Oriana (II) - The Grand Event
P&O announced on the 7th March 2011 all seven of their ships would be in Southampton on the 3rd July 2012, to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  The Grand Event, it was called.  Six of the ships would be on long cruises with just Oriana on a four nighter.  I saw on a few forums people had already pre-registered (mainly for Oriana) so I looked on the site until I found it.  There would be a phone call with full prices starting the week of the 21st.  Mine came on the afternoon of the 23rd and Susannah also took my Cunard booking so I booked an inside PB for £677.  What happened to the 5% off for being a Portunus member plus 10% early booking discount???  Well I was on which was great considering they didn’t go on general sale until the 6th April.  Later that day, my American Facebook friend, Greg Fitzgerald, said he was going to try and get on.  Later it transpired his travel agent couldn’t be bothered so I suggested he share with me if he was stuck and didn’t mind.  So a phone call to P&O on the 24th to add his name to the booking, bringing the price down to £399 each.  No cabins would be allocated or confirmation sent until it went on sale.  I received the emails on the 6th.  We’d been given A113 but waitlisted for dinner.  By then it was completely sold out, thanks to Gold members booking on the 2nd.  That’s fine for normal cruises but the Grand Event should have been a level playing field, either pre-registering with P&O or taking your chances when it went on general sale if they prefer a travel agent.  No wonder the Portunus Club was changed.  There ARE too many of them and there were a lot of angry comments on P&O’s Facebook page from people who missed out.  I myself had ready so much Gold snobbery even before the 6th, thinking it’s their right to have preferential treatment.  I learnt I wasn’t the only lowly Ruby to already be on.  Anyway, the countdown to the greatest day in P&O’s history since their first ship cast off began!  Then on my birthday, he said he had been promoted at work so now couldn't go.  Bugger!  I wasn't giving it up, not when they had a 26 page waiting list!  I paid it off on the 2nd May and added my friend Fay on the 16th.

The big day arrived, begun from Ventura as the other six were either ahead or behind.  It was going to be a very busy day.  After disembarking Ventura, I walked in the rain with my trolley towards City terminal, dropping my luggage, saying a quick hello to Tracey and Ali then off on a harbour tour at 11.30am with Fay and my dad.
After tthe very wet harbour tour, it was time to check in so whule my dad went home until his boat trip, Fay and I walked to City Terminal via Mayflower Park, bumping into Andrew and Donna Cooke en route.  The ships looked good lined up and it was a shame all seven couldn't have been there.
They were waiting for Princess Anne when we arrived, including four police on motorbikes.  I thanked the lady behind the desk inside the terminal for letting me leave my case then we dropped it off before heading to security.  P&O had made it very clear boarding times would be strictly adhered to this day yet the queue was horrenous!  It took an hour to get from security to the check in desk and it was very hot in there.  If times were adhered to, the queue would have been much shorter, as it is when they call your letter in the other terminals.  It really wasn't a very good start.  At check in we were each given a 175 badge then we went to boarding, a quick couple of photos along the way.  The pleasure boat, Balmoral, was just sailing by.  Since we we on well after 2pm, the cabins were ready.  It was a nice one with plenty of storage and coat hooks on the back of the door.  Telly was as crap as other P&O ships, carpet was still the screaming faces of pre-refit, and we had a bath as well as a shower in the bathroom!  Pressure was crap though, especially flushing the toilet.
Lunch in the Conservatory, which was very nice, even though I had it three days before on Ventura.  Then we went on deck for some photos of the gorgeous one behind.  My Dutch friend Ben van Zeijl, whose funeral had been this day, loved Oriana and Aurora and it's a shame he missed seeing photos of them berthed together.
I returned to the cabin to charge my phone while Fay continued wandering around.  The cases had turned up - hooray!  Rather stupidly, muster was scheduled for 5.45pm - half an hour after everything kicked off!  P&O made a big deal of everyone being part of it then do this.  We took our life jackets onto the Prom deck, a security guard saying it was late due to the VIPs.  What was the excuse on Aurora, since her eight bells rang minutes before ours?  Princess Anne and whoever else, left as Adonia was moving from 40 berth.  Unfortunately we missed seeing her, only catching the cars driving away.
And so muster and we were hearded through Anderson's and into the casino.  This was the slowest P&O muster due to the Captain speaking sooooooooooo slowly in the pre-recording.  At this rate the other ships would be gone!  Horizon said bars, buffet etc would open at 6pm but he was still droning on well past that!  Finally it came to an end and we legged it, complete with life jackets (and we weren't the only ones to lug them with us!) as we saw Ventura was already out and following Adonia.  Announcements were almost always too late, such as the dockside send off when we were already away from the thing.  I asked several crew near Calshot which side Princess Anne would be on and they knew nothing about it!  A security guard told me starboard.  My dad was on Jurassic Scene, an old Blue Line Cruises boat brought in by Blue Funnel from Poole to meet demand.  The atmosphere was simply amazing, the crew near us very loud too.  Fay had returned the life jackets and gone up top.  I stayed in the dry of the Promenade deck and it had become fairly quite until the Princess Anne announcement.
We went in about twenty to eight.  The light was fading even though the rain seemed to have finally packed it in.  It was much brighter anyway.  Both our feet were killing us, blisters too, so we ordered room service rather than head to the buffet in the Peninsular Restaurant.  Now for some odd reason, when I pressed the button on the phone, it went through to another department on the ship.  We had also found a 175 book by Sharon Poole and Andrew Sassoli-Walker on the bed - freebies!!!!  Fay had that.  The Queen show I'd missed on Aurora a year before was on in the Pacific Lounge so we went to that instead of Gary Wilmot and Mike Alexander in the theatre.  Big mistake!  The only good part was I Want to Break Free, a photo of which is included below.  That's when lyrics hadn't been changed.  The rest was just strange and forty-five minutes no one will ever get back!  Our cruise director was Jon Bartram, who had been deputy on my 2007 Aurora New Year cruise and CD on Artemis a few months later.  He is just the sort of person you need as a cruise director, full of enthusiasm with a great personality.
It was Amsterdam the following day.  Fay was up earlier than I was.  I'd just risen from my comfy pit when there was an announcement about us being in the lock.  This was something like 11.30am!  When I got up there, we were moving out.  I'd almost missed MSC Lirica at IJmuiden.  It would have been better to see her during our approach but I was just so flipping knackered after the two hours sleep Monday night on Ventura.  The weather was marvellous and hot. a contrast to what we'd escaped!  Back in April, I'd emailed the Peninsular Club asking if I would receive Atlantic Tier benefits, as I rose to that level following that cruise.  A very nice lady phoned, saying normally it would be a couple of weeks but she would email the ship shortly before and request it.  Well, I was given a welcome back Pacific Tier card and the desk was closed on boarding day so I waited.  A young couple were booking a cruise while an elderly couple were waiting to put down a deposit.  The loyalty manager wasn't there.  I asked the elderly gentleman if I could just make my enquiry because it wouldn't take long.  He refused, saying they'd been waiting twenty minutes.  I explained what happened and what I would be finding out and he eventually said he'd give me two minutes and if I hadn't finished, he'd interrupt.  I told him he was welcome to.  The loyalty manager returned and he remembered the email but no one had given me the benefits, so he corrected that.  All done in under two minutes.  Some people are just so flipping miserable.  I grabbed some lunch in the Conservatory and checked Facebook.  David Greenwood had not long sent a message saying he can meet me briefly after all so I quickly replied then went to find Fay and tell her.  The Deputy Captain came on to tell us we could get the ship's reflection in the glass of the opera house.  He then came back on, saying he forgot to say which side and that's why he's Deputy.  He also failed to mentioned you need to be on the Prom deck of even lower!
Another room service sandwich and yet again the button went elsewhere - accommodation!  I also charged my phone for a bit then went to meet David while Fay waited for her own room service.  The queue stretched quite far back so I was glad to get off.  We were sung at in the terminal while below was the Grand Event on the screen.  Flipping heck, it was hot!  Fay joined us later and after a fun hour, David had to go for his flight.  Hopefully he'll be around when I'm back in September.  Then we got photos of our girly, who Fay had completely fallen in love with, knocking Vision of the Seas to second place of ships she's cruised on.  The cutie paddlesteamer is Kaptien Kok, and still sailing.
We'd arranged to meet Tracey and Ali for pre-dinner drinks in the Crows Nest.  Their friend Jane was there, who we didn't know, but who was a good laugh too.  Dinner was in the Peninisular Restaurant at 8.45pm and this became a bit of a pain after Ventura's smooth service.  Some of the menu was what Ventura offered on Monday!  Firstly, I asked if my dietary requirement had got through, as I always do since sometimes it hasn't.  The head waiter was completely out of his depth, which didn't fill me with confidence.  He said if I'd pre-ordered the previous day they could have done something that night.  Er, excuse me, mush, but it's your flipping job to adjust the menu on the first night, substituting with something not on it if necessary!  When he gave the the following night's menu, I had to order dessert as well, which had only been done on MSC Opera because they contained salt.  He never told me what I wasn't able to have, instead let me get on with it.  He may as well have given me a ruddy pen like Cunard do for all the help he was.  Meanwhile, I had a complaint about soft drinks.  Ask for a Coke or something, you get a piddly can for 85p!  That's one sip and gone, for crying out loud.  Ventura gave you a big glass.  I asked both waiters if they would get the wine waiter for me and he didn't come until he was pouring wine for those on our table.  It was one of my table companions who told him I'd asked several times.  He replied that no one came for him.  I mentioned the large drink you get on Ventura (didn't say the girl was always around as well) to which he explained they have no bar in that restaurant so it had to be the small cans.  Really, they could stock 330ml ones like Cunard!  He said he would bring my drinks from one of the bars in future, which was very nice of him.  Edson, his name is, and served table 52.  Anyway, I had the curry, which was very nice indeed.
And then we have the loooooooooooooooooong night.  It was around midnight, beautiful moon and light but oh so tired!  We wandered around the ship, bumping into the girls on the Prom deck.  Fay got a chair first and I relented, just as I did my Cokes for Cosmopolitans after Tracey ordered a round!  Sian and her mum left and we all ended up later in Harlequins having more drinks and dancing.  Restaurant Manager, Alan Carr, came onto the floor once he'd finished work, at one point dancing with me.  We decided to call it a night after 2.30am, took one more stroll around the deck to cool down then headed back to the cabin.  I was very pleased my back was holding out after three nights on Ventura, Grand Event day and all this jigging in discos..
The morning we were still in Amsterdam and we decided to rest our still sore feet.  I was at least wearing my cancas shoes, which were more comfortable.  My back was also beginning to niggle after the previous night's exertions.  I'd bought some washing powder tablets from the shop the day before so I could get a bit of washing done.  No one expected this hot weather so they needed it.  We had a launderette on our deck which was handy.  It was much bigger than the one we'd used on Aurora but the machines the same.  Every ship should have one.  You don't want to give your smalls to be dry cleaned!  As the stuff washed, we got some lunch.  It was all drip dry, but that shouldn't be a problem in the cabin, so we took it back to hang up.  A bit later while Fay was wandering around again, I found my Atlantic tier pin for the Peninsular Club.

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© Patricia Dempsey 3rd-7th July 2012
Not to be reproduced without permission