One of the most gorgeous modern cruiseships seen in one of the most gorgeous settings and light I could have imagined. Oriana slipping into IJmuidens outer harbour on the 4th of july 2012.
The origin of cruising
P&O Cruises is considered to be the company that operated the first cruises in the world by offering leisure voyages in the Mediterranean from 1844 onwards. These were not cruises like we know now, but more-over combinations of several voyages on several ships that they had sailing in the region on sceduled line-voyages, made into one travel experience. Recent announcements that sea-air was good for people helped a lot with people now wanting to go on an ocean voyage just for the ocean voyage itself. Downside was that arriving on one ship in a port could mean people had to wait there for several days sometimes untill another ship took them on the next leg of their 'cruise'. So the company organized leisure trips within the ports to explore these regions, the fore-runners of todays shore-excursions, to ease off waiting times. In 1835, Arthur Anderson, one of P&O's founders, had already founded a journal in his home on the Shetland islands which he edited, wrote and published himself named the Shetland Journal. To fill in some empty space, he advertized a non-exsisting voyage on a non-exsisting ship to 'explore the wild coast of the Shetlands, Faroe Islands and Iceland'. So the idea of cruising, then thought riduculous, was opted by him just a few years before P&O was founded and this early 'fake news' is considered to be the foundation of cruising in general.
That all said, P&O did not introduce purpose-built cruiseships. Mostly, they just kept offering cruises on their established line-voyages. It was in fact another company that had bought the P&O ship Ceylon in 1881, the Inter-Oceanic Yaughting Company, that fully used her as a cruiseship as one of the first such ships in history. Just in 1904, P&O rebuilt one of their liners into a full time cruiseship, the Vectis. More-over, just regular liners were used for cruises in the times that line-voyages were less popular or older ships were rebuild as they were followed up by better ones for the competitive line-voyages where speed was essential. No real cruiseships were built and luxury cruises were indeed unheared of as class-distinction was very much in place on cruises also.
In the 20th century, P&O was booming after many aquisitions an mergers and they owned a fleet of around 500 ships in the 1930's that spanned the globe and held the British Empire together. The sun never set on a P&O ship, that's for sure. But none of those were designed as cruiseships. Then, two worldwars followed and after that, the core-business of the company slowly foundered as aircraft were getting better due to militairy knowledge aquired in the wars. It now was possible to fly the Atlantic and these shippingcompanies rapidly went out of business all but a few. On the eastern and African routes it took some longer, but in 1970 P&O's Chusan made the last voyage for India and cruising was now the only way to go. From 1969 onwards, P&O had sent its liners to the American shores for cruising and many of them met their ends prematurely, sometimes just after less then 20 years of service. P&O now concentrated on other fields, mainly oil, ports and real estate. Cruising was the modern variant to its origins, but a very small and uncertain market. Thus, no new ships were built for this piece of the pie.
In 1971, just after the line-voyages had ended, P&O took over the contract for a 17.000-ton cruiseship that had originally been ordered by Kloster's Rederi of Norway for their Norwegian Caribbean Line under the planned name of Seaward. It was one of the new breed of succesful cruisecompanies that flocked the Caribbean from the late 1960's onwards. Old companies like Cunard, Holland America, HAPAG-Lloyd, P&O, The French Line and Norwegian American Line struggled a lot to get into this new business, but the new companies designed ships as true cruiseliners and the cruisemarket started to lift up because of them. Companies like NCL, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Royal Viking Line blossomed. Carnival Cruise Lines came soon after. P&O saw this change and bought the small Princess Cruises in 1974 to get a piece of this market for mostly cruises in Alaska and the American westcoast. The 17.000-ton ship had been launched in 1972 under the name of Spirit Of London and after the aquisition of Princess Cruises was re-named Sun Princess for that brand. She was designed as a cruiseship, but originally not by P&O and only sailed under their name for two years. Princess was now P&O's cruising playground. Under their own name, three cruiseships were sailing. The greyhounds Canberra and Oriana and the smallish educational cruiseship Uganda. The last one was requisitioned as a hospitalship for the Falkland War in 1982 and wasn't brought back as a cruiseship afterwards. In 1986, Oriana was sold as a hotelship in Japan and so the mighty P&O cruisefleet was just Canberra in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Princess Cruises in the time added the great Royal Princess in 1984 and was really establishing themselves as P&O's cruisefleet, especially after the aquisition of Sitmar Cruises in 1989.
In 1988 though, P&O Lines established P&O Cruises and the foundations for the company as we know today were laid. In 1995, Princess Cruises grew even more and the Sun-class was entering service as the largest cruiseships in the world at the time. The smaller and older Sea Princess was followed up by a new Sea Princess and replaced in the P&O Cruises fleet. As Princess Cruises passengers became used to more modern ships, she seemed to be better off in the more traditional P&O Cruises. For P&O, she was re-named Victoria. Meanwhile, P&O also liked to grow under their own name, especially because the great but aging 1960-built Canberra started to wear out and needed replacement. To stay in the game under the P&O name, a new ship thus had to be ordered. This became the first real cruiseship truly ordered and designed by the company that had undertaken the first cruise in the world some 150 years earlier.
Construction and general statistics
Below, Oriana is seen passing the Spaarnwoude nature region between Amsterdam and the North Sea when she is on her way to the Dutch capital at the 24th of april in 2003. The regian was established to stop the Amsterdam port for growing too much into green area's but is now been slowly eaten up by the port eventually and many musicfestivals are held there to be able to pay for the natural environment...
Ordered in the winter of 1991, at the 11th of march in 1993, the keel for the first P&O cruiseship was eventually laid at the wharf of Jos L. Meyer in Papenburg, Germany. Originally, it had been the great wish of P&O to have their new ship built in Great Britain, but there was no wharf available that was up to the task of building a ship like this. So with the Germans she was built under yardnumber 636. With her tonnage measurement of 69.153 she was the largest ship that had ever been ordered for the British cruisemarket and the largest ship that had been ordered from a German yard since the 51.000-ton Bismarck of 1914 was delivered to HAPAG. The new P&O ship was 260 meters long, 32,24 meters wide and her draft reached 7,90 meters. Traditionally, she was going to fly the British flag with London being her home-port. Of course Southampton was the true homeport for her and she has never been seen in London during her life. Her passenger capacity is 1975 in maximum and 1828 when only lower berths are counted in, next to a crew compliment of 760 crewmembers. She has thirteen decks in total, of which 10 can be used by her passengers. The fastest ship in the fleet, she was capable of 30 knots, although her service speed is 24, provided by two nine-cylinder and two six-cylinder diesel engines of MAN/ B&W design that drive two screw propellers.
She floated out on the 30th of july in 1994 for the first time as a test-run for the final undocking that was carried out at the 7th of january in 1995 to be completed with her funnel and mast. Also, her center of gravity could be better calculated after the first undocking. On her trials in late march 1995, she was put to the test as she sailed right into a force 10 gale. On her first run though, she exceeded her required speed by quite a bit, reaching up to 27,7 knots. Later, she was quite often capable of even 30 knots. She was said to be the fastest passengership built since 25 years. These speeds however, gave her a heavy vibration especially in the aft-placed Oriental Restaurant so speeds around 22 or 24 knots were her given maximum on cruises with paying passengers. The ship's trials were overall very satisfactory though and she was handed over to P&O at the 2nd of april in 1995 after which she set sail for Southampton with just a small stopover at Hamburg for inspections of her hull. This due to a moment of grounding in the river Ems during her voyage from the wharf to the seaport of Emden. The company had insisted that the new ship would also use the old call-sign of the former Oriana, her namesake, instead of recieving a new one. After long debates, as this is not common at all, it was eventually approved and Oriana was able to use the call-sign GVSN untill 2011, when she was reflagged to Bermuda and given the call-sign ZCDU9.
The newly recruited crew for the ship was training aboard another newer style cruiseship in the Princess Cruises fleet, the Crown Princess. This way, they could familiarize themselves with their job aboard the new ship.
Oriana was a star already when she wasn't even wet. A filmcrew from Discovery Channel watched her take shape from the early beginnings and made a 3-hour documentary about the building of the ship. In spite that the name Aurora of her 2000-built near sistership indicates a new beginning for P&O Cruises, Oriana really started this. Oriana had to be a true British flagship, be sort of a P&O-version of Queen Elizabeth 2. A nice fact to tell about the design of Oriana is the reason why her bridge-wings are not enclosed by glass. Originally, it was planned to have Oriana built with enclosed wings, but because her first Commander, Ian Gibb, told P&O that 'a captain should be able to feel the wind on his face' the wings were kept open.
Also, Oriana was designed with elements remembering Canberra, and when you look to both ships closely, you can see many things that are practicly the same. Two of the ships main designers, Robert Tillberg from Sweden and John McNeece from Great Britain, travelled aboard Canberra for several months to really understand the needs of the British passengers and to implement elements of the still popular oldie into the new ship. Easiest to spot is of course the funnel, on Oriana it is only one but on both sides it resembles the double one on the old flagship. Also the placing of the lifeboats and the deck with the balconies do resemble Canberra. Above Oriana's bridgedeck, added extra decks look a little like Canberra too. As a Dutchman, it makes me proud to know that the Oriana's lifeboats were designed and built by the Dutch company Mulder & Rijke.
Oriana is a true nineties-ship in looks and in size. But a lot of people call her an ocean liner instead of a cruiseship and most shiplovers say she has an 'old feeling' about her. Maybe she has, with her teak-decks and high tea and traditional British style she is unique. But in 1995 she was state of the art, controlled by a joystick wich the captain calls the lipstick because of her manifacturer Lips.
To stabilize the ship, the worlds largest ship stabilizers at the time were installed on her, designed by Brown Brothers. She also has two rudders, three bow thrusters and one stern thruster for better manoeuvrability.
There are 594 outside cabins of which 118 have a balcony. It keeps her having a classic profile, not spoiled by just lines of balconies on her upper decks. She has all normal amenities for a modern cruiseship at the time, with her four-deck high atrium, six lounges, nine bars, three restaurants, a library, a large spa/ gymnasium, casino and large theater and childrens fascilities. Those latter were removed though as she became an adult-only ship from 2011 onwards. Also, Oriana was fitted with the then largest swimmingpool at the high seas when she debuted.
All in all, the ship is a very traditionally designed liner to let Canberra passengers feel immidiately at ease as the old ship was going to leave the fleet just a few years after Oriana had entered service. P&O didn't want to loose their traditional passenger. The new passengers could be lured aboard on other ships that were in the making, like Oriana's later sistership Aurora of 2000.
After the ship was delivered to P&O Cruises, she made her way towards Southampton for her naming ceremony. As a great honour, the Queen herself would be the ships Godmother, naming her at the 6th of april. It was the first time the reigning monarch christened a ship of the line, although P&O was the only shippingcompany in Great Britain that was founded under Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1837. More royalty connections to other countries even are there as they had been granted by the Royal houses of Spain and Portugal to use their colours within the house flag. The red and yellow of Spain and the blue and white of Portugal. Just before the ceremony, the Band of the HM Royal Marines provided musical entertainment, as well as the Choir of Westminster Abbey, who performed the appropriate song 'Fair Oriana, Beauty's Queen', next to of course the national anthem just as the Queen arrived. Also, the Fanfare of Oriana was played, a piece of music that had been specially composed for the first Oriana in 1959 by Benjamin Britten. After this, several speaches were made and then the Queen finally released the traditional bottle of champagne after which the ship enthousiasticly blew her horn to the nostalgic emotions of many spectators. All of the ceremony was broadcasted live as this was another sign of the great ressurection of British merchant shipping.
A few days after the naming ceremony, the ship set sail for the Canary Islands on the 9th of june, also calling at Funchal, a very traditional P&O port since it's beginnings in 1837. In fact, Oriana has called into Funchal as a P&O ship some 160 times during her carreer and has become one of the most beloved cruiseships of the port. Ten times she was at Funchal celebrating the New Year also, this is a long-standing P&O tradition. Almost directly she was classic and especially the British and European people loved the ship. Her first entry in the also traditional P&O call Sydney Harbour in Australia was amazing as hundreds of people saw her arrive in liner-style.
At the 25th of september 1997, Oriana met Canberra at Cannes while the older ship was sailing her last commercial voyage. In a special ceremony, the 'Golden Cockerel', a large metal silhouette of a cockerel on a pole, was handed over from Canberra to Oriana. This cockerel is a symbol that is traditionally carried by the fastest ship in the fleet. The ceremony was witnessed by passengers on both ships and a special song that was written for Canberra was sung by Gerard Kenny.
What makes her so special? Maybe her elegance, her grandeur. But in fact she is a cruiseship, not a liner. She looks like a cruiseship, in general. Not like a liner. But something in her looks and her style makes her a great ship. And she is great for several people too, because she was involved in at least two rescue-operations at sea in Ile de France-style. In 2000 she rescued 9 people from a sinking Turkish freighter and a year later she saved three people from a Swedish yaught.
Some little misfortune struck her. In the beginning of may 1999, a stern tube bearing failed and because of this, a three day private charter and a two-week cruise had to be cancelled. Just days before, the ship had seen some repairwork at A&P Southampton, but that company stated they had not worked in that part of the ship and all was a coincidence. The bearing was repaired at Meyer Werft, Germany. One and a half year later, in september of the year 2000, Oriana met a giant freakwave. Six cabins were smashed and several people injured.
Despite these rather small problems, Oriana became a classic modern cruiseliner, admired and loved by most shipping enthousiasts. She is a true link between the old and the new ships, giving her passengers best of both.
In 2011, the ship was reflagged to the Bahama's and recieved her new homeport of Hamilton in the process after a slight rebuilding that had taken place at the Blohm & Voss Shipyards at Hamburg. Sadly, this also had her to loose the traditional call-sign of the 1959-built Oriana, that was awarded to her after so much efford. It was also sad because her new owner Carnival thus cut a few bonds between the traditional P&O and Britain and we have seen a change for traditional British cruisers in that, choosing now for the more classic orientated companies like CMV, Saga and Fred Olsen adding to the growth of those companies in recent years with former P&O passengers. With its new ships, P&O became a very much debated growth into the mainstream losing their originality. This was just the reason for many Brits to choose for P&O as a company they wanted to sail with. In the rebuilding at B&V, Oriana also recieved a new ducktail for better stability and her childrens facilities were removed and rebuilt into extra cabins as she now was designated as an adults only ship.
Of course Oriana was present when P&O celebrated their 175th anniversary in the port of Southampton, when all seven ships of the line were together. Unfortunately, I did not have the possibility to be in Southampton that day, but Oriana presented herself 'the day after' at IJmuiden, still flying the specially designed celebrationflag in her mast, as seen in the large lock at IJmuiden on the 4th of july 2012. I added a closer picture of the flag on the introduction page to P&O.
In 2017, the livery of all of P&O's ships changed, when the funnels were repainted in blue with the golden sun logo in the middle and an artists impression of the Union Jack was added to the bow of the ships. This was done to remember the British heritage of the line, and to make them easier recognisable. In the opinion of many, the new livery, replacing the former that was introduced on the 'Strath'-liners of the 1930's, instead made the ships look more like mass-market American ships then British ones, despite the print of the flag. Next to that, it is kinda strange that the company is so proud of its British heritage to incorporate the flag in the ships livery, but meanwhile the ships have all been re-flagged to Bermuda, recieving the new homeport of Hamilton, just like their Princess sisters. Of course, Bermuda is still part of the United Kingdom but still this was another cut with traditions.
The end of an era
For Oriana, it only proved short-lived as in june 2018 it was announced that she would be leaving the P&O fleet from august of 2019 onwards. Very premature, as the ship became an icon for British shipping in the modern cruise-age and she is by no means worn-out or to be called 'old', despite she then is sailing for P&O for 24 years. I really expected Oriana would be growing old in the P&O fleet due to her iconic status. Possibly, as P&O itself has shifted more mainstream over the last years before her sale, traditional cruisers started to back away from the company and the reason for having a traditional ship in the fleet became less needed. Also, the ship suffered several mechanical mishaps over the last years and seemed not up to the task anymore to give the new passengers what they expect. I really hoped her to end up with a company like Saga Cruises, which would be an acceptable option as she has the classic touches but can still be called modern. But as this line was ordering new tonnage itself with their Spirit Of Discovery entering service in 2019, it seemed illogical. Also CMV would be a great new home, absorbing many former Carnival-owned ships the last years. With the 1981-built Astor, the 1964-built Marco Polo and 1948-built Astoria growing a little older and outdated by the newer ships in the fleet and the opening of a new CMV-branch in Mexico in 2019, that company is clearly eager to grow. In style, Oriana would really do very well within their fleet too and naming her after another explorer who eplored the East would be fitting within her P&O heritage. In fact, CMV also doesn't make any secret about the fact that they would have loved to add her to their growing fleet as they are in need of new tonnage.
That all aside, a little note on P&O's page that had been removed very soon after it was placed showed that she had been sold to a new Chinese venture. As we have all seen how those mostly turn out, I just didn't hope that the beloved Oriana would enter that path. But sadly she was to eventually. Her last cruise ended in Southampton where she was hailed in by tugboat sprayings (as if it wasn't wet enough with pooring rain) at the 9th of august in 2019. With that, she ended her last P&O cruise, an 18-night Norway and North Cape voyage. In one of her last ceremonies, the Golden Cockerell was handed over to the Arcadia as that now became the fastest ship in the fleet. Also a sword that had been presented to the first Commander Ian Gibb during the naming ceremony in 1995 and had been aboard the ship since, was offered back to Commander Gibb by Commander Sarah Bretton and P&O President Paul Ludlow. In her place, Aurora had already been changed into an adult-only ship in april of 2019. Already in the afternoon after which she arrived at Southampton for the last time, she was overhauled to berth 104 from the Mayflower terminal so her fittings could be removed before she was handed over to her new owners Well Star Travel Cruises for sailings out of the Chinese port of Xiamen, starting as early as the end of 2019. For her new owners, the ship will be renamed to the rather peculiar name of Piano Land. Many traditional cruisers are really sad to see her go and I am definitely one of them. She has been my introduction to cruiseship photography in 1997 and I had loved to see her growing old as a modern example of a traditional cruiseship for a traditional company. But it's not going to be and we really have to see how her Chinese venture works out. I just have large doubts, although they don't matter at all. I might be a traditionalist who loves the old style, although I also admire the new ships and their technologies quite often. A final poem written by one of her last deck cadets Jack Brundell I have to include here, firstly published by orianaof1995blogspot.com. Never let go, Jack. Never let go...
Jack Brundell's ode to Oriana
"Farewell Oriana, with your brillant shine, your lounges and restaurants so pretty and fine. Your guests and crew who claim 'you are mine', thank you Oriana, we had a great time.
From Lisbon to Bridgetown, Sydney to Cork, you've called into many a beautiful port. The laughter, cheer and wonder you've brought, i'ts easy to see the invectious love we've all caught.
For now it's the time to say goodbye, we'll be forgiven not to hide that tear in our eye. But don't be upset and hold back that sigh. Let's raise a glas and end on a high.
Farewell, Oriana, you elegant girl. Queen of the seas, the Mother of Pearl. For in our hearts our love forever will shine. Thank you, Oriana, we had a great time."
Now all is said and done, P&O have moved on from her and ignored their passengers opinions time and time again we can now say only one thing.
Goodbye Oriana and thank you.
In the P&O fleet, her place will of course be taken by the 183.000-ton Iona, and her 2022-planned sistership. P&O did assure their passengers and fans that they would not only built larger ships and still keep several smaller ones in their fleet to appeal to several passenger demographies. That said, it seems that the Chinese who bought Oriana also have their eyes on Aurora and like to add her if Piano Land is succesfull. Might there also be an Organ Land in the making?