Travel from Bradford to Southampton was by Eavesway coach, as usual great coach (09 registration) and for the first time we were able to rate the coach from a wheelchair point of view, the coach passed with flying colours. Eavesway drivers were as ever very pleasant and helpful. Embarkation procedure was fine, long queues but that was down to a few coaches arriving at the terminal at the same time.
I was disappointed to find that having boarded we were simply pointed towards a lift and left to get on with it ourselves, other cruise lines (e.g Celebrity) allocate a crew member to escort you to your stateroom, this was fine for seasoned cruisers like ourselves but could be daunting for passengers cruising for the first time.
My wheelchair bound son was given priority boarding with his helper (his sister), we chose to board in the usual way, because we had also cruise virgins in our party.
Is it me or is Aurora like a maze gone wrong? I find lots of dead ends on the ship, where you have to cross the deck to find your way around the ship. The Alexandria Restaurant for example can only be directly accessed by one set of lifts.
Whilst on the subject of the Alexandria Restaurant, I have to say great venue, good food , attentive wait staff, but why oh why do P&O put wheelchair passengers in the restaurant when the Medina restaurant is so much more accessible in a wheelchair AND has access to a disabled toilet. The Alexandria doesn't!
Star attraction on this cruise was Derren Brown, great entertainment, had lots of people speculating on just how the hell he does what he does. How on earth do you look - look is probably not the word to use there because he is blindfolded! - at someone in the audience and tell the lady her age, that she is pregnant and is a nurse or tell another lady that her cat is called Captain Catfish, well that last one is easily explained doesn't everyone call their cat Captain Catfish!!!!
Headliners team were very good, great voices and dancing, they did tribute shows to Queen and Abba. From an entertainment point of view 5* from a production point of view 2*. Queen show especially was poorly lit. I would love someone to explain to me the sense is putting a theatre company in a poorly lit cabaret lounge, where the dance floor is the stage and putting a cabaret singer in the theatre? When I'm in a cabaret bar I expect to see an act on a small stage I don't expect to see the backs of singers and dancers on a dance floor. On more thing Headliners performed to a backing track, nothing wrong with that, but why have a TRIO who couldn't be seen because they were behind some sort of metal grill augmenting the backing track - I'm sure this trio could have been better employed on the ship in another venue.
I chose not to see the soul singer in the theatre - nothing against the guy , just not my cup of tea.
I have to say that entertainment on P&O does seem to be getting a little scarce I may be entirely wrong although as I said previously there did seem to be a redundant trio in the cabaret bar.
Agnes was the resident pianist but her "spots" seemed to consist of 30 minute periods in different parts of the ship - I hope she didn't have to lug her piano around with her :) - when our paths did cross , Agnes was good entertainment.
A point about clocks moving forward or backwards, the last night of the cruise the clocks had to be put back one hour - no mention of this was made by the cruise director i the cabaret bar, the cabin steward didn't leave a card telling us to put our clocks back - so the only confirmation we actually had was 2 lines of normal print in the text of the back page of Horizon the ships newspaper - now this wasn't really a problem for me and at worst we would have gotten up 1 hour early for disembarkation - but what would have happened if all these factors had taken place on a day when the clocks went FORWARD and I has a tour ashore - attention to detail please P&O
Another thing the people who were travelling with us as first time cruisers didn't receive the Horizon newspaper for the first two days of the cruise and of course as first time cruisers were blissfully unaware of the significance of not have the information that the newspaper contained - this factor brought about the title of this review " Have you been to the Theatre" but more of that later under the review for the port of Zeebrugge.
Zeebrugge - We did Ipres and the Flanders Fields.
It seems an anathema to say wonderful tour for this particular tour, it was more of a pilgrimage but it was very very good and very thought provoking. We have all seen war memorials in out cities, towns and villages, but these in no way prepare you for the lines and lines of immaculate simple gravestones on Tyne Cemetery . After the grave visits we were taken to the Menem Gate in Ipres, to see the names of 58,000 YES 58,000 soldiers who were listed as missing in action and who have no known grave - truly thought provoking.
I have mentioned before the 2 cruise virgins - they decided to take the Brugges tour together with the Roune tour in Le Havre.
Now starts a period of , if you are doing something for the first time, if it can go wrong it will go wrong - They looked at the Roune ticket the night before instead of the Brugge ticket and thought the tour left at 8am - they duly presented themselves on the quayside with the right tour ticket at what they thought was the right time - REMEMBER they hadn't had the Horizon newspaper telling them to go to the theatre and therefore didn't have sticker for a coach. A lady from the ships crew approached them on the quayside and asked where they were going - Brugge they said, well have you been to the theatre? Puzzled he replied "Yes" ( he'd seen the show the previous night hehehe).
"Well where's your sticker then" at this point he confessed he hadn't a clue what the hell was going on. It turned out he was on the AFTERNOON trip to Brugge.
Lessons to be learnt here passengers ALWAYS check your tour tickets VERY carefully and P&O if you are printing a ticket for a tour why not put ALL the information on the ticket all it needs is Please assemble in the theatre at least 10 minutes before your tour is due to commence.
We didn't do a formal tour, just used the Shuttle bus into the city centre.
A point now about wheelchair passengers and tours ashore. Alarm bells started ringing about 6 weeks prior to the cruise when the promised Tours Ashore for disabled passengers didn't materialise. Calls to P&O were made and we were told we WOULD receive them - we didn't! A final call 4 days before the cruise started final got the information from P&O there were NO tours available for wheelchair passengers!
Fortunately my son was able to arrange via the internet a taxi company to take him into Brugge - that cost 90 Euros for the trip.
Had he had had more time to arrange the trip he might have been able to car share of find a better price.
Moral - P&O please say earlier if you cant provide transportation at any port wheelchair bound passengers and give them a fighting chance to make other arrangements. My son was unable to find a taxi firm in Le Havre - yes I know that there are always taxis in the port but not all of them are capable of taking a wheelchair.