Background We embarked on a 22 day roundtrip of the Caribbean from Southampton. In our party was myself, wife and ten year old son, in addition to my step-son and his partner, both 29. We have cruised a number of times with our son, since he was born.
Travel To Port of Embarkation For the first time we took the Eavesway coach from Manchester which was a revelation. Being the main driver normally it was really nice to be able to relax into my holiday immediately. No problems with luggage but leaving from a service station on the M6 did require some booking of a minibus.
Ship Info Oriana was the first ship we ever sailed on. She is a lovely small vessel (~1800 passengers) with a really small friendly atmosphere but P&O's trademark large amount of public rooms. We have travelled RCI in the past and found the 3,000+ ships to be terribly large and impersonal. Our preference in hindsight is Oceana, which does have more public spaces without a significant increase in passengers. Oriana is classically good looking thought with a real stepped stern.
Stateroom We always go for a basic inside twin with bunk bed for the boy. You're not in it enough to need much more. Good facilities, plenty of room, well tended by the steward. Recent upgrades mean there is an LCD tv and improved linen.
Dining We found that the formal dining had improved, although it has always been good, just on this occasion we found the dining room food to be excellent. The conservatory buffet leaves me a little cold though and I'm never really interested in eating there for lunch and breakfast. Nothing wrong with it just I'm not bothered about a cooked lunch but you can't really get a good sandwich either. The staff captain invited us to Oriana Rhodes one night and that was fabulous. It really is a chance to try out some fine dining for £15 each. The service and food there was excellent. A real experience. Kids meals are good, although adults often need to be stopped from stealing food for themselves. The food is vailable only for kids for 45 minutes out of 24 hours, can't they have a break from eating for once.
Children's Clubs Kids club was ok. It didn't adhere totally to the timetable but I think this is because it was really the first cruise in the ramp up to summer and family cruising. There were about 90 children on board. Our son used to love the 5-8s but doesn't like the 9-12s as much because it lacks structure, with kids free to wander in and out. he would rather stay in place with lots of activities, which doesn't happen. This stopped him making friends as quickly, although by the end of the cruise he was happily asking to stay there all day. Youthies are a universally lovely and supportive team.
Entertainment P&O have taken on board feedback and really upped the amount of quiz-tye entertainment on offer (used to just be an individual quiz at 5:15) for those who are not as interested in shows. These were really good, led by a great Ents team. One of the great sides of the Oriana is the dedicated cinema which we have traditionally used a lot (Why don't other ships have this, rather showing films in the afternoon in the theatres). This had a lot of good, recent films on.
We don't normally take in the shows because we're not really musical people but often check out other acts. On this cruise Roy Walker did two comedy routines which were actually excellent. I didn't know he used to be a comedian before Catchphrase so was pleasantly surprised.
Service Service as always is excellent with all the waiting, bar and cabin staff being very polite and helpful. Our waiter was frequently giving us 2 starters each when we couldn't decide. Entertainment staff and Youthies were also very good.
Ports Ponta Delgada in the Azores was a revelation. We took a taxi to the crater lakes and were amazed by the beauty of the place. If the weather is bad you can't see anything though, so don't book the P&O excursion and just get a taxi. 40 Euros for about 3 hour trip.
We went to St Kitts and again got a taxi around the island for $15 each. Nice air-conditioned mini bus. The taxi rates and booking is really structured by the tourist information office. Went to the UNESCO heritage site Brimstone Hill fortress which is an amazing place with terrific views. On the way you stop at a Carib place and can buy authentic batik shirts which are great.
ST Lucia we did the Land and Sea excursion which is on a Catamaran with snorkelling, and a bus tour back via the botanical gardens. If you book this get off the ship early so that you do the land bit early and sea later. We were stuck the other way around and would have preferred to sail back at leisure.
Grenada I did a snorkelling tour of the Underwater Sculpture Park which was amazing. Wife and son did a tour which was by most accounts fairly dull.
ST Vincent again we did a taxi tour through the rainforest and plantations. This of all the islands was the least touristy. My step son and partner caught the ferry to Becque, another island which was apparently all beautiful sandy beaches.
Barbados was the place we liked the most which was a surprise. All the islands were quite samey - volcanic, black beaches and fair amount of poverty. Barbados is not volcanic so is the first one you see that really looks like the caribbean. It is more built up though and a bit americanised.
Finally Madeira was lovely as usual. Warm, green, lovely sea food
Disembarkation Got off smoothly at Southampton. We had been given the wrong disembarkation cards to get our coach though and found Tracy on the reception desk downright rude when it came to getting the right ones which she refused us.
Summary This was a wonderful cruise. I thought I would be bored with so much travelling but found it very relaxing with plenty to do. Only one thing spoiled it and that was our fellow passengers. A large proportion were elderly of whom a significant amount were extremely rude and horrible to children. I never saw the kids being rowdy or anything but frequently saw other passengers reprimanding kids for not letting them go first and once hitting a child with a stick. One woman demanded I give the last Muffin from my son's plate to her because she wanted it, despite it being the only thing he would eat for breakfast and the huge range of alternatives available to her. There was apparently a lot of grumbling about children but lets face it Oriana is a family ship, advertised as such, and there are alternative P&O ships that are adult only. I have seen ships with 300 kids on board and they have been a bit rowdy, this wasn't at all. To be fair there were more lovely older people (probably grandparents) who very very kind and interested in the children. I don't think its necessarily old people either, I just think that a proportion of people who can afford to cruise when they retire (I doubt I'll be able to) have been wealthy, rude and used to getting their own way all their lives.
Otherwise this was a wonderful cruise and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.