SUMMARY We are a 30-something couple and this was our first P&O cruise. We had cruised once before on Celebrity Solstice so it was interesting to compare British vs American, Traditional vs Modern and Small vs Big ships. There are positives and negatives of each type and I wouldn't say one is better than the other - it all depends on your personal preferences.
We were happy with Oriana in general. As it is a smaller, older ship it lacked some of the polish and facilities of a larger, more modern ship but we liked the traditional style and nostalgic feel. In particular, the aft (back) of the ship - with the large, open terrace areas -- was great and we spent a lot of time there. On the more modern ships a lot of this aft space is taken up with balcony cabins.
The quality of food was similar, although there was a lot more variety on Celebrity.
The entertainment and range of things to do was better on the larger Celebrity ship, but we still found enough to keep us occupied.
Tips and prices on board in general were far more reasonable with P&O, but the level of service was still on par so good value for money.
We took the train from London to Southampton Central and a taxi (Â£6) to the Mayflower Pier. We dropped off our luggage outside the Cruise Terminal (P&O provided luggage tags so no need to panic if you haven't printed them!) and queued for all of five minutes before checking in. We were on board having lunch about 20 minutes later.
We had an outside cabin (A310) which was clean and spacious enough, with plenty of storage space. We brought from home a few extra coathangers, which came in handy, and there was a small safe. The TV was small and there was a lack of channels but at least there was the BBC and Sky News to keep us updated with events back home.
The bathrooms need updating and this is where the cabins show their age but the shower was still good. The White Company toiletries were a nice touch. Our cabin was only a few doors away from the open balcony at the aft (back) of the ship and we went there often to admire the views.
Passengers seemed to be 95% British and most we came across were in the 50s/60s range (as opposed to 70s/80s, as we had expected from some of the reviews we'd read). There were a few younger couples in their 20s/30s (not many but more than we had expected) as well as a few adult children travelling with their parents.
The ship was more formal than we expected, with at least 80% of men wearing tuxedos on the two formal nights. The dress codes doesn't apply if you're dining in the Conservatory but even there we saw some people dressed formally. This was very different to Celebrity, which is more relaxed on dress codes.
FOOD AND DRINK
Alcohol prices on board were very reasonable and similar to local pub prices (and without the extra service charges we found on Celebrity) plus there was a better range of beers available along with the usual wines and spirits.
We also took on board our own wine (take a screw-top bottle if you want to save some for another day as the fridges are not big enough to store it upright) and some beers (my husband likes his ales!).
It was great to have a kettle in the room for tea and coffee. Several varieties of Twinings teabags are available for free from the cabin attendant or in the Conservatory.
*Conservatory (buffet) -- It does get busy at peak times and the food was hit and miss in general, although the Indian buffet evening was excellent. The best time to go is right at the start of service when everything is fresh.
*Sorrento -- Â£7.50 per person. This isn't a separate restaurant; they corner off a section of the Conservatory in the evening or you can sit outside (weather allowing!). We thought it was well worth the extra supplement as we received very good service and good food cooked to order. It was great to have a table for two by the panoramic window while passing through the fjords and watching the sunset.
*Peninsular -- We ate here most days for breakfast. The variety and quality was good with a daily special (e.g. eggs benedict) in addition to the usual menu. However, we did feel that the time window it was open was too short -- so no lie-in if you want table service at breakfast! We also had Afternoon Tea here (served only from 4 -- 4.45pm). The scones and sandwiches were not so great but we enjoyed the tea-cakes, crumpets and loose-leaf tea.
*Oriental - We ate here most evenings. On sea days, there was also a carvery lunch service. We had read about "judder problems" but didn't experience any!
We were on a table of six at the second sitting and had a great time with our dining companions. Service was good and the quality of food was mostly decent but I would have liked a bit more variety in the menus -- they were tailored very much to traditional British tastes (i.e. meat/fish and two veg) and we found the food a bit 'samey' after a few nights.
*Al Fresco -- A small (so often a short wait for a table) cafe-style place, good for a quick bite or tea/coffee break with various snacks on offer until late (pizza, paninis, hotdogs etc). Worth noting that you can get omlettes cooked to order for breakfast after the Peninsula has stopped service.
*Marco Pierre White -- We didn't eat here as we found the menu to be uninspiring (standard gastropub fare) and we would expect something a bit more special at the price, especially as there were extra supplements for certain dishes, on top of the ordinary supplement.
We were lucky with some lovely weather and Bergen is a place where it is easy to explore yourself. There was a free shuttle bus from the ship into the city centre.
Recommendation: pick up a Mount Floyen walking tour brochure from the Tourist Information office (opposite the Fish Market) and then head to the funicular railway as quickly as possible. The queue was all the way down the street by the time we arrived, although it moved reasonably quickly and we were on board after around 30 minutes' wait. It's 40K one way. Many people go up for the view (which is great) and come straight back down. But at the top we followed one of the walking routes in the brochure to two lakes and had a picnic lunch (ordered from room service the night before!). Rather than taking the funicular back down, we walked it which took about 45 minutes.
We then explored the historical wooden buildings of "Bryggen" and checked our emails on our mobile for free by standing outside Pepes Pizza and using their wifi :)
This was our least favourite port, although this was partly due to poor weather on the day we were there. If you haven't booked an excursion, Andalsnes is tiny and has very little of interest apart from a walk to a viewpoint.
We booked P&O's Rauma Rail excursion @ Â£56 (train one way and a coach the other) online a few weeks before we sailed. This was slightly more expensive than doing it independently (Â£45 for a return train) but we were concerned the train would be full and we didn't want to do the same route each way. The journey was pleasant with nice views along the Rauma River and some interesting information from the guide, but the day was definitely hampered by the poor visibility and heavy rain. Our tour guide said she only saw the Troll Wall (one of the supposed highlights that we never saw!) properly on around 20% of her trips, even in the summer, so be warned.
After leaving Andalsnes, the weather cleared up and the ship sailed through a stunning Fjord for several hours -- try to get out on deck in the evening to view the scenery as it really was wonderful (the decks were pretty quiet at that time as people were on the first dinner sitting or getting ready for the second dinner sitting).
This was our favourite port -- beautiful scenery as soon as you walk off the ship and you could easily spend half a day walking around the lake without any need for an organised trip.
Recommendation: We took the 9.45am local bus to the Briksdal Glacier from the pier next to the ship. It was a bargain 90K return per person (around Â£10) as opposed to Â£56 for the P&O excursion! Note that during the 'port presentation' on the ship, the presenter incorrectly stated that there was no public transport to the Glacier -- also the 'tourist information' office tried to push its' taxi service when we asked about the bus rather than give us the info we wanted, but we had researched it online so knew it existed!
Once you arrive, it's a wonderful (if steep!) walk past several waterfalls to the Glacier with stunning mountain scenery all the way. The return bus left the Glacier visitor centre at 1:30pm and took us back to Olden town centre, where we spent an hour or so exploring before boarding the ship just in time for afternoon tea.
Evening cruising again with some great scenery to enjoy with the late sunset.
Again we chose to do our own thing rather than book an excursion. We had looked into going to Pulpit Rock but weren't sure if we had enough time to do the hike so we explored the city instead. The historic part of town was nice enough but we felt Bergen was more interesting.
Recommendation: Get a map from Tourist Info for the Broken Column (an art treasure hunt by Anthony Gormley), it is a fun way to explore the town -- although be warned that not all of the statues are accessible all the time.
In general, it seemed a lot of the music and entertainment was aimed at the older age range which often did not appeal to us -- since there are many different bars, it would be nice to have more choice of music in the evenings like 60s and 70s rock and pop which I'm sure many on board would like as well.
The Lords Tavern pub was showing some of the Olympic events but coverage was quite limited in general which was disappointing.
Some of the events we attended:
*Poor: Bobby Knutt 'comedy' show (not funny at all!) / Pub Quiz in Pacific Lounge (very Butlins!) / Casino (tiny).
*Good: Chaplins Cinema / Shows from the Headliners / guitar recital in the Crows Nest / Sailaway Party from Bergen.
*Excellent: Weakest Link quiznight (the compere doing his Anne Robinson impression was very funny) / Alan Kennedy (ex-footballer) doing some after dinner speaking one night and a Q&A session on another was a welcome suprise for my husband.
This was extremely smooth as we were in the first batch of passengers to get off. We had a hearty breakfast in the Peninsular (it's only open for seating from 7-7.15am and from 8-8.15am on the disembarkation day). We walked off the ship at 9am, collected our luggage which was waiting for us and were in a taxi to the station within 10 minutes
In general, we really enjoyed the cruise and would definitely sail with P&O again as it provides good value for money. For a 7 day cruise, there was enough to keep up occupied onboard but we would probably aim for a larger ship for any longer itinerary. The scenery in the fjords is stunning and you see a lot even between ports, although the weather can put a dampener on things so it depends if you get lucky or not.