Not having sailed with P & O Cruises over the Christmas and New Year Period before, I chose P&O's ship the 'Oceana', for my 'holiday' cruise in 2005.
Oceana was built in 2000, of 77,000 tons; she has a maximum operating capacity of 2272 passengers and 870 crew. The ship has 12 passenger decks, 2 swimming pools (fresh water) a couple of splash pools and 5 Jacuzzis. There are 2 main restaurants; currently offering two sittings for dinner, but this, I understand is due to change in April, when one of the restaurants will become 'open seating'. There is also the Plaza restaurant for casual dining, and in the evening, this restaurant transforms, together with the Horizon Grill, into alternative dining venues, with reservations required and at a supplement (currently £6.75 or USD$11.00) per person. The Café Jardin on deck 8 provides food 24 hours a day.
There are two primary show lounges, no fewer than 10 bars/lounges serving alcohol and coffees, a casino, a well-stocked library, a cyber study facility, an avenue of shops, a photo gallery, an art gallery and a number of launderettes for use by passengers (washers and driers arefree, but guests must supply their own soap, available for purchase from the shop onboard). There is also a very active club with a highly energetic and enthusiastic staff, catering for the needs of children and teenagers.
P & O, now part of the Carnival Corporation, operates a fleet of 5 ships. The homeport for their ships is Southampton, England and P & O have a sea-going tradition since 1837, -some 169 years experience. Each year, during the winter months, three of its ships depart on World Cruises, whilst the remaining two ships are based in the Caribbean. During the other seasons, the fleet operates to and from Southampton on cruises of varying durations, offering a wide choice of itineraries. The company claim that they operate a service of 'Traditional British Cruising'. The currency on board is the pound sterling (£).
Documentation for this cruise was factual, informative and correct and arrived in good time prior to sailing. The full programme of shore excursions was also provided and these could be booked in advance.
On this particular cruise, there was a wide range in the ages of passengers, from children in 'buggies' to elderly grand parents. All seemed to mix well and there was a relaxed holiday mood on board. The ship had been skilfully and beautifully decorated and it was evident that Christmas was just around the corner.
The cruise had been named the 'Calypso Island Christmas Cruise'. It was of 14 days duration, sailing to and from Barbados. There were 10 ports of call and 3 days at sea, Christmas Day and Boxing Day being two of the days spent 'at sea'. It was a 'port intensive' cruise, especially in the latter stages and most passengers, would have liked a 'sea day' at some stage in between these ports of call. Consideration should be given to perhaps re-thinking future itineraries, after a long flight from the UK, most passengers would appreciate the first day, being a sea day, to get over the four hour time difference and to take time to relax and get into the 'cruise mode', or perhaps have the overnight stay in Barbados at the beginning of the cruise, rather than at the end. Additionally, a further suggestion being - New Year's Day - after the activities of New Year's Eve - a day at sea, rather than St Kitts, especially on a Sunday (and a public holiday at that) would have been welcomed.
In order to transport passengers to and from the embarkation port, P&O charters a number of aircrafts which depart from various UK airports. Unfortunately all best plans can encounter difficulties and a number of the flights were late in arriving in Barbados, thus delaying our ships departure time by 2 hours. As with all charter airlines, there is very limited seat space and legroom on such flights, in-flight catering was basic to say the least, but the airline did offer a free bar service. One of the convenient things in regard to these flights, is that when you check-in your luggage in the UK, it is transported in sealed units directly to the ship and is delivered directly to your cabin. This saves the hassle of having to claim your baggage at the arrival airport and transfer it to a coach to take you to the ship. Additionally, coaches meet the flight at the airport steps, and passengers are transferred directly to the ship, thus avoiding long lines for Immigration Procedures to take place. P & O Cruises do offer guests, the option of using the service of scheduled flights to and from Barbados at hefty supplements. Similar arrangements are in place for the return flights.
Check-in procedures for the cruise, is carried out in a shed adjacent to the ship. These were friendly, quick, and professionally carried out.
On boarding the ship, members of the crew were available to escort or direct guests to their cabins. For this cruise, we had chosen an outside cabin with balcony (JD) Grade. . There are 23 grades of cabins on the Oceana, ranging from inside twins to suites. There are no single cabins, but the company do offer solo guests the opportunity of purchasing a twin for sole use at a supplement. These supplements vary, depending of the cruise, the date and duration of the cruise. P & O also offer a 'share cabin' programme for solo travellers.
On arrival at our cabin, we were disappointed at the size (178 sq feet, including balcony) - the smallest size for this type of cabin throughout P&O's fleet. However it was well furnished and comfortable. There is also excellent privacy on the balconies. The balconies are best described as another cruise company so describes them as 'sheltered balcony cabins' as they are not the traditional balconies, but rather, balconies within the ships hull. Facilities in the cabins include a remote control television, tea and coffee making facilities, a safe, hairdryer, air-conditioning, en-suite shower room and a refrigerator. Storage space was limited. The balcony accommodated two recliner chairs and a small table. The net curtains on the window, which lead to the balcony were stained and contained a number of holes (probably resulting in being caught in the sliding balcony door). The en-suite was tiny (I was able to spread my arms and touch both walls, and there was very little space between my knees, when sitting on the 'throne' and the door of the unit). Luxury toiletries available, but no bathrobes or slippers or fresh fruit are provided. Towels were, on occasions hard and thread borne. The shower curtain was also badly stained. The shower worked, although noisy, with varying water pressures but with an abundant supply of piping hot water. The water from the taps in this unit is safe for drinking. The cabin was spotlessly clean and was kept in this condition throughout the cruise.
Each cabin is equipped with a standard 13-amp plug (British style socket) and a 110-volt American style socket. In the en-suite, there are 110/230-volt plugs for electric shavers.
There is a good room service menu available during the day until late evening and then this becomes very limited. Full breakfast is not available via room service only Continental breakfast.
The cabin steward, shortly after arrival, came to the cabin, introduced himself and did show us how the cabin facilities operated. He also showed us where our life jackets were located, where our Muster Station were located, and asked that we spend some time, watching the video presentation currently being shown on the television, in advance of the Muster Drill. I requested additional towels, ice and feather pillows and was advised that he would have to request these, and that they would be delivered the next day, with the exception of the ice which he provided. When we retired to bed that first evening, we were surprised to find that there were two separate single duvets on the double bed, this somehow seemed strange. We asked the cabin steward for a double duvet, who advised us that none were available, but when we spoke with his supervisor, one was supplied within 24 hours (a point worth remembering - double duvets are available). Lots of things on this ship appear to be 'on request'.
The ship itself is well appointed with soft furnishings, interesting art works, comfortable sofas and sympathetic lighting in public areas. The ship is relatively easy to negotiate and is well signed - one things of note, especially for guests who may have walking difficulties, is that only the elevators at the front of the ship, serve all passengers decks. The elevators to the rear only serve 7 of the decks and the glass elevators in the Atrium only serve 4 passenger decks.
The ship was full for this sailing, but didn't feel 'crowded'. On sea days the area around the main swimming pools did get packed and sun loungers were at a premium. However space and any number of sun loungers could be found in other deck areas around the ship.
The Atrium in mid-ships, spans 4 passenger decks, and is a wonderful place for 'people watching'. On the ground floor, are the reception desk (open 24 hours), shore excursions office, future cruise sales desk and The Portunus Club Representative (P&O's loyalty club).
One of the first things that one notices on this ship is the immaculate turnout of the staff in all departments (from the middle ranking officers to the deck stewards, from the waiters to the all too important guys who work on their knees polishing the brasses and keeping the ship clean). All seem to be happy and enjoy their work, and almost all had smiles on their faces and greeted and acknowledged guests presence with a simple Good Morning or Good Evening Sir - a feature unfortunately lacking nowadays on so many ships.
On previous cruises with P&O, it was common to see senior officers walk around the ship and converse with passengers, not on this ship - the absence of senior officers seen in public areas was very noticeable, infact it was a rarity and many of the guests were so disappointed - this topic seemed to come up in most conversations, especially among past passengers and first time cruisers were amazed that there was no opportunity to have their picture taken with either the Captain or Staff Captain.ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME
The Entertainment Programme on this ship can only be described as excellent in all regards. There was something for everyone! West End or Hollywood style shows, specialist entertainers, guest lecturers, music of all kinds - a full and varied programme, details of which were clearly outlined in the ships on-board information bulletin 'Oceana Today' which was delivered to cabins daily.
The highly talented Cruise Director and staff were always visible throughout the ship and again distinguishable by their smart turnout and co-ordinated dress.
A nice touch on board, is that this line really do want single passengers travelling alone to feel welcome and 'inclusive' without 'intrusion'. Early on in the cruise there was a meeting for such travellers, and each day, it was advertised that a member of the Cruise Staff would be available to meet solos for coffee and a chat at a given venue and time. On the night of the Captains Formal Reception, the group met some 15 minutes prior to the commencement of this reception. Some of the ladies travelling solo indicated to me that this arrangement was excellent, as many felt embarrassed at attending such events on previous cruise ships by themselves.The only adverse comment that I would make in respect of the entertainment on board is in relation to their scheduling of programmes - on some occasions major events did overlap which caused disappointment. On other occasions, one had to make the difficult choice between a featured production show or celebrity entertainment. Guests on 2nd seating dining lost out in this regard, whereas if one of the shows had have been scheduled as a pre-dinner show, we could have then had the benefit of attending each. With the wealth of entertainment at P&O's disposal on board, it was disappointing at their programme choices on both Christmas night and New Years Eve. The entertainment offered on Christmas night was exactly the same as on offer on Christmas Eve - the same shows and featured entertainment, whilst on New Years Eve, the choice was a deck party or listening to a pianist or attending a church service. On 'holiday cruises', guests pay 'over the odds' for the cruise and on each of these evenings, we expect, not only with P&O but with other cruise companies, to pull out all the stops on these festive nights.
The late start of some of the events/shows/lectures was annoying.
In cabin television options and programming too was excellent, with a wide range and choice of programmes and films for viewing. I particularly liked the 'Christmas Channel' - which showed both old and modern Christmas Films - these brought back many childhood memories.RESTAURANT AND FOOD SERVICE.
There are two main restaurants onboard Oceana - the Adriatic and Ligurian, both are similar. We were allocated the Adriatic, where the restaurant manager endeavoured to accommodate all of the guests' requirements. Totally professional, it amazed me as to how he remembered most people's names. He was ably assisted by a number of Headwaiters.
Tables are very close together in both of the main restaurants; most seating- 4,6 or 8 guests - there were a few tables for 2. The majority of tables are rectangular in shape and we find that there can be difficulty in communicating with all 'tablemates' on tables of this design and find that round or oval shaped tables are more user-friendly in this regard. The ceiling in both restaurants is low, thus the noise levels within the restaurants tends to be high.
Food service in the main restaurants was excellent. Our regular waiter and assistant waiter at dinner were particularly proficient in this regard. However presentation was very disappointing, except at the Gala Dinners. Food was wholesome, plentiful, varied and tasty. It was 'packing' food - it was good - no pretty pictures on the plate here! Currently the vegetables are served 'Silver Service', but unfortunately from April this practice is going to stop and meals served will be plated - this is unfortunate.
Breakfast and lunch are 'open seating', whereby dinner is currently by assigned tables.
We found that cooked breakfasts in the restaurant would have tasted better if they had have been served hot, rather than luke-warm. There is a 'special' on the breakfast menu each day. The breakfast menus were typically traditional British breakfast fare.
The selection and variety of bread served at dinner, as did the choice of Danish Pastries at breakfast left a lot to be desired - very little in the way of choice and mostly the same variety each evening -often they were stale. The choice of juices at breakfast in both the formal and casual restaurants was limited. I requested Cranberry juice and was advised that this would have to come from a bar and would be chargeable.
One of the things that I enjoy on cruises, is the array and taste of the fresh fruit usually available, not on this cruise - just the basics, melon, pineapple, apples, pears, oranges, bananas and grapes - nothing exotic at all. I found most of the time that the fruits served were not ripe (although this did improved a little as the cruise progressed) and lacked any sort of taste. I usually enjoy a fruit platter for starters both at breakfast and dinner. On the first evening, I asked if I could have such a platter and was refused, melon only being available. The next evening I was advised, that such a platter is available, but only available through ' Special Order' and requested though the Headwaiter. I made these requests and received my fruit platters, but no thought had gone into their presentation (which is so important on a cruise), just slices of fruit dumped on a plate.
The choice of cheeses available was excellent.
There are no salad courses on the dinner menus - these are - yes you have guessed it - 'by request'. Caesar Salads were however available daily as a main course dish, as was chicken, salmon and sirloin steak.
The Gala Dinner served on Christmas Day was however outstanding, in regards to choice, presentation, quality and quantity. Lots of thought, time, and care had obviously been taken into making this particular dinner one of the highlights of the cruise.
The Yuletide buffet lunch served in a formal restaurant on Boxing Day was spectacular both in looks and presentation and tasted every bit as good.
A chocoholic's buffet served one afternoon was most popular and it was pleasing that the needs of diabetics were cater for.
In relation to The Plaza - the Casual Dining Restaurant, the first thing that is noticed, is that there are no trays, on which to carry plates, utensils and glasses or cups to the tables - these are needed - especially for those in ripper years, and would also save the need for guests to keep returning to the buffet areas for each course thus avoiding congestions in this area.
Food here was reasonably varied and hot food was hot. This venue was the home of rich, fattening and appealing desserts.
Unfortunately there was little evidence of the use of 'real cream' on these desserts; mostly it was synthetic, as was the cream to accompany the scones in the afternoon in The Plaza. Real cream while more 'naughty' does give an enriched taste.
Unlike other ships, fruit juices are only available during breakfast service, at other times they have to be purchased from the adjacent bar.
Traditional Afternoon Tea (P&O style) is served, is on most days in one of the dining rooms.
Throughout the P&O fleet, there are three set dress codes for the evening -
Formal - a dinner jacket, white tuxedo or dark suit and tie for gentlemen and long or short evening wear for ladies. Informal - jacket, shirt and tie, or smart shirts which do not require a tie when worn with a linen or blazer-style jacket for men and for the ladies the option ranges from tailored trousers to cocktail dresses. Casual - stylish resort or leisurewear for both men and women.
Shorts are not permitted in any of the main or specialty restaurants for dinner.
On this cruise, there were 4 formal nights and the remainder were casual. It was pleasing to see that almost every passenger did comply with the dress code. Indeed, many passengers chose on the casual nights to 'up dress' (to the dress that is suggested for informal nights - it was obvious that these guests were seasoned P&O cruisers who recalled the days when the dress code onboard P&O ships was either formal or inform only.SHORE EXCURSION PROGRAMME.
A wide selection of shore excursions were available at each of the ports of call. The staff in the shore excursions office were most knowledgeable. These were keenly priced and offered value for money.TENDER SERVICE.
At ports where tender service was in operation, this transfer procedure was carried out swiftly and smoothly.SECURITY STAFF.
Particular mention must be made in relation to the Security Staff on this vessel. They carried out their various duties in a totally proficient and competent manner. No scowls here - pleasant, always a smile on their faces and courteous at all times.BAR SERVICES.
A wide range of drinks and cocktails were available from bars throughout the ship. Costs of these beverages were reasonable. Drinks were of good quality and had a kick to them. There was no pressure put on guests to purchase drinks and it was pleasing that there was no 15% gratuity automatically added to the price of these drinks. Gratuities are already been included in the costs. There is a good wine list in the dining rooms, again - these wines are keenly priced.
Another pleasing aspect of the bar and beverage service is that the staff are not aggressive in their approach - unlike so many other cruise lines, where staff have targets to meet.
P & O Cruises suggest that a gratuity of £1.40 (USD$2.31) per day be given to your cabin steward and the sum of £1.50 (USD$2.59) per day to be shared between you waiter and assistant waiter- £2.90 (USD$4.90) a day in total - making the sum of £40.60 (USD$70.00) for a 14 night cruise. * Conversion rates approximate * Most passengers put the gratuity or tip into an envelope and give it to their steward and waiters on the last night of the cruise. Others are known to have skipped dinner on the last night so as not to have to give any gratuities, and these guests usually occupy the most expensive cabins or suits on ships). Yes it does happen and often.INTERNET ACCESS.
Internet access is available on the ship, when satellite reception is available, although it is not cheap. The basic time charge is £0.30p(USD$0.51) per minute with a one-time activation cost of £1.95 (USD$3.32). Packages can be purchased when can reduce these costs substantially.THE LITTLE EXTRAS.
Each guest on this cruise, received a Christmas card and an extremely up-market Christmas present, wrapped in Christmas paper and delivered to their cabin on Christmas Eve - a nice seasonal touch.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE.
The genuine friendliness of all the crew.
The entertainment on-board.
The spectacular, Christmas Day dinner menu.
The Boxing Day Yule Tide Buffet.
The Human touches - like the Officers Choir who treated us to Carols in the Atrium on Christmas Eve.
Being treated as if one of an 'extended family' - not as a guest or a passenger - but something more than that - the personalisation.
The sail-away party on New Years Eve from Antigua, when Oriana (another ship of the P&O fleet) was berthed next to us. - British tradition at its best).DISAPPOINTMENTS.
The standard and variety of fruits and breads available.
The scheduling of entertainment on board.
Entertainment provided on both Christmas Night (this was a repeat of Christmas Eves programme) and New Years Eve.
The decision, to transfer the Captains Gala Cocktail Party from the 1st sea day (Christmas night) to the penultimate sailing night. Also the Atrium, which is used for this party, lacks atmosphere for events of this nature.
The inconsiderate fellow passengers whose mobile phones ring during dinner or a show and they then proceed to carry out a full conversation with the caller. These devices of modern technology should be banned from cruise ships and not encouraged by installing systems to enhance reception qualities.SUMMARY
A good solid product, which caters for all - the Oceana would appear to be P&O's 'party ship' with a less formal and more relaxed atmosphere on board. On a cruise with P&O - there is something for everyone - No-one should be disappointed.
A bit more expensive, than some others in the same class, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
A few niggly complaints - (but that's me) - nothing so seriousness to spoil the overall enjoyment of the cruise.
Traditional British Cruising in a warm and extremely friendly environment.