There are many fantastic ways to travel and this weekend for my third anniversary with my partner we decided to take a mini-break and our chosen method of transportation was a cruise on board P&O’s Oceana. Oceana is described as a family-friendly, mid-sized ship and has a great choice of cabins to choose from. The price we paid included two nights full board on the ship with £60 onboard credit and a balcony cabin. Whilst I was trying to research the Oceana as well as get an overview of the trip and what to expect I didn’t find a review that answered all of my questions so I am going to go into as much information as I possibly can from booking through to disembarkation, therefore, this may be a little on the long side, forgive me for that!
You can book your cruise very simply on the P&O website or find a travel agent. We have booked a future cruise with Thomas Cook next August so I understand they offer a booking process with P&O. Booking online is incredibly simple process and very easy to follow. When booking a cruise with P&O you have a few options to think about, the first being which cabin you would like. You can have an inside, outside, balcony or various types of suites on most cruises and each come with a different price tag. As this was a fairly last minute booking we had the choice of a balcony or suite so we went with the former and were very happy with the price paid. The next option to look into is the flexible or select price, both come with unique options however I believe the select price is better value for money as it enables you to choose a perk from onboard spending money, car parking or coach transfer. In many cases you can also choose your cabin location which again can have incur a change in price. You then simply enter in all of your details and choose your preferred method of payment.
One little gem to really help personalise your holiday is the cruise personaliser which is available around 24-48 hours after booking. This system is easy to use and log on to and gives you the chance to view and book excursions, dinner reservations, little treats and luxuries such as flowers, chocolates and champagne in your room as well as view the full itinerary. It is here that you can input your passport and insurance information as well as print off e-tickets and luggage labels. We also received an information pack in the post around a week before we travelled which included more luggage labels.
What to Pack & Luggage Allowance
You will need black tie formal dress as well as smart casual clothes for every evening and comfortable layers during the day. I would advise keeping suits in a suit bag to prevent creasing although there is an onboard laundrette we didn’t find the iron particularly brilliant as it didn’t seem to get hot and leaked a lot of water. Having to have a lot of extra clothes can really impact on the 20kg per case allowance, especially if you are travelling for a longer period of time. However, you can take as many cases on board as you like as they are not stored anywhere, just taken to your room for you. Small cases can pass as hand luggage and can also be taken on board. I think it’s very handy to not have huge restrictions on luggage as you really do need to have a wardrobe of choices.
Check In and Embarking
We had to check in at Dock 10, Mayflower Terminal for 2pm as presented on our e-tickets. Once we arrived we gave our luggage to the baggage handlers and headed inside the terminal which has a bar for hot and alcoholic drinks as well as clean toilets and plenty of seating space. You are handed a card with a letter which when called allows you to join the line for check in. At check in you will have your photograph taken and boarding pass handed to you which you will need every time you want to place an order for drink, extra food or other purchases onboard as well as when you enter or leave the ship at any port. I found this to be a really smooth process and we were checked in and through security and onto the ship within around 40 minutes of arriving at the terminal.
You enter Oceana at Deck 5 where the Atrium is located. It is an absolutely stunning place to enter and provides you with many ‘oh’ and ‘ahh’ moments. Photographers were on hand for embarkation portraits as well as information being handed out from the Oasis Spa team. I thought walking into the Atrium was breathtaking with a stunning water feature, palm trees and arrangements of Lillies around the stairways and base of the two glass elevators that went up to Deck 8. We went ahead to find our cabin which was very smooth going and easy to find. We were impressed by the amount of storage and cleanliness of the cabin and enjoyed a little sit down on our balcony looking out at Southampton before unpacking and heading off to explore the rest of the ship.
- Floodlights Theatre
- Spotlights Stage
- Sports Pub
- Champagne Bar
- Costa Coffee
- Pool Bar
- Swimming Pool
- Sun Deck
As I mentioned above we had a balcony cabin to enjoy which was lovely, spacious and had plenty of storage. The only thing I didn’t like, and this is just personal due to sensitive skin, is I really don’t like the feeling of ‘crisp linen’ which I know a lot of people love. It was clean, comfortable but my skin, particularly elbows and knees can’t cope with linen so I had to wear long pj’s which got quite hot at night. Luckily the air-con was fully functional so I was able to keep cool. In the room was a desk and stool, TV and cabinet, a side table and on the balcony was two chairs and a small table. Included in the cabin was a kettle, hair dryer, TV, various tea and coffee and a clean shower room with shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and soap. Everything you would expect in a hotel room and a bowl of mints too. Also included in the cabin was a phone which can be used to call friends and family as well as other cabins on the shop and all other contacts from booking dinner reservations to room service. Each day you are given the Horizon which is the ship newspaper. This includes a day timetable of all activities, information about music, shows and films that may be on throughout the day as well as the shops, bars and restaurant opening hours. Room service was available 24 hours a day and usually with you within 30 minutes although the menu was very limited and our food wasn’t particularly hot when received however it didn’t really have that much of a negative impact on our trip. I was impressed by the cabin as it was bright, clean and despite the linen the beds were really comfortable with each bed having two pillows which seems to be rare or something to ask for in most hotels. The bathroom amenities were really lovely too, although, I have to say we didn’t get much use out of the included shower cap. Speaking of showers, it was relatively powerful and the temperature was easy to adjust to something comfortable. I wasn’t too impressed with the hairdryer but it did it’s job so I can’t complain too much. The Horizon newsletter was incredibly helpful as it included information on the dress code that evening and a little bit of info on the shows that were available that evening. On the last night before disembarkation, you are
provided with information on where you need to go and what to do with luggage.
In the cabin information pack you will find a ‘wake me up with’ leaflet which I thought was a really nice touch. You could simply select a time and the foods you wanted which included fruit juices, fresh fruit, continental meats and pastries. We decided on a small selection to wake us up with including fresh coffee, orange juice and some fresh figs which came around 7am and made us get up ready for the day in port. It was nicely presented and tasted lovely.
The staff in the Ligurian restaurant were fantastic, polite, welcoming and attentive and when in the bars or lounges waiter service was efficient but no one was very personal which was a shame however perhaps this is down to the short length of the cruise there wasn’t really time to get to know the people who are there to assist you and, therefore, didn’t really make me feel the tip we decided to keep on the account was worth paying. Tipping is automatically added at the end of the cruise at £5 per person per day and this is the rule for all P&O ships. This can be altered by speaking to reception or removed altogether and tips offered to individuals if you prefer.
The food was fantastic especially on our first night which just so happened to be the black tie evening. Black tie evenings include a six-course Gala dinner menu. Depending on whether you have club or freedom dining you simply head to the restaurant at your time and give your details to be seated. The chairs were pulled out for me, napkins were placed and a waiter was quickly over with water and a choice of white or brown bread rolls. On the table there is butter and houmous available to use for your bread which made for a nice choice. We then placed our drink orders from the wine list which featured a great range of reds, rose and whites and all priced by the glass in pounds. You find this all over the ship actually so it makes keeping up with your account really easy rather than converting money over from dollars or euros. The drinks are very fairly priced in my opinion, and often similar to what you would expect to pay in a restaurant, bar or pub here. We both had a small glass of red wine each and with the provided water it was more than enough for the entire meal. You could also mix and match between the set menu and the choices menu which was fantastic as it gave you a chance to try something new. I started my meal with a mushroom and shallot risotto with red wine sauce which was really tasty and seasoned beautifully whilst Adam went for a trio of fish which was very well presented. We both followed with Asparagus soup, champagne sorbet and a medium-rare beef wellington which was so tender and mouthwateringly good. The only disappointment was the knives weren’t particularly sharp which made it a bit difficult to cut food. We asked for steak knives which were a little better but still it is hard to look delicate when you are literally trying
to saw through a piece of cauliflower. I am surprised I didn’t come out with sauce all over me. However, this didn’t impact on the presentation or the taste of food, it was just fantastic.
Breakfast on Sunday was spent in the buffet restaurant which was nice and had a great choice of both hot and cold foods. The only thing I would have liked to see is identification on what some of the pastries were so I could decide what to have rather than guessing as I picked up something I didn’t particularly enjoy at the table. There were plenty of juices, coffee and around nine different flavours of tea to choose from. After our excursion, we had lunch in Cafe Jardin which is situated at the very top of the Atrium and in the evening becomes one of the select dining venues which require a cover charge. However, lunch is free and includes a small light bites menu and salad and dessert buffet. There were plenty of sandwiches available as well as some interesting lunch alternatives. I had the goats cheese and hazelnut tart with a side of salad and Creme Fraiche salsa whilst Adam had a sirloin steak baguette. We also took advantage of the buffet salads although didn’t get to try a dessert as we fancied afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea was probably the biggest disappointment. It’s only 45 minutes and very rushed
because it’s quite close to dinner time and they need to get the tables ready for dinner. There was a selection of cakes of which I tried a lemon drizzle cake however they were taken away very quickly so we didn’t really get a chance to look at any others let alone try one. Tea was poured as soon as we sat down which was nice but we didn’t get to choose which type of tea to drink, which I thought was the whole point. We were offered a choice of three sandwiches which were chicken, cheese and pickle or houmous and then a scone, crumpet or tea cake. Despite having many afternoon tea’s before I wasn’t trying to compare but this was rushed in a bad way and made uncomfortable like we were inconveniencing the staff. Because of this I don’t really understand why it was offered and thought perhaps it would be easier if it were a little earlier to stop such a rush between tea and dinner. Either way it was something to experience and hopefully we will get to experience it in a more pleasant environment onboard Azura in August next year. You can read more about my favourite afternoon tea and some very nice tea rooms I visited recently. The room service menu was also a little disappointing and limited as sometimes the food arrived cold. Some of the nicer options were unavailable on the ship as well which seemed a shame but then room service is only supposed to provide snacks.
On our last morning, we decided to have breakfast in the Ligurian which had a small continental and hot breakfast menu. Each day hosted a special and on Monday it was eggs benedict which was really tasty. I had this with a nice, hot cup fo English breakfast tea and the smoothie of the day which was delicious. Breakfast was served hot and promptly with polite service.
Once in port you can then go ahead to your excursion meeting point at the given time. We went with A Taste of Bruges which was fantastic and we managed to get the last two spots. You may need your passport when going ashore and this will be detailed in the Horizon newsletter. You will also need your cruise card to be scanned when leaving and coming back. When you do come back onboard all your bags will be scanned through security to make sure you haven’t purchased anything illegal.
Leaving the Ship
Following the instructions on the newsletter in the evening, we decided to take all our luggage down the gangway rather than placing it in the hold which meant we left the terminal very quickly. Waiting around took a while but leaving the ship was very easy. For those that had luggage taken off the ship it was available in the baggage reclaim area and sorted by deck so relatively easy to find everything.
Overall we had an amazing anniversay weekend on board the Oceana and had a fantastic day in Bruges. The ship was beautiful, clean and had a lot going on. I wish we had caught up with the entertainment rather than going to bed so early but we still had a great time and I would reccomend a mini cruise to anyone. I am glad we got to try lots of different things and sample what a cruise would be like and it has made me even more excited for our longer trip to Norway next year.