If anyone reading this who has never undertaken a voyage such as this before, and is thinking they might like to try it, I will outline some of the logistics involved in long term cruising. This is from a UK perspective.
Choice: There are many cruise companies out there. Some cater for the American market, some for the Australian market, and so on. P&O cater for the British market, and still insist on, for example, certain dress codes for the evening. Each of their ships offer a different cruising experience. Oriana, and her sister ship, Aurora, are traditionally designed ocean liners, and at around 69,000 tonnes, are now classed as medium sized. As cruises are published for the year ahead, you may sometimes find "earlybird offers", but, as in any market place, if there are still places to sell as the departure date approaches, then the prices start to fall accordingly. If you are prepared to wait, you can often find packages that are not only very cheap, but also include flights and hotel stays. World cruises are sold as a whole or in smaller sectors, and cruise lines usually offer incentives to buy, such as what is known as "on board credit" - an amount of cash credited to your account that you can spend on drinks and travel excursions. My own plan for this cruise was to wait until I saw a significant drop in price, then negotiated an even cheaper deal by opting out of the on board credit. This is beneficial, as P&O operate a loyalty scheme, which has increasing benefits the more nights you spend aboard with them. The biggest benefit is a % discount of everything you buy. However, there are certain things that OBC can't be used against, and also, your loyalty discount is not applied until you have used any OBC, so, in our circumstances, we were better off without it.
Visas: The only pre requirement for this world cruise were the electronic visa waver for the USA, the electronic visitor visa for Australia, and an India Visa. The US and Australian ones can be completed on line, US at a cost of $17, and the Australian one free. You have to make sure you get on to the government site, as there are many agent's sites out there who will charge an administration fee on top of any authorised charges. The India visa is more complicated, and more expensive, and involves sending your passport off to have a page inserted. There was much red tape involved with this. Visas for Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia were all obtained on our behalf, whilst aboard ship, by P&O staff, with small administration charges applied to your on board account where relevant. The staff who deal with this are extremely organised, and everything runs like clockwork. Other than the countries who require more detailed checks, such as the USA, Australia, India and Vietnam, once in port, we simply walk ashore with no further checks. The other countries put their own immigration people aboard, sometimes as we approach their country, and we undergo face to face interviews whilst at sea, such as today, when we meet the Australians this afternoon. Once complete, we are then also able to just walk ashore when we dock in their country, with no further checks.
Inoculations: There are no mandatory inoculations for this cruise, although it is recommended that you have boosters for those that are recommended for everyday life in the UK, such as HepA Tetanus, MMR etc. Yellow fever is also recommended, as we are visiting Panama, and Venezuela, with a call at Barbados within 6 days. Both Panama and Venezuela are high risk areas for yellow fever, although the canal zone and Isla Margarita are not. However, Barbados would prefer travellers from high risk areas within 6 days, to have had the inoculation, which comes with a certificate, and costs 60 pounds. The others are free to British citizens at home.
Spending money: We have found that most countries will accept $US. However there is a comprehensive cash exchange aboard ship, where the correct currency can be purchased against your account before going ashore. They will also buy back, if it is in the denominations they deal with.
Once you board ship, you are issued with a cruise card, which not only is your room key, but is also used to make all on board purchases, and to get on and off the ship with. It uses both scan, and swipe technology. Accounts are finalised with a statement at the end of each cruise sector, and a charge made against the credit card that was registered with the company at the start of the cruise.
Once you have paid your initial fare, it is possible to have a complete holiday without spending anything else at all. However, alcoholic drinks, speciality coffees, duty free liquor and tobacco, photographs by the ship's photographers, and of course, the many items that are available in the on board shops, such as clothing, perfume, designer watches, jewellery, port excursions etc. Are all chargeable as extras. The bar drinks are no more expensive than you would find in any UK pub. There is also a fully equipped medical centre aboard, with two doctors and a team of nurses. This service is charged for, and is one of the things that OBC cannot be used against. However, it should be able to be claimed against the (mandatory) travel insurance that you will have.
Lastly, tipping: Currently, P&O are one of the last cruise companies to operate discretionary tipping, even though they do publish guidelines as to what an appropriate amount would be, if you received good service from your cabin steward, and restaurant staff. This is currently advised at 3.10 pounds per person per day, to be split as you desire, but mainly as described above. We have set aside 600 pounds for this trip, and intend to divide it equally between the two. Every member of the crew works extremely hard, and will fulfil your every requirement with a smile. However, P&O are to introduce what they describe as automated tipping after April 2012. An amount similar to above, will be added to each passenger's OBA, over the age of 12, on a daily basis, whether you like it or not. They do say that individual passengers can apply for this to be adjusted if required, but, I object in principle. Tipping should remain at the discretion of the individual, not become a hidden, additional charge. On the brighter side, the amount P&O intend to charge is far less than all the other lines, but is this the "thin end of the wedge"? Also remember that the cost of these cruises hasn't gone up at all in recent years due to market forces, so, as I keep saying........something has to give somewhere.
Darwin, Australia, tomorrow, followed by the Whitsunday Islands, Brisbane, and then our first 2 day stopover........Sydney.