First Christmas at Sea
We’re experienced cruisers, but had never been away for Christmas before. After spotting a great deal on line we cancelled our New Year land based holiday and booked the Christmas Cruise to the Canaries on P&O’s Oceana, and we are so pleased we did. Embarkation was very relaxed, despite the fact that the ship had been delayed into Southampton by 4 hours. We arrived just before 11am, fully expecting to be turned away, but there were no queues and they let us drop our luggage, they took the car and we were in the terminal in minutes. We were advised to expect delays, but as we were warm and comfortable, with free magazines and free tea and coffee (nice touch, well done, P&O) we didn’t mind at all. We expected to be there for hours, but we only waited about 90 minutes before we were ushered through security and onto the ship, where we were greeted by smiling staff and a beautifully decorated ship. We found our balcony cabin (we were on deck 12, same deck as the bridge) and whilst it was by far the smallest cabin we have ever been in, it was perfectly adequate for our needs. The bathroom was tiny but all that was needed was there. Our cabin steward, Alyssa, was great. We had requested a shower stool which hadn’t arrived, but she soon chased this down, and she always had our cabin serviced by the time we came back from breakfast. She kept the cabin spotless and she soon got to know our preferences for loads of towels, note : you can get flannels, but you do have to ask.
We were freedom dining, and as we like eating later, and on a table for 2 (I don’t like eating with strangers) we were often given a pager. We never waited more than 20 minutes for a table, often just having time to grab a drink in the Atrium and indulge in a spot of people watching before we were called. We tended to get the same table/section and got to know the waiters, who were great with my mum who is in a wheelchair, eats like a bird, and feels bad not clearing her plate. Our waiter happily told her all her leftovers were given to the dog !!
Food was very good, but sometimes the interpretation between the menu and what actually arrived on your plate left something to be desired i.e. I ordered a Crème Brulee one night. What I got was blancmange. When I questioned it, the waiter told me, absolutely dead-pan, that it was a ‘deconstructed’ Crème Brulee. There was something for everyone, and if you couldn’t find something then you’re very hard to please. We didn’t eat at the buffet restaurant, it’s not our thing (and pretty impossible to navigate with a wheelchair), and we only ventured up there for milk for the stateroom. Likewise we avoided the pool grill, but it seemed very popular.
Café Jardin was a favourite for breakfast, and we had lunch and dinner there a couple of times. The menu rotates every 4 days. The service is good and the atmosphere very relaxing. It’s not very busy and I hope they keep the concept.
The dreaded Norovirus hit the ship just after Christmas and the ship went into ‘code red’ mode, with all food served by staff, and all ancillary items removed from the tables (salt, pepper, vases etc). This meant the staff were run off their feet, especially at the Afternoon Tea, with one waiter serving the scones, then another the butter & jam, & not always in that order either ! It was delicious by the way and very popular. Get there early if you want a seat.
The weather was very rough the first couple of days, and our cabin being at the top and the front of the ship didn’t make for a pleasant start. Seeing the spray come all the way up to our balcony on deck 12, and having to walk either up or downhill to the bathroom gives a flavour of what it was like. Note to self, lower down and mid-ships next time !
The ports of call were the usual Canarian offering, which are not the most culturally exciting, though we didn’t choose the cruise for the destination, more the Christmas experience. However on the way back we stopped at La Coruna, which is a fabulous unspoiled bit of Spain, and Lisbon, where we stayed overnight (unscheduled, something important broke and we couldn’t set sail until it was fixed). Lisbon was the only place we took a P&O excursion (all the other ports are easily DIY, even with a wheelchair) and we booked ‘Leisurely Lisbon’, which started well but ended badly, with us being ‘abandoned’ for an hour as it was getting dark, with the shops all shut, in an area full of homeless people begging. We didn’t feel safe so when we came across the P&O Shuttle service, we jumped aboard and went back to the ship rather than hang around for our coach, as did many others. Considering the tour was supposedly designed for those with limited mobility, it wasn’t appropriate to dump us all for an hour in a city that was changing into its ‘night time’ vibe, and I duly made my observations next day to the Shorex Manager, who seemed to take on board my comments.
So would I recommend a Christmas cruise? Absolutely! It was the most relaxed Christmas I have ever had, no putting up the tree, no shopping, cooking or washing up, all the food you could eat and entertainment if you wanted it (we’re not fussed and are happy entertaining ourselves, hence no mention of shows etc). The staff were in the main all happy and friendly, Captain Grey hilarious, the ship was beautiful and easy to navigate. We saw Santa, sang carols in the Atrium, had a bit of winter sunshine, ate far too much, slept loads, met some lovely people, and had an absolutely wonderful time ! If I hadn’t already got our next three cruises booked I would do it all again !
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