We booked onto this 22 night cruise on P&O Aurora direct with P&O on a vantage fair with a price guarantee stating that if the price reduces we will get the difference in onboard credit or an appropriate upgrade. When we found the price £700 cheaper per person a few weeks before the cruise we were told that this was a getaway fare and our price guarantee didn't include this. After pestering P&O we were eventually offered an upgrade but not to the value of the price difference.
Boarding in Southampton was swift, we were onboard quickly. We noticed that the age of the cruisers was nowhere near those in the photos on the website or brochure and at age 36 we were at least half the age of 90% of the passengers.
Aurora is a beautiful ship and very well maintained but is also being updated at the end of 2014. Our room C290 was spacious and clean. On arrival we had some White Company body lotion, shower gel & conditioner. Bathroom had a small bath with shower. There was a lot of storage space.
The food was exceptional. We had lunch nearly every day in the Orangery buffet. There was a great choice of soups, salad, cold cuts and hot meals with veg. For dinner we were seated on a table for 4 but for only my wife and I (which was good as we had asked for a table for 2) at the 2nd sitting in the Medina restaurant. Service provided by Jinesh, Kavesh & wine waiter Dixson was outstanding. Food served were roast turkey, pheasant, steaks and great selection of fish. Deserts and cheese (we mainly had Stilton) we're fantastic too. We had lunch once in Cafe Bordeaux which put us off booking for the evening. I had minute steak with fries & salad which was bland, my wife had a goats cheese pie which was ok. Deserts were the same as the Orangery.
The other passengers, as mentioned, were mostly elderly, retired types nothing like the 40 something's on the website. Found most people to be be rude, snobby and miserable. If they did engage in conversation we were always asked if we were doing the whole world cruise and to our reply they would say 'only the short trip then'. We were on for 22 nights, this is not a short trip. They were happy to stand in your way, not return a hello or good morning and push in to queues.
Daytime entertainment. As mentioned we were much younger than most passengers so the activities were not aimed at us. Knit & natter, quoits, shuffleboard, tennis, golf nets and quizzes. We usually did the individual quiz at 5.30pm just for something to do, we did one movie memory quiz but the movies were all from the 50s & 60s so we didn't know half the questions and the other quizzes were offered during our meal or show times so we weren't able to do them. As a 2nd sitting passenger we found the main forms of entertainment were aimed at 1st sitting guests. After a day in port there was a sail away party which was where you get the liveliest 30 minutes on the ship at 4.30pm.
Cinema is good, films are not. We watched The Host & The Great Gatsby. Cruise director only likes really good cinematic films and thinks all new films are rubbish.
Drinks are priced reasonably, cheapest bottle of wine is £13.95, beers are £3.45, g&t £4.50 and glass of prosecco £3.50. Some pubs charge a lot more than this so it's good to get these prices at sea.
Entertainment in the evening, on the whole, was ok. Il Davina, Philip Browne (from Lion King), Dean Richardson (Freddy Mercury impersonator), John Udry (comedy juggler) all stand out. Roy Walker was good. The P&O singers and dancers were very amateur, after watching 2 of their shows we decided to miss the rest. Most others acts made you fall asleep which may have been the idea as every night the cruise director asked if we were going to bed now at 11.15pm. Of course, everyone did go to bed.
Masquerades and DJ Charlie Brown. Is there any point of these being on the ship. At 11.15pm after the show everyone goes to bed. We walked all over the ship many nights to find a bar with people having late night drinks but it was always dead everywhere.
Ports of call.
La Coruña was not on the itinerary but due to bad weather we went here instead of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. The town is nice but due to it being 6th January (Spanish Xmas day) everything was closed. We just went for a long walk and a drink, might be ok on a non fiesta day.
In Antigua we did the stingray sensation tour booked with P&O. I would highly recommend this trip. Swimming with stingrays and feeding them is an amazing experience. You also get to hold the stingrays and if they like you they stay in your arms for a long cuddle. The staff were informative and friendly. After we were offered rum punch and you could buy a photo if you wanted (not forced on you). I would recommend doing a trip in this port as there isn't a great deal to see in Oranjestad.
Aruba, we booked a Segway tour privately with Aruba Segway Tours. We were picked up from the cruise terminal, had a 2 hour tour which went up to the lighthouse and back to Moomba Beach, then had 2 hours on the beach and were taken back to the ship. We then wondered around St Johns shops for a while.
Transit through the Panama Canal, an amazing experience. The wildlife in this area is wonderful. We saw sloth, monkeys, toucans, vultures and much more. The canal system is very impressive. You get a new captain for the transit and he makes many announcements all through the day about the new locks being built, the wildlife, the building of the canal, etc... Put some sun cream on, get up early to get a good position on an open deck and take binoculars and a camera.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We booked a P&O tour to hike the mombacho volcano. A great experience but more of a slow dawdle when you're with the elderlies from P&O. Lunch after in Grenada in a restaurant after being pestered by the locals to buy pots and bird whistles (a simple no does not work nor does walking off, they wait for you outside the restaurant too).
Overnight in San Francisco. We were supposed to dock at 12pm so we booked a private Segway tour for 3pm. Ha! 4 days before getting there we found out by watching the port talk on TV about the immigration procedure. Something P&O don't tell you when you book even though they know about it. We actually docked early. We were under the Golden Gate Bridge at 9.50am, beautiful views of the bridge and Alcatraz, and docked by 11am. Immigration came on at 11.30am to do the face to face inspection which every passenger has to go through before anyone on the ship can get off. This took 4 hours. Then everyone tries to get off the ship after the announcement that we should all use the forward stairs to get to deck 5 which led to great confusion and arguments from the idiots that used the middle stairs as the people who did it correctly where then sent to the back of their queue. We got off the ship at 3.45pm. We missed our Segway tour.
We had time to see the sealions, Coit Tower (closed for refurbishment) and China town before it got dark. We headed to the Cable Car museum but that was closed as was after 5pm. We then walked down Lombard Street crooked street and headed off for a beer on pier 39. We ate in Pier Market, clam chowder and Cioppino fish stew and the onto the bars in North Beach.
We had been told by reception that we were not allowed off the ship in the morning as our cards would be taken as it was departure day and we wouldn't be able to get back to the terminal which infuriated us but we asked again at security on the final morning and they said it was fine so we went to see the sealions again.
Pick up for the airport was at 11am for our 4.20pm flight arranged by P&O again. We were 5 hours early for our flight and everyone on the bus was on the same flight. I checked our booking confirmation and it states we should have been picked up in early evening. I have no idea why we were dropped off so early. We had to wait 2 hours for the check in desk to open.
Had P&O informed us about the actual time we would spend in San Francisco we would have booked a hotel night and flown home a day later but on asking at reception they said this was not possible after the cruise had started.
On the whole we had a fabulous holiday because my wife & I really enjoy each other's company but for us there were too many days at sea with nothing to do & we usually enjoy days at sea. P&O had annoyed us before we started the holiday with the price promise, then the entertainment and timings didn't impress and finishing with the San Francisco mis-timings fiasco we have had enough of this company. We have left feeling very disappointed. We'll stick with Royal Caribbean from now on, fun at sea!