We are a retired couple in our mid 60's. This was my first visit to the Baltic and our first experience of P&O. We are experienced cruisers and have previously used Cunard, Italian and American cruise lines.
Embarkation: This was smooth, effortless and very easy, taking no more than 30 minutes from the time we dropped the car to the time we were on board and enjoying our first lunch.
The ship: Oriana is a fairly old ship, but has recently had a re-fit, the layout of the ship is elegant and attractive. She has a very welcoming feel. There are several comfortable lounges where you can purchase drinks or just sit and enjoy the ambiance. My favourites were Tiffany's where you can purchase an excellent cup of Costa coffee and the Crow's Nest where you can enjoy fabulous views whilst sipping your chosen tipple. Both have pleasant music in the evening..
As this cruise was fairly port intensive and taking into account the price difference between an outside cabin or a balcony cabin, we chose the outside cabin. The cabin was situated on E deck (same level as the main dining rooms). Although the cabin was much smaller than we had experienced on previous cruises, it was comfortable and there seemed to be adequate storage facilities for our belongings. The decor in the cabin was very bland and could do with some colour. The bathroom was small but again perfectly adequate. The cabin was situated below the promenade deck and although you could hear people walking about and moving deck chairs this did not bother us as we are fairly early risers. The channels available on the TV seemed to be quite limited. Previous reviewers have mentioned vibration, this is still very evident in certain areas of the ship and really needs some attention. If I had been given a table in the Aft of the Oriental Restaurant I would have definitely asked to be moved.
Safety Drill: This was held in Harlequins night club, the space was totally inadequate for the number of passengers attending the drill. Considering the average age group on this cruise, I thought that it was very bad that a considerable number of elderly passengers had to stand in a crowded, hot, airless room for the duration of the drill. That said, the drill itself was thorough and crew checked that passengers had put the life jacket on correctly.
Food: The food served in the MDR was of a consistently high standard. We ate in the Oriental Restaurant. Meat, poultry and fish were perfectly cooked, well presented and served hot. There was always a good selection of vegetables available. My only criticism of the food is that it was a little boring, and a little bland, the style was very English. I think that the buffet offered a more cosmopolitan choice in the evenings, but our preference was to eat in the MDR. The buffet is a complete bun fight with people going every which way and it is a nightmare finding a table.
We had one meal in each of the Speciality Restaurants at extra cost. The Italian Sorrento offered a good choice of Italian dishes, although very nice this was in my opinion not authentic Italian food, but it made a pleasant change from the MDR. The restaurant is also situated at the top of the ship, so you can enjoy fabulous views whilst you eat. We chose to eat there the night we left Stockholm, the views were just amazing.
The Ocean Grill offered contemporary British food which was delicious and excellent. We chose to eat there on our Wedding Anniversary, it was a truly special meal. The service in both of the premium restaurants was fantastic.
Breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas can be taken at a variety of locations offering several choices to suit individual taste.
One area that does irk me is that you can not get fresh ground decaffeinated coffee anywhere on this ship, if you ask for decaffeinated you will be given a sachet of instant coffee and some hot water. This really is not good enough after a meal and totally unacceptable in the premium restaurants.
Service: Generally speaking the level of service was very good, our waiters in the MDR and in the premium restaurants were exceptional and did everything they could to make our cruise memorable. Most of the restaurant wait staff were Indian with a few Philippinos. Our cabin boy kept our cabin clean and tidy but was not exceptional. Ice had to be ordered from room service.
Entertainment: This is the area that needs some attention. Generally speaking the entertainment was a little 'old fashioned', before midnight we found that the dance style in Harlequins nightclub was more suitable to a very elderly clientele. This seemed to change after midnight as there was a disco, but frequently there were not too many people (including us) up for late night boogieing! There were a couple of good performances and a couple of average shows and some classical music concerts. Recent films can also be seen in Chaplin's Cinema.
Itinerary: This is what attracted us to this cruise - an opportunity to visit Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, 2 full days in St Petersburg, Tallinn, Klaipeda & Kristiansand. A fabulous itinerary. We elected to do our own thing everywhere except St Petersburg. We used the ship's free shuttle bus when available and we walked or used local transport.
In St Petersburg we joined some others on the CC Roll Call and signed up for the TJ Travel 2 day extensive tour. I cannot praise this company highly enough, they were just amazing. We had a fantastic guide Alex and a good driver Edward. There were just 16 passengers and we saw and experienced so much in 2 days. At the Hermitage we were allowed in before the official opening time, thus avoiding the queues and crowds. Our guide Alex shared an enormous amount of information with us, she was also very entertaining and had the ability the bring the city to life. We also went to the Ballet at the Hermitage Theatre. TJ Travel are a very professional and reliable organisation. You are not requested to pay for the trip until the afternoon of the 2nd day.
Disembarkation: This was very straightforward, we were off the ship before 10am.
Cultural Mix: Predominantly British retirees, with a few younger folk for good measure.
General overall opinion: We booked this cruise as a late deal, it offered good value for money and the opportunity to visit some fascinating and interesting destinations. We really enjoyed the ease and convenience of sailing from Southampton. However, we did miss the multi cultural mix that we have experienced on previous cruises.