On 3 July we returned from a cruise on P&O's Aurora, our fourth trip on this particular ship in the last 22 months. As ever our cabin steward was both efficient and extremely pleasant, and he kept our cabin very clean.
The arrangements for departing on tours was far more relaxed than in the past, and therefore more efficient, with no more being told to wait in a a specific area. Nice to be treated as adults and not unruly children.
Check in at the new Ocean Terminal in Southampton could not be faulted and disembarkation at the Mayflower Terminal was equally efficient - although we do wish that either the Port Authority or P&O would take another look as the escalator in the baggage area. To our minds, this is positively dangerous.
The entertainment was the usual P&O fare - some good; some awful. With so many cruise ships afloat, it must be difficult to find quality entertainers.
However, when it comes to one of the most important areas of acruise - namely the FOOD - there were extreme problems.
We would have a light breakfast in our cabin, rather than face the general melee that is the Orangery. On sea days, lunch would be taken in either the restaurant or Cafe Bordeaux. Service was always pleasant and the food good. In the evenings, the alternate dining in the Pennant Grill was absolutely superb, but since there are only 46 covers it was not possible to visit more than once. We also dined twice in Cafe Bordeaux Marco Pierre White, the first occasion being on a night when he excellent group Caravan were performing. The food was of a very high standard, the music superb and the atmosphere made it an evening to remember. On the second occasion, there was no entertainment and the food was at best average. Maybe MPW needs to revisit.
When it came to evening meals in the Medina Dining room (2nd sitting) it was a totally different story. Whilst maybe two or three meals were quite good, the rest was quite frankly appalling. the food was tasteless, badly cooked and the service at our table was by far the worst we have ever encountered in over 40 cruises. Soups and sauces had no substance, and appeared to have been over diluted. On at least four occasions water glasses were overfilled to the extent of overflowing, and various items of vegetables landed on the table rather than the plates, and no attempt was made by the waiters to remove them.
Never before on any cruise have we received a Food Questionnaire early in the cruise, seeking passengers views on the cuisine in the various dining options. This was followed by a phone call from the Head Waiter explaining that there had been a meeting with the chef and we were assured that the standard of food would improve. There may have been a marginal improvement, but it was clearly still unsatisfactory and well below the standard that is conveyed in the brochure.
Following our experience on this cruise, we have come to the following conclusion. Aurora is fine if you opt for one of the lower grade cabins and food is not an important issue. If however you are paying for a higher grade cabin, you are going to be extremely disappointed at the value for money.
There was one other matter that concerned us greatly and this was the question of hygiene. Only in the self service buffet was there any evidence of antiseptic hand gel being made available. No gel was in evidence in the other dining areas, nor at the gangway, save for a sign advising you to wash your hands when you reached your cabin! (This is particularly relevant now following this weeks news on the Marco Polo)
On balance, we had an enjoyable cruise but we were travelling with friends. The cruise, food and service was well below standard and represented poor value for money.
We do have four future cruises booked but none with P&O, and we do feel with more cruise lines sailing out of Southampton giving the cruising public a much wider choice, P&O need to get their act together and decide where they are going, and what they wish to offer their passengers. Certainly the most recent offering left much to be desired.
Whilst the 'money men' prevail - how much longer will it be before P&O 'water down the water'