Unexpected winter sun
Our embarkation at Mayflower Cruise Terminal was very efficient. As priority passengers we were on the ship shortly after 1200 noon, then into the Ligurian dining room for complimentary snacks and wine.
Our passage of the English Channel and Bay of Biscay was a bit bumpy, but not too bad for January. There had been some Norovirus on the previous cruise, so the captain's welcome party was deferred to the second sea day. This offers just sparkling wine now, no ordinary wine or gin & tonic or whisky & dry ginger as before.
Our first call was Vigo and the weather was cool but pleasant. After another sea day we reached Malaga where it was sunny and warmer. A further sea day was followed by Barcelona, dry and pleasant again. Next was Valencia where we docked near the ferry terminal, not the new cruise berths a couple of miles out. The weather here was dry but really cold. Next was a sea day again, then Cadiz, dry and warmer. Our final call was at Lisbon, where we had a dry day until late afternoon when the heavens opened, and we sailed away in torrential rain and gusting winds. The return to Southampton was a bit bumpy again, but not too bad if you were in the centre of the ship, as we were. Some people with cabins right at the front said they got no sleep, so it pays to choose a centre cabin.
Oceana's library is one of the best in the fleet, but the paperback swap cupboard was closed for a number of days at the start because of the prior Norovirus outbreak.
We used the buffet for breakfast, and there or Cafe Jardin for light lunches. We always found seats quite easily, joining others on large tables when necessary. We used Cafe Jardin if we wanted to eat a little earlier than 1200 noon, but the service there was painfully slow, even when it was quiet. On one of the final afternoons the buffet used to have a magnificent selection of gateaux and chocolate cakes, but that seems to have been abolished.
We were allocated Freedom Dining for dinner, and never had to wait more than a few minutes to be shown to a table. The service was excellent, and the food quality and quantity could not be faulted. The only negative point was the rarity of curries on the menu.
Our cabin steward took good care of us, noting our preferences including different numbers of towels, and wanting a rubber shower mat. Here we found another cutback, with face flannels no longer provided automatically.
The cabin had adequate floor space and storage space, but only one easy chair. The other seat was a stool.
There is plenty of entertainment choice in the evenings, with different shows at the front of the ship and the back. Headliners Theatre Company had a brand new show called Up All Night. This features pop music from very recent years, whereas most of the audience were pensioners. The show will no doubt appeal to the younger audiences in the summer.
There were plenty of things to do on sea days (more than on some sister ships) including deck sports, quizzes, bingo, lectures, dance lessons, craft classes. Entertainment manager Leon and his team worked very hard to keep us occupied. The main sea-day speaker was Carole Philips, a retired police officer, who kept a capacity audience enthralled throughout the cruise.
There were various live music options in or near the atrium each evening, including the excellent Angie Brown (singer/guitarist).
The shops onboard do not offer anything like the variety they used to, and an added complication was that we did not visit any ports outside the EU. As a result, there was no duty free shop, the room service menu for alcoholic drinks was withdrawn (apart from beer and wine), and nearly every shop sale had 20% VAT added to the displayed prices. Fortunately this did not apply to bar or dining prices.
Since last May, all tips are included in the price, but there were still stacks of plain envelopes on the reception desk on the last sea day. Was this a hint to give extra?
On arrival back at Southampton the disembarkation worked very well, and our group was called earlier than the expected time.
Having Oceana based in Southampton this winter is a bonus, as it was originally scheduled for fly-cruises. There is not much else from Southampton at this time of the year, so the new plan was good news.
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