Baltic Cruise MV Aurora 5th August 2012
Totally new to cruising so we were pretty excited, we were a party of 4 myself, my wife and two daughters. To save hassle we used AC Jenkins airport transfers for the delivery to and from Southampton and this was comfortable and seamless. The embarkation process involved a wait of about 30 mins in a long queue that moved swiftly. We were in cabin C294
This cabin has no balcony but is therefore slightly larger and is linked by a door to C296 where my 2 daughters were. The cabins were turned down twice daily by Kenneth who was a star. I chose the port side because we would be travelling in busy sea lanes and I wanted to see the traffic etc. Being at the back it was simple to exit C deck at the stern door and take some ship pics.
The engine noise is minimal and the gentle hum is totally acceptable and soothing. This cabin does have a tiny creak in livelier seas, it comes from a panel in the ceiling which can be cured by giving a sharp pull on the smoke detector or sprinkler whatever it is above the bed.
In the cabin is a fridge, hair dryer (in the drawer) TV, loads of storage space inc under the bed, bath and shower. The bed was very comfortable. TV channels inc. forward view bridge cam, locality information, excursions, kids and some news.
MV Aurora is "family friendly" inasmuch as they allow children on, the kids seemed to have a good time and the facilities for them were very good. Even though there were 1800 passengers the ship didn't appear busy and there was always a quiet corner to slip off to if you wanted. On this trip the MV Oriana sailed in company for some parts and this was pretty cool and made for some good pics esp. at night.
MV Aurora is a huge ship, very stable, well laid out and has a useful quarter deck and stern section that is good for parties etc.
You can have a look around the ship with this set of pics if you want.
There were 4 sea days and the highlight of these for me was the guest speaker cmdr Jeff Tall RN OBE. He is an ex commander of a Polaris submarine and a bit of a hero and tells a fine tale, the talks on the cold war and the Falklands were riveting. He also goes on some of the excursions so it would be worth getting a seat next to him on the bus if you're interested in all things RN.
I had a plan for each destination. For Copenhagen it was simple to go onto Google Earth and devise a route. This involved walking along the canal front to Nyhavn, turning right to Rosenborg castle, re-tracing a little and turning right to the round tower, straight on to the T junction, turn left to the square, then into Stroget, lunch at the Stork fountain. Then over the bridge to the Church of our Saviour which was unfortunately closed due to weather. Then wander back to the ship along the canal side. I feel we saw a lot of Copenhagen and we only spent money for lunch and 3 euros to go up the round tower. There is a mini mart next to the round tower where you can buy water and sandwiches etc
For Stockholm there is a 55m pilotage run in and out and it is rather spectacular. I wasn't sure where the boat was going to dock in Stockholm so I planned a P&O excurtion for the morning, involving a trip to a viewing point which was unspectacular, and a trip to the Vasa Museum which was totally spectacular. Then they left us in the old town for the afternoon and we walked back to the ship. The old town is very nice and one could easily spend the day in a cafe or two watching life go by at the old town square.
Forget evening meal leaving Stockholm, swiftly eat in the orangery and head on deck with some wine and watch the sunset over the archipelago - a highlight of the tour.
Tallinn takes a nice photo, we used the free shuttle bus and explored the old town about 3 times by mid afternoon, we designated this a shopping spot and it was a good choice. If you decide to climb the tower at the town hall beware half way up is a very well hidden metal strut that will clobber about 50% of people going up - you have been warned. Lunch in the town square was nice but some places are faster than others, we ended up in a more expensive place that served very nice food indeed but at least they got on with it etc.
For St Petersburg I have no doubt at all that best option is to arrange a small group before hand and go with a local operator. We had a group of 13 in a 20 seater minibus operated by T J Travel. We saw a lot of St Petersburg over 2 days and it cost 565.00 dollars for 4 of us.... in total. We had a driver and guide (Anna) and use of a radio system where Anna talked into her microphone and we heard her in our wifi headsets - cool! I totally recommend this option... and Anna is a gem.
Leaving St Petersburg, at about 7:30pm we reached a Russian Naval base and that was pretty cool as well.
In Helsinki we took a P&O tour in the morning taking in the Olympic stadium, The Sibelius Monument, the rock church and the cathedral at senate square. We opted to stay in Helsinki and use the shuttle bus to return later on. Glad we did because there is a lot to see in Helsinki. You do need to be able to read a simple map.
Then 2 long sea days to Zeebrugge, we went under the great belt bridge at about mid night.
There are 3 options at Zeebrugge. Shuttle bus to the local beach, Brugge or Ghent. We took a P&O trip to Ghent and it was fab. We sat in a number of restaurants for lunch and no one turned up to serve us so we went to MacDonalds. Views from the bridges are spectacular.
Ghent is very picturesque but about a 1 hour drive from the ship. Zeebrugges is also an interesting port for ship watchers, there were about 50 ships anchored outside the pilotage area.
Disembarkation was efficient and we were in our pick up bus by 9:20am.
As a runner the best time to run is 8am around the top deck, after that it gets busy and you then have to use the treadmill etc in the gym.
There are 3 pools, my 12 year old was too old for one, too young for another and didn't want to go in the one she was allowed.... hmm fortunately pools were not a big part of the holiday.
The promenade deck close to sunset is a nice place to sit and have a beer.
Jacket wearing is enforced, we went to crows nest to play cards and have a beer whilst the sun went down rather than go to the entertainment and jackets had to be worn.
Food: Is just excellent at all sites.
Toilets can get blocked, just ring reception and its unblocked from an access outside the cabin within 30 mins. This happened 3 times.
It is definitely worth taking some beer and wine on board, I like a glass of wine whilst getting ready for dinner and perhaps when we come back from dinner. I also like a beer when I get back from a day out - well it is holidays :)
There is a daily newspaper and it is very good. Information about sunrise/set, excursions, meeting points and times, TV, time to get back on the ship. V useful indeed.
Leaving the ship. When the Captain announces that the gang planks are down and passengers can leave the ship, make sure you are at the orangery having a coffee, wait ten mins and then leave. Why queue?
Drinks with your meals cost, a bottle of wine and 2 lemonades was Â£19.00 per night. at Dinner.