The news was confirmed last week: Oriana is history, or she will be by May 2019. Much of the chatter I heard in the launderette on C Deck was all about her sale. There were whispers about men in suits having been seen around the ship, ... Read More
The news was confirmed last week: Oriana is history, or she will be by May 2019. Much of the chatter I heard in the launderette on C Deck was all about her sale. There were whispers about men in suits having been seen around the ship, ‘obviously’ checking things out ahead of making an offer. Generally laundrette gossip is best ignored but this time the rumours were true.
Oriana fitted so nicely into the current fleet, I thought, being mid-sized (around 1900 passengers) and adult only. With the trend towards ever-bigger ships (Britannia is nearly twice the size and the latest – Iona – will be even larger), I suppose it was inevitable that Oriana would have to go but I'm relieved that we will still have three other smaller ships to choose from - Arcadia which is for adults only, Aurora which becomes child-free shortly, and Oceana.
Oriana was launched in 1995 and yes, she was showing her age on this cruise. As a regular passenger I can accept her idiosyncrasies but goodness knows what first-time cruisers must think. Black scum marks around lavatory bowls are one sign of age, wonky propeller shafts another. At critical speeds when the ship is turning to leave a port, throbbing from the propellers can make dining in the Oriental Restaurant a noisy affair with glasses clinking and cutlery rattling. Numerous attempts in dry dock have been made to resolve the problem but none has succeeded as far as I can make out.
Yet the ship retains the charm of a bygone age. The décor is luxurious, if a little shabby chic in some areas these days, with beautiful artwork in the stairways. A Costa coffee in Tiffany’s passes a pleasant hour, especially after 11.30 when a selection of cakes and pastries are offered. My favourite was the Victoria sponge and not only because it was free. The daily watercolour classes on sea days proved popular and I disembarked with one or two paintings that passed muster. Port talks attracted many to the Curzon theatre, not all of them devoted to selling excursions; there were also tips for those planning to go ashore independently.
I avoided most of the shows each evening because I have seen nearly all of them on previous cruises. However, there were some new ones. I enjoyed Billboard because the music was from my era of the Sixties and the Seventies, and the Headliners delivered it with great spirit. Full marks to the sound engineers too for mixing a proper balance between vocalists and backing music – for once, screeching was minimal. Another brilliant act was Ida, four opera-trained sopranos. They impressed me on Andrew Neil’s TV show last Christmas and they impressed everybody who saw them in Curzon Theatre – they won a standing ovation.
There are too many quizzes for my liking but at least the Chaplin Cinema offers an escape with quite a few recent releases being screened. The Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman portrays Churchill brilliantly) drew a large audience and The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman playing P T Barnum was another highlight. On other days, the sun deck was a glorious spot to relax, a place where I enjoyed the luxury of time to read; thankfully the library on Deck 8 is well-stocked.
I tried to use the gym regularly – you have to with so much food on offer – and it is well-equipped. But beware of some of the talks that take place there because their main purpose seems to be to sell you something. There were talks on posture and healthy eating, for example, and I overheard passengers too polite to leave being sold things like shoe insoles for £75 or activity programmes for more than £100.
Port disembarkations went smoothly with little or no queuing at gangways. Venice used to be a nightmare but the new terminal has improved things. I walked ashore rather than fork out for the vaporetto transfers. It takes only ten minutes to reach Piazzale Roma and a further 45 to negotiate the maze of narrow streets to St Mark’s Square. We had tender transfers in Albania and they went well, perhaps because I arrived for my ticket ahead of the scheduled time. Mind you, I am not sure Sarande was worth visiting. The resort is in desperate need of money to fund its development but the locals were very friendly and they made up for the pitted pavements.
It was early in the cruise that I spotted Alan Carr, Senior Restaurant Manager. Alan is always a welcome sight because he is someone who demands high standards from his teams. It was no surprise, then, that service in the Oriental ‘club dining’ restaurant was always excellent. Dinners were a cruise highlight with meals attractively presented and delivered on hot plates. Breakfast in The Conservatory, a self-service outlet on Lido deck, was never marred by a shortage of items at the different serveries. Headwaiters and the galley team ensured they were always topped up and I defy anyone to say that they were not spoilt for choice. It may have helped, of course, that Alan would often eat in The Conservatory where he could keep a watchful eye on things.
My outside cabin was on E deck and in John Tayag I had the best steward I have ever known. This 26 year old Filipino from Mexico Pampanga was on his first contract and every day he cheerfully ensured that my home was maintained perfectly – in fact he made the bed so immaculately it was almost as if he changed the linen every day.
Another character central to my enjoyment of this cruise was Senior Loyalty Manager, Hope Lyttle. Hope is a scouser and her sense of humour made visits to the sales desk to research future cruises a pleasure. Her team members were on the mark too and I disembarked at Southampton having booked what will now be a farewell cruise on Oriana as well as two more on Aurora, a ship very similar to Oriana in terms of style and size.
Overall, Oriana continues to impress me. She has her faults, most of them linked to her advancing years, but in terms of service from the officers and crew I find it difficult to fault her. Every day of this cruise I enjoyed outstanding levels of world-class service. And that, after all, is what counts. Read Less