Having enjoyed a number of cruises on Oriana over the years we felt we had to be on her for her last P&O voyage sailing to Svalbard via the Faroe islands, Norway and Belfast. She was still in very good condition after 24 year's service although mechanical issues on recent voyages have shown that she is feeling her age
The itinerary worked very well and, although the weather was usually a bit dreary at sea, the ports were generally warm and clear and we had no rough seas. The highlight of the voyage for us was the terrific evening/night sailing the Svalbard glaciers in beautiful weather (and midnight sun). First class.
Considering the fact it was the last voyage, P&O pulled out the stops any many extra activities were organised. There were a couple of surprisingly empty sea days but they were more than made up for by:
• The presence of Oriana's first captain and her first cruise director (Captain Ian Gibb and Ian Fraser) was much appreciated. They both gave very entertaining and nostalgic presentations and were very keen to get involved and were very accessible. It was good to see how Captain Sarah Breton interacted with Ian Gibb in particular. They obviously have great respect for each other. She was the life and soul of the party at the excellent auction of memorabilia held for the Teenage Cancer Trust which raised several thousand pounds.
• Ken Vard (speaking on the history of ocean liners) is one of our favourite guest lecturers and to have him aboard was a real bonus. He was on our first P&O cruise on Aurora back in 2004 and is as good now as he was then. A pity that Tom O’Connor is no longer sailing, he’s almost part of the furniture
• P&O UK President, Paul Ludlow, joined in Belfast and made a good impression. It’s good to have the top man recognise such an occasion. At a cocktail party he hosted he very sensibly steered away from the subject of big ships and was even heard to say that he has no plans to sell Aurora . Lets hope he’s right!
• The formal celebration, unusually held on the last night, was a very good, though inevitably nostalgic, evening
• And the sail-in to Southampton left not a dry eye in the house. We were later in than usual so that everyone could be on deck to witness the event. The fire tug made it an event and even the Captain had a catch in her voice in her final announcement
One of the strongest impressions we had was that the crew were feeling sad too. For a lot of them Oriana has been home for many years and it was obviously a wrench for them to leave both her and their fellow crewmembers. But they kept their standards sky high to the bitter end. And now they too have gone to pastures new.
Good bye old girl, we'll miss you!
Clean and tidy with plenty of storage space. And we never caught out Allwyn, our Steward, who managed to service our cabin while we were at breakfast without fail!