It's so hard to rate and compare cruises and ships as they all have something different to offer. Our very first cruise in 2010 was on the Pacific Dawn and we just thought it was the best thing ever, still do! Now that we have been lucky enough to cruise on a few different brands we can see the difference between them plus the similarities.
Now price plays a big part on what you get and what you should expect. I would expect Princess and Royal Caribbean to be better than P&O in the sense of style and look of the ship as well as the facilities on board. I also think Carnival should be a step up from P&O but I would still expect them all to provide value for money, from food to cabin to facilities. All of the ships we have been on have lived up to our expectations, generally they exceeded them. Yes, even P&O. I hear so many people run P&O down but in our experience we have never had a bad cruise on a P&O ship. I've sailed on the Dawn, the Jewel and the Pearl and loved them all - they all have their similarities and their difference. To start with the Dawn was my favourite just because she was our very first cruise ship but now, having been on the other two P&O ships I'm leaning towards the Pearl. :-)
Food is such a subjective thing so what I like someone else may not but I have to say we have never had a bad experience with cruise food on any of our cruises. Sure you'll have the odd meal that wasn't brilliant or something could have been hotter or cooked a little less or more but overall we give the food a big thumbs up. From P&O to Royal Caribbean, the food is amazing. We did notice a step up in the quality and style of the food from P&O to Princess - the meals on the Dawn Princess in both the main restaurant and the buffet were just superb! Although, in saying that, the pastries and danishes on all three of the P&O ships cannot be beat! On the subject of food, well places to eat, we always found the P&O ships a real pain to get into the main restaurant for dinner. This was very noticeable when there were only 2 or 3 of us. You can't make a booking for the whole of your cruise so have to line up every day or ring up and then you generally only have the choice of really early, 5.30pm or too late for us 8.30pm. As you could book on the way out after your dinner I am guessing that is why all of the decent times were already gone by the time we tried to book. I also think they just don't have enough staff dedicated to the dining room as whenever we have been in there it is generally only half full, even though it's supposedly always booked out when you try to make a booking! You also have to sit with other people which isn't always a bad thing but sometimes it would be nice to be able to have the option of having your own table. This was our main gripe with P&O as we loved being able to dine in the main restaurant for dinner each evening and for the most part we never did this with P&O. The buffet food was still great but it is nice to be waited on :-) All the other cruise lines we have been able to make a booking for dinner for the whole cruise - so much easier. If we decided to not eat in the restaurant we would just pop in and let them know.
The P&O ships are looking a bit dated and tired compared to the Carnival Spirit and the Ovation of the Seas (obviously nothing is going to beat the Ovation seeing as it is only about 1 year old!) but I still love their atmosphere and layout. We found the Spirit to have a less user friendly layout of all the ships we've been on and it did seem a bit darker and not as easy to get around as the other ships. Although mum found the Dawn Princess hard to navigate and was always getting lost. I think having the restaurant in the middle of the ship through her - all the other ships generally have the main restaurants at the back. The Dawn Princess also had its buffet at the front as apposed to the other ships who have it at the back just to confuse mum even more! This isn't a good or bad thing just something to get use to plus by getting lost you burnt more calories trying to find your way ;-)
Hands down the Ovation of the Seas is the most well laid out ship of all the ships we've been on. It is by far the BIGGEST ship we've been on. It is MASSIVE but we never got lost, not once. I was so surprised! I thought for sure I would never find out cabin or take hours trying to get to our restaurant each night but nope, easy peasy. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into the placement of everything from the lifts and stairs to the main promenade and atrium and even the casino. For the most part decks 6 through 13 are just cabins so you really only use the deck your cabin is located on and needn't go to the other ones so it minimises the potential for getting lost.
I have to be honest and say it might be a bit hard going from the Ovation of the Seas back to a P&O ship as the contrast is so big. The newest and biggest ship in Australia to the oldest and smallest ships but I think I could manage! I don't think I would take the kids on a P&O or Princess ship just for the main reason of kid friendly activities offered. Princess seems more geared towards older people and P&O only offer a limited range of on board activities but these are an additional cost. A P&O cruise would be great for the family if we found an absolute bargain and just wanted a week away doing not much but I think if we do another cruise with the kids it will have to be on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship.
I could ramble on and on and on so for now I'm going to list my ships (not cruises) from favourite to not as favourite (because I love them all!).
1. Ovation of the Seas - 9/10
2. Dawn Princess - 8.5/10
3. Carnival Spirit - 8/10
4. Pacific Pearl - 7.5/10
5. Pacific Jewel - 7.5/10
6. Pacific Dawn - 7.5/10
The Jewel and the Dawn are the same really but I preferred the buffet on the Jewel (the Pantry but the Dawn is getting this as I type) and the Dome on the Dawn (although they have made the Jewel's Dome a bit bigger and it was lovely).
I also have to note that we had balcony cabins on the Ovation and the Dawn Princess so that did make a difference :-) All our cabins (inside, outside, balcony, obstructed) have been great but obviously having a balcony is a little bit special :-)
Cabins are very similar across the ships with a few differences with layout and size. The Dawn Princess was the smallest but we did have a balcony, the Ovation was the biggest and the other cabins were pretty similar in size but the Spirits layout was better (on our first cruise in the obstructed view inside room) and the bathrooms were bigger with a great layout.
Something else to note is the price. P&O cruises have always been the cheapest. We generally have paid around the $50-$60/day where as on our last cruise on the Ovation we paid $129/day. SO perspective needs to be taken into account when comparing ships and cruises. Of course there are all the extras on board but you choose if you want to spend money or not. In reality you don't need to spend a cent once on board! If you do just budget this in before you go.