I had to double check myself today when I came to the sudden realisation that two of the finest ships afloat turn twenty years of age this year, namely P&O’s stately dowager, Oriana, and the truly sumptuous Crystal Symphony, of Crystal Cruises.

Though designed and executed for two totally different markets, both of these beautiful vessels actually have some strikingly common characteristics.

For a start, the interiors of each were the concept of the Swedish based firm, Tillberg Design. Both ships boast beautiful, flared bows and a series of elegant, stepped terraces at the stern. Each is crowned by a single, graceful funnel amidships, looming above a central, open pool complex on the lido deck area.

However, they are the product of two different yards. Crystal Symphony emerged from what was then the MASA shipyards in Turku, Finland, while the Oriana was delivered from German shipbuilders in Papenburg.

While Oriana is the bigger of the two at some 69,000 tons against 50,000 for Crystal Symphony, the former has a large number of inner and outer cabins without balconies, whereas the Crystal ship features no inside cabins at all, and a vast number of balconied cabins and penthouses. Her passenger capacity is also considerably smaller- around 1000 as against 1900 for Oriana.

That said, Crystal Symphony was designed for the deluxe market from the start, while Oriana- the first P&O cruise ship to be named by the Queen, some twenty years in advance of new fleet mate, Britannia- is very much a mainstream resort ship, albeit a very beautiful one. The requirements of two such diverse markets resulted in two very different kinds of cruise experiences.

That said, both ships have aged quite beautifully, and sympathetic updating in the case of both has made them among the most compelling classic cruise experiences afloat today. Oriana took on board many of the most popular features of her earlier sibling, the beloved Canberra. Crystal Symphony has been sympathetically updated over two decades to enhance her extensive spread of on board facilities, without selling short on her original sense of style and panache.

Each ship has retained a great sense of cool, classy poise, though the jury is still out on whether the ‘new’ P&O colours suit the distinguished Oriana as much as the old ones did. Few people resent change as much as traditionalists, and P&O has sold just that for decades.

New to Oriana, and very welcome too, is a small block of single cabins. And, to complement her stylish, mellow vibe, the ship is now sold as an adults- only vessel.

The take over of Crystal Cruises by Genting has left more than one Crystal veteran gazing uneasily at the future over the rim of their pre dinner martinis. Could more change be in the offing? Time alone will tell.

But meanwhile, it is definitely worth celebrating this beautiful brace of ‘ladies of the sea’ as they celebrate their 20th anniversaries. Each is a landmark vessel in her own way; stylish and chic in execution, comfortable and familiar to legions of passengers that have come to know and love them both over the decades.

Smooth sailing and fair seas to both!

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