I recently spent a fortnight at sea on a ship called Oriana run by P&O. At times I wonder whether P&O was short for pissed off, as I spent much of the cruise bemused and annoyed. The trip was a gift to my wife and I, which at times, made it even more annoying that we were constantly subject to mediocre service and sub-par entertainment.It was not all bad however. The room which we spent the fortnight, with its balcony over the sea, was very pleasant. I spent quite a bit of time on sea days watching fellow ships, oil rigs and land waft by as we cruised at 22 knots towards our destination. Our beds were adequate and just right for the few nights we spent when the sea was less than calm. It was fortunate that the room was nice as much of the rest of the ship wasn’t where I wanted to spend too much time do the constant crowds and fellow nuisance passengers. We two couples especially with whom we spent quite a bit of time that were great fun… partly because they were as bemused as we were about how things were done. There was also a chap called Peter who volunteered to teach me how to tie a bow tie properly, suceeding.The dinner meal was quite nice in our assigned dining room. The “dress mode” of the day got a bit tiring after a while to be honest. It would have been nice to have the 4 formal nights and the rest merely smart casual. Overall the highlight of the day was dinner. Drinks were not free, quite surprising considering the cost per person, but they were not extortionate to pay for, compared to London prices. There was a decent selection as well, that cattered to pretty much all tastes. It would have been nice if there were functioning soda machines somewhere on ship.I was impressed by the internet cafe and its connection to a satillite. It suited my needs quite well. You had to pay for it, but it was not unreasonable if one got the top plan, and its reliability was worth paying for.The ports of call ranged from utter crap like Travemunde and Aarhus through the bloody nuisance of St Petersburg (we didn’t bother to get off as it was a pain for an American) to the rather pleasant Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and St Peter Port. Alas, the decent ones were way too short stays. They did give us a great taste of those ports, all of which we would love to go back to.Now to the aspects of the experience which were dire in extremis. First and foremost the entertainment seemed to be rejects from the classic show Hi di Hi, if a hell of a lot more camp. The male members of the ships entertainment company spent more time preening for each other than they did trying to entertain their customers. When they did, it seemed to be a big laugh for them to embarass old men who sat near the front.  This bunch couldn’t make a song sound butch if they tried. The singing was quite often off key. There were clearly “in-jokes” between them that they felt were more important than the audience.Then we come to the events. I made the mistake of taking the family to one. It was the “country & western” night in the dance hall on the ship., which we thought might be a laugh. It was in fact not a “hoedown” as they claim it would be, but a chance for all of us to see the dance teacher (she “sang” in other venues too) barking orders at her classes as they showed off. If you weren’t part of her classes they you were mostly made to sit on the side-line and watch. Most of the music wasn’t even country and she seemed to due her darndest to keep the band (called Natural High who were quite decent when given leave to show their talents) off stage. They could be seen seething in the corner much of the time. One has to wonder if the harpie of a dance teacher’s (a Liza Minelli wanna-be) ego could not stand seeing the rather pretty and talented member of the band show her abilities.The photographic staff were pretty dire as well. They continued to dress up in stupid outfits (one of which was an uber-camp sailor) and ask you to pose with them. This rubbish and possibly embarassing photo was put on display so that you could “buy” it later. A bit of a racket for sure and not a cheap one at that. Fortunately the managed a few passable photos of us that we might want to show others once off the ship. What amused many of the keen shutterbugs we met was the fact that they had better kit than the photography staff.It was clear that there were “cut-backs” all over the ship (it was not full thankfully) and it was possible to see this reality via the service from some of the staff. Much of the time you felt that everyone on there had their hand-out for you to pay something else. Considering the price of cruise, it all seemed rather seedy at times. A clear example of that was the measy two bottles of water in the room for the whole trip (you buy more) and the lack of nibbles at the bar (except briefly before dinner).Once leaving the ship I vowed never to go on P&O again. Alas, I am keen to take my wife across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II. It rather disappointed me to see that P&O and Cunard are one in the same. I shall wait to hear what friends of mine doing it next week think of their experience.

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