David George cruised to the Med on board P&O Cruises’ Adonia to find out…
I am becoming seriously addicted to cruising, particularly on mid-size ships. There’s nothing quite like that sense of anticipation when cases have been unpacked and the stateroom becomes your personal fiefdom. So much more relaxing than air travel, wouldn’t you say? I tried one of the giant cruise ships once but shopping malls don’t work for me and it was only when I discovered ships like P&O’s Oriana and Aurora that I realised I had found my spiritual home. 2,000 passengers and lots of facilities seemed the ideal combination. Still does, and ‘child-free’ is always an added bonus.
But after ten cruises and friends extolling the virtues of smaller ships, I took the decision to test the water on Adonia, all 30,000 tons of her and with just 700 passengers. However, when the big day approached doubts began to creep in. With no cinema, no theatre, no casino and not even a full circuit for the prom deck, would there be enough to do?
In the end, it was the prospect of sharing in P&O Cruises‘ Grand Event to celebrate its 175th anniversary that spurred me on and the procession of all seven ships in the fleet sailing out of Southampton on 3 July was certainly an impressive sight, marred only by the driving rain of a typical summer’s day. The Captain’s timely announcement that champagne glasses would be topped up in light of the weather served to rally the troops nicely and most of us stuck it out on deck until Adonia had sailed past The Princess Royal who was taking the salute on board THV Patricia.
By the time we reached the Mediterranean, the skies had turned blue and temperatures remained around 30c. We enjoyed special anniversary dinners, a free book about P&O’s history and one lucky passenger won the Grand Event prize of a world cruise. We also enjoyed the company of senior officers. Captain Ian Hutley was to be seen around the ship most days, and Michael Lobban (Executive Purser) maintained a similarly high profile going so far as to be put in the stocks when the entertainment team organised a village fete.
I failed to miss the bigger ship addition of a casino, and films and live shows with guest comedians and singers featured daily in Curzon Lounge just as they do on board Aurora and Oriana. The Headliners’ matinee performance of Noel Coward’s Private Lives was one of my cruise highlights; still witty and presented with real finesse. Curzon is not a theatre admittedly, more a cabaret venue. But there were consolations – armchairs with plenty of legroom, for a start. Talking of comfort, one of the loveliest rooms on the ship is the library on the top deck. The soft leather sofas, wingback chairs and a huge range of books and magazines make this a place to linger. The rest of the ship is just as elegant. The muted creams and dark mahogany make for an atmosphere akin to the golden age of cruising, a topic on which I became an expert thanks to some excellent talks given by Bill Miller, an American guest speaker who must own one of the biggest archives of cruise material in the world.
Pat Keedwell, a passenger from Wolverhampton, had also never sailed on a ship as small as this before but she was enjoying the experience. “Adonia is like a rather grand country house hotel,” she told me. “She isn’t designed for families but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of activities for those who want them,” added her husband, Gary. “We really enjoy the music shows but there are quiet corners and lounges to relax in as well.”
Others shared their view, making Adonia a popular choice. Adonia’s cabins were all occupied and I was relieved to have booked early despite my doubts. After a dip in passenger numbers early this year, bookings are on the increase again and P&O expects to carry 1.7 million people before the year is out, making it Britain’s most popular choice for cruise holidays. Halfway through the cruise P&O announced a new pricing policy designed to help those who book early and may then miss out on last minute deals. Compensation in the form of additional onboard credit or a cabin upgrade is to be offered to those passengers who qualify. This price promise received a positive reception until passengers began to dig deeper and soon we were all poring over the small print. Nevertheless the initiative is an astute move in these recessionary times.
Activities organised by the entertainment officers were wide and varied from quoits and line dancing to quizzes and cookery demonstrations. The latest recruit Darren De Biasi impressed everyone because of his sheer energy, personality and people skills. Whether playing table tennis (against younger passengers – yes, there were some) or partnering single ladies for ballroom dancing, Darren was always to be seen.
My stateroom on C deck was significantly larger than anything I’ve had on other ships although the shower room was tiny. I booked an ‘obstructed’ view cabin and managed to secure one (C039) situated between lifeboats, thus enjoying more open views.
The food outlets are impressive. Upstairs in the civilised self-service Conservatory, where the waiters and waitresses regularly stop you from making your own cup of tea at breakfast and offer to do it for you, lunches became a daily delight. Each day, the sous chef Sivakumar introduced a curry, all of them sublime although the chicken Diapioza, with its magical blend of aniseed, caraway, cinnamon and nutmeg, was my favourite. Very often the Executive Chef, Andy Yuill, was on hand to oversee the quality whilst restaurant manager Clifford Allwyus’ presence ensured excellent service from his team.
On the prom deck, the Pacific Restaurant offers silver service and the good company on my table made dinners memorable for the conversation as much as for the food. Adonia also has two cover charge outlets. The settings are elegant, the service second to none and first-class menus succeed in teasing the taste buds. In Marco Pierre White’s Ocean Grill each course is prepared and presented with real dedication and flair and my fillet steak for example, accompanied by an Argentinian malbec, was immaculately tender and full of flavour. In Sorrento, the Italian restaurant next door, a cover charge of £5 proved to be tremendous value. My main course of lasagne was one of the best I’ve tasted.
However, it was the day we arrived in Zadar in Croatia that I finally became fully committed to the benefits of downsizing. Smaller ships reach ports that bigger ships cannot and here was the proof: we were parking alongside the promenade and within a few minutes’ stroll of the town centre. The Old Town dates back to the 9th century and the arrival of a cruise ship before breakfast was clearly a special event. During the day families came to the quayside to stand and stare, and when we returned on board after a day ashore exploring the town’s narrow streets and the magnificent St Anastasia’s Cathedral, it was the warmth of our welcome that was the main talking point at dinner.
With service and surroundings that are second to none, my prejudice about smaller ships has evaporated. The lack of a theatre and cinema seems a small price to pay for holidaying in such graceful surroundings, and as for the shortened prom deck there is always the gym and walking track on the top deck to burn off a few calories.
Passengers Han Kengen and Thea Hamers from Kerkrade near Maastricht summed it up perfectly: “The culture on board is truly British and we like that. We have sailed on 20 ships but our favourite is Adonia without a doubt. She may be small but she has a big heart. We love her – Adonia is a great little ship!”
David George took up cruising just five years ago, having spent a career in education and broadcasting. He worked for BBC Radio in Birmingham, primarily in news and features as a reporter/producer, and more recently has written travel guides for UK and European cities. David now lives in Chester.