We last sailed on Oceana back in 2015 and felt the ship was really beginning to show it’s age. Some spectacular ports of call including Venice, Kotor, Florence, Rome and Capri together with beautiful long warm, sunny days more than made up for it.
Due to recent events in the Gulf, Oceana was repositioned from it’s planned itinerary and this meant there were some really good bargains to be had. We decided to book a 7 night cruise in the English Channel and the North Sea in November. Despite the great value we felt it was a bit of a risk as we knew we would have to spend plenty of time inside the ship. As the Captain joked such an itinerary allows you to see all “50 shades of Grey”. Since last sailing on Oceana we have always preferred other ships in the P&O fleet and have sailed many times on Cunard and Princess (our most recent cruise being 2 weeks in August on Queen Victoria, which we always find to be absolutely immaculate in terms of decor).
I have to say that Oceana really delivered, firstly the ship is looking far better than it was in 2015. All of the pool areas have had brand new tiling, new AstroTurf and loungers. The Yacht and Compass bar and Winners have been transformed with brand new furnishings and carpets. The Yacht and Compass is in my view the best looking pub at sea, far better than the Golden Lion on Cunard ships and Brodie’s bars on Britannia and Azura. It just seems a shame that the Hand pulled Real Ales have been added to the Winners bar. Despite this there is a brilliant selection of Real Ales and the Beer flights on offer in the Yacht and Compass (at good value).
The Atrium has seen the dated Palm trees disappear and brand new carpeting throughout. It is without doubt the most impressive and most functional atrium in the fleet. It is the absolute hub of activity on the ship, in a way that even a refitted Britannia atrium can’t achieve. To put it into context the 4 level atrium can simultaneously host, professionally organised dancing on the lowest level, shopping on the level above, a musical act (whether it be a pianist, band or guitarist on the deck above) and the fantastic Cafe Jardin on the top tier overlooking all the action. Even by the end of the week you couldn’t help be wowed by the beautiful views, the Glass lifts, Grand staircases, Water features and Tiffany glass ceilings.
Cafe Jardin is a real stand out! Serving complimentary breakfast and lunch, freshly cooked to order. Breakfast runs from 8am-10:30am and Lunch from 11am until 5pm. The food is delicious and it’s an offering incomparable to that found on other P&O and Cunard ships. You also have a buffet station with fresh salads and desserts should you wish to add further to your ordered dish. It’s especially brilliant when you return at 4pm from a trip to be able to sit down, order from a menu and have water, tea and coffee served to your table. We paid the additional £8.50 cost for the evening meal and had a really tasty meal. I wouldn’t describe the food as gourmet, it certainly isn’t as good as Epicurean or the Verandah on Cunard before they turned it into a steakhouse. However it’s well worth the cost and is a really refreshing alternative to the Main Dining Room. We didn’t try the Beach House on this cruise. We did back in 2015 and it was one of our stand out nights on the ship as we dined al fresco on the terrace. I think we may no longer be here if we had attempted to relive the experience on the North Sea. Despite the plaza buffet being more attractive in design than most ship buffets I felt the inside Beach House area was a little close to the buffet stations to convey the ambience you would expect of a select dining venue.
The main dining room was good, dishes ranged from outstanding to generally good to occasionally poor. The Plaza buffet doesn’t have as wider choice as that on Cunard or the larger P&O ships but we found breakfast to be every bit as good on Cunard or the bigger ships. Lunch however was more average. The Plaza however has a great location at the front of the ship with great views and it’s all been completely refreshed since 2015. It has a really lovely ambience especially of am evening.
Where Oceana really excelled was in terms of the entertainment. The theatre isn’t huge so the brilliant bonus of this is that each night the ship has two simultaneous shows. On our cruise that would be the Headliners (who seriously were far and away the best cast we have seen in dozens of cruises on P&O, Cunard, Princess, Thomson and RCI) in one venue a comedian/guest singer/group in the other. There would also be at least two other acts on from the resident entertainers, which included a fantastic singer and guitarist, vocal duo, pianist, party band and big band. We were often really disappointed on P&O Britannia (sailed on it 3 times) that despite the vastness of the ships there were often times from 6pm until 8pm when there was very little good live music (The same can often be said for Cunard).
In terms of improvements we would love a Glass House, we are still surprised they didn’t convert Winners bar. However the bar has been really improved after the refit. The plumbing system is still a little ropey and we had one toilet failure that lasted a few hours and the occasional odour in places on the ship (it didn’t last for more than a couple of hours and was due to emptying or venting of tanks). The theatre lacks the brilliant LCD screens found on Britannia and the Cunard ships, which slightly compromised certain scenes in “Astonishing”, which required a wait for the old fashioned projector screen to move down and awkwardly projected unwanted images onto the cast. The TV system in the rooms is very dated and my iPad has a bigger display. The bedrooms are equivalent to those on Azura, not as nice as those on Britannia and the Cunard ships but storage space is the best I’ve seen. The bathroom however was probably superior to those on the Cunard ships in terms of layout and space. I really like the Sindhu Indian restaurant as well, so I’d love to see that onboard but not at the cost of Cafe Jardin which offers far more to the ship, as it was a venue we used twice every day. I’d only visit Sindhu once per cruise.
In terms of drink prices P&O continue to remain very competitive in the cruise industry. The prices on Cunard, RCI and Princess have become ridiculous in our view and on Cunard in the summer meant many bars were empty and lacked any atmosphere. You are talking £9 for 250ml of wine (third of a bottle) on Cunard and £6 on P&O (£27 bottle Cunard compared with £18 P&O) and £5.50 for pint of Beer on Cunard compared with £4 on P&O) RCI are even more expensive than Cunard.
In summary we fell in love with Oceana once again. It proved to us that small ships have a real charm and character that perhaps the really big ships (that we also love) lack. The atrium is spectacular and has a superb atmosphere and other public rooms such as the Yacht and Compass are absolutely top draw. The Headliners theatre cast were utterly outstanding (definitely the best we’ve seen) and the ship was always buzzing with music and life. Having two proper shows running simultaneously every night offers brilliant choice and sets he ship aside. Cafe Jardin is the best daytime complimentary venue on any P&O or Cunard ship.