.....We stayed the previous night at the Holiday Inn close to Dock Gate 8 Southampton who do a cruise package of one nights stay, breakfast and up to 3 weeks parking (we paid for an extra night parking as our cruise was 22 nights) with complimentary taxi to the terminal...this cost less than the parking provided by CPS in the dock. We were informed by text message the day before the cruise that Oriana would be berthed at City terminal rather than the planned Ocean terminal (our taxi driver told us that if its windy they can't use the 9 million pound Ocean terminal!!) Embarkation was quite slow, we arrived about 11.30 ish and it was over an hour before we got onboard. We made our way to our cabin and asked our steward if we could leave our hand luggage there as it was made up...he agreed and we went to the Conservatory buffet restaurant where we had a bite to eat and then explored the rest of the ship. There was a team around the ship putting up the Christmas decorations which were quite tasteful and not overpowering. We were allowed into our cabins at 2.00 pm...ours was c144 and was quite sufficient for our needs although the wardrobe rails were front to back x 3 which didn't give much hanging space, plenty of drawer space, a fridge and a safe. The air con was very efficient. The bath room was pink with bath with shower over and plenty of storage We sailed at 5.00 pm and once we rounded the Isle of Wight the force 8 winds were quite evident ...these strengthened to a force 9 over the next day and night and the first of many Stugeron tablets passed my lips !
Our first port of call was Vigo where it was a grey, rainy day we were slightly late leaving as they had put a tender boat down and couldn't retrieve it as it was too windy...as we left they turned the ship and retrieved it in the lee of the ship..the Captain later told us that it was a force 11 wind as we left Vigo and we had our third noisy bumpy night in a row. He made the decision to go south of the Azores to try and find some calmer weather...but it was our fourth day before we could go out on deck and sit in some warm sunshine...the outside decks had been closed before then. We had one more wet and windy day confined to the interior of the ship before we arrived in St Maarten .Next was St Kitts, then St Vincent, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.... We then had five days at sea ...two sunny, one cloudy, and two not so sunny ....our planned stop at Madeira was not possible as it was a tender port and the sea was much too rough and wind and rain prevailed. Disappointing for a lot of passengers but the Captain had no choice in our opinion....the comedians and singer had to disembark by rope ladder onto the pilot boat which must have been scary...Gary Rhodes who was due to join us there was unable to fly in because of the weather.....so after two hours treading water off the harbour we set off for Southampton and what would be eight days at sea. It became noticeably cooler as we travelled further north and our entry to Bay of Biscay was very rough ... the exit was calmer and we arrived at Southampton on time. Disembarkation was quite chaotic...I think they disembarked too many passengers too quickly (we left half an hour earlier than anticipated) and there was a mad scramble to find suitcases and then a huge queue for customs....however we emerged unscathed from the terminal at 10 am ish...
Ports of call Vigo - it was pouring with rain here - we did walk up through the town , into the church - then around in a big circle and through the shopping mall near to the terminal where there were some quite nice shops including a huge electrical retailers which we thought was amazing (and useful as we needed a new mouse for the laptop!)
St Maarten - we were late arriving here because of the bad weather on the way down....but we didn't leave until 11 pm ...we got a water taxi to the shopping centre $6 return....this is the place for cheap cigarettes £20 for 400 Marlboro ....nowhere else had them cheaper. We started to walk to the salt ponds area to see if there were any unusual birds but we felt a bit uncomfortable after a while as there were no other tourists anywhere to be seen....so we returned to the shopping area. 84 degs here !
St Kitts - we did a trip here 'Best of St Kitts'. It was a quite good overview of the island visiting an old sugar plantation Romney Manor and a Batik factory shop and then we went to Brimstone Hill fortress National Park. 82 degs here !
St Vincent - we did a trip to some Botanical Gardens here - Kingstown where there were nice lawned areas and trees and shrubs and then our favourite Montreal gardens which was 3000 feet above see level in the rain forest area...there were lots of beautiful flowering shrubs and plants here and paths down a little valley to a fast running stream it was lovely.
St Lucia - we did a private tour with Cosol tours here which was excellent...saw lots of the island with some super photo stops, visit to the sulphur springs inside a volcano, waterfall and botanical gardens, and got a water taxi to the beach between the pitons travelling there in a torrential tropical shower at great speed!!!!! Walked into the water and was immediately surrounded by a shoal of yellow and black striped fish!! Then we had another torrential downpour before returning to Souffriere in the water taxi via the bat cave full of fruit bats. Had a typical Caribbean breakfast in a private house and hot bread baguette type things with cheese for lunch along with a couple of rum punches....
Grenada - we just wandered the Port complex of shops here as we were quite tired so decided on a day off!
Barbados - we did a trip here which was a bit disappointing just a photo stop in the Highlands area and then a drive to Dover beach where we had two hours use of sunbeds and sunshades. The beach was very nice but the sea was quite rough with a strong current so I didn't feel safe to swim. We were disappointed because we actually berthed at the 'flour mill' dock and this was within walking distance of a nice looking beach with much calmer water which we could have enjoyed for free !!!
Madeira - we did not go ashore here as detailed above.
The Cruise director is Gary Glading who did a fairly good job - he did wonders with the passenger choir who performed a concert of Music from the Films which was excellent. The Headliners Singers and Dancers were good - if a bit too energetic - one singer Lisa stood out - she was excellent.
There were up to date films in the Cinema and some older ones on cabin TV . We felt that the cabin TV was underused and that there could have been a music channel all day - especially when there were no satellite signals. We also felt that the Cruise director could have appeared on the TV and summarised the days activities, especially as there were so many sea days on this cruise.
Martin Daniels (son of Paul Daniels) was on twice in the theatre and was the best of the individual entertainers (in my opinion). Singer called Mark Porter, Elaine Delmar, singer, a Welsh comedian who we didn't see but heard not so good reports on, another comedian Kevin Devane who was quite funny, a couple of young lads who did two concerts one of Beatles songs and another of 50s and 60s songs, they were excellent musicians but a bit nervous, however we did enjoy them. Bobby Crush was also on twice but we gave him a miss.
We also had Diana Moran, the Green Goddess, on board for the duration, who gave five talks I think....we just went to the first one. There were also talks by the Tate gallery, a fingerprint expert, Philip Hobday ex BBC, the Captain Paul Brown, Executive Purser Kathy Jones, and Second Officer Wendy O'Donnell. We went to the last three and they were very interesting. We weren't impressed with the young 'Future Cruise sales manager' who did a presentation in the Cinema.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the Conservatory (buffet) and dinner in the Peninsular restaurant. We had some good food, but it was not always easy to find something that we liked, especially in the Conservatory at lunchtime. We did have to resort to the alternative of Chicken Breast, or Sirloin Steak in the Dining room on more than one occasion. The meat was very good but we never had good roast potatoes, they were always hard and anaemic looking ! There was always a good variety of vegetables in the dining room.
We liked the size and style of the ship...there was always space to sit somewhere quiet if we wanted....we used the gym which seemed quite well equipped....we also used our laptop in the internet room to send emails (30p per minute pay as you go)...there was a nice library with a good selection of books.
The age range was quite elderly...(I felt young at 62) but there were a dozen or so school age children and also several babies/toddlers in pushchairs. It seemed to cope well for the disabled passengers with several motorized and manual wheelchair users.
We felt the ship generally handled well in the rough weather but our bed was positioned under the window so was side to side of the ship rather than front to back and when seas were rough it felt like we would fall out of bed ....but we didn't ! It was the noise of the ship hitting the waves that kept us awake at night.
All in all we enjoyed the cruise very much...in spite of the rough weather ...and the resulting 8 continuous days at sea! We covered nearly 8500 nautical miles in three weeks.