathing space, two whirlpools and a sheltered area with tables and chairs. The midship Neptune Pool, on the same deck, has three whirlpools and a retractable glass roof. It's a much quieter area, where many passengers snooze or read, in between taking an occasional dip. Both pools have a good depth, more so than American ships, and you can have a proper swim.
Fun and games are traditional rather than full-on. This is not the ship for waterslides and climbing walls. There are golf nets and a sports court for deck tennis, football and other games on the top Sky Deck (although I never saw anyone using them during our cruise). You can also play quoits, shuffleboard, and table tennis by the Neptune Pool.
A standout feature is the traditional wraparound Promenade Deck (Deck 3), which is completely open apart from the small covered forward section. The reclining chairs, which are comfortable but not luxurious, provide a good vantage point to sit and watch the sea and enjoy some fresh air. The Sun Deck, on two levels around the Aquarius Pool, is the favourite spot for catching the rays, but fills up quickly. Although rather characterless, there's a large area of empty deck space forward on the Sky Deck. There are no facilities, other than loungers, making it an ideal spot for passengers in search of peace and quiet.
The library on the Promenade Deck (Deck 3) is outstanding, with large windows, squashy sofas, tables spread with glossy magazines and a vast collection of books -- popular and classic novels, non-fiction and travel guides -- that are free to borrow and colour coded in 10 different categories, making it easier to locate different titles. You need to check them out with the librarian who is on duty from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. There's also a shelf with books that other passengers have finished and fellow cruisers are free to take (with an especially good choice at the end of a world cruise!). DVDs are also available free of charge for passengers to watch on their laptops. There's also a card/jigsaw table and a selection of jigsaws and board game that passengers can borrow.
The Internet room (open 24 hours) is within the library, with a printer and seven computers available for guest use. P&O Cruises offers three 24-hour internet packages, which can be purchased onboard or prior to sailing.
The Connect Package (£7.75 for 24 hours) provides social media access and internet messaging services; The Browse Package (£12.50) offers internet browsing (with the exception of video streaming), internet messaging, email and social network access; and The Works Package (£24.95) offers web browsing, including YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music streaming, video calls, email, instant messenger services and social media access.
Arcadia's Piccadilly shopping area, also on Deck 3, underwent a complete revamp and expansion during the 2013 refurbishment. It has an open-plan layout with sparkling glass cabinets, display units and LED lights. Aiming to create the feeling of a small department store, it includes famous names such as Harrods, Givenchy, Benefit, Gerry Weber and Ted Baker, luxury watch and jewellery brands, perfumes, P&O logowear and souvenirs, plus everyday items and essentials.
Next to the shopping area is the photographic studio, and on the same deck are the quiet multi-purpose Ocean and Bay rooms, used for pursuits such as whist and bridge and also available for private meetings. With no space taken up by children's facilities, another multi-purpose room is the Viceroy, high on the Sky Deck. Among other things, it is used for weddings and vow renewals and can seat up to 25 guests. The Retreat, on the Sun Deck, is a larger multi-purpose room with floor-to-ceiling windows that can accommodate 40 guests for weddings.
There are very detailed presentations on all ports of call, which are also screened on the TV in the cabin.
The large walk-through art gallery can be found on Deck 2, and the reception and shore excursion desks are located next to each other on Deck 1.
There are public laundry rooms, with washing machines, dryers and ironing boards on Deck 4, Deck 5 and Deck 6.
The Oasis Spa, located forward on the Lido Deck (Deck 8), is a tranquil retreat with a large reception area that leads to eight treatment rooms and a relaxation area. Open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on sea days and until 10 p.m. on port days, the spa menu features Elemis products and includes manicure, pedicure, beauty treatments and massages for men and women. More unusual treatments include a bamboo massage (£93), lime and ginger body scrub (£93) and a seaweed massage (£114). Spa lovers who want to push the boat out can have a 75-minute 24 Karat Gold Facial (£230) or customise 180 minutes of treatments -- from a choice of options -- for £330. A five percent gratuity is added to spa bills. There is also a unisex hair salon.
To avoid disappointment, especially on shorter cruises, and to take advantage of any special deals, it's always worth pre-booking treatments. Spa discounts are often offered during a cruise on port days, when many passengers are ashore.
In common with many lines, P&O charges to use the attractive Thermal Suite in the spa area. This includes aromatic showers, sauna and steam rooms, heated mosaic stone beds and an indoor hydrotherapy pool with various water jets. Day passes cost £20 and the price is reduced if you book for several days or the entire cruise. Numbers are restricted so this area is never crowded.
Fitness fans can work off the inevitable surfeit of cruise ship calories in the impressively large gym, next to the spa. Stretching across the front of the vessel, the aerobic equipment includes treadmills, bikes, cross-trainers and rowing machines. There are also static and free weights, Swiss balls, yoga mats and a wood-floored workout area that is also used for fitness talks. The gym is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Retreat, a large room on the Sun Deck (Deck 10) is also used for health and fitness talks and classes. Free activities include staff-led early morning and sunset stretching classes, walk a mile around the Promenade Deck (three laps if you want to do it under your own steam) and various exercise to music classes, such as Fab Abs. Other classes, including yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, group cycling and kettle bell sessions are £7 each. Alternatively, £89 will buy a pass for unlimited classes throughout the cruise. Personal training is available for £47 for a one-hour session or £131 for three.
Passengers can jog around the Promenade Deck and there are no time restrictions.
Meridian Restaurant (Deck 2 and 3): Spanning two decks, the Meridian is the main dining room, with an eye-catching central staircase and pretty glass design features. It serves good-quality food marred by what is, at times, a pretty chaotic environment with impersonal and inconsistent service.
Breakfast features everything you'd expect, from light and healthy options to the full-on British fry-up. The waiter service can vary, with some being very co-operative about individual likes and dislikes (for instance not including elements of a cooked breakfast) and others not quite as accommodating.
Lunch is a la carte with dishes including soup, pies and lighter dishes while afternoon tea includes tasty treats of sandwiches, toasted tea cakes, scones and cakes. This is served during a small window of opportunity in just one section of the restaurant, which can lead to large queues. Again, the waiter service can be erratic. Sometimes there is constant attention with instant food and tea refills, other times it can be difficult to get service.
At night the Meridian operates the familiar dining system of two sittings, where passengers dine at the same table each night. The upper tier of the restaurant is for passengers who have opted for Freedom Dining, which in theory means you can turn up at any time. In practice many people all pitch up around the popular time slot of 8 p.m., leading to a wait for tables (particularly for groups wanting to sit together) and daily announcements asking passengers to consider dining earlier.
Tables are for two, four, six or eight people (with tables for 10 available on request). There are few two-tops, so it is likely you will end up sitting with other passengers. Although it is unreasonable to expect waiters to constantly walk up and down the cavernous dining room to show guests to their tables, being summoned to your seat by a chain of arm-waving staff is akin to a school canteen and there must be a more subtle way of steering passengers in the direction of their table.
The main dinner menu always features a good choice, with starters such as chicken liver parfait or wild mushroom risotto. Mains include British staples including roast pork and beef in Guinness or plaice served with crab souffle. There is always a vegetarian option. For dessert expect choices such as sticky toffee pudding, fruit meringue and ice cream. The menu always includes P&O's "Classic Favourites" for those who prefer no-nonsense simpler dishes, with the accent on retro rather than contemporary. This is where you'll find melon, prawn cocktail, tomato soup and egg mayonnaise to start, a featured daily dish such as lamb hot pot, plus the always available mains of salmon with hollandaise sauce, steak and mushrooms and chicken breast. To follow there might be fruit salad and cream or bread and butter pudding. The Meridian also offers a full vegetarian menu on request, where you place your dinner order the day before.
The culinary highlight comes on formal nights, which feature "Marco's Menu", showcasing dishes you would normally find in the for-fee Ocean Grill, such as lobster. The menu might also include fresh asparagus spears with a poached egg or mushroom and white wine soup to start, followed by mint-crusted lamb, breast of Gressingham duck with black cherry sauce, and twice-baked goats' cheese souffle. Pear tarte tatin and chocolate mousse cake are among the featured desserts.
Despite some of the hiccups in this restaurant, one thing that leaves a good taste is the very affordable wine (in all restaurants), starting at £15.50 for a bottle of Barbera del Monferrato Italian red and £16.50 for an Australian Chardonnay and up to £42.50 for a bottle of Lanson Champagne.
Mealtimes are: breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m., afternoon tea from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., first sitting dinner is at 6:30 p.m. and the second at 8:30 p.m. Freedom Dining is from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Belvedere (Deck 9): Arcadia's casual dining buffet is a bright area with great views, especially if you get a seat near the large windows. The early continental breakfast includes juice, fresh fruit, cereal, breads and pastries, while later you can fill up on bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans et al, or head for the healthy section that includes the smoothie of the day, yoghurts and fruit. There is also brunch for late-risers, which finishes shortly before lunch starts. As always, P&O firmly caters to British tastes, so lunch will include a pie of the day, roast and hot pudding. There's an extensive salad bar, with dishes such as coronation chicken, Waldorf salad, coleslaw, seafood, meat and cheese. Despite the busy environment, members of staff are very efficient at replenishing food on the buffet and clearing tables.
Afternoon snacks are sweet or savoury, and at dinner curry fans will enjoy P&O's trademark Indian section, a regular feature on the buffet. For late-night snackers who have mourned the demise of the midnight buffet on many cruise lines, P&O upholds the tradition with 'late night bites', available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and featuring sandwiches, cakes and biscuits and hot items such as cheese and pickle toasties, pizza, Cornish pasties and, of course, chips.
Mealtimes are: continental breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., full breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., lunch from noon to 3 p.m., afternoon snacks from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Neptune Grill (Deck 9): This poolside grill offers sandwiches and baguettes made to order, with fillings including gammon, chicken, tuna, egg mayonnaise and cheese, along with filled jacket potatoes and burgers. Open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Room service: Room service offers snacks, sandwiches all day, and full meals at the relevant times. Some items carry a small charge (e.g. £1.50 for a chicken and bacon sandwich, £3.95 for a burger and £4.50 for a seafood pie). Available 24 hours, with breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Ocean Grill (Deck 2); £17.95: Featuring dishes created by Marco Pierre White, this light and airy restaurant specialises in steaks and seafood and the supplement is well worth the money. The atmosphere is refined without being stuffy and the service is excellent. Expect starters such as deep-fried soft shell blue crab, quail eggs with hollandaise, creamed cauliflower soup and potted duck rillettes. Portion sizes are surprisingly large, for a fine dining restaurant, and I would have been happy if my main course, a posh vegetarian pie served with tempura of mushrooms and white truffle oil mash, had been half the size -- but that's hardly a gripe. Other typical mains include 16oz T-bone steak (£5.50 supplement), Gloucester Old Spot pork chops, rack of lamb and the perennial cruise ship favourite, lobster. There are also additional side orders, such as buttered French beans with shallots, tomato and red onion salad and roasted vegetables.
Spoilt for choice with desserts, the waitress suggested we pick various ones to taste. They included the unusual popping candy Black Forest mille-feuille with cherry ice cream, Eton Mess with shortbread and an imaginative artisan cheese plate served with truffle-infused honey and quince paste. Each one was absolutely delicious.
Sindhu (Deck 11); £20: The ship's second signature restaurant was introduced following the refurbishment (replacing Orchid) and features an Indian menu originally designed by Michelin-star chef Atul Kochhar (who is no longer associated with the line). Our evening was a standout experience with exceptional, beautifully presented dishes served in a sophisticated and tranquil environment. Charming and knowledgeable staff set an unhurried pace for the evening and spent time at the table to answer any questions and make recommendations. We got the impression that nothing was too much trouble.
Typical starters include mango and paw paw salad, braised ribs marinated in candied ginger, garlic and chilli, and warm roast duck with lychee salad. If you can't make up your mind there are starters to share -- featuring four fish and meat appetisers or a vegetarian selection. Main courses follow a similar format, with individual dishes such as spiced sea bream fillets, 24-hour slow-cooked lamb, lobster (naturally) and scallops. Alternatively, there are two signature plates to share, again one with fish, poultry and meat dishes and the other vegetarian. Tempting desserts might feature rice pudding with mango, peanut butter parfait and dark chocolate surprise (spoiler alert: the surprise is in the middle).
Note: The speciality restaurants can get booked up early in the cruise, so it's recommended to book early to get the day and dining time you want.
All cabins benefitted from the 2013 refurbishment, which also saw the addition of 24 new cabins including two single cabins with balconies -- the first in the P&O fleet. Arcadia now has 1,050 cabins in five categories, ranging in size from 157 to 753 square feet. As an adult-only vessel, all cabins are configured as singles, doubles or twins rather than three berth or more. Cabins comprise 35 suites, 31 mini suites, 650 balcony staterooms, 166 outside cabins (80 with obstructed view), 162 inside cabins and 6 singles. There are 18 fully adapted disabled cabins with wheelchair access and 12 partially adapted cabins, which are situated close to lifts.
The new cabins are the highest on the ship and occupy part of the Sun Deck (Deck 10). They include 14 deluxe balcony cabins, seven inside cabins (three double and two single), two single balcony cabins and one mini suite. In keeping with the rest of the cabins they are decorated in understated and tasteful tones of cream, gold and brown, with touches of blue and green. Although they are not categorised as spa cabins, they provide an air of exclusivity anyone who enjoys going to the gym and spa as they are situated right above these facilities and next to a lift. They are also close the panoramic Crow's Nest lounge and bar.
During the refit all of the existing cabins were refreshed with new carpets, curtains and 32-inch or 42-inch flat-screen TVs.
Standard amenities in all cabins include daily steward service and evening turndown, TV, radio, telephone, hair dryer, refrigerator and safe, tea/coffee making facilities, bottle of mineral water on arrival, air conditioning, picture window or portholes (outside cabins) or a large mirror (which helps to create a feeling of space in inside cabins), vanity/writing desk and chair, wardrobe and drawer space. Bathrooms include soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower cap, replenished as needed. Extra benefits for suite guests include enhanced toiletries, bathrobe and slippers, Champagne and chocolates on arrival.
The following grades of cabin, which include all of Arcadia's suites, have a bath as well as a shower: B1, B2, B4, CA, CB CE, EA, EB, EC, ED, EF, LB, LC, LF, NB or NC. All other grades of cabin have a shower only.
Cabins are fitted with British three-pin electrical sockets and 220V/110V switchable razor sockets.
Interior: There are 124 inside cabins measuring 157 square feet, and 38 measuring 205 square feet. The new single inside cabins on the Sun Deck measure a generous 189 square feet. Cabins for double occupancy can be made up as twins or have a queen-size bed, and this set up applies throughout all cabin categories. All inside cabins have a large mirror and bathrooms have a shower.
Oceanview: Outside cabins range from 130 square feet (singles) to 181 square feet and they feature a window or portholes. Bathrooms have a shower, or shower over bath.
Balcony: Arcadia's deluxe balcony cabins measure 246 to 254 square feet, including the balcony. There is a separate sitting area with a two-seater sofa, chair and table. Floor-to-ceiling windows open out onto a balcony with two recliner chairs and a table. A nice touch is an atlas and pair of binoculars for use during the cruise.
Mini suite: These cabins measure 368 to 384 square feet, including the balcony. Bathrooms have a full-size whirlpool bath, separate shower and two sinks. Additional cabin amenities include a DVD player, coffee maker, bathrobes and slippers, magazine selection, atlas, binoculars, ironing board and trouser press. Mini suite guests also get a 'premier toiletries pack ' (larger bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion, bath and shower gel, White Company soap, vanity kit, mending kit and shoe shine mitt). Other extras include flowers, Champagne and chocolates on arrival, fruit basket and daily canapes.
Suite: The vessel's suites measure 449 to 753 square feet, including the balcony. In addition to the same extras as mini suites, they also come with a stereo player, newspapers and two loungers on the balcony, as well as a pair of chairs. All suites include butler service, but P&O makes a point of saying this is optional, possibly because many British passengers don't embrace the butler concept in the same way as other nationalities.