Festival of Music Aboard P&O Ship Aurora 15th October to
1st November 2011
The re-introduction of the through train from Durham to Southampton is a very welcome relief to us. Travelling First Class gives us assistance with our luggage on and off the train. This is another bonus for elderly travellers. Consequently, our journey to the port was comfortable and on time. The "Check In" to the ship was weary and I felt sorry for the many aged travellers in the queues. Cabin C161 was comfortable, with a good deal of storage space. We were quite content with this Inside Cabin. Its facilities were adequate for our 17 day cruise. Cabin Steward Manuel soon acted upon our request for sheets instead of duvets. He was efficient and pleasant throughout the holiday. Once again our request for First Sitting for dinner had been refused and we made our way to The Alexandria Restaurant to plead with the Maitre'D for a change. Second Sitting does not suit Mary's programme for medication. Begrudgingly, we were given a change to a table for six in the Alexandria restaurant.
After our activities, on arriving on the ship, my wife and I were really tired and laid down on the beds to rest. Commands from the bridge made us realise that we were summoned for boat drill. We continued to rest and gave the drill a miss. Having had so many drills on this ship and others, we thought that we could take the risk, knowing that our boat station was in the Curzon Theatre.
We found the Alexandria Restaurant spacious and attractive. Our main waiter was Linus, who was perfect in every way. He was cheerful and patient on every occasion and would make the maximum effort to give satisfaction. One person at our table complained repeatedly for little reason, but Linus continued to be patient and respectful. He never changed. I must say that Linus was ably assisted by Rajesh, who took his cue from his senior waiter.
The standard of most meals was excellent. I consider that the catering was superior to any we have experienced on ships for a considerable period of time. There were always tempting dishes on the menu for dinner. We were often spoiled for choice.
Breakfast and lunch ("open seating") were taken in the Medina restaurant. Once again we were highly satisfied with the catering and had good service from a number of waiters including Faizal who gave particularly good service. We used the Orangery and the Medina Restaurant for afternoon tea. This service was much improved from that that we had experienced on the Aurora in 2010. We had no complaints.
I had a fright on the first day of the cruise when one of my teeth broke at luncheon. It was not a worry as the variety of food during the cruise allowed me to enjoy my meals at all times.
There was some aspects of the Alexandria Restaurant which did concern me and others. The low ceiling seemed to absorb sound and at times made conversation among diners difficult. The noise from the engines also affected us in this respect.
The team of musicians who performed in "The Festival of Music" gave us an unforgettable experience. Stephannie Williams had brought together a very well balanced group of singers and instrumentalists. For me the stars were mezzo soprano Maria Jagusz and violinist Vanja Milanova. The accompanist John Wilson took on a difficult task in supporting and he performed admirably.
We met only one person who had grumbles about the service. However there were some who did not welcome the children on board. We heard some say that in future they would stick to the "Adults Only" cruises. Many aged and disabled people joined together to have much fun. They enjoyed dressing up and mixing with their own kind! We met a regular cruiser aged 91, who was contemplating her next cruise! The old and disabled had every assistance from the ship's crew.
Ports Of Call.
After three gloriously relaxing days at sea, enjoying all the facilities of this magnificent ship, we put in to Valencia, a city that we had visited previously. During these peaceful days we had travelled 1606 nautical miles. The ship had remained comfortable despite a lively sea in the Bay of Biscay. The weather in Valencia was warm and sunny and after a tour of the streets we were able to join a Spanish congregation for a celebration of Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. We prayed for all our sick relatives and friends and also for our correspondents who have given us so much pleasure over the past years. The city centre of Valencia will always have happy memories for us.
We were ashore early on Thursday morning and a shuttle bus took us close to the magnificent Cathedral. Having had a number of holidays in Majorca, which had enabled us to visit the Cathedral, we planned to visit the Churches of St Francis and St. Eulalia which had been recommended in the Port Lecture on Palma. We were not disappointed in the Baroque grandeur of these buildings. There was an added interest, as close by the Church of St Francis was a large secondary school. We happened to hit on a break during lessons and had interesting chats with some of the students who were studying English. I amused them by singing an English song.
We love the time spent at sea and Friday and Saturday were spent in Aurora enjoying its luxury and being spoiled by a very attentive crew. We anchored in Corfu at about 8am and after an early breakfast took the shuttle bus into the city. My impression of Corfu did not change. Our last visit there in 2010 was disappointing and so was this one. The place seemed so untidy and in some respects neglected. I wondered if it reflected the state of the Greek economy! As this day was Sunday, we made our way to the Roman Catholic Church and found that the congregation was involved with a special celebration which involved the blessing of certain parts of the Church. The Bishop and several clergy, plus civic dignitaries were in attendance. The choir was in good voice and the faithful were dressed in their Sunday best. We enjoyed the experience, although we were mystified by the Greek language.
As always, Dubrovnik continues to be a jewel among cruise visits. This perfectly preserved medieval city offers its treasures as soon as the shuttle bus dropped us near the centre. A two minute walk and we were entranced by the ancient pavements, surrounded by buildings which echoed yesteryear. We first visited the city in the time of President Tito in 1974 and perceived that Christianity was hanging on despite oppression from the Communist Regime. Today the churches of St. Francis, St Blaise and the Cathedral are in full operation and offer their historic treasures and memories to all. A visit to the Hotel Excelsior, where we had stayed in 1974 was a must for us. We were received in a most pleasant manner by the staff. This was in contrast to the dourness of the inhabitants under Tito's rule.
The sailing into Venice is always of interest, with the ancient buildings and St. Mark's Square within sight. Our arrival at 9am coincided with heavy rain and an icy cold temperature. As we had had a holiday in Venice and had visited the city on a number of previous cruises we decided to stay on board and enjoy the luxury of a very quiet ship. Ancient English optimists dressed for English winters left the ship on their excursions, whilst we used binoculars and camera to the full. Later in the day we espied many dripping wet tourists who looked unhappy as they made their way on to the ship.
Wednesday the 26th October was spent at sea, as Aurora made its way through the Messina Straits en route to Palermo. Throughout the cruise there has been quite a bit of movement by the ship in the Mediterranean swell.
The Port Lecture had drawn attention to the art in the Church of Santa Maria. It was suggested that the mosaics were treasures not to be missed. After breakfast we set out to explore this very busy, traffic polluted city. Unfortunately my wife and I had left our map of the city on board ship and our enquiries concerning the whereabouts of the church of Santa Maria led us to many places other than the church. Eventually we entered the Church of St. Joseph and a very kindly Sicilian young lady took pity on us and took us almost to our desired destination. Imagine our frustration when we were confronted with a closed church. It had been closed since June for renovation. We were not pleased with the Port lecturer, as we made our way back to Aurora.
Before we left Palermo, the Captain made an announcement that because of the bad weather expected on the coast of Portugal he had decided to change the itinerary and instead of visiting Oporto, we would sail to Malaga. Initially we were disappointed as we had never been to Oporto, but on reflection we looked forward to seeing this interesting Spanish city once again. Aurora continued her course towards Malaga, sailing parallel to the African coast and arrived at about 8am on Saturday 29th October. The visit to the bustling city centre was pleasing and we found ourselves outside of the Church of St. Augustine, where many were gathering for the society wedding of the year. We talked to the guests and entered the church to photograph the proceedings. It was very colourful. We could not leave the city without visiting the Cathedral, which must be one of the most marvellous sights in all Spain. Since our last visit there had been much renovation and painting. It was an exciting experience for us. This visit, which had come about by chance, was the highlight of our shore excursions during the cruise.
The cruise on Aurora was most enjoyable. The dÃ©cor of the ship is splendid. The service in our cabin and in the restaurants was excellent. All questions asked in the Reception Area were answered promptly and pleasantly. A breakdown in the flushing mechanism of our toilet was immediately fixed. All staff seemed to carry out their tasks with patience and pleasantry.
We were fortunate to experience international artists during the Classical Music Festival. The standard was very high indeed. We thought that it was sad that so many on the cruise had little interest in the classical programme. The performances of soprano Deborah Norman, mezzo-soprano Maria Jagusz, tenor Andrew Goodwin, ably accompanied by John Wilson, were superb, as was the playing of the pianist Marco Fatichenti and that of the violinist Vanya Milanova. Nick Bailey's introduction of these stars was informative and at times amusing.
We have some grumbles. Smoking was allowed on the Port side. This was the area that had most of the sun during the 17 days of our journey. We avoided lingering on the Port side. We would ban smoking altogether. If this is not possible, we would ask P&O to not give the smokers the best part of the ship to carry out their pollution.