Thursday, 16 May 2019

P&O Cruise R906 Aurora 24th April - 13th May 2019

This was my 36th cruise with P&O and I had high expectations of the vegan experience throughout the ship, after seeing their press release in January 'Special Diets Are Now Standard With Us'

On this cruise they failed miserably, the worst dining experiences on a P&O cruise.  I received a letter in our cabin from Senior Restaurant Manager Rajeev Kumar, leading me to believe whatever special diet, they had me covered.

The first day got off to a bad start, as no consideration is given to the in cabin champagne, chocolates or daily canapes for dietary passengers.  Our first night canapes were tuna, so I spoke to the Deck Housekeeper who arranged for vegan canapes and swapped the champagne for a bottle of The Holy Snail wine which I know is vegan.   The half bottle of champagne we received for being loyal customers was never swapped, so we left it in the cabin at the end of the cruise and the chocolates were taken away and never replaced.

The first nights dinner is always a carve up, but slightly better than normal, as there are new vegan and vegetarian menus to choose from.   My email I sent diet reservations about my allergies never reached the ship, so I spoke with Head Waiter Mrinmoy, gave him a copy of my email and he liased with the diet chefs.

It was a bland meal of palm heart salad, melon and main course of roast cauliflower and broccoli, though more like boiled, lettuce leaves (very peculiar), potato crisps (though they were soggy) and a few smears of bland purees, so basically vegetables and no protein.   I gave them the benefit of the doubt and looked forward to the next evening, especially as I was attending the dietary meeting the following morning, as suggested in the letter and had high hopes.

I met two of the diet chefs at the meeting, who had copies of my email thanks to Mrinmoy and I checked what vegan products were available like Violife cheese and thought everything would be taken care of, how wrong can you be.

On the second evening, we received asparagus canapes with what looked like mayo, so I rang room service to check and was horrified to find it was a vegan mayo containing soya.

It appears dietary and allergy information is not shared between sections, according to the Deck Housekeeper, so I gave a copy of my email to room service and therein the canapes were outstanding.

My experience in the main dining room (MDR) went downhill thereon, on the third evening I ordered caramelised bananas for dessert (I brought oat cream with me and took it down to dinner).   I was given tofu banana pancakes with Swedish Glace soya ice cream, even though the chefs had met me the day before and had a copy of my allergy sheet.

Dishes were served missing items like almond rice pudding with no almond praline or amarena cherries as described on the menu.   On one night every dish had something missing, inedible greasy lukewarm tempura vegetables had no dip, soup was missing pickled walnuts, pearl barley gratin was certainly no gratin and the chocolate marquise had no sorbet.   The pearl barley dish was absolutely revolting, swimming in water with a little cheese on top, so Mrinmoy took it back to the galley, its replacement was equally as bad.   The excuse from chef as to the missing sorbet, was it was not a popular dish, as it was vegan so it was rarely served, talk about alienating your customers.

I left the dining room hungry that night, so it is a good job I had brought supplies with me, so had a vegan picnic in our cabin.

A vegan brownie Steven ordered was so rock hard, you could hardly stab a fork into it, it was a tooth breaker, apparently due to it being a vegan recipe with no milk in, according to chef.

Some dishes had things like boiled egg on or things I was unsure of and it was so embarrassing keep checking with Mrinmoy, I left whatever it was or Steven ate it.  I also left the restaurant a couple of nights feeling ill and was sick and by now had lost total confidence in the chefs.

Steven had a lovely plate of cakes delivered to the cabin from the Executive Chef, for no reason we could think of, whereas I received nothing, so he left them in protest.   I mentioned this to Mrinmoy and said what an insult to be totally forgotten, another instance of alienating your customers.

On Monday 6th May, we ordered the same dish and I requested chickpeas instead of butter beans, the dish arrived, I checked it was made with chickpeas and ate some.

I noticed Steven's dish looked different to mine, so Mrinmoy checked with chef, his response being it was made with vegan cream, I was suspicious having been given soya cream on previous cruises.   By this point I was feeling queasy, nauseous and blown up like a balloon, so asked Mrinmoy if I could have a look at the pack and was absolutely horrified to find soya and milk proteins clearly highlighted in bold.  The cream is a lactose free product, not suitable for vegans or those allergic to soya and dairy.  I was absolutely furious, this was day thirteen of a nineteen night cruise and the chefs did not seem to give a monkeys what they gave their passengers.

At this point I left the restaurant to be sick and had to go to the cabin, with other symptoms that affect me and felt rotten the following morning and into the afternoon.   I was fed up to say the least and if I could have got off I would have done, dinner was not highlight of the day but nightmare of the day.

I collared Mrinmoy the next day and expressed my extreme dissatisfaction and anger and he arranged a meeting with Rajeev Kumar, who apologised profusely and offered us a complimentary meal in either The Glasshouse or Sindhu select dining venues.  I am not one for freebies, all I wanted was hassle free dining in the MDR, but as we had booked to go to Sindhu anyway, we took him up on his offer (please see separate review for these two venues here).

It was around this time that a plate of vegan cakes were delivered to the cabin from the Executive Chef, which is better late than never.   The strawberry dish was identical to a lactose free Eton Mess I saw in the buffet, though mine was without meringue, after what happened above and with the possibility of that non dairy cream being used in the cakes, sadly they were all taken ashore and binned.

The food in the MDR improved after the meeting with Rajeev, yet I still had a niggling feeling and ordered more carefully and only had fruit salad for dessert.  Here is a selection of dishes over the cruise, it was bizarre that when they got it right it was excellent and when they got it wrong, it was seriously bad.

 Artichoke, Preserved Lemon & Orange Salad

 Vegan Futomaki Rolls

 Mushroom Rice Cakes

Roast Vegetable & Apple Salad (on the menu this was a main
course, I ordered as a starter asking for chickpeas for a protein
element, but no way was this suitable as a main course dish)

Cheesy Pasta

Mezze Plate (Steven ate half the falafel with the 
white stuff on as I had no idea what it was)

Mushroom & Chestnut Tart

Cauliflower Tabbouleh & Violife Cheese

Garlic Mushroom Pasta 

Pumpkin & Courgette Noodles

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Pan Haggerty

 Polenta & Roast Vegetables

 Grilled Asparagus & Tomato Salsa (I ate no bread on the ship
after being told on previous cruises it all contained soya flour so
I left the bread on this dish)


Green Salad & Olives 
(not an inspiring dish at all)

Caramelised Apple & Sweetcorn Salad 
(a rather boring dish) 

 Chickpea Cassoulet (this dish looks like it contains the non dairy
creamer mentioned, I was not well this night either)

 Sweet Potato & Carrot Fritters (just quenelled boiled vegetables 
this was a main course believe it or not, quite tasteless)

 Beetroot Risotto

 Greek Salad

Grilled Asparagus & Broad Beans

On one occasion I was aware of, dishes were labelled vegan on the menu, like potato gnocchi and charred broccoli, but when I wanted to order it, the ever conscientious Mrinmoy said he thought it contained egg.   He went to check with chef and it did contain egg, so I ordered something else, but other Head Waiters may not be like Mrinmoy.   I have not knowingly eaten egg in over thirty two years and what about the allergy implications, if someone ordered the dish thinking it was egg free.

You can have lunch in the MDR, but after my experiences at dinner, I went to the buffet, which I found especially lacking, the diet section had nothing but a few plant milks and vegan margarine.  There were never any vegan cakes at afternoon tea, although vegan apple pies were available, but hidden in a refrigerator, so how on earth are passengers to know.   Salads were uninspiring, many with lots of cheese or egg, vegetables were cooked in butter so I got fed up of asking, even corn on the cob was poached in milk.   I had a fully stocked cabin fridge, with various vegan cheeses, houmous, peanut butter, oatcakes, so with plain salad and jacket potato I did not starve.

I went to Raffles coffee bar one morning at 10.00 am and thought I would have a coffee with a cake before going ashore, but the only suitable dish was fruit salad.   I found this very annoying as the display cabinet was full of items for other passengers, like muffins, pastries, croissants etc and having seen vegan apple pies before, enquired if I could have one, but told they were only available after 11.30 am.

I mentioned our canapes earlier and must mention the amazing room service chef Liah De Castro, this young lady brightened our evenings, with her stunning canapes, when we were dreading going to the MDR.   Liah made some of the most awesome, creative, artistic canapes I have had the pleasure of eating, she put ingredients together that you thought would not work, yet they did, what a talent.  I was lucky enough to meet Liah at the end of the cruise and what a lovely person, she is a credit to P&O, I hope they appreciate how lucky they are to have her as a member of the team.

I cannot end this review without thanking Mrinmoy, the most engaging, conscientious, helpful, professional and friendly Head Waiter I have come across.  I sympathised with him, as he seemed to be battling with the chefs to ensure my dietary requirement was accommodated properly.   He remained cool, calm and collected throughout, though probably felt like banging his head against a brick wall and went way beyond the call of duty in his efforts to look after me.   P&O should give this chap a medal, he deserves it and along with Liah De Castro I nominated him for the Cruise Award (for crew who have gone the extra mile) in recognition of their efforts.

I completed two feedback cards whilst on board, mentioning about some of the issues I encountered, which I handed into reception, but heard nothing which I think is really bad.

I feel P&O are shouting out loud about their commitment to dietary requirements, which is to be applauded, yet in reality have lots of work to do to give passengers like me the full experience.   The processes in place and communication fails at all levels, with systems not integrated and little things like canapes, chocolates and champagne have not been thought about, yet dietary passengers are paying for the same experience.   The most serious aspect are the allergy issues I encountered, what if my allergies were life threatening, the attention to detail seemed non existent.  How can you trust chefs who blatantly put things on your plate you are allergic too, knowing they have your allergy sheet in the galley.   P&O have some serious work to do on this front, as well as dietary knowledge, as any chef who gives a vegan boiled egg, needs a serious kick up the you know where and more training.

I lodged a formal complaint with P&O at Executive level and after investigations received the reply below, as to what steps are being taken to improve things, including retraining on board all ships and long term plans regarding dietary requirements.   I hope when I board Arcadia later this year, I will see massive improvements to address the issues I experienced.

1 comment:

  1. yiekes! I cannot fathom the risks they took. And yes, cruise lines do not consider allergies/dietary needs outside the MDR menu. Surprise anniversary cake slice in the MDR.. great, but can't have that, it's not vegan. Chocolate in cabin, nope, not that either. I'm sad your cruise went so wrong when in the past it has been so much better...