This is a review of the Aurora, operated by P & O during the Christmas 2008 Calypso Cruise to the Caribbean. We (2 parents 55ish with 2 children 21 and 24) have cruised with P & O before and did the same or similar cruise at Christmas 2007 on Oriana.
The ship was described to us as a sister ship to Oriana but a little bit nicer with such pluses as the Cafe Bordeaux. It is a nice ship; the cabins (outside window Deck 5) are fine with plenty of hanging and drawer space. I had great difficulty working out the bow from the stern directions and which deck had which facility. This in spite of a pocket guide and schematic maps every 30 yards.
Accommodation: The cabins are well sized, comfortable and equipped with double/twin beds, TV, fridge and reasonable bathroom. Some have shower/baths and others showers only. Beds are 3 feet wide and 6 feet 6 inches long. There is plenty of support but they are not firm.
On Board facilities:
Internet: The internet room is on Deck 13 by the Crows nest bar and is a pleasant airy room with 12 desktops and 2 laptop dedicated desks which are provided with UK 12 amp power sockets. The ship has a very restricted wifi which operates only in the Internet room and next door in parts of the Crows Nest Bar. It is fairly fast downloading emails and uploading to the internet. I would say that it is adequate but could be simply improved if it were made available on a wider basis through other areas of the ship. The charges are standard across the fleet and the pay as you go is 30 pence per minute, pre paid plans are available which can reduce this cost to 16 pence, but you do need to buy 4 hours of connection time.
Reception: The reception area is on Deck 5 and operates from 7am to 9pm.
Restaurants: We ate on second sitting in the Medina Restaurant and found the accommodations comfortable although some tables near the end walls/bulkheads suffered from a lack of room between the back of the chairs and the wall. I suppose this is a problem for the waiters rather than passenger, but I did notice it and think it worth mentioning. The waiting staff is charming as expected but some seem less fun than others and this may, of course, be shyness but it was very noticeable. The level of service is just ok. The head waiter comes to the table most evenings but we have had meals that were returned partially eaten through the meat being tough or the fish being overcooked and these incidents aroused no action whatsoever by this person. This is the absolute opposite of our previous experiences on P & O and was commented upon fairly widely by passengers. He came on the penultimate night and made his enquiry, he was horrified to receive complaints from 4 of the six diners and he wrote them down on a scrap of paper. It did not convince us that he was going to raise the issues with the Chef. When he passed by some 30 minutes later I asked what the Chef had said, the response was totally unconvincing and I seriously doubt if he reported the matters. The other general restaurant is Alexandria and I have no experience of that.
Afternoon tea is served in the Medina from 4 to 4.45 pm and is very pleasant. There is a choice of a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, teacake and crumpets. They only toast the crumpets on the top, so you will end up with a soft underside. We tried for two weeks to explain but they kept coming out undercooked or charred.
We also tried the Marco Pierre White facility which attracts an additional payment which varies depending upon what time during the evening you dine. We paid £3.95 each and it was certainly worth it for the food. The restaurant is the Cafe Bordeaux which is above the casino and surrounds a stairwell, one side of the restaurant has the main corridor of the Promenade Deck running alongside; quite bizarre but the food, wine choice and service were absolutely excellent and much better than the main restaurant. Depending upon your table position you may well hear a lot of extraneous noise from these sources. We also took breakfast and lunch at the Cafe Bordeaux and it was absolutely delightful. Some of the best food available on board and good service.
There is a buffet restaurant on Deck 12 called the Orangery and they serve all three meals there and afternoon tea on a self serve basis. They also hold themed buffets on evenings and these vary from British, to Italian, to Asian to Indian buffets. I only tried the Indian and would not repeat the process. Other P & O ships have held these evenings and operated a reservation process which ensured a smooth progress of diners through the starter, main course and dessert stations. Aurora did not and the resulting 60 person/20 minute queue for main course was the direct result. The choices offered were not all there to be had and the curries themselves seemed very watery. I am no chef but I do know curry. I raised the lack of reservations with our ineffectual head waiter and was told that it is fleet wide and it enables many more people to be served. I don't believe this as it makes no sense.
An additional facility is found on the stern deck on 12 and is called The Pennant Grill; a small surcharge will provide a nice steak or fish dinner in the warm evenings of the Caribbean. I did not use it but reports were mostly favorable.
Late night service is provided by the Cafe Bordeaux but no food is displayed, sandwiches and Fries with Mayonnaise are among the very limited choices and one cannot get a toasted sandwich. Tea and coffee are available but a charge is made for peppermint tea which comes by way of a nasty teabag with very little flavor.
There are 3 levels of dress acceptable by P & O on board for dining purposes; they are Formal (Black Tie), Semi Formal which is trousers, smart shirt and a jacket (no tie required) and Smart Casual, which is identical to Semi Formal except no jacket is needed. These are pretty standard but it is now permissible to wear Jeans to dinner!
Bars: There are several bars catering for broad tastes on board. The Crows Nest is at the bow on Deck 13 and has panoramic views. Trouble is that smoking is allowed in the port half and the air handling system cannot stop the smell pervading the entire room making it unpleasant for the non smokers.
There are other bars but none has the style of the Crows Nest, I know that smoking is not allowed in the sport bar called Champions nor Andersons on deck 7
Pools: There are three pools, 1 is exclusively for children and is part of their club area, the other two are on deck12 and are the Crystal and Riviera. The Crystal pool is set amidships and has the benefit of a retractable roof; the other is set towards the front of the ship and is open to the elements. The center pool has two hot tubs which are well used. The Children tend to use the Crystal pool which does have an effect on the clarity of the water. It was luminous green one day after treatment following one of the very regular quality tests. The pools are a reasonable size but are just over 1 meter deep. It is not easy to swim in such shallow water. If the ship encounters any swell, a wave sets up and the water flows forward and aft or side to side, shipping great gouts of water and spray from the pool itself onto the surrounding decks. If there are swimmers in the pool, they undertake a very exciting but perilous ride in or on this wave as it crashes into the end of the pool. Quite often the pools are netted to prevent passenger use; this is very frustrating especially in sunny weather. There seem to be plenty of sun beds around the pools and on the Sun Deck above the pool. Those at the Crystal Pool are a sturdy metal and mesh construction whereas the others are the nasty white plastic ones beloved of package holidays. There are also some white plastic chairs which are fairly comfortable. On the Promenade Deck you are spoilt by teak steamer chairs with attached foot rests and cushions, they also have plastic recliner chairs for the less fortunate.
There is a spa which to my unpracticed eye seems to offer the usual beauty and health treatments. The charges seem reasonable and the staff is very professional.
At the front of Deck 7 is a great theatre which is used for most show, there is a "ballroom" called Carmen's at the rear of that Deck, which has seats around a dance floor and is more for passengers dancing. Most of this takes place to CDs which is disappointing to some.
Overall the entertainment was not very good other than Richard Digence, who was as hilarious as he always is. Tom O'Connor is OK but his act is as old as his suit, Stuart Gillies has a nice tan but should stop checking his comb over when he passes a reflecting window. Jimmy Nairn should stick to what he is best at, whenever he discovers exactly what that may be.
Caravan was a very good and talented group as were the steel band. There was a female singer who I did not see but she received rave reviews from people to whom I spoke.
The Entertainment Officers were a mixed bunch; one of the senior female blondes was so full of herself as to be approaching obnoxious. She needs reminding that we pay her wages and she is there to make sure that we enjoy ourselves. Most of the males are good but one of them is the worst DJ in the world. They all seem to operate on a what we say goes basis, and that can irritate the calmest of passenger. On the Food and Beverage side there seems to be a malaise among the staff, dishes lay around uncollected in the Orangery Buffet and on the outside tables, I have never known that before. Whether P & O have reduced staffing levels or it is an apathy that has set in, it needs to be addressed. Many waiters expressed dissatisfaction with "the management" and told me that they were considering transferring ships. What on earth is happening? The deck and drink waiters are all very attentive and I believe that they now work to sales quotas per shift. This may explain why they are so keen to attend you.
This malaise may stem from poor senior management or perhaps the blame lies with the middle managers, I do not know but I do know that there are problems which need attention.
Sports and gymnasium, there is a well equipped gym on Deck 11 and quoits, golf, shuffleboard, table tennis and soccer take place on 12 & 13.
Overall I think that standards of service and food quality on board have dropped since last year although the Aurora is a new experience for me, I think it unlikely that I will repeat it although I will continue to use P & O.