I am sharing my thoughts on the recent cruise which we made aboard Oceana. I understand that what I write may displease the legion of P&O enthusiasts- however in this world perception is reality!
Douglas Ward's downgraded Oceana in the 2014 Berlitz Guide by half a star and 100 points.
This is our 14th cruise and our first with P&O. We have previously cruised with HAL, Cunard, Celebrity, RSSC and NCL. We sailed from Southampton and booked the Orissa suite on a 10 night cruise to Iberia departing on March 13th.
Sadly, a number of our expectations on this cruise were not met.
The suite was well laid out and reasonably spacious, however the sofa was worn and shabby, with one solitary cushion. It was uncomfortable. The television was in a cupboard and not viewable from the entire designated seating area. The television was also, it has to be said, a sad addition to the suite - small and outdated.
The bedroom area was well-served with plenty of drawer space, but again, these had seen better days. They were badly fitted, and when the ship encountered a swell - the drawers opened and closed spontaneously - particularly annoying at night! There was no full-length mirror in the suite.
The bathroom, at first glance seemed spacious and well-appointed, but on close examination it too was shabby. Some of the grouting was stained, some was missing. There was no magnifying mirror. White Company toiletries were a nice touch, but towels were thin and tired. The beach towels provided were badly stained and should not have been placed in the suite for passenger use. On a general note - lighting in both bedroom dressing table areas and in the bathroom was inadequate - downlighting is not helpful for applying makeup or doing hair - I'm told by my wife! The bath and shower were excellent.
Upon boarding, the very spacious balcony was dirty and we had to request for it to be cleaned and the salt removed from the furniture. The garish blue plastic floor covering on the balcony had seen better days - surely a teak balcony floor would have been better?
Generally, for a suite of this size, we felt that the level of comfort could be improved. More cushions, travelling rugs, better hair dryer, better dressing gowns might have helped. The Tassimo coffee machine, the Bose sound system were welcome additions, but did not make up for a general lack of comfort. There was an overall sense that the place had only just been vacated, which, of course, it had, but guests always want to feel they are the first occupants.
Service in the suite.
Our butler was attentive and friendly but not a patch on the service we had recently on a cruise in a suite on Celebrity Eclipse. Maybe we were spoiled by that experience? He did everything requested but was not in anyway proactive.
I spilled a cup of coffee on the bottom sheet of the bed and was surprised to find that the bed had been remade with the dirty/wet sheet - not what one expects.
The crew generally.
The team in the dining room were outstanding. Xavier our waiter and his assistant were attentive and nothing was too much trouble. The wine waiter was also very good. The food, after a fiasco on the first night, was generally tasty, well cooked and presented, but a tad unadventurous. We were disappointed in both the food and the service in the Plaza which we considered more akin to a cafeteria. We sampled it twice, but didn't wish to repeat the exercise - sullen staff and repetitive un interesting food. I asked one waiter if I could have some vinegar and oil to make dressing. He replied that they didn't have any! Our experiences of similar eateries on other lines have been markedly different with staff universally efficient and helpful. Cafe Jardin was very good, particularly for a light lunch.
Section heads tended to be smiling and helpful, but many of their staff were not. Staff in the bars and the Costa Coffee areas were often sullen, unsmiling and uncommunicative.
Probably the best that we have enjoyed on any ship. The Headliners were energetic and enthusiastic and delivered consistently excellent shows. We also enjoyed several of the cabaret acts. Films shown during the voyage were up to date and excellent. I took the ships tour on the penultimate sea day which was very interesting and gave a fascinating insight behind the scenes.
All very interesting with the notable exception of Casablanca. I do not understand why we stopped in this port. We were berthed in the middle of a dirty and very noisy commercial port and there really was not much to see ashore. We visited Seville from Cadiz which was outstanding also Santiago from La Coruna which was excellent.
My impression is that although P&O offer suites, they are not really committed to 'making it special.' Suite passengers on Celebrity and HAL as well as Grill passengers on the QM2 are given privileges and are made to feel that they are special passengers which is very definitely not the impression that we received on Oceana. I just felt that we had a large cabin. There was absolutely no interaction with the officers, in fact we rarely saw any officers, and none of the hotel management side seemed in the least interested.
Notwithstanding this, we enjoyed our cruise but will not be choosing P&O again. I rather think Mr Ward got it right! I think that P&O with 8 or so ships have 20000 bed nights to fill and probably something had to give.
I realise that some of my observations are nitpicky, but we paid a lot of money for this cruise - and as I wrote earlier - perception is reality! ...............Or - maybe our expectations were just too high.