Our cruise was planned to celebrate Mother’s 91st year and we booked P&O’s Oriana X314 Iberia trip departing 14 July, through Planet Cruise.
This was the first proper cruise for 4 out of 6 of us so forgive any naivety or seeming easily pleased.
We ordered a mix of cabin types at the Getaway rate, arriving separately in 3 groups and requiring 2 different dinner sittings, but the booking process was quite straightforward and Emily at Planet was very helpful.
The paperwork or rather the on-line processes needed only minimal effort to get through. Planet handled our requests for decent cabins in close proximity and not getting the dreaded obstructed view extremely well although the final decision on who-goes-where is, I assume, at P&O’s discretion.
We got an oceanview on E deck and 2 adjacent superior balcony suites on B deck and the respective occupants were all pleased with their cabins. The B deck cabins were much larger than our cabin E13x and included binos, atlas, dressing gown and slippers.
One couple opted for the valet port parking at '£117 and the other 2 couples took 2 cars to Alternative Car Parking, Marchwood who provided an excellent, friendly and personable service for '£46 less. Highly Recommended.
We were asked to check-in from 3:00 '" 3:45pm on Sunday 14 July - a very civilised time. The luggage disappeared straight into the ship from the ACP shuttlebus and we walked straight to the check-in hall with hand luggage and suit bags. A large number of desks meant very little waiting. We were briefed by a friendly, efficient lady about the procedures, credit card details taken, directed through security, and straight onto the ship. A refreshing change from the awfulness of departing from a London airport.
Straight to our cabin to freshen up and make a cup of tea. Full marks to P&O for providing tea-making facilities in each cabin. Our steward was there to welcome us and talk us through shipboard life and made us feel at home straight away. Then there was a call to attend the safety drill '" in our case in the Harlequin lounge which was packed with passengers carrying their orange life jackets. The briefing was given over the tannoy by Capt Camby - a more dependable and splendid sounding chap you wouldn’t find. Back to our cabin and the suitcases were now waiting outside, so a quick un-pack and as the sailaway beckoned, we made our way to the very top deck. Ever so smoothly and gracefully the Oriana using thrusters only slipped away from the Mayflower berth, and sailed down the Solent and past the IoW in lovely sunshine. Fantastic.
We decided to all eat together for the first night at the self-service Conservatory. The food was ok but to be honest I can’t remember what I ate as there was a lot to choose from. Some in our party were less than impressed '" but none of us really knew what to expect so soon into the cruise. Afterwards, we went to the Harlequin to sample the entertainment. This was dancing with the resident trio and seemed more suited to a pensioners day centre. Sorry but this was absolutely not my cup of tea so off to explore the ship and do a few laps of the Promenade Deck. My favourite spot was the stern rail watching the wake from the twin screws fade to the horizon. Magic.
When you retire to your cabin, the Horizon in-house newsletter and 2 chocolates await you. We felt no noise or vibration, the temperature controls seemed to work and getting a good nights sleep wasn’t difficult. Or at least it wasn’t after the racket made by the people next door died down. Some of these cabins sleep 4 by having wall-mounted pull-down beds so possibly that procedure was making all the noise. Fortunately this was a one-off and every other night was quiet and peaceful.
The cabin is snug but well equipped with a small corner sofa and table, a small flat screen tv, 4 wardrobes each with a safe(!) 2 bedside units and the ensuite shower room etc. OK for a couple but very cramped for 4. The power points are 3-pin UK type but there are no spare points so if you want to charge a phone say or power some speakers you have to unplug the tv or kettle. As mentioned above the B deck balcony cabins were much larger and better equipped but they paid twice as much as we did.
Breakfast can be taken in the Peninsular restaurant with full waiter service in one sitting. Varied choices and delicious food, nicely served. Service ends at 0915 or 0930 depending on whether it was a port-of-call day. This suits passengers taking excursions which usually make an early start.
For a more leisurely start to the day it has to be the Conservatory (or Smash n’ Grab as we came to call it.) All the usual buffet fare is there with a good range of cereals, seeds, fruit, eggs 3 ways, bacon, sausage, toast etc - the full works in fact. There were 4 vending areas to obtain filtered water, juices, teas and coffee. The coffee we thought was actually not too bad. Inevitably there was queuing at certain times and the hot food options generally tailed off by 10:30. There is also the Al Fresco bar that serves a more limited range of breakfast food as well as late night snacks. I only used it once at about midnight as I missed cheese and biscuits that evening. It was quite small but a relaxed and friendly place to be.
Lunches were served in the Peninsular and Conservatory, but we made a point of not having lunch as breakfast had hardly been digested '" and instead took Afternoon Tea in the Peninsular. This became something of an institution. The finger sandwiches are delicious and keep on coming and then you are served scones, cream, jam, teacakes and crumpets. Sometimes the crumpets etc came before the sandwiches which was a bit odd but if you persevered you could make it happen in the right order. The only slight quibble is that you felt obliged to leave quite swiftly but the staff have to lay the tables for the 18:30 dinner service.
Evening meals are served in 2 sittings in the Oriental and Peninsular restaurants whilst the Conservatory offers open buffet-style dining.
There is also a Marco Pierre White and an Italian restaurant that charge supplements but we were well catered for in the Peninsular so never got around to eating anywhere else.
Mum and her friend soon abandoned their 18:30 dinner sitting and joined the rest of us for 20:30, the restaurant manager happily facilitating that for us.
Dinner was 5 courses: starter, soup, main, sweet, cheese and biscuits and then coffee. The wine list was good with sub-West End prices '" there was a particularly good Claret for '£14.50. Prosecco was '£18.50. If you didn’t finish a bottle, it would be put out for you the following evening.
A typical menu would include a steak or Beef Wellington, lamb &/ pork, fish and a veggie option. Considering the numbers catered for the presentation was very good, service briskly efficient and the food served hot. Only once did a dish disappoint '" a rather bland roast beef. You get to know the waiting staff and when we missed dinner due to staying ashore in Gib, the next night they asked were we had been.
One nice touch was a glass of fizz being served to every diner to toast the Royal birth earlier that day. Very British and very well received.
We didn’t manage to visit all the bars, but the Crows Nest was OK although we could take or leave the pianist. Crichton’s was also pleasant enough.
Actually our drinks bill at the end was surprisingly reasonable with no added service charges of 15% or more that you can get on other lines. The daily gratuity charge was '£3.50 per head per day and I can’t imagine anyone would baulk at that. All the staff we met were friendly, professional and helpful '" and incredibly hard working. Again the only area we would comment on is feeling slightly rushed at the end of meals. Some people like to leave to go to a bar or some other activity whereas we are ‘lingerers’ who like to chill after the meal. However it was easy to get into the swing of things and there was always somewhere else to be anyway, be it a show, film, quiz, the photography area etc.
There was a resident theatre troupe called the Headliners who performed twice nightly most nights, generally in the Theatre Royal. They were excellent and all their shows were very well received. Their tour of duty actually ended with this cruise so I don’t know how they were to be replaced, but sadly for some of them I gathered that the dole queue beckoned. There was also a very funny comedy magician called Andre with a great line in Saga cruise gags and good magic tricks too. There was a crew talent show which was brilliant and a passenger talent show which was basically X Factor Lite with 5 different singing acts but of course it all depends on talented passengers coming forward. The resident band I’m sorry to say was only so-so '" there didn’t seem to be much rapport between them. The guitarist who played some lunch times by the pool was very good '" a shame he didn’t get some evening slots.
The theatre is very well equipped in terms of sound and lighting, on a par with a very good provincial theatre. The Chaplin Cinema screened Skyfall, Quartet, Lincoln, The Queen and several other recent films, several times a day. A great place to go on a day at sea when the weather isn’t too good.
There were quizzes every day and evening and perhaps best of all a series of 5 lectures about the Assassination of Concorde. An in-depth no-holds-barred account by an insider of the disgraceful circumstances surrounding the ending of Concorde flights.
Two of our party enjoyed the Zumba classes and the gym has a panoramic view over the bow of the ship.
None of us visited the spa so cannot comment and there were various art classes, photography sessions and other stuff which we didn’t get to try but as we enjoyed such fantastic weather we mostly sunned ourselves on deck.
Naturally on a glorious day at sea there is more pressure on sun-loungers but we always managed to find space somewhere. By 5:30pm most passengers seemed to vanish so the sunny areas would be deserted. I’m not a fan of chlorinated swimming pools so cannot comment on them but they were enjoyed by others in our party.
The second smaller theatre (Pacific Lounge) where the lectures were held was not ideal as there were seats having pillars spoiling the view and the tub seats face the wrong way but I guess they are trying to create a cabaret/club vibe.
There were 3 formal nights when the penguin suits got an airing, the first one being an opportunity to meet and have a snap taken with Capt Camby. Never done that sort of thing before but actually good fun and the ladies loved to dress up. If you want to steer clear, the Conservatory caters for casual dressers. The ship’s photographers have a field day on the formal nights and also at the gang plank but there is no pressure to buy, but the good photos are hard to resist. They even expertly photo-shopped a pic for me at no extra charge.
Although the ship was full with approx 1,880 passengers, the only times you were aware of crowding was in the Conservatory at breakfast, the Theatres and sunny days on deck. We never queued to disembark at ports, we always went straight to our table for dinner, there was always space in the bars, and during my late night laps of the Promenade deck would seldom see anyone apart from maintenance crew.
There are some shops in the Atrium on decks 6/7 but these weren’t brilliant, mainly selling cheap watches and baubles or expensive designer stuff, and duty frees.
The only paid excursion we did was the Andalucian Drive from Cadiz. That was actually disappointingly dull and not helped by the coach breaking down in the middle of nowhere. We were sitting at the back and on every hill I could smell the tell-tale stench of cooked clutch. Eventually the bus gave up the ghost on a narrow country road and the rescue bus had to reverse several miles to get to us and then proceed in the wrong direction. When we got back to the ship there was indeed a long queue to get aboard as all the tour buses seem to return at the same time, so we walked back to town and had an interesting mooch around instead.
Most ports were departed between 3 and 5pm which was a bit too early in my view but at Gibraltar we did get a full day ashore. Some of us went up the Rock and others spent the day on the beach and met the most delightfully friendly locals who gave mum one of their umbrellas and deckchairs as it was so so hot. My electric razor had managed to flatten itself on the journey to Southampton and nobody on board seemed to have a Philips Philishave power lead so I left it with one of the many electrical stores on Main Street and they charged it up for me. Also Bombay Sapphire gin is under a tenner in Gib!
After a few drinks to get rid of '£Gib notes in Casemates Square we eventually got back to Oriana at about 21:00. By the time we got to the Conservatory it was almost closing down but the head waiter made sure we were all fed. As a bonus they served the best prawn curry we had ever tasted.
Lisbon was one of the disappointingly short stays but we had time to get a train out to Cascais, shop, walk along the prom to Estoril for coffee in a beach bar, get the train back and a bit more shopping near the terminal. That day the IT system failed so the crew couldn’t be sure that every passenger smart card had registered upon embarkation so everyone had to return to their cabins to be checked in by their steward. The delay amounted to about an hour so we had our Afternoon Tea and were back on deck in time to enjoy the ships horn blast out Capt Camby’s signature tune as we sailed under the huge 25 April Bridge.
The Captain always gave a summary of the day at 1800 and let us know what sort of sea conditions and weather to expect and ended with a humorous anecdote or saying.
According to Channel 1 on the cabin tv the worst sea we got was Force 7 which made the ship move only ever so slightly, and with nothing more than a Force 2/3 across the Bay of Biscay we were indeed blessed.
During my nocturnal perambulations I noticed that the beautiful teak decks get washed down every night by a crewman.
Other reviewers criticise the Reception staff as being unfriendly. When I was frequently in their company trying to get my razor sorted we had some great banter and I found the girls to be delightful.
Our steward kept our cabin clean and tidy, others as stated were forever cleaning the decks and other parts of the ship, there were hand-sanitising kits by all the restaurants and as far as I know there was no noro-virus on our cruise. Phew!
There is a well-practised routine for disembarkation '" do all your packing, leaving out only your going-home-items, suitcases to be labelled and left outside by 2am.
Breakfast served up to 8am and sit around awaiting your allocated time, notified by colour-coded cards. The procedure went very smoothly and at least half-an-hour earlier than expected we got the call to proceed to Deck 5, go ashore to find your suitcases laid out in lettered bays representing your Deck, through customs and straight to the ACP shuttlebus. Totally efficient and painless.
We found the Oriana to be a wonderful ship, clearly loved by the Capt and crew and it would seem most other passengers. An enormous tower block of a ship carrying 3000+ assorted families she aint and thank goodness for that.
If we could sail on her tomorrow we would; did we a have a fabulous holiday '" oh yes. Roll on the next time.