By Robert Lidster

To learn more about Arcadia and how to book a cruise on it, visit the P&O Cruises Website

P&O Arcadia is one of two child free ships in the P&O fleet, the other ship being Artemis. At 83,500 tons Arcadia is by far the larger of the two ships and can comfortably accommodate 2,016 passengers and 880 crew under normal operating capacity with a maximum operating capacity of 2,388 passengers.

Features include a Casino with both gaming tables and slot machines, two outdoor swimming pools (one with a skydome which covers it completely in inclement weather, making it usable all year round), five whirlpools, a Gymnasium and Spa, Self service launderette, a Library, a Sports court and driving range, Internet access, shops and many bars and dining options.

My wife and I were boarding Arcadia in Southampton for a two night cruise to Zeebruge, car parking had been pre-booked and we had been supplied with a sticker to display in our car windscreen,and once through the port security the car park attendant directed us to our designated car park. It was then just a short walk from the car park to the cruise terminal where our cases were taken from us and loaded onto the ship, we then entered the terminal building where the check in took less than ten minutes.

We were staying in a Deluxe Balcony Stateroom where the two twin beds had been converted to a King Size bed, we had a bathroom with a small bath, shower and WC, there was a two-seater sofa and a coffee table, ample wardrobe space and table and chairs on the balcony. A special touch was the mineral water and temple Spa pamper pack which was waiting for us on arrival. Overall a good sized room, nicely decorated and laid out.

Dining options on board are varied with the self-serve 24 hour Belvedere restaurant, the open deck Neptune Grill serving burgers and other fast food items, Caffe Vivo serving coffees and pastries at an extra cost and the Meridian Restaurant which is located on two decks and connected by a spiral staircase serving breakfast and dinner (two sittings) . There are also the speciality restaurants for which you have to pay an extra charge, these are Arcadian Rhodes run by the tv chef Gary Rhodes and the Orchid Restaurant, these are smaller and more intimate than the main dining room.

For your entertainment there is the Palladium show lounge which has seating on three tiers, this is where all the major productions are staged including acrobats, dancers and cabaret acts. Other entertainment is held in various bars around the ship.

Once we had deposited our belongings in our cabin we went for lunch in the Belvedere Restaurant which served a good selection of hot and cold dishes chosen from self service food stations. Food was of a good quality and plentiful with tea and coffee stations to get hot drinks from as well as cold drinks or you could order drinks at the table.

After Lunch we decided to explore the ship in order to get our bearings and plan how we were going to spend the next two days aboard Arcadia. At 17:00 there was the mandatory Emergency Drill, once that was over we returned to our cabin to get dressed for the “Sail Away Party” before going into dinner at 18:30, it was open sitting for dinner in the restaurant on the first night. Tonight the dress code was smart casual so trousers and jacket would suffice for myself and a smart dress for my wife. As we left Southampton The Hyde Band played on the quayside, luckily for us our cabin was facing the quay so we could listen to the band as we were getting ready for dinner and occasionally go out on the balcony to watch the ship cast off.

After an excellent meal in the Meridian Restaurant we went to the Palladium to watch the cabaret which tonight was TV comedian Brian Conley, an excellent show which included audience participation and had everyone in stitches. After the show we went to the Rising Sun for the Karaoke show where I was coaxed into taking part (Tom Jones eat your heart out). It was then onto the Casino where we whiled some time away watching others playing the tables before we retired to our cabin.

Day two and after a very good breakfast we went on deck for a walk and take in the sights of Zeebrugge . The ship had docked at 08:00 and would be leaving at 17:00 so plenty of time to visit Zeebrugge, Brugge or any of the surrounding area, or just relax onboard ship.

For those wishing to go ashore there was a choice of seven ships tours to go on or you could make your own way, there was a complimentary bus to Blankenburge where you could then get a train to Brugge or many other destinations, or just spend time in Blankenburge.

Tonight was Formal night so a chance to dress up, men in Dinner Jackets or Tuxedo and Ladies in Evening or Cocktail dresses. Before going into dinner there was a Gala Reception party held by the Neptune’s Pool & Bar at which the Captain and Officers attended.

We had dinner at 18:30 and then went to the Palladium for the Arcadia Theatre Company’s show Le Cirque Arcadia. We finished the night off in the Crows Nest with a little night cap.

The next morning we were back in Southampton and after a good full English breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we disembarked from the ship from what had been a most enjoyable mini-cruise. The ship was clean and well laid out, the staff polite and always helpful, food and entertainment were of a very high standard.

For anyone who has yet to experience a cruise, these mini-cruises are an ideal way to test the water, if you are not sure if cruising is for you then what better way to find out, not too long at sea if you are not a great sailor and good value for money, you never know you may become addicted to cruises, I know I am.