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Update: here’s a link to a YouTube video of Oriana’s arrival into what looks like a grey and windy Southampton this morning.

It’s time to take note of Oriana’s forthcoming departure from P&O. She’s currently on her last day at sea as a P&O ship – she’s due to dock in Southampton tomorrow morning (9 August) and disembark the passengers from her final cruise with P&O, after which she will be transferred to her new owners and will sail to China. I know that she’s a much-loved ship, and I’m sure that there will be a lot of emotion tomorrow. I’m pleased that her last cruise has been trouble-free (as far as I know) and has been a typical Oriana cruise –  a lengthy voyage into northern waters as far as Iceland, the far north of Norway, and the Lofoten islands.

It’s difficult to remember today just how exciting her arrival was in 1995. By that time P&O had owned Princess Cruises for several years, had taken over Sitmar Cruises in 1988, and had inherited several newly-built and on-order ships from them, but all of these had been passed to Princess. Even an earlier newbuild, Royal Princess (1984), had been passed to Princess Cruises (although she later came to P&O as the much-loved Artemis). Oriana was therefore the first new build for P&O cruises. Indeed, she really was the first newly-built ship for P&O as a cruise line – all previous ships had originally been built as liners and had been converted to cruising as the ocean line market vanished. So ships such as the original Arcadia from 1954, the original Oriana from 1960 and of course Canberra from 1961 sailed for a few years at least as cruise ships. By the early 90s only Canberra was left, and although much-loved, she was showing her age. Oriana was therefore designed and ordered to be almost a modern Canberra. Much attention was taken of what worked well on Canberra that could be transferred to the new ship. We hadn’t started cruising at that time, but I remember a lot of press coverage of her at the time – she was definitely presented as the pride of the British merchant fleet (along with some regret that she couldn’t have been built in a British yard).

In one interesting respect Oriana was actually a small step backwards, in technical terms. Canberra had possessed the then revolutionary electric propulsion system – that is, her engines (steam turbines) were coupled direct to generators which produced electricity, and the actual propulsion motors were electrically driven – there was no mechanical connection between the engines and propellers. In the case of Oriana, however, this was changed, and she possessed four large diesel engines which were mechanically coupled to her propulsion equipment. Other ships built in the same yard (Meyer Werft, Papenburg) at around the same time – e.g. the Celebrity Cruises ‘Century’ class – possessed the same configuration, and all these ships ended up suffering from vibration in the aft section of the ship when they were moving quickly. This was especially so at the back of the aft main dining room. Oriana was famous for this problem. I never experienced it on her, but I do remember a shaky evening on Galaxy, one of the Century class, when we were hustling across the eastern Mediterranean in order to bag a berth at Mykonos the following day.

At the time Oriana, with a tonnage of just under 70,000, was regarded as a large ship. She was in fact just about the same tonnage as the QE2, and was regarded by some as having surpassed the Cunard ship. Later, of course, when both Cunard and P&O were both under the Carnival umbrella, any such competition was dialled-back. In any case, within a few years there were many other ships that were bigger, including a number owned by P&O – the Sun Princess class of the mid-90s (of which Oceana is one) had a tonnage of around 77,000, and the first ships of the slightly later Grand Princess class breached both the 100,000 tonnage barrier, and the panamax beam dimension. P&O invested in larger ships as appropriate, including ships from both those classes, but retained Oriana. Over time she came to be grand lady of the fleet, representing P&O’s tradition, and her passengers responded. Policies such as dress codes were the same on all ships, but they seem to be better observed on Oriana (and on Aurora, to be fair). Originally designed as a family ship and therefore possessing children’s facilities, she was remodelled during a refit in 2011 and returned to the fleet as an ‘Adults only’ ship. (At the time the term used was the slight-blunter ‘child free’!) Over time other changes have been made – additional, speciality restaurants have made their appearance, for example. One favourite feature was never changed, and that was her forward-facing Crow’s Nest, and neither did her wide, wrap-around promenade.

We don’t know for certain why P&O have decided to get rid of her, but I can make guesses. I would assume that, even with refits, she’s not as economical to run as other ships. For one thing she’s a bit small for true economies of scale to apply, and for another, that mechanical configuration can’t be as efficient as the more typical electrical transmission and propulsion. For another, in recent years she has suffered from various mechanical breakdowns, and I would assume that these must have been ever more expensive to repair, given that the equipment was so unusual. Finally, there was the unavoidable fact that she had very few balcony cabins – just one deck thereof, in fact, and that deck was home to the higher-priced cabins such as suites and mini-suites. The designers of the slightly-later Aurora and the Sun Princess class, at about the same size as Oriana, found a way of providing three decks of balcony cabins by extending the superstructure outwards by about 5 feet above a certain level on the hull, and this space was used to provide balcony space. Oriana never had this feature, and I suppose it was too expensive to consider retro-fitting it. My assumption is that this began to adversely affect her popularity.

We cruised on Oriana twice. Both were just short cruises, three or four nights as I recall. One was in 2012, and was one of the Grand Event cruises – indeed, it was the shortest and therefore cheapest cruise departing that day. We certainly enjoyed both of these cruises, but I also remember thinking that our cabin (a standard Outside cabin) was not very big and that there was not a lot of storage space. I’m not sure I would have wanted to cruise on her for much longer than the time we actually did. Here are the links to my summary pages for the posts I did from them: the earlier cruise here, and the Grand Event cruise here.

Tomorrow sees her last activity as a P&O ship, after which she will sail to China and a new career as a casino ship.

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…it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf programme this winter season

As I’m pretty sure most people already know, P&O have cancelled this winter’s programme of cruises around the Arabian Gulf on Oceana. This is a result of the continuing tension over the seizure of ships in the Gulf and around the strait of Hormuz, and P&O have said the following: “The increased tension in the region highlighted by the attacks on tankers in the Straits in recent months and the detention of a British-flagged tanker by the Iranian authorities means as a British company flying the Red Ensign it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf programme this winter season.

Passengers already booked on cruises on Oceana in the Arabian Gulf this winter will be given a full refund, and these are being processed now. A fresh programme of cruises on Oceana is being arranged at short notice, although details of them are limited at the moment; however, there has been a mention of a “pre-Christmas 35-night cruise to the Caribbean”. It also looks as if the revised programme will feature sailings from Southampton to the Iberian peninsula, and to the Canary Islands. There is also a mention of a 10% reduction in the price of a 2019/20 fly-cruises to the Caribbean (on Azura and Britannia) or an Arabian Gulf cruise on Oceana in winter 2020/2021 – at the moment, that programme is still planned to go ahead. (However, a booking on these cruises must be made by 31 September to attract the 10% saving.) It’s also suggested that Arcadia’s call at Dubai in March 2020, towards the end of her World cruise, will still take place.

P&O are not paying compensation for the cancellation – their view is that paragraphs 40 and 41 of their booking conditions removes their liability for compensation if the change to the package (in this case, the cancellation) is as a result of “force majeure” (paragraph 41).

I think we have to agree that P&O’s decision is the right one in the circumstances. I don’t really believe that the Iranian navy would in fact seize or attack a British-flagged cruise ship, but there is always a possibility, and at the present time P&O are certainly aware of the risks. We also don’t know the substance of the advice that P&O have received from the defence and security services. Of course, Sod’s Law demands that given that the cruises have now been cancelled, the tensions in the Gulf will evaporate and by mid-October, the date of the first planned cruise in the Gulf, the situation will be back to normal. P&O are probably in a no-win situation here, but cancelling the cruises is the safest choice.

Regular readers will know that I did a Gulf cruise on Oceana on my own earlier this year. Here’s a link to my summary page for that cruise, and that page contains further links into the detailed posts.

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A long time ago I did a detailed post about the different sizes of the balconies on Ventura and Azura. it’s still one of my most popular posts – every day, between 10% and 20% of the page hits I get is for that one post. Here’s a link to it.

Here’s an additional post that includes an image file that explains how the balconies along the sides of these ships can differ so much. It’s taken from an accident investigation report into a fire on board the Star Princess in March 2006 – the report (by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB) was published in October that year. It included the attached graphic (the text in red has been added for the purposes of this post). Star Princess was the third of the original three ships in the Grand Princess class (Grand Princess & Golden Princess being the other, slightly earlier, two). There are differences between Star Princess and Ventura/Azura, among which were the huge ‘shopping trolley handle’ across the stern of the ship at deck 15 or 16 level, and also the fact that the early ships had one deck less – they had no Riviera deck, So A deck came immediately underneath the Lido deck deck, as shown in the attached image.

The image shows that the cabins on A, B & C deck are directly below each other – that is, cabins on B deck are directly below those on A deck, and cabins on C deck are directly below those on B deck. The balconies on A & B decks – and also on Riviera deck on Azura & Ventura – are made of aluminium and are, in layman’s terms, ‘bolted on’ to the outside of the cabins. (I’m sure they’re attached more firmly than that, but you get the picture.) Certainly there’s just fresh air beneath these balconies. The balcony structure on C deck is different, however. It’s not a bolt-on; it’s actually the roof of the larger Deluxe Balcony cabin on D deck, the deck below. Because these cabins are larger they ‘stick out’ further, so the C deck cabins on the deck above can make use of the D deck cabin extension for a larger balcony.

And indeed they are – the depth of a C deck balcony is 2.95m instead of 1.5m for A & B decks, so effectively double the depth. The cabins are the same, of course – balcony cabins on both B & C decks are graded HA (mid-ships), HB (either side of that), HD (aft) and HE (forward). P&O have clearly taken the policy of not charging extra for the extra balcony space or of classifying the C deck cabins into a higher grade.

Finally, I actually have a feeling that the diagram is wrong for D deck balconies! – I believe that these balconies are in fact 2m in depth, therefore somewhere between the depth of A & B decks and C deck.

Finally, here’s my well-known picture of Val, my wife, enjoying the space on a C deck balcony on Ventura!

Val enjoying a C-deck balcony (actually on Ventura)

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Cruise Insurance

There are often questions as to whether or not ‘normal’ travel insurance covers you when you’re on a cruise, and whether that gives cover for extras. Obviously each different insurance policy can be different; but  I’ve just been able to check my Staysure Annual Multi-trip Comprehensive policy wording, and this is what I’ve found:

a) when taking out the policy you have to include cruise cover, and this has to appear on the Validation document, if you’re going on a cruise. If you don’t do this they explicitly say (in the general policy introductory section) that “Cruise trips are not covered under this policy unless you have selected this option and paid the additional premium… ‘Cruise: Covered’ must appear on your Validation certificate”;

b) However, although this does cost a bit extra, it just extends the normal cover to when you’re on a cruise. The reason for requiring the extra payment to extend the policy to include cruises is that the potential costs to the insurance company in the event of a claim can be very high. For example, if you’re taken ill on a cruise while at sea, and the medical centre thinks you need to be evacuated, then that’s a helicopter job plus perhaps also requiring the ship to divert to meet the helicopter, and that’s really, really high cost. Hence the requirement for an extra payment;

c) in addition there’s the voluntary “Cruise Plus” add-on – this will cover you for missed ports, cabin confinement, etc. This is another extra cost, of course.

Our choice is to add the basic cruise cover (obviously) but to not bother with the Cruise Plus add-on.


I’ve heard some more about the tendering problems at Monaco on Sunday. (Just to recap, tendering had to be stopped during the afternoon due to a high swell, which was causing great difficulties at Ventura’s platform.)

  • I’ve heard that the weather changed very quickly and dramatically in the middle of the day. I’ve seen a comment that when Ventura anchored the sea was as ‘flat as a mill pond’;
  • when tendering was stopped, there were still between 1300 and 1700 passengers ashore in Monaco. P&O made great efforts to get transport for them, so that they could be taken round to Villefranche where tendering would resume;
  • but some people made their own way there, either by train or public bus;
  • and passenger recovery at Villefranche went on into the evening.

If I learn anything else about this event I’ll post another update.

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Monaco harbour and Ventura, 2013

Something I read about on the P&O Facebook group was that there were significant tendering problems at Monaco on Sunday. This was during Ventura’s call there as a part of cruise N914. Monaco is almost always a tender port, certainly for the larger ships, and it’s not unusual for calls there to be diverted or cancelled because of the sea conditions.

Apparently the problems, which were caused by the swell, only arose later in the day when it came to take passengers back to the ship. It was of course the off-loading at the ship that caused the problems: whereas a large swell doesn’t really affect the ship, having a tender bobbing up and down a couple of metres (or more) inevitably slows down the rate at which passengers can be brought safely back onto the platform. So apparently passengers were spending long periods in the tender waiting to unload, and during unloading. A lot of passengers were quite frightened – the tenders were banging against the hull, it was difficult to get off them, and they were so rocky and bouncy that a number of passengers were ill. All in all, it seems to have been a bad experience.

I understand that in the end it got so bad that tendering from Monaco was stopped and the remaining passengers still ashore were bussed round the coast to Villefranche. Villefranche is generally regarded as being more sheltered – there’s a long bay with deep water (the US 6th Fleet use it as a safe anchorage). Ventura sailed round and the passengers were tendered back from there. However, I don’t know how long it all took – I read a report that passengers were still being tendered aboard at 8:30 pm.

Looking at Marine Traffic I see that Ventura made it to Ajaccio (generally a docking port) yesterday (Monday) and is in Barcelona (always a docking port) today.

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I’ve dug up some further information about the recent accident in Venice, and also some suggestions as to why nothing has happened about this issue over the last two years.

First, it does now appear that the ship, MSC Opera, suffered some failure of the engine management system as a result of which it was not possible to control the engines. Unfortunately at the time the engines were stuck in the ‘On’ position, or became stuck in it, and this resulted in the crash. There is also a report about the actions that were taken by the ship and the tugs. There’s a suggestions that two anchors were lowered, though it’s not clear if these were on the Opera or on a tug or tugs. Finally, there’s confirmation that in trying to slow or stop the Opera, the tugs put so much so pressure on a line to the ship that it broke.

Now onto the politics. As I said in an earlier post, there is a proposal to have cruise ships approach the city along the shore of the mainland towards the industrial port of Maghera, then divert eastwards straight to the existing cruise terminal. In order to achieve this a new deep water passage would need to be dredged in the Vittorio Emanuelle III channel, which is the stretch of water running broadly north to south between the mainland and historic Venice. So far no progress has been made on this work, and there’s a report that this may be due to political disagreements. Italy’s government is a coalition between different parties. A deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini (of the League party) blamed the Five Star Movement for rejecting the plan. For its part, the Five Star Movement, which is part of the governing coalition along with the League party, responded that it had not received any proposals to consider. This one will clearly run and run…..

Next, the protests. Some thousands of people demonstrated against the cruise ships over the weekend. This is nothing new in and of itself, but of course on this occasion there was a cause for the demonstration – the crash on 2 June. The demonstrations will not in themselves achieve anything; indeed, my personal feeling is that part of the reason for the hostility to the cruise ships is the feeling of powerlessness on the part of ordinary Venetians. I gather that ‘Venice’ is simply part of a larger municipality, most of which is based on the mainland and therefore Venice’s concerns can (and do) get lost when being considered by that authority; and additionally the cruise port is part of another authority which doesn’t answer to the municipality anyway! No wonder that people are protesting; and the cruise ships are the obvious target. Continue Reading »

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Following the collision between MSC Opera and a river vessel on 2 June, MSC Opera has remained docked in Venice at the Venice cruise terminal. During this time unspecified repairs have been performed on MSC Opera. MSC have published an update on their website as follows:-

“Following the recent incident in the Port of Venice on Sunday June 2nd, MSC Opera was required to undergo some repair works. While these works were already completed on Monday, the ship is currently still awaiting the completion of the investigation conducted by the authorities.”

As these procedures are taking a few days longer than originally expected, and we now know that the ship will not be able to depart in time for its next sailing, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision to cancel the upcoming cruise sailing from Bari on June 8th and from Venice on June 9th.”

My interpretation of the ‘completion of investigation’ point is that this is an investigation into the events of 2 June, and not a check of the repair work.

It’s worth also reporting MSC’s compensation arrangements. All passengers on both the cancelled cruises (June 1st/2nd, and June 8th/9th) will receive:

  • a full refund of their cruise fare and any pre-booked services;
  • a refund of “incurred travel expenses”;
  • a 50% discount on a future cruise to be taken before the end of 2020.

In addition, passengers on the earlier cruise could stay on board in Venice until their scheduled disembarkation date. During the “cruise”, all the ship’s facilities remained available, and all drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – were complimentary. Free shuttles between the ship and St Mark’s Square, the Lido, Murano and Burano were made available. Finally, passengers who preferred to leave the cruise early were offered MSC’s support to “identify a convenient return flight or other homebound transportation as applicable”.

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O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I’ve been viewing some YouTube videos by a couple who post there as ‘Sean & Steff’. They are keen cruisers and they’re American – I think they live in Florida, so very handy for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, etc. This spring they did a couple of cruises with P&O: Ventura to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge and Guernsey, and Azura to the fjords. They did a number of posts for the Ventura cruise and those for the Azura cruise are starting to appear now.

Their take on the ships and the cruises is from an American point of view, and of course it’s always interesting to get a different perspective on something that we are so familiar with. I was almost nervous when I started watching. But….

They loved it!

They specifically enjoyed and complimented:

  • the embarkation process!
  • the food!! (even in the MDR!!)
  • …let alone the food in the speciality restaurants, e.g. Sindhu and the evening buffet!!!
  • and they complimented the muster drill procedure – the first time they’ve ever actually put on life jackets!

Here’s a link to their YouTube Channel home page. It’s well worth a visit.


The US Government this week announced new restrictions on travel from the US to Cuba, including by cruise ship.

Actually, I gather that travel to Cuba from the US has been generally banned anyway, but there were a couple of ways round the ban that were tolerated by the US government – these easements were introduced during President Obama’s administration. The first was something called “group people-to-people educational” travel, while the other was to allow cruise ships departing from US ports to call at Cuban ports. (You’ll all remember that Carnival Corp set up a new line, fathom, to do this and pinched – er, transferred – Adonia from P&O for that purpose.) Now the current US administration has reversed that easement and as from this week travel to Cuba from the US has once again become very difficult. The reason given in the announcement by the US Treasury Secretary is because Cuba has continued “to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”

Cruise lines are understandably in some confusion over this. Royal Caribbean, for example, is saying on its website that they are “analyzing the details to understand the impact to future sailings”. However, they have already cancelled the calls at Cuba for sailings from ports in Florida today (5 June) and tomorrow. It’s also unclear what effect the new US policy will have on calls at Cuba by cruise lines not based in the US, e.g. Fred. Olsen who do have some cruises that include Cuba.

I’ll keep watching this one. In the meantime, here’s a link to a CNN webpage that carries the story.

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