The Baltic Re-visited: Aurora Cruise Review by John Bull

Aurora 4
John Bull
Member Since 2009
11,253 Forum Posts

Overall Member Rating

The Baltic Re-visited

Sail Date: May 2012
Destination: Baltic Sea
Embarkation: Southampton
Super Baltic cruise on P & O's Aurora - at 76.000 tonnes but with less than 2000 berths, she's just our size of ship & we never felt crowded.

She has traditional tiered decks at the stern, with the wings of those decks sheltering the main pool deck. Not the blunt & ugly rear end of some new ships - yes, their bums do look big in that.

And just three varied balcony decks rather than the stacked chicken coops of the slab-sided leviathons.

The more up-to-date top deck midships, which doesn't spoil her overall looks, includes a solarium pool with a sliding roof & an outside pool. Both feel spacious & airy, even with the roof closed against the errrr,"fresh" temperatures of the Baltic in spring-time.
Good selection of public rooms & bars -- Crows Nest bar our favourite, cosy but attractive layout & decor, and panoramic view ahead. Also Anderson's bar, like a plush gentleman's club.
Both the cinema & the single-level theatre are perhaps a shade on the More small side. Seating is in rows, so no drinks sales -- a shame or a blessing depending on your viewpoint.
A few negatives. The atrium simply doesn't work. It's too small & narrow to achieve the desired wow-effect - one needs to look up or down, rather than into or across. The decor is possibly a little bland in some rooms. On Aurora, corridors are on one side or the other of public rooms, making good use of the space without turning those rooms into thoroughfares -- great in theory but results in some dead-ends until you get used to the geography. But these are trivial. Short on wow, pretty good on ambiance & comfort.
9+ for design.

No anytime dining option though surely that's possible - she has two good main dining rooms, but it's fixed dining, or go slumming in the buffet. We ate in the MDR each evening - the ambience, service & food were excellent. Very acceptable choices for each course, international restaurant-quality options as well as the pub-grub that some folk drone on about. Two tablemates had allergies, their choices were sorted each evening for the next evening.

The Orangery buffet was disappointing. Quality was variable. And choice was pot-luck because a lot of stations were empty -- stations & choices changed during the course of a mealtime, the hotch-potch perhaps down to balancing out the stock in the pantry rather than providing a balanced choice for the diner. But I guess if we were that fussy, we should have taken breakfast & lunch in a MDR.

On-board activities & entertainment. We had a deluxe balcony cabin (my first), courtesy of the upgrade fairy (another first). And as I suspected it would, it does make a guy a little unsocial - we didn't get involved a great deal, so can't really comment too much. One of the ship's singers was awful, embarrassingly awful. And the activities organiser didn't really get to grips with the reserved style of his clientele, if the Helsinki sailaway was anything to go by. But by & large it was all OK.

Our cabin - did I say we had a deluxe balcony cabin? ;-)
Plenty of space & storage, a real bath, a settee, fridge, tea & coffee facilities, glassware, biccies, bathrobes, binoculars, reasonable selection on TV. We hardly saw our cabin steward, Nazareth, but he looked after the place impeccably.

P & O policies are generally so much more customer-orientated than other cruise lines.
Tea & coffee-making in the cabin.
Free shuttle-buses at all 5 ports where it was appropriate.
Decent port information for the independently-minded
The ability to take aboard our own alcohol to drink in the cabin.
The ability to buy from ship's duty-free to drink in our cabin (though that's going through changes)
The sensibly-priced drinks in bars & restaurants -- and no service charge.
Over-priced drinks was the only sour note on our last cruise, with RCI. And for those who say the bar bill is only a small proportion of the costs of a cruise, the problem is in the mind & not the pocket - it's about giving business to a company that's taking the mickey.

P & O's formal dress-code is observed, as it should be. A ship either has a properly-observed formal code or skips the whole idea, a poorly-observed code is pointless.
But a third code, semi-formal, is nonsensical. Even with the no-fly advantages of sailing ex-uk.
Do other cruisers like the semi-formal nights????

Back in Southampton, staggered disembarkation worked well, we had a fairly late time-slot but no urgent need to get away. Once called, comfortably on-schedule, disembarkation was smooth & easy, interrupted only by a customs officer -- I'm guessing his 4-legged friend had alerted him to the 25 sleeves of smokes, bargain prices in Tallinn, in my case. A cordial search & conversation, they were EU tax-paid & for personal use & he knew it, so no problem. Except that Marlboro are truly rough, suitable for true addicts only. Mebbe I'll set up a baccy shop in Tallinn, just for fussy Brits. Less

Published 06/04/12

Cabin review: CBB 602

Port and Shore Excursions

A day of sunshine & showers. Like most fellow-lemmings, we decided to go to Bruges. Had to choose: - taxi, €50 one-way - quite a rip-off for 10 miles, even though some were 6 -- 7 seaters, or - free shuttle to Blankenburge & €6 return rail fare to Bruges. Due to aforementioned aversion to rip-offs, we opted for the train even though we knew it was only an hourly service. Timing worked out badly, we had a 50-minute wait. But no worries, still had plenty of time to explore Bruges, take a canal boat ride, buy local goodies & still get back to Blankenburge with an hour to spare. We used most of that hour for a couple of rounds of Belgian beer in a bar opposite the rail station. Found one at 9deg proof!! Good job we'd not discovered it that morning, or we'd not have made it to Bruges. Another excellent port, despite the transfer complications.

We ported along Langelinie, near the little mermaid. Took the free shuttle to town, checked out Tivoli, a couple of palaces, impressive town hall & other sights. And people-watching from behind a pint of the local brew on Nyhavn. Forsook the shuttle & enjoyed the attractive walk back to Aurora. Super port.

The city doesn't have a lot to offer, not helped by the cold grey weather. Shuttlebus to town, wandering aimlessly on cold deserted streets before finding a warm & welcoming cafe. Abandoned plans for a boat trip, instead took a circular tram trip (route T3) for a tour of the city. The route went quite close to the Olympic complex, the art-deco rail station, the Rock cathedral & Sibelius memorial. If the weather had been kinder we'd have hopped off for one or two. As said, the city doesn't have a lot to offer - but would have been more worthwhile given the right mood & weather.
Read 613 Helsinki Reviews

City Tour

The high-spot of any Baltic cruise. Like other cruise lines, P&O's literature craftily gives the impression that an expensive personal visa is needed unless you take a ship's tour -- not so, pre-booked tours with local tour operators have that same visa-waiver status and a personal visa is only required by those leaving the ship totally independently. We'd booked a 2-day tour with Alla, a dozen of us (16-seater minibus) having gotten together with help from cruisedot & cruise critic's Roll Calls and from Alla. We had plenty of time at all the important sights and a number of minor ones - incl our namesake battle-cruiser Aurora, whose guns signalled the start of the 1917 revolution. A varied & interesting couple of days, with super guide Julia. We also fitted in an evening folklore show. Hardly "culture", it's unashamedly for tourists, but the quality of song, dance & costume was excellent, plus plenty of subtle humour & audience participation. A great port from start to finish, despite warm & sunny weather turning grey & wet during the second day

The sail-in through the archipelago was amazing, passing miles of waterfront forests & houses just yards from shore. Aurora felt huge in these surroundings. We ported along Stadsgardleden. Super hop-on ferry stop by our ship, but its direction of travel didn't suit our plans so we took the shuttle-bus to the Royal Palace. Then hop-on ferry to Vasa museum (puts the Mary Rose to shame), Skansen open-air museum (disappointing, not a patch its West Sussex counterpart, the Weald & Downland open-air museum), then hopped back on the ferry, past our ship to Slussen, where we hopped off to walk through the attractive & lively mazy streets of Gamla Stan. Spoilt for choice -- shuttlebus or hop-on ferry back to Aurora? We chose the ferry. Super port.

We took the shuttlebus, though it would have been no more than a 15 minute walk to the start of the town wall, a squat defensive tower with the unflattering name of Fat Margaret. A laid-back day, exploring the nooks & crannies, picking up bargains, people-watching. Oh -- and stocking-up on smokes at around £2 a pack, amongst the cheapest in the EU, but no UK brands. Another super port.
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John Bull
Member Since 2009
11,253 Forum Posts
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