Towards the end of last year we spotted a good deal being offered on the P&O cruise ship Oriana, a ship we’d never cruised on before. It’s P&O’s longest-serving cruise ship, a vessel designed specifically for the company, and one that typically commands higher person-per-night prices than other ships in the fleet on account of its smaller size and fewer balconies. We’re fond of a balcony and the price for this two-nighter to Belgium seemed like a no-brainer, plus at the time booking it would count towards our Princess loyalty and that was the bonus that saw us snap this up.
For two-nighter taster cruises on P&O if you book with CPS (and we did) you simply park your car in the designated car park and walk into the terminal. We were due to embark at 15:00 but I like to leave early not to try to get on board ahead of time but just to make sure traffic problems don’t cause pre-cruise heart attacks. Subsequently, we arrived at 14:10, got out of the car, and quickly snapped a shot of Oriana from the phone as we staggered through the cold with our single carry-on bag.
It’s quite amazing just how much luggage some people carry for a short cruise. We saw couples with medium-sized suitcases plus carry on luggage ahead of us. Anyway, in the terminal, handed a card, filled in our “Yes, we’re healthy (honest)” declaration form, a short wait, then called up, through the proceedings and security, and we were in our cabin, unpacking, and taking photographs by 14:55.
Oriana Cabin B127
Our cabin was B127, starboard side forward, our preferred location on cruise ships. The room was a good size length-wise although it felt a touch narrower than our experiences on other ships. Having a seating area was a nice touch, though unused for this particular cruise, and the additional glasses and surprise of a pair of binoculars were very welcome too, and these were put to the test.
Other cabin facilities were much as you’d expect from any cruise ship – hairdryer in the room, plenty of wardrobe and shelf space, TV – and the staple of P&O cruises in particular was there as well in the form of a kettle for making tea (although we’re not fans of having kettles in the room as it makes it feel more like a hotel and less like a cruise ship; that’s possibly just us).
The bathroom was a very good size and surprised us again (we should probably research these things more to avoid this) as it had a bath and lots of shelf space behind the two angled mirrors. Some of the fittings were a little past their best; the plastic in particular was the yellow side of cream and far from its original white. However, it was all clean, it all did what it needed to do.
The balcony was a very reasonable size but again underused on this particular cruise, although less to do with the duration (we will typically venture onto the balcony before bed to watch and listen to the waves in the dark) and more to do with an aversion to getting hypothermia.
We ducked into the theatre for a quick nose before finding somewhere to grab a first drink. It looked very nice inside although we never attended any shows during the short cruise on Oriana so can’t attest as to the performances therein.
My wife was on a mission to send a photo to her sister as soon as possible of her drinking as she would still be at work. These things are important. Down to deck seven we found that the Lord’s Tavern pub was one of the few places serving drinks and so grabbed a seat and placed our order. The first beer I wanted was not available which was a disappointment as the ship was in its home port and there really shouldn’t have been any excuse for not being fully stocked. More on that later. We enjoyed our drinks and tried not to think too much about the jingoistic decoration of the venue.
Exploring Top Deck Of Oriana
After muster (held in the casino for us and thankfully very short at around 18 minutes) we decided to take advantage of the availability of the evening light to grab some photos from up top. We headed straight down the corridor outside our room towards the rear of the ship and out onto Oriana’s tiered aft. We didn’t spend much time there because as pretty as it was it was also bitterly cold and filled with the aroma of other passengers gambling with lung cancer.
We then headed forward past deck games, the pools, and people braving the temperature that was dropping along with the sun. There was a crisp feel to the photography conditions and some lovely, long shadows were being cast.
The Crow’s Nest
We weren’t far from the Crow’s Nest lounge at this point so ducked inside out of the cold and headed there for a drink as the ship disembarked Southampton. As it turned out there was a bit of a delay leaving because a container ship needed to get past us first – and it was a huge container ship! – so we ended up with more than the one drink. The photos of the lounge are from the second day when it was quieter but the Crow’s Nest was packed with people at this time, understandably so, and we were told it might take a while for our drinks to arrive. This, we had no problem with at all. We could see it was busy. It was explained to us. We were fine with this. What we weren’t fine with was when the rum flight I’d ordered for our second round was completely wrong and had to be sent back. A short delay and an irritation, yes, but we tried not to let it bother us too much. Also, there was no indication what each of the drinks was; when we’d previously had flights on Azura there were paper coasters telling you what the drinks were and they would have been handy here too.
First Evening Food And Drinks
Showered and changed into somewhat smarter clothing and with the ship finally underway we headed off in search of a pre-dinner drink. This brought us to Tiffany’s at the top of the atrium where my wife had a glass of Argentinian Malbec (we know P&O keep this well and we weren’t disappointed again) and I risked the French red from Olly Smith. We know France just can’t do nice red wine but this was probably the best I’ve had from the country. Once again, P&O and wine are a good mix.
We had freedom dining so wandered down to the dining room once we’d finished, watched as person after person in front of us was handed a buzzer to let them know when a table was free (including a solo traveller), then realised it was because nobody wanted to share a table; we’re always happy to share a table so we were seated immediately with a group of four, two of whom turned out to be from a couple of miles away from us. Small world. Good conversation, very good food, although service was a tad slow and the meal lasted over two hours. We weren’t in a rush to see a show, though, so not really a big problem.
We hit Anderson’s next which we noticed was pretty quiet throughout the weekend aboard Oriana.
We spent the end of the evening next door in Harlequin’s. After initially finding a seat that was apparently invisible to the stewards things picked up after another group left and we nicked their vacant spot closer to the dance floor. The DJ was pretty good and obviously a big fan of mixing. There were three annoyances from our time there that evening: firstly, a couple joined our table (no problem) and then went off to dance while she left her handbag on the table; I know it wasn’t our responsibility and we could have just ignored it but I’m a considerate sort so I ended up staying there, fending off people asking if the vacant seats were taken, and guarding a stranger’s belongings for the next hour with no thanks for the job. Sigh. Secondly, a table of four younger couples next to us included one girl who obviously wanted to dance and wanted everyone else to; they didn’t; she didn’t want to go on the dance floor alone; she danced right beside my face for most of the evening, shouting, waving her arms around; bloody annoying. Sigh. Those two were no fault of P&O but the third one was; for the second time in not many hours the wrong drinks were delivered; this time it was not because they’d just served the wrong drinks but because the steward hadn’t heard us properly; we couldn’t be bothered getting them replaced (not that there was any indication that the steward was going to take responsibility for it) but it was not great. Sigh.
Belgium Shore Excursion
We’d booked a shore excursion called Scenic Villages and Chocolate through P&O. Two posts detailing the beautiful sights we saw on the Saturday of our cruise can be found in the following posts:
Our Belgian excursion had us back on the ship by 14:00 so we dropped off the goodies we’d bought back in our room then went for a stroll around the teak promenade of Oriana. While it was wide and the wooden decking was lovely I found the height clearance in places quite low making it a little claustrophobic. For some reason I’d assumed the promenade was a complete wraparound one but that wasn’t the case. The forward section of the promenade was shielded from passengers in order to permit crew access to a pool area while there was no access at all to a wake view. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty pleasant, if achingly cold walk while the ship was docked in Zeebrugge.
Oriana Interior Spaces
Coming in from the cold we popped into some of the mostly empty venues on board for a handful of photographs.
We were peckish at this time and we had options available to us but I suggested we head back to Tiffany’s at the top of Oriana’s attractive atrium and grab something from their light bites menu.
This snack would be a small supplement and there weren’t many choices but we figured in the absence of a Glass House venue (present on Azura and Ventura) this might be a close approximation. Oh, how wrong we were!
This is how busy Tiffany’s was:
This is my plate of food that turned up after 45 minutes.
The cutlery had appeared after 20 with an assurance the food was on its way. The condiments had turned up after 30 with an assurance the food was on its way. The steward had passed our table and mentioned the food was being plated after 40. Another couple who had turned up and ordered after us – making them the only other people to order food since our arrival – went back to find out where their food was three times.
And after this wait my food was of a lower standard than something microwaved in a Wetherspoon’s pub. There was so much fat on my minute steak it almost made me gag. My wife’s was worse; it was supposed to be a panini but was a baguette and the one element she was looking forward to – the cheese – was very noticeable by its complete absence. The thought of how long a wait we could expect if we complained meant we scoffed down the barely adequate food as quickly as possible in order to go find a drink to soothe our complete dissatisfaction at this point.
We headed for the Lord’s Tavern as I fancied rehydrating with the volume of a nice beer on account of not drinking anything during our tortuous wait at Tiffany’s. I ordered my beer. My wife ordered an Aspall’s.
Pictured above are the beer I didn’t order and a Bloody Mary. Why’s that? Well, there was no Aspall’s on board.
“Oh, you are fu… I don’t believe this!” exclaimed my wife loudly.
“We’ve got Strongbow,” offered the flinching steward.
“That is not a fu… That is not an alternative for Aspall’s. Just get me a Bloody Mary!”
The steward left. A minute later the steward returned. They didn’t have the beer I’d selected either. For the second time in two days. Oriana’s stock management was an absolute disgrace if this really was supposed to be a taster cruise designed to entice in cruisers on longer trips.
Oriana Formal Night
The second evening on Oriana as she headed back towards Southampton was a formal night. We were pleased to see a large percentage of men in tuxedos; P&O does seem to bring this out in men better in this respect than Princess. Fast becoming a formal night tradition we started the evening with champagne then while my wife had a second glass of fizz I had a Vodka Martini. I always take it with olives until a third of the way down the glass when the olives are removed. The olives are never eaten because olives are nasty. That’s not open for debate.
We were seated immediately for dinner once again as we were happy to share. Our companions this evening were a young couple from Shrewsbury on their third cruise, I believe, with Oriana being the largest vessel they’d been on (as opposed to it being the smallest for us), and a pair of older women travelling together who were veteran cruisers. Conversation was, let’s say, interesting once I’d given the young couple an opening to leave early as they didn’t want dessert. I won’t go into details here but some old-fashioned views may have been hinted at and some clenched fists and gripped knees under the table may have been utilised to stop certain people from saying things they might regret.
The food in the dining room was lovely, again, although the service was slow, again, and we were pushing two and half hours before making an excuse to escape. This time we headed straight for Harlequin’s to people watch. We caught the tail end of a band before the disco and ended up being joined briefly by the foursome we’d had dinner with the night before which was nice but otherwise we made sure we were on a table just for two so that we wouldn’t get stuck looking after someone’s seat or possessions again.
Young People On Oriana
There had been some concern before the cruise (and, indeed, before our other short cruises with P&O) that these taster cruises bring with them a younger crowd and hen or stag parties. We saw no hen or stag groups on board, possibly because P&O have changed their rules in that respect, and only one all-female group who were celebrating a birthday and they were no trouble at all.
There was a good range of ages overall on Oriana and no over-rowdiness from the younger members but where there were groups of six or more young people together there was – without trying to be snobby or fuddy-duddy about this – a lack of cruising etiquette and respect; there was a lack of awareness for how loud they were laughing or shouting in Harlequin’s; there was a complete disregard for the rule about not carrying drinks on the dance floor and I even overheard one person in a group saying loudly “Look, he’s got a drink on the dance floor. Let’s all join him!” before a gang of them went up for a dance with pints in hand. I got this impression that many of them thought they could and should behave as if they were at a club or hotel on a Mediterranean island and everyone was their own age.
Are you a young person going on a cruise with your friends? Please be considerate and aware of who’s around you. That’s all.
Oriana Taster Cruise Conclusions
There were some good and bad things about this short trip. Embarkation, disembarkation, the excursion, the atrium, the promenade deck, variety of lounges, cabin facilities, and general layout were all really good. We had no complaints about the breakfast at buffet (and were able to find seats of both days easily enough) although it’s an area that P&O could improve on in general. Our first impressions on Oriana were overwhelmingly positive and even getting into our cabin on that first day saw my wife beaming and saying how much she really liked what she’d seen so far and what a nice feel the ship had. But there were issues as I’ve said:
- Bar service was slower than it needed to be; there were far more people taking drinks orders than making drinks which meant long waits for a lot of people. To be fair, gettings drinks was not an issue for us but we heard some people had to wait 40 minutes for their order.
- Wrong drinks on two occasions. I know things like this happen and if it had just been once then fine but twice makes you wonder just where else people aren’t paying attention properly.
- The Tiffany’s light bites experience was utterly unacceptable. Awful food, the wrong food, and slow for no reason. From our experience I would recommend nobody ever order from there.
- Dreadful stock management. This was marketed as a taster cruise and it was coming out of and into the ship’s home port. There’s simply no excuse for not having the beers and ciders that are printed up in your menus on the ship. Far from being a chance to show off the cruise line and the ship and encourage new cruisers it all just felt a bit like “Well, we’ve got a couple of days to fill between the longer cruises we’re more interested in so let’s just pack some people on for cheap and let them have whatever’s left over from the last trip.”
Those issues, I know, would be things that just wouldn’t happen on another cruise most likely and we were unlucky to have them happen to us. I’ve no doubt other passengers had a perfect time. They did somewhat spoil an otherwise lovely trip for us but not enough to discourage us from considering Oriana again for the right itinerary and price.
The following video on Oriana taking a near-identical cruise and excursion was made by a regular P&O cruiser named Jamie a few years back and before the ship’s recent refit so some of the decor will have changed.