A voyage on the Oriana

 22-03-97 to 24-03-97. Durban-Cape Town

The announcement that Canberra would be replaced by a new ship was greeted with much dismay by everybody. The concept vessel shown to the media was criticised as being too much like a wedding cake and too little like Canberra. She was built by Joseph Meyer of Papenburg, Germany and entered service in 1995. Soon it was announced that this ship, known as Oriana, would be calling in Durban during her 1997 world cruise. The time had come for us to sail again. I was one of the first South Africans to book the short Durban to Cape Town trip, I phoned as the voyage was made available. Needless to say I took what I could get! The berth that I chose was a shared 4 berth inside cabin. This berth was guaranteed but I would only know my cabin number once the ship arrived, something that would play in my favour once she was in Durban.

Then it was time to wait and watch the exchange rate. The ship was due in Durban on 22 March, arriving in Cape Town on 24 March, a short 1 day and two night hop. By now Rudi had booked as well and we started counting the days.

Postcard image of Oriana
Postcard image of Oriana

As the sailing grew closer I decided that I would return to Durban on Symphony just for fun and went ahead and booked that as well. Now I had two ships to look forward to and an empty bank account.

Early in the morning, on Friday the 21st we departed on the long drive to Durban. Howard was at the helm and for once we made the trip down in daylight! The problem was that the grotty weather was coming too and we hit the usual rain at Van Reenen and all the way to Durban. Duly arriving we headed off for lunch on board the 40000 ton container ship, MSC Samia. before dropping Rudi and his girl friend off at their sleeping place. The rest of us made for the tug Jannie Oelofsen where we would be spending the night. There were not too many movements on the go and yet they were all very interesting.
Maiden arrival in Durban
Maiden arrival in Durban
Our last movement was to a ship which seemed really decrepit, its lines could not reach the quayside and she was having engine problems. On arrival back at the tug jetty we found Ken Malcolm, who joined Neville and Clive Bush on the pilot boat while Howard and I hopped on to the tug. The pilot boat headed out to sea to drop off a pilot at Symphony and one at Oriana. Our tug was allocated to Oriana, and with the weather finally clearing, we awaited our first glimpse of this great ship. Symphony waddled in first, looking as great as ever but she was soon to be overwhelmed by what was astern of her.
Our first sight of Oriana was of a huge white ship which really was not attractive when foreshortened. However, once she was in view and had turned completely then only could we appreciate her. She was huge, dazzling white and perfectly trimmed onto her waterline. Equipped with three bow thrusters, twin screws, twin rudders and a stern thruster, she berthed herself while the tugs stood off in awe.
Symphony from Oriana
Symphony from Oriana
Dropped off by the tug we quickly collected the guys and we headed for the ship. There was no doubt that she was big, she towered over everything in sight and made Symphony look like a toy. We headed down to the gangway where I attempted to get the guys on board as Rudi had not organised a ship visit. There was no luck in that department, however I was taken on board to get my cabin number and booked in as well. I now had a boarding pass and could come and go as I pleased. I got off again and we all went around to Symphony to look at her, alas there was no visit organised either. Time was passing, and the smell of food was rather urgent so I said my farewells to everybody and headed for my newest ship….
The 4 images below were all taken in 2013 in Southampton.
The entrance is on F deck where the reception desk and bottom of the 5 deck atrium is situated. The carpets are a light green colour and a fountain gurgles behind the staircase. One deck up are  the shops with the Peninsular restaurant midships and Oriental restaurant aft. The next deck has a spectacular wrap around promenade as well as the Pacific lounge, Lords Tavern, Harlequins lounge, the casino, Andersons with its club like atmosphere, and the really spectacular Theatre Royal. D deck houses the children’s playrooms, Chaplains Cinema, library, The Crichton complex and passenger cabins.
The next three decks are devoted solely to cabins with the Lido deck right on top of all of these. Here is found the conservatory where the buffet is served. The two pools are on this deck as well as the gym. The deck surrounding this area has a jogging track around the ship while the entrance to the Crows Nest is found forward. There are three sets of lifts in the ship and they all work!. The terrace pool is situated on the promenade deck aft and the view from the sun deck down to the stern where this pool is, is really spectacular. The massive buff funnel crowns the whole package and is easily recognisable for miles.
Surprisingly enough, the ship, inspite of its size is relatively simple to find your way around. My cabin was on E deck and the number two staircase was just around the corner. Inside, the cabin was small but neat. There were three other guys in the cabin, one of whom was on his sixth world cruise and who had been on since Southampton. There was a fridge, TV, mini-safe and every other amenity imaginable in that cabin. The missing porthole was not really a problem. Once on deck, I watched Symphony sail and as she passed I could almost look down her funnel. By the time we sailed it was late and the light was failing and it looked like rain was brewing again. The wind howled us off the decks and we all headed below. There was very little vibration or motion on board and it was very difficult to think that you were on board a ship.
Being such a big ship, there is never any feeling of crowds of people, in fact I wonder how full she really was? There was quite a bit to do on board, bars to visit, shops to ogle, movies to attend and of course food to scoff. I had eaten lunch at the conservatory and if it was any indication of the standard of service on board then we were really in for a treat. I was not disappointed as we sat down for supper in the Peninsular restaurant.
The service was brilliant with two very articulate and polite stewards catering for our every need. There was food galore, in fact too much food for one sitting as far as I am concerned. However it was dispatched with great gusto and we all retired that night feeling somewhat bloated.
More food awaited us at breakfast, again in the conservatory. The place was so big that It never really was crowded and the queues were quite small. Our next visit was to reception where we enquired whether it was possible to present our World Ship Society plaque to the master. After some phone calls we were told that we would be informed, so off we scuttled, meeting at the jacuzzi. We spent the morning eating ice cream in the jacuzzi with a howling wind around us. On arrival back at the cabin I discovered that our visit to the master was scheduled for 11H30 and it was 11H20 already. Needless to say I could not find Rudi and I had some quick explaining to do to the captain’s secretary. The visit was rescheduled for later that day and off we went for more food! Lunch over, we were introduced to the master and presented our plaque.
Bridge wing view
Once we finished off there it was as if we had accomplished all that had to be done and the rest of the time I spent on a deck chair on that glorious promenade watching the sea go by. After all, isn’t that what sea travel is all about?
The next morning it was up early to watch the approach to Cape Town. We passed Cape Point around 06H30 but there were clouds around everything and we could not see very much. We entered Cape Town harbour about 08H30, the tugs were spraying water and on the quayside a band played stirring nautical type tunes. This time Oriana had lines on the tugs and she did not berth herself. A mediocre crowd awaited us as we slowly started our disembarkation. Once off the ship I met up with my lift and we went to drop my luggage before heading out to town. The ship dominated everything and we could see that huge funnel for miles.
Alongside in Cape Town
Alongside in Cape Town
That night in cold weather the Oriana took her leave, sailing slowly past us as we stood at the quayside, her lights were all burning and the funnel glowed in the spotlights. As she dropped the pilot I could see the tiered decks that overlooked the terrace pool. I had stood there not too long ago, now it was over and Oriana was on her way home. I had another ship to catch the next day, but would anything ever compare? somehow I doubted it. The Symphony may be a great ship, but she is not in the same league as Oriana was.
Oriana 2013
Night sailing of Oriana from Southampton
Night sailing of Oriana from Southampton
Oriana, a retrospect. (2013)
Oriana in Southampton
Oriana in Southampton
In early 2013 I was living in Southampton and Oriana soon became a familiar face in the port. She has been in service since 9 April 1995, and at the time was considered to be one of the biggest cruise ships afloat. Times have changed, P&O became part of Carnival, and Oriana is now 18 years old. There have been a number of changes on board her, but externally she acquired a new stern addition that has not really improved her looks. She also acquired a new port of registry, and is now registered in Bermuda. If anything she still stands out amongst a crowd of non-descript blocks of flats, and along with Aurora she is a proper ship and looks like one.  When I first saw her berth herself I did not know that years down the line it would become commonplace for a cruise ship to come alongside on her own, and unberth herself. Tugs are becoming almost superfluous.
I worked baggage handling on her in June 2013, and we really worked like crazy, moving over one thousand items of luggage. Between shifts I managed to get on board and look around her, and she is familiar, but not so familiar. She does seem to have lost that gloss she had when we sailed on her, and in parts she is looking tired. But, she is still beautiful. I would travel on her again given the opportunity, because like Canberra before her she has acquired a character unique to her, and when you see her she still has those many features that were integrated into her design to make her a worthy successor to the one and only Canberra. But, make no mistake, she is a unique ship all of her own and well worth seeing and sailing on.
The bad news: 2018.
It was announced that Oriana will be leaving the fleet in August 2019 and has been sold to Chinese interests. It was always on the cards that at some point she would no longer fit the corporate image, and sadly that time has come. It is expected that Aurora would be the next to go. So if you want to sail on Oriana you have less than a month left. 
Oriana Models.
I have two of these, the smaller one is by Mercator and is 1/1250 scale. They were selling them on board at the time for £20.
Oriana Internals
These images were taken on board in 2013 with my phone. I make no excuses for the quality.
 DRW. ©  1992-2020.  Updated 13 Aug 2004,  12 July 2011.  Edited 10/06/2013, internal links fixed and images resized 17/04/2016, new images added 02/05/2016

A voyage on the Canberra

19-03-92 to 21-03-92 Durban-Cape Town

The Canberra has always held a fascination for me, almost an obsession, and this magnificent white ship would always be in the back of my mind. I missed seeing her in 1986 when she called in Durban and decided then and there that I would remedy this at the first opportunity. Unfortunately the political situation in the country robbed us of the chance to see her or any other major passenger ships until  the outbreak of the Gulf War. This was a bonus to us shipping starved South Africans as first the QE2 and then Canberra were diverted from the Suez route and were scheduled to call in our waters instead. We all went down to see QE2 and were somewhat disappointed in not being able to swing a visit to her. We were even more miffed when certain members of our party got on board, but that is another story.

Canberra and Hapag Lloyd’s Europa were due to call the next week and so a week later we made the 570 kilo trip down to see them. We arrived very early in the morning to find the Europa already alongside, she lay quietly at the Ocean Terminal, lights blazing and all peaceful, it was a breathtaking sight.

We then left for the North Pier to await the arrival of the “Great White Whale”. By now the weather had come up and it was drizzling,  we were cold, wet, tired and hungry and she was nowhere in sight. About two hours later she emerged like a ghost from the mist, a big phantom which looked so different from anything I had ever seen before.

We followed her in and made our way to the gangway, trying desperately to get a visit but to no avail and we had to be satisfied with a boat ride around the harbour, enviously watching the Canberra and Europa berthed bow to bow.

I was also fortunate to get a proper view of that distinctive tiered stern from the harbour cruise vessel, but I really wanted to be on board instead.

Later that evening we watched her sail, and we had vowed to sail on her as soon as we were able and the next year we were successful.

Cruising the Canberra. A voyage on the Great White Whale.
Wednesday 18 March 1992.
Following our sojourn to see the Canberra; Rudi, and I had decided that come rain or shine we were going to try get on her next time she came around. We decided to put in the advance hints at our travel agents for brochures and started to count the days. While Rudi was overseas the brochures were released, the Canberra was calling in Durban on the 19th of March and again in Cape Town on the 21st of March on her way to Southampton. Our chance had come at last, unfortunately the most affordable price was still R7000 too much for poor people like us. We would have to resort to “plan B”!
“Plan B” took the form of one of those endless sob story letters that cruise companies get from the public so very often. Last time a few berths were open between Durban and Cape Town at a very reasonable rate. However due to bad publicity we only heard about it too late. This time we wanted in very early in the game. Rudi, being the optimistic type of chap that he is, decided that a carefully worded letter to P & O was in order and promptly drafted and posted one. The big wait began. By the middle of January, it had arrived, a nice letter saying that we could have a voyage from Durban to Cape Town! Planning time again: we quickly grabbed all the interested parties, stressing that we had to climb in quickly, time was not on our side, we soon discovered that the prices were affordable, provided we never ate again! only R800 per person sharing in a four berth outside cabin. Rudi begged his bank manager, I blackmailed an autobank, Neville cashed in his insurance and the three of us booked. Unfortunately Howard could not sell his car so he had to give it a miss. They had split our party up, I was in B223, a four berth on B Deck, Neville was on C deck, while Rudi and his wife were in a two berth on C deck.
P&O Publicity postcard for the Canberra
P&O Publicity postcard for the Canberra
Neville arrived a few minutes after I wrote the last paragraph and we set off for Vanderbijl Park, where we gathered our goodies and split for Durban just after midnight. The trip down was punctuated by cold pizza and Radio Orion. That is where I had my first inkling of a possible hitch in our plans. The radio mentioned a cruise ship in Durban Harbour. We thought it was a joke until we reached Durban, as we navigated down West Street I looked towards the harbour and saw the distinctive twin funnels. My scream awoke about 68% of Durban and we put the helm about and headed for the ocean terminal. Lo and behold, the Canberra was alongside, having arrived the previous evening at 17H00. We bailed out for some quick photography before heading for a closer look. She was so beautiful!
Having made some arrangements, we headed for the local junk food tavern to have a quick scoff and do some quick shopping before heading back to the harbour. We spent the next 5 hours irritating Neville and occupying the only chair under the fan in the quayside restaurant. At 15H00 we started to board the ship. I was the first of us on board and was met by a line of stewards and officers on the Promenade deck. I was propelled to my cabin which was on B deck, the deck above the promenade. The cabin was small and had four bunks, two wardrobes, a dressing table and a wash basin. The toilet and shower was just down the corridor. I took a quick turn around deck before going to find the rest of the gang.
Canberra pocket guide. (1500×647)
We met for lifeboat drill in the Meridian lounge (Prom deck forward) at 16H00 and from there collected our cameras to watch our sailing from the observation deck. We bumped into Cecil Clemo from Port Natal Branch on deck and the five of us could only smile when the Canberra started the slow tow astern towards the harbour entrance at 17H00 sharp.
I was propelled to my cabin which was on B deck, the deck above the promenade. The cabin was small and had four bunks, two wardrobes, a dressing table and a wash basin. The toilet and shower was just down the corridor.  I took a quick turn around deck before going to find the rest of the gang. We met for lifeboat drill in the Meridian lounge (Prom deck forward) at 16H00 and from there collected our cameras to watch our sailing from the observation deck. For some odd reason we were towed astern out of our berth right up to the harbour entrance.  We sailed into calm seas with the outlook for weather looking very overcast. We had been allocated table 17 in the Atlantic Restaurant on E deck and as we were second sitting we decided to go look around. The promenade deck is the best place to be, it runs all the way around the ship and is the deck under the lifeboats.
Cricketers Tavern

from aft we have Neptune’s bar, the Cricketers Tavern, Library, Shop, and the Ocean Room; a large lounge that used to be the William Fawcett Room. All the corridors on this deck are lined with plaques given to the ship by various ports and organisations. Forward on this deck is the old first class territory and subsequently it is all wood panelled. The Meridian Lounge and the Century Bar are the last public rooms on this deck with a spiral staircase leading  up to the Crows Nest Bar on Games deck.  Canberra has lots of smaller, more intimate rooms scattered all over the decks and I doubt whether we even saw some of them. She has three shops: a kiosk; where postcards, chocolates, sweets etc are available, a gift shop, where we spent all our money on goodies, and a boutique where they sell things like cameras, radios, perfume etc. The Lido buffet is situated on Games deck and provides round the clock tea and coffee as well as serving an informal breakfast. 

The Canberra quickly picked up speed for Cape Town and it was hard to believe that you were at sea! The time passed quickly exploring the ship until dinner which was served at 20H15. Our table was ably served by Laurence, a Goanese steward who proved to be the best table steward I had ever had on any ship! What a pleasure to have someone who understood English.
Dinner menus (1500×758)
The food was excellent and there was a good variety of it. After supper we all trooped around the ship again, taking photo’s and oohing and aaahing all over the place. Our last stop for the day was in the Island room for a quick cup of coffee and toasted cheese sandwiches before heading our different ways to bed. 
The next morning was grey and overcast, we were between East London and PE by now and Cecil had told us that the PE branch of the WSS had contacted the Master to get the ship to slow down and come closer inshore, as they had hired a launch and were coming out to see her. The Canberra duly complied and we saw the tiny little ski boat bashing her way past the ship, attempting to retrieve a life belt thrown off the ship. There was no sign of the sun.  Milk Wilkinson sent me the image below of the ship powering through the waves while they watched.
Meridian Lounge
Crow’s Nest bar

Later that day we all popped in at the information desk, brandishing books and membership cards with the aim of a bridge visit. Unfortunately they were unable to give us an answer until the watch changed at 12H00. Needless to say we were back at 12H01 to inquire yet again. Still no joy until next change of watch at 16H00. Rudi had bumped into an electrical officer who had promised to try get us on the bridge at 16H30, unfortunately I got talking to some people from England and got to the officers accommodation at 16H31, late again!

Daily program (1500×731)
Canberra's Bridge
Canberra’s Bridge
However a cox’n asked me whether I was due to go to the bridge, I explained that there were actually 3 of us, he confirmed that he just had to come fetch whoever there was and knew nothing further. I could not resist letting this chance go to waste and up to the bridge I went. I was welcomed by the third officer who was quite happy to answer any questions I had. The bridge was very small and functional, in fact, even the helm was small! It was a good climax to end our cruise off. I left half an hour later, hoping that Rudi and Neville would also get on the bridge, which happily they did.
Our fellow passengers, seemed very curious as to why we were doing this short trip, but how do you explain to someone who has been on the ship since Southampton how you feel about the Canberra? Personally, I love her, she is a real lady and a total classic ship. She is comfortable and well run and it is obvious from everybody that has sailed on her before, very well loved. Besides who knows if I would ever have this chance again. (Sadly I never did).
By lunch time the weather had started to clear and people were making their appearance at the pools (Canberra has 3) and along the decks. I had a beer for Howard in the Cricketers Tavern, which is one of the most popular public rooms on the ship, judging by the amount of people who frequented it.
By now I was tired from all the walking and stairs and starting to slow down a bit. It was a relief to just park off for a while on the promenade deck and relax, like you are supposed to do on a cruise. We also had to start packing our gear for disembarkation the next day. My cabin mates, two South Africans and a Welshman sat talking till first sitting dinner, before we all split up yet again, our suitcases in the corridor, our cupboards empty.
It was a formal dinner that evening, we had been allowed optional informal dress because we were leaving and sadly our meal was over all to quick. We spent the time before bed walking around and sitting in the Island Room, where Neville had a few problems with a chicken drumstick.
Arrival in Cape Town
Arrival in Cape Town
We were awake early in my cabin, up on deck at 06H00 to see Cape Town in the darkness. We slowly sailed up to the Tavern of the Seas. The approach to Cape Town was windy, punctuated by comments on the PA from someone on the bridge, This was my third arrival in Cape Town by sea, and the best to date. Sadly we approached our berth, a slow breakfast, and soon it was time to leave. Cape Town had laid a band on for our arrival but there were only a few people to see us in. We delayed our disembarkation until 10H00 before we walked down the gangway for the last time. Our journey was over. All that was left was goodbye.
Canberra alongside in Cape Town
Alongside in Cape Town
Alongside in Cape Town
We clambered over the dolos’s at the breakwater to see her sail, the sun was going down as the Canberra steamed past us, glowing in the fading light.
We watched her till she was a speck on the horizon before we turned away to go back to the apartment. 
Our journey was at an end and all that was left was the long trip home to Johannesburg.  Her journey would continue for a number of years to come. The trip is now a distant memory which is viewed on slides and amongst menu’s, programs and postcards. Our arrival in Cape Town came too quickly and at the quayside lay the RMS St Helena, a ship which I would sail on the next year.
Inevitably it was announced that a replacement for Canberra was to be built, her name would be Oriana and she is a fine ship too, yet Canberra had something real special about her, there was a spirit which comes from those who have sailed in her and those who built, manned and loved her.
There was even a rumour that she would end her days as a hotel ship in Durban…. Yet these were only rumours and now Canberra has ended her days at the cutting torches. She may be gone, yet her memory will always remain. In the book of fine ships, there is an entry especially reserved for her.
Postscript 2019
It has been a long time since Canberra and I am still in love with that glorious old lady. Her successor, Oriana is a stunning ship too, but sadly in 2018 it was announced that she too would be withdrawn from service in August 2019 and has reportedly been sold for trade in China. It was strange to stand in Southampton and see the berth where Canberra was moored when in the city. There is an anchor there that may come from her but I could never confirm it. 
DRW. ©  1992-2020. Last updated 05/08/2004. Images updated 13/07/2011. Moved to blog 09/12/2013, images tweaked 14/03/2016, images added 02/03/2019, image added and some replaced 28/03/202