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Cruise Ship Review
Oriana
By
Mark Thomas


I have followed the progress of the Oriana from when she was 'project Gemini' in the late 80s through to sailing on her maiden voyage in 1995. We sailed with her again last year on an 18 night spin from Southampton to Yalta and back.

My feedback is based on an individual brought up on P&O cruises from a tender age (!) To date my experience outside of 'UK cruising' is limited to Crown Princess and Queen Elizabeth 2.

I am only a passenger - infact (sadly) my work is about as far removed from shipping as you can get. The first hand experience I refer to is that I was fortunate enough to be taken to areas of the ship normally off limits to passengers. All of my other information is from press releases, P&O updates that were mailed to passengers during the build, and discussions with the ships company whilst on cruises. I also have around 8 hours of video footage, 4 produced by P&O and pitched at passenger level. A further 4hrs is a detailed documentary regarding the design and build that was screened here in the UK. The latter contains some wonderful shots of her leaving the yard at Meyers for a 30 mile passage down the R Ems to the sea. Rail bridges and power lines were dismantled for her to pass!!

Certainly for a well informed passenger Oriana exceeded our expectations. Futhermore, albeit a generalisation, the same is true of the majority of passengers that we have met over the 32 days we have spent on board since her introduction to service.

The layout of the ship in terms of public rooms works well. It is a feature of Canberra that is a 'hangover' from her 2 class days. It is something that P&Os UK clients have got used to, and maybe therefore has become the preference. Greater variety may also be driven by the fact that the preference on this side of the pond is for longer cruises. I guess the average P&O Southampton departure is around 14 nights with several 18, 21 etc night voyages thrown in. Our favorite bar is Andersons. Intreresting that we are seeing a similar style of bar in subsequent new builds from Meyers for Celebrity Cruises.

Main lounge to Disco

The Pacific Lounge generally plays live music into the night. I understand that consideration is being given to installing a bar (in addition to steward service). This is one room that has not been a huge success. Personally I think that the long rows of 'booth' style seating is the cause. Does not make it easy to locate people when entering and it is an effort to get past others to reach the dance floor. I think that some changes will take place to closer replicate Canberra's Neptunes night club.

Harlequins is very popular into the small hours with DJ and disco.

Classical Concerts

These are held in the Curzon room. Very popular and packed out with the 'more mature' passengers. Meyers installed a whacky sound system with mics hidden in the crystal lights that will emulate the acoustics of a cathedral if required. Despite the seating being increased from the normal 140 for concerts my experience is you have to arrive early.

Library and Writing room

They are superb in appointment and yes we used them. Not sure how much reading gets done in those huge armchairs, looked more like sleeping to me!

Theatre

Again I think we have now seen subsequent Meyer builds follow a similar layout. Seating for 664, orchestra pit, no obstructions to sight lines etc. Must be quite a challenge to put such a large two deck high area with no supports into the ship. No drinks are served in this room.

 

Atrium

Big by our standards you know!!

Conservatory

I know from friends closely involved with the ship that they have been a little caught out by the popularity of this area. We thought that having two lines to each area (Salad and hot food) was a good plan - many of our fellow passengers seem to struggle to work it out. Sadly our fellow countrymen seemed determined to make a queue even if one is not needed!!!

Wait Staff

The dining room staff on Canberra, Oriana and Victoria are Indian mainly drawn from Goa. Menus are of course quite different from the Princess operation. A tradition that we enjoy is the curry dish that is always an option at lunch times.

Early Vibration Problems

Technically speaking, I am only aware of modifications to props. Her trials were extended and the ship was 8 days late arriving in Southampton as a result of attempts to fix a vibration problem. My understanding is that changes were made to the props and extra stiffening made to the structure aft particualarly in the Oriental restauarant. As someone who had looked forward to the maiden voyage for many years I was a little worried!

The British press did not let the vibration issue drop. The maiden sailed on 9 Apr 95 on schedule. Dear old Canberra sailed at 19:00 on 8 Apr and P&O moved Oriana from Eastern to Western docks at the same time. Witness a wonderful spectacle in Southampton water complimented by fire boats and huge traffic jams on adjacent roads!

Our dinner table was quite by chance about as far aft as you can get. Whilst the maiden did not involve speeds in excess of 22 Knots, vibration did not seem to be a problem. Those of us that constantly studied the in-cabin satellite navigation data (via cabin TV) did notice that we speeded up at night when everyone had gone to bed!!! The 'cat got out of the bag' when Oriana had to race away from an advancing storm in the Caribbean later that year. Clearly at higher speeds (that were not scheduled into her cruises at that time) the problem was significant. On her arrival back from the Christmas cruise in early '96 (4 Jan) she had her first break from same day tunrarounds since entering service. However, despite new props waiting at KGV dock the weather was such that she could not enter the dry dock and sailed on her world voyage on 8 Jan without further modification.

On her return (6 Apr 96) the props were changed. On the 8th she sailed on a 23 night cruise to the Caribbean. We sailed on the 14 May and 'word on the ship' was that things were better. Certainly we requested the same table and at 24 / 25 knots did not notice a problem. Personally, I think that the 'press hype' has suggested to many British passengers that you can push a 70,000 ton vessel through the water at these speeds with no sensation of movement at all. If that were possible I would be dissapointed as I like to know I am on a ship - not in a shore based hotel!!!

Something I have not been able to bottom out is her top speed. The Chief Engineer Officer was not comittal. However, I do know that we were making over 24 knots with all power including hotel services being provided by the main father & son engines with hotel power taken from the shaft alternators/motors. In that configuration the entire aux plant is shut down. My rough calculations (really rough) suggest that if the hotel services were switched to 2 of the aux plant and the other two were used to boost propulsion via the shaft alternator/motors we would have increased shp by around 20,000.

So nothing conclusive on this one. One source on board adivsed me that the root of the problem was that LIPS were unable to meet the exacting tolerances that Meyers had specified, but I may be just passing on idle chit chat here so be warned !

Schedules

I cannot recall seeing any schedules that take in N Africa and the Med. The former are usually part of an Atlantic Islands schedule. For example cruise 782 sailing 16 Aug takes in Praia da Rocha (Portugal), Casablanca, Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma, Madeira, Vigo - 13 nights in total. A similar 12 night cruise departing Southampton 1 Nov are the only two that will take Oriana to Morocco this year.

Oriana's only call to Egypt is on 25 Nov as part of a 16 night cruise. This pulls in at Port Said, the usual P&O calling point for Egypt, and heaven for ship enthusiasts. It is the closest I have ever been to a transit of Suez!!

New builds

Rumours abound. Around 12 months ago there was talk of a replacement for Victoria (Sea Princess/Kungsholm). At 28000 tons she is very popular but also expensive to operate with her advancing years. Certainly a build of this size would buck the current trends.

In the big ship stakes the last I heard was that an option for a near sister will not be taken up with Meyers. In my humble opinion, a great shame.

Oriana has set new trends in her technical specification (much of which I have been fortunate enough to witness first hand) and set her self apart as a ship for the U.K. capable of both short cruises and world voyages. The fact that so many of her fundamental features (eg 24 knot cruising speed) are now being replicated on other new builds (eg RCCL vision class) is in my opinion a measure of her success.


Mark Thomas lives in Chesire, England where he earns sufficient from a job in banking to cruise a little less often than he and his wife would like! Mark was introduced to cruising at the tender age of 11 and has never looked back. With the exception of one western Caribbean fly cruise, all of his cruising experience is UK based in the main with P&O. Mark can be reached for question or comment at: 100130.152@compuserve.com.


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