This cruise really started for us in October last year when we attended a Dinner Dance organised by The Crows Nest, an on-line Cruise Forum I use. I was fortunate enough to win first prize in the Raffle, which was a choice of 2-night ... Read More
This cruise really started for us in October last year when we attended a Dinner Dance organised by The Crows Nest, an on-line Cruise Forum I use. I was fortunate enough to win first prize in the Raffle, which was a choice of 2-night P&O cruises in 2009, kindly donated by Cruisekings and arranged by Les, one of the staff there. As we had already travelled on some of the ships and don't fancy Ventura, we opted for Oceana, as she would not be our first choice ship.
Fast-forward almost a year and we set off on the Friday afternoon to stay overnight in the Holiday Inn overlooking Southampton Water. We had cruised aboard Oriana in June and enjoyed the company of Kathy & Mike (amongst others) on our table. Kathy & Mike are local to Southampton so we were pleased to be able to arrange to have dinner with them on the Friday night. We went to La Regatta on Town Quay for a very pleasant Tapas meal. The food & wine were good, service okay and prices reasonable.
After a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning, we re-grouped the packing and left for Dock Gate 4 about 1110. I wondered if we would be some of the first to arrive that early but there were at least 100 - 200 people already there I would estimate. We got the car parked and strolled to the Ocean Terminal, popped the one large case through the 'hole in the wall' and then up the escalator to departures and were given 'E' check-in cards. We then relaxed with some refreshments from the 'cafe', some complimentary magazines and that day's copy of Horizon - what a great idea to give it out before actually boarding! I wondered why, when they spent millions on the new terminal, the cafe has been built like a 1950's Rail Station 'hole in the wall'. Surely you can do better than that Carnival/ABP?
Check-in started around noon and the first 4 groups took about 20 minutes or so before we were called and the formalities were quickly and efficiently completed. We were directed to the Plaza for some lunch but Tony took a swift detour via our cabin to drop off the valuables.
There was a good selection for lunch and I was fortunate enough to be at the counter when some lovely freshly cooked fish goujons were brought out. I followed that with a tasty dutch apple pie and custard (oh P&O, why do you have to challenge the waistline so J).
After lunch, we had a wander around the ship to familiarise ourselves. We had been on Sea Princess so at least we had an idea of the layout. Overall, I was impressed with the Ship. I thought it would probably be much glitzier than Sea Princess as she was known to be quite restrained. I am pleased to say that I didn't think Oceana was wildly glitzy - well maybe Winners Bar is a bit over the top camp but other than that she is quite pleasing to my eye. We then made our way to our cabin - a JA grade Balcony Cabin on A Deck. Again, I was very pleased with this. We had upgraded from the Inside I won in the Prize Draw to a Balcony for a modest charge and Les at Cruisekings certainly did us proud procuring this particular cabin. The cabin was quite compact, especially the bathroom but as we like to spend a lot of time around the ship, this did us nicely. It was very clean and well maintained.
Lifeboat drill was carried out without too much fuss and then we enjoyed our usual glass of Champagne on Promenade Deck whilst we sailed away to the strains of a Caledonian Pipers Band - from Essex! Tony fancied an afternoon nap, so I went to Explorers Bar for a Coffee and read a magazine.
We had been allocated a table for 6 on our requested 2nd sitting and went for a pre-dinner drink in Tiffany's. We immediately felt comfortable with our table- mates, one couple slightly older than us and one considerably younger than us - who were celebrating their 1st Wedding Anniversary. Conversation flowed easily and we had to move quickly at the end to catch a show. The food was very pleasant indeed - well cooked, hot and tasty. Our waiters were pleasant and efficient.
We went to see Jimmy James (of the Vagabonds, if you are old enough to remember) who did an absolutely excellent set. After this, I went for a wander around the ship. Most venues were absolutely heaving with passengers determined to have a good time. The nightclub was jumping when I passed about 1245 and we found out the next day it did not close until 5.45. I am pleased to say however that none of the noise or boisterousness reached anywhere near our cabin.
I awoke early enough to see us slide into Zeebrugge around 7.45 on Sunday morning. The day started quite overcast but gradually cleared to sunshine. We had breakfast in the Adriatic Restaurant to avoid the likely chaos of the Plaza - it was first morning on board after all. The food and service were a bit of a hit and miss affair, although I suspect that is not the case on longer cruises where the passengers and waiters both get into the swing of it a bit more. After breakfast we got the free shuttle transfer into Blankenberge about 15 minutes away. We had decided not to do Bruges because of a previous visit and so thought we would relax a bit more this weekend. Blankenberge is pleasant enough for a stroll around and has a fair selection of restaurants, cafes and shops. We had thought we might have lunch here but the combination of a stiff, cold wind off the sea and the weak pound making food expensive, swayed us to take the shuttle back to the ship about 1245.
Once on board, we checked out the Adriatic menu and decided to look at Cafe Jardin. We settled there and had a lovely lunch in very calm, peaceful surroundings. Both food and service were very good indeed.
We then took a stroll around the ship to see what was happening. Obviously not too much in the way of organised entertainment (it was a port day after all) but lots of comings and goings and sport on the large TVs in Winners Bar. A little later I opted to go to the spa area for a relax in the sauna and steam room (which are open to all and free). Unusually on this ship they are single-sex areas. Both were very pleasant and not at all crowded. The changing and locker areas however are very small and poorly equipped.
We had arranged to meet out tablemates in the Atrium before dinner to toast the 1st Anniversary. It was Formal Night and I must say that the dress code was (thankfully as far as I am concerned) very well adhered too. Captain Reid had announced that he would not be at the 'Gala Reception' as he would be "driving the boat" but I was very surprised that no-one stood in for him. Consequently, although the drinks were still free, there was certainly no 'reception' and the whole Atrium was packed.
This was followed by a wonderful Gala Dinner, which for me included a beautifully rare Beef Wellington and Hot Raspberry SoufflE. The whole meal was absolutely delicious.
After dinner, once again the ship was buzzing - although maybe just a little quieter than the previous night. Perhaps some of the partygoers were struggling with the pace? Had a good wander around the ship inside and out and then retired to the cabin.
I awoke several times in the early hours (as I am prone to do) and saw the lights of the South Coast twinkling in the darkness. Also awoke just as we were approaching Southampton to find the most dreary, damp morning beginning. Welcome back to Southampton!
We were taking our own luggage off with us but our stewardess was quite happy for us to leave everything in the cabin until after breakfast, which we took in the Plaza. Naturally, it was very crowded but we found a table without too much problem and I tucked into a tasty, traditional full English (but restrained in quantity!) followed by a pancake with some maple syrup.
I was quite surprised that there seemed to be no rush getting people off and when we were ready, we made our way to the disembarkation point and joined the moving hordes in getting off the ship. We then easily found the car and left the docks for a straightforward journey home without delays.
So - overall impressions? This trip certainly exceeded my expectations. I am left feeling that a weekender is a good way to see a ship for the first time and gives a good impression of whether you would like being at sea if you haven't cruised before. I don't however think it really represents an actual cruise as there is not enough time to fit things in. I would not rush to do another weekender unless maybe combining it with a full cruise before or after on the same ship. As for Oceana, she too exceeded my expectations but still would not be my first choice of P&O Ship. This is more a personal taste issue than anything else - I would much prefer to be aboard Arcadia, Oriana or Aurora. I would certainly not rule her out for another cruise however but it would need to be one to guaranteed sunny climes as I feel her outdoor spaces are much better than those indoors. As nice as the Plaza is, I would miss a Crow's Nest lounge and overall feel the public spaces of those other ships appeal to me much more.
I am however extremely grateful to Les at Cruisekings and the Crows Nest Forum as their raffle provided us with a great weekend away and the chance to experience the lovely Oceana. Read Less