Transatlantic Crossing - E928
Debbie and I have taken quite a few cruises over the years, with Thomsons, Airtours, NCL, Ocean Village, and P&O, mainly in the Med and to the Caribbean. What should we do this year? Well. we have previously completed two transatlantic cruises, one on Airtour’s Sunbird (now Thomson Destiny) and the second on P&O’s Oceana, and we really enjoy the lazy days at sea, so why not do it again. The next question is who should we cruise with? Should we go with P&O or should we try someone new? So it was time to get the brochures, surf the cruise web sites, and visit Cruise Critic for the reviews and forums. We finally settled on another cruise with P&O, and chose Oceana as we had such a good time on our last cruise. We booked via the internet and got a fairly good deal with a nice amount of on board credit to help pay for our drinks etc. We don’t get too hung up on whether we got the cheapest deal after all there can only be one cheapest fare on each cruise! We were happy with what we paid. We requested an inside cabin with second sitting on a table for 8 in the main restaurant. We have always enjoyed formal dining far more than the informal type we experienced on OV. About 3 months before our cruise I e-mailed P&O to book the free coach transfer from Gatwick Airport to Southampton and booked the airport parking. This would allow us to get off the aircraft at Gatwick and drive straight home on our return.
Travel and Embarkation
Finally, after the normal shopping for posh frocks and all the other essential items for a two week cruise, it was time for the off. We left home early to try to beat any queues on the M25 and arrived at Gatwick ahead of schedule, left the car at airport parking and headed inside the terminal for breakfast. Then it was off to join the queue for the coach transfer to Southampton. This was a little chaotic – no one knew which way we were supposed to queue and no one to ask, so a queue formed both ways from the coach stop. The coaches turned up on time and off we went with only a slight detour due to a crash on the M27. We arrived at the new cruise terminal at Southampton and were surprised at how nice the new terminal was. We were given a coloured boarding ticket and waited for our colour to be called. The embarkation process went like clockwork and before long we were smiling nicely for the photographer as we boarded the ship.
There were 1982 passengers booked on our cruise and we were told that the ship was more or less full. Oceana can take more passengers but it depends on how many cabins have the third and fourth berths occupied. We found our cabin (D204), freshened up and went up to the Plaza for lunch and a drink. Our first impressions of Oceana are always good – the stunning atrium, the cleanliness, the friendliness of the staff – and today was no exception. Our cases arrived quickly (we hadn’t seen them since they were loaded on the coach at Gatwick!), we unpacked and then went off to our first sailaway to the delightful sounds of the Police Brass Band. We cast off from the quay at around 5 pm.
D204 is an inside cabin on D deck (deck 8) It was configured as a twin but can be changed to a queen size if that is what you want. There was enough space for all of our clothes and our suitcases fitted neatly under the beds. The bathroom was of a good size as was the shower, which for me is good as I need a lot of room! The cabin contained all we needed - Fridge, TV, Tea making facilities, Safe, Radio, Hairdryer, Telephone Complementary toiletries and Lifejackets. Although there was no natural light we both find it very comfortable and we tend not to spend too long in the cabin anyway. Our cabin steward was very thorough and anything you requested he provided – for example extra teabags, ice, water, etc. The cabin was cleaned and tidied in the morning and the beds turned down in the evening.
We ate in the main Adriatic restaurant every evening and did not try the select dining restaurants. We were very impressed with the quality and service provided by all the team, nothing was too much trouble. There was a good wine selection and we had a mixture of house carafes, and bottles of Rose and Red wine. All were very nice and very reasonably priced in my opinion. We were on a table for eight, three married couples and two sisters. We all got on very well and the conversations flowed nicely. We took our breakfasts in the Plaza most days and sometimes ate out in the sunshine. Again a very good selection was on offer, from cereals, fruit and yogurt through to a full English cooked breakfast if that is what you wanted. Lunch was again a casual affair either at Cafe Jardin or at the Plaza. Cafe Jardin was not a select dining venue during the day and I would recommend it as a quiet, classy place to have lunch.
As mentioned above, I thought the drinks and wine prices were reasonable – pub prices, in my opinion, and without the extra service charge you get on American ships. You would pay far more at an hotel bar.
Ports of Call
Madeira – we opted for an open top bus tour and a trip to the flower market Antigua – we joined with another couple from our table for a taxi tour of the Island via Shirley Heights and ended up on a nice beach for a couple of hours. A great day! Tortola – The best day yet, we joined another couple from the ship for a day at Cane Garden Bay Beach by taxi. It was $10 per couple each way - not bad. What a beach – fresh coconut pina coladas, dolphins swimming in the bay, pelicans diving for fish, warm sea, and warm sunshine. Wow! St . Maarten – We pre-booked an internet tour with Bernard’s Tours which was quite good with stops at the airport beach (it is great to see a jet passing only feet above your head), a trip to the beach, a nature stop to see sea urchins star fish etc, a trip to the capital and market. It was good but we had a bit of waiting about at the start of the day waiting for passengers from other cruise ships. St. Lucia – After shopping at the new cruise terminal we joined a taxi minibus tour to an ecology style walking trail with the chance to try original traditional foods and the odd rum or two! – the tour also stopped at a beach and a market. Barbados – On the morning of our departure we took a short taxi minibus tour via the island capital, the highest point, an old sugar cane factory, a few posh hotels and the Governors house. It was OK but a bit rushed!
Days at Sea
We found the days at sea very relaxing, there was a full programme of events going on throughout the ship that you could join in with if you wanted to, but there was no one twisting your arm. If you wanted to do nothing or just read you book you could - so we did! We found there to be enough sun beds for those that wanted them. There were busy times and if you went onto the sundecks on a sunny day at 12 noon you probably would struggle to find sun beds where you wanted them. My advice is to get yourselves organised, pick out where you want your sun bed in advance, and amble along there a bit earlier! Debbie went along to the series of talks on “The history of Cruising”, which she found extremely interesting. I hit a few golf balls at the regular golf competitions at the golf simulator – chipping, putting and driving – quite good fun now and again.
All the staff that we came across on the cruise were polite and smart. Our table waiters and wine waiter were very pleasant and helpful, as was our cabin steward. We often had a drink before dinner at Explorers bar and by the second or third day the waiters knew what we were going to order as we arrived – great service!
The guest celebrities on board were Ed Stewart, Roy Walker and Sue Holderness. We went to see Sue Holderness give a brief talk which, although interesting in parts, was mainly clips from her TV shows. Roy Walker was quite entertaining with jokes and anecdotes. We went along to see most of the theatre shows which were all high quality and the normal mixture of show songs, tribute style rock songs, and musicals.
We stayed on board until our transfer was called to take us to the airport in Barbados. This all went very smoothly and our flight back to Gatwick onboard a Thomas Cook aircraft went without hitch.
The most disappointing aspect was all the rubbish left by people leaving the ship. There were flights leaving throughout the afternoon and early evening. As it got near to the time that the flight transfers were due, people dived into the toilets to change and freshen up but, as their suitcases had already left the ship, there was nowhere to pack their leftover toiletries dirty clothes etc., so many people abandoned their bits and pieces in the toilets. There was stuff everywhere, shoes, underwear, toiletries, etc. etc. I think that P&O could have done more to alleviate the situation – provide more day cabins for changing and showering, provide more receptacles for things being dumped, have more people keeping the public areas clean. Likewise disembarking passengers should have been more mindful of how they were leaving the ship for the next passengers. New passengers were arriving as we left and they cannot have had a very good first impression.
A well run ship which offers good value for money, great good quality food & entertainment, and friendly & helpful staff. We visited great ports and had good weather. Well done P&O.
Negatives are: the state of the public areas / toilets on the last afternoon of the cruise, the chaotic queues at Gatwick airport waiting for the coach transfer, and the lack of enough seats on the promenade deck.
A brilliant cruise overall with the positives greatly outweighing the negatives, good quality food, accommodation and entertainment. I can’t wait for my next cruise!