P&O Cruises Oriana Southampton to the Canary Islands June 23, 2002
My husband David and I took a nine-night cruise on P&O's Oriana June 23 from Southampton to the Canary Islands, Madeira and back. This was our eighth cruise. These are my impressions.
The embarkation was smooth. Our luggage was taken as we arrived, and we saw it again once we reached our cabin. We waited for about 45 minutes before embarkation, seated comfortably in the terminal where you could buy drinks, newspapers, magazines and other odds and ends. Quite tranquil. Boarding proceeded according to cards handed out as you checked in...all hassle-free.
First we were taken to one of the beautiful lounges on this ship, Andersons. We made our own way to our cabin after a decent interval, as nobody seemed to be coming to escort us. We were highly impressed on our first glimpse of the interior...the ship is most tasteful and the three-deck atrium was quite stunning. The Oriana has a high level of cleanliness, which was maintained throughout the cruise.
We were on Deck 9 in the forward section of the ship...which was very long. I certainly got some exercise getting there. The cabin, C128, was an outside cabin with a very large window. It measured 150 sq. ft., including the bathroom. This was the smallest cabin we have ever had. The bathroom had a tub with shower, and it would have been more spacious if there had been just a shower. The cabin used large mirrors judiciously to enhance the size of the room. The bed was six feet wide--two singles joined together. We did think to separate the beds to make extra space in the middle, but were too lazy to bother. The wardrobe space had three doors, with the rails front to back rather than sideways. This was irritating, as you had to reach in trying to unhook those wretched hangers! To be fair, we had adequate space and were able to store our large suitcases under the beds. We had two chests of drawers, one on each side of the bed, with four drawers in each, plus a dressing table with four very spacious drawers.
A special plus was the fridge--so much better and cheaper than a minibar. We took on board our own wine and drinks. Also, there was a kettle and mugs plus tea, coffee, milk and sugar, so you could make your own refreshments. There were biscuits and chocolate drinks as well. We thought this was a great plus; we found making our own 'cuppa' whenever we wanted was wonderful. There was a TV with remote, and we were able to get BBC World, CNN etc.
While I am on this topic, congratulations to P&O for screening the World Cup Matches not only in the Pacific Lounge, but also in our cabins--my husband was delighted!
The bathroom was well equipped with liquid soap over the shower...Molton Brown, no less, quite an up-market brand. There was also a bag of goodies including cotton balls, sewing aids, nail files etc. The two bathroom cabinets were quite adequate. All in all, the cabin was good...very light.
Walking around the ship, it appeared to us that the inside cabins were equal size with outside. We also found that cabins in the same letter grade were priced according to location...we were KC forward. KAs were on a higher deck and were also in a better location, mid-ship.
The next grade of cabins, D grade, were a much better size and were also well located, but on the port side of the ship they had 3-4 people and were used by families. We would look for a D grade cabin if we could get a special price, but if we really wanted a cruise we would go the same grade as this time. The sound insulation was quite good, although we had only couples next door to us and we heard no noise from above.
Dining & Food
We were late bookers and thus had no choice of dining. We were assigned to the first sitting and at a table for six. The others were two couples travelling together and all were very pleasant, so no problems there. The food was quite good...not as good as QE2 or Crystal, but nevertheless offering plenty of choice and well presented. Our waiters were very good. All came from Goa, and were most professional.
The portions were generous, and there was always a fish dish and vegetarian selections. Considering the number of passengers, the dining experience was good. We ate in the Peninsular restaurant but the other, the Oriental, was a better-looking room, because it was at the stern with a wraparound window. Dining rooms were assigned based on cabin location, so we were placed in Peninsular. We did sneak into the Oriental for some breakfasts and lunches, but this was discouraged. (We were asked which restaurant we normally dined in, and we of course told a lie. Our readers need to know these things.)
Breakfast in the dining room ended at 9 a.m.--a grave mistake, in our opinion. We feel that breakfast should last until 9:30 at least. Dinner began at 6:30 p.m., second sitting at 8:30. Because we do not like to dine so early, we took advantage of the restaurant in the conservatory--the Lido. Each evening, part of this restaurant was transformed into Le Jardin and there was a cover charge of £3.50 per person, which was well worth it in our opinion. We were able to sit in the perfect location overlooking the water with our own waiter taking care of all our needs and the food was really good and very well presented. We ate there more often than in the dining room, as we enjoyed the experience so much.
Turning to breakfast and lunch in the conservatory, I simply do not like the hugger mugger atmosphere of these places. They are generally crowded and noisy, and this was no exception--kids shouting, others crying, and a generally un-relaxed atmosphere. Give me the starched tablecloths and the dignity of the main restaurant any day.
There were no theme dinners and no baked Alaska nights. Good!
My birthday happened during the cruise, and we managed to avoid the usual happy birthday song, but when we got to our cabin there were the balloons on the door and inside, a plate of Belgian chocolates and a card signed by the captain...very tasteful and much appreciated.
The dress code was always adhered to, and we were impressed with the standard of dress on formal nights. People on the Oriana were, in my opinion, better dressed than on QE2. Of the nine nights, three were formal, four were informal and two were casual (first and last nights). There were more men in tuxes than I had expected, and I certainly never felt overdressed in my finery.
We found the staff at all levels very helpful and polite, except for one waiter who took umbrage when I asked for fresh tea at breakfast. (The cup he poured was stewed.) He told me many people liked it like that and made a big production of it. Then he asked my husband if he should go and get another pot of hot water to serve the coffee...very sarcastic.
On-board shops had a lot of stock, but the evening clothes for sale were pretty awful, and one dress was marked as though it had been worn. They sold lots of jewelry and perfume. Not much to talk about really though quite adequate. There were two shops one on Deck 7 and another on Deck 6. They did give a talk about Tanzanite, which I had seen in the Caribbean. The young woman giving the talk seemed to read the details and knew very little. When I went to look at the display in the jewelry section, I thought it was vastly overpriced, as was the Swarzovski jewelry. The Pave was good, and they had a reasonable selection.
The Casino gave me a pain. I just love to play the slots but I was convinced that these were calibrated to give least return...I went through £10 in about 10 minutes and this was the worst result on slots that I have ever had. The other gaming room was well organized and attended, but we did not play.
We looked at the equipment in the gym, which was on a high deck. It was very good, and there was a spa there, too, which was always deserted. Dear reader, I took all my gym clothes but after looking at all the young men and women exercising ferociously, I just did not get round to my regular exercise.
The decks at the aft section where the pools were situated were always crowded on fine days at sea, and I have to tell you the German towel syndrome was well in evidence (please do not take offense, German readers...this is a British joke). In my opinion, British people are very guilty of the towel-on-deck-chair habit. This was a great drawback for us. You simply had to go out and stake your claim about 9 a.m. to get a chair. I was unable to get one except on the side promenade deck during the entire cruise. I don't want to sound too snobbish, but the types who do this kind of thing were a bit down-market, and I would not have liked to confront them.
The Jacuzzis were also quite crowded.
I did not visit the hairdresser. I find them generally overpriced and not that good, so prefer to take my own dryer and fix my own hair.
I looked at the cyber study, but sessions on the Internet were very expensive and I did not use it. Nor did it ever seem crowded. I liked the library, though I do wish there were some audio books to borrow. I always take one or two as they are amazingly soporific, and I never get to listen to more than one side before I am asleep. You could borrow two books at a time, and titles were up to date, including some very new ones. You could also buy paperbacks on board, a good idea. The Tackeray room attached to the library was a lovely relaxing place in which to read. I used it all day on the rough day we had on the way home.
My husband was disappointed by the lack of bridge players on board. There were eight others and nobody else came, so he did not get a game. We went to the trivia quizzes. One was at 5:30 p.m., a stupid time as those going to first sitting found it inconvenient. Still, there was always a good crowd there.
The Oriana had lots of bars to drink in, but I am not that interested in this, so I can only say that if bars are your scene, you will not be disappointed. We loved the Tiffany Court, where a pianist tinkled away before and after dinner. We sipped our cocktails and listened to his great improvisations.
I have to say that drink prices on Oriana were very reasonable. I think the drinks were cheaper than on any other ship we have cruised on.
I have nothing to say about discos...I am well past that age!
The Theatre Royal was highly impressive--a large theatre with tiered red plush seats, complete with individual air conditioning in each seat...how different! This was the best theatre on board that I have seen. The shows were fine. We heard that they had changed the dance troupe and were trying out a new company...well done, P&O, as we enjoyed the music and verve of the artists.
There were two nights of classical piano recitals in the Curzon room. Most music was well known and well played, and I found them most enjoyable. Another artist was an excellent illusionist, plus a stand up comedian on a couple of nights...and that was it.
The ports of call were well known to us:
Vigo, for Santiago De Compostela. We had done the tour before so went shopping in Vigo.
Lanzarote, where we took our only organized tour. The guide was one of the best we ever had, and the landscape of the island was highly dramatic. I would thoroughly recommend this tour.
Santa Cruz Tenerife, where we wandered around the town of Santa Cruz and found it most relaxing.
Madeira, the last port of call. We had been there twice before, but always like to wander around the town of Funchal. Our table mates said they enjoyed their tour greatly. There was always a bus to get into town, except in Funchal where a boat was laid on to take you to the middle of town...all very satisfactory.
We had one very rough night on the second night out. I was rather scared, but that was just because it was uncomfortable. The only other rough weather was just after we left Madeira, when a strong wind whipped the sea up and we spent a most uncomfortable day indoors.
How would I improve this cruise experience?
There were 200 children on the ship...children got very heavy discounts. I think some even went free under a certain age. For us, this was one of the downsides. We have grown children and teenage grandchildren, but we do not like to spend our cruises with kids. We thought that in June the kids would still be in school and I have to say I heartily disapprove of parents removing their children in term time to go on vacation. I know it is expensive to go during the school holidays, but we were surprised to see quite so many children. They were well catered for on board and I am sure they enjoyed themselves.
We certainly did not like them around at mealtimes. Why is it that young children wait until mealtime to bawl, scream and generally carry on? This was especially apparent in the conservatory, which I advise you to avoid if you are looking for tranquillity.
Next: cinema listings. The cinema is superb, and was underutilized both for talks and decent films. They showed Charlotte Grey and A Beautiful Mind, but films were poorly advertised and I have written to P&O to suggest they have a notice outside the cinema to say what is showing. The films shown in the cabins bore no resemblance to the written program. I am a real film fan, and so I was disappointed, especially as the cinema is so good. I saw Harry Potter and Monsters Inc. Both were rather spoiled for me because parents dropped their children in the cinema and left them, whereupon some played merry hell.
Guest Speakers: Where were they? There was an erudite gentleman who spoke about ports and the tours. We enjoyed his knowledge and thought he was great. There was one other guest speaker, a lady who spoke twice about getting your life in balance. She used quite a bit of jargon, and I have a really great balance in my life and did not go on a cruise for self-improvement.
This lack of guest speakers was a great disappointment to us, having been on other cruises where the guest speakers were pure enjoyment.
The under-utilization of so many wonderful lounges: The lounges on this ship were some of the best I have ever seen. How great it would have been to take afternoon tea in such gracious surroundings. But no! Afternoon tea was served in the restaurant or in the dreaded Conservatory...not at all gracious. I like a serene room with a musician in the background and waiters in elegant gloves serving finger sandwiches, scones and cakes, using elegant china. Is this maybe too much to ask? This is a British ship, and we should be doing tea in style!
Overall, though, I really did like the Oriana, especially as I paid only £799 for this cruise, booked only three weeks in advance. There were many other passengers who had paid the same price as us. An inside cabin could be had for £699...so who can complain? I think that the World Cup affected sales and so we were lucky. We booked via www.cruisesandvoyages.com; Wayne Frieslander is very efficient--tickets and info on time, etc. I understand P&O also offered this fare direct to customers as well.
I would score the cruise a 7 on a scale of 10, and would have given a better score except for my moans outlined above.