I am very grateful to one of my clients for sending me this wonderful review of the Oriana New Year Iberian Celebration cruise. It is a cruise I have done many times myself, but this year decided to give it a miss in favour of another cruise (so many cruises, so little time!) Neil has cruised many times before, but this was their first experience of cruising over the festive season and witnessing, first hand, the spectacular welcome that Funchal holds to celebrate a New Year.
I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did ………
Oriana X821 Iberian Celebrations… The New Year Cruise
Once again we (Neil, Ged, Mum and Debbie) are back on dry land after a fabulous cruise on Oriana to ring in the New Year. Most of this report will concentrate on Oriana and what she has to offer, I will only touch briefly on each port of call as we did very little at each destination, having visited all of the ports before, either on a cruise or as part of a package holiday.
Our holiday started on December 28th and for the first time we travelled to Southampton on the day we sailed. We have stayed overnight before to take the stress out of the journey, but we figured that with the 28th being a Sunday and being so close to Christmas, that the roads would be relatively quiet. The journey down went as we expected, with very little traffic and good driving conditions at the start of a very nice day.
We arrived at the car park at 11.15am and was directed to the drop off area. Our car was unloaded and taken away within 5 minutes and we took our place in the queue to check in. The desks opened at 11.30 and we were onboard Oriana by 11.55am.
The crew directed us to the Conservatory where lunch was served. After a small helping of what was on offer we set off to explore our new home. This was our first time on Oriana so we were quite excited about seeing the facilities for the first time. We braved the chilly open decks first taking a walk along deck 13 from the aft end forward, passing by the Crystal pool and the Riviera pool. All the way forward and up again to the viewing area above the Crows Nest from where we phoned a friend and gave her a wave on the webcam, here we also noticed a real Christmas tree bound to the mast overlooking the Riviera pool. Down and inside we popped our heads into the Crows Nest which was reserved for the afternoon for Gold Portunus members. This is where the first real similarity to Aurora was noted, just looking from the entrance we could see that this was very like Auroras Crows Nest. The Cyb@study and Medina room where adjacent to the Crows Nest. The Cyb@study is not a facility we use on holiday, but it appeared well equipped with several computers for pax to use to e-mail home.
Down to deck 12 and a look into the gym. We had just popped our heads in for a sneaky peek and we were greeted by this very nice young man who gave us a full tour of the gym and spa, giving us all the info we would need should we wish to use the facilities. The area was very well equipped and seemed very inviting though I have to admit that that was the first and last real view we got of the gym, I’d much rather yomp around the prom deck than use a tread mill in the confines of any gym. Next to the gym on the starboard side is Al Frescos, Oriana’s 24 hour snack bar which served everything from breakfast to hot dogs and salads to trifles, you could sit in here or take your food out to the poolside.
The two main pool areas seemed quite spacious with plenty of loungers and chairs for pax to utilise. The lack of a roof over the Crystal pool meant that the pools were almost unusable for the first few and the last few days of the cruise.
All the way aft now and out through the Conservatory to the tiered aft deck area of Oriana, again you could almost be on Aurora with these fabulous curved areas from where you could look out over the ships wake, the only real difference from Aurora was the positioning of the Terrace pool. On Aurora the pool lies lengthways and on Oriana is positioned across the breadth of deck 8.
Inside through the aft end of deck 8 and the first thing you see is the childrens and youths areas of the ship, Peter Pans, Decibels and Outer Space, we just popped our heads in here but all seemed well equipped with children already manning the computer games.
Now this is were you realise that it’s almost impossible to get lost on this ship as you are guided along the deck by a long corridor, on the port side, with most of the public rooms being off this walkway. The first room was Chaplins cinema with plenty of seats for watching the film or perhaps a lecture or port presentation. Further forward and we come to the library, the Thackeray room compete with grandfather clock for a peaceful read and Crichtons ther ships card room. The furniture in the library and Thackeray room is quite beautiful having been made by Lord Linleys company.
Forward again and we come to the delightful and understated atrium with a soft waterfall and a stunning glass ceiling reminiscent of Tiffany glass lamps. Here were Tiffanys coffee bar and the Curzon room, which is now of course the Gary Rhodes restaurant. We didn’t use the Rhodes restaurant during the cruise but we heard varying reports about the food some very good and some not so good but I suppose food is down to personal taste. I would have loved to have been in the Curzon room when it was used as a piano room in the past as it really was quite a lovely room, with lots of chandeliers and plush fittings.
Further forward of the atrium are pax cabins so we decended the atrium stairs to Deck 7. Moving forward and passing by Knightsbridge (one of the ships three main shops) and the tours desk we arrived at the Theatre Royal, again similarities with Aurora were abundant, even the carpet here was the same. The theatre has a good layout with good sightlines from most seats.
Moving back towards the aft of Oriana and crossing the atrium we find ourselves once again guided along the ship by another walkway along the port side, first stop Andersons bar smaller than Aurora’s version but fitted with limed oak, not mahogany, which is light and airy giving the bar a sense of space. Off the bar to the left is the Monte Carlo casino which can also be accessed from the atrium. Now here was the first disappointment of the day, the casino is tiny with very few slots and only three tables, one roulette and two for cards. This meant that in the evenings this casino got very crowded and very claustrophobic.
Further aft and back along the corridor we came to Harlequins, Oriana’s dance floor and nightclub, similar again to Carmens on Aurora, though not quite as big.
Next we come to Lords Tavern, the ships pub, full of cricketing and sports memorabilia and used extensively during the cruise for things like quizzes and karaoke nights and the odd football match, watched on several wide screen TV’s around the bar.
All the way aft on deck 7 there is the Pacific lounge, a pleasant room used for cabaret artistes and smaller productions from the onboard theatre company. The only time we used this lounge was for the Captains welcome aboard party and the Portunus party.
The ships two main restaurants are down on deck 6 with the Penninsular restaurant midships and the Oriental restaurant aft. Our restaurant was the Oriental which was decorated in dark wood with shades of claret, peach and pink, giving the room very warm and rich feeling. The lighting in here was stunning with each table having its own lamp and pillars along the walls topped with glass lights and lots of chandeliers hanging from a partly mirrored ceiling. I only briefly saw the Penninsular restaurant and from what I remember is similar in layout, again with table lamps and the décor being softer and lighter in shades of soft greens and peach with lighter wood accents.
The atrium on deck six contains another couple of shops one for clothing and souvenirs and the other a small shop for all the things you forgot to pack.
Down the stairs to deck 5 is the reception desk and the future cruise and Portunus desks. The reception I have to say was woefully undermanned at peak times and some simple requests seemed to take an age to be dealt with. It took one member of the staff 20 mins to give me a balance on my onboard account and he was the only person manning the desk at the time and was beginning to feel embarrassed with the queue building up quite quickly behind me.
Anyway back to the ship and her facilities, and the one thing I haven’t mentioned, the Christmas decorations. These I have to say were very nice indeed, everywhere you looked on the ship you were reminded that it was indeed still Christmas. The decorations ranged from garlands draped around the stairs of the atrium to wall hangings along the corridors and garlands draped over bars and from various ceilings. In the atrium they had festive sea horses attached to the stairwells and there were several Christmas trees of various sizes found all over the ship. Most of the decorations were adorned with twinkling lights which made for a great Christmas feeling during the hours of darkness.
The cabins were ready by 2.00pm so we went to check out the facilities. We had inside cabins on A deck and we were peasantly surprised how much room we had. I’d heard that the cabins felt smaller on Oriana than on Aurora but I did not find this to be the case. There was plenty of drawer space but the hanging space seemed limited with the rails going from front to back instead of along the length of the wardrobe. The bathroom was the usual cruise style affair but did have a small bath which was great to stand in for you shower as the water drained away into the bath and not escaped out of the shower curtain as we’ve found on other ships. There was the usual tea and coffee making facilities and there was the addition of the Nick Munroe flower vase and bon bon dish. Like Aurora we had a small sofa and coffee table too. The reading lights over the bed were in the wrong place, I cracked my head on it several times during the cruise.
Now to the cruise itself…
One of the biggest parts of any cruise is the food and I had heard differing reports about the food on recent cruises on Oriana. Well the food was just fine it was always hot, there was plenty of it and it was served very well by our waiters, Raimundo and Dileep. The variety was good and the choice each night was good. Having done several cruises you do notice that there are things that appear on all the menus on all the ships, but these are obviously tried and tested recipes which are obviously popular with the pax. The menu for New Years Eve had a Scottish flavour with the haggis being piped into the restaurant before service started, this set the atmosphere for what was to be a most memorable night.
The entertainment was as usual dotted around the ship in many forms. With a pianist or jazz band playing in the Crows Nest, and a dance band helping dancers trip the light fantastic in Harlequins. The theatre company, as usual worked very hard, putting on several good shows during the cruise. There was a good comedian called Andy Wilkins and a very good jazz/blues singer Elaine Delmar. One guy we missed was a vocalist by the name of Graham Powell who we heard was excellent. There was a variety illusion act Van Buren & Co, but I’m not into that type of cabaret so gave them a miss. The classical musician was a pianist called Robert Hunter, and the “headline” act was The Bachelors, mum and Debbie went to see them and said they were very good.
During the day the entertainment team put on a variety of activities with something for just about everybody. The cruise director was a guy called Gary Glading. He was the most visible C.D. we have had and very definitely the most talented, he played the piano very well and got involved in many of the activities that were on offer during the cruise, even dressing up as Austin Powers for 60’s/70’s night.
Another important part of any holiday is the weather and what fabulous weather we had. Of course it was very cold for the first day or two but the sea’s were very kind as we traversed the Bay of Biscay, only as we headed further south did the wind pick up and the sea start to swell. And then the ship rocked and rolled a bit, it was during this 36 hours that I noticed this corkscrewing of Oriana’s that I heard about. I don’t suffer from sickness so none of this was a problem. Mum and Debbie felt a bit nauseous before we reached madiera but I think that was more to do with the length of time we’d been pitching and rolling and not the intensity of the movement.
By the time we reached Madiera the air temperature was noticeably warmer and we went ashore wearing shorts and T-shirts.
Sailing south to Tenerife was a surreal experience, we sailed from Madiera at 12.40am on New Years day and had a full day at sea ahead of us, giving us time to recover from the frivolities of the night before. Oriana steamed south at a very sedate 9 knots over a sea which was flat calm and looked like blue/black glass, the sun shone and there was an eerie silence with no noise from the sea or the ships engines. Up on the forward observation deck Ged and I stood for a long time just taking in the vastness of the ocean and the idea that we felt like the only persons on the ship, the forward movement of the ship was almost unperceivable, you had to lean right over the side to see the very small bow wave to see that we were in fact moving. We spotted several sea turtles which appeared to be basking in the warm sunshine, until the ship drew closer when they would dive down out of sight.
The two days spent in Tenerife and Lanzarote were again quite warm and we only started to feel the chill again when we were sailing north again to Lisbon. Here the weather was like a spring day at home, with Vigo giving us the first hint that we were heading back to a chilly winter in England. At no time did we see any significant rain just a few spots on deck on the odd day.
The ports were all places we had visited many times before so we did very little sightseeing, mainly staying within the main shopping areas of each port.
Madeira was very heavily decked out for the Christmas and New Year festivities with a fantastic atmosphere in Funchal all in anticipation of the spectacular night to come.
Santa Cruz the port for Tenerife is your typical large city but does have quite a gem on the waterfront in the shape of an opera house which I think could easily rival Sydney’s opera house for sheer stunning architecture.
Arrecife, the capitol of Lanzarote has little to offer the tourist with very little historic architecture though we did spend a pleasant day wandering around the town and along the seafront. Lanzarote is definitely a place to do an organised excursion.
Lisbon is a fantastic city with many great buildings and some very distinct areas such as the Alfama and Barro districts, but again we’d been here before so just spent our day shopping and sampling the local cuisine and liquor.
Vigo has added a large new shopping mall on the port since our last visit but this was only partly open, and every other shop in the town was closed, with the exception of a few bars and restaurants, who probably anticipated our arrival, as the day we docked here was the public holiday of Epiphany, the festival of the Three Wise Men.
Now back to Madeira and New Years Eve, the very reason we were on this cruise. As I stated earlier, the atmosphere was brilliant with lots of buzz and excitement in the town of Funchal. There were people dressed in national costume and bands and street artists to entertain the masses, and masses there were with four cruise ships berthed in the harbour and a couple anchored off shore and of course all the hotel guests and locals, you could definitely say Funchal was busy. When we got back onboard ship for the evening, the sun was setting and all the lights of Funchal could be seen from the ship, and what a sight it was, with lights up on virtually every tree and lamp post and strung out across the streets all the way along the front and way up into the hills above the town. There was now an air of excitement and anticipation onboard as we all got dressed in our finery for a formal New Years Eve gala dinner, after which we relaxed with a couple of drinks before taking up our position high up on desk 13 to watch the fireworks. We were in position by 11.15pm and the next ¾’s of an hour flew past. By 11.45pm there was no place to be had anywhere the decks were packed and the atmosphere was electric. We were in the vicinity of the Riviera pool, so could here the DJ building us up to midnight and the start of the new year. The Captain then announced the end of 2008 and the chimes of Big Ben rang in 2009 and at that exact moment the firework display started on the island and the ships whistle blew and blew. Now this is where my description of the display cannot possibly convey what we actually witnessed. The fireworks lit up the whole of Funchal from one end of the town to the other and way up into the hills and all coordinated electronically to give us the most spectacular sight. You really didn’t know which way to look because is you looked to the right you were missing something on the left and vice versa and even out at sea there were barges with fireworks involved in this spectacle. On and on went this fantastic display, constantly changing colours and shapes, all making the event a very emotional one. The sound of the fireworks exploding could be felt in the pit of your stomach each explosion seeming louder than the last. Air bombs, screamers and whistling flares all built up in a crescendo of light sound and colour for about 20 mins until the finale when the whole island seemed to explode in an orgy of fire and stunning spectacle which seemed to be coming straight at the ship and went heavenward for hundreds, if not thousands of feet. The finale seemed to last for ever and then silence as the show ended and then every person on the ship cheered and clapped and tried to take in what we had all just witnessed. You can watch a thousand videos of the Funchal fireworks and you could talk to a thousand people who have seen this event and not one of them could prepare you for what it’s truly like. If you only ever do one more cruise then do this New Year cruise, the firework display and the party after is worth the fare alone.
After the fireworks there was a deck party and then we all went inside and turn Harlequins into the best party venue at sea as we danced and drank our way to 4.00am when Mum and Debbie retired and then continued to 5.30am when I retired with Ged leading up the rear by partying until they started serving breakfast at 7.00am. Truly a good night was had by all. All in all this has been one of the best cruise we have had and for many reasons.
So… there you have it, I think I’ve covered most things. Would I sail on Oriana again? Yes I would she’s a lovely ship with a lovely atmosphere. Just here and there she could do with a little T.L.C. but she is 14 years old and and things do start to look a little tired when used by so many pax for so long.
I do understand why some people consider Oriana a little claustrophobic especially if you are a fan of the bigger more open plan ships like Arcadia and Ventura. I would call her intimate and cosy with a very relaxed feeling to all her rooms with plenty of areas to snatch a quiet read, or, for some pax forty winks. She’s easy to navigate around and she’s got everything you would need on a cruise liner. If you’ve never sailed on her then give her a try I’m sure you wont be disappointed.
Fantastic read wasn’t it? Many thanks to Neil for allowing me to share that with you
Oriana is doing the same cruise for 2009/2010, if you would like to celebrate the new year in style call me now on 02476 742135