After a drive of over a hour from my home in Wiltshire in the South West of England, Southampton stretched out ahead and within its expansive docks was our destination Berth 106 Mayflower Cruise Terminal, which since the early hours had been occupied by ORIANA.
Continuing through the city streets being guided by illuminated signs indicating ORIANA’s location made the excitement all the more real.
The anticipation was great, ORIANA was both the first cruise liner that I had been aware of as a child thanks to the amount of media attention the ship had received during her construction and naming and on a more personal level the first ship that I cruised on.
As the car drew closer to the docks my anticipation grew further, as it always does ,for the first time I was going to be in a balcony cabin with a private sea view, perfect to enjoy the views the majestic Norwegian Fjords would offer.
Before I had time to think of anything else ORIANA’s CANBERRA inspired funnel and gleaming white upper decks appeared over the industrial shapes of the dock cranes.
As always when docked in her home port ORIANA looked impressive and elegant dressed overall with her gleaming paintwork contrasting with the cloud filled sky .
A first glance while approaching ORIANA.
Being me I had already worked out the exact location of our cabin and counting back from the first balcony on the port side saw the first glimpse of my home for the next week.
Quickly arriving at the terminal we were quickly directed where to park and were immediately joined by a dockside attendant who in a scene reminiscent of the days of the Ocean Liners was loading our luggage on to his trolley to take it for loading on to ORIANA.
Passengers arrive at the terminal.
After navigating through the other passengers also depositing their luggage we arrived at Departures check in area and stood in line along with everyone else just beyond the desks through the floor to ceiling windows ORIANA’s sharp bow was with the water playfully reflecting over the raised black letters that spell out her name.
Check in desks at the Mayflower Terminal.
With passports and tickets in hand slowly the queue decreased at first before pace increased and it seemed like we would finally get closer to the check in desk and as we did more of ORIANA became visible.
Although classed as a midsized ship from check in hall ORIANA appeared far larger than just medium to all the expectant waiting passengers.
Finally we arrived at the desk and the familiar processes began Name, Passport, Ticket, how will you paying onboard ?
As the check in process proceeded we took he opportunity to read the first of the ORIANA Today newspaper which welcomed all passengers onboard on behalf of Captain David Pembridge, it also gave a good insight of what to expect for the first evening onboard with a listing of events on offer.
Finally with check in complete and cruise cards in hand we were directed to the security screening area which as expected is taken very seriously and like at airports requires the removal of jackets and other loose outer clothing to be scanned separately, before a walk through of the metal detector, all being overseen by the vigilant security officers Once through and reunited with hand luggage and camera that was scanned it was almost time to board ORIANA, with the option of having a boarding photograph taken by the onboard photographers before entering the enclosed gangway which led to ORIANA.
Traditionally cruising was pastime that was more associated with the older generations, with very few people under the age of 50 taking cruises, however times change and on this occasion ORIANA had passengers of all ages making their way on board from children in pushchairs to 80 and 90 year olds.
The expectations of over year of waiting finally came when a little after 1:20pm we passed through ORIANA’s midships entrance on deck 5 after scanning the cruise card through the computer to officially check in onboard.
After the crowded check in area and the hustle and bustle of the security screening entering ORIANA was to quote a cliche like stepping into another world despite the many other passenger passing through the atrium and its water fall created a calm and relaxing atmosphere complemented by the elegant Tiffany style ceiling 4 decks above which to my mind helped create a true authentic Ocean Liner atmosphere.
Despite being the third time I had stepped onboard ORIANA to begin a relaxing cruise and not being new to me I still couldn’t help but be impressed by its refined elegance.
As is normal for embarkation the passenger cabins were still being readied by the cabin stewards which was expected to be completed by 2pm, with complimentary lunch was being served in The Conservatory buffet restaurant on deck 12 alternatively the bars were open for liquid refreshment.
After enjoying a small lunch I decided to take a walk around ORIANA to re-familiarise myself with the ship, it certainly felt good to be back onboard and it didn’t take me long to feel at home again.
That day ORIANA was not alone in Southampton joining her was fleet mate ARTEMIS who was docked ahead of ORIANA in Berth 101 City Cruise Terminal and further down River The legendary Cunarder QUEEN ELIZABETH 2.
Concluding my walk around ORIANA a announcement was made that all cabins were now ready for occupation.
Arriving at the cabin I found our luggage was sat by the door having been brought up by the ships crew.
I thrilled to take my first look inside Deluxe Balcony Cabin B128, it was larger than I expected almost the size of a small flat with a decent a size sitting area looking out on to excellent sized balcony, like the other cabins
on ORIANA it was richly appointed with deep carpets and matching curtains.
Maritime law dictates that every time a ship takes new passengers that it is required to hold a safety drill that musters passengers in their designated room or muster station onboard and that they be talked through the on board safety procedure by the captain from the bridge culminating with the trying on of life jackets.
For this cruise our designated muster station was Andersons on the Promenade deck and we arrived there to settle in for the drill by the appointed time of 4:15pm.
Although a very important part the drill the sight of people of various ages trying to put on the jackets did make smile to myself.
The lifeboat/safety drill lasted about half a hour and concluded by 4:45pm at which time the portside open decks began to fill with passengers who anticipated the famous British style sail away from Southampton.
Choosing to watch from the Promenade deck I was lucky to find a space at the ships rail from which point I had a view over the brass band which had set up on the dockside and began playing with the sound of ragtime and Jazz music.
The excitement really began to build on ORIANA as sailing time loomed with signs that departure was near, all the ships engines had now been brought online and the smoke emitting from the funnel began to become thicker with its shadow on the dockside becoming more solid.
Adding to the refined yet party like atmosphere champagne was served and Union Jacks given out by the entertainments team who came to join in the events on deck.
At about 10 past 5 the last of ORIANA’s lines were let go by the dockside stevedores as ORIANA was finally ready for her departure.
By now the excitement and party atmosphere had built to a level which can only be really seen onboard a ship at such times.
Just before departure Captain Pembridge gave his customary announcement indicating ORIANA’s readiness to depart and the order of departure of ships in port before wishing the passengers a good cruise onboard.
At 5:20pm ORIANA began slowly to thrust off the berth to the sound of the band playing the Rod Stewart's Sailing as ORIANA eased her way into the middle of the river with those who lined the rails cheering and flag waving enthusiastically.
A video filmed from ORIANA's promenade
Certainly there was no denying that, as the band reached the end of the music and ORIANA took over with her sound as her horn blew there is no form of transport that compares with the occasion of a ship sailing.
It was a event in its self to watch the excitement of my fellow passengers as the cruise began in the most appropriate way
As ORIANA picked up speed passing by and exchanging greetings with ARTEMIS who departed moments after.
Continuing down Southampton Water ORIANA approached QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 the venerable ship was to depart after we had passed by and I felt a certain excitement, I of course knew all about QE2 but this was the only time that I had seen the ship in person.
ORIANA seen from QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 Copyright: Flickr.com.
Sounding her horn ORIANA was met only by silence as QE2’s crew seemed to ignore ORIANA before suddenly the sound of her deep throated horn to which passengers from both ships cheered , waved and took photographs of each over.
Being the first night onboard and realising that most of the passengers will be wanting to spend their first evening onboard relaxing the first dinner is a casual night, although meaning different things to different people in general it means a smart shirt with no tie and smart looking trousers.
To my delight I was informed by a card placed in the cabin that our dining venue would be The Peninsular Restaurant, being the restaurant which I had dined in previously I had somehow become attached to the room and felt a certain familiarity with it.
The service was nothing short of excellent after arriving for the first time their was a queue of waiters ready to show each passenger to their table before nodding politely and heading back to do the same for another passenger.
After indulging in all five courses of the meal it eventually came time to leave and enjoy the rest of the evening.
For my family and I after what had been a long and tiring day on this occasion that would be several quiet drinks in some of the more relaxed bars and for me a one final walk of the day around the ship.
On the promenade deck in Lords Tavern the sound of excited voices marked the reunion of old friends and the making of new ones as the sound of 70s and 80s music filled the air .
Moving on forward ORIANA’s guest band Natural High played for the welcome onboard dance in Harlequins, although this night I wasn’t going to be dancing perhaps later in the cruise after some drinks anything was possible.
Walking towards the atrium the sound of shopping from the atrium and gambling from the casino made interesting mix as several of the officers who were socialising with the passengers posed for photographs with them near the waterfall, just managing to catch the forward lift up to deck 13 and to The Crows Nest , where I found my parents in a animated conversation with one of the barmen.
It was nice to be back on ORIANA, only the first night and so much seemed to be going on onboard,
As ORIANA turned her course to head north towards Norway , the parties continued until the early hours, no one needed to worry about getting up early, there was no rush , tomorrow was a day at sea to unwind and discover fully at our own pace the delights that ORIANA had to offer.
Photo copyrights P&O Cruises & Steve Martin