A lovely cruise, the ship is tired and a little old, but we liked it, not too big that you get lost and not too small to feel crowded. We were lucky with weather, the sunniest in 15 years we were told. We loved the being on the sea, watching sunsets and having lazy sea days recovering from port excursions. Norway is a beautiful country, amazing scenery and clean air. Experiencing the midnight sun was incredible; 3am was like 12 noon. We have never had such a relaxing holiday; I even managed to read 2 books!! Would we do this again? Definitely but would be much smarter when booking for the reasons below. Would we cruise with P and O? Yes definitely, for cheap relaxing holidays where we're not bothered where we go, however we do want to try other lines. I think we have the cruising bug now.
I think P & O need to spend some money on training their staff, as you could not fault their attitude and willingness to help but their knowledge was not up to date and seemed they needed to conform rather than let their personality sparkle like some of the staff.
Booking: We decided to cruise as seeing what we wanted to in Norway would have been expensive. The Oriana covered where we wanted to visit and it was an adults only ship. We booked 5 months in advance for an inside cabin with the select fare. We chose this cruise as it covered the ports and excursions (with a clause subject to change) we wanted to go to, however when the excursions booking time (a few months prior to the cruise) came the one we really wanted was not being offered. No port times were available at that point so we were using the excursion durations as guideline to how much time we had in port. P and O do not release this information although it is available on http://ports.cruisett.com/ as a rough guide.
We learnt the hard way - Never book the cruise way in advance unless you really want that cruise itinerary, that ship and that cabin and the extras such as car parking, diner sitting selection. We wanted to get a table for 2 for dinner, but when we arrived we were advised that these were limited. As an example, one of the people that did get a table for 2 booked back over a year ago!
Having booked so early the price reduced to less than half the price we paid for a balcony cabin, we got an inside cabin. The ideal time I have since learnt is around the 6 week mark when the price promises rules change. Also we were upgraded which we queried but chose to accept, I since learnt you don’t have to accept an upgrade, you can negotiate for onboard spend instead as long as the cabin you booked has not been sold.
Drinks & Wine bottles: P & O will let you take as much as you want to drink in your cabin, drink outside of the cabin and you will pay corkage. The drinks are reasonably priced but it does add up if you like a good bottle of wine with your meal. Packing: I’ve brought back wine from around the world on flights by wrapping it in a plastic carrier bag tightly and then bubble wrap around each bottle and taping the ends up. I always put it into my checked luggage as I don’t want to lug it around as cabin luggage. This worked beautifully on the cruise as you don’t have access to the cabin till after 2pm, some people had to wait till 4pm. You luggage is left outside you cabin; I would say your luggage is left in the corridor of your cabin (our bags were in the corridor at the other end of the ship).
Yes we packed too much, one suitcase came back unused. Dress codes are strictly adhered too. This was fine on sea days but on a couple of nights it was Smart Jacket after a busy port day, we just wanted to relax. You aren’t able to go to certain bars and the restaurant if you don’t adhere to the dress code so be warned. We ate in the conservatory (the food is not as good) those nights we didn’t want to dress up. We had 4 Black Tie, 4 Smart Jacket and 6 Smart casual nights. There is a laundry room on each deck well equipped with washing machines, dryers, irons and ironing boards, free to use. Make sure you take magnets (walls of the cabin are magnetic) perfect for securing the daily newsletters.
We love our food, having eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, our expectations were fairly high. The Peninsular or Oriental restaurants were the best places to eat. The food was well prepared and served, although the fish was overcooked, you can request how you want it cooked. The waiters attentive and happy to oblige to your requests. The conservatory buffet served salads and hot food with food theme each day such as Fish and Seafood, Mexican, Indian, Best of British, Italian, as well as roasts, fish and pies. The dressings were a let-down lacking flavour and texture. On the Mexican night the guacamole was like soup. I did mention this to the Food and Restaurant Manager, the next day there was a thicker dressing as well as the thinned out soupy dressing. The theme doesn’t run through on all restaurants. The Al Fresco café served light breakfasts, salads, pannis, fresh pizza and hot dogs as well as deserts in the afternoon and evening. The ship only had UHT whole milk portions, they only carry semi and skimmed milk for breakfast of which we are not fans so we bought a carton of whole milk at our first port,. We did try to use the room service one night but they were unable to supply ice cream or hot food and didn't seem to want to provide a service.
Sorrento has a surcharge and is actually located in part of the conservatory restaurant which is blocked off and used as Sorrento in the evening. We refused to use this on the principle that closing part of the buffet area and using it as a surcharged restaurant was unacceptable. We were assured that food was very good by fellow passengers.
Ocean Grill – We booked this for their steak and seafood. The waiters weren’t trained well, I asked for Balsamic vinegar with olive oil and was served cider vinegar (not told about this until I asked why it looked so different and tasted sour after I had tasted a drop), and the waitress told me they didn’t have any Balsamic vinegar in the kitchen. Again I see this as a training issue for P and O rather than the fault of the waitress. This should have brought up the warning signs for us about how the rest of the meal may go. After a huddle with other waiters, they did get some balsamic vinegar from another restaurant but lack taste. We ordered the steak medium rare and a trio of seafood. The steak was served well done, the white fish and salmon overcooked, scallops cold. We sent this back and they served the dishes a second time almost the same again. We ended up leaving at this point, a refund was given which was the least they could do. I’m not sure how Marco Pierre White can put his name to this, I can only imagine it provides a good royalty for him, and P & O get a brand to publicise.
The ships excursions were expensive and so we booked only 2, both all day and a little expensive but covered everything we wanted to see and offered better value when you considered the cost of a 2-3 hour trip. Other ports we did by ourselves and usually worked out much cheaper than the ships excursions. We did do our research before we went so we had a good idea of what we were going to do. For future cruises I would arrange as much as I can from home.
This ship is really geared for the over 55’s, we found only a few people younger than that. The talks and entertainment (quizzes, music, dances, theatre shows) were geared to suit them. The cinema was popular but you needed to get there early to secure a seat. The same with the theatre shows, always busy and if it was a popular show you had get there at 45 mins before. We only attended one show and one talk. The captain’s interview was interesting, a little rehearsed. Port presentations generally included lots of fear; missing the boat, finding it hard to get around, won't see everything etc... and stressed the difficulties of DIY urging everyone to book on the ships excursions. To be honest I found them not much use if you wanted to do your own thing. The once place we never stayed in was Anderson's, to me it seemed like a waste of good space, generally very quiet more like a gentleman's club. We did put our head through a number of times but walked out again.
We left early in the morning and reached Southampton around 10.45 and drove straight into the drop off point where the porter unloaded the luggage swiftly and efficiently. I asked for some fragile labels and was told that they didn’t use them. I had packed a number of bottles of wine into the suitcase and was assured by the porter it would be fine as long as I had packed it well, which I had. Walked straight into the terminal and were directed upstairs to the lounge and given a green card and told boarding would commence at 11.30. Promptly at 11.30 they started to check in everyone. Passports were checked and cruise cards given to us both, a quick walk to the scanners and we boarding the ship. It took about 15 mins at most.
Once inside we were directed to the Conservatory and the poolside BBQ. Had a lunch and then we went to our cabin on A deck. It was clean and tidy, I did give it a once over with some anti-bacterial wipes just to make sure. The suitcases fitted under the bed, you had to slide them in from the side not the end of the bed. The walls were magnetic and used magnets to keep paperwork at hand. Lots of hanging and drawer space for clothes, shower worked brilliantly and the toilet flushed properly. We had no problems at all throughout our cruise. Muster attended and dinner was lovely. We were 2nd sitting and the food was good. We did request a table for 2 but were given a table for four. We changed our dining to Freedom which was the best thing for us as we wanted to have dinner when we wanted rather than a set time. Worked brilliantly and we had a table for 2 every night without more than a few min wait.
We spent sea days watching movies, reading, relaxing on the incredibly comfortable wooden deck chairs on Prom deck not the other decks. There were some activities on and we attended a cookery demo, dance class, a quiz and a bowling session. People were very friendly and often we were talking into the early morning hours.
Day 4 Olden – Briksdale Glacier, berthed
Olden is a small town and very few shops, very pretty.
Briksdale Glacier - We did this by ourselves, it was much cheaper that the cruise excursion. We took the local bus to the Briksdale Glacier, cost 88NOK each. The bus stop has no sign but is in the car park on the same side where the ship docks by the zebra crossing sign. The bus brings you back in town which is about a 10 min walk to the ship. The bus was late by about 30 mins, it will come you may need to wait. The bus drops you at the troll cars which you can use if you want, we walked up it’s is a bit of a hike but well worth it. I would recommend taking a mac or an umbrella, there’s a lovely surprise halfway up.
Day 5 Andalsnes Tender Boat
The tender disembarkation was fast for us as we were on the ships excursion, but if you hadn’t booked an excursion you disembarked after the tour passengers had left. We didn’t see much of Andalsnes as we were rushed straight onto the coach once the tender landed.
We did The Land of the Trolls ship excursion, included lunch. Our guide was a little rubbish to be honest; talked relentlessly (rehashed stories about trolls, trolls and more trolls….), no agenda given, forgot ending on stories, comfort breaks etc. pretty bad. We made a comfort stop about 5 mins before we were stopping for lunch, we'd been on the coach for at least 2 hours, I doubt if 5 mins would have made much of difference. The trip itself would have been brilliant if the weather had been better. It was cloudy and rainy that day and we didn’t see the views from the mountains however what we did see was lovely. The Norwegian buffet lunch provided on this tour was excellent with lots of choice. P & O should note of this, it was much better than the conservatory buffet.
Day 6 – Trondhiem – Berthed, Shuttle bus to town centre
If you paid a Saver fare you were charged £3 for the shuttle bus into town, easily walked in about 10-15 mins. We did our own thing today. Walked around town and then decided to catch the tram up to Liam (100 NOK for two of us), took about 25 mins and at the top there was a lake and lots of hiking trails. It was really nice. The tram runs every 30 mins (check with the driver the exact time). The tram stop is on St Olvas Gate.
Day 8 – Loften Islands, Tender Boat
We arrived on Loften on a beautiful sunny day with no excursion booked. The shuttle bus took us into town, the town is very small and the tourist office is not very helpful. They had a trip to the Viking Museum which they encouraged us to take but not much help for the island cruise which we were interested in. If you are visiting here you should plan something or book the ships excursion. Very little to do, not many walking trails either. Most of the passengers who hadn’t booked anything ended up walking up the hill where the tenders arrived and around the beach. The beaches here are beautiful.
Day 10 – Alesund – Berthed
On disembarking the ship, there were 2 tourist sightseeing options (a red bus @ 210 NOK or a blue tourist train for 150 NOK) we chose the red bus which had free Wi-Fi. We took the bus up to Mount Aksla and walked down the 488 steps, then caught the local ferry (Norled) from the Tourist Information office around the Northern Islands for a 4 hour cruise. Costs 179 NOK (over 67 get 50% discount), the captain gave lots of information and provided local knowledge. We even saw a small whale. Then we boarded the sightseeing bus and finished the tour before returning to the ship.
Day 11 – Flam – Berth
The sun was out and that made out trip even better. This was definitely our favourite place, we did Norway in a Nutshell with the Cruise Excursions, and found it to be worth the money. The trip started at the Funicular railway and goes on to Voss via public train and returns by coach with 2 stops on the way back. We had a delicious Norwegian Lunch which was included and the guide was brilliant, lots of information, brought photos and maps of the regions we were visiting and gave us the agenda. Much better than the last guide we had. You can do this Funicular Train trip by yourselves and it is cheaper but the tour worked out good value if you include the extra excursions and lunch.
Day 12 – Bergan, Berthed
We docked into Bergan, and walked around the busy town centre. There is a blue bus (as well as a red sightseeing bus)to the cable car and the viewpoint at the top has lots of hiking trails and walks. You can see all around Bergen from there and there’s a small restaurant and shop. When we came down the town was busy, there were 5 cruise ships in port, including the lovely Queen Victoria. The fish market was amazing, so much beautiful seafood, but very expensive. We went back to the ship early as it was far too hot for us to walk around.