As we approached the docks at Southampton with friends who
were joining us on this cruise the sun began to shine which I hoped
was a good omen for our forthcoming cruise on P&O Aurora.
Arrival at the Mayflower Terminal saw our luggage swiftly unloaded
and taken by porter to a holding area to await loading onto the ship.
Making our way into the departures hall to one of the check in desks
we were dealt with very quickly. With credit card scanned, photo
taken and the health declaration signed it was forward to security
for scanning prior to entering the departure lounge. The speed of all
this was impressive. 20 minutes from arrival at the terminal to the
departure lounge. 35 minutes later we were called forward to board
the ship. The journey had begun.
Aurora at 885ft long and 105ft wide is a mid size ship of 76,000
tonnes with a service speed of 24 knots. Built in 2000 Aurora
carries around 1900 passengers who are looked after by a crew
of 850. Cabins range from a modest inside no view of 137 sq ft up to
Our cabin was an inside on deck 10 and it did feel quite small which
may have been due to the bed configuration of a double instead of
2 singles which would have given a larger area between the beds.
The shower was quite spacious and it is worth mentioning that the
toiletries supplied were of good quality by The White Company. The
bottles of Shampoo, Conditioner and Hand & Body Lotion were all
100ml. A shower cap is also supplied.
4.30pm was ‘Sail Away’ and in true P&O tradition Union flags and flags celebrating the 175th anniversary were handed out for waving as we sailed away. With 3 long blasts of the ships whistle we moved away from our mooring and out into Southampton Water on the first part of our trip which would take us past the Isle of Wight into the English Channel. It is then South West past the western tip of France and into the Bay of Biscay. The Bay of Biscay has the unenviable reputation of producing bad weather and rough seas. On my numerous crossings of the Bay I had never experienced a bad crossing, however this time was to be different. The Captain announced there was a depression coming into the Bay that would cause some ‘Movement’ of the ship but Aurora was a very stable ship so all would be well. My interpretation of this was “You’re in for a rough night”.
The next morning I was woken up by a pounding sound that was reverberating through the cabin. At first I thought it was engine vibration due to the heavy seas but later found out our cabin was directly under the gym and in particular the running machines. From 7.50am you could hear the noise of people ‘pounding’ on the machines which reverberated not only through our cabin but also those that adjoined ours. You didn’t need an alarm clock and an afternoon nap if the ship was at sea was out of the question. This became a major irritant during the cruise.
Whilst having breakfast it was announced that we had gone through a Force 10 during the night. Due to the inclement weather the outer decks were closed for safety reasons so we made our way to the highest point on the ship, the Crows Nest. This is on deck 13 at the front of the ship and gives great views out to sea through the large picture windows that are on 3 sides and through which could be seen other ships ‘bouncing’ their way to various destinations. Seating is by way of chairs and long wall settee style seats in blue that are complimented by a blue carpet with gold pattern. The rear of this lounge is raised and has its own bar. There is a small area where at night a trio supply background music to make this a great area for pre or post dinner drinks.
Aurora has no shortage of bars. Outside bars, Pennant and Riviera are on Lido Deck. Spread about inside the ship is Champions, Andersons, Raffles, Crow’s Nest and a selection of others. My personal favourite was Andersons on Promenade Deck. Great place to sit with friends and chat whilst enjoying a well made cocktail or a more mundane Gin and Tonic. Furnished to a very high standard it’s reminiscent of a private club with the service to match.
Aurora has three entertainment venues. The Playhouse, a well equipped cinema, Carmen’s, a show lounge situated at the stern of the ship and the Curzon Theatre which is the main theatre at the front of the ship. It is the Curzon Theatre that the Headliners Theatre Company performs their shows in, which, it has to be said are of a very high standard. The level of song and dance is only surpassed by the spectacular costumes. This theatre also attracts the main speciality performances ranging from singers and comedians to various tribute acts. There is also Masquerade the ships disco/nightclub.
There are two main dining rooms, Medina and Alexandria which operate sittings at 6pm and 8.30pm. We were booked for late dinner sitting at 8.30p.m. in the Alexandria Restaurant on deck 6. A table for 8 persons, by a large picture window overlooking the stern. Having dinner with a view of the white foam that formed our wake made a beautiful backdrop. Although both dining rooms serve dinner, of the two it is only Medina that serves Breakfast and Lunch.
Food is one of the main ingredients of a cruise and is the one thing people always remember irrespective of it being good or bad. Breakfast is something that P&O excel at, catering for their mainly British audience. With the exception of the Kippers one morning every breakfast was a delight. Fruit Juice, Fruit Compote followed by a selection of whatever you wanted. Service was always good and nothing was too much trouble for our hard working waiters. Dinners ranged from average to excellent. At times they appeared to be dry as if kept hot for too long and tasteless. When it was excellent as for example the Breast of Duck it was succulent and well presented. There was always a good selection of fresh vegetables and as much as you wanted. Wine at £15.95 for a litre carafe was excellent value and no 15% addition as with some cruise lines. One thing that we noticed was the ships officers no longer host tables. Also that the salad course has been dropped from the menu, why?
One lunch time we visited the Orangery self service area. First of all you play ‘Hunt the table’. Having done this you join a queue where people are pushing in and your food is getting cold whilst waiting behind a person who is having difficulty deciding which roast potato or which lettuce leaf to select. Not my idea of a relaxed lunch so we only did it the once.
There are two alternative dining venues. The Bordeaux Café operated under the Marco Pierre White name and the Pennant Grill, an al fresco dining venue on Lido Deck. One night we tried the Pennant Grill and have to say that we were most disappointed with the main course which was steak. The starters and deserts were delicious, just a pity that the main course could not be as good. I had a T-Bone that even after asking for a sharper knife I was unable to cut cleanly through. In fairness the head waiter recognised the problem and made no charge. This was an excellent gesture. We did not ask for it, he just came to our table, apologised and said there would be no charge.
With three swimming pools (one with a sliding roof), five whirlpools and lots of sunbathing areas there is room for everyone. We found that the area above the Crows Nest was the place to go, as surrounded by glass and protected from the wind it made the ideal place to catch the rays. For some reason it was nearly always deserted where as the Promenade Deck was always full from early in the morning.
Our ports of call were Malaga, Spain, La Goulette, Tunisia, Heraklion, Greece, Izmir, Turkey, Piraeus, Greece, Katakolon, Greece and Lisbon, Portugal. The opinion on the ports of call depends on what the passenger is seeking. They are all different. From the huge port of Piraeus to the beautiful little port of Katakolon. From the bustling cities of Lisbon and Malaga to the modern anchorage of La Goulette, take your pick. My personal favourite was Katakolon. This is the port for excursions to Olympia. We however decided to spend the day relaxing in the sunshine at this little port with it shops, bars, boutiques and seafront restaurants. We were here several years ago and said then that should we return we would forgo the trips and spend the day in this little town. It consists of mainly one street off which are little alleyways that lead to other bars and shops. Sitting at a restaurant on the waterfront in the sunshine seemed to me an ideal way of letting time pass by. Personally I could be there most days just watching the different cruise liners arriving with their passengers. It was amazing that for such a small port there was free wi-fi everywhere.
The cruise passed very quickly and in no time we were once again bouncing back across the Bay of Biscay in a force 9. Had the cruise been good? In the main yes. Weather could have been better, three Force 9’s and a Force 10. Would we go back on this ship? Yes but with a few changes. Next time it would be a different cabin. Some of the windows throughout the ship are badly stained and need replacing. Some in the Crows Nest you are unable to see through which spoils an otherwise enjoyable setting. A refurbishment would bring this ship into pristine condition like her sister ‘Oriana’ which I was on earlier in the year. I would also like to see members of staff at the entrance to all food venues insisting that passengers use the hand sterilizers. The food could be better but in fairness it is no worse than many others.
Despite my few moans the positive side is that with a change of cabin things would be different. I would look forward to the excellent service that you receive from the staff. The well appointed lounges and general quality feel of the ship make this a pleasant place to be. Add to this the price of drinks and gratuities that are some of the lowest in the industry P&O offer good value for money. The entertainment is excellent and the magician/comedian John Lenahan had me laughing from start to finish. Yes I would voyage on Aurora again.
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Alan Fairfax - is a professional cruise writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent