Our First Cruise – Shall we or Shan’t we?

This year, my husband and I took the plunge (almost literally!) and booked our first ever cruise. We had been talking about it for ages, when a mailing dropped through the door in May, offering a tour round the Arcadia and lunch for £20 a person. About 100 of us were shown all over the ship, during the 4 hours or so between one lot of passengers disembarking and the next lot boarding. We saw all the various grades of cabin, plus the public areas such as the theatre, library, swimming pools and bars, followed by a silver service lunch. The tour lasted about 3½ hours and answered lots of our questions about the ship, and we were then given a voucher for additional onboard spend if we eventually booked a cruise.

As soon as we got home, I spent several hours comparing online prices for cruises on the Arcadia, and discovered that there is an enormous variation in package prices. Some companies offer a cheap basic price, with no extras, while others charge more, but include lots of on board spend and/or free car parking. Another complication is that when you phone the travel agents directly, the prices vary yet again, depending on their targets at the time. If we hadn’t been on the tour of the ship, we would have played safe and booked a balcony cabin, but having seen an inside cabin, we decided to risk staying in one. I was originally convinced that I would end up screaming with claustrophobia, but in fact, an inside cabin is just like being in a hotel room with the curtains permanently drawn.

After looking at all our options, we were lucky enough to get a super deal including a high onboard spend. We booked a 13 night cruise on the child free Arcadia, round the Western Med, for 5 months time, leaving from and arriving back to Southampton.

My feelings started seesawing from now on – from feeling really excited, to getting panicky about what to wear, to worrying about whether I’d be seasick! The Arcadia is owned by P&O whose website is very good for information. The poor girls at the travel agent and P&O had endless patience when I rang up with silly questions (that seemed vitally important to me at the time) such as how many hangers there are in the wardrobe, or how warm the ship is and do you need jumpers to walk around in all day? By the way, there are quite a few hangers, but they are either those hotel type that slot into a fixed ring or nasty wire ones – take your own skirt and trouser hangers. The temperature on board is kept at a very comfortable level, no jumpers required!

We were delighted with the efficiency of the paperwork and when there was a minor typo, it was corrected immediately. (I actually didn’t mind having my age listed as 33 instead of 63, but thought the passport people might notice the discrepancy.) A couple of weeks before departure, we had everything sorted – all the documentation, even down to our luggage labels. We were unsure whether to book a Southampton hotel for the night before – Harbour parking is around £130, and the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel charges c.£170 for B&B plus 14 nights parking. In the end, we booked a local taxi, organized our very obliging neighbor to feed our cats and fish, and crammed far too many clothes into our cases. That’s it – Ready to go!