With family and friends giving us an excuse to visit the UK in December, and with prior balcony cruise experience on the Arcadia in 2013, my wife and I decided to leisurely cruise home to Australia on Aurora in January 2014, visiting the Caribbean, Panama Canal, San Francisco, Honolulu and the central Pacific Islands, again in a Balcony Cabin.
P&O (UK) and P&O(Aust) seem to have too much of a captive or revolving market, and so have not real interest or care with non-UK clients (in particular). When we paid upfront for our Arcadia cruise in mid-2012, nothing on earth could get either organization to issue our eTickets before we departed for Europe/UK in late November. And in 2013, lightning almost struck again! With Aurora we were initially denied recognition of our Peninsula Club status, and only a threat of legal action in an Australian court got the problem attended to.
Our travel agent reckons that these companies are not worth the trouble…there are better cruise lines to spend our hard earned dollars with. But we have to admit, we quite like the British style of cruising, so it will be hard not to return for some more “pain”. Moving on to our latest adventure…6 weeks from Southampton to Brisbane.
Despite the terrible weather in Southern England in January/February 2014, we had a half decent day for our early boarding time of 1pm, with the experience being surprisingly efficient (compared to last year). We were on board in time for lunch, and in our A deck balcony cabin (with luggage) no later than 2:30pm. Ample time unpack bags and to explore before safety drill and early dinner!
Our A Deck Balcony Cabin A118 was a little smaller than our E Deck Balcony Cabin E26 on Arcadia, but according to my wife it had more useful storage space. Having said that, the desk area was a little too cramped to work comfortably on my eBook. The Arcadia spoiled me, that’s for sure. Both cabins were equally tired in terms of carpet and curtain state of repair. Having said all that, both were more than comfortable, and in the case of Aurora, the bed so comfortable that back and leg complaints eased within a few days of boarding. An added bonus, both cabins are very close to on board free laundries, useful for doing some washing at times when these facilities are least used…and so avoid the usual spats over machines and dryers.
As other cruisers have noted about Aurora and Arcadia doing world cruises, the average age of the clientele is into the 70s, and being in our early active 60s, we kind of didn’t fit in with the majority. But that was a plus, for us and the other 100 to 200 physically and mentally active souls on board. The pools were rarely crowded, table tennis and other physical games/competitions were not overly popular (ie not too many to run a comp), and later night shows and movies were not over-crowded. Even the promenade deck was usually quite comfortable for daily after breakfast and dinner walks…the majority having found the bountiful deck chairs and assumed the sleeping / reading positions. Maybe not kind, but true!
Generally speaking, the food served on Aurora was quite good – be it in the dining rooms or the Orangery. Unfortunately the latter resembled a piggery at peak times, highly popular with those who didn’t like dressing reasonably for meals(formal or casual), those not really familiar with how to use tongs knives and forks, and those not happy with comfortable portion sizes served in the Meridian. While we are not snobs, we found it far more civilized to eat most meals in the formal restaurant, with portion size suggestions at all times, and a modicum of cleanliness near our plates. Our table waiters were always polite and attentive, and never once prevented our having an extra serving of anything. In fact, we mostly had “extra” ice cream with every dessert. I doubt that many onshore restaurants could offer the Menu choices on offer at every meal, that alone not repeat very much over each cruise sector. And as for the specialty restaurants, nothing on their menus could tempt me to pay extra. I don’t really know why cruise lines bother with this bit of snobbery.
Entertainment provided in the theatres was fair most nights, with acts being flown into various ports of call. Unfortunately, P&Os own troop of young singers and dancers (Headliners) were too inexperienced for the unsuitable stages Aurora provided, and after a few disappointments, were rarely seen. The Sportsman's Bar was a joke...sports TV was either turned off or the sound muted when Quizzes were on, or some on board band/singer decided to play. Fair enough if sports were broadcast to cabin TV, but it isn't. As a result, it is not even a good watering hole.
The Aurora itinerary for our trip to Brisbane was quite interesting, although shore excursions arranged by P&O are certainly over priced (google Viator to see what I mean). Excursions in Antigua, Nicaragua and Honolulu (Pearl Harbour) were good value however. Being seasoned independent travellers, we found the other ports quite easy to do on our own. Like others though, I need to point out that the good old USA does not deserve cruise ship visits, especially from it’s so called friendly nations (Aussies, Brits and Kiwis). With all of us paying for our ESTAS, there is no possible reasonable excuse for holding 1800 odd passengers on board in San Francisco for at least 5 hours, while Immigration staff insolently went about nonsensical face to face interviews. Australia certainly does not treat it’s tourists this badly, and we’ve had our share of terrorist related deaths (remember Bali, twice?). Nor does Britain or New Zealand! Maybe we and P&O should avoid the USA until such time as they can perform a reasonable immigration procedure.
For our Aurora cruise we had a nice touch from a very cordial and capable Italian Captain. Apart from communicating regularly from the bridge, he was often seen walking the decks, and lunching with his wife in the Sidewalk Café or Orangery. Even better, his wife made a point of mixing with passengers, usually at breakfast.
Finally, I have to congratulate P&O for finally seeing sense and taking the Aurora up the Brisbane River, under the Gateway Bridge, to berth at the city cruise terminal. Most if not all passengers expected to berth at the Fisherman’s Island grain terminal, and it was not until a day or so out of Sydney that a change of plan was confirmed. The terminal staff at the city terminal did a wonderful job, as did the Customs Officers who did their best to move all passengers through in next to no time…so much so that we had to wait for our daughter to collect us. Normally she has to wait for us to be processed. Well done Brisbane, and rasberries to the USA and San Francisco.
The cabin is conveniently located near the A deck laundry. While the carpets and drapes are tired, the cabin is comfortable. We found the storage space plentiful for our unpacked luggage.The bed was very comfortable.