We have cruised with P&O several times, and had last cruised on Oriana in 2006, she has since had a refit and been converted to adults only. This was our first trip into the Baltic, lots of interesting places to see, but we anticipated the weather might be ‘iffy’.
We initially booked this cruise while on Auroa in November last year, and secured a discount of £100 each and onboard credit of £120 each, but paid the (disad)Vantage fare. The Getaway fare was announced about 12 weeks before sailing, this eventually settled at about a third of what we paid, P&O are going to have to seriously review the fare structure. We were also told that we would be having cabin E135, outside, low and forward. P&O then transferred the booking process to our preferred supplier, Bolsover Cruise Club, the booking was handled by Craig very efficiently and we were pleased with the service.
P&O now expect you to pay in full when booking shore excursions before sailing, we don’t mind this as it is a bit like paying by instalments, instead of getting a whopping bill at disembarkation. We joined the Cruise Critic Roll Call and set up a get together in the Crowsnest Bar.
About a week before sailing P&O emailed to advise that Norovirus (NV) was on the ship, and embarkation would be delayed at least 90mins. The day before sailing P&O sent a text reminder.
As we knew there was going to be a delay, we took a picnic and found a quiet seat in the lounge; embarkation began just after 14:00. This ran very smoothly, and our luggage was already at the cabin when we got there. The ship was in lock down due to NV, lots of precautions in place. Fortunately it was nice and sunny on deck and a BBQ had been organised by the Riviera Pool, the Conservatory (buffet) was closed as cleaning continued.
Oriana is a great ship for quiet corners; there are always places to sit, even on days when people do not want to be on deck. The Prom deck is particularly wide and spacious making walking circuits very pleasant and unobstructed. The Atrium is quite small covering four decks, with Tiffany’s at the top and Reception at the bottom. Most bars and entertainment is located on the Prom deck level making venues easy to find.
The cabin was best described as compact, and has two additional pull down beds, if it were to be used for four person occupancy they would have to be very good friends! There was a curtain the bottom of the beds that could be used to divide the cabin, we found this useful for stopping the light from under the door, and it also absorbed some noise. The beds have a bar underneath making it impossible to store anything but the skinniest luggage. The four safes are each, small sandwich box size, so only the essentials can go in there. The carpet looked tired and in need of replacement. Our cabin steward Freddie was great, always friendly and smiling, also very quick and efficient. The cabin was surprisingly quiet considering that it was under the Prom deck and theatre (E135). It was worth packing a few clothes pegs because it never got really dark, and the pegs made sure the curtains were light tight.
The evening dinning in the two MDRs is set times (no open dining) we knew that some days were going to be long so chose the 20:30 option; this is a bit late for us but 18:30 is too early. Our evening meal was to be in the Oriental Restaurant, which has windows on three sides making it very light and airy. We had requested a table for two and got a table of six (Table 28); our tablemates were great company, two from ‘up North’ and two from Australia. Our waiters Vimay and Clime were very attentive, and quickly picked up on our preferences. Our wine waiter Edson was also very attentive. The wine selection is very good; P&O use Olly Smith as a wine consultant and on every dinner menu his recommendations were good matches to the food and very reasonably priced £12.50 to £20. However, the menus are looking a bit tired and bear a remarkable resemblance to the 2006 menus.
Breakfast and lunch were open seating in the Peninsular Restaurant, or the other dining venues.
There are two speciality restaurants, we tried both. Ocean Grill is Marco Pierre White inspired dining with a cover charge of £12.95. We ate here twice, the menus are changed weekly. Both times the food was excellent and the service discrete but attentive, the second time Marco was in the kitchen! Sorrento’s is Italian dining with a cover charge of £5, this is great value. The restaurant occupies one side of the Conservatory, but you would not know it, it is isolated and quiet with great sea views, the food is good as well.
We only used the conservatory for tea/coffee and light snacks, but it always seemed to be busy, and the flow through the servery was awkward to say the least. We also had lunch a couple of times in Al Fresco which was quick and pleasant, but the pizza is mass produced and not made to order.
Bars and Drinks
Oriana has a great selection of bars, something to suit most tastes and occasions. The Crowsnest is very large and airy with a great view of where you are going, this was particularly good when we left Stockholm, it also has a waiter named Lenin, which seemed very apt in St Petersberg. The Lords Tavern is a sports/pub style and very relaxed, as we sat in the same place most of the time the waiter Patrick got to know us, and he was very entertaining! Our final watering hole most nights was Anderson’s which is just right for a night cap.
Drink prices are quite reasonable larger/bitter at about £3.65 a pint. The cocktail of the day is good value, and fits very well with a sunny sail away on the terrace at the stern.
We did use the gym several times; it is well equipped, but could use some more weights machines.
The photo team tried really hard and we did buy a few, 8x6 prints for £10 seems reasonable value.
Ports of Call
All the ports were new to us, and for most we took walking tours. Where needed courtesy buses were provided. In St Petersberg we did pay up for the after hours tour of The Hermitage and it was well worth it, there were only 48 of us and we had the place to ourselves, it concluded with a classical concert in the Italian Room. Considering that on an average day 20,000 visit The Hermitage it can be very crowded, what we did was a real highlight.
We don’t tend to go to the shows but thoroughly enjoyed Richard Markham’s five piano recitals, and the two shows by Annette Wardell.
A great cruise, although it was originally billed as a food and wine cruise; a demo form the Executive Chef and an interview with Marco Pierre White hardly fills the bill. Not a wine tasting in sight, apart from what we bought.