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
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
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.
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.
Symphony alongside at N Shed
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 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, in spite 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.
Symphony sailing from Durban
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
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, a retrospect. (2013)
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.
Oriana berthed at QEII terminal
Night sailing of Oriana from Southampton
Oriana sailing from Mayflower terminal in Southampton
If anything Oriana 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 sailed from Southampton under her new name “Piano Land”. Stripped of her new P&O corporate branding she headed off to an uncertain future in China. It is possible she will be very successful in her new role and only time will tell. Fair weather and safe seas for your future Oriana. You will not be forgotten. (Image courtesy of Steve Carrett and is used with permission.)
Destored and with her new name on her bows, Oriana is ready to leave
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.
These images were taken on board in 2013 with my phone. I make no excuses for the quality.
DRW. © 1992-2021. 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. Moved to Musings 28/02/2021, tagged 14/11/2008