There was a large queue when the four of us arrived at Arrivals, it was well outside the Departures door. However, from arriving at the back of the queue to stepping onto Aurora took 45 minutes, where we were directed to the Crystal Pool by an officer for a BBQ buffet while our room was prepared. My first impressions of Aurora showed her to be just as clean, comfortable and welcoming as I remember. It was lovely to be back and I sat there by the Crystal pool with the first of many cups of Earl Grey with a big grin on my face.
Our cabin was an inside on deck five, F203. Really close to the middle stairways, reception, and directly beneath our restaurant, Medina. I love the storage in these cabins. Somehow four of us, with five suitcases, two bulging suit carriers, and numerous hand luggage managed to get everything put away in the four wardrobes, and eight drawers. In the bathroom, there are two large hidden storage areas behind the mirrors. I had brought with me one of those shoe storage hangers which had 16 pockets. I hung this on the inside of the bathroom door and filled it with medical bits and pieces, costume jewellery, lotions and potions, and other smaller items which tend to get lost in drawers and bags. The under-bed storage fitted our cases very well, and we used the storage area under the small couch for our shoes.
The fridge contained four complimentary bottles of Aurora water (we used these and refilled them for days out). My son and daughter stored their stash of Irn Bru in the fridge for the duration of the cruise.
Our cabin steward, Sudhaker, dealt with my initial request for extra towels in the bathroom immediately, they came within five minutes. Sudhaker was a lovely man, quiet, unobtrusive, always polite and smiling and he kept our cabin sparkling. It was great to come back after dinner to see he'd brought order back from the chaos of our bathroom. It was pristine clean, and neat again.
The flat screen TV showed three film channels with a total of thirty six films shown 24 hours a day on rotation throughout the cruise. There four BBC channels also (reception permitting), three dedicated to World news, and three others ship related (one repeated port talks).
Our teens were made welcome at Decibels, at the back of deck 8. We left them there are sat in the sunshine by the pool on deck 8 (where I would spend a lot of my cruise), and when we returned to pick them up they were deep in conversation with other teens, already immersed and enjoying themselves. Incidentally, there were a total of 117 kids on Aurora for this sailing: 76 in the 13-17 age bracket; twenty 9-13s and nineteen under 9s. The previous cruise ad only 33 kids altogether (Greenland/Iceland/Norway). The one after this, 400!
We were on an early sitting at Medina, table 33. We had George and Jordan as our waiters and George remembered us from a previous cruise (four years ago). We had a delicious meal, silver service, beautifully served, and I felt totally spoiled. I felt that the portions were more than adequate and if we wanted extra we just had to ask. Our other dinner options included the Orangery, where each night was a different themed buffet; Bordeaux on deck 8, where there was a cover charge of £4.99 for the evening meal, free the rest of the time, open 24 hours. We ate there one night when Caravan was playing, lovely atmosphere. Or of course where was the room service option. I never used room service at all though so cannot comment on it. I must also mention the Sidewalk cafe by the Crystal Pool on deck 12. Here you can get burgers, pizza, baked potatoes and fajitas during the day, freshly prepared. Also between 12-2 you can get a freshly made sandwich. This was not well publicised but once I knew about it, I had several sandwich lunches. The bread was lovely. There was also the Pennant Grill, outside on deck 12 which also had a cover charge in the evenings. We did not eat here though so can't comment.
For breakfast and lunch we had the same four options; formal dining, Bordeaux, Orangery, room service. I usually opted for Bordeaux where I could get a table to myself (to read one of the ten books I'd optimistically bought with me to read), and sit and enjoy a delicious meal in the (usually) quiet, calm atmosphere. Bordeaux sometimes got busy though, and one of the waiters would write our cabin numbers on a piece of paper, and we would sit and wait. It was worth the wait. Very late at night, I'd meet the rest of the family at Bordeaux for Horlicks or hot chocolate, and chat in the relaxed atmosphere before retiring to bed.
I've been trying to analyse why I so enjoy cruising on Aurora. I just feel so comfortable and relaxed here. Deck 8, where I spent a lot of time, at the library, Vanderbuilts (daily craft class), the cinema, Bordeaux, and the family pool at the back. Or the Promenade deck where the recliners are deadly. I go there to read, watch the horizon, on a hot day it's the perfect place. However, I always doze off within 20 minutes! I understand that waiters came around serving afternoon tea on deck 7, but I never went at that time so I cannot confirm this. I did go to formal afternoon tea once, and the warm scones came with clotted cream. Oh my word it was yummy. There was a two-tiered cake stand filled with a selection of cakes, and the waiters bought finger sandwiches on trays. There was a menu of different teas to choose from. Heavenly. One of the high spots on this cruise was the craft workshop. I only went initially to accompany my daughter, but got completely hooked. Linda, hosting the event, had a display of some beautiful beaded bracelets and necklaces, and she would be there to offer help when we made them, and boy we needed the help initially. There were two sessions on sea days (ten sea days altogether); a morning and an afternoon. Linda also held afternoon session on port days, for those passengers who couldn't keep away. I rationed myself to one session a day, but throughout the whole cruise made ten bracelets and necklaces. It was fiddly and sometimes frustrating but always rewarding. I now have a new hobby!
The Headliners dancers were a new group, this was their second cruise. I enjoyed all the performances but two particular performances stand out for me: 'Stop! in the name of Love' and 'At the Hop' both done in the style of a story. Really enjoyed those two. We had three comedians, Adrian Walsh, Martin Daniels and Don Reid, all very enjoyable. The Whyte Brothers only did one performance due to illness. This was a pity because they were great. They did 50s and 60s rock and roll stuff, which was mostly before my time (!), but they did it really well. The audience loved their stuff. Paul Baker, a singer who has sung in many musicals, did a couple of very popular shows. He was excellent.
Ports. We visited Palma and a complimentary shuttle bus took us to the edge of the city, by the magnificent Cathedral la Seu. Our second port was Naples. We docked outside the harbour but had to move at 11am so at noon onwards there was a tender service to get us back to the ship. We got on one of these Red Bus tours which stopped outside the port and did two tours. An excellent way to experience the unique driving styles of the local population. Real heart in the mouth stuff. Next, Dubrovnik. We needed our passport to go ashore here. Before we left the port, our bus was boarded by an official who wanted to see our passports. Someone on another bus was sent back because he did not have one. It was the same in Split, our other Croation port. Complimentary shuttle bus to Pile Gate, by the entrance to the city walls. It is not necessary to use local currency, euros are accepted here. It costs 10 euros for adult and 5 for children to walk around the walls. I recommend it, the views are outstanding, however the steps are steep, and surfaces uneven. We bought ice creams at a very reasonable 1.50 euros and walked down the Placa to the harbour. I am looking forward to returning to this beautiful place. I recommend you get up early to see the slow glide into Venice. We did an excursion to see the Doges Palace and St Mark's Basilica plus a gondola ride. I reckon it was worth the cost just to avoid the massive queues waiting outside these places in the baking heat. We just walked right in. I would love to return maybe in April or October when the weather is a bit cooler. Next, Split, Croatia. We used tenders to get ashore and walked to the Walled Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. There was a market here and it was interesting to see the local fruit, veg and other foods on sale. Corfu was our next port. I stayed on board because of a migraine, but the rest of the family used the complimentary shuttle bus to visit the Fort. Our final port was Cadiz. It was much cooler here, only 27 degrees. We went on the Sherry and Horse tour. We were given two bottles of sherry to sample and were poured a third glass from a different bottle. We took what was left of the two bottles back to the ship plus another three we bought. None of the bottles were removed from us, and we drank the opened bottles in the cabin later. A far cry from RC and Princess. The Spanish horses were wonderful, a real treat.
Visiting these ports at this time of year, take an umbrella, a sun hat and a Spanish fan for the heat. These proved really useful to me. I had reason to go to reception on some occasions over the cruise with queries, and felt that the staff were attentive, polite and effective at dealing with same.
Drinks prices were reasonable. Ginger beer, my drink of choice, 330cl, was just £1.20. My husband liked a pint of Speckled Hen and this was £2.70. There was no added service charge. There were no intrusive announcements during the day, no hard sell of products, no art auctions, no hassle from waiters wanting drinks orders. This helped me feel relaxed and comfortable for the duration of the cruise.
There is a lot I haven't mentioned, however I think you can see that myself and the family had a great experience on Aurora.