Planning a refit?

P&O Cruises | Oriana

By Ian & Cathy Norris on 29 August 2017
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Let’s start with an obvious question; why do people go on cruises?

For most people, we would submit, the answer may be varied and complex – perhaps it’s the relaxed atmosphere, the good dining and never-ending supply of food, the rich array of entertainment and guest speakers, the expectation of meeting fellow cruisers (and the inevitable prospect of the ‘we’ve done more cruises than you have, and paid far less than you’ conversations) and the chance to visit both new and well-loved destinations. All of these factors, and perhaps others, will be considerations although we would contend that the last-mentioned of these, the destinations offered by the itinerary, will often be a priority.

With this in mind, and with apologies to the late Max Bygraves (a name probably not unknown to cruise passengers of a more mature age), ‘Let us tell you a story’ of a recent experience aboard the P&O ‘Oriana’, one of the more traditional and older vessels in the fleet.

This cruise, perhaps less exotic than most, took us from Southampton part-way around the British Isles and Orkneys before returning to Southampton by way of Ireland and the Channel Isles. Since we last travelled on ‘Oriana’, back in 2008, the ship underwent a refurbishment in late-2016; according to P & O this refit was necessary to improve the overall cruise experience for our guests and the company notes that guests can now enjoy new luxurious materials, soft furnishings and carpets, upgraded furniture, improved lighting, rich colour schemes and the ultimate in comfort and relaxation. On this cruise the ‘Oriana’, now a medium-small ship by 2017 standards, was unable to berth alongside at Portree on Skye or at St Peter Port, Guernsey, our last port-of-call before the return to Southampton. At Portree the tendering operation was slowed in the afternoon as one of the tenders had to be withdrawn from commission due to technical issues (direct quote from the Shore Excursions Manager) but, at Guernsey, the situation was more fraught. Arriving at the anchoring position (the early hours of 10 August 2017) between Guernsey and Sark, the Captain of ‘Oriana’ determined that, as the wind was gusting at around 30 knots and the sea was choppy, the tenders could not be used to convey passengers from the ship during the morning and the officers commenced a state of ‘watchful waiting’. Disappointing, of course, for all those who were hoping to go ashore on an otherwise sunny and warm day. However, despite very limited information being relayed to the passengers, the Captain appeared optimistic that conditions would improve by early afternoon and we could all then go ashore. Sadly, this did not happen and at 12.45 after several assessments by the Bridge’s senior officers of both sea and weather conditions, the decision was taken that unfortunately it was not safe to commence a tendering operation (Cruise log) and’ Oriana’ then moved away from its anchorage and progressed slowly towards Southampton. Most unsatisfactory, of course, for all those expecting a pleasant meander around Guernsey or a visit to the delightful smaller islands of Sark and Herm, but a Captain’s decisions regarding safety cannot be questioned or criticised.

However, there is a sting in the tail for this account. Following ‘Oriana’ as we sailed into the waters off Guernsey was the P & O ‘Venura’, a much larger ship, which came to anchor a short distance away from ‘Oriana’. Were the’ Ventura’’s passengers disappointed at not being tendered ashore to view the multitude of delights offered by Guernsey? Not at all; the’ Ventura’s tenders, undaunted by the conditions, proceeded to convey its passengers to and from the shore with little apparent difficulty – and in full view of our own beleaguered vessel! Much superior tenders, apparently.

So, the questions needs to be asked: when updating a cruise ship, what are the priorities and where is the money best spent? For the ‘Oriana’, it appears, decisions were made to upgrade the furniture and lighting and to change the colour schemes in both restaurants whilst no consideration was given to upgrading the tenders to ensure that passengers actually experience some of the destinations that the cruise is designed to deliver. Of course, this can may be considered a gross oversimplification but, at least for this cruise, many disappointed passengers were left with the conclusion: NICE CARPETS, SHAME ABOUT THE TENDERS.

By Ian & Cathy Norris on 29 August 2017

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