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A laugh on the ocean wave; PETER COX discovers you can have fun on a 12-day cruise, even if you have Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee for company.

P&O Cruises have put the ho-ho into yo-ho-ho. And they really needn't have bothered.

Their flagship the Oriana has been themed so now, instead of a 12-day jaunt round the Med, you get a Comedy Cruise. All it means in reality is that their entertainments programme leans heavily towards comics - allegedly.

What you get is ancient script-writer Mike Craig introducing ancient stand-up Pat Tansey with an evening of ancient Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee thrown in.

So not a lot of laughs there.

It really doesn't matter because the Oriana supports an amazingly-talented revue company, discos, classical recitals, gym, beauty salon, cinema and yes, even the shuffleboard survives on deck as a throw-back to the Twenties.

Your holiday goes something like this...

Leave Southampton docks and brass band behind on a tide of champagne. Suffer your first bout of sea-sickness crossing the Bay of Biscay - easily cured by tablets or a jag in the bottom.

Then it's sunshine all the way by the side of the ship's three pools until you dock in Minorca for the day.

The Oriana trundles through the Med mostly at night, leaving full days to explore this and the other stop-off points - Cannes, Livorno for a trip to Florence or Pisa, Elba and Gibraltar.

You get ashore either directly at the dockside or by a much more fun ride in one of the ship's tenders.

The only problem with the ports of call is that it's hard to have a a truly great Florentine lunch and still do justice to the ship's meals which, by any standard, are expansive.

The cooking under chef Ralph Winzinger is all directed from P&O headquarters in Southampton yet still allows enormous choice.

A typical evening meal could be potted salmon and dill, carrot and coriander soup, pot-roasted venison and chestnuts in a bitter chocolate game sauce with parsnip puree, warm apple charlotte with cream, then cheese and biscuits, coffee and Turkish delight. Yes, it's a true blowout and if you've got the constitution you can have a giant breakfast, whopping lunch, enormous tea... and pizza to keep you going.

Just pity the poor little Indian chap who sits alone in a room in the ship's bowels peeling the potatoes. A machine does the hard work but he has to take out all the eyes by hand. That's 60 sacks a day for wages of pounds 250 a month.

Most of the crew are Indians from Goa, where that level of pay is much sought-after and a fine crew they make. The cabins are excellent and the attendants offer a standard of service rarely matched in even the top hotels.

As for the general cruise experience, the word pampered must spring to mind. The ship is huge and luxurious, the attention to detail absolute. There is even a free news sheet sent by satellite for every cabin. And there are maps and information sheets to guide even the most unworldly through the ports of call.

Yes, there are a lot of senior citizens aboard, but they are generally feisty and friendly and don't affect youngsters who want to party all night.

It can be expensive. A top range mini-suite with balcony will set you back pounds 8190 for two for the 12 days.

However, as you spend so little time in your cabin, there is always the option to take more modest, windowless accommodation for just pounds 3890. And all passengers share the same five-star food and facilities.

All right, I did get one good laugh on the trip.

My wife Kay sat next to Debbie McGee on a sunbed. She wouldn't recognise Debbie in a cageful of parrots but the magician's assistant was prattling on about her "business".

"So what do you do for a living," asked my wife eventually.

"I'm married to Paul Daniels," she replied.

Some living. Some cruise...
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Cox, Peter
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 9, 2000
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