Last year it was reported that P&O were enforcing embarkation times onto Britannia, and it now seems that this policy has been extended to the rest of the fleet as well. (In Southampton at least – presumably not for fly-cruises, where arrival times are determined by flights rather than personal choice.)
P&O has always sent passengers a letter shortly before the start of their cruise outline the arrangements for embarkation, and that has always included a boarding time. However, it’s never been enforced. So when you rocked up to the terminal you were given the next lettered card from a pile that had simple been arranged in alphabetical order. So you might arrive at 11:30, say, and be given a card with the letter ‘D’ on it. Then check-in would begin at noon and would start (for general passengers) with an announcement for “passengers bearing cards marked with the letter ‘A’ to make their way to the check-in desks”. Soon enough it would be passengers with B cards, then C, and pretty soon D cards; and off you’d go. If you really had a D card you’d probably be going for check-in within 20 minutes or so of check-in starting, and this would be regardless of your allocated boarding time.
What’s happening now is that if you arrive early you will be given a card with a letter appropriate for your boarding time. So if you arrive at 11:30 and your boarding time isn’t until 2:30, say, you might be given a card with the letter T; and cards with T won’t be called until 2:30. So you end up sitting around the terminal for several hours. (Presumably, they’ve made decisions in advance as to the times when the various lettered cards will be called.)
Whether you like it or not, some people are going to leave leeway for delays
On the one hand, I can’t complain about this – with the increasing size of ships, and many passengers’ choice of arriving as early as they can, the terminals have in the past become very busy. It’s also the fact that in the grand scheme of things, a couple of hours wait at the beginning of the cruise isn’t really going to matter. The problem is that, as someone on the P&O Cruise Critic forum put it, “P&O can set boarding times, because that’s within their control. But unless P&O are willing to stipulate how long your traffic jams are going to be in Southampton, they can’t stipulate arrival times. Whether you like it or not, some people are going to leave leeway for delays“. And that’s exactly our situation, of course. We live about 200 miles from Southampton. If we were driving down on the day the cruise starts we’d leave at the crack of dawn because of the risk of holdups, regardless of our boarding time. Someone else on Cruise Critic commented “We got on M42 and remained stationary for over 4hrs and couldnt move and finally reached M40 at 1pm and was a panic to get to Southampton which we just managed“. The alternative to leaving early is to stay overnight in or near Southampton the night before, of course. However, that then leaves you within a couple of miles of the ship from breakfast time onwards, and it’s frustrating to be in that situation and know that you can’t embark until mid or late afternoon – so near yet so far.
We don’t yet have our boarding time for our Fjords cruise this summer (late May/early June) so I don’t know how we’ll play it. We will be in Southampton the night before, however, and will be staying at a hotel from which we have to check out at 11am. What we do after that we don’t yet know. It will probably depend on our boarding time and the weather, I suspect.
Finally, I ought to make it clear that this isn’t a complaint – I do understand where P&O are coming from on this issue. But I was taken with the first of those comments above, and the second one resonated as well. I’ve not hit such a bad delay when travelling to a cruise but we were once delayed for an hour or more on the M27; and that caused some stress.