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Linda Coffman


"The Very Model of a Modern Major Sea-Vessel"

by Warren H. Davis

I recently received the following email:

"Subject: Oriana"

"Warren, Meet me at the Pier 88 on Saturday at the Information Desk. We're expected aboard Oriana at 10am.  Tim"

My brain immediately clicked into pre-cruise ritual mode. No, we wouldn't be sailing with Oriana for her transatlantic crossing. But that's how I am. Whenever I know I'll be embarking a ship, even if it is only for one day, it is still a day aboard a ship! And a day aboard a ship requires planning and preparation. Pepper the Cat started eying me with a combination of trepidation and surrender.  She knows the drill. When the ironing board comes out and the clothes brush appears, the inevitable Bon Voyage Cat Tango is imminent. I spared her the humiliation this time and simply treated her to a dish of cream. But still, she kept her distance.

Tim had invited me to join him for his walkthrough for of this very traditional British ship.  I wanted to immerse myself in the experience. I dubbed the day's attire as "informal" and dressed accordingly in jacket and tie. Sloppy t-shirt and jeans might be acceptable elsewhere on the piers today, but not aboard Oriana. My instincts served me well as I discovered later while roaming Oriana's decks. This graceful lady is due such respect and courtesy. It isn't a matter of stuffy obligation. So uplifting is her company you can't help but look your best. You'd be foolish to resist her pedigree.

Upon boarding, Tim and I were greeted by Cruise Director Ian Fraser shortly after 10. For the next two hours Ian served as our personal tour guide. We couldn't have been more fortunate. Ian was part of the team that assisted in Oriana's introduction. He knows the vessel from top to bottom and provided comprehensive and entertaining commentary. His pride in his ship was contagious as he treated us to a behind-the-scenes type of tour. Ian explained the original design purpose of each room, whether or not the intent was successful, and in one case a glimpse of plans to correct the flaws that render one lounge underutilized.

Touring the ship I had an odd and comforting thought. I had finally discovered my new oceanic mistress. With my Lady in Blue -- S/S Norway -- drawing rapidly to her retirement I've been wondering if I would ever find a ship I would feel as comfortable sailing. In various internet cruise forums over the years I have gamely participated in the "wish lists" threads considering what would be the "perfect" ship. Some of the ideas that I've contributed or endorsed in the past have been 1) adult-only areas on  deck; 2) separate family deck areas; 3) a "third" children's dinner seating allowing parents and fellow passengers to dine in a more adult ambience during the regular dinner sittings; 3A) A ship that welcomes children with extensive dedicated facilities with the expectation that they will either be enrolled or be closely supervised by their parents; 4) requested attire that is honored, enforced, and adhered to for the entire evening; 5) more sophisticated evening entertainment and lectures with emphasis on socializing rather than sitting and merely watching; 6) the return of a truly dedicated movie theater; 7) an oasis or two aboard ship dedicated to quiet pursuits, peace and tranquility; 8) a traditional aft lido with tiered wedding cake decks rising above; 9) A library staffed and operated by a librarian that is open throughout the day, every day; 10) broad inside and outside promenades; 11) teak used for just about every inch of expansive outer decks; 12) traditional railings through which you can watch the ocean;

I have found this ship in Oriana! She's the very model of this modern major sea-vessel! All twelve items on my "wish list" are integral to this legend in the making.

Two spaces on the ship are dedicated to the sounds of waterfalls and fountains for tranquil moments. One softly cascades down the cozy Tiffany Court atrium. At the top of the atrium sits a piano underneath a Tiffany glass dome. The pianist provides background music that softly drifts down along with the water. The combined affect is tranquilizing and serene. Absent are any glass-enclosed elevators disturbing the peacefulness of this wonderful water garden. The second area is appropriately named The Oasis, which adjoins the spa. This wood decked enclosed solarium of sorts has forward views, deck chairs, a fountain sculpture and two Jacuzzi spas. A more relaxing spot I've not encountered on any ship prior.

The Crows Nest is the forward observation lounge perched high atop the ship. One corner is dedicated to a piano and mini-band stand. Ian explained that the sound system in the room is zoned. The music can be amplified for the entire room, or isolated to the area immediately surrounding the musicians allowing those in the farther reaches of the room to enjoy background music and quiet conversation. In fact Ian's rule aboard ship is that no music is to be too loud as to prevent conversation without shouting. The only exception to this is the rock and roll show and perhaps the disco.

Another room, Anderson's, doesn't even allow music at all. This room is dedicated to quiet conversation, a favorite drink, and perhaps a cigar.

The library complex consists of the actual Library, Thackery's, and Crichton's. The library itself is stocked with 3000 titles with
another 1000 in reserve just in case. A librarian is in attendance for 8-10 hours every day and books may be checked out two at a time. Adjoining the Library to starboard is Crichton's, probably one of the largest card/game rooms I've seen afloat. Comfy in shades of green tartan, Ian says this room sometimes overflows for the nightly 'quizzes' (what we call 'trivia contests'). The room seats at least 250 people. Each table boasts a gaming top. One side for cards, the other for chess or checkers. Portside to the Library is Thackery's, a room filled with wing chairs, sofas for reading, and desks for writing. This room says "come sit down and rest."  It is impossible to resist this inviting refuge, perfect for lazy days at sea.

Another unique room is Curzon, the only room that even remotely approaches gaudy with its numerous crystal chandeliers. This room is a dedicated room for concert chamber music and piano recitals. Sit, have a glass of champagne, a cup of tea, and listen to the music of the masters. The Steinway Piano was built specifically for Oriana employing woods that match the room's other furnishings.

Even the compact Monte Carlo Club is for quiet gaming. James Bond would be quite at home here.  The slot machines are situated elsewhere. As I stood in the deserted room, I could imagine hearing the clicking of the chips, the snapping of the cards as they are dealt, and the sound of the ball circling the roulette wheel without the intrusive clanging, ringing and dinging of the one arm bandits!

Lest you think Oriana is a ship totally devoted to culture and refinements, she lets her hair down and can belt out a song or  down a pint with the best of them. Just head for Lords Tavern, where there's never a dress code and the taps flow freely. Here, without pretending to be a replica of a traditional Pub, is a Pub nonetheless. And if the atmosphere inside is a bit too rowdy, you can exit to the promenade right from the Pub where tables and chairs await! According to Ian, the party in the Harlequins disco sometimes rocks until 8am.

Unlike many ships designed for North Americans, the various public rooms perfectly fit the overall decorative design. There is no room that seems out of place or character with the others. There is a common color scheme that predominates throughout that for me seemed just a tad boring though. But then I'm still a bit queasy from a recent cruise aboard Carnival Destiny where the only common element among the rooms was hundreds of miles of Tivoli lights. My senses might not have calmed down yet. Never is there a room aboard Oriana that prompts the jaw to drop -- until you enter the Theatre Royal.

Walking in to Theatre Royal is like taking a step into London's West End. The walls are dark wood accented by gold treatments illuminated by recessed spot lights. The carpet is of course royal blue and the rows and rows of traditional theater seating are crimson red velvet. The stage is vast. Ian told us that along with some other P&O entertainment staff, they formed their own "theatrical company" that stages all the shows. These range from various song and dance revues, variety acts, and comedians to dramatic plays and scaled down musicals. Of all the rooms that he had design input, Ian was proudest of Theatre Royal. Many Off-Broadway and regional theater companies would sell their souls to call this theater home.

One deck above Theatre Royal is Chaplin's Cinema. Seating approximately 200 or so people, the room offers traditional movie theater style seats where two different recent releases are shown each night. Mannequins of Charlie Chaplin greet you on the way in, and bid you goodnight on the way out. During the day Ian schedules special lectures in this room. He commented that he often must turn away disappointed passengers as the lectures "sell out" quickly. The consolation is that every lecture is broadcast live on the ship's television network and repeated several times throughout a cruise.

Up top are two pool areas. The Crystal pool is adults only and is long enough to actually do serious laps! I believe this is designed to be more of a quiet sunning area. The Riviera Pool is most likely the livelier area with a band stand and the setting for zany pool games.  Here is where you will also find a bar, the Pizzeria. The entrance to the expansive gym and spa complex is just forward of this. Several decks down and all the way aft sits the Terrace Pool on the stern. Terrace is designated for family fun, conveniently located adjacent to Peter Pan's children's play room and outdoor playground,  Decibels teen hangout and disco, and the Outer Space arcade for the "in betweens." Peter Pan's looked so fun I wanted to sit on the floor and play with all the toys myself!

Ian concluded our tour shortly after noon by inviting Tim and me to have lunch in the Peninsular Dining Room. Earlier we had toured the Oriental (as in P&O). Both rooms  seemed vaguely familiar and it hit both of us simultaneously. Except for the more neutral color scheme and the finer crystal chandeliers, these rooms were definite forerunners of the Four Seasons and Seven Seas aboard Norwegian Sky! It turns out that the same design team did both ship's interiors. In fact Oriana's standard cabins, at 150 square feet each, are nearly identical in décor and layout to the Sky's.

The lunch menu was decidedly British and served by an Indian wait staff. I enjoyed the day's special beef curry that thankfully was not too hot for my taste buds. The curry and accompanying rice did not arrive from the galley already plated, but rather dished out from hot serving trays! Various condiments were similarly spooned from a decoratively arranged platter. Dessert was a yummy peach tart with a butterscotch sauce -- not too sweet, not too bland. Just right! The coffee was delicious and our waiter even poured the cream into the mug. There were other typically British choices on the menu from a batter-fried haddock to some other items that I simply didn't recognize. However, as I alluded to in my opening paragraphs, I had come aboard expecting and prepared for all things British, not North American. Had the menu made any attempts to cater to my American palate I would have been sorely disappointed.

Quite frankly I wish the other cruise lines would provide onboard ambience as unapologetically authentic to their supposed pedigrees. Wouldn't it be terrific if the "Norwegian Way" actually provided a taste of Norway, if the "Greek" ships of Celebrity were a bit more Hellenic, and Cruising Italian Style really meant just that in more than just a superficial way? When was the last time those dam ships were actually Dutch in more than name alone?

While guiding us through Oriana Cruise Director Ian Fraser mentioned that P&O had learned some things from its sibling Princess Cruises and incorporated them into Oriana and her new sister Aurora. I couldn't help but imagine how much the "big three" lines could learn from this treasure of the British Isles. She is truly the jewel of the crown!

There's  Mercury, and Zenith not to mention the Horizon.
On Century and Meridian  I certainly have  been on.
I've sailed Seabreeze, Oceanbreeze, Galileo and what's that other one?
Sky Princess, lunch on Song of America and the first monstrosity with the big atrium.
Another Sky for Norwegian, lunch on Legend that was so ho-hum.
A recent voyage on Carnival Destiny, I even found her to be sort of fun.

Cunard Countess several times, twice is the number of QE2's,
About the S/S Norway I am expert and teeming with a LOT OF NEWS!
But in short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
Oriana is the very model of a modern major sea-vessel!

She is the very model of a modern major sea-vessel!

Copyright © 2000 Warren H Davis--all rights reserved

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