OVERALL A wonderful week on a great ship. Spectacular scenery, a photographer's dream trip, lovely service on board and brilliant food and drink at good prices. What more can you say!
ITINERARY Southampton, Stavanger, Nordfjord to Olden, Alesund (A pretty town on an island in a fjord), Bergen, Southampton.
WEATHER Unbelievable. Apparently they say in Norway that if you can see the mountains, it's going to rain. If you can't, it is raining. It rains 265 days a year. We never had a drop - We were so lucky - weather fabulous and the North Sea was like the Mediterranean! Everyone got a tan.
GETTING ON AND OFF AT SOUTHAMPTON. Really surprised at just how efficiently P&O can do this normally horrendous bit of the cruise. Big praise for CPS car parks as well. It cost £80 for the week but it was well worth it. We arrived in the car beside the ship. Gave the car keys to CPS and P&O took the cases. We walked trough the brilliant check in process and made for the bar. I advise you to get there early, we were on by 11.30 so we got lunch as well (they had a BBQ and Champagne waiting for everyone!)
A TIP I WISH I'D KNOWN You get to Nordfjord for the 60 miles inland to Olden at around 4am. I strongly advise you get up, get your camera, go out on deck. We got our pictures on the way OUT of Nordfjord against a setting sun. We could easily have been unlucky with the weather and then regretted for ever that we hadn't got up early to see the magnificent sights which unfold on the journey. You usually only get one chance in your life to see scenery like this. It makes you realise where Grieg's music was inspired - the light and scenery keeps changing, so keep snapping away, then you can go back to bed until brekky time.
CASH We paid cash up front, we don't like using cards. On the last evening they balanced up and gave us cash in hand. At Bergen, there was a local Norwegian tax official dealing with tax-free purchases (at a table beside reception). He was also happy to change any Norwegian Krona coins back into sterling. That was very useful indeed.
CLEANLINESS Everywhere we went on the ship, the attention to cleaning and hygiene was outstanding. The whole ship was spotless. There are the usual gel dispensers in and out of every eating area but more than that is the way they deal with leaving a toilet area by supplying a tissue to open the door with. No more wrenching the little finger or trying to open a round handle with your elbow! The cabins were serviced twice a day, the usual choccie on the pillow. What impressed us was that they almost seem to watch for us leaving for dinner and breakfast so they could slip in and do the cleaning. Very well organised, many thanks to our chap, who had been given the name Jerry.
THE KITCHENS After the chocoholics session on the last afternoon (just when you thought you could eat no more!), we went for a walk round the main kitchens and, predictably, they were absolutely VAST and completely spotless.
FOOD - MAIN RESTAURANT This is our fourth cruise and the first with P&O. It would be difficult to overstate the quality of the food. We had lobster, venison, every other kind of meat and fish. How on earth they managed to cook steak perfectly for each person, with the variations of medium, rare, well done etc I don't know, but they did. And they did it again and again. The variety of food was outstanding and the quality was always excellent.
FOOD - THE CONSERVATORY This is where you can have breakfast if you like, plus eating at any other time of the day. The variety was mind boggling and the quality - especially English breakfasts - faultless. Never a problem finding a seat, tables cleared all the time, and wiped down. If only we had places like that in the UK! Even the coffee was good. That's a first! One night is CURRY NIGHT in the Conservatory, and we dined there instead of the main restaurant that night. A great curry with all the trimmings. A special mention for the breakfasts because of the very wide variety and the way the fried bread was always perfect!
CABIN We were on "A" deck, near the back of the ship but this is the first time we have not had a balcony. Good decision. We were ten paces from the terraces at the back of the ship, which effectively turned out to be our balcony. Complete with pool! When choosing a cabin, I recommend up high (A deck) near the back, it seems to be the best place. Oddly enough, we found sitting on the beds reading was quite relaxing because the window is so large and the mirror opposite means you can see the view behind you. Amazing what they can do with the space. We thought we'd spend very little time in our cabin. Hair-drier and tea making facilities included, plus soaps etc in the bathroom. One nice touch was the cooling gel eye-pads. Not seen that before. Great flat screen TV with BBC news, all very clear all the time. On board mobile phones work all the time but slowly because it's uses the ships satellite uplink, but it works. There is the usual daily bulletin left beside the door saying what on, plus a nice "What's happening in the world and the UK" news letter as well.
NOISE The pool at the back of the ship is quiet, the one at the front is hi-de-hi, the one in the middle disco music. You choose the one you like, none of them spoil the peace at the back of the ship. All were spotless and there was a constant bar service from helpful and friendly waiters.
FACILITIES Special mention about the sun chairs scattered round the ship. They are very comfortable indeed and I slept quite a lot without my usual aching back afterwards. Always plenty of seats and loungers (towels supplied in the cabin) A bar for every kind of person, depending on how you feel, loads of quiet areas round the ship, and of course you can eat your way to freedom, any time of the day. There are also two other restaurants where you can pay quite a lot for the food (£15 cover charge per person!?!). A Gary Rhodes and an Al Fresco. We didn't go there because the food we were enjoying in the main restaurant was as good as anywhere we've been.
SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENT Something for everyone here, we watched the Broadway or Las Vegas type shows but it's not our thing, very well done though. We did like Alan Stewart, I nearly bust a rib laughing! There were surprises too. In the Crows Nest bar (the best place to be on sailaway!) we watched a concert pianist performing Chopin and Schuman. They stopped serving ten minutes before the recital and you could have heard a pin drop. It was magical listening to this while sailing through beautiful fjords. A very special mention to Carlos Paul Santana, lately of Paperlace, the group from the seventies. He surprised everyone, he starts off with a medley of songs which he does well, but then he starts singing in Italian, he plays amazing guitar and his encore .. well, I'm not going to say what he did.. but it is the first time I have been on a ship when the entire audience springs to their feet clapping and cheering. What an amazing artist.
DRINKS AND PRICES Another surprise. £2.60 a pint of beer, £12 a bottle of wine and £2.85 for a Pina Colada. Better than most pubs!
SERVICE GENERALLY It would be true to say they the vast majority of the staff just couldn't do enough to help. They were all very busy though, and didn't always have time to chat. Quite understandable.
SERVICE - ORIENTAL RESTAURANT We were served by two Indian gents who had been given the names Douglas and Cyril. I would have preferred to use their real names but that's the way they do it on P&O so I guess that's fine. I honestly believed they really wanted to do the very best they could regardless of tipping, and it was the first time we both felt that we WANTED to leave a tip rather then feel obliged to. These guys were just wonderful and everyone we came into contact with in the Oriental restaurant, especially Chandra the Maitre Di, were the same.
EXCURSIONS We never do the excursions, so we can't comment on them except that they seemed a little expensive for what they appeared to promise. We think the same everywhere we go, so we always do internet research beforehand and go exploring.
STAVANGER A very pretty town indeed, very picturesque and lovely to walk. Berth is right in the town centre. We were there on a Sunday when the shops were shut, but the cafes and bars were open. They suggest you look around the area near the dock which has the old houses and cobbled streets. Nice for about ten minutes, then make your way to the other side of the dock (left hand side when facing into the dock) where the high street is. Very nice indeed. (Why do they always assume you want to see just the history, we like seeing the people and their town)Fantastic sailaway round the islands to head north
NORDFJORD, 6o miles inland to OLDEN - make sure you have camera memory that can handle hundreds of pictures. Breathtakingly beautiful fjord. Not much you can say because words just can't describe it. Do take the wally-trolly in Olden, which helpfully is waiting where the ship berths. it's £15 each but it's worth it. Also there is the trip to the glacier, £25 a head with the local taxi drivers who sit waiting in a minibus for the ship. An awful lot less money that the ships trip but the last one goes at around 12 noon so get down there earlyish. Unbelievable sailaway
ALESUND A lovely town, lots of walking if you want to, highly recommend the wally-trolly because it takes you high up for spectacular views over the whole island and surrounding areas. Lovely sailaway
BERGEN A big busy town, big shopping area, nice market on the front but we were in a commercial dock away from the centre. That didn't matter because there was a constant free shuttle, 15 minutes into the town centre. We would have taken the funicular railway but took the wally-trolley instead and found ourselves half way up the mountain so the train ride seemed a bit pointless after that. Gorgeous sailaway up the fjord for about 2 hours (listening to a Chopin recital)
DOWNSIDE. The only thing that I have seen better elsewhere was the ship's shopping area. On the Oriana, it's not really a walk along a row of shops like other liners, it's just a large shop selling different things. It couldn't spoil our trip but it was the thing that stuck in our minds.
There was a slight glitch with hot water early evening on one of the formal nights. To their credit, they dealt with the early-sitting ladies who were beginning to panic, and they fixed it in time so all's well that ends well. Other reviews and their negative comments.
I read one review on another site entitled "rubbish" that says the Conservatory restaurant was disgusting. That is neither true nor is it fair to P&O or the crew. I'm afraid to say, people like that are probably not suited to cruises because, with any holiday, you'll always find something to complain about. Comments about "school food" left me puzzled too because everywhere you eat, the food is brilliant. They did not mention any of the good points I have covered, which puzzles me a little. In fact in their entire review, they didn't even mention the places they visited.
People have mentioned in reviews the shuddering - especially in the Oriental restaurant. Yes, it does shudder a bit, we haven't been a ship that doesn't, its certainly not a problem - 69000 tons of food, flesh and steel being pushed at 21 knots through the ocean, you're bound to feel some engine vibration, I would be nervous if I didn't!
Entertainment was mentioned and someone said it was like a holiday camp show, they seem to have missed the classical recitals in the Crows Nest. Pity, because they were magical. People who write that sort of thing should consider this - 1000 people with many different tastes. Some like this, some that. The ship has to cater for them all. I didn't like the showpiece glitzy shows with dancers. But they were very good and very professional, the guys and girls worked very hard, as good as any west end show - I personally just don't like that kind of thing. However, I certainly wouldn't complain, because hundreds of others DID like them! Some people didn't like the comedian that we thought brilliant - you can't please everyone all the time but - P&O, you did the best any company could do, trying to please everyone, so well done you!
A reviewer on another site thought the average age of passenger was 75 and it was like an old people's home. Absolutely not true at all. The mix was every age and every ability, from 6 months old babies to centenarians. From the super fit to the poignant souls, obviously believing they are on their last ever holiday, but we hope they're not! Some youngsters were there courtesy of charities, which just goes to reinforce the fact that real genuine and fine British people generously extend warmth and compassion to all types of people, and those that feel unable to do that, would probably be better off staying at home.