P&O Cruises Oriana Mary G. Kerr Spain, France, Portugal September 3, 2000
Since taking our first cruise in 1995 we find it one of the most addictive forms of vacations available, there is nothing quite like stepping on board, unpacking only once and seeing a host of different countries without the hassle that goes with doing the same on a land trip.
After several fly cruises with Princess/RCI/Celebrity we decided to try sailing from the UK with P&O and being impressed with their new ship Aurora in June, within 4 days of returning we booked to sail on Oriana for our Wedding Anniversary in September.
We also decided to sail on Oriana, when several people we had met whilst on Aurora raved about her, and the atmosphere on board, so she obviously has developed a following whose loyalty is quite exceptional.. It also seems that P&O in general have a very loyal following as you can see below just how many repeat passengers were on board.
I would also like to point out that this report is based on what "I observed" whilst on Oriana, other cruises could vary bearing in mind - different passengers, other itinerary, weather differences and so on, so please keep this in mind whilst reading this review and I appreciate all of you who take the time to read it through to the end.
"Oriana" was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. She was the first ship designed and built specifically for British style cruising, with a wide range of bars and intimate spaces, huge expanses of teak open deck areas including numerous private and secluded corners. Christened by the Queen in April 1995, she is a ship which maintains the classic traditions of style and service which P&O are justly famous.
Day 1 Embark Southampton, England
Day 2 At Sea
Day 3 Vigo, Spain
Day 4 Lisbon, Portugal
Day 5 Lorient, France
Day 6 Guernsey, Channel Islands
Day 7 Disembark Southampton, England
Pre-Cruise: Travelling down overnight from Scotland 2 days before departure, once again we decided to stay at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, this 5 star hotel is ideally situated for both the port and exploring Southampton and has a view over Southampton Water. We arrived at 08.15 am and even although the hotel was full we were allowed entry to our room when normal check in time was 2 pm. When we stayed here in June it was the same so this kind of service to happen once is excellent, to happen twice is astonishing.
Our visit also coincided with the BT Global Challenge Round the World Yacht race which would be starting a week later from Ocean Quay, this meant there was a carnival type atmosphere with big bands on stage, street theatre, jugglers, fancy dress competitions etc, and culminated in a spectacular fireworks display in the evening, so this was a nice start to our cruise on Oriana.
We also took the opportunity to see Aurora sail out of port on the Saturday evening, we walked the few minutes from the hotel to the Mayflower Park to watch the spectacle, she was so close we could see the passengers on deck waving as the cars and people were lined up to see her off, it was like poetry in motion as she sounded her horn three times on her way past, I was glad that only the next day we would be on Oriana as that somehow relieved my feeling of homesickness for Aurora.
Embarkation: We used Andrews Shipside Services and details of this service were covered in the Aurora review.
Boarding began at 14.30 and being one of the first on board, we were met and escorted to our cabin by a white gloved cabin attendant who carried our hand baggage for us, the rest of our luggage was already at the cabin awaiting our arrival.
Departure time of 6 pm grew near and with the formality of Life Boat Drill over, the crowds gathered along the promenade deck to wave to friends and family on the raised gallery opposite, so we opted to watch the sail away from Lido Deck 12 directly above the open bridge wings where we watched the Captain give a small flick of the little joy stick and Oriana was pushing away from the dock, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon so the atmosphere was set, with the streamers being thrown, and the accompanying band on the quay, someone on the Visitors Gallery appeared dressed in a black and white furry cow costume, much to the amusement of the crowds and to Captain Richard Fenelow as he drew out his handkerchief and began waving it. As Oriana began to move away from the pier one isolated voice from the crowd of spectators could be heard so clearly shouting "I Love you Mum", which was a very poignant moment, I am think that mother surely had tears in her eyes.
We were soon on our way down Southampton water and on passing Hythe pier on our starboard side people were lined up, many happily giving Oriana a wave. Dropping our pilot off at 20.40 hrs we took a General SW heading down the English Channel towards Vigo 675 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 21.7 knots.
Cabin We were in Cabin B133, classed as a Stateroom with Balcony. It measures approx. 210 square feet in size, and is decorated in light woods, complimented with greys/blues/golds. There was ample drawer space, double wardrobe with two shelves above, small safe, empty refrigerator, a full sofa come bed setee, coffee table, the two twin beds were pushed together to form a king size bed, tea and coffee making facilities, biscuits replenished daily, nice fluffy terry towel bathrobes and slippers, even a set of binoculars were provided.
The bathroom comes with a full size bath with the shower situated over the bath, so there was plenty of room in the shower, and the bathroom was a reasonable size, again there were ample shelves behind mirrored doors. Soap and Sports Wash were provided, and a small toilet bag with amenities like shower cap, sewing kit, cotton balls etc.
The balcony was approximately 9 foot long by 7 foot wide, had two nice lounge chairs and two small tables.
The only time we heard our neighbours was when we stood at the rail. Our cabin was well placed to watch the officers on the open bridge wings as we entered and left port.
General Our first day was a sea day cruising through the Bay of Biscay which was relatively smooth, with sunny skies, the officer of the watch pointed out dolphins and whales, and these could been seen on and off for a period of several hours.
Having said it was smooth going through the Bay of Biscay I must mention the night that we left Lorient to head round the tip of France towards Guernsey it did get quite rough, when watching the Comedian in the theatre which is in the bow of the ship, even he made comments, as you could feel the rise of the bow which just seemed to hang there forever then come crashing down through the water with a serious thud, and as our cabin was in the forward part of the ship it was quite a sensation standing on the balcony before retiring to bed watching the rise and fall of the ship and listening to the thunderous sound of the seas. Needless to say my husband thought I was mad, he stayed firmly inside the cabin.
Passenger Nationality Breakdown
New Zealand 2
South African 3
1440 of these were repeat passengers.
There were 94 Children on Board
Under 1 = 2
1-3 years = 24
4-11 years = 35
12-17 years = 33 Once again we found the children on board to be inconspicuous in their presence, and their behaviour was extremely admirable.
Ship Oriana has no fewer than 9 bars and lounges but I will not try and describe the ship room by room but mention ones that I found most memorable.
Andersons Bar Named after one of the founders of P&O, Arthur Anderson born 1792 in the Shetland Islands, met up with Brodie McGhie Willcox and formed the Peninsula Steam Navigation Company and so it began.
Andersons has that country club atmosphere to it, decorated in limed oak wood effect, pastel striped sofas, and Queen Anne type chairs, it turned out to be one of my favourite bars. The situation of the bar like many rooms on Oriana meant that at certain tables you could look through the large glass windows into the hallway and do some serious people watching as the passengers drifted backwards and forwards moving from various lounges and venues.
On formal nights a jacket and tie is required after 6 pm and no children are allowed in this bar.
Crows Nest Bar The Crows Nest Bar is on Deck 13, two decks up from the Bridge, it has a clear view out over the bow, and it is decorated in blues and golds, and was a favourite for pre-dinner drinks by a lot of passengers, on each side of this lounge were the smaller more intimate lounges of the Iberia and Medina rooms.
"Canadian Suite" provided the nightly entertainment here, and there was a small dance floor to trip the light fantastic if you wished.
Curzon Room This is the most stunning room I have seen on a ship, it is not a large room but is for the sole purpose of listening to the classical concerts performed there, of course you could sit here at any time taking in the peacefulness and grandeur of the room. The walls are adorned with tapestries, in its centre is the most wonderful grand piano, it is decorated in creams and beige's and beautiful wood featured walls, to top it off are large crystal chandeliers, it's a pity there is no equal to this room on Aurora as the classical concerts were performed in the Cinema, and I am sure they would not have the same atmosphere as in this room.
Oriana has three full sized swimming pools, one aft surrounded by those wonderful teak decked horseshoe tiers, if you were early enough you could settle down in the nook at the end of one of those tiers and have a wonderful view over the stern of the ship.
All lounge chairs are padded and quite comfortable.
There is no covered pool like on Aurora, but as the weather was very kind to us we did not miss this feature on this cruise, however considering Oriana does World Cruises starting in January from Southampton, I think I would prefer Aurora with her covered pool so you do not miss out when the weather is cold.
Ports Vigo - Spain - 05.09.00 - 79 deg. Sunny. Vigo is a great seaport built on and around the slopes of Monte de Castro, it overlooks Vigo Bay, one of the world's great natural harbours. At 32 km long by 5 km wide, with very deep water, it has been said that it is large enough to hold the combined fleets in all of the world! At the mouth of the estuary the rocky and picturesque Cies Islands shelter the bay from Atlantic gales.
As the clocks were moved forward one hour it meant that at 7 am our entry into Vigo Harbour was in darkness, but I could see the bright headlights of the Practicos (Pilot) approaching the ship, it barely stopped as the pilot got on board and we were soon docked and alongside the pier starboard side in, and as our cabin was on this side we had a good view of the city.
It is an easy walk to the start of the shopping area, but as Vigo sits on a hill it means there are a lot of steep climbs, so it may not be suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.
About 30 minutes before the ships departure a small group of musicians dressed in local costumes appeared on the quayside to play and entertain the passengers as we left, as the ship began to prepare to slip its moorings they left, but one solitary player whose instrument was a type of pipes appeared from nowhere and started playing "When the Saints" and held his hand out and it was not long before the passengers were throwing pesetas onto the quay for him. I do not think he belonged to the original group but was a rogue player who had thought of this enterprising idea.
At 1800 Oriana let go her lines and moved ahead off her berth swinging her bow to port before following reciprocal courses back out towards the pilot station and the Atlantic Ocean. At 1830 hours the pilot disembarked and then Oriana took a southerly heading for Lisbon 246.4 nautical miles away at an average speed of 18.6 knots.
Lisbon - Portugal - 06.09.00 - Sunny - 90 deg. We arrived in Lisbon at 7 am to the most wonderful sunrise, as the ship was heading towards the Suspension Bridge the dark red globe of the sun appeared on the horizon, quite a spectacular sight. On the approach to the port we passed by the Belem Tower and the Monument to Henry the Navigator. High on the hill overlooking Lisbon stood the colossal statue of Christ the King similar to the statue in Rio di Janeiro in Brazil.
Today we took the Scenic Southern Hills and Tagus Bridges tour at £22.00 per person. We drove over the River Tagus on the 25th April Bridge 230 feet above the water and the second largest suspension bridge in Europe, taking a photo stop opportunity at the Statue of Christ the King and a view over the city of Lisbon. We carried on through the Serra da Arrabida mountain range with some twisting and turning roads and drops into the ocean, not for those with vertigo, but did offer some magnificent views of an unspoilt beach of almost 7 miles in length. Our next stop was the town of Setubal, the third largest port in Portugal and had a population of 100,000, a lot of street repair work was being done so spoiled the effect of the narrow streets and old buildings.
On the return drive we crossed the recently inaugurated Vasco de Gama Bridge, which is currently the longest in Europe and the third largest in the world at a length of 9 miles. This tour was worth taking but the air conditioning in the coaches could not cope with the extreme heat so made it a bit uncomfortable.
Lorient - France - 07.09.00 - Sunny - 75 deg. Oriana silently crept by the Passe de L'ouest at 0630 hours for the 5 mile northerly river passage to the berth amid another beautiful red sunrise, the entrance to the harbour was quite narrow and as we passed some fortification I noticed a tug boat coming close behind her stern, I am not sure if this was to steady her as she docked or not. Although there were pretty views of sandy beaches and nice buildings on our sail in we docked in an industrial port and were transferred by shuttle bus into town. We intended to take a tour to Vannes but did not notice that the tour bookings closed two days before instead of one, so we missed out, therefore we decided to take the free shuttle bus to town and make a few purchases instead.
Lorient, an important U-boat base in WW2 was bombed extensively and the town left in ruins, so that means there are no buildings of great historical antiquity. The sea remains the dominant influence in the life of the town - with commercial and fishing harbours, marina, and is a military port. It is also the gateway to some of the most attractive places in Brittany.
Oriana was due to sail at 6 pm but the departure time was changed to 7.45 pm it was explained to us by the Captain that slack water was needed as it was a very tricky and narrow exit from the harbour, she made her way gingerly through the narrows at a place called the Citadel and took a Westerly course towards the Bay of Biscay and the Traffic Separation Scheme off the Isle of Ushant.
Guernsey - Channel Islands - 09.09.00 - 75 deg. At 0700 hours the pilot joined us and Oriana turned to the north into the approach channel for St.Peter Port when she was lined up her starboard anchor was dropped and by 0745 the continuous tender service commenced.
Being familiar with the Channel Islands and the Island of Jersey, this turned out to be my favourite port as Guernsey was just a smaller version of Jersey where we spent our honeymoon so it brought back many fond memories. There was a person from the Guernsey Tourist Board handing out tourist information as we got off the tender so we enquired as to the nearest Car Hire office, it was only 10 minutes walk away and by 9 am we were on our way around the beautiful island of Guernsey. Nothing could have been simpler, it cost £28.00 for the day including insurance and petrol, .it was a brand new car with only 20 miles on the clock and came complete with air conditioning which considering the temperature was greatly appreciated.
I was delighted to see that honesty boxes were still around in Guernsey, many cottages, farms and small holdings, had flowers, tomatoes, melons, strawberries placed out in front of their homes with boxes beside them for placing the money in. It showed that honesty still prevailed in this small island community.
There is a speed limit of 35 miles per hour which is logical considering the narrowness of some of the roads, the freedom of having a car meant that we could stop off at any of the beautiful bays and beaches and could go to any of the many attractions on the island when we wished. During the day we returned to St.Peter Port to check it out, there were some good bargains to be had here with jewellery, watches etc, and most passengers were pretty well laden down on the return tenders.
At 1800 hrs Oriana weighed anchor and with all tenders recovered made her way out of the bay. She then turned to the north once clear of Sark, and headed up towards the Alderney race and the English Channel, crossing the busy traffic lanes in the late evening on her short passage to Southampton.
Food The two restaurants on Oriana, the Peninsular and Oriental, were both quite stunning rooms, the Oriental situated aft, and the Peninsular midships,
Catering to British tastes we found the food to be good, not haute cuisine but with generous portions during dinner, there were four different vegetables silver served along with your entree. P&O always serve their Lobster as Lobster Thermidor, but I prefer it grilled and served with melted butter, so on speaking with the Head Waiter it was arranged that it would be served as I preferred it, and it was delicious. However if you see "Tarte a l'Oignan (a light Onion Tart with Emmental Cheese) on the menu avoid it, the pastry chef must have had a bad night as you would have needed a pick axe to cut through it, other than that there was nothing we could have complained about.. There were a few deliciously memorable desserts, and generally we were extremely satisfied with the food.
The dinner menus are printed daily with the date on them and some are adorned with artwork of previous P&O ships, they are presented to you on the last evening of the cruise by your Waiter - a nice memento to keep.
Buffet Dining The food in the buffet dining area was of a good selection and quality, and hot food was always hot. There were several hot dishes each day at lunch and a wide variety of salads, cold cuts etc, and always one hot sweet of the day, as well as the usual type desserts. The famous P&O curries appeared daily on the menu, and one evening there was an Indian Buffet dinner in the Conservatory dining area.
There was also a separate Pizzeria restaurant serving various type pizza's and a salad buffet.
Several days there were themed buffets on deck as well as all other dining options which made for a very wide variety of food being served.
Entertainment There were no fewer than 8 different bands and groups performing around the ship as well as the Stadium Theatre Company whose usual Review type shows with beautiful costumes were well received. The tribute to Freddy Mercury show was performed once again in the Pacific Show lounge however we felt the show on Aurora had more atmosphere and excitement but it was nice to see it done once again.
The comedian was John Martin from Liverpool who was excellent, his ability to adlib was tremendous, one night after the show had commenced people kept arriving in the theatre this continued for 10 minutes or more, he had the lights put on and he proceeded to continually barrage them until they stopped coming, it was the funniest thing I have ever seen, his quick fire comments were brilliant. I would not hesitate to see this man again and again.
Various days the band "Natural High" played at the Riviera Pool and one day they performed "I'm the Music Man - what can I Play" and it was most amusing to watch most adults (not all) completely let their inhibitions fly in the breeze and get really into the song, in fact there was one guy on the top deck overlooking the pool so into the actions that his wife walked off and left him, I think she was bit embarrassed when it came to playing the Bagpipes - he launched into a full version of the Highland Fling, but this made for a great time by all who joined in, myself included.
There were all the usual variety of events throughout the day, including quizzes and the one that we participated in was obviously attended by the regular experts each day, but I noticed when the totting up was done and it was won by the same team that had won the previous day one point was deducted from them to give the others a chance, so it was a draw which I thought was a very fair way of dealing with the teams who obviously are so good that they would win nearly every quiz they entered.
There was a £40,000 Lotto special night, five tickets cost £10 with an extra ticket thrown in for free, we did not attend this and I never did hear if anyone won the jackpot.
Miscellaneous P & O are more laid back about trying to extract more money from the passenger, I did not see any cocktails in fancy P&O glasses being pushed, the photographers did come round during dinner but disappeared quietly if you said no, there were no pirates accosting you as you left the dining room, glasses of champagne were offered at a cost on sail away from Southampton but they were not being pushed strongly, a large bottle of mineral water only was in the cabin on arrival and when it hadn't been used by the next morning it was removed without ceremony. There are no boxes of sample menus being charged at 6$ etc, the menus for the cruise are presented free of charge as I mentioned above.
There was the usual Inch of Gold and Watch sale, but they were only a few tables outside the shopping area and were pretty unobtrusive. There were no announcements other than the noon announcement from the Officer of the Watch, and on entering and leaving port disembarkation/embarkation details. There were announcements to the crew when they were doing Safety Drills on a port day, however these drills have happened on most ships that I have been on.
At the Captains Welcome Aboard cocktail party we attended, the drinks flowed freely with none of your watered down cocktails being offered, there was a good selection of spirits, wines etc, and these were offered again and again, in fact we were amused when we overheard a conversation between two elderly gentlemen sitting at the pool, one said that he could down 5 Whiskies during the cocktail party, I would liked to have been at his table for dinner I bet he was entertaining.
Disembarkation I was looking forward to seeing the QE2 when we arrived in Southampton as she was bound for a transatlantic later in the day as was Oriana, the first transatlantic for P&O in almost 30 years, but it was not to be, having just got to bed at around 2 am soon the fog horn was being sounded as we were in the deepest of fogs, so on arrival at Southampton we could see nothing other than the quay below. I later found out that QE2 was late into port but Oriana was smack on time fog or no fog.
Disembarkation was done by colour (like on other cruise lines), we were given the third to be called colour but like on Aurora a visit to the Pursers desk explaining we had a 8-9 hour drive in front of us, could we change to the first colour called, this was met with a smile and no problem madam, so we were in our car by 9 am and on our way home. Driving out of the port I wanted a last lingering look at Oriana but she was still shrouded in fog so that wasn't possible.
We enjoyed our cruise on Oriana but for some reason or other we preferred Aurora but I would sail on any of them again in a heartbeat.