We decided to book a last minute 4 night cruise with P&O due to the last minute get away price and the schedule was advertised as a 2 day Amsterdam trip - somewhere we hadn't been before. The online booking on P&O website stated Amsterdam for Saturday and Sunday. In fact the reality was that the ship left 7am on Sunday morning! not exactly 2 days Amsterdam! This was a big disappointment as although we did an excursion on the Saturday the plan was to explore the city on the Sunday which then didn't happen. Lots of passengers were also under the same impression where one couple mentioned their travel agent clearly stated a 2 day Amsterdam visit. I noticed dozens of the crew coming back late that night and it felt more of a night stop over to benefit the crew more than the passengers! We have done 2 day stop overs in the past with Royal and in fairness to Royal they do give you the chance of at least half a day on the second day before leaving. I cannot understand the logic in arriving 6am on Saturday morning and then leaving 7am Sunday morning! Not unless you were planning on doing some serious visiting during the early hours in the red light district! The nights are dark by 5pm and the weather was cold and raining so most people were back on board for their evening meal. There was also no complimentary shuttle bus to take you into the heart of the city which was a good 25 minute or so walk from the cruise terminal to Ann Frank's house. So it wasn't as if you could just hope off the ship.
The same cruise is being advertised for a November sailing and yet again this is stated as a 2 day trip to Amsterdam! It was only until we checked the booking PDF after we returned home that the timing of the sailing was stated at 7am Sunday departure - not on the website when you booked! nor did a P&O representative make this clear at the time of the booking over the telephone.
Despite this, the short break was a nice get away and after cruising with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean this made for a very pleasant surprise returning to P&O as we have had mixed experiences both good and bad! especially very poor experiences sailing on Azura. The restaurant food was excellent and we had very good service especially from the Restaurant Manager - Alan who was incredibly efficient and provided help in putting us on 1st sitting dinner. He even went out of his way to check this had occurred and personally approached us to ensure everything was o.k. He even remembered my name, cabin number and new table number in the restaurant the following evening. Very impressed by this guy! Thumbs up! This was the sort of excellent customer service I have come to find as the norm on Celebrity Cruises and to find this on a P&O ship was very promising. The food in the conservatory buffet was o.k. not brilliant (more like canteen food) and like P&O's other ships the amount and types of food on offer is seriously limited compared to Royal and Celebrity. The food was enjoyable but was quite a few grades lower than the dining experience in the restaurant and it can be best described as going to a NHS hospital restaurant.
Oriana is really starting to show its age in terms of layout, features, and decor although its still a charming little ship but P&O badly needs to overhaul this ship or send it to cruise ship heaven. There comes a time when every ship has its day. Our cabin for example had the original carpet, curtains and fittings and it was impossible to store our case inside the wardrobe due to space constraints. A major refit is needed including the public spaces around the shops in the central stairway along with a major revamp to modernise the look of this ship in the public areas. It was a good ship for its time but over 20 years is really starting to show how outdated this ship has become compared to modern cruise ships. i.e. get rid of the brass look and all the scuff marks in the public areas! The renovated spa area was a nice touch but it was a shame this area is too small in size with just one hot tub! and this area needs expanding - perhaps getting rid of the cinema and housing a new spa/whirlpool and relaxation area instead as the main theatre was also used to play blockbuster films. So what is the point of having a cinema to?
Our only other big criticism was the way the Kathryn Jenkins tribute acts were organised where she performed at 10:30pm at night. I was informed by a member of her staff that this was purely down to the entertainment organisation by P&O. We had a fixed time and day (via a ticket) to see Kathryn as the tiny theatre on board was only able to hold 'x' many passengers at a time. Again highlighting the limitations of this ageing ship. We were sadly unable to see Kathryn's performance due to the lateness of the performance and medication issues however despite us explaining this to the reception staff to try and organise the only earlier 8:45pm showing on the Friday evening, P&O were unable to accommodate our request and we were badly let down. Thumbs down for P&O! I felt I would have had much better service on Royal and Celebrity. I struggle to understand out of the three performances that Kathryn did why they were all late at night. We had a very long sail back on the Sunday - instead of having a proper day in Amsterdam so why didn't they schedule a performance for the Sunday afternoon to accommodate those passengers who found the 10:30pm performance way too late??
The remaining entertainment was very enjoyable especially the Queen tribute and an excellent talk given by Robin on the Northern Lights which attracted a large crowd and filled the smaller theatre. Good to see that P&O catered for lots of different interests.
A nice little break and despite cruising 4 and 5 star's with Royal and Celebrity, this was a very fun and enjoyable trip for a 3 star cruising company.