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I'm still with Cunard on this one!
Member Name: bkecky
Advantages: Easy to navigate, reasonably priced, roundtrips to southampton
Disadvantages: Less formal, crew don't really go out their way, nice cabins
Now bear in mind when you read this review that I am a quite hard to please being a hard-core Cunard and some of you may have read my Cunard review. I am not so experienced with P&O but have been on the Oriana three times and the Oceana once so I feel I can give a reasonable opinion on the cruise line. I went on a Mediterranean cruise on the Oceana and then a northern Europe, Mediterranean and British Isles and France cruise on the Oriana.
I cruise with my grandparents generally and two of these cruises were with them and then the other two were on a group trip with our travel agent who invited the regular cruisers to join them for their yearly trip. So the two experiences did differ, which I will go into later.
P&O are of the same group as Cunard but are more targeted at families with the exception of a couple of adult-only ships. There is certainly a place in the market for P&O as it is still predominantly a British clientele with cruises doing roundtrips to Southampton but it is slightly less expensive that Cunard as well. The ships are a little more Carnival-ish (i.e. Americanised) and to me they don't have as much character but as I said you must excuse the snobbery from me! Everything is lots of lights and glass and it is quite pleasant with the open atriums when you enter the ship. There is at least a lot of light coming into the interiors.
The two ships I went on both had far more children on board than we would have hoped. Admittedly three of the cruises were during school holiday time and then the other wasn't but still even on this cruise there were a lot of children. Yet I found that there were few people my age. There seemed to be a lot between the 4-14 age bracket but then it jumped to newly weds, parents and old people. So I felt a little lonely. I did meet a 15 year old who did karaoke with me and I did hang around with him on karaoke nights until one night he said why don't we go and sit with my friends because they have come to hear me sing. I did so only to find that his oldest "friends" were 10, 12,13 and 14 and the others were below the age of 8. I was sitting with the kid's club...This rather made me look like the babysitter on board and actually I was old enough to be the mother of some of those children! Slightly embarrassing, even more so when I heard remarks from the kids club about my karaoke buddy being my new boyfriend. I found myself trying to escape the kids club for the rest of the cruise...Not P&O's fault of course but just to let you know the age range!
So we had a suite, which was very modern and large. It had a sectioned double bed, whirlpool bath, a double sofa bed for me in the sitting area, a table, two TVs, mini bar and balcony. It was very cream and modern with a light woody furnishings (I say "woody" as I am not quite sure if it was wood due to recent restrictions on ships). It really was a lovely cabin and it also had two dressing tables and a desk so it was never an issue with three of us being in the cabin getting ready for dinner together.
On the restaurant seatings are in two sittings and in two restaurants. We have dined in both and I have to say they pale in comparison to Cunard. The ceilings are very low and it is all a bit plastic-ish in decor. The food was of course nice and probably what I would expect but once again not to Cunard standards. However there was an excellent 24 hour food place that had a salad bar, served jacket potatoes, toasties, pasta, pizza, desserts and fresh fruit and this was really useful because we had access all day so it didn't really matter what time you boarded the ship or if you weren't hungry because there would always be that option. The self-service buffet breakfast was also great and the 24 hour room service. The only criticism I had with the room service was that on the last night before disembarking I asked for some cheese and ham sandwiches and I was informed that the menu was off and salmon was the only option. With one of us being vegetarian and the other not liking fish we asked for an alternative stating our reasons. Only salmon. I asked if they meant to tell me that there was no cheese or egg on board. No there are none on board until Southampton. Now I knew this to be a load of rubbish because there were eggs in the morning. We were even refused toast! It was a case of OK we have had your money and your tips so now we don't need to bother with you. It really was such a disappointment and to not have a vegetarian option was ridiculous! However the morning breakfast was superb and they left it open later than on most cruiselines so we felt a lot better about disembarking.
The crew were generally very helpful and did their job but didn't really go beyond that. I can't say that I warmed to any particular crew member and the entertainment staff were rarely seen. The activities were standard of cruise ships with bingo, dance classes, quizzes, karaoke, deck sports etc. One night there was a problem with the karaoke but they managed to fix it. There were also no dance hosts, which was disappointing for me as I didn't have a ballroom dance partner. This put me off going to the ballroom activities on the Oceana. All ships have a nightclub and i have to say that Hemisphere's wasn't too bad on the Oriana. One cruise it was raving until the early hours but then on another cruise it was pretty much empty. A bit hit and miss depending on the cruise crowd I think. There were other bars to choose from but this was probably my favourite as it had more atmosphere.
The smoking policy on board was probably the worst for me because there was one bar at the top of the ship where you could smoke, which was miles away from the restaurant so consequently I had to go outside, which on the way around the British Isles was not fun. Especially in formal wear. I had a rather embarrassing mishap when I went to go outside on deck to the smoking part and the wind was blowing terribly. So I managed to push the door open and get through just before it slammed down behind me. It was formal night and I was wearing a strapless sequin dress (i.e. with nothing underneath!) and as the door slammed behind me my dress got stuck in the door so as I walked forward my dress got pulled down to my waist. All in full view of the restaurant smokers. At least I made a name for myself that cruise!
Overall P&O are basically a cheaper British option. The old ships are nothing compared to the glitzy Carnival ships but that may all change with the new ones coming in. Prices are reasonable and the entertainment is reasonable. But sorry I'm still with Cunard on this one! However as a second choice of cruise line this would be it.
Summary: Get what you pay for I suppose