A Veddy British Way to Float

London's P&O;, parent company of Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises, sailed its new Oriana into San Francisco in January on the first segment of a world cruise.

The 69,000-ton vessel, the first new P&O-label; ship constructed for the 159-year-old company in 38 years, was christened by Queen Elizabeth last April and carries 1,760.

There's no way a passenger boarding this very British ocean liner-type ship could confuse it with a Princess-label love boat. Although P&O; has announced recently that Princess will represent it in sales and marketing in the United States, there seem to be no plans to change the shipboard lifestyle to anything more American.

And that's the way it should be. While the on-board ambience, menus and entertainment are aimed at a British audience, we could imagine some veteran American cruise passengers--particularly those who mourn the loss of both Royal Cruise Line and Royal Viking Line--would find this dignified vessel very much to their liking. In addition, travelers who enjoy a week or two in a British country-house hotel would find some of the same low-key camaraderie and traditional cuisine, such as roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, jam roly-poly, bread-and-butter pudding, and even Scottish haggis (piped into the dining room with ceremony by kilt-wearing bagpipers to celebrate Robert Burns' birthday).

Also reassuring to traditional cruise passengers would be the line's strict adherence to dress codes and decorum and the absence of frequent public address announcements and frenetic promotions for bingo games and art auctions and such.

Best of all, it looks like a ship instead of a floating hotel, resort or shopping mall.

Aboard our brief sailing (five days from Acapulco to San Francisco), there were 49 American passengers, outnumbered by 1,315 British and 122 Australians. The remainder of the passengers came from Europe, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Japan.

Particularly outstanding on the Oriana is the space dedicated to children and teenagers, far more than any other ship afloat, including Premier's "Big Red Boats." Besides the kiddie pool next to the enclosed outdoor play area, there's a full-size shallow aft pool designated for passengers 12 and under only (while one of the two large amidships pools is designated for adults only).

A large indoor playroom for children 9 and under has a TV room, computer center with video games and all sorts of crafts activities. Children under 2 may use the room only with one parent present, and the counselors do not change diapers.

Across the way is a lounge/disco for teens called Decibels, and an adjacent room called Outer Space, with more games and video games for kids 10 and older. Another room called Energy, normally used for aerobics classes and dance lessons, can also be diverted to teen use when there are many young people aboard.

Children can have an early supper nightly at a children's tea, supervised by the youth program staff, in one of the dining rooms at 5:15, after which they can be dressed for bed and cared for in the night nursery (at no extra charge) until midnight so parents can enjoy a quiet dinner and evening entertainment options.

Deck space is unusually generous aboard the Oriana, with five stern decks, a long expanse of amidships deck, top deck lounging and sunning areas, and covered around-the-ship promenade deck for quiet reading or napping.

"The British passenger goes [cruising] for the sunshine," says Nick Burnett, marketing manager of P&O.; "They like to lie on the deck all day, so it's very important to have plenty of deck space."

Two restaurants and a big, handsome cafeteria area called the Conservatory handle mealtime needs smoothly; tea is offered in both the self-service cafeteria and waiter service dining room. Occasional theme buffet dinners, as an option to the dining room meals, are also held some evenings in the Conservatory.

The first Champney's spa afloat, operated by a well-known English spa company, offers a full range of spa and beauty services in the Oasis, an elegant, art nouveau complex.

Bars and lounges include the popular, pub-like Lord's Tavern, decorated with cricket regalia; the Curzon Room, a pale, upholstered lounge that is the epitome of a well-run country house hotel, with coffee served quietly and politely to people sitting in the room reading or quietly chatting; the Tiffany Court with its stained-glass dome ceiling; the Crow's Nest observation lounge; and Harlequin's, with a large dance floor that's filled with couples doing Latin dances, the fox trot, waltz and quick step in the early to mid-evening, then switching over to disco at midnight.

The magnificent Theatre Royal looks like a London West End theater, with an orchestra pit under the stage and rows of red velvet theater seats. No smoking or drinks are permitted.

The ship's casino is divided in the European fashion, with slot machines in one area and the gaming tables in a second, very quiet room.

Cabins are comfortable and fairly spacious, with both insides and outsides a minimum of 150 square feet. Many have a bathtub with shower. Eight cabins are designated for passengers with wheelchairs and measure 257 square feet with a roll-under sink in the bathroom and a pull-down closet rack that can be handled with an accessible lever.

During the world cruise, fares range on average from $339 to $709 a day per person, double occupancy, including air fare. Adults and children in third and fourth berths pay 50% of the fare.

After the world cruise ends April 6 in Southampton, the Oriana will make a series of Mediterranean cruises through the end of 1996, followed by another world cruise in 1997. To get a free color brochure or information about the Oriana, contact a travel agent or call (800) 340-POSH.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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