We have had a wonderful holiday on Aurora, cruise R105 from Southampton to Venice and home. This was our second P&O cruise, in April 2010 we cruised on P&O's Arcadia to the Caribbean and back.
We simply loved Aurora, although as has been mentioned elsewhere she is looking a little tired in places, the overall quality of our holiday was unbeatable. From a wonderful reception at the Ocean terminal onwards, we were met with such courtesy and kindness and as always P&O service was immaculate.
We chose a mini suite on B Deck, and were very pleasantly surprised by the size of the accommodation and quality of the fittings in general, although P&O should be aware that the piping on some of the easy chairs was very worn and indeed loose in one place. Also, the brochure description of "a range of current magazines" was in fact one copy of the January 2011 Autocar which my wife found less than riveting! Unlike our suite on Arcadia last year, there were plenty of electrical sockets, something which I gather from other comments is still quite rare in cruise ships.
Our cabin steward kept our accommodation immaculate and room service was quick and efficient. We greatly enjoyed our evening dinners in the Alexandria restaurant with our table companions -- Clive, Mary, Quentin, Anne, Clive again, and Jackie. You were all stars! And we were very satisfied with the food and choice of food which was served. The table generally began to notice during the second week that our meals were taking longer and longer, and when I enquired of the steward why this was occurring he advised me that he was actually pacing his service to suit what he perceived to be our requirements. What more could we ask for?
A typical evening would start at 1730 with G&T in our cabin, then after a bit of primping it was off to the Playhouse for a wonderful concert of classical piano music, then into Champions for a cocktail before dinner at 2030 in the Alexandria. And it was just like a dinner party for us every night. At about 2227 someone would remember that we all wanted to go to the show in the Curzon Theatre -- the Alexandria restaurant is in the stern, the theatre is in the bows, and this resulted in a gentle sprint from one end of the ship to the other to get into the theatre before the lights went down for another wonderful evening with the Headliners. I've read several comments in various review pages about the Headliners; I think they're absolutely wonderful, to put on eight different shows in two weeks. Indeed as one member of the cast commented, when you're performing in the West End you may be doing eight shows a week, but it's the same show every time, which gets quite boring. The regime on P&O ships is far more demanding for the cast but also far more rewarding.
And then after the show, up to the Crow's Nest for more music, indeed the highlight of the evenings spent in the Crow's Nest was when members of the band turned up for some easy jazz until about 0030, and so to bed. And some people say cruising is expensive! When all of this was included?
It is, I think, invidious to compare two different ships from the same line. Arcadia and Aurora are very different and quite rightly so, for it gives us all a choice. I guess the main difference is that on Aurora there are children, and at the time we travelled most of them were of preschool age. This had a significant effect upon the demographic of the passengers, in that there were far younger people, the parents of the children, and this changed the balance for the better. And a word of praise for the young people who look after the children on the ship, not only do the children seem to be having a very good time but so do the crew. I heard only one child complaining and that was because she was being taken ashore on an excursion with her parents when she would have preferred to have stayed with her friends on the ship. That surely is a sign of successful fun and games.
This was a beautifully balanced cruise, in that we had several days at sea but also visited some extremely interesting places, some of which we had already visited before but no matter. Highlight of the cruise of course was sailing into Venice early in the morning. The perspective of looking down on Venice is quite remarkable and I guess not available from anywhere else.
Dubrovnik, as we had feared, since we last visited it in 1987 has become much more popular, busy and commercialised. We were glad we simply used the Shuttle Bus and were able to scuttle back to the ship after about an hour's jostling. Although we have visited Majorca on several occasions previously, we had never been into Palma before, and it was a delightful surprise, especially the glorious cathedral. From the ship Catania looked rather a grim little town, we had visited Sicily before and 'done' Etna, Taormina etc., so we didn't go ashore there; those of our table mates who did and went no further could not wait to get back to the ship. But those who took excursions further afield had a very good time. Another highlight of the cruise for us was a morning on the beach in Cephalonia and we shall be returning on another occasion. From Cadiz we took the excursion to Jerez, to the Gonzalez Byass Sherry Bodega and this was an outstanding trip to visit a really beautiful building full of history, wonderful smells and of course the wine tasting at the end was very acceptable.
We were privileged last year on Arcadia to share a table with Captain Ian Walters, his mother and other family members, so we had become accustomed to fairly regular contact with the captain and senior officers. This was one aspect of Aurora which we found slightly disappointing; apart from his official appearances at the welcome parties and his televised interview from the stage of the Curzon Theatre, we did not see the captain during the day, and he didn't appear to wish to stop and chat with anybody, which we thought was a bit of a shame.
The entertainments team was super, worked very hard and gave us two out of three excellent Sailaways, far better than we have experienced on Arcadia.
We still haven't obtained an explanation as to why, in their brochure, P&O refer to decks by letters, and yet on the ships by numbers. We wonder if this is deliberately to confuse, because confuse it certainly does!
Finally to the one thing which does irritate, and from other comments I realise it irritates many other P&O passengers. Why must non-smokers have to tolerate smoking.? May I suggest a solution specific to Aurora and possibly applicable to other ships. Smoking was irritating in two particular areas, namely on our balcony and on the deck around the Pennant Bar where many people take breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner.
I would like to suggest that P&O may care to consider making the balcony suites, mini suites and cabins on one side of the ship available for non-smokers, and those on the other side for smokers. This would totally overcome the problem of second-hand smoke wafting onto one's balcony from other parts of the ship.
And with regard to the Pennant Bar, simply ban smoking on that deck during mealtimes and ensure an officer keeps an eye on it and encourages people to comply; I appreciate that mealtimes on a cruise ship are somewhat more protracted than ashore, but perhaps 8 AM to 10 AM and 12 PM to 2:30 PM would go some way towards relieving this problem. And it would leave smokers with many other parts of the ship available for them.
Shall we holiday again on Aurora? Definitely and we have already booked a cruise to the Baltic next July. Thank you P&O for a smashing holiday.