My husband had warned me that he would probably be very bad tempered all day – he hates traveling, hates the hassle and REALLY hates queues. After an hour’s taxi journey to Southampton, we arrived at the well-signposted terminal. As we drew up to the kerb, a porter materialized to whisk our cases away. We have directed up an escalator to a comfortable sitting area and given cards with the letter H. There were racks of free magazines, and tea and coffee available, but we didn’t have much time to appreciate it all, as ‘everyone with boarding cards H please go to the desks’ was called. Within half an hour of arriving at the terminal, we had checked in, been through security, boarded, and were sitting up in the dining area drinking coffee and looking out at the activity on the docks 9 floors below us. No stress, no hassle, above all no bad-tempered husband. To anyone used to airport procedures, this was a complete revelation!

After a leisurely drink and snack, we wandered down to our cabin to find our cases already delivered to the door and started unpacking. Although we’d seen an inside cabin on the Ship’s Tour 5 months earlier, I was worried that it would be much smaller, darker and cramped than I’d remembered. No problem. Our cabin was clean, light and welcoming, with enough room to hold a desk, 2 chairs and a small table, 3 wardrobes and 2 bedside cupboards as well as a very large bed (2 large singles pushed together, with strangely 2 separate duvets, but extremely comfortable). On the desk was a flat screen TV, tea and coffee making facilities, and a hairdryer, with a large fridge underneath the desk, and a small safe in the wardrobe.
The only glitch came when I looked at the plug sockets ….Only one standard UK 3 pin socket, set right down at desktop level, and impossible to plug in anything large such as a phone or camera charger. The other sockets are continental 2 pin or those tiny little 3 pin low voltage ones. Advice – take a short 2 or 4 plug extension, and/or continental adaptors. I had to take my phone down to Reception, where they happily charged it for me whenever I asked. Incidentally, phone reception on board is erratic and very expensive while at sea, but you can use the cabin phone for a ship to shore call for £5 for 5 minutes.

When we had unpacked (OK, I unpacked, husband, lay on the bed to see if it was comfy), we went back upstairs to watch the ship set sail. You don’t get streamers and spectators waving on shore anymore, but we did get a Sail Away Party, and the ships hooter blasting away. Felt quite emotional watching land slip away, and also felt the first swaying of the decks as we left the calm of the harbor. We got talking to some other passengers, but soon it was time to freshen up before dinner. There are two dinner sittings on the Arcadia, one at 6.30 and one at 8.30, but we had booked for the earlier session so that we could go to the theatre at 8.45 rather than 10.45.

Very nice 3-course dinner, followed by coffee, then to the theatre for the introductory show by the Headliners onboard singers and dancers. A quick drink in the bar, a walk round the casino and then up to the cabin for our first night on board ship.


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!