Embarkation at Southampton was not as slick as usual. We arrived early, about noon, and had to wait nearly two hours before our number was called to register and then a long queue for security which was very thorough, before we boarded the ship. Our luggage arrived at our cabin soon after we did so that was good. We had been on Aurora previously across the Pacific so we were interested to compare Oriana with our first P & O experience early last year.
The Oriana is about 10,000 tons lighter than the Aurora but the layout is similar with a walk around promenade on deck seven always welcome. Some more modern ships do not retain this important, for us, feature. Oriana also has tiered outside decks at the stern so you can walk up from deck seven all the way to the Conservatory Buffet on deck 12 pausing on the way at each deck to look at the view on open decks.
At the scheduled departure time around 6 p.m. the ship was still tied up to the dock and looking over the port side we saw a Dutch diving crew with two large vans working busily at the stern of the ship. Some time after this, the Captain's voice came over the tannoy announcing that there was a problem with the fitting of a new seal on the port side propeller shaft and work would not be complete until midnight at which time he hoped to set sale for Norway.
The ship did not actually sail until 4 a.m.
The following day the Captain announced that as well as being the oldest ship in the P & O fleet , Oriana was now also the fastest ship in the fleet having achieved in excess of 27 knots in attempting to catch up on the lost time in port and to enable us to arrive in Stavanger closer to the original scheduled time.
The trip was called In Search of the Northern Lights and in that light, we had an on board lecturer call Ian Ridpath who gave a series on excellent lectures, the first of which was all about the Northern Lights.
As on the Aurora, lectures on the Oriana were all excellent. We also enjoyed a classical guitarist Carlos Bonnel.
We saw the first stage show which was quite good but not good enough to make us feel we had to see any more later in the cruise.
Food in the Conservatory was O.K. but not exceptional. The buffet was also quite a bit smaller than on the Aurora and much more limited in choice. The other major problem was the presence on board of Noro Virus which meant all food was served at the buffet by crew, passengers were not allowed to help themselves to anything including cups of tea or coffee. This meant that some of the staff who were obviously not regular serving staff were doing work they were not trained for and it showed.
This resulted in long queues at busy times and some frayed nerves on both sides.
For some reason, on the last morning in Southampton prior to disembarkation we were allowed to help ourselves in the Conservatory Buffet for breakfast. Had Noro Virus mysteriously disappeared?
Food in the main restaurant was excellent. It was not noticeable that there was a health problem and meals were of a consistently good standard with good service. We had a fixed time dining at 8.30 and shared with another couple who we had met at a lecture in the main theatre.
We bought an internet package £65 for 250 minutes with an extra 30 minutes thrown in and this proved plenty for the 11 day cruise. The internet was down quite a lot of the time but worked in port.
We bought a modest wine package, 4 bottles for £92, which by cruise line standards was quite good value. Beer and spirits in the bars were also quite reasonable and there was a Costa Coffee bar called Tiffanys on deck 6 which was quite popular. Coffee prices were less than at your average motorway services but slightly more than in the high street. You could also buy a coffee card deal which brought the cost down by about 10%.
We did have a problem with the toilet in our cabin which over flowed twice. We managed to get staff to switch off the water in time to stop the flood overflowing in to the cabin but it was a close call. The first time they obviously did not fix the problem as the second over flow occurred immediately after we flushed the toilet after the first incident. Thankfully the second time they did fix the fault and we had no problems after that.
We had an inside cabin which was smaller than the cabin on the Aurora. We left the TV on Bridge Cam at night so that in the morning we could see our progress and we treated the TV like a porthole. On some ships they turn the bridge cam off at night which is quite annoying but not on P & O thankfully.
We arrived in Alta on 6th March. The Captain informed us that this was the first P & O ship to travel so far north in the winter. We were parked right next to the airport which enabled us to watch several aircraft arriving and taking off during our two night stay.
We did a ship's bus trip around the Alta area priced quite reasonably at £35 each.
That night on deck 14 we searched for a view of the Northern Lights with Ian Ridpath joining us and we did managed to catch a glimpse. There was a lot of light pollution from the Town of Alta which reduced the effect of the Northern Lights as viewed from the ship and my camera it turned out was not designed for long exposures with a fast iso setting so my pictures were very disappointing. I have since bought a better camera.
See Micky777 on the Hurtigruten trip.
Having wetted our appetites with this viewing of the Lights we decided to fork out £145 for a 'once in a life time' opportunity to chase the Lights as it was billed by the P & O excursions pamphlet. We were expecting to get on a coach and drive around the area searching to find a good vantage point away from Light Pollution to view the Northern Lights. What we did not know was that there had been a meeting of the passengers going on the trip to discuss the things and the local organiser had said right at the start that the chances of seeing anything that night were slim to none and that people were bound to be disappointed. However P & O at that point did not offer a refund for those wishing to cancel.
My wife and I were off the ship at the time of the meeting in Alta town watching an ice sculpture carving competition so we did not know about this information.
We returned to the ship for dinner and then took the trip. What we got was a short bus ride to a golf course which had been set up to cater for the six or seven bus loads of expectant star gazers hoping to view the Northern lights. There were two Sami tents set up one near the bus park and Golf Club building and once down a steep track at the edge of the gold course. The paths were lit by candles at ground level and each of the tents had roaring logs fires. There were also benches outside with furs on them for people to sit on and gaze at the stars. Because of the weather however, totally overcast at the gold club, there was nothing to see. We stayed at the Golf Club for three and a half hours waiting patiently and then it started to snow and we were invited back on to the coaches and taken back to the ship which took about 15 minutes.
Needless to say we were not impressed. £145 for 25 minute bus drive to a gold course, a cup of chocolate and a piece of lemon cake. Help yourself by the way, no Noro Virus at the Golf Club apparently.
We have put in a complaint, here's hoping.
We left Alta the next day and headed for Tromso another Northern Lights hot spot. We had to stop after a couple of hours because the sea water cooling system had been blocked by silt in Alta. We eventually got under way but this resulted in a late arrival in Tromso on the Sunday and nearly everything was closed. The Norwegian Government then issued a severe weather warning which meant a delayed departure from Tromso the next day at 3 p.m.
The Captain explained that we would travel slowly following the northern edge of the severe weather to avoid the worst of the weather. Apparently a 15 metre swell was expected and the Captain wanted to avoid this. As it was we probably had 7 metre waves and a bumpy night.
We had to miss out Bergen on the return south to Southampton and were given a £50 on board refund.
An eventful trip with ups and downs literally. The crew clearly worked very hard to get the Noro Virus under control but apparently without success. We personally had no problems but were careful to avoid touching surfaces, especially hand rails and door handles. Common sense really, and frequent washing of hands to be on the safe side.
The Captain Robert Camby was a star. His thought of the day always clever and amusing. He always kept us fully informed about developments. A big contrast to other ships Carnival and NCL could take a leaf from his book.