As first time cruisers we did not really know what to expect. My husband is a part-time wheelchair user, able to walk short distances, so we were a little concerned about embarkation and how he would get around the ship. On arrival at the Terminal we were immediately greeted with aides, whose job it was to make our transition aboard as easy and stress free as possible. They were wonderful, putting us at ease and taking all the worry out of boarding in such circumstances. I hope this will reassure anyone considering cruising who might also be either partially or totally dependent on a wheelchair. We also noticed that some passengers had motorised disability scooters. Of course, whichever type you use, it must be able to fit into your cabin, as you are not permitted to leave any such vehicles in the corridors, for obvious health and safety reasons. We had a deluxe balcony cabin which was very roomy and the folded up wheelchair did not encroach on our space in the least.
We were not too lucky with the weather, but that is something beyond anyone's control and the experiences we had and the wonderful ambience of the ship more than made up for that. On our first night out the sea was a little rough and I have to admit to being seasick, but the administration of travel sickness tablets remedied that within 24 hours. Next time (and I hope there will be a next time) I will take them prior to boarding as a precautionary measure.
Our allocated dining room was the Oriental, first sitting at 6.30 pm. Can I offer a word of advice when booking your cruise to select a large table, seating at least 6 or 8? In this way, you will be seated with a group of people who will become your friends. We were very fortunate to be seated with 2 other couples who were total strangers to us, but with whom we developed a strong friendship. The dining experience on Oriana was superlative -- the choice of food, the excellent service from all of the restaurant staff and the little "extras" such as the singing of "Happy Birthday" by the waiters only added to our enjoyment. The food is of such high quality that I also suggest taking some clothing along which has a bit of "give" in the waist! (There are, however, excellent gym facilities on board should you prefer that option!) We particularly enjoyed the Room Service facility and utilised it on several occasions, most especially for breakfast, where we were able to enjoy it at our leisure in our cabin. The Peninsular Restaurant offers open seating for breakfast, which we visited a couple of times. The choice and quality of fare in all of the food outlets can only be described as exceptional.
The range of entertainment on board was limitless. The Theatre Royal offered such diverse acts as ventriloquists, vocalists and pianists, as well as the in-house theatre group which entertained us with a variety of performance genres -- our favourites being tributes to Abba and Queen. We were also occasional visitors to the Casino where we were taught the principles of Black Jack and Roulette in a very interesting workshop one afternoon. The stakes in the casino are usually quite low, but we did manage to come out with some winnings nevertheless, despite being total novices! There are numerous other entertainments on board, ranging from Bridge to Quizzes, there is something for everyone, whether you decide to use the facilities or not.
We had a deluxe balcony cabin on B deck. As previously mentioned, apart from one day, the weather was not really warm enough to utilise it to its full extent, but our cabin was roomy and comfortable. The compact bathroom was kept fully stocked with beautifully laundered white cotton towels, and came with a complimentary supply of toiletries. The beds were amazingly comfortable; the bedding of soft Egyptian cotton. The cabin steward did a magnificent job of keeping it clean and tidy, and turned the beds down each night, leaving a delightful little chocolate on the pillows. It was these little extra touches that made the holiday so unforgettable. There is a TV and fridge in the cabin for your convenience and shipboard messages are relayed through the speaker system, as well as on the TV channel devoted to the bridge, on which essential details such as weather conditions and current placement on the globe can be tracked.
It would appear that "Service" is the watch word for every single member of staff on the Oriana, as indeed I am sure it also applies to all the other ships in the P & O fleet. Whatever you are doing, the staff are always meticulously polite and eager to meet your every need. I have never been called "Madam" so many times (but in the most fitting circumstances!) Many of the staff obviously work behind the scenes, but their efforts are nevertheless apparent --the invisible cleaners, the staff who work in the kitchens, laundry and engine rooms all played their part.
We could not find any negative points to comment on as far as all the previously mentioned areas are concerned, but if I must pinpoint one irritation it must be the difficulty encountered on many occasions when traversing the raised areas of the corridors of the ship. These are the metal ridges or lips along which the watertight doors close. We found them to be high enough to bring the wheelchair to a halt when the front wheels hit them, forcing us to have to "lift" the front wheels over the obstructions. The fact that we had to do this so many times resulted in some damage to the said wheels, which fortunately will be repaired under the insurance, but this is something to be aware of. If these areas could be made more wheelchair friendly, then this single point of contention would be resolved.
Ports of call
Our ports of call were La Coruna, Casablanca, Gibraltar, Cadiz and Lisbon. At all of the ports we were able to go ashore as the staff were so helpful getting the wheelchair down the gangway and helping my husband to disembark and embark on his return to the ship. We had a particularly entertaining day in Casablanca where we took a Petit Taxi, driver by Mushtak, on a whistle stop tour of the city (and some!) visiting off the beaten track sights, including an authentic Berber Pharmacy (Mustak's words) - sure the pharmacist must have been one of Mustak's relatives! Great day all round. We found various levels of accessability in the other ports we visited, mainly due to the "friendliness" of the pavements and kerbs towards the wheelchair. We found Lisbon to be particularly bad for wheelchair users. We enjoyed our cruise very much and will certainly look to repeating this experience, probably with P and O again, as their staff were absolutely brilliant.