Super Baltic cruise on P & O's Aurora - at 76.000 tonnes but with less than 2000 berths, she's just our size of ship & we never felt crowded.
She has traditional tiered decks at the stern, with the wings of those decks sheltering the main pool deck. Not the blunt & ugly rear end of some new ships - yes, their bums do look big in that.
And just three varied balcony decks rather than the stacked chicken coops of the slab-sided leviathons.
The more up-to-date top deck midships, which doesn't spoil her overall looks, includes a solarium pool with a sliding roof & an outside pool. Both feel spacious & airy, even with the roof closed against the errrr,"fresh" temperatures of the Baltic in spring-time.
Good selection of public rooms & bars -- Crows Nest bar our favourite, cosy but attractive layout & decor, and panoramic view ahead. Also Anderson's bar, like a plush gentleman's club.
Both the cinema & the single-level theatre are perhaps a shade on the small side. Seating is in rows, so no drinks sales -- a shame or a blessing depending on your viewpoint.
A few negatives. The atrium simply doesn't work. It's too small & narrow to achieve the desired wow-effect - one needs to look up or down, rather than into or across. The decor is possibly a little bland in some rooms. On Aurora, corridors are on one side or the other of public rooms, making good use of the space without turning those rooms into thoroughfares -- great in theory but results in some dead-ends until you get used to the geography. But these are trivial. Short on wow, pretty good on ambiance & comfort.
9+ for design.
No anytime dining option though surely that's possible - she has two good main dining rooms, but it's fixed dining, or go slumming in the buffet. We ate in the MDR each evening - the ambience, service & food were excellent. Very acceptable choices for each course, international restaurant-quality options as well as the pub-grub that some folk drone on about. Two tablemates had allergies, their choices were sorted each evening for the next evening.
The Orangery buffet was disappointing. Quality was variable. And choice was pot-luck because a lot of stations were empty -- stations & choices changed during the course of a mealtime, the hotch-potch perhaps down to balancing out the stock in the pantry rather than providing a balanced choice for the diner. But I guess if we were that fussy, we should have taken breakfast & lunch in a MDR.
On-board activities & entertainment. We had a deluxe balcony cabin (my first), courtesy of the upgrade fairy (another first). And as I suspected it would, it does make a guy a little unsocial - we didn't get involved a great deal, so can't really comment too much. One of the ship's singers was awful, embarrassingly awful. And the activities organiser didn't really get to grips with the reserved style of his clientele, if the Helsinki sailaway was anything to go by. But by & large it was all OK.
Our cabin - did I say we had a deluxe balcony cabin? ;-)
Plenty of space & storage, a real bath, a settee, fridge, tea & coffee facilities, glassware, biccies, bathrobes, binoculars, reasonable selection on TV. We hardly saw our cabin steward, Nazareth, but he looked after the place impeccably.
P & O policies are generally so much more customer-orientated than other cruise lines.
Tea & coffee-making in the cabin.
Free shuttle-buses at all 5 ports where it was appropriate.
Decent port information for the independently-minded
The ability to take aboard our own alcohol to drink in the cabin.
The ability to buy from ship's duty-free to drink in our cabin (though that's going through changes)
The sensibly-priced drinks in bars & restaurants -- and no service charge.
Over-priced drinks was the only sour note on our last cruise, with RCI. And for those who say the bar bill is only a small proportion of the costs of a cruise, the problem is in the mind & not the pocket - it's about giving business to a company that's taking the mickey.
P & O's formal dress-code is observed, as it should be. A ship either has a properly-observed formal code or skips the whole idea, a poorly-observed code is pointless.
But a third code, semi-formal, is nonsensical. Even with the no-fly advantages of sailing ex-uk.
Do other cruisers like the semi-formal nights????
Back in Southampton, staggered disembarkation worked well, we had a fairly late time-slot but no urgent need to get away. Once called, comfortably on-schedule, disembarkation was smooth & easy, interrupted only by a customs officer -- I'm guessing his 4-legged friend had alerted him to the 25 sleeves of smokes, bargain prices in Tallinn, in my case. A cordial search & conversation, they were EU tax-paid & for personal use & he knew it, so no problem. Except that Marlboro are truly rough, suitable for true addicts only. Mebbe I'll set up a baccy shop in Tallinn, just for fussy Brits.