Year Started: 1837
Ships in Fleet: 7
Summary: The British cousin to America's Princess cruises. many ships of the same design as Princess, but made to appeal to UK cruisers. Beer, bacon and beans.
Good for: Seniors. Foodies. Singles.
Regions:Europe, Caribbean, World, Asia
Good for: Overall Service. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Group. First-time Cruisers.
Good for: First-time Cruisers. Families.
We enjoyed the cruise very much and rate the ship highly (see scores below). However, there are two faults that potentially occur with all cruises:
1. Smoking - we always have balcony cabins and on our last trip its use was spoilt by a smoker next door. As we were aft of him the smoke always came our way. Either restrict smoking to the aft deck port side (on Arcadia), only allow it in a designated section of aft cabins, or an outright ban.
2. Time in port. Generally there is not enough time in each port. I know berthing fees are astronomical in some ports e.g. Venice, but a few quid on a ticket that might cost well over Â£1000 could made a 'day in port' just that.
P & O - Fjords
The aim of this review is to warn future cruisers to avoid cabin D524 on the Azura. We booked this cruise at the last minute and unfortunately we were allocated cabin D524, which I believe was the last available cabin. This cabin is located next to a large air conditioning unit and it’s difficult to describe the intensity of the noise and vibration coming from this unit - much like a steam train rattling through a wind tunnel – on and on incessantly. I found the first night so stressful that I ended up crying into my vibrating pillow.
I feel that there should be a void between the air conditioning unit and the cabins. In my opinion this cabin is not suitable for sleeping in and whatever one pays for a cabin one is entitled to a good night’s sleep. In fact, we paid £100 pounds more each for this cruise than it was advertised for a few weeks earlier.
I believe P & O obviously know about the noise emanating from this cabin and still chose to offer it to its customers – its their swingsand roundabouts attitude. Some people will complain, some will just let it go but whatever the outcome P & O still make money from it.
It was such a disappointment because otherwise, it would have been an enjoyable cruise and we were blessed with some sun, especially on our sea days.
We did a couple of P & O excursions in the smaller ports – the coach and rail trip and a walk to the glazier – which is quite strenuous. I would recommend excursions in the smaller ports because there is very little to do in these ports otherwise.
As we have found on past P & O trips staff always friendly and very hard working
We have been very loyal to P & O over the last few years and stuck up for them when others have slated them but on this occasion I feel that we were totally ripped off.
Having seen and been on board the Azura for a day visit while in Southampton last June, there was something about this ship that attracted me to it. I vowed to have a cruise on her at some time in the future. In March 2011, I joined her on her transatlantic voyage from Barbados to Southampton.
Our charter flight, arranged by P&O Cruises took off more or less on time at 8.25am (4.25am Barbados time) it was comfortable with an attentive crew. About 90 minutes into the flight, the main meal was served (6.00am Barbados time) I feel that the meal served was not appropriate for the time of day and a hot breakfast would have been more suited.
On arrival at Barbados, coaches met us on the tarmac and conveyed us directly to the ship. The baggage was transferred directly from the aeroplane to the ship. This is one area of their service where P&O really excel. Check-in at the pier was fast, courteous and professional.
The ship itself is beautiful, the furnishings the décor – a mixture of modern and traditional – easy to get around and spotlessly clean. I immediatelyfelt at home.
My cabin too was spacious, well furnished, and comfortable and kept in tip top condition by a most friendly and conscientious cabin steward.
The food in the main restaurants and buffet was excellent, with plenty of choice, well presented and professionally served. So good was the food in the main-stream restaurants that I didn’t even bother to explore any of the other alternative dining facilities.
Special diets are taken care of with care and attention and nothing was too much trouble with staff providing special requests in this regard.
The entertainment on board, along with the guest lecturers were mostly of an extremely high standard. The Highlight of the evening entertainment was the outstanding performances given by the Headliners – The on-board singers and dancers. Never before have I seen such talented performers.
The very approachable Cruise Director and her friendly enthusiastic team were highly visible around the ship day and night – always well dressed and eager to provide information and to assist with queries.
On a trans-Atlantic journey such as this, there are quite a few days at sea and when the weather is good, deck space and sun loungers are at a premium especially around the pool areas. Whilst there is a policy concerning the reservation of sun-loungers, this is not enforced.
Bar prices, shore excursions, and items for sale in the shops were reasonably priced. Internet access and photographs on board were expensive.
As a smoker, I appreciated the smoke-free environment inside the ship. However, staff in the Pursers Office and those working on the decks are at odds with each other as to where the designated smoking areas on board actually are. There is also a lack of ash trays on the promenade deck.
Having sailed on Ventura, and indeed I enjoyed my cruise on that ship, I can quite honestly and without reservation say that my experience on-board Azura was superior in all aspects. Azura is a ship that will suit everyone and surely must be the pride in the fleet for P&O Cruises.
One of my best cruises – ever.
I most certainly will be back on-board the Azura and soon.
This cruise was on P&O Arcadia to the Norwegian Fjords & North Cape departing from and returning to Southampton.
Introduction This was the ninth cruise for my partner and myself, but the first on both P&O and Arcadia, so we looked forward to the experience with some trepidation. I can say, though, from the outset, we need not have worried. We chose this ship and line for the itinerary: Southampton -- Stavanger -- Flåm -- Olden -- Trondheim -- Honningsvåg (North Cape) -- Tromsø -- Andalsnes -- Bergen -- Southampton, and for the time of year -- my partner is a teacher. So were most of the other passengers, it seemed. Of every couple we met, at least one was a teacher or retired teacher.
Embarkation During the days before our departure date, the weather in England was very wet with severe flooding in many places. We decided to leave early (at 8.30am for a 2pm check–in) but had a completely uninterrupted journey to Southampton, arriving at 11am. What threw us a little bit was that the ship was scheduled to leave from the Mayflower Terminal, but was in fact berthed at theQueen Elizabeth II Terminal. Our luggage was taken away immediately and I was able to leave the car with Cruise & Passenger Services, but the check-in did not open until midday. The hour's wait was not wasted though, and we enjoyed watching fellow passengers arrive. When check-in eventually opened, we were among the first to get our boarding cards and were ushered up the escalator to the departure lounge. Much to our surprise, we were directed straight on to the ship and were thus on board at 12.15. Shortly afterwards, there was a public announcement that cabins would not be ready until 2pm and we should go to the Belvedere Restaurant (self-service) for lunch. Being among the first on board, there were no queues and after a very satisfactory seafood salad, we had time to explore the ship before finding our cabin.
Cabin Our cabin was D126, a balcony cabin on Deck 5 (or D Deck or Dominica Deck) and it connected with the next door cabin. This was initially a concern, but the next cabin was either unoccupied, the occupants were very quiet, or the insulation between the two was very good, because we heard not a peep. The cabin was very comfortable, twin beds made up as one, sofa with table and dressing table with coffee/tea making facilities, television and fridge containing two complimentary bottles of water. The bathroom was satisfactory, with both bath and shower. The shower was excellent with a good water flow, and more importantly, consistent temperature. I have found n other ships that the shower temperature often fluctuates between stone cold and scalding hot, depending on time of day and use of showers elsewhere.
A minor criticism was that the amount of storage was not generous and the wardrobes were a bit shallow, so there was always a sleeve or hem sticking out from the doors, and I had to re-fold all my shirts because they were too long to fit on the shelves. Having said all that, though, there was just enough storage for two people for two changes of clothes per day.
The balcony, I noticed, was slightly shallower than the balconies on the deck above, but still accommodated two teak deck chairs and a small, teak table. The top of one of the lifeboats was just below the floor level of the balcony and this precluded any views of the dockside immediately below. As all the balconies are recessed behind the line of the lifeboats, I don't know if any higher cabin would have the view either.
One disappointment was the lack of bathrobes (I believe they are available in higher grade cabins). They would have been very useful for going on to the balcony in the early mornings to view the scenery. Additionally, no shampoo or conditioner was provided in the bathroom, but the bottle of Moulton & Brown shower gel seemed to work fine.
Dining & Food We requested a table for second sitting dinner and were allocated Table 52 for six on the lower level of the Meridian Restaurant; not a window table, but close enough to get good views during dinner. We played musical chairs throughout the cruise, so that everyone could enjoy the views.
Food in the Meridian was generally very British and very good, although I had a rack of lamb that was very tough and game grill that was very dry. There was a tendency, though, to add a lot of different flavours to any given dish, for example: breast of chicken Maryland served with bacon, banana, corn pancake with a mustard jus. Service was good and unobtrusive, and although the dishes were already plated, vegetable came silver service, so one could have as much or as little as one wanted. For someone who is a small eater, this is a blessing, not being faced with leaving a plate half eaten. Our sommelier, perhaps, was a little overenthusiastic. Having selected the same wine for the first couple of nights, he had the same wine ready and open every following night! To get something different, we had to tell him the night before. Not a great criticism though –- on one cruise, the wine didn't appear until the desserts were served!!
Service and food and breakfast and lunch were also good, although we don't like the open seating arrangements and being shepherded on to large tables of strangers. Having said that, though, we generally had good conversations and met a couple from Scarborough who had watched Queen Mary 2 sail through Scarborough Bay in 2004 (at the request of Jimmy Saville) whilst we were on QM2 watching Scarborough pass by, and Jimmy Saville himself, who was on a boat alongside.
We also ate in the Belvedere Court, mostly breakfasts and the occasional lunch, and found what was on offer satisfactory. What I hate about all of these self-service restaurants, though, are the people who think it is acceptable to push into a queue at a counter because they want something half way down, or start at the other end and force their way against the flow.
There are two speciality restaurants on board Arcadia; Arcadian Rhodes and the Orchid Restaurant. We tried Arcadian Rhodes first and unfortunately, we were rather disappointed. We didn't think the room was particularly special, not sufficiently different from other areas of the ship and we were given an isolated table at the back adjacent to the waiters' station and the entrance to the galley when there were several window tables vacant. We didn't really enjoy the food and the service was quite slow, even though the restaurant was quite empty. However, the other two couples at our table also ate there and thought it excellent, so perhaps it's just our taste in food.
We thought of cancelling our reservation for the Orchid Restaurant as a result of our experience, but we are so glad we didn't. It spans the ship on Deck 11 and as we were sailing through the inshore islands, we had panoramic views from the windows. It is also a beautiful room. The food had an Indian theme for that night and food and service were superb. This time, we had a window table. We would hesitate going back to Arcadian Rhodes but would go back to the Orchid without hesitation.
Ship's Facilities I was told by a friend who had been on Arcadia recently that I wouldn't like the ship because it wasn't grand enough. Completely the opposite. I loved the ship because of it's many small, intimate areas and places where you could sit and read or just stare out to sea. From the Crow's Nest or the Orchid Bar you can get panoramic views and from other bars and lounges, big windows where you get a view of the sea. Many reviews have complained about the small atrium above Deck 1, but I would rather the space is used for passengers rather than just creating an impression. I have compared the deck plans of the new Cunard Queen Victoria (it is basically the same Vista-class ship) with those of Arcadia, and all the small spaces have disappeared to accommodate the grand spaces Cunard wants (there are virtually no intimate spaces on Queen Mary 2 either).
We didn't use the casino or the Rising Sun pub, and thought the library was perhaps a bit small. We only used it to reference the Berlitz cruise ship guide to get information on other ships we saw in port. The gymnasium and spa facilities looked extensive, but we didn't use them, only passing through to get to that best kept secret, the forward observation deck!
The main swimming pool under its retractable roof was well used, but again, we only passed through -- the humidity, smell of chlorine and noise were too much (old fuddy-duddies you might say, but at 46 and 59 we were among the youngest on the ship!)
Service Service in all areas was excellent and the staff made a point of learning our names and what we liked to drink, and this was in the several bars that we frequented during the day and evenings. Getting a drink on the Promenade Deck after 6pm was more difficult -- service was suspended at that time and you had to collect your own drink.
During the cruise, we had a classical pianist who played in the Crow's Nest in the early evening. His first concert came at the end of a sea day and the Crow's Nest was fairly full. He started playing, and as the time passed, quite a lot of people started looking around for stewards to refresh their drinks, but they had disappeared! The expressions of horror at being stuck drinkless were quite funny. We later discovered that a sign had been put outside to say that service would be suspended 15 minutes before the start of the concert, but of course, we were already there and didn't see it!
Entertainment We only attended one show in the Palladium Theatre and that was the Cirque Arcadia, a dance, song and acrobatic show. This was excellent. Before and after dinner in the Crow's Nest there was live music and not too loud and obtrusive. In the Piano Bar, there was -- guess what -- piano music from time to time, but there were always places where you could meet for pre-dinner drinks without music.
We went to one port lecture and to a presentation about the new Ventura, a ship that seems to be geared up especially for children. In the evenings, we always headed for the Crow's Nest, where, at 11pm, there was a team quiz. It was great fun and our dinner table, whether two, four or six of us taking part, generally did abysmally! Also in the Crow's Nest, we got caught one afternoon by the first of the two daily games of bingo. We'd never before experienced audience participation -- after each number was called, the players responded -- 88, two fat sailors and everybody responded “wobble, wobble”. Within minutes, we were in stitches and in serious danger of being thrown out!!
Ports of Call Stavanger: After a day at sea from Southampton, the first port of call was Stavanger. We took a short, morning coach excursion from the pier (only a few hundred yards from the cathedral and the centre of town) to an iron age farm at Ullandhaug Hill where our guide gave way to a representative (and archaeologist) from the university. He was an excellent speaker and gave a very interesting and amusing talk about the farm, the people and myths surrounding the area (the horned helmets of the Vikings are as mythical as the trolls of Norway). From there, we were taken to a hill top featuring a 1960s television aerial, but with panoramic views from its base, and then back into the town to the cathedral to which we paid a short visit. Following that, our guide walked us through the old town (probably mid 1800s because the Norwegians are always burning their towns down) and back to the ship. Our intention after lunch was to go back into town and walk around on our own, but it was warm and sunny and we spent it on deck instead! In any case, we are back in Stavanger next year on board QE2 (No criticism of P&O. It's just that we want to be on board a ship that we love for one last time)
Flåm: Our next call was at Flåm on Sognefjord. Whatever you do on an itinerary like this, get up early. Sailing into the fjords with still waters and early morning mists is magnificent. It's still spectacular sailing out in the afternoon, but the mists and stillness add to the scenery. Here, our intention was to take the Flåmbana railway to Vatnahalsen (not quite the end of the line) and back, with waffles and cream at the Vatnahalsen Hotel (excellent, but rather poorly washed crockery). The journey is spectacular (I shall probably use this word again a lot more times) with a halt going up and coming down at the Kjosfossen waterfall where you get off the train to take photographs (and get soaked by the spray). Eerie music starts up and suddenly there is a blond Viking woman prancing about on the rocks and enticing you into the falls (probably a man in a wetsuit, wig and long dress). Weird, but fun.
Olden: At the head of Nordfjord/Utfjord, Olden is set in a beautiful location with the waters of the fjord a bright blue from glacial runoff. Our excursion of the day was to the Briksdal Glacier. The coach trip there was about 30 minutes up the spectacular and beautiful Olden Valley to the visitor centre for the Josterdalsbreen National Park. From there, it was a very steep (for most of the way) 45 minute walk to the foot of the glacier. Unfortunately, it has retreated 25 metres in the last few years and it was not actually possible to get right up to it as the ice is now deemed to be unsafe.
Trondheim: Following the tiny villages of Flåm and Olden, Trondheim is a metropolis in comparison. Our excursion was by coach and veteran tram. The coach took us the short distance from the dock to the cathedral where we walked around part of the old town before boarding the tram. This took us around the town centre before taking us miles into the hills and forests above the town. At the end of the line, our coach met us again and took us back to the ship, calling at the Kristiansten Fort for panoramic views over the city.
North Cape: It was a day at sea to reach Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya where we disembarked for the North Cape. En route, we crossed the Arctic Circle and then sailed up Hollandsfjord to view an offshoot of the Svartisan Glacier, which has also shrunk in recent years. Leaving there, we travelled for several hours through the inshore islands before heading out to sea and northwards.
Our guide to North Cape told us we might see reindeer belonging to the Sami people (no longer called Laplanders). We thought we might see one or two, but in fact there were hundreds, some of them bringing the bus to a halt as they ambled across the road. The road from Honningsvåg is spectacular and over real Arctic tundra, but North Cape itself is not much: a visitor centre with souvenir shop, café, post office, chapel and enormous bar, with a globe on a plinth above the cliffs themselves. Like a lot of places in Norway, once you have reached your destination, there is not a lot to see or do (unless you like walking), so after 20 minutes, we were ready to leave. However, it's nice to have been there, and the journey there and back was worth it in itself.
The best part was the ship then sailing past North Cape at midnight with it beautifully lit by the midnight sun. The party atmosphere on board was fantastic with everybody on deck at midnight with their cameras to be photographed with the sun somebody took my photograph and my head beautifully eclipses the sun!
Tromsø: Another sail along a magnificent fjord (actually a sound) to reach Tromsø. We had a coach tour of the city before stopping at the Arctic Cathedral and then taking the cable car to the top of Storsteinen (1380 feet). From there, the views over Tromsø, the island of Tromsøya on which it is located and the surrounding sounds are magnificent, well worth the visit. We were then taken to the Tromsø University Museum (our Spanish guide was a student there!) -- not too interesting as the signs on the exhibits were only in Norwegian.
Andalsnes On Isfjord: The town used to be just two farms, Andals and Nes and as a community grew around them, they combined the two names. In the morning, we visited Trollveggen, the tallest vertical rock face in the world outside the Grand Canyon and then Trollstigen at the top of and on the opposite side of the same mountain, up a precipitous and narrow road with numerous U-bends. Not a lot there except the inevitable souvenir shop, café and toilets, and of course, the spectacular views.
In the afternoon, we were to travel on a train pulled by a vintage steam engine, but it was out of commission for the summer and we were pulled by diesel instead. A coach took us to Bjorli Station to pick up the train and en route stopped at Trollveggen again! The train runs back down the same valley through yet more spectacular scenery, starting very high up the valley side and then by way of a 360° tunnel inside the mountain dropped to lower and lower levels. Guess what? We passed through Trollveggen for the third time, but at least didn't stop!
Bergen: The weather in Andalsnes was rather grey and damp in the morning, but brightened during the day. The whole trip was general bright and warm and we had breakfast on deck the two mornings inside the Arctic Circle. However, Bergen was very wet indeed with very heavy showers all through the day. Our guide told us that the city had 280 to 300 days of rain a year! We took the funicular railway to the top of Fløyen, a thousand feet above the city. The view should have been fantastic, but we arrived during an absolute downpour and other than seconds braving the elements at the vantage point, we huddled in the souvenir shop along with passengers from three other cruise ships in port! Our coach then took us around the city and criss-crossed it from north to south, east to west. It's very attractive indeed. However, the weather prevented us walking back in during the afternoon for a further look.
Gratuities Gratuities were not included in the on board account, but the cruise information recommended £3.50 per person per day to be split between the cabin steward and dining room staff. We paid a little more than because we felt that the level of service deserved it and we included a couple of the bar staff as well.
Disembarkation On previous cruises, disembarkation has usually been on a deck by deck basis with the suites and loyalty club members getting off first. Our deck has usually given us a disembarkation time of about 11am. I don't know on what basis this disembarkation was organised, but we were allocated an 8am slot for departure with only the self-help passengers getting off earlier at 7.30. On the dot, we were called to go ashore and 15 minutes later, we had collected the luggage, loaded the car and were driving away. It couldn't have been easier and we were home by 10.45.
General I had some doubts about booking this cruise, having visited a couple of fjords before and not been that impressed. I realise that neither of them were good representations for what we actually saw, both sailing along the fjords we did and among the inshore islands. I have never seen such spectacular scenery. It was obviously helped by the good weather we had other than in Bergen. And the ship? It exceeded expectations. It was comfortable, quiet and not crowded, although the Crow's Nest could get full in the evenings and it was sometimes difficult to find a seat. The stewards, however, raided the adjoining Viceroy Room for armchairs to accommodate us.
The ship is child free, but I have never found children on board to be a problem (I never use the pools which I agree they tend to take over). Except for very few people in their 20s and 30s, the passengers were of retirement age and older -- I believe the Electra disco played to very small audiences, although we never even discovered it until the last day. Would we select this ship again? Absolutely! And the itinerary? I would recommend it to anyone, although it is weather dependant to get the best out of it.
Not having sailed with P & O Cruises over the Christmas and New Year Period before, I chose P&O's ship the 'Oceana', for my 'holiday' cruise in 2005.
Oceana was built in 2000, of 77,000 tons; she has a maximum operating capacity of 2272 passengers and 870 crew. The ship has 12 passenger decks, 2 swimming pools (fresh water) a couple of splash pools and 5 Jacuzzis. There are 2 main restaurants; currently offering two sittings for dinner, but this, I understand is due to change in April, when one of the restaurants will become 'open seating'. There is also the Plaza restaurant for casual dining, and in the evening, this restaurant transforms, together with the Horizon Grill, into alternative dining venues, with reservations required and at a supplement (currently £6.75 or USD$11.00) per person. The Café Jardin on deck 8 provides food 24 hours a day.
There are two primary show lounges, no fewer than 10 bars/lounges serving alcohol and coffees, a casino, a well-stocked library, a cyber study facility, an avenue of shops, a photo gallery, an art gallery and a number of launderettes for use by passengers (washers and driers arefree, but guests must supply their own soap, available for purchase from the shop onboard). There is also a very active club with a highly energetic and enthusiastic staff, catering for the needs of children and teenagers.
P & O, now part of the Carnival Corporation, operates a fleet of 5 ships. The homeport for their ships is Southampton, England and P & O have a sea-going tradition since 1837, -some 169 years experience. Each year, during the winter months, three of its ships depart on World Cruises, whilst the remaining two ships are based in the Caribbean. During the other seasons, the fleet operates to and from Southampton on cruises of varying durations, offering a wide choice of itineraries. The company claim that they operate a service of 'Traditional British Cruising'. The currency on board is the pound sterling (£).
Documentation for this cruise was factual, informative and correct and arrived in good time prior to sailing. The full programme of shore excursions was also provided and these could be booked in advance.
On this particular cruise, there was a wide range in the ages of passengers, from children in 'buggies' to elderly grand parents. All seemed to mix well and there was a relaxed holiday mood on board. The ship had been skilfully and beautifully decorated and it was evident that Christmas was just around the corner.
The cruise had been named the 'Calypso Island Christmas Cruise'. It was of 14 days duration, sailing to and from Barbados. There were 10 ports of call and 3 days at sea, Christmas Day and Boxing Day being two of the days spent 'at sea'. It was a 'port intensive' cruise, especially in the latter stages and most passengers, would have liked a 'sea day' at some stage in between these ports of call. Consideration should be given to perhaps re-thinking future itineraries, after a long flight from the UK, most passengers would appreciate the first day, being a sea day, to get over the four hour time difference and to take time to relax and get into the 'cruise mode', or perhaps have the overnight stay in Barbados at the beginning of the cruise, rather than at the end. Additionally, a further suggestion being - New Year's Day - after the activities of New Year's Eve - a day at sea, rather than St Kitts, especially on a Sunday (and a public holiday at that) would have been welcomed.
In order to transport passengers to and from the embarkation port, P&O charters a number of aircrafts which depart from various UK airports. Unfortunately all best plans can encounter difficulties and a number of the flights were late in arriving in Barbados, thus delaying our ships departure time by 2 hours. As with all charter airlines, there is very limited seat space and legroom on such flights, in-flight catering was basic to say the least, but the airline did offer a free bar service. One of the convenient things in regard to these flights, is that when you check-in your luggage in the UK, it is transported in sealed units directly to the ship and is delivered directly to your cabin. This saves the hassle of having to claim your baggage at the arrival airport and transfer it to a coach to take you to the ship. Additionally, coaches meet the flight at the airport steps, and passengers are transferred directly to the ship, thus avoiding long lines for Immigration Procedures to take place. P & O Cruises do offer guests, the option of using the service of scheduled flights to and from Barbados at hefty supplements. Similar arrangements are in place for the return flights.
Check-in procedures for the cruise, is carried out in a shed adjacent to the ship. These were friendly, quick, and professionally carried out.
On boarding the ship, members of the crew were available to escort or direct guests to their cabins. For this cruise, we had chosen an outside cabin with balcony (JD) Grade. . There are 23 grades of cabins on the Oceana, ranging from inside twins to suites. There are no single cabins, but the company do offer solo guests the opportunity of purchasing a twin for sole use at a supplement. These supplements vary, depending of the cruise, the date and duration of the cruise. P & O also offer a 'share cabin' programme for solo travellers.
On arrival at our cabin, we were disappointed at the size (178 sq feet, including balcony) - the smallest size for this type of cabin throughout P&O's fleet. However it was well furnished and comfortable. There is also excellent privacy on the balconies. The balconies are best described as another cruise company so describes them as 'sheltered balcony cabins' as they are not the traditional balconies, but rather, balconies within the ships hull. Facilities in the cabins include a remote control television, tea and coffee making facilities, a safe, hairdryer, air-conditioning, en-suite shower room and a refrigerator. Storage space was limited. The balcony accommodated two recliner chairs and a small table. The net curtains on the window, which lead to the balcony were stained and contained a number of holes (probably resulting in being caught in the sliding balcony door). The en-suite was tiny (I was able to spread my arms and touch both walls, and there was very little space between my knees, when sitting on the 'throne' and the door of the unit). Luxury toiletries available, but no bathrobes or slippers or fresh fruit are provided. Towels were, on occasions hard and thread borne. The shower curtain was also badly stained. The shower worked, although noisy, with varying water pressures but with an abundant supply of piping hot water. The water from the taps in this unit is safe for drinking. The cabin was spotlessly clean and was kept in this condition throughout the cruise.
Each cabin is equipped with a standard 13-amp plug (British style socket) and a 110-volt American style socket. In the en-suite, there are 110/230-volt plugs for electric shavers.
There is a good room service menu available during the day until late evening and then this becomes very limited. Full breakfast is not available via room service only Continental breakfast.
The cabin steward, shortly after arrival, came to the cabin, introduced himself and did show us how the cabin facilities operated. He also showed us where our life jackets were located, where our Muster Station were located, and asked that we spend some time, watching the video presentation currently being shown on the television, in advance of the Muster Drill. I requested additional towels, ice and feather pillows and was advised that he would have to request these, and that they would be delivered the next day, with the exception of the ice which he provided. When we retired to bed that first evening, we were surprised to find that there were two separate single duvets on the double bed, this somehow seemed strange. We asked the cabin steward for a double duvet, who advised us that none were available, but when we spoke with his supervisor, one was supplied within 24 hours (a point worth remembering - double duvets are available). Lots of things on this ship appear to be 'on request'.
The ship itself is well appointed with soft furnishings, interesting art works, comfortable sofas and sympathetic lighting in public areas. The ship is relatively easy to negotiate and is well signed - one things of note, especially for guests who may have walking difficulties, is that only the elevators at the front of the ship, serve all passengers decks. The elevators to the rear only serve 7 of the decks and the glass elevators in the Atrium only serve 4 passenger decks.
The ship was full for this sailing, but didn't feel 'crowded'. On sea days the area around the main swimming pools did get packed and sun loungers were at a premium. However space and any number of sun loungers could be found in other deck areas around the ship.
The Atrium in mid-ships, spans 4 passenger decks, and is a wonderful place for 'people watching'. On the ground floor, are the reception desk (open 24 hours), shore excursions office, future cruise sales desk and The Portunus Club Representative (P&O's loyalty club).
One of the first things that one notices on this ship is the immaculate turnout of the staff in all departments (from the middle ranking officers to the deck stewards, from the waiters to the all too important guys who work on their knees polishing the brasses and keeping the ship clean). All seem to be happy and enjoy their work, and almost all had smiles on their faces and greeted and acknowledged guests presence with a simple Good Morning or Good Evening Sir - a feature unfortunately lacking nowadays on so many ships.
On previous cruises with P&O, it was common to see senior officers walk around the ship and converse with passengers, not on this ship - the absence of senior officers seen in public areas was very noticeable, infact it was a rarity and many of the guests were so disappointed - this topic seemed to come up in most conversations, especially among past passengers and first time cruisers were amazed that there was no opportunity to have their picture taken with either the Captain or Staff Captain.ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME
The Entertainment Programme on this ship can only be described as excellent in all regards. There was something for everyone! West End or Hollywood style shows, specialist entertainers, guest lecturers, music of all kinds - a full and varied programme, details of which were clearly outlined in the ships on-board information bulletin 'Oceana Today' which was delivered to cabins daily.
The highly talented Cruise Director and staff were always visible throughout the ship and again distinguishable by their smart turnout and co-ordinated dress.
A nice touch on board, is that this line really do want single passengers travelling alone to feel welcome and 'inclusive' without 'intrusion'. Early on in the cruise there was a meeting for such travellers, and each day, it was advertised that a member of the Cruise Staff would be available to meet solos for coffee and a chat at a given venue and time. On the night of the Captains Formal Reception, the group met some 15 minutes prior to the commencement of this reception. Some of the ladies travelling solo indicated to me that this arrangement was excellent, as many felt embarrassed at attending such events on previous cruise ships by themselves.The only adverse comment that I would make in respect of the entertainment on board is in relation to their scheduling of programmes - on some occasions major events did overlap which caused disappointment. On other occasions, one had to make the difficult choice between a featured production show or celebrity entertainment. Guests on 2nd seating dining lost out in this regard, whereas if one of the shows had have been scheduled as a pre-dinner show, we could have then had the benefit of attending each. With the wealth of entertainment at P&O's disposal on board, it was disappointing at their programme choices on both Christmas night and New Years Eve. The entertainment offered on Christmas night was exactly the same as on offer on Christmas Eve - the same shows and featured entertainment, whilst on New Years Eve, the choice was a deck party or listening to a pianist or attending a church service. On 'holiday cruises', guests pay 'over the odds' for the cruise and on each of these evenings, we expect, not only with P&O but with other cruise companies, to pull out all the stops on these festive nights.
The late start of some of the events/shows/lectures was annoying.
In cabin television options and programming too was excellent, with a wide range and choice of programmes and films for viewing. I particularly liked the 'Christmas Channel' - which showed both old and modern Christmas Films - these brought back many childhood memories.RESTAURANT AND FOOD SERVICE.
There are two main restaurants onboard Oceana - the Adriatic and Ligurian, both are similar. We were allocated the Adriatic, where the restaurant manager endeavoured to accommodate all of the guests' requirements. Totally professional, it amazed me as to how he remembered most people's names. He was ably assisted by a number of Headwaiters.
Tables are very close together in both of the main restaurants; most seating- 4,6 or 8 guests - there were a few tables for 2. The majority of tables are rectangular in shape and we find that there can be difficulty in communicating with all 'tablemates' on tables of this design and find that round or oval shaped tables are more user-friendly in this regard. The ceiling in both restaurants is low, thus the noise levels within the restaurants tends to be high.
Food service in the main restaurants was excellent. Our regular waiter and assistant waiter at dinner were particularly proficient in this regard. However presentation was very disappointing, except at the Gala Dinners. Food was wholesome, plentiful, varied and tasty. It was 'packing' food - it was good - no pretty pictures on the plate here! Currently the vegetables are served 'Silver Service', but unfortunately from April this practice is going to stop and meals served will be plated - this is unfortunate.
Breakfast and lunch are 'open seating', whereby dinner is currently by assigned tables.
We found that cooked breakfasts in the restaurant would have tasted better if they had have been served hot, rather than luke-warm. There is a 'special' on the breakfast menu each day. The breakfast menus were typically traditional British breakfast fare.
The selection and variety of bread served at dinner, as did the choice of Danish Pastries at breakfast left a lot to be desired - very little in the way of choice and mostly the same variety each evening -often they were stale. The choice of juices at breakfast in both the formal and casual restaurants was limited. I requested Cranberry juice and was advised that this would have to come from a bar and would be chargeable.
One of the things that I enjoy on cruises, is the array and taste of the fresh fruit usually available, not on this cruise - just the basics, melon, pineapple, apples, pears, oranges, bananas and grapes - nothing exotic at all. I found most of the time that the fruits served were not ripe (although this did improved a little as the cruise progressed) and lacked any sort of taste. I usually enjoy a fruit platter for starters both at breakfast and dinner. On the first evening, I asked if I could have such a platter and was refused, melon only being available. The next evening I was advised, that such a platter is available, but only available through ' Special Order' and requested though the Headwaiter. I made these requests and received my fruit platters, but no thought had gone into their presentation (which is so important on a cruise), just slices of fruit dumped on a plate.
The choice of cheeses available was excellent.
There are no salad courses on the dinner menus - these are - yes you have guessed it - 'by request'. Caesar Salads were however available daily as a main course dish, as was chicken, salmon and sirloin steak.
The Gala Dinner served on Christmas Day was however outstanding, in regards to choice, presentation, quality and quantity. Lots of thought, time, and care had obviously been taken into making this particular dinner one of the highlights of the cruise.
The Yuletide buffet lunch served in a formal restaurant on Boxing Day was spectacular both in looks and presentation and tasted every bit as good.
A chocoholic's buffet served one afternoon was most popular and it was pleasing that the needs of diabetics were cater for.
In relation to The Plaza - the Casual Dining Restaurant, the first thing that is noticed, is that there are no trays, on which to carry plates, utensils and glasses or cups to the tables - these are needed - especially for those in ripper years, and would also save the need for guests to keep returning to the buffet areas for each course thus avoiding congestions in this area.
Food here was reasonably varied and hot food was hot. This venue was the home of rich, fattening and appealing desserts.
Unfortunately there was little evidence of the use of 'real cream' on these desserts; mostly it was synthetic, as was the cream to accompany the scones in the afternoon in The Plaza. Real cream while more 'naughty' does give an enriched taste.
Unlike other ships, fruit juices are only available during breakfast service, at other times they have to be purchased from the adjacent bar.
Traditional Afternoon Tea (P&O style) is served, is on most days in one of the dining rooms.
Throughout the P&O fleet, there are three set dress codes for the evening -
Formal - a dinner jacket, white tuxedo or dark suit and tie for gentlemen and long or short evening wear for ladies. Informal - jacket, shirt and tie, or smart shirts which do not require a tie when worn with a linen or blazer-style jacket for men and for the ladies the option ranges from tailored trousers to cocktail dresses. Casual - stylish resort or leisurewear for both men and women.
Shorts are not permitted in any of the main or specialty restaurants for dinner.
On this cruise, there were 4 formal nights and the remainder were casual. It was pleasing to see that almost every passenger did comply with the dress code. Indeed, many passengers chose on the casual nights to 'up dress' (to the dress that is suggested for informal nights - it was obvious that these guests were seasoned P&O cruisers who recalled the days when the dress code onboard P&O ships was either formal or inform only.SHORE EXCURSION PROGRAMME.
A wide selection of shore excursions were available at each of the ports of call. The staff in the shore excursions office were most knowledgeable. These were keenly priced and offered value for money.TENDER SERVICE.
At ports where tender service was in operation, this transfer procedure was carried out swiftly and smoothly.SECURITY STAFF.
Particular mention must be made in relation to the Security Staff on this vessel. They carried out their various duties in a totally proficient and competent manner. No scowls here - pleasant, always a smile on their faces and courteous at all times.BAR SERVICES.
A wide range of drinks and cocktails were available from bars throughout the ship. Costs of these beverages were reasonable. Drinks were of good quality and had a kick to them. There was no pressure put on guests to purchase drinks and it was pleasing that there was no 15% gratuity automatically added to the price of these drinks. Gratuities are already been included in the costs. There is a good wine list in the dining rooms, again - these wines are keenly priced.
Another pleasing aspect of the bar and beverage service is that the staff are not aggressive in their approach - unlike so many other cruise lines, where staff have targets to meet.
P & O Cruises suggest that a gratuity of £1.40 (USD$2.31) per day be given to your cabin steward and the sum of £1.50 (USD$2.59) per day to be shared between you waiter and assistant waiter- £2.90 (USD$4.90) a day in total - making the sum of £40.60 (USD$70.00) for a 14 night cruise. * Conversion rates approximate * Most passengers put the gratuity or tip into an envelope and give it to their steward and waiters on the last night of the cruise. Others are known to have skipped dinner on the last night so as not to have to give any gratuities, and these guests usually occupy the most expensive cabins or suits on ships). Yes it does happen and often.INTERNET ACCESS.
Internet access is available on the ship, when satellite reception is available, although it is not cheap. The basic time charge is £0.30p(USD$0.51) per minute with a one-time activation cost of £1.95 (USD$3.32). Packages can be purchased when can reduce these costs substantially.THE LITTLE EXTRAS.
Each guest on this cruise, received a Christmas card and an extremely up-market Christmas present, wrapped in Christmas paper and delivered to their cabin on Christmas Eve - a nice seasonal touch.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE.
The genuine friendliness of all the crew.
The entertainment on-board.
The spectacular, Christmas Day dinner menu.
The Boxing Day Yule Tide Buffet.
The Human touches - like the Officers Choir who treated us to Carols in the Atrium on Christmas Eve.
Being treated as if one of an 'extended family' - not as a guest or a passenger - but something more than that - the personalisation.
The sail-away party on New Years Eve from Antigua, when Oriana (another ship of the P&O fleet) was berthed next to us. - British tradition at its best).DISAPPOINTMENTS.
The standard and variety of fruits and breads available.
The scheduling of entertainment on board.
Entertainment provided on both Christmas Night (this was a repeat of Christmas Eves programme) and New Years Eve.
The decision, to transfer the Captains Gala Cocktail Party from the 1st sea day (Christmas night) to the penultimate sailing night. Also the Atrium, which is used for this party, lacks atmosphere for events of this nature.
The inconsiderate fellow passengers whose mobile phones ring during dinner or a show and they then proceed to carry out a full conversation with the caller. These devices of modern technology should be banned from cruise ships and not encouraged by installing systems to enhance reception qualities.SUMMARY
A good solid product, which caters for all - the Oceana would appear to be P&O's 'party ship' with a less formal and more relaxed atmosphere on board. On a cruise with P&O - there is something for everyone - No-one should be disappointed.
A bit more expensive, than some others in the same class, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
A few niggly complaints - (but that's me) - nothing so seriousness to spoil the overall enjoyment of the cruise.
Traditional British Cruising in a warm and extremely friendly environment.
This was the first proper cruise that my partner and I have done. We did it as a trial as we have booked on the QE2 transatlantic crossing in Dec 04 and wanted to check a bit of a cruise while we waited.
This was a great experience. It was a 4 day/ 3 night "taster" on the Aurora that I assume is to try and get people like us to give cruising a try. Although, we only ever met people that were experienced cruisers who were using the short trip as a "top-up" to get their cruise fix before longer cruises!
The 3 nights involved going from Southampton - Zeebrugge - Guersney - Southampton. We had booked into a mini-suite.
The following are some observations and thoughts:
Check-in/ embarkation: amazing The check in was so smooth and easy to do. More used to airline travel we were amazed at how efficient and organized it was. We barely stood in line. Once into the waiting area (which is neat and tidy but not very exciting) we felt that they could offer more for passengers to do. We had an priority boarding aswe were in a mini-suite. We were taken to ANDERSONS bar and given a drink and sandwiches.
Cabin We were very very impressed. It is around 350 sq feet. With a massive king size bed (I belive made from 2 singles), bathroom with Jacuzzi bath and 2 basins, lounge area with clever set up where a dining room table is inserted into a desk area. The balcony comfortably held 2 chairs and a lounger. There were chocolates, flowers and champagne to greet us.
Dining We had second sitting in the ALEXANDRIA. It looked good. The service was so good it was almost invisible that you barely even realized it was all happening. Drinks were reasonably priced, and the food was varied and delicious. We had been put with a good set of people, 2 single travellers and a couple. All were regular cruisers and so we spent many happy hours chatting and getting their advice.
We had breakfast and lunch in the MEDINA each day as that had a served breakfast and lunch, preferring that to the ORANGERY which had a buffet. Service here was more patchy. Maybe as they knew that we would not be influencing their tips.
The formal tea was also in that restaurant. That was very good indeed with a lovely selection of pastries, cakes, sandwiches etc
Entertainment etc - We used the gym twice. It is well equipped and bright. It would be good if they had TVs or better music as the gym instructor played techno dance music all the time which was not ideal! - The spa was good, and we both had excellent and (compared to UK land prices) very reasonably priced back, neck and shoulder massage. - The shows put on by the theatre company (young dancer/ singers) were good. They have huge energy, and while clearly they had a good singing and dancing coach/ director they probably need some help on the staging and "book" as that was a bit amateur. But they were very enjoyable. - The casino was small and very smoke filled. - Tours on offer were varied and well organized.
Overall We thought the ship was great. It was very clean and well maintained -and you never saw anyone doing it so like the restaurant service it is done quietly and so as you don't notice it.
The shops were terrible - and we felt a real missed opportunity as even though we wanted to spend money all they had was fragrance, some clothes if you had forgotten something and a bit of watches, chains etc. It is a large and beautiful ship and looks great too!
Overview-This is a very long review as it covers two 14 night cruises back to back from Acapulco to Buenos Aires. The ship is P&O's Arcadia (formerly star princess) now an Adults only ship. I will not spend much time on the ship as it soon transfers to another division & becomes Ocean Village, except to mention things that indicate P&O philosophy. The itinerary was superb & we had a fantastic cruise in spite of our reservations about P&O food. We are both retired and have some limitations on activities that we can do, likewise we are not party animals but do enjoy a good time and regularly attend theatre shows etc at home, we do like scenery & seeing new places but are not into shopping. This was our 1st P&O cruise but we have been on 17 other cruises with various lines. P&O & Charter Flights-Travel to & from ship was by charter flight, formalities at a minimum. Hand over cruise voucher at UK airport, check in, fly out, board coach at airport & given little green card, hand that in at gangway & you are on ship! Creditcard can be given to guest relations any time! The USA lines could learn from this simple procedure!! Return boarding cards are given out on ship.
Our outward flight refuelled & changed crew at Montreal, lucky it was not a blizzard there (the unfortunates on a Monarch flight were diverted in Cuba by fog & were 11 hours late). Glad to see the sun rise over Gulf of Mexico after being in darkness for 21.5 hours since leaving home, landed at Acapulco after 15 hour flight to find it full of planes diverted from Mexico City by fog & no steps available. We eventually boarded our coach, best we have ever been on, our cruise then nearly ended before it began when a heavy piece of luggage (definitely over airline limit for carry on luggage) put on rack by fellow passenger came off & hit my wife on the head. Luckily the seat had a high back & took a lot of the weight, otherwise she would have been in hospital or the morgue!! Our big moan is in the allocation of seats on the charters, we requested extra legroom on account of height. Only one was available, so accepted two seats together at a window, these were not good or really bad but we were annoyed to find several rows of 4 seats were empty & had been "bagged" by one of the nearest couple on take off so one had 4 seats (full length sleep) & the other two seats.very comfortable for them but we were still stuck in our 2 seats! Return flight from Buenos Aires was far worse! We were allocated two of the 14 worst seats on the plane in spite of our request for extra legroom, they had only 6.75" between the front edge of our seats & back of one in front!! This applies to seats G&H in rows 6-12 on Britannia 767 flights & is approx 1.75" less than all other seats on the plane. The flight attendant (Kevin) tried to say all seats were the same when naked eye said they were not & when I challenged him to get a tape measure he was "Too busy". Do not accept seats GH rows 6-12 on Britannia if you are over 5ft 3" tall. Also be aware the front cabin is filled up for aircraft balance purposes & any spare seats will be in the rear cabins. Also note the planes for the Christmas cruise from Valparaiso were condensed from 4 to 3 at Barbados resulting in a 3 hour delay for onward flight to Santiago, just good business I suppose!
P&O & The Ship-Arcadia is Adults only & this worked well, however the children's facilities had just been locked up & not converted to adult space, presumably because P&O knew this incarnation was only short term. We liked the Atrium, Horizon lounge, Festival theatre, pool & deck area & thought the public areas were well maintained. The library was ok but only internet terminal was here & all emails had to be typed by librarian @ 3pounds ($4.50) per 100 words with anything over 100words @ 5pounds per 100 or part thereof. There was also a charge of 2.50pounds to receive an email!! We did not like Oval pub (dull 50's decor & smoky) or Century bar also smoky. The bar prices are reasonable compared to some other Lines & include gratuities. The Palladium show lounge has the worst sight lines we have ever experienced on a ship, particularly the balcony. Good job it is one of the changes when converting to Ocean Village, also changed will be casino/oval pub into cabaret bar & Horizon lounge into gym at front & disco at rear. The two self service laundry rooms are very useful & well equipped for a long trip. The gratuity guidelines are also lower than other lines, presumably because P&O charge a higher per day rate. The Decoration of the ship for Christmas & New Year was very good, a team of 6 people had been flown out to Santiago from UK just to spend 2 days putting up the decorations before flying home again.
The Cabin-E184 was chosen as a good position for easy access to most areas of the ship, on the port side for scenery & in a good position for any rough weather we might encounter. Cabins are large but poorly designed & furnished in our opinion. Plenty of storage space, large shower with good performance but rest of bathroom tiny, you had to open bathroom door to have adequate space to dry yourself. Only place you can see TV from is the bed & dressing table is just a single piece of wood (should be other side under TV & a decent seat in its place). Two beds pushed together for a double had a threequarter inch drop from one to the other, most uncomfortable & only single blankets crossways, consequently my feet were always cold. But the worst feature of the cabin was the overpowering stench of smoke!!! It must have been occupied by heavy smokers for dozens of previous cruises. We were given our own spray & sprayed at least twice a day but even after several days it was still there, I even had to spray inside the bathroom cabinets it was so saturated with smoke!! Food & Service-We thought the deck crew worked very hard. In the housekeeping/dining room/buffet areas there seemed to be a lethargic or end of contract atmosphere. We were lucky with our dining room waiters Jude & Raphael were excellent for the whole 28 nights. When we used the Dining room on open seating for breakfast or lunch we were not that impressed with standard of service. Our wine waiter Edwin was excellent & always cheerful. Californian house wine is available at 5.55pounds per half litre carafe & 9.75 pounds per litre. Wines from the "New World" start at 10-12 pounds ($15-18) per bottle. Food.. Given that P&O charge the same or more per day than RCI, Celebrity or HAL we expected better food. Yes it is British cooking but old fashioned British style dating back to the 1950's, they need a new modern British Chef with a lighter touch as consultant, such as Gary Rhodes or Brian Turner. Some of the meat was so tough as to be uneatable (I do not blame the Chefs on board, the supplies come from head office), the fish was very poor, how can you make Salmon tough? The menu design could be a lot better, fish on a bed of mushy peas?? The veg had a preponderance of root vegetables (never seen so many Turnips & Swede. Rutabaga for our USA friends) Potatoes had too many varieties that had started life in a powder form. In the end we took to asking for a baked potato & some of the peas were as hard as bullets! Meat & sauces are served on the plate with "silver service" for the vegetables. For Christmas & New Year dinners P&O pulled out all the stops & they were very good. Starter at Christmas dinner of venison & pork pate with a fruit coulis was the only dish that was up to Celebrity standards in my opinion for the whole trip. Traditional turkey Christmas dinner & pudding flamed at the table by the Chef followed by cake, choc truffles & whole stilton cheese. Party hats & Crackers were provided and again for New Years Eve dinner. Good meals included rib beef, rack of lamb, lamb shanks, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, beef Wellington & tournedos of beef. Good deserts, Christmas pudding & cherries jubilee both flamed at the table, the trifle and all individual sponge puddings were very good. Poor included all fish, goose, sirloin beef & one lunch that was supposed to be vegetarian selection .grilled vegetables.consisted of a few mushrooms left over from b/f. half a tomato, a bit of yesterdays potato & a "vegetable sausage" that could have been mistaken for something else!! My wife had chicken curry one day that consisted of a single tiny chicken drumstick & some sauce on rice & one half grapefruit served to me for breakfast was obviously left over from day before! The Conservatory buffet was limited at breakfast, no omelette station, no smoked salmon etc, we took to having a bowl of tinned fruit & a packet of Kellogg's fruit & Fibre for breakfast & only rarely did we find anything on the lunch buffet to suit us, we did try the curry a few days but not very exciting, we mostly had a baked potato with cheese & a salad. However the special seafood buffet one day was very good & so was the Mexican buffet. The "British Pub food" buffet provided me with the only bit of fish (in batter) that was moist & succulent as fish should be, that I had all cruise. Midnight snacks are available but there is no Gala midnight buffet, one afternoon there is a "walk through the Kitchens" followed by an afternoon chocoholics buffet. You will not starve with P&O but we thought the menus could be better (I had pork one night for the 1st time ever on a cruise ship because nothing else looked appetising, after all it is the cheapest cut of meat in UK) as could the quality of the ingredients & whatever you may think of our P&O food report the food was still at least 5 times better than our disastrous experience on Festival/First European cruises last Christmas. Entertainment-one word, superb. The Stadium Theatre Company comprised 11 singers & dancers who put on 9 different production shows in 26 nights all to a very high quality. We did have Bruce Morrison, a Director of Stadium Co on board for the whole cruise. He was working on the Christmas show & a production based on the work of Freddy Mercury & Queen but also did two cabaret spots on his own, one a history of P&O in song in the Festival theatre & a full show of Scottish numbers on New Years Eve. The ships choir of crew & passengers who had some very good singers did a superb carol concert in the Atrium on Christmas Eve. The classical pianist for the 1st two weeks tended to bang the keys a bit but programme was OK. Alan Schiller for the 2nd two weeks was very good with a good sense of humour. The Male & Female concert singers both cruises were good as was Duggie Brown the comedian for 1st two weeks. Sorry to say neither the 2nd comedian nor the "comedy" magician were to our liking. Music was provided by a 7 piece orchestra, a duo, a trio & a 4 piece group. Orchestra & Trio stayed on all 4 weeks, we liked the first duo better than 2nd & 2nd group better than first. New years eve was very good, trio in oval pub with jazz, duo in atrium with traditional ballroom, group in horizon lounge with party music & by 10.30 we were back far enough north for it to be warm enough for a disco on deck round the pool, a really good New Year & we tumbled into bed around 1.30am.We enjoyed guest lecturer John Carter on the 1st leg but not the port lecturer who only read from the port & tour guides. The port lecturer on 2nd leg, Mrs Taylor was very good. The port guides provided in the cabin were very good. Who goes-As an adults only ship, most passengers were of a mature age but very active with a smaller number in middle age & only a very few in the 20/30 group. We knew the 1st 2 weeks had been sold off at bargain rates a few weeks before departure, but all these places had been taken up by experienced travellers & cruisers who always seemed willing to talk & all really wanted to go to South America. There were tee shirts on display from every corner of the globe! 220 stayed on for the Christmas cruise but some of those joining at Valparaiso did seem a little more reserved & less inclined to strike up a conversation. It did amaze us that people had not done any research on the weather we could expect & consequently had not brought any cold weather clothing. One lady had only brought a cardigan & a couple from Europe complained to us that their TA had not told them how cold it would be!! Most people were from Britain with just one lady from USA who we became friendly with, around 6 from Holland & a few from Northern Europe. Dress standard all 4 weeks was very high, only saw 2/3 gentlemen not in formal dress on formal nights. Itinerary-Superb, magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife & a chance to see cultures most people can only read about. In order to give a view on what we did that may provide an insight for future cruisers to South America, I will provide a journal below in date order, with some emphasis on temperature & wind conditions we found, in the hope that this may help those who think South America ends at Rio! Dec 6th Acapulco- Having been there before we had a sleep to recover from the flight. Ship was 3 hours late sailing due to late arrival of one flight. Dec 7th Huatulco-One hour late arriving, anchor out & with a medium Pacific swell tendering was slow. Independent travellers with a ticket number over 480 did not get ashore. We had booked the ships Snorkel experience tour. Huatulco looks a pretty place just being developed & with 9 sandy bays, will be a big resort in 20 years time. Unfortunately the snorkel boat was not up to standard, the ladder out of the water was almost non existent & you had to be young & fit to get out of the water at all without assistance but P&O did the right thing & refunded everyone their money. Two snorkel stops at Cacaluta bay (only fair) & La Entrega beach. No pillar or fan coral like Caribbean, fair number of fish. If I went back again I would just get a taxi to La Entrega beach & snorkel from there. Noon temp 28.5c & sunny. Sailed @ 1500 hrs.
Dec 8th sea day sunny, noon temp 27.5c Dec9th sea day, mostly cloud with a few rain showers noon temp 25.5c wind force 3 so felt cooler than that on deck. Crossing line ceremony at 3pm, not very good seen a lot better, just a "pillow fight" on a pole across the pool. Dec 10th Manta, Ecuador arrived 11am, total cloud cover & 24c temp but wind made it feel a little cooler. USA destroyer on opposite side of pier & greeted by a small but enthusiastic band. Only a short stay until 4pm, mainly for refuelling. Taxis available for $10 per hour, 3hours plenty of time to see any sights & buy a hat at Montichristi. Manta is very poor, & harbour is full of "the vacuum cleaners" of the sea, the purse sein boats. We only walked along the pier & along the road (watch your step full of holes) as far as a beach that looked very dirty, we did hear one unconfirmed report that a passenger had been mugged in town. Summed up by the Comedians joke that night " are you going back to Manta, reply.. I would sooner walk round Leeds with a nail through my shoe". Dec 11th sea day & a big surprise, although only 7 degrees of latitude below the equator at noon, the cloud cover & wind off the cold Humboldt current made it very cool. Noon temp only 20c but wind factor meant a lot of us had put on long trousers & a sweater by lunchtime!
Dec 12th Callao for Lima. Still heavy low cloud as we approached Callao, had to anchor as our berth was occupied by a Korean naval ship. The 218 passengers on the 3 day tour to Machu Pichu had to be sent ashore by tender to catch their flights. Those of us on the morning tour of Lima assembled in show lounge at 8.45am, we were kept well informed of the situation by the bridge. However the executive purser, Brian Purnell OBE kept our interest for over 2 hours by talking about his life in Royal Navy for 24 years before joining P&O 8 years ago. I do not think many cruise lines could have produced some one to save the day like this! Finally got alongside by 11.30am & the ship arranged an early lunch in DR & Buffet with assembly for the tours at 12,30pm, again superb organisation. Noon temperature 21c. Tour was very good, San Francisco Convent, Cathedral (wooden but you would never know it), Casa Aliaga (oldest house in one family in western hemisphere), Plazas & parks, San Isidro, Miraflores & parque del Amor. Lots of trees & shrubs all over but as not much rain mostly covered in dust, even the gardeners were wearing smog masks! Jacaranda trees in full bloom & a golf course in middle of city. Beaches looked dirty with a lot of wave action & water temp only 17c but some locals were swimming. On way back to ship we passed several street corners with a collection of official "black market" money changers, it seems Peruvians change local currency to $ at first opportunity.
Dec 13th Still at Callao. We hired a taxi for $10 per hour to tour ourselves. Having passed the cemetery's yesterday on the coach we were intrigued enough to go back for photos. The "Britanico" was a typical flower filled garden style & right next door the Peruvian one was stacked up like a mini block of flats. Next the museum of Anthropology & archaeology, entrance $3 & well worth it, very well laid out with mummies & artefacts up to 6000 years old, spent 1.5 hours in there. On to Parque D'Olivia with 300 year old olive trees planted by the Spanish, out for 4.25 hrs altogether. PM we had a stroll to the local market on the pier that we found not to expensive (embroidered t shirts $6 & a small baby Alpaca bedside rug $17. Sailed at 11pm. Dec 14th San Martin Arrived at 8am with sun breaking through. Good sized band playing with 30 school children waving flags. San Martin is nothing but a bulk import coal/bulk export Sulphur facility in a desert, not even a cactus in sight & in the Parancas National Park. It did however provide us with one of the most exciting wildlife tours it is possible to make! Courtesy buses were provided to the town of Pisco 15 kilometre away, heard various reports on this, some thought it interesting others never got of the bus! Flights over the Nasca lines could be made at a price of $375. We hired a taxi for 4, to the pier at Parancas ($10 approx 10k away), there is a small museum near the entrance to the park but those who went in said not much there. At the pier a local with a badge ushered us to the front of the queue at a booth & we signed our names & handed over $15 each for a 2 hour speed boat trip to the "Ilas Balestas" billed as Peru's mini Galapagos. 24 seat speed boats, open, we had been surrounded by young boys at the pier selling all sorts of things but the hats with a brim were good quality, embroidered with a logo + a neck cord to stop blowing off & good value at $4 each. Everyone has to wear life jackets & the operation seems well controlled so that not too many boats are at the islands at one time. Across the bay past the ship we viewed a candelabra cactus geoglyph in the desert & a pod of dolphins came right around the boat. The Islands themselves were magical, 1000's of sea lions, millions of birds, red crabs, rock arches & tunnels. An experience not to be missed if you are ever in San Martin. With our taxi back to ship & a tip it was $21 each against $135 for same tour with the ship, OK so they got a cup of coffee & an English speaking guide, but heck we know the difference between a sea lion & a penguin! PM we sat on deck in hazy sunshine & had a swim in pool (fresh water.. very good) Noon temp 22.2c with little wind, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 15th at sea following Peruvian coastline. Cloudy & very cool, 9am update from bridge said we were on same latitude as Cairns Australia, this is much cooler than there, noon temp 22c. Large pod dolphins on port bow at lunchtime & a grey whale mid afternoon. Talked to a couple celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary (60 years) that day, the lady had an aortic heart valve replacement 6 years ago & they had just done the tour to Cusco & Machu Pichu to 14000ft with no problems when younger ones had gone down with altitude sickness.. There's hope for us all yet!
Dec 16th Arica, arr 7am, mini bus service provided to dock gates. Outside gates across the road is a small park & there was a craft market set up here. Behind the park is the Cathedral & right of the park is El Morrow, to the top of which is a pathway negotiable by the fit & healthy in 10/15 mins. Chile is more prosperous than most South American country's & taxis are $20 per hour. We took one to top of El Morrow to see the monuments & admire the view etc, then to the geoglyphs in the desert. The valley is green & productive from the Andes melt water but it hardly ever rains here. Dropped back in town to find an internet cafe, there are 2 just above McDonalds to left of Cathedral but you need to understand Spanish & have an hotmail a/c to use them. We found the people of Arica to be polite & friendly, even stopping cars & trucks to let you cross the road when not on a crossing. At lunchtime there was a large band & troupe of dancers on the dockside. Our table companion did the ships tour to Lauca national park, up to 14000ft & 4 people collapsed with altitude sickness & revived with oxygen. She said views & wildlife were spectacular. Dec 17th sea day again, sun rising earlier as we head south, some cloud about. Noon temp 25c but wind force 4 making it cooler on deck. Whales seen again & a large pod of Dolphins at 5pm.
Dec 18th Coquimbo arr 7am, very low cloud & temp only about 15c forecast to rise to 19c so decided to postpone our planned trip up the Elqui valley until the afternoon, silly us, found out later once you get away from the coast it is always sunny up the valley. Early lunch then negotiated a taxi trip up the Elqui valley to Vicuna for 3 hours @ $20 per hour. Valley is broad & lush with fields of Papaya, tomatoes, potatoes, oranges & grapes but narrows further up the valley to a dam with a large lake. All water is melt water from the Andes & the valley sides are pure desert with candelabra cacti. Vicuna is a pretty little town with a nice plaza that has old knarled trees around it. On way back stopped for a walk round the plaza at La Serena, full of flowering trees & shrubs, Jacaranda Datura Poinsettia etc would have liked more time here. Arriving back at ship we found a boat tied up behind unloading swordfish with quite a crowd watching & sea lions swimming around looking for scraps. Sun started to get out at Coquimbo by 4 pm & was full out by 5pm when temp was up to 27c, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 19th Valparaiso arr 06.40am, 3615 nautical miles from Acapulco. Clear sky & sun shining. Had booked a full day ships tour to Santiago for 75 pounds ($113) mainly to use up some onboard credit we had. Interesting coach ride through scrubby hills & fertile valleys full of grapes & vegetables with some views of snow capped mountains. Passed through several tunnels on the motorway (tolls) before arriving at the horse racing course (mainly for a restroom stop). Then toured the traffic jams down O'Higgins avenue while several buildings were pointed out (sit on left side of coach for best views). Presidential palace closed, walk across park & wait for bus to negotiate traffic jam, round to another plaza & then I was embarrassed to be taken into the Cathedral in the middle of a large service, & more so by some of our party using camera flash while there, I walked out. We then went to top of Conception hill for views of Santiago & the 19000ft high Andes through the smog! Lunch was taken on the hill & took over 2 hours & was not very special, some nice gardens there though with roses & gladioli at 2500ft above sea level. Having taken so long in Santiago our tour of Vina del Mar & Valparaiso on way back were cut short & we saw next to nothing of them! Only just got back in time for a quick change for dinner. A disappointing tour, would have been much better off taking a taxi.
Dec 20th still at Valparaiso, change over day. 1st coaches started leaving for airport at 5.30am. We sunbathed on deck & had a swim in the morning, then in afternoon had a walk round the square with all the naval buildings just outside the dock gates. The streets off this were not a very smart area with down & outs sleeping in the gutter, a small square at the end had some flower sellers & we bought some carnations (100 pesos each) for the cabin, A motor cycle policeman came up & warned us to watch out in this area! We did look in an old Victorian style grocery shop, just like the ones we have in museums in UK! Sailed 6pm
Dec 21st at sea, sunny start but cool. Noon temp 15.6c with part cloud & passing rain showers. Wind force 2 but a large swell, pools closed! Dec 22nd Puerto Montt. After transiting Chacao channel in the night we anchored at 7am, cloudy & dull, temp around 11c with a cool breeze, morning scenic flight seeing cancelled. Tendered ashore for 9.30am very steep climb from tender to dock side, joined with another couple for a 7 hour taxi tour of the district ($170). Saw Frutilla, Puerto Varas, the snow capped volcano & mountains, several rain showers, Petrohue falls (1200 pesos entrance), the Emerald lake & Llamas + a caged Puma at a restaurant, our driver spoke some English & we thought we had good value for money. Others paid $30 each in a 10 seat mini bus for a much shorter tour with a driver who spoke no English. Flowers were everywhere with flowers we consider to be either spring or summer in bloom at same time & Embothrium (Chilean fire tree) growing wild in the woods. Sailed at 6pm along the fjords with snow capped peaks still visible in the twilight at 11pm. Dec 23rd During the night Arcadia sailed the confined waters of the Morelado channel & entered the Darwin channel at 07.48am, exiting at 09.50am straight into a force 9 gale. This remained with us all that day gusting to force 10 that night. Noon temp 11c but felt a lot colder with a 60 knot wind & rough seas with a heavy swell. Upper deck was closed to passengers to avoid accidents! Evening show cancelled that night. Some had problems in the night but we slept through it.
Dec 24th Christmas Eve. Entered Trinidad channel at 3am, followed by Conception channel & Wide channel, during which the wind dropped & sea conditions improved. Entered Seno Eyre fjord at 10.48am & encountered first ice growlers soon after, still 15 miles from glacier, all around were sharp mountains with fresh snow, superb scenery but low cloud & mist obscured some of it. Air temp 6c but felt colder, rain showers on & off all the time. Approached the Pious XI glacier very very slowly, lots brash ice & growlers & turned away at 12.30pm when still 5 miles away with porpoises playing in the wake. Due to its size (2.5miles wide 300ft high) it was still an impressive sight. Watched the return journey down the fjord from the rear deck & sometimes the cloud lifted for spectacular views, at one point there is a brief glimpse of the edge of the Patagonian ice cap (84000 hectares). Left the deck at 5 pm when rain/cloud/mist obscured everything. Ship continued in sheltered waters through channels Innocentes & Sarmiento entering the Pacific Ocean again via channel Smyth at 11pm by which time Santa Claus had already been to our cabin.
Dec 25th Christmas Day. Wind force 9 again in the night until we entered the Magellan straights at 5.30am. We were already awake & phoned Daughter in UK on the ships phone (4.24pounds or $6.40 per min) at 5.35am. Superb scenery again with higher cloud than yesterday, saw tooth jagged mountains with snow on them & some small hanging glaciers all day as we slowly meandered along the straights, spent a lot of time on deck. 9am temp report 6c & noon 8c wind force 2/3 meaning less windchill than yesterday, we even sat on a deck lounger at stern for some time. By dinner time the Eastern end of the straights had turned to flatter shale type hills with no snow on them, western end is much more scenic. Evening dinner & entertainment was very good & we fell into bed at midnight well satisfied with our Christmas day.
Dec 26th Boxing Day. Woke 6.15am & alongside at Punta Arenas by 7am. Took the free transfer bus to Plaza de Armas, lots of old trees with a Laburnum avenue in flower & tulips just finishing. Tourist info office here & has 2 internet terminals with 20 mins free if you can use it in Spanish & with unfamiliar controls. Just off the Plaza is the Galleria shopping mall not that special but it does have rest rooms/toilets with 150 pesos entrance! We walked to the Regional Museum kept by the Salesian friars as I had seen this before in the 1950's, it is much expanded now. After lunch we took a taxi ($20 per hour) to see the old port, the viewing point and the Cemetery, an amazing sight, they really do look after their ancestors in South America. Long avenues of clipped trees among the mausoleums with elaborate sculptures, did a photo stop on the way back at the monument to the Patagonian Shepherd. We have never seen a town before with so many Statues & Monuments. Sun had broken through during the morning & temp was 9c by noon with a wind force 4. During the afternoon it was even warmer & we sat by the pool but with all our clothes on! The wind then increased in minutes to force 10 & Arcadia had to use side thrusters & two tugs to hold against the pier until leaving in a force 8 wind at 6pm.
Dec 27th Beagle Channel & Ushuaia. During the night there was a brief move out of sheltered waters before entering the Beagle channel at 5.30am, unfortunately I had dropped off at 5am after being awake most of the night & so missed the best of the glaciers seen immediately after entering the channel. Woke at 6.40am to see another glacier from the window & dashed on deck to see the last two glaciers! Sun shining, clear sky & magnificent scenery. If we thought we had seen the best of the scenery before this then we were sadly mistaken! Lots of large jagged mountains with snow kept us on deck for rest of morning. Tried to get alongside at Ushuaia at 10am, lost two lines in force 6/7 wind off the pier, took nearly 2 hours to get alongside with help of 2 tugs, but the setting of Ushuaia is beautiful with mount Olivia rising to almost 5000ft behind. Off the ship at 12.25 to share a taxi with our friends, did the tour to the lakes & the national park for $65, 6 hours in taxi. Superb scenery on way to the coastguard station on lake Faganano most of which was on graded roads, quite an experience. The lake is 90K long with a third on the Chile side, back to hidden lake for a coffee, several stops at viewing points. Then through back of the town & out to the park on graded roads again. Saw the little railway (those who did the tour said it was not worth the money) & most southerly golf course, post office & sign for end of Pacific highway (17848Km to Alaska) lots of wildlife, wonderful trees & very picturesque lakes & pools. Again a superb tour, as we had no Argentine pesos the driver paid the park entrance fee & charged us $16 for all of us. Noon temp 9c wind force 6, sailed at 8pm & exited Beagle channel at 11.30pm. Stayed up to watch a new show in the theatre until 1.0am!!
Dec 28th Up at 6am for Cape Horn, cloudy & misty, out on deck by 6.30am with Cape Horn obscured as we approached. Weather cleared & we had a good view as we passed to starboard at 7am but as we turned & passed again to port it was back to dull. 9am bridge said temp was 8c with a following wind force 7, only a little rocking & rolling as we headed for Falkland Islands. Noon temp 8c but seemed warmer than that out of the wind, very easy to get sun/wind burnt down here.
Dec 29th Falkland Islands. Looking out of the window from 4.30am for first glimpse, on deck by 7am for final approach in a force 8 wind, anchor dropped at 8am. We managed to get on the 2nd tender to go ashore with spray going right over the boat. I should explain that as my ship was based here 45 years ago I was particularly keen to get ashore here & knew that conditions could blow up to prevent tenders getting passengers ashore. We met a born & bred Falklander (Lachie Ross) with a Range Rover at the Tourist centre who took us to gypsy cove to see the penguins, then all the other sights & down past the end of the harbour for a good view of the two sisters mountains that I hiked up all those years ago. Back in Stanley we had fish & chips + coffee for two in the Globe tavern for 9pounds ($13.5) then explored the shops & the Britannia museum before making some phone calls home. Back on board we left our anchorage in Port William at 6.15pm with a service of remembrance on the aft decks (over 300 people present) for those lost in the 1982 war with a poppy wreath cast into the sea. Noon temp was 7.5c wind force 6 but in the afternoon the wind had dropped & sun came out making it quite warm around 15/16c. At dinner that night I watched the Islands recede after what had been an emotional day for me, never having thought I would ever get back there again. Then all the early mornings & late nights caught up with me, the adrenaline high of the past 10 days subsided, by 8.30 I was asleep & slept on & off for 14 hours in next 22 hours, it is exhausting being a tourist! Dec 30th at sea. Still cool 8c at 9am with following wind force 5/6
Dec 31st New Years Eve. At sea, cool am but sunny & temp up to 19c by noon with following wind force 4, drank our bottle of "champers" on a sheltered aft deck following lunch, to start our new year celebrations off on the right note! Dinner & evening celebrations very good & well organised. Jan 1st Montevideo & New Years day so everything closed, must have been a good party here last night, streamers & empty cracker cases all over & more tourist police than people on the streets. Main squares etc can be walked to from the ship, the Graff Spree anchor is right by the ship. We took a taxi with our friends to all the main squares & parks then out along the beaches & through the upmarket housing area. Many fine trees & flowers to be seen all over Montevideo. Taxi was $50 for 4.25 hours, again a very good tour. Spent the afternoon packing as we had a full day arranged for tomorrow, up on deck at 4pm for sail away at 5pm. Noon temp was best yet 27c with sunny clear sky.
Jan 2nd Buenos Aires. Alongside at 6.45am, after 3826 nautical miles from Valparaiso. We did a ships city tour in the morning & found it to be very good, a very smart city with lots to see & many skyscrapers. Yes we heard all the warnings about watching out for ourselves but it is a beautiful city with wide streets having tree filled central reservations & 25% of its area dedicated to parks & public open space. Saw the plaza mayo with the pink palace & "Evitas" balcony, the Cathedral, & the circle that the mothers of the disappeared walked round when the dictatorship was in power. On to Recoleta church highly decorated with the cemetery next door containing Evitas final resting place. I never thought I would see so many cemetery's as I have on this trip but they do have a certain fascination in the styles used in the different Country's. Palermo park has 800 species of tree from around the world & a large rose garden & BA has 1000's of jacaranda trees that must be a sight in their spring. Afternoon we did a ships tour to the Tigre river delta for a very nice cruise around some of the Islands, again fascinating to see how people lived on them & a good tour, shame about the very sweet black coffee they gave us on the boat! All tours leave from the ship but you are dropped back at the dock entrance were there is a shopping area! Taxis are available here & very cheap, a shuttle bus is provided from the ship to the gates.
Itinerary summary-For us it was superb, tropics, desert, temperate, cold etc back to temperate then tropics again. Magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife. The Fjords/Magellan straights/Beagle channel area is devoid of any human habitation, no signs of it at all. This must be one of the last great wilderness cruising areas, see it while you can! However the sunbathing shopaholics among you would probably not enjoy cruising this area. All the South American ports are commercial ones, no cruise terminals at all. At the pier or dock gate there is usually an English speaking taxi "organiser" & if you are early & ask for an English speaking driver you may just be lucky! You will almost always be considerably cheaper than a ships tour. Having seen all 3 of the major fjord areas I now rate this as number 1, with Norway inside passage to North Cape a close 2nd & Alaska a distant 3rd (sorry my American friends but that's the way we see it).
Conclusion-Adult only cruising is a winner & is here to stay, we would never contemplate a holiday time cruise again on a regular ship. We enjoyed this cruise immensely & think that P&O has many good points but the food sadly lets them down. That comment may upset some of the P&O regulars but we did have one comment from a regular that "this food was a lot better than Oriana 6 months ago" if that is true then P&O must get up to date with the menus & quality of their food. We would travel with P&O again at the right price but not at their regular early booking terms as these are usually more expensive than RCI, Celebrity & HAL
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 witha 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.
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 keepthis 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.
This was our 6th cruise - details of others are:
September 1995: Royal Caribbean, Sovereign of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean
January 1997: Princess Cruises, Crown Princess, Southern Caribbean
June 1998: Royal Caribbean, Vision of the Seas, Mediterranean
September 1998: Royal Caribbean, Rhapsody of the Seas, Alaska
August 1999: Celebrity, Century, Baltic
Firstly I must say that this review is only based on my opinion, other people may have very differing opinions, and as the review is quite long I appreciate anyone who takes the time to stay with it to the end. We decided it was time to try a cruise on a British ship sailing from Southampton, England so as P&O's new ship "Aurora" was in her maiden season we went ahead and booked in March for the "Canaries Caper" Cruise departing 18 June 2000.
"Aurora" was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany and arrived off the Isle of Wight on 16th April, where she was escorted by the "Tall Ships" into her home port of Southampton. This was a spectacle I was not able to witness as we live in Scotland which is more than 500 miles from the port, buthowever it was televised and was quite a sight to behold.
She was named on 27th April, 2000 by the Princess Royal and commenced her maiden voyage on May 1st, 2000. Unfortunately she developed a bearing fault and had to abandon the maiden cruise and return to Southampton. However, P&O handled the situation admirably, by giving a full refund and a future cruise to the disappointed passengers, they also threw open the bars with free drink during the return to Southampton. Whilst devastating for the passengers, I was in contact with some on the maiden voyage who said that the crew were marvellous and that the atmosphere on board had taken on a true "Dunkirk" spirit.
Day 1: Embark Southampton, England
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Vigo, Spain
Day 4: At Sea
Day 5: Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Day 6: Tenerife, Canary Islands
Day 7: Madeira
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: Disembark Southampton, England
Pre-Cruise: We drove down to Southampton three days before the cruise and stayed in the 5* De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, this turned out to be an excellent choice of hotel, as it was extremely comfortable, in an ideal situation for both the port and exploring the sights of Southampton and it had a view right over Southampton Water.
Having driven down overnight to Southampton we arrived at the Grand Harbour at 8 am where they immediately made our room available when normal check in time was 2 pm, they also accommodated a later than normal departure as well, so top marks to De Vere. Every member of staff we encountered during our stay went out of their way to please.
The sea has played a key role in Southampton's history, one of the most famous ships to sail from there was Titanic and its poignant story is told in detail at the Maritime museum. This museum certainly does Southampton proud, we found it so interesting that we visited it several times over the few days that we were there. One of my favourite exhibits was the 30 foot builder's model of the Queen Mary, a little smaller but still considerable were scale models of Capetown Castle, Oranje, QE2, Andes, Normandie, Britannic. We also followed the Titanic trail throughout the city and for anyone who is interested in ships, these two attractions should not be missed.
Southampton is steeped in history and you can see examples of this fascinating heritage throughout the city, with its Medieval Town Walls which are some of the best preserved in the UK. Anyone cruising from here should consider arriving a few days before the cruise to spend some time exploring the city.
Embarkation: This has been the most organised embarkation that I have experienced to date. We arrived at the Mayflower Terminal at around 12.55 pm. Our car was checked in with Andrew's Shipside services, so we drove right into a covered terminal by the ship, the car was taken away by Andrews staff, the luggage was immediately picked up by a porter, and we were directed to the check in desks, where we were issued a number which would be called when the embarkation process would begin, this took all of 5 minutes.. The lounge area we were directed to was very comfortable, there was food and beverages as well as a Newsagents available, upstairs there was a viewing terrace where you could stand in awe looking at your home for the next few days.. They started embarkation promptly at 2.30 pm and we were on board by 2.40 pm.
Cabin Attendants were lined up waiting to direct passengers to their cabins if required, but as we seemed to know where we were going we were directed to the nearest elevators.
The ship slipped its moorings at 1800 hours and it was a pretty spectacular send off, and to leave from United Kingdom was extra special. With the The Central Band of the Royal British Legion playing Land of Hope and Glory, the streamers were being thrown from all decks of the ship, the ships horn sounding, and friends on the terminal building terrace waving us off, yes I can say it was very special, it certainly brought a lump to the throat. The fire tug also accompanied us out of the port, and all the way down Southampton Water there were small craft accompanying us, some with balloons and Bon Voyage banners strung along the sides. With a perfect 78 degree sunny afternoon, I can say a very nice send off indeed. We dropped our pilot off at 20.08 hours and took a General SW heading down the English Channel towards Vigo 675 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 20.3 knots.
Cabin: We were in Cabin A279 a category IB on A Deck 11. It was a standard outside cabin with balcony. It was tastefully decorated in blonde woods and pastel shades. It has two single beds made up into a king size, and small 2 seater sofa, a nice reasonable size wooden coffee table, (not one of those silly glass tables that are so small that they are more a nuisance than anything else). There was ample drawer and wardrobe space, with approximately 11 drawers of various sizes, and a double wardrobe with two shelves above, one which housed the life jackets, spare blankets and another for misc. items. By the dressing table there were more shelves and mirrors with approx. 5 small shelves behind each mirror, and a hairdryer housed in the top drawer. There were tea and coffee making facilities and small packets of biscuits were replenished daily, and a Mini Fridge that was empty so you could put your own items in if you so wished. The artwork toned in nicely with the colour scheme in the cabin. Something I had never noticed on previous ships was at the location of the life jacket in the wardrobe, when the lights were out there was a small lifejacket sign that gently glowed in the dark, (a great safety feature) and as each day went by I began to notice just how much detail there was around this ship.
The balcony was approx. (9 ft x 4 ft.) in this cabin and was big enough for two lounge chairs with padded covers and a small table. It was completely private with only a ½" space around the adjoining doors, so your neighbour could see very little, but if they were smokers the smoke did tend to drift through.
The toilet was compact but very functional, it did have a bath, but you would have to be a pretty small person to stretch out in this bath, but it was suitable for a Sitz bath if required, and certainly there was more than enough space in the shower, no soaping the walls and doing a twirl in this shower. The shower was over the bath, had plenty of hot water and pressure and I found it easy enough to step into and out of the bath with no problems, however if you are 85 years of age you may think differently. Sports Wash was provided in a dispenser, and there was a small P&O cloth toilet bag filled with amenities, like cotton balls & buds, sewing kit, emery boards, shower cap. There were two mirrored cabinets with 4 shelves in each.
When we arrived at the cabin our luggage was already there and our cabin steward Manuel introduced himself immediately and ran through what was available and how everything worked. He fulfilled everything we could have wished for in a cabin steward. He was completely unobtrusive. Also on the dressing table there were two wallets with our cruise cards, cabin door keys, our table seating & table number, there was a form to fill in with your credit card details which could be left at the pursers desk whenever you wished, so there was no need to stand in a long line to have your cruise card validated. In a leather wallet were postcards, port guides, envelopes, paper, and every kind of information about the ship that any person would ever need.
General Well I have to say that this ship has already developed a character and atmosphere that I have found on no other ship that I have been on to date. They say the best ship is always the one you are on at present, well with Aurora all I can say is I cannot wait to get back on her again. Some observations I would like to point out are that there was very little problems with smoking in the public areas on this ship, everyone kept to the rules and only smoked in the areas designated as smoking areas. Each bar or deck area was divided up and there were no smoking signs placed on the tables in certain areas, and these signs were observed. There were a few areas that the segregation did not occur and this was in Champions Bar, (Sports Bar) well there were 4 non-smoking tables but these were not actually in the bar they were in the walk way from/to the bar. This was one bar that we did not frequent a lot, although the decor was pleasant enough and once again there was detailed wood areas here, even down to the wooden tables with sports themes like baseballs carved on them There was also a good mix of passengers, you can see the breakdown of the passenger list below, and many families were on board, but there were no problems whatsover with the children of all ages, every child I saw behaved impeccably. The facilities on board for children are extensive, the pool areas were divided up with the Riviera Pool (Open Air) for adults only, the Crystal Pool (Covered Pool) for both, and on the beautiful tiered stern a large family pool and smaller children's pool, this segregation meant that everyone was happy, but you were perfectly free to go wherever you wished. On Deck 8 all the children's facilities for each age group were kept in one area, so in the evening I very rarely saw children of any age. Also any child age 10 - 16 were to be accompanied by an adult after the hours of midnight, and I am sure that these rules would be enforced by the staff. There were 130 children on board and in the first 3 days of the cruise the weather was a bit dull and grey and I sometimes wondered where the children disappeared to, because they never seemed to be around, so I guess that P&O run a very good children's programme on this ship.
Passenger Nationality Breakdown Age Breakdown
USA - 10
Australian - 6
British - 1843
Brazil - 5
German - 4
Greek - 1
Guadeloupe - 2
Indian - 1
Irish - 7
Italian - 1
Japanese - 7
New Zealand - 4
Portuguese - 1
Total - 1,892
Under 2: 11
2 - 5: 34
6 - 9: 43
10 - 13: 29
14 - 17: 13
18 - 20: 6
21 - 35: 158
Over 55: 1,003
Of the above total approx 1,300 were repeat passengers.
On formal nights the dress code followed was 99% formal, about 45% white dinner jackets, 50% tuxedo's or black dinner suits, 4% dark suits, and all were wearing bow ties. The ladies were suitably attired, and the dress code was adhered to throughout the evening. This created a very nice ambience throughout the evening, because lets face it how many times other than on a cruise do we get the chance to dress up like this. There was a great camaraderie too with the theme evenings, eg: the Black and White Ball where approx. 85% dressed in formal black and white, women included, and they held classes where the ladies made the black and white paper roses from crepe paper, I went along to try my hand at making the roses and it was a lot of fun with all the women trying their best, there were even a couple of men sat in on the class and everyone generally had a good laugh. I must say I took to it like a duck to water (pardon the pun) and several people stopped me during the evening to admire my handywork. I always find it difficult to describe a ship in great detail moving from deck to deck so the best I can do is try and describe some of the rooms and areas that were favourites of mine.
There are LOTS of open deck space on Aurora and she has numerous areas covered with teak decking, there is a full teak promenade deck, which I think there is nothing quite like striding along on a blustery, breezy morning when no one else is around, or taking a very late evening stroll with the stars shining in the sky above.
The tiered aft areas are quite spectacular also decked out with teak, and are much larger than they are ever portrayed in photographs. It is quite something to stand on the end of one of these tiers looking aft at the wake as Aurora plies through the sea at approx. 25 knots.
Every little detail has been taken into account, it takes several days to notice all this detail, like marble edgings around the carpets, the great amount of WOOD detail in every area, and the general finish to each and every room in this ship is exquisite. There are 3 banks of elevators and the carpet is the same design and colour in each deck and elevator, so if you are aft the carpet is all the same pattern and colour, and its different for midships etc, but when you look closely you begin to notice that not only does the carpet have the same design, the marble that adorns the elevators and the landings where the art is hung is toned in, if its a black pattern on the carpet the marble is black, if it is a peach pattern the marble is peach, the wooden handrails also tone in, if they are blonde wood in the landings then they are blonde wood inside the elevators, mid ship elevators and landings are all in teak wood. The carpets throughout the ship are in rich colours and patterns, and everywhere they tone in nicely with the decor of each room. Once again great detail abounds even down to the corridors where the cabins are located, the way the carpet is designed it looks like there are square loose rugs in front of each set of two cabin doors. In my opinion the designers of this ship have produced a gem and it is probably one of the most beautiful new ships around. The art work itself is worthy of a tour from the beginning to end of the ship, a lot of it is modern and very bright but I liked it . I particularly liked the bronzes and the art, there are also some really fine paintings of previous P&O Ships like Orontes, Stratheden, Morea, and the first Arcadia.
Andersons Bar This has a very country club atmosphere to it, but also very sophisticated with its central fireplace, and elegant couches and chairs. This is one of the bars that is a child free zone, and a tie must be worn after 6 pm.. It led out to Champagne Charlies which was another very nicely furnished area with a grand piano and a very detailed marble floor. The String Quartet played in this area each evening.
Crows Nest Bar This is a very large lounge on Deck 13 that has windows on all three sides looking out over the bow, unfortunately there is a bit of obstruction by the design of the bridge and you do not get a view of the bow, but you can see directly forward. Also here are paintings of Canberra, and Oriana (1959) and a striking model of Strathnaver behind the bar.
There are small forward viewing areas on A and B decks but you would need some really calm seas to fully appreciate them, we did go out and it took two of us to open the door back up again the wind was so strong.
Library There is a very wide selection of books available, the decor is very relaxing in pastel shades of beige and browns and is adorned by tasteful furniture designed and made by Viscount Linley (The Queens Nephew). There are large leather listening chairs for playing CD's, the Cyber Study is housed in the library as well. They also had a nice selection of books on ships and the history of ships available for sale in the library, and a sample of each book was available for taking out.
It was open most days from 8 am to 10 pm, this makes a pleasant change because I found the libraries on the previous ships were only open for 2 hours or so each day.
Raffles This is the chocolate and specialty coffee bar. Once again the decor in this area is quite stunning with Queen Anne type furniture finished in gold and brown stripes, marble pattern floors, and delicate lamps. Divine Belgian Chocolates could be purchased individually, or in ½ or l lb boxes. For anyone who likes chocolate these can be recommended.
Ports When we booked this cruise we booked it because we had been to all but one of the ports of call and had seen everything there was to see on those islands, which meant that we could have a more relaxing time, we would not have to rush off in the morning on tours, and we had more time to spend on the ship itself. All our previous cruises had been very port intensive and whilst very interesting, we felt that we did not have any time to fully appreciate our time on board, so I am afraid I cannot go into any great detail of tours etc, but anyone who is interested to know more about each island can feel free to contact me and I can give information that we have gleaned from land based holidays on those islands.
So I am afraid that I can only tell you what we did when we arrived at each port, which I am sure is not what most people would do. Also as I am firstly a ship lover and the cruising part comes second, the things that I find interesting may seem strange to a normal cruiser, so please bare with me.
Vigo - Spain - 20.06.00 - Dull. We were due to arrive in Vigo Bay at approx. 06.30 hrs, so I was up there for the arrival unfortunately it was to be our second day of dull, overcast and drizzly weather, so it marred the arrival somewhat. However, I was able to get a real good view of the "Practicos" (Pilot) at 0706 hrs hopping on to Aurora like he was just stepping over a kerb. At this time there were only myself and two other lonely souls on promenade deck, just what I like.
The city is within easy walking distance from where the ship docks, however before you get to the main shopping areas there is some quite steep climbing to do, so good walking shoes are advisable. It is like many other cities, but if you take the time to look there are some old balconied buildings to be seen.
Vigo is a great seaport built on and around the slopes of Monte de Castro, it overlooks Vigo Bay, one of the worlds 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 of all the world! At the mouth of the estuary the rocky and picturesque Cies Islands shelter the bay from Atlantic gales.
Today the Bridge was open to visitors from 2 pm until 3.30 pm, it was also to be open when we were in Tenerife, and Madeira.
It was very interesting to see the modern technology, and it gave us a chance to view along the ship from the bridge wings, also on the floor of these wings were a glass panel to give the officers a view directly below as well, its quite a feeling standing on that glass looking 12 stories below.
We slipped our moorings and sailed out of Vigo at 1700 hours dropping our pilot off at 1714, and took a heading SSW towards Lanzarote in the Canary Islands 860 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 22.3 kts.
Lanzarote - 22.06.00 - Sunny - 85 deg. Once again I was up bright and early to watch Aurora cruise the full length of the island of Lanzarote, but as it was only 6.15 am it was still dark however you could see the twinkling lights of the Capital Arrecife in the distance, and by the time we reached Playa Blanca in the South of the Island, it was almost dawn and the shape of the mountains in the distance began to take form. Playa Blanca was a small fishing port at one time, now it no longer is with hotels and apartments dotting the coastline. At approx. 7 am we were held in position by the use of the ships thrusters, it hardly moved an inch and as this was a tender port it was a little time before the tenders were organised. We went ashore at approximately 9.15 am and as we were taking no tours we strolled around the shopping area. Even although there was a bit of a swell, the tenders were pretty smooth this maybe had something to do with the fact that they were twin hulled. We took a WSW heading north of Fuertaventura at 1814 hrs to Santa Cruz, Tenerife 126 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 10.1 kts.
Tenerife - 23.06.00 - Sunny - 82 deg. We picked up our pilot at 07.13 hrs and once again at that time the promenade deck was empty except for crew members who by the way always greet you with a Hello or Good Morning, The ship tied up at 0748 hrs and was cleared by 08.30 hrs. Tenerife is the largest and most important of the Canary Islands off the West Coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. The dominant feature of the island is El Teide at a height of 12,198 ft above sea level. There was quite a variety of tours to pick from but once again we chose to take the free shuttle bus to town and from there it was a short stroll to the shopping area. Today whilst lying at the pool a newly delivered piece of equipment was being tested, it was a winch type cradle which would allow wheelchair passengers access to the pool, a rather sturdy girl crew member was to be the test, when the manoeuvre was complete the crowd gave a round of applause. I think this is a very thoughtful consideration by P&O.
We slipped our moorings and sailed out of Santa Cruz at 1805 hrs dropping our pilot at 1822 hrs and took a NNW heading towards Madeira 257 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 22.5 kts.
Madeira - 24.06.00 - 75 deg. We picked up our pilot at approx. 07.09 hrs and it was a short run into the harbour.
Madeira is a Portuguese island lying west of Morocco in the Atlantic. We docked at 0748 hrs in Funchal the capital and the ship laid on a free water launch to take you into the centre of town. Madeira is world famous for its profusion of plants and flowers, and these can be seen best in the Botanical Gardens approx. 2 miles away.
The suburb of Monte is 3 miles from the centre of Funchal, and apart from the 18th Century church the village is the starting place of the famous toboggan ride which are controlled by two carreiros and although not cheap, this is certainly a different way to travel. You can expect to pay approx. £10 per person for the thrill. The ships tour that covered this ride cost £26.00 per person.
Another worthwhile visit is Cabo Girao which is 7 miles westward, this is the world's second highest sea cliffs and plunge 1932 feet into the Atlantic. We had covered all there was to see on this beautiful island on a previous 2 week land trip so we took a walk around town, visited the Cathedral built between 1485 and 1515 and 1/4 mile further east along Rua Aljube is the Market, this fascinating municipal market is in a two storey, open roofed building which is bustling with traders selling meat, cheese, fruit, flowers, vegetables and fish. A word of warning if you do not like strong smells then I would advise against a visit here. We slipped our moorings and sailed out of Funchal at 1600 hrs, dropping our pilot off at 1615 hrs, however there was some excitement as one man was left on the quayside staring at the stern of Aurora as she left port, the ship stopped and the pilot boat sped out to let him join the ship, he was geared up with a lifejacket and helped on board, He should think himself extremely lucky as the next port of call was Southampton 3 days away.
We took a NE heading towards the Bay of Biscay and back to Southampton 1319 nautical miles away at an average cruising speed of 22.6 kts.
Food The food was excellent throughout the cruise, and I had no complaints at all, of course it was more geared towards the British palate. Some particular dishes that spring to mind were the Beef Wellington, Chocolate Souffle, Baked Alaska, Parsnip & Apple Soup, Orange Souffle with Brandy. There were differences in the way the meals were presented compared with other lines we had been on.
During dinner your entree' eg: nicely presented steak, fish etc was placed in front of you and then the waiters proceeded to serve the vegetables/accompaniments (like silver service), this was very nicely done, and different from getting the whole dish placed in front of you already plated up.
There were a wide variety of restaurants that you could eat in. The two main dining rooms the Alexandria and Medina were both very nice, however I think the Alexandria had the edge as it has windows on all three sides. On our sailing the Alexandria restaurant was open for Breakfast and Lunch as well as dinner, except on 2 days out of the 9 when only the Medina restaurant was open.
The Cafe Bordeaux was the 24 hour restaurant, it had a nice menu selection, and was very nicely decorated, and whilst quite suitable for 24 hour dining, it did have a walkway along one side of it with a constant stream of people walking past, which was not conducive to fine dining as an alternative restaurant in the evening, of which by the way there was a very small cover charge of £2.25, however it would be very suitable for some people who would probably think nothing of this small imperfection. The Orangery was the casual dining on Lido Deck 12. It is decorated with bright colours, but still there are great amounts of wood in this room as well, like wood lined walk ways still edged with the little marble detail. The choice and quality of food in this lido deck is also the best we have had, it was always hot, and the way it was set out with many staggered stations meant very few times were there any queues. Nearly every lunch time always on the menu was one of those favourite P&O curries, I do not eat curry but my husband said they could be recommended. Three days there were barbecues on deck but this did not mean that all other eating venues were not operational, you could still eat in every other place if the barbecue was not to your liking.
Another first for us was whilst we were lying by the Pool a waiter was going around offering passengers small tubs of ice cream, (free) now to me that is what I call service, you did not even need to get up from where you were lying on a nice big padded sun lounger. Later on in the week we did visit the ice cream bar and there was a charge here of 85 p. per cone, so I would stick with the tubs delivered right to your lounger if I was you.
Entertainment There was a great variety of entertainment, in the Curzon Theatre which was styled on the Theatres of the West End of London, there were the review shows performed by The Stadium Theatre Company, they were highly polished performers. Also included were Classical Concerts if you like that kind of thing, these were performed in the Cinema Playhouse Theatre, eg: Piano Recital entitled "Nocturne" - Chopin's finest piano melodies including Nocturne in B, Berceuse Polonaise in A. Also each evening The Armadillo String Quartert played classical music in Charlies Bar. Other head liners were Carlo Paul Santanna who was lead singer of a 70's pop group he sang the group hits but also did a fine selection of Mario Lanza arias which were terrific, so it was a nice all round selection.
The comedian was John Martin from Liverpool and we found him to be very funny, Mercury and Ken in the Crows Nest Bar were excellent, but the best show for me was the Tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen performed in Carmens show lounge at midnight on the second last night, it was also the night of the Black and White Ball, and this lounge was packed standing room only. The Stadium Theatre Company were absolutely outstanding with both costumes, dancing and the tributes sung, towards the end when they sung "Barcelona" the crowds were so enthusiastic, whistling and cheering and bursting the black and white balloons that had been adoring the room, but what I found funny was (try and imagine the scene) the room was darkened down for the show, and all the people who were standing quite closely together in the entrance of the lounge decked out in their black and white regalia, were swaying in unison as we were going through the Bay of Biscay at 1 am in a Force 9, so they looked like penguins ready to jump into the sea. This scene appealed to my sense of humour, some may not find it funny.
There was the usual variety of Activities to do during the day, including 2 Trivia Quizzes daily, one we sat in on the prize was a bottle of champagne. Also a good selection of films were shown in the Playhouse
Cinema The Cruise Director Phil Raymond presented "Good Morning Aurora" on in cabin television which featured competitions, quizzes, special guests. Another chance to win prizes were on Radio Aurora which featured special requests and phone in quizzes.
General Some things I would like to mention are:
Self Service Laundry facilities are available in various locations, there was one on the deck that we were on that had 9 washing machines, 9 driers and 6 irons, all of these facilities were FREE and all you had to do was provide your own washing powder, which if you had not carried your own could be purchased from the shop on board for 75 pence a box.
After dinner they always came round offering a selection of fruit to eat or take away with you if you so wished, as well as speciality chocolates, other nights petit fours, fruit delights, chocolate mints, nougat, coconut ice etc, and cappuccino's after dinner were also free.
The highlight of the cruise for me was visiting the Bridge, because I had requested some information for this review there was a letter placed in my cabin inviting me to join the Navigator on the Bridge whilst we were at sea, and on this day it was a Force 8 and approx. 20 foot seas, however what a thrill it was to be standing up on the bridge in conditions like this, and to have some of the operational features explained. I think highly of P&O for allowing this to happen.
Disembarkation We sailed past The Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton at approx. 06.12 hours and it was then that I experienced that sinking feeling in my stomach and knew it was over and I would finally have to leave this wonderful ship. The disembarkation process was painless, after breakfast we were allowed to stay in our cabin until the ship cleared, around 0900 hrs, we were in the first batch of passengers called, the luggage was set out by Deck Order, we picked it up and our car was parked right inside the terminal building, we picked up the keys and were on the Motor Way out of Southampton by 09.30 hrs.
This cruise fulfilled all my expectations, it may not be for everyone, bearing in mind the passenger breakdown above, and that the food is definitely to suit the British, but I for one cannot wait until I cruise again with P&O on Aurora or maybe Oriana.
If there are any questions that you wish to ask please feel free to contact me on Scottylass@hotbot.com Best Regards Mary G. Kerr