P&O Cruise . Oriana. 3rd May to 20th May.
My wife Mary and I chose this cruise because we had enjoyed the 25th Anniversary "Festival Music" Cruise on Artemis in 2010. We were not disappointed, for we had the privilege of appreciating the talents of international stars of the music world during our 17 day holiday. All performances were of a very high standard. Stephanie Williams who organised this festival, must be congratulated for bringing together such outstanding singers and brilliant musicians. Jacquelyn Fugelle, Soprano, Kevin Greenlaw, Baritone, John Hudson, Tenor, Vanya Milanova, Violinist, Stephen Pierce, Clarinet, and the two wonderful pianists, Terence Allbright and Michael Pollock could not be faulted. They gave great pleasure to large audiences.
I have some criticism of P&O regarding these events. The theatre in Oriana was always cold. Many people complained. The timings of some concerts were not convenient for 1st Sitting passengers. Sometimes the comedian or the variety artists were given priority over the classical performers and the classical concerts were staged in the Pacific lounge instead of the theatre, accompanied by much throbbing from the ship's engines..
We travelled to Southampton by 1st Class Rail. The journey was comfortable and the train was on time. Porters assisted us with our luggage to the taxi rank outside the station.
The check in was a nightmare for some people. It was said that a computer fault had delayed the procedure. I was sorry for those aged or disabled, who were standing in a very long queue. We were tired after our long journey and our long queuing, so we were very glad to reach our inside cabin C143 on Deck 9.
We rested until the boat drill at about 5pm. We thought that the drill was carried out in a hasty and inefficient manner. The boat drill on our previous cruise on Fred Olsen's Boudicca was much more thorough.
We ate in the Peninsular Restaurant at table No. 80. The table for six people was in a very good position, close to the entrance. On the first night our companions were Morris and Mary, both in poor health. On the second night we sat at the table alone, as the other couple had decided to eat in the Conservatory. This they did on several occasions during the cruise. On the third night an 89 year old Welshman now living in Oxford joined us for dinner. Ken was a very spritely man, who had a fund of stories which entertained us regularly.
The food on the Oriana was not up to the standard of other P&O ships on which we have travelled. We sent some meals back, because of tough and sometimes undercooked main dishes. At times we abandoned the Peninsular Restaurant and chose to eat in the Conservatory. We did not like the inconvenience of serving ourselves, but were satisfied to see and choose meals. The waiting at table 80 was slow. Dinner was at 6.30pm. It was usually 7.15pm before we were served our first course. At the end of the meal we thought that pressure was put on us to finish the meal, so that the waiters could prepare for the 2nd Sitting. I must say that we were happier eating on Arcadia, Aurora and Artemis on previous cruises. The hygiene in all eating places was first class. At the beginning of the cruise we were warned that the previous cruise had had infection from the Norovirus. We were always greeted at the door of the restaurant by a member of staff holding a bottle of hand gel.
To us, the performances of the classical artists were dreams come true. The programmes were very well organised, from the light classical to the more serious music. We were told that Pianist Michael Pollock had arranged much of the programme. He accompanied most of the singing and did a good job, as did the other pianist Terence Allbright, whose playing of individual pieces and his accompanying of the violinist Vanya Milanova was outstanding.
We attended two performances by the Headliners Variety Group. The dancing was of a high standard but I am sorry to say that the singing of the principal performers was quite poor.
The magician Matthew McGurk was very clever at involving the audience. We enjoyed both of his performances.
We attended only one port lecture, which we found very disappointing. Several people in our company echoed our feelings.
Ports of Call. Valencia.
On arrival the weather was cold, misty and showery. Bravely we joined a queue for the shuttle bus, but returned to ship because of the cold wind. An improvement in the weather caused us to join the shuttle bus after lunch and proceed to the city centre.
Valencia was lively, with people preparing for a religious festival on the next day. An immense picture of the Virgin Mary, composed totally of a variety of flowers took up the wall of the church next to the Cathedral. The happy throng of people raised our spirits. Many people were impressed by the modern architecture. We were not! (Old age and anchored in the past, maybe!)
On to Barcelona, where the Ramblas was alive with activity in the warm sunny weather. Living statues alternated with stalls selling a variety of goods. In the Cathedral, we had a flavour of the old Spain as we enjoyed taking part in the Mass. The Mass in the Cathedral was uplifting, with a youth choir singing parts of the service in Latin plain chant. After Mass, we joined a large crowd in the square outside, where a band was playing and a mass of people joined in folk dancing.
As our berth was in the Naval dock area, the shuttle service into the city took over 30 minutes. The scenery during the drive was drab. The weather was sunny. It was obvious that Toulon had many immigrants. We thought the narrow side streets were untidy. A pleasant visit to the Cathedral, a stroll in the city and along the sea front completed our visit to Toulon.
As we have had a holiday in Florence and had visited Pisa previously, we spent our time ashore in the town. The weather was sunny and warm. Our first visit was to the Baroque Church of San Fernando, where a group of church workers were preparing the church for a christening. They were supervised by a heavily built authoritarian Parish Priest. After watching the activity for a while, I plucked up courage and asked the priest if I could sing a Latin hymn. The priest did not speak English and I did not know whether he said yes or no. However, I took the opportunity and sang, "Regina Coeli". Afterwards, a church worker approached my wife and said, "Bel Canto". I was pleased.
Walking along the canals we encountered pleasant Italian locals. We find the Italians good natured.
The weather was hot and sunny. What a surprise we had at the sight of the village from the ship. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful villages that we have visited. A magnificent church was surrounded by clean streets and elegant shops. We had intended to journey a short distance along the coast to visit Portofino, but decided to stay put to enjoy the elegance of Santa Margherita.
The weather was warm and sunny. Here we made a mistake in returning to a town that we had enjoyed the previous year. The streets were untidy and the traffic was heavy. We were pleased to return to a peaceful Oriana.
A very busy commercial port. In hot and sunny weather we walked through narrow streets with many small shops on our way to the Cathedral of St. Matthew. It is said that the bones of the disciple of Jesus, St. Matthew lie in the crypt. The crypt was magnificent, with much marble and mosaic decoration, a fitting place for the bones of the disciple. In the Cathedral we were fortunate to witness a wedding. It was good to see the happy and excited Italians demonstrating their pleasure.
Leaving Salerno the weather turned cooler and quite breezy and continued in this vein until we reached Gibraltar. We had nothing extra to see in Gibraltar, as we had visited it on many occasions. We had time to walk in the town, before the early sailing at 1pm.
The weather was warm and sunny as we left the shuttle bus in the heart of the city. We had had a holiday in the vicinity and had visited the city a number of times on cruises, so our visit took us on a nostalgic walk around the city. We filmed outside St. Domingo's Church and in the Avenida Da Liberdada.....We then spent some time filming the ship from a distance and the Salazar Bridge which dominates the city.
Smoking on the Starboard side of the ship was a nuisance when we took exercise. It astonishes us that so many peoples continue to smoke after all the adverse publicity in recent years.
We thought that the dEcor and comfort of the "Oriana" was equal to those ships in which we had cruised over the past years. Public rooms were most comfortable and the restaurants were light and attractive. We thought that the Reception staff was rather terse in answering enquiries. Disembarkation was no problem and we were able to hire a taxi to take us to Southampton Central Station immediately on leaving the ship.
We found that the talented artists appearing in the Classical Music Festival were very friendly and approachable. The people whom we met during the cruise were friendly and mostly interesting.
In our opinion the attitude of some staff had changed. Our cabin steward complained bitterly at P&0's refusal to grant him a pension. The service was often slow during meals in the Peninsular Restaurant. We were disappointed at the quality of the food. For breakfast the fried eggs were like rubber and the toast was hard and cold. We rearranged our breakfast menu after the first few days. For other meals the meats were tough and the vegetables were under cooked. After sending some meals back to the kitchen, we ate what was served to avoid upset to ourselves. Pastries were hard. We wondered if money was being saved by buying cheaper cuts of meat.
Despite our grumbles we enjoyed our experience on Oriana and look forward to another Festival of Music Cruise.