domingo, 11 de abril de 2021

A Triumphant Beginning

Departure day, the beginning of your cruise, for seasoned and novice cruisers there is nothing quite like it, often planned months in advance Passports/cruise tickets, check, Packing, double check, Dog, collected  yesterday.
Then the journey to the cruise terminal, for the majority of those cruising from the UK, the journey to Southampton, nearing the docks a first glimpse of your ships' funnel and upper looking  for the correct dock gate, and finally arriving at your terminal ready to show passports and tickets.                                      P&O Cruise 571 departing on the 9th April 1995 was in many respects no different, yet in everyway it was a very different journey the 1800 passengers were about to embark upon not only were they sailing on a Maiden Voyage they were sailing on board ORIANA, the new flagship of Britains oldest shipping company, its first dedicated UK based cruise ship designed with the British passenger in mind standing in contrast to her mass market  US cousins.
On a technical level ORIANA was a masterpiece of martime design being the fastest passenger ship built for 25 years and the fastest purpose built cruise liner in the world while at the same time her design remained somewhat traditional giving her passengers the best of both worlds.
In terms of the passengers boarding covered a broad range,mostly there were regular P&O cruisers members of P&O's POSH club but there was also passengers who were new to cruising beginning their "cruising life" with the ship designed to usher in the new era of UK based crusing, while the majoritiy of passengers were British and had come from all over the UK to join ORIANA for her maiden sailing there were some who had travelled from further to join the ship, including from the Netherlands to Australia.

To greet the boarding passengers the first edition of ORIANA Today the ship's own onboard newspaper they and a letter frm ORIANA's Master Commodore Ian Gibb, welcoming them on board and sharing some of the effection which the crew and company had already come to see ORIANA with.

A warm welcome from Commodore Gibb

 It wasn't only for those on boarding who were anticapting ORIANA's sailing ship spotters and enthusiasts were eager to see her sail and to that end P&O published the times at which they estimated ORIANA pass certain points on her journey down the Solent and to the sea as shown below


With passengers boarding at 4pm the first entertainment held onboard ORIANA for her fare paying passengers began with Piano music on offer in The Crow's Nest some or for different tastes there was music being played in both Harlequins and The Pacific Lounge followed by the obligatory safety drill held at 5pm and shortly after 6pm to the sound  of The Horn Pipe played by The Band of the Royal Corps of Signals.
To begin ORIANA's sea going career her first port of call would reflect P&O's history and heritage, leaving Southampton behind ORIANA 2 days at sea would follow before reaching Funchal, Madeira one of P&O's most popular ports call, here she would spend overnight allowing the passengers to take in the beauty of the city and islands while a local Folkloric group would be boarding to entertain the passengers with local dance and traditions before departing for the Canary Islands.
In her 24 year service she would become a
familiar sight in those destinations with Madeira in particular having an affinity with the ship over her career.

ORIANA arrives makes her Maiden Call at Funchal, Madeira :Luís Filipe Jardim
ORIANA's Maiden Voyage proved to be resounding success and helped to birth a new short lived era for the company before it demerged the cruise operations 5 years later leading to eventual meger with Carnival to form faceless by the numbers Carnival PLC/UK.
In the years since a number of  P&O Cruises ships have entered service all promising to be the next generational leap for the company, with the exception of AURORA in 2000 none of the others lived up to the promise ORIANA brought to P&O and the UK cruise market.

sexta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2020

Post COVID return to service?

 Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the  cruise industry earlier this year a common question  has  been when will crusing resume?                                                                                                                           ORIANA as PIANO LAND the propaganda flagship of the Domestic Chinese market had her sailings suspended on the 29th of January and has spent most of the last 8 months idle in a lay up vastly different from her former fleet mates back in the UK.


In service with Astro Ocean Cruises

During the course of the year with stories from China itself and the World Health World Health Organization relating to the the state of the virus in the in the country it has been interesting to see when the ship would return to service.
With China being the progenitor of the virus and it's "effective" and "swift" measures being a complete uncomfirmed success it had been widely reported by experts that it would lead the cruise industry into recovery and be the first to return to service, this of course did not come to pass.
During this hiatus ORIANA herself has been for the most part laid up making very short trips out to sea and returning to dock within an hour, a contrast to her former P&O fleet mates who have been constantly sailing between ports on England's south coast.
During April she headed to
Zhoushan where Cruise Industry News reported that she would be entering drydock for work alongside new HVAC equipment being installed and a new grade of suites being added with a view to resuming service sooner rather than later
While she didn't enter drydock some work was carried out.

Still in need of a new lick of paint ORIANA departs the Zhoushan shipyard.

 Aside from rumours there has been lack of information coming out China related to it's cruise activities  with only the most broad predictions of the ships returning to service however finally a date has finally been announced and according to Astro Ocean's offical website they will resume their own operations tomorrow, the 12th December although like many things relating to the company and China as a whole there are pleanty of questions left unaswered.


Despite the above banner appearing on Astro Ocean's website the only cruises on sale are 3 cruises scheduled to take place between the 23rd July 2021 and 2nd August 2021.
The first a 2 night party cruise to and from Xiamen, and the second   5 night cruise departing from Xiaman and touring around Japan ending in Qingdao in the
Shandong province of China.
For the last of the 3 cruises she once again will head round Japan before returning to Qingdao.

segunda-feira, 29 de junho de 2020

Returning to service?

As some lockdown restrictions around many parts of the world begin to be lift it has been suggested that ORIANA's owner Astro Ocean Cruises would be returning her to service in the coming months.
 Once again being reported by Cruise Industry News the site noted it had observed the company recruiting via V.Ships website leading to speculation that the company is planning a relaunch soon.
In addition for the first time since arriving back from 'refit' the ship has sailed to anchor and back, leading some to suggest that the ship's crew were readying her for service.
In service prior to lockdown Photo: KeitoandKagari
There have been other indications that the company is planning a relaunch in the near future such as the company at long last launching a website albeit one which is only partialy functioning at present.
Although there are menus for destinations and departure dates among others there are no availble dates and the links lead to empty pages.
For the past month the site has proudly proclaimed '50 days to go' referring either to a return to service or potentially  some kind of upcoming announcement relating to the resumption of service a seemingly endless 50 days with no change being made to reflect the passage of time.
50 Days and counting?
Other banners around the site introduce the company's new mascot a typically Chinese lucky cat donning a sailors outfit, based on the Maneki-neko cats of Japanese culture.
Originally the company was also advertising it's enchanced health and hygine procedures however for reasons best known to themselves the company has since removed that information and banner.
Some might find a Chinese company promoting increased health and hygine practices due to Covid-19 a little hypocritical
 For those who may be interested Astro Ocean Cruises website can be found here: http://www.aocruise.com/
In recent weeks there has been localised outbreaks of Covid-19 in Beijing most recently leading to 400,000 people being put into lockdown how will such outbreaks effect the decision to return ORIANA to service? we can not say.
With the secracy and half truths that constantly surround the country it is hard to say whether the company has so far been in a postion to return to cruising either now with the current outbreak or before hand, only time will tell.

Photo Copyright: KeitoandKagari

domingo, 26 de abril de 2020

Layup and changes to ORIANA

It is fair to say that since ORIANA has been under Chinese ownership not many changes have been made to make her "The first ship exclusively built for the Chinese market"
On the whole the majority of the ship's decor has remained unchanged with little to no effort being made to make her uniquly British designs Chinese.
Naturally some changes were made name room changes etc a new albeit oddly placed childrens area built out of the former Crichtons card and game rooms, a new steak house grill from the former Lord's Tavern bar and the removal of the Terrace Bar, and various other minor but on the on the whole not a great deal of work.

In service as 'PIANO LAND'
Due to the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 the ship left service on the 29th of January and was put into lay up in Shanghai.
Laid up in Shanghai
She remained in Shanghai for 2 months finally departing for the port of Zhoushan formerly known as Chusan, a name familiar to anyone who is aware of P&O's history and heritage, where she arrived on the 3rd of April at the Cosco Zhoushan Shipyard.
Shortly after arrival at Zhoushan
Alongside as seen from a drydocked ship. Photo:Arvin Gonzaga
10 days after she arrived at the shipyard it was announced by owners Astro Ocean Cruises via Cruise 
Industry News that "it will spend a month to refurbish the PIANO LAND, taking the opportunity with the ship out of service to make some key upgrades"
It continued "The PIANO LAND, which is the former P&O ORIANA, is heading to a drydock in Zhoushan operated by COSCO for the work. The facility has previously handed emergency repairs for both Royal Caribbean International and SkySea Cruises."
It is worth noteing that during her time at the ship yard in contradiction to the company's/Cruise Industry New's claim, the ship never entered drydock even the crew boasting they were the wet dock team.
The Wet Dock crew pose on the covered former Riviera Pool. Photo Rowel Pacatang‎
The article further details work being carried out during the refit,the ship would  receive a completely new HVAC system which could allow upto 100% fresh air to be circulated through out if necessary.
It also announced that several further changes were being made to ORIANA/PIANO LAND's interiors, several of the ship's cabins would be set up for 'Medical situations'.
It was also mentioned that possibilty of the ship returning to service without any inside cabins signifcantly reducing passengers on board.
This to be honest is not surprising the images and low number of reviews point to the ship sailing with far fewer passengers on board than in her P&O days not unexpected seeing as a domestic Chinese cruise market hardly exists in any form.
In addition to reducing cabin numbers on board Astro Ocean also announced the addition of a new class of suite which will feature it's own dedicated dining area making up a new ship within a ship concept akin with MSC's Yacht Club concept.
Render of the new class of suite. Astro Ocean Cruises/Cruise Industry News
And judging from the image in the article the design is underwhelming, generic and as unispired as it is possible to get, quite the contrast to the aforementioned MSC Yacht Club.
Elsewhere, on Deck 7 the shopping area has been further expanded beyond the atrium itself into what was under P&O Anderson's resulting in an increase in space allowing for the introduction of 100 new international brands to shop from.
The former Anderson's as a new onboard shop but the P&O carpet remains.  Astro Ocean Cruises/Cruise Industry News
Having been docked in Zhoushan for 21 days ORIANA finally departed on the 24th April and arrived in Xaimen earlier today at 12:07 local time.
In need of a lick of paint ORIANA/PIANO LAND departs the Zhoushan shipyard.
Since a date for her return to service has not yet been announced, at the moment all that has been stated is planned resumption of service later this spring, it is assumed that she will remain in Xaimen for further layup and will either resume service form there or return to Shanghai to resume from there only time will tell.

domingo, 8 de dezembro de 2019

A Look at "PIANO LAND"

For those of us who had the pleasure of sailing on board ORIANA during her successful 24 year career, we can name and recognise her many and vaired venues and stunning features from her Tiffany glass celling topping the Atrium and waterfall (later living wall) backed staircase welcoming her passengers on board in style to listing to piano music in the panoramic Crow's Nest.
Distinctively British in flavour yet still having an international appeal so how has ORIANA been transformed into the 'exclusively  designed for the Chinese Market' PIANO LAND?
Using photos we have been able to find from her new passengers, and local travel agents today we are going to take a look at some areas of the ship to see what has changed and what if anything has remained the same.
Stairway 2 (Midships) Deck sinage
We begin our look at the very top of the ship on Deck 13 and one of her many standout features formally The Crow's Nest in it's current form as the Zenith Lounge
As we begin our tour we can see very little here has been altered featuring the same furnishings and carpets that were in use during her last 3 years of P&O service.
Still dispalying the same look and feel as it did under P&O, the renamed Crow's Nest still offering stunning vistas
On the port side the former CyberStudy/Crew training room (from 2016)  has become a Multi Function Room gone are desks which once sported computers that passengers could use for internet access instead it takes on the appearance somewhat akin to a meeting room with the majority of the room being taken up with tables and chairs taken from the former Medina Room on the starboard side, arranged faceing each other with other chairs arranged around the outside of the room it also feature a over pull down projector screen on the starboard side and a television screen at the aft end.
Multi Function Room
On the starboard side the former Medina Room now The Astro Executive Lounge  also has seen very little in the way of changes from the ship's time with P&O like it's counterpart on the port side all artwork in the room was removed by P&O.
The Astro Executive Lounge
Moving down to Deck 12 we come to the the former Oasis Spa & Salon alongside the ship's Gym, now just refered to as Spa and Salon like the rooms above on Deck 13 very little has changed from her time as ORIANA.
Spa Treatment Room
Spa Whirlpool
Looking forward in the Gym
Next we come to the Asian Gourment Corner which began life as the Aerobic Disco before becoming the more popular Al Fresco early in ORIANA's career.
Here we find a few minor changes from it's time as Al Fresco, with a newly laid floor and repaneled service counters and surroundings.

Asian Gourment Corner
Heading to the outer decks we come up on the Splash Bar once the Riviera Bar it is now the only large bar on the outer decks since the removal of the Terrace Bar.
In it's P&O days the bar would serve passengers around the adjoing Riviera Pool and Whirlpool spas
Under Astro Ocean the pool has been covered seemingly becoming a stage of sorts for outside performances while the Whirlpools both remain.
The covered Riviera pool
 Heading further aft we come to the largest pool onboard still named the Crystal Pool here very little has changed with the pool or the surrounding area still sporting sculputure Floating by Artist / Sculptor André Wallace.
The Crystal Pool, once the largest on any ship
Next we head back inside to The Lido Café buffet formally The Conservatory it at present retains the look it was given during the ship's 2016 refit.

Custom British or Custom Chinese?
While it is standard practice for a ship changing owners to keep it's overall decor and furnishings even when chaging the market it is operating in most of those ships were designed for the international market to begin with and  require very little in the way of changes to adapt it to a new market, in the case of ORIANA she was designed specifically for the British Market, her decor, layout, room size, varieties were designed to appeal to those senseabilities.
In contrast the Chinese market (or lack of it) is vastly different and to be Custom designed for it as the company and ship managers V.Crew have claimed, the ship would have needed a complete refurbishment throughout something which hasn't happened.
In our next post we continue our look at "PIANO LAND" when we take a tour of her public rooms.
Far from the passengers and market she belongs to.. ORIANA/PIANO LAND at Kagoshim, Japan Photo: Satoshi Ishihara

quinta-feira, 3 de outubro de 2019

Remembering ORIANA's final call in Funchal

Some different aerial views depicting ORIANA during her final call in the port of Funchal, capital city of Madeira, on 7th June 2019, as she was about to set her course bound to the Canary island of La Palma.
She is already cruising in the Far East for her new owners of Astro Ocean International Cruise Co. Ltd, as PIANO LAND, based in the Chinese port of Xiamen, and she is already truly missed in the old continent, and Funchal, where she was a regular visitor for the past 24 years.
Hopefully we will see her return someday...
To view our in-depth post about her last call in Madeira, click here.

sexta-feira, 20 de setembro de 2019

ORIANA as PIANO LAND

With just 10 days until ORIANA makes her Chinese debut as PIANO LAND for the still somewhat mysterious Astro Ocean Cruise she arrived earlier today in her new homeport of Xiamen.

 A world away from her previous homeport ORIANA as PIANO LAND alomgside her new home Xiamen. Photos: Singapore Cruise Society
Following her departure from Singapore earlier this week she was initially scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong before heading to mainland China however perhaps due to unrest in Hong Kong she made headed for Xiamen instead.
She is due to sail for Hong Kong for her naming ceremony ahead of her 'maiden voyage' on the 30th September.
While there is still very little information regarding Astro Ocean Cruise from the small amount of info we have been able to find we have put together a deck plan showing the ship's new venue names.

From photographs taken on board during her delivery voyage and some taken since her arrival in China it appears there have been very little in the way of changes to the majority of ORIANA's interiors.
The atrium still sporting the carpets and furniture from her final P&O years.
A new name but few other differences for the former Curzon Room/Sindhu
While some work has most certainly been done such as rebuilding the former Crichtons card room as the Twinkle Little Stars Club childrens area and removal of the Terrace bar it appears for the most part her venues have remained pretty much the same with little to no changes.
Some of the ship's other venues have also have retained their names such as Chaplins Cinema  or the two main restaurants on E Deck which have been renamed thier new names are somewhat close to their original names East (Oriental) and Byland (Peninsular) Byland also being an alterantive to the word Peninsula.
For a ship which VShips is claiming is the first "Custom designed for the Chinese Market" it is perhaps surprising that very little on board has been changed, and while ORIANA's design, and fixtures, fittings and finish far exceeds anything else in the P&O fleet she left behind last month (with the exception of AURORA) it can hardly Chinese in any way shape or form.
And of the renamed spaces only the 'Xinghai Theater' ,seen below, Lan Kwai Fong Steak Bar and Silk Road have a Chinese ring about them,

Not quite the Headliners, practicing in the theatre: SeaCruise UK
 With the Chinese Cruise Market being non existent we do not know what the future holds for her and while we do wish her the best of luck we also hope that at some point sooner rather than later she may come under the ownership of a company who will give her the attention she so rightly deserves.
The officers and crew who once cared for her long gone V Ships keep an eye over her systems