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Bunking Up With A Stranger

SS Oriana - "The Queen of the Sea"

I was recently reading a cruise line blog where a lady was looking for someone to share a cabin with on a forthcoming cruise. Solo travellers often face a "single supplement" fee, which is an additional charge to compensate for the occupancy of an entire cabin by one person. However, some cruise lines occasionally offer special promotions or reduced single supplement rates to encourage solo travellers. But these are often few and far between. Solo travellers often must cough up the full amount for a double occupancy cabin.

When I first started to work at sea cruising was in its infancy and cruises were being taken on ocean liners that were being converted to accommodate changing travel trends and a growing interest in leisure cruising. During this time, several renowned ocean liners that were originally designed for transatlantic crossings or other specific purposes were repurposed as cruise ships. Two In question were the QE2 and of course Oriana which was my first posting as Junior Assistant Purser.

My first posting as a junior assistant purser on ss. Oriana

In 1973, P&O announced that the SS Oriana would transition into a full-time cruise ship. P&O made the decision to eliminate the class divisions on board, effectively converting the Oriana into a one-class cruise ship. This change aimed to create a more inclusive and unified experience for all passengers. However, there was still quite a divide.

The Elizabethan Restaurant - ss Oriana.

The old first-class cabins were wined and dined in the very elegant Elizabethan Restaurant, and those in the old tourist-class which cabins were vittled in the Drake Restaurant which provided a very different feel and service.

The Drake Restaurant - ss Oriana

The conversion to one class cruising had taken place prior to me joining the ship for the first time in 1973. Several onboard changes had been made with the removal on the Silver Grill on A deck, which was replaced with additional cabins, as well as name changes for some lounges.

This deck plan shows Deck A on Oriana before conversation to "One Class Cruising", you will see the Silver Grill, this was converted into additional cabins. The Purser's office has lobbies fore and aft, originally serving both first-class and tourist-class. Further aft shows the lido pool catering originally for tourist class. I remember there was a milk bar situated by this pool and it served wonderful milkshakes during Australian cruising when Australian milkshake syrups were taken aboard. It was never the same cruising the Mediterranean when British syrups were used. But I digress.

ss. Oriana - Lido Deck Pool with Very Large Poop Deck

While the old first-class cabins were mainly twin berth as you moved aft the number of berths in a cabin increased, by the time you arrived at F Deck aft most cabins could accommodate 4 passengers. It was here that l spent my first 7 days at sea sharing with three other purser cadets. Space was limited and we shared a hand basin. Other personal needs were taken care of along the alleyway in communal shower rooms.

First-class cabin with private bath Four berth Tourist-class cabin

A month or so later I was back aboard Oriana and was elevated from F deck to the Boat Deck where I had a wonderful single cabin with a large window. But still shared showers and w. c’s along the way.

In the 1970's it was possible to book a berth in a shared cabin for either a voyage across the world or in later years for a cruise. During that time, liners were often more focused on providing affordable accommodations for a larger number of passengers rather than the emphasis on luxury and private cabins that we see in many modern cruise ships. Cabins with multiple occupancy allowed cruise lines to accommodate more passengers and offer a more affordable option for travellers. Once onboard it was up to the purser’s department to sort out any mismatch of passengers. Not always possible if the ship was sailing to capacity. In such circumstances, it was not unknown for passengers to be accommodated in hospital wards in the event of cabin emergencies

Whilst all officers on ss Oriana had single berth cabins, crew members were mostlytwo-berth accommodated in two berth cabins apart from the bell boys and other boy ratings that were in four berths. This was a massive improvement over earlier liners that often had six and even eight-berth cabins.

P&O Princess was launched in 1974.

Late in 1974 I was moved over to the new P&O Princess Cruises operating out of Los Angeles. Booking a shared berth on Princess Cruises in 1974 would have been possible, as cruise lines often offered cabins for multiple occupants at the time. Shared berths allowed passengers to split the cost of the cabin with a roommate, making it a more affordable option.

To book a shared berth on Princess Cruises in 1974, you would have needed to contact the cruise line directly or work with a travel agent. They would have provided information on available cabins, pricing, and helped arrange the booking.

On arrival in San Pedro (LA) our home port Doug would arrive from Head Office, he was responsible for berthing the ship and handled all enquiries on embarkation day. This was then handed over to the Senior Assistant Purser, who sorted out any outstanding problems as the ship sailed away.

This reminds me of one incident with a shared cabin. A lady had phoned Princess on the sailing day to discover if there were any shared berths still available. She discovered that one was available. She arrived at the ship and settled into the cabin; with another lady she had never met.

You must remember that computers were in their infancy and were not used on ships at this time, everything was paper based, and anybody could come onboard on embarkation day. It was very usual to bring your family to the ship and enjoy the bars seeing off your friends or family. One hour before sailing an announcement was made for all those not sailing on the ship to please go ashore by the gangway in D Deck.

A few days into the cruise it was discovered by some minor clerical error that this lady was sailing without a ticket and was indeed a stowaway. She had enjoyed wonderful Princess hospitality until this time.

Cruising has moved on so much since the 1970’s but getting back to my original question, would you share a cabin with a stranger?

I am not talking about the ship’s officers in the 1970’s who could not wait to “Wheel In”.

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I think, if I was traveling alone, I would buy extra space a have the cabin to myself. I like traveling with people, thats good but no share accommodations with anyone. Too much experiences with living on a warship, having to share a mess with many crew members.


Tim Dick
Tim Dick
Jun 04, 2023

My family emigrated to the U.S. (Los Angeles) on Oriana, tourist class 4 berth cabin. I remember the vast sports deck aft but not much else. I do remember later line voyages on the P&O when I was older.

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
Jun 12, 2023
Replying to

The Aft poop deck was enormous.

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