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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Oriana Cruise Review In Search of the Northern Lights

Oriana in Search of the Northern Lights March 2014

The cruise 
12 nights from Southampton aboard P&O Cruises Oriana , calling at Bergen, Tromso , Alta (2 night stay) and Stavanger

The ship
Oriana is now a grand old lady having being launched in 1995, but is still a favourite amongst passengers. She has had several refits since being launched, the last of which turned her into "Adult Only ". This, and the time of year, has increased the average age of those on this particular cruise. So the night club was not kept that busy.
One item of note is the toilet in our cabin ( and most of the corridor ) we are now on first name terms with the plumbers the toilets got blocked that many times. Not good :-((

The crew
Due to a deep clean for Noro virus before we boarded, plus the ensuing precautions at the buffet etc, meant that the crew had even more to do. But do it they did with a smile on their face.
Don't normally do this, but Captain Robert Camby does have to get a special mention. The most visible P&O Captain I have seen on a ship since Hamish Read retired.
Very visible around the ship, he was very personable and would stop and talk to all passengers, and gave regular updates via the PA system. If he is the new way forward for P&O Captains, then well done P&O.


The Headliners, were good, but not the strongest troupe I have seen on board. The vocals when harmonising were excellent, but some of the solo spots let them down IMHO. The various bands and singers in the various bars were all new to us, and slightly better than we have been used to of late.
The speciality acts we did not go and see, but from talking to people, some got a better review than others. 
Although not my cup of tea at all, the Elvis Impressionist ( one of the Entertainment Officers) seemed to have gone down well judging from the reaction of the passengers coming out of the Pacific  Lounge after his show. 
Saturday 22nd saw the crew take to the stage in the Theatre Royal for the "crew show". As always highlighting that not all the talent  on the ship is on stage every night. The finally being a rendition of "if I were not upon the sea" which we have seen many times before on different ships and cruise lines. This was one of the better ones, and they milked every ounce of humour from it.  

We were booked on 1st sitting, but as we sailed late on the first night, we ate in the buffet. The second night in Sorrento, so in the end decided not to use the MDR. Most nights in the buffet ( The Conservatory )were fine, but on both nights in Alta a lots of passengers were off to see the lights, so there were queues to get in the Conservatory :-(
But we do like the Indian, Asian and Thai buffets, and they lived up to expectations.
I have always been a firm believer of Club Dining, and thought that Freedom dining was not for us. But eating in the buffet has given us so much more flexibility I think I may have changed my view.
The Ocean Grill , we have eaten in many times onboard Arcadia, the food was on par with previous visits, but I just felt the service was nearing the "rushed" stage.

Shore Excursions

None of the shore excursions were cheap, as nothing is in this part of the world, but the Dog sledge in Tromso, the Ice Hotel in Alta were worth every penny.
The trip that most passengers went on of course was "in search of the Northern Lights" which as they say in the advert was priceless. Although those who chose the second night for their adventure were disappointed as there was a cloudy sky, therefore the lights were not visible. 
At the end of the cruise we also received a set of Northern Lights Beer Mats, curtsey of the shore excursion team ( nice touch P&O)  

Well, the Northern Lights have been on my bucket list for quite a while. Also if you are a regular cruiser, finding different itineraries, especially for those who choose not to fly can be difficult. 
So this cruise met those requirements, even though we had been to some of the ports before, they are totally different in the winter.

Please don't be put off by the very cold temperatures, just buy the correct clothing and you will be fine, and you will experience a cruise of a lifetime, with sights to match.

Would we do this cruise again ? Oh Yes !!

Well actually, we have already booked with Fred for this time next year, to come back to this part of the world to view a Solar Eclipse, so we may even get to see the lights then.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog ? If so you may want to join Sue and myself in a couple of months as we sail with Fred, from Harwich (nice and close to home) for some warmer weather than this cruise.

And as the Captain Camby would say, I will leave you with this final thought

If you want a cruise go to the Med, if you want an adventure, book the Northern Lights.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Oriana in search of the Northern Lights Part V

And so today we reach our final port of Stavanger. The Captain must have put his foot down last night, as we arrived 2 hours early, the downside, it was bucketing it down.

We have been to this port a few times before, so our plan was to just take a walk ashore. It's been sunshine and showers all morning, so it's been brollies at the ready

Oriana had a drill whilst we were ashore, hence the life boats out, but soon a rainbow joined in.

Now here is a tip for all you regular travellers out there.

If like me you tend not to change you foreign currency back to £'s but keep it until the next visit ?

Then please make sure you have the correct "krona" and not walk into a shop in Norway, and try to pay with Danish Krona.

Doh !!!

My last blog will be a cruise review which I will post next week.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Oriana in search of the Northern Lights Part IV

And so we arrive in Alta, the port that most passengers on the cruise will have booked for, as this is the port for the Northern Lights. Did we see them ? Read on :-) 

You saw from yesterday's blog, that we had been treated to a snow fall overnight, and we were due to dock at noon. About 5 miles out, it started to snow again so the Captain decided to slowdown and put one of the fast RIB's into the water with one of the ships photographers for shot of Oriana in the snow.

Well as you can see it turned into a bit of a blizzard 

And we even had some small ice flows

So the Captain also added a tender

We then had to wait a while as the berth in is next to the runway of Alta airport, and there was a plane inbound. This must be one of the few berths in the world, where the Captain of a cruise ship has to get permission from air traffic control to dock :-)

But dock we finally did, and the snow cleared and the skies were cloud less with wall to wall beautiful  sunshine. Great I thought, thinking towards this evening when we leave the ship at 2230 for our excursion to go in search for the lights. 

But first, it was a quick lunch, then off to see the Ice Hotel

This is the 15th year that an ice hotel has been built in Alta, every year with a different theme, this years being The Vikings. If you watched the Joanna Lumley documentary, she stayed there.

As I said in a previous blog, this was a last minute decision to book the tour, but we were glad we did

Well, it would have been rude not to have a drink while we were there.

The Wedding Chapel

And so it was time to board the coach and make our way back to Oriana in this glorious sunshine, but as we made our way back, it got darker and darker, and yes another snow blizzard. Now I have had to stand in line many a time on the dockside waiting to board after coming back from a shore excursion but never in a snow blizzard, so another "first" for the list.

So just before the main event of the day, we had a presentation by Trygve Nygard, the guy that runs the tour company Gord Explorer who would take us for our search of the lights.

They have three sites that they use, one quite local to Alta, and 1, 50km north and 1, 50km south.
He then outlined the scientist forecast for the evening on the chance of a light show, and on a score of 1 to 10, it was 2.

You could feel the air of disappointment from the audience, but this was raised when he showed us all a photo he took when the forecast was 2, so there was hope.

He then showed us the weather forecast for the three sites, the close by one, and the northern one was cloudy with snow showers, more groans from the audience.

The southern site, was cloudy at times but with no snow, the downside was the temperature -26C.

So, at our allotted time of 2230, wearing as much clothing as we could, we boarded the coach, and we were off on our 60 minute ride to the site.

Looking out of the coach window, I was pleased to see the weather forecast was slightly out, as there was not a cloud in the sky and the stars twinkled and shone to guide us on our way.

It a bit of a shock to the system getting out of a warm coach into -26C and setting up the camera and tripod, but was it worth it ? 

I will let you decide, below are, some of the photos I took before both my batteries expired.

None have had any post production

I will post all of my photos when we get home, as there are far too many to post now.

I will also post a review of the cruise.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Oriana in search of the Northern Lights Part III

You will have seen from yesterday's blog, the magical sail into Tromso, we were going to take the shuttle bus into town, but decided instead to have a lazy afternoon in preparation for our Husky Sledge ride.

Well, it was soon time for afternoon tea, well we had to have a bite to eat before we braved the cold.

We then went back to the cabin to add the multiple layers needed to keep warm. If you even venture to this part of the world in winter the investment of good quality warm clothing meant for these climes is well worth it.

It was then time to go ashore to board the coach that would take us to our adventure 

As we left the dock,the sun began to dip towards the horizon, and we began our short journey to the Wilderness Centre.
As we arrived and alighted from the coach, we were greeted by the howling of the Huskies, as they knew the arrival of the coach meant they would soon be on a run.

We were then split into groups, and taken to where we would board the sledge for our ride 

Then we were off !! 

It was at this point that I realised that I had the biggest smile in the world on my face, and it would just not go away :-) 
If this activity is not on your bucket list, then stop reading this blog at once, and go and write it in your list now.

And so the 20 minute ride ended too soon, and it was time to alight the sledge, and say thank you to the dogs.

We were then given a talk by one of the staff, on how their dogs do not have a pedigree like the Huskies we know, but have a working blood line that goes back generations and generations .

It was then time for the Oo's and Ah's,yes it was puppy time , and I think the picture below says it all.

By now the sun had set, and there was a bit of a nip in the air, so all retired inside for coffee and cake.

And so to today as we sit in the Crows Nest as we sail in to Alta, you can see that we were treated to a snow fall overnight

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Oriana in search of the Northern Lights Part II

Well, here we are in Tromso, it's clear blue skies, a recent snow fall and currently -3C. 
I'm currently sitting in the Crows Nest, and I have to say the view is just about perfect, we could have not asked for more.

Since my last blog,the weather picked up again and we experienced 5 metre swells and strong winds, but by mid day yesterday, things had started to calm down.

Yesterday was also our Peninsular Lunch ( regular P&O readers will know what I mean) our table was hosted by Jo, the food and beverage manager, and an excellent host she was too.

We even had a snow flurry whilst at lunch, which added to the ambience of a winter cruise. We were the last to leave the restaurant and so missed the start of the "Captains  ( Richard Camby) interview" with the CD. It was standing room only in the theatre, and the Captain had his audience eating out of his hand. He is an excellent Captain, and very sociable.
The show last night by the headliners was "Killer Queen" a show we had seen many times before, but well worth seeing again.
I had said to Sue, that I wanted to get up earlier than my normal 0730 today, which for me is late anyway, as I wanted to get up on deck for the sail in.
But as always, the best laid plans of mice and men meant that I awoke at 0845, so it was a quick Danish pastry and a cup of coffee in Tiffany's for breakfast.
We had already booked a couple of shore excursions before we left, but having watched the port presentation, and seen the photos of "Cruise Miss", of the Ice  Hotel, we went to the excursions desk, and booked a tour for tomorrow.

Then, after a quick return to the cabin to add quite a few layers of clothing and get the camera, it was up to the prom deck to watch the sail in.
There is only one word to describe the sail in, and that is "stunning", it is a real "must do", so if this cruise is not on your bucket list, you really should add it now.
For all the sail inxs, on all of our cruises, I have never seen the deck so crowded.
I will add a few photos below, but they really do not do it justice.

The temperature is forecast to drop to -17C this evening, just in time for our Husky Dog sledge ride, can't wait !!!!
All being well , I will have some photos to share with you in the next blog

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Oriana in search of the Northern Lights Part I

Had received mixed messages from P&O, one telling us to arrive 2 hours later due to deep cleaning to eradicate the Noro virus,  and another to say it would be very busy in Southampton around the dock area as road works which will cause problems.

So what to do ? Well, we ignore both and left our normal time :-)

The M25 had its normal road works which this time seemed to go on for miles, which slowed us down a bit, but the road works around dock gate 4 did not cause too much of a problem.

So we were in the QEII terminal by noon, which meant we had a two hour wait before we could board.
Muster was planned for 1645 and sail away 1745.
But as always things got delayed, so it was well after 1800 before we sailed.

As we stayed on deck for the sail away, and had missed the MDR (1st sitting) we decided to eat in the buffet, which had a pleasant carvery.
It was then off to see The Headliners in Stage Door, a show we had not seen before, and they came across as a very strong troupe.

2 sea days followed, by the normal routine, of reading, gym, quizzes, eating etc.
Ah yes, we also booked a cruise on Britannia.

The Crows Nest meeting was also well attended, and was good to put faces to the names

Friday nights announcement by the Captain of a swell of 3 metres, turned out to be wishful thinking, as it turned into 6 metres. In the middle of the night, Oriana decided to part company with the sea she was sailing in, only to to be reacquainted a few seconds later. This caused a noise like I have never heard on a cruise ship before. I think it must have woken most passengers as that what everyone was talking about the next day.
We also ventured into Sorento for our meal on Friday night, only a £5 per head supplement and if you like Italian food, well worth a visit.

And so to today, we arrived in a rainy Bergen at 0800, no tour booked, so it was a walk into town, it was only a drizzle when we left, but it soon turned into something more substantial, reaching the " drowned rat" stage at the end.

But it was a pleasant couple of of hours walk, and back in time for lunch. We sail at 1530 this afternoon with another sea day before we reach the frozen north of Tromso, where we have a Husky sledge trip to look forward to.

But I will leave you with a few views of Bergen today.

Friday, 7 March 2014