Oceana Cruise Review by Jo and Rob: The highs and lows of P&O
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The highs and lows of P&O
Destination: Canary Islands
P&O Oceana Easter break family trip
We have previously sailed with P&O, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Costa so we are very open minded to the fact that different ships and cruise companies all have their own ways of doing things, with some aspects which they excel in and others which could be improved upon and Oceana was no exception.
We arrived at Southampton at about 11.30am and were greeted by the parking attendants (free parking was included) who took our keys and gave us a receipt for collection on our return while the porter simultaneously took our cases and wished us a good trip. Our car was then driven away for us while we walked into the departure lounge. This is one area where P&O win hands down and I definitely recommend opting for the official port parking if sailing with P&O.
Check in desks opened at midday and as all desks were manned (about 16) the small queue that had formed was quickly processed. We were given a More coloured letter on entering the embarkation lounge and were boarded quickly. There were no standing queues on the gangway of the ship at embarkation as they only let small groups go at a time and this worked very well. We were greeted by staff once on board and directed to the lifts where we headed for the buffet for our lunch.
Our stateroom was ready at 2pm and we were delighted to find two helium welcome aboard balloons for the children and kids duvets on the bunks which was a really nice touch. Our outside stateroom was the smallest in space we have had, however the wardrobe space and drawer space was better than Royal Caribbean and Celebrity balcony rooms! There were four bottles of complementary mineral water in the fridge and space for our wine box. (P&O has no restriction to how much wine and spirit you bring onboard unlike other lines.) The cabin had tea and coffee making facilities with biscuits that were replenished twice daily. The bathroom (also smaller than any other line we have sailed with) had a shower gel on the wall, a retractable washing line and shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and soap provided. The best bathroom award definitely goes to Celebrity Eclipse for size, storage and proper sliding shower door, unlike the curtain on Oceana but the bathroom on Oceana was certainly adequate. Pool towels are provided by the steward and are blue. There is no nonsense signing towels in and out with cruise cards which was one aspect that was quite irritating with Royal Caribbean. The plug sockets were a US socket for the kettle and a UK socket. We brought a four bar extension so we were able to recharge all the equipment with no problems.
Oceana is a mid-sized ship and the smallest we have cruised on. We loved the Promenade deck as it had a wooden deck outside that enabled you to walk (or jog) a complete circuit of the ship and was also the venue for shuffleboard and quoits. It was also the best deck for getting from one end of the ship to the other inside as the aft lifts only went down as far as deck 7, the glass atrium lifts went from decks 5 to 8 and the forward lifts went from 4 to 14. Deck 7 was the location of both theatres (Starlights and Footlights), the photography department, the gallery, Magnums the champagne bar, the coffee shop and Crown and Anchor a bar lounge which was the quiz venue by day and live music in the evening. The ship was clean and was always being cleaned but already had signs that she needed to go into dry dock. The aft lifts only had two rather than three working the entire cruise. The ladies steam room in the spa was also not working the entire cruise and I learned it had been out of action some time. Other problems such as the ladies on the lido deck being out of action for a couple of days before being fixed wasn't too impressive.
I was lucky enough to win an uplifting facial at the spa raffle and had my first experience of a treatment on board a ship. The spa staff were really busy all cruise so much so that some spa lectures were cancelled more than once (benefits of massage) as all the therapists were busy with treatments. I was told that two massage therapists had left last cruise due to cutbacks. Perhaps this was quite shortsighted considering how busy they were during our cruise. I was very impressed with my facial and could see the difference afterwards which was a big surprise.
The buffet alternates between the port and starboard side. We are not fans of buffets but P&O did offer a children's tea at 5.15pm which provided a great alternative for our children when they wanted to do the full kids club evening programme. The children's tea had a choice of hot options including children's favourites as well as more traditional dishes and cold options of salad and sandwiches. There was also ice cream and juice available. The evening buffet had a daily theme but did not seem popular.
Main Dining Room
We were on freedom dining in the Lingurian Restaurant which worked really well for us. We were able to eat early when the children dined with us and opt for a table for two at other times. Tables for two are quite limited but the pager system worked well especially as our cabin was close enough to be in range for the pager to work. The menu in the main dining room was quite limited but we were always able to choose a multicourse meal with no problem. I missed the "always available" aspect of the menu which I enjoyed on Celebrity. Equally the quality and flavor of steaks was quite disappointing on P&O having enjoyed tasty steaks on American lines. There was a choice of three starters, two soups, about 6 mains, four desserts (including ice cream) and a cheeseboard. I recommend the Stilton in port for the cheese course which was delicious (but you need to ask for it). The ice creams were also a real highlight and not to be missed. We have found on other cruise lines a distinct lack of vegetables but that certainly was not the case with P&O. The main courses were all served with a selection of vegetables appropriate to the meal which would have been sufficient however we were then given even more vegetables and potatoes by the waiters which often did not go with the meal and were often just plopped on the top in an over-sized portion rather than being placed carefully on the side. I love silver service done well but I do think vegetable dishes on the table would have been preferable. I certainly got my five a day portions of fruit and vegetables on board! We had three formal nights, the first being the Captain's party and everyone followed the dress code. Breakfast had an extensive menu with daily specials (egg Benedict, corned beef hash, scrambled egg with smoked salmon) which were also available on disembarkation day. Breakfast and lunch are served in the Adriatic restaurant.. Service in the main dining room was generally good although on disembarkation day (which operated a two sitting breakfast) it was quite abrupt as they were just interested in taking orders fast. We had hardly sat down before our waiter appeared with his pad and then seemed quite irritated when the children were not quite ready to order.
A daily highlight for us was afternoon tea. The tiny finger sandwiches, scones, toasted teacakes, crumpets and tiered cake stands made for an indulgent break in the day. You can also choose what type of tea you would like at no extra charge. Again the waiters were a little brusque as no doubt they saw this as extra work load before the evening service began. We found that requests were dealt with eventually but inevitably required at least one reminder to get additional butter or clotted cream for the table. On the last sea day the afternoon tea was replaced by a chocoholics event that was extremely popular.
Located in the Atrium on deck 8, Marco Pierre's restaurant is a real gem on Oceana. The restaurant has a three day rolling menu when breakfast, lunch and dinner options change. Breakfast and lunch are complementary and we enjoyed both several times when on board. It is an excellent venue for an early breakfast or a late lunch and was a favourite with the whole family. Breakfast items included ham and cheese croissant, sausage and leek baguette, smoked salmon and scrambled egg. Lunch included pizza, steak baguette, coq au vin and a salad bar.
The Horizon is a daily newspaper which is delivered to your cabin and outlines the activities for the following day. I always found more than one thing I wanted to do at the same time which is always better than having nothing to do. I enjoyed the Tai Chi and stretching classes offered in the morning which proved quite popular. I also went to several spa lectures but it became increasingly clear that the spa lectures were more about selling products than well being which was a great disappointment. I attended a seminar on improving posture only to find it was only interested in selling foot arches for shoes! Equally I discovered the lecture about burning fat was going to be pushing a product rather than healthy eating and exercise. The lectures on skin care and benefits of massage were good though as they gave good general advice and were quite informative. There were several activities that were advertised as costing a nominal fee. I would much rather they advertise the costs but I was told they don't on purpose for fear of putting people off. The yoga and Pilates were both Â£7 a session and the craft was Â£8 a session. I would have done all three if there had been no fee. The craft sessions on Costa were free and provided materials including T-shirts, ceramics and fans to be decorated so I was really surprised to see that P&O charged for craft sessions.
I attended a lecture on Rolf Harris that was really interesting and enjoyed the shuffleboard competition. There were several quizzes everyday so all tastes were catered for on board. We even managed to see a film (The Artist) this cruise for the first time which was shown in Starlights Theatre. The only problem was that the timing of the film meant we missed the lunchtime slot in the main dining room and there was a huge queue at Cafe Jardin as everyone had the same idea. One day there was an ice carving which was very entertaining trying to guess what was being created! The one activity that was quite disappointing was the galley tour as there were no chefs preparing or even carving vegetables. On previous galley tours with other lines they have been quite exciting but apart from a few chefs standing service side of the pass the kitchen was empty and lacking any real interest.
Our daughter was in the 5-8 room (surfers) and our son was in the 9-12 room (Buzz zone 1). Both had a fantastic time in the clubs especially in the evenings. There were competitions, magic shows, lots of making and colouring plus football in the funnel for the surfers. The 9-12 had treasure hunts, pool activities, sport in the funnel and lots of evening events such Come Dine with me, Big Brother and a pool party. The 9-12 age group are able to sign in and out without an adult provided parental consent is given initially and this worked really well for us. Children are not provided with muster bracelets unlike other cruise lines and have to have an adult on board at all times. We always do ports as a family so this was never an issue for us. As our cruise was over Easter both children received Easter eggs from their kids clubs.
The evening shows were very well attended to such an extent that we were unable to get a seat on several evenings and arrived half an hour early the last night to guarantee a seat. Oceana's footlights theatre forward of the ship is the main theatre and not big enough being on only one floor. P&O have tried to address this by sometimes putting on the same show three times in the same evening but unfortunately we walked away on three occasions due to lack of seats. The ship's dance company were new for our sailing and worked really hard as their shows didn't give them a breather. Our favourite show was the violin duo String Idols who were absolutely fantastic. There were also comedians and singers.
Port and Shore Excursions
We booked four excursions with P&O and were delighted with everyone. The organisation pre-excursion seemed disorganised at the ports however especially at Tenerife and we felt that the system other cruise lines use meeting in the theatre first and then being escorted out would have been preferable.
We did the cable car and Toboggan trip which was superb. A great trip for families and we ended the tour with a Madeira tasting which was great fun. Unlike other cruise lines you are able to bring back alcohol from the ports and enjoy them in your cabin. Bar staff were always very obliging providing fresh glasses for our wine and Madeira and there are also large glasses provided in the cabin.
We opted for the Mount Teide National Park trip and were surprised just how far it was from the port. We certainly wouldn't have wanted to do the trip independently and were pleased that we had a proper guided tour organised via P&O. The weather was cloudy in Tenerife but we went above the cloud on Mount Teide and had fantastic weather. The temperature is definitely cooler on the mountain so you need to remember to wear layers.
We took the excursion to Maspolomas for a camel ride and really enjoyed it. Again it was a fantastic family trip and good fun was had by all. We sat two to a basket on the camels with the children on one camel and us on another to even the weight out. The camels are all attached to each other so there was no risk of them running off. The officials were happy to take photos and video for us which was very kind.
We didn't book an excursion and took the free shuttle into the city which only took about 10 minutes. Having previously explored Belem on a previous visit we decided to take a trip on the old iron elevator for 5 euros which provided excellent views of the city from the top.
We took our fourth P&O excursion here to Santiago de Compostella and again we were really delighted with the trip. Our guide was excellent and really brought the cathedral to life. I was a little concerned that this trip wouldn't be as popular with the children but they too got a great deal out of the trip.
It was the easiest and most hassle free of any disembarkation we have had. Our steward allowed us to leave our baggage in our cabins until after breakfast and then we headed up to deck 14 to enjoy the sun away from the crowds until our yellow disembarkation cards were called. We were straight off the ship and spotted our suitcases (lined up in deck order) as soon as we entered the building. We then collected our keys for the car and drove off waving a fond goodbye to Oceana as we left the terminal.
We had a fabulous family holiday and enjoyed the sea days and ports. We spotted dolphins and whales during our trip which was very exciting. We were also lucky enough to attend a wedding on board conducted by the captain and were invited onto the bridge which was an added bonus to a great cruise. Despite being the Easter holidays the overall age seemed older on Oceana than last year. The last sea day had a huge sale of a variety of goods many of which were half price so unless you need something for the cruise wait until the last day for the bargains. P&O has a lot of advantages including low gratuities, no service charge on drinks, cheap bar prices, duty free spirits, free shuttle buses and afternoon tea. We would certainly recommend Oceana, especially for first time cruisers who may be concerned by the size of newer ships. Less
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