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We are sailing on Oriana – Southampton and to sea
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Sun 15 Dec ’13 – day 1  Having cleaned the house from top to bottom I am leaving for my annual Christmas & New Year cruise with P&O.  I am sailing on Oriana again, the same ship on which I did two cruises last year, so it will be interesting to see how many of the crew I recognise.

The P&O brochure normally comes out in late March or early April and details the cruises that commence around that time the following year; so after the world cruises and winter Caribbean season have finished.  I like to be away for both Christmas and New Year and as far as possible on a child-free ship; this limits my choice to Adonia, Arcadia and Oriana in the P&O fleet, however at least one of these ships will have a cruise schedule that I fancy.  Having cruised for many years the choice of ports is not particularly important as I have stopped at the vast majority of them at one time or another, but I am always on the lookout for a new destination.

The cruise I have chosen is to the Central Mediterean and departs from Southampton with La Coruna, Venice, Dubrovnik, Palma, Valencia, Cartagena, Gibraltar and Lisbon as the scheduled ports of call.  The departure from Lisbon is planned for just after midnight on 1 Jan, so it will be interesting to see how the Portuguese welcome in the New Year.

Once I have chosen which cruise I wish to take, it is then a matter of working out which cabin I want to occupy.  I always book a double cabin for single occupancy even though this means paying the large supplement, 80% on this cruise, put it is something that I am prepared to pay in order to get what I want.

The cabin of my choice will always be an outside one so that I can get some daylight and if there are cabins with balconies that are within my price range (only on Adonia & Arcadia), then I will chose one of the these.   I like to have an unobstructed view so that removes a number of cabins from consideration, plus I do not want to be above or below either a place of entertainment or a restaurant, so that is a further limitation.  I also want to be fairly near a ships laundry’s so that I do not have to make a long trek to do my washing and ironing.

Every ship has a range of cabins to suit peoples individual preferences and these are either inside, so no natural light, or outside which come with or without a balcony.  Cabins range from the two huge Penthouse Suites on Aurora which are over two decks, family cabins on Azura and Ventura, to single cabins on a number of the ships.  At the top end the suites have a Butler service, which is inclusive but optional.  There are also a small number of adapted cabins for disabled people on each vessel (these are known to sell out very quickly), as well as cabins with interconnecting doors so people can travel together, but have their own ‘space’ when they need it.  Some cabins have a bath and a shower, where as others just have a shower.  The bottom line is that you look in the brochure or on the website and then make your choice.

Once I have made my choice of cabin Anne at John Allan Travel will make the booking as soon as reservations open, so normally twenty months before sailing, and P&O confirm the reservation by return e-mail.

Having packed and made sure that I have my passport and e-ticket I am ready to leave for Southampton.

But first I am going to see my Mum and drop off the family Christmas cards and presents.  As I set off the weather was great with clear skies and a bright sun, but on the M25 it became very murky, so headlights on and slow down – some idiots were still speeding past with just side lights on, or in a few cases no lights at all!!

Mum was glad to see me, but soon sent me on my way so that I could get to the terminal on time.  Back on the M25 and the weather had deteriorated, now driving rain along with the mist.  The driving conditions were pretty grim but I got to the outskirts of Southampton OK, however it was then a crawl to the dock.  There are only two cruise ships in harbour today, the Queen Mary 2 plus Oriana and some bright spark has put them both on adjacent berths so all traffic had to enter the port through a single gate – bedlam.  It took me well over an hour to travel the final 2 miles and as I passed Gate 10, the entrance to the Mayflower Terminal, I could help but notice that there was no ship alongside that berth.  Oriana was originally due to depart from here, but whoever changed the docking arrangements caused havoc on the main road and this on a busy shopping day as well.  Some people who were in taxis gave up, got out and walked towards the terminal as this was far quicker (and cheaper) than sitting in the traffic jam.

This was the first time that I had seen the QM2 in real life; it is massive and dwarfs the Oriana.

Once inside the QE2 Terminal I unloaded the cases which were then whisked away by the porters and then dropped my vehicle off with the car parking firm.

As a member at the ‘Baltic’ level of the P&O Peninsular Club I got priority check in and this was quickly and efficiently carried out; then it was through the security checks where the metal in my shoulder reconstruction set off the alarm, so I got a hand search.

Up the gangway, my cruise card was swiped and down I am on-board.  My cabin was on C deck at the rear of the ship, so a short trip up in the lift and I’m in.  While I unpacked my small case and rucksack, my cabin steward, Sailesh, came in and introduced himself.  Having stowed all my ‘gear’ I went up on deck and phoned Mum to tell her that I had arrived safely; I may be a pensioner, but I am still her No 1 son and she worries about me – but that is what Mum’s are for.  I then went to the Crows Desk Bar to have a beer and read the newspaper while I await the arrival of the rest of my luggage.

I did not recognise any of the bar staff, stewards or stewardess’s on duty which is unusual given the number of times that I have cruised with P&O before.  I have however sailed with Captain David Pembridge, the Deputy Captain – Fergal Sargent, the Chief Engineer – Angus MacDonald, the Executive Purser – Helen Skoins and the Cruise Director – Natalie Milverton before.

Once the beer had been drunk and the newspaper read I make my way back to my cabin and find that Sailesh had placed all my luggage inside, so it was time to unpack and make everything ‘shipshape’ before departure.  As Oriana is one of the older ships in the fleet and built when P&O was an independent company; it is what I term as a classic P&O ship and so has plenty of cupboard and drawers in which to place everything; the suitcases fit underneath the bed.

And as I had been on the go for some time I decided to have a snooze.

An announcement on the ships tannoy system woke me up as the Officer of the Watch said that the ships alarm bells were about to be sounded for exercise purposes and this was signal for all the passengers to practice the ‘Muster Drill’, a requirement under international maritime law.  So I took a lifejacket from its stowage in the cabin and made my way down to muster station D, the Pacific Lounge, just two decks below my cabin.

Captain Pemberton made his welcoming address over the tannoy and then went through a set of safety issues before all the passengers practised donning their life jackets.  When the drill was over I returned to my cabin and stowed my lifejacket – I do not what to have to get it out again!!

The QM2 departed during the muster drill and when it was time for Oriana to sail we were slightly delayed by an outgoing container ship.  Very few people were on deck as the rain was lashing down and with the high wind the Captain advised us that he was going to need two tugs to assist the ship away from the berth.  He also gave some details about the navigation out of the harbour, through the Solent and then out into the English Channel; he warned us that there could be a swell up to 4½m in height during the night.  He said that once the ship rounded Ushant and then entered the Bay of Biscay at about 0900hrs tomorrow the swells would increase in height and with the wind on the ships beam, Oriana would be rolling as well as pitching, so he said that anybody who needed to take sea sickness medication should take it now so that it would be in their system by tomorrow.

I sat in the Crow’s Nest Bar as the ship made its way down Southampton Water and as it was pitch black outside with rainwater streaming down the windows, it is definitely a night to be in the warm and dry.  This bar is my favourite watering hole on the ship as it has floor to ceiling panoramic windows that given a wonderful view head and to both sides of the ship – at least on a clear sunny day.

I decided that as I am feeling quite tired I would have dinner in the Conservatory this evening before having an early night.  It would appear that lots of other people had the same idea as most of the tables are full, but I found a spare seat and had my first meal of the cruise.  As it is possible to eat almost 24 hours a day while you are on-board, and as I like my food I limit the number and size of meals that I have otherwise you quickly find that your clothes have shrunk!!

The clocks go forward tonight so I reset my watch before falling asleep.