P&O Cruises’ Oceana is homeporting in the Arabian Gulf this coming cruise season, sailing five 10-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai between January and April, 2019. She is a mid-size cruise ship, fresh from a major refit, offering a taste of contemporary British cruising in the Middle East.
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P&O Cruises is a quintessentially British cruise line, one of the oldest in the world, which makes her entry into the Middle East cruise market, one of the youngest and fastest growing in the world, particularly exciting. The Dubai cruise scene has long been dominated by the German and Italian cruise giants, so Oceana offers something a bit different.
This 77,000-gross ton cruise ship, carrying more than 2,000 passengers, underwent a comprehensive refit in 2017 that saw many of her public areas and technical equipment overhauled. She now has the feel of a much newer ship, closer to the standards of P&O’s new Britannia-class.
Oceana’s 2017 refit
The US $41-million refit and refurbishment touched almost every part of the ship, but the most obvious changes are evident in most of her public rooms. In the atrium in particular, the loyalty desk has been removed and the artificial palm trees have been replaced with real foliage.
The loyalty desk is now next to the photography studio, in the corner unit that used to be reserved for photography talks. This is a great use of space and has allowed for extra seating in the atrium.
The library, card room, Café Jardin, Starlights and Footlights Theatre all remain relatively unchanged.
Café Jardin is still an Italian restaurant and is still known for serving the best coffee on the ship, according to The Cruise Blogger.
The stairs and public walkways in the atrium have been re-carpeted, and there is a new lounge area on Deck 5.
On Deck 4, the Explorers bar has had a complete facelift, with new seating and carpeting that replaces the dated dark red décor with a more tasteful, but still-retro mix of dark greens, blues and browns.
Sitting on Deck 7, the mid-level of the atrium, Magnums champagne bar has been transformed. The rather worn sofas have been replaced with fresh, light furniture that gives it a more upscale, classy feel and new lighting has been installed at the nearby photo gallery.
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Forward on the same deck, the Yacht & Compass has had a more subtle refresh that stays true to its original décor, but with a slightly lighter, more modern feel. Similar changes have been made to the Plaza buffet up on Deck 12 all the way forward.
The floor has been retiled and new seating has been installed with a beige, cream and blue theme. It also now serves draught lager.
A new canopy has been put over the Horizon Grill area and the outdoor dining area’s heavy, awkward chairs have been replaced with lighter, comfy blue and green seats.
This dining area has a view of the pool area, which sports retiled swimming pools in dark blue, as well as repainted hot tubs. Disappointingly, instead of opting for new teak decking, AstroTurf has been laid over all open decks here.
In terms of practicality, however, it is much safer, especially when exiting the pool dripping with water.
All the way aft on Deck 14, the popular Terrace Bar remains much the same, except that there are new plastic chairs and tables that replace the worn-out teak tables and chairs.
Public rooms on Oceana
All these changes have updated Oceana, but keep have retained her original character, which has always made her popular with the new-to-cruising passenger, families and veteran cruisers.
She is a ship with an impressive number of bars, shops, lounges and a nightclub considering her size.
The ship has a slightly different design to most cruise ships in that the main nightclub (Le Club), is located down on Deck 7 across from the Magnums champagne bar.
Deck 7 is the primary entertainment deck, with the Tiffanys dance lounge and Starlights (where cabaret shows are performed) sitting either side of the atrium. Forward on the same deck is the revamped Yacht & Compass and Footlights Theatre occupying the bow.
Decks 6 and 8 are primarily taken up with cabins, but around the atrium on Deck 8 there is also the Monte Carlo Club Casino, which is slightly on the small side compared to the casinos aboard other cruise ships homeporting in Dubai, particularly MSC Splendida. Café Maron also sits on this deck, the ship’s small ‘lobby coffee shop’.
The Regent Street and Bond Street shopping areas occupy the second level of the atrium.
Dining aboard Oceana
P&O Cruises has a reputation for the high-quality food it serves, and aboard Oceana it is no different. She has two main dining rooms, Ligurian on Deck 5 aft, and Adriatic directly above it.
The Adriatic has the traditional cruise ship dining program, with a first and second sitting at set times every day. Passengers are assigned the same table throughout the cruise. Many like this system because it builds a rapport between guests and service staff, and friendships are formed with table companions.
Other prefer to dine when they want, and for this the Ligurian offers a flexible dining program that P&O calls Freedom Dining. The restaurant serves the same menu as Adriatic, but guests can arrive for dinner at any time, and if there are no seats available, they’ll receive a pager that notifies them when it is ready.
The inclusive cuisine in both these restaurants is consistently solid and paired with an exceptional wine list — 86 in all, including Bon Viveur, a blend made especially for P&O Cruises, by wine critic Olly Smith.
Oceana, and indeed every ship in the P&O fleet, also carries 41 types of gin, which is more than any other cruise line in the world and shows that sometimes there is truth in the stereotype.
In another difference from most cruise ships, Oceana’s buffet dining area is all the way forward occupying some of the best real estate aboard, rather than tucked away aft.
The Plaza buffet has expansive bow views and a selection of dishes that are essentially the same as those found in the main dining rooms, but served in a more casual fashion. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here in a continuous stream throughout the day.
At the Horizon Grill near the pool there is also a Street Food Kitchen, offering for-fee nibbles throughout the day.
Dinner typically involves two formal nights per week (starting 6pm), with smart casual being the order of the day the rest of the time.
On formal nights, dinner jackets or dark suits are the required attire for men, and evening or cocktail dresses are required for women. P&O Cruises tend to be stricter than most when it comes to dress code on formal nights, even children are required to at least wear something smart casual on formal nights.
Outdoor areas on Oceana
There are four pools aboard Oceana, which get rather busy, particularly on sea days when all 2,000 or so flock to the open decks to take advantage of the winter sunshine of the Arabian Gulf.
There are two pools in the middle of the ship, near the Riviera pool bar, and one aft and one forward. The Splash Pool forward is a child-friendly swimming area, and the pool on the aft of Deck 12 is part of the ship’s huge spa area. All the pools are open air, and there are a further five whirlpools.
A small sports court occupies the area near the funnel, with a couple of basketball hoops and equipment for cricket and football. The lido area of the ship is also home to the kids’ facilities, with a Treasure Chest play area for children, a Hideout for adolescents and a Buzz Zone for teens.
Accommodation aboard Oceana
Oceana has 975 staterooms, more than 600 of which have ocean views. There are 450 balcony cabins, and because Oceana was built in 2000, when balcony cabins were still a fairly new innovation, they have solid partitions that provide guests with privacy and shade.
Oceana’s staterooms are divided by category, there are seven price grades of inside cabins, and 11 of outside, with very small differences size between most of them. The price difference is mainly based on location aboard the ship, as well as between those outsides with portholes, picture windows or sliding patio-style windowed doors and balconies. Staterooms closer to public areas are generally more expensive.
All staterooms apart from suites have shower-only bathrooms with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion from The White Company. Most twin beds convert into doubles. Amenities include a TV with BBC World News, ITV Choice, Sky Sports, Sky News and several ship-sponsored channels like a bridge cam, navigational stats, ship safety, shopping and shore excursions. There is also a fridge, safe, telephone, hair dryer and kettle in all rooms.
All the staterooms got new carpets and other soft furnishings during Oceana’s 2017 refurbishment. The suites also got new curtains, sheers, bed runners, cushions, valances, headboards and lamps. A new colour scheme of blues, tans and greys makes the rooms feel modern and updated, but the balconies need some TLC.
Passengers aboard Oceana
Unique to the German and Italian-dominated Middle East cruise market, Oceana will be the only British-majority cruise ship sailing from Dubai. Her Arabian Gulf itineraries will be ten days in length, putting them on the longer side, which is more popular with older passengers.
However, as Oceana will be offering her Dubai cruises during the UK’s Christmas holidays, there are likely to be a fair few families travelling together as well.
Oceana is a cruise ship intended to appeal to couples and families alike. It has an informal atmosphere with plenty to keep kids entertained in age-specific clubs, while adults can indulge in the spa, hedge bets in the casino or relax with a cocktail on the terrace or in one of the ship’s many bars and lounges.
She is a floating taste of Britain in the Arabian Gulf and has already been confirmed for a second cruise season out of Dubai in 2020.
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