What do a 50+ year old male ex-teacher, a 40+ year old female with significant mobility problems and a 19 year old geology student with a love for musical theatre have in common? Two things: 1) we are one family 2) Aurora did a marvellous job in meeting both our individual needs and those as a family. This was a magnificent 17 nights cruise in a most elegant ship.
It was so filled with delights, not least from the itinerary which was brilliant. Why do so few ships sail form Southampton to the Eastern Mediterranean? I could almost write a book about this cruise, however I will try to keep comments short and informed.
Embarkation and disembarkation were both swift and smooth.
The 'feel' of Aurora. One of the entertainers I spoke with, stated they always like being on board Aurora as it feels like stepping into someone's house. It is a beautiful ship not only form the outside but from within. The ship never felt crowded (although it was full), hurried or tired. As for moving around, my wife was largely confined to a wheelchair but there was ease of access to all parts of the ship and she never felt excluded. There was plenty of room to relax. Raffles was a favourite morning coffee spot; the one indoor place which was crowded mid-morning. With so much deck space and 3 pools to swim in, it was never hard to find a spot to enjoy the excellent Mediterranean weather on this cruise. Often my son and I would go for a pre breakfast swim in the Crystal pool which was usually deserted at that time.
Entertainment exceeded expectations. I suspect people who did not like the entertainment either did not try much of what was on offer or have a narrow band of entertainment likes/dislike musical theatre. The Headliners put on six song and dance shows. Their youthful vibrancy shone through- most definitely a favourite with my son. In addition the resident concert pianist (Cliodna Shanahan) performed several very varied recitals to an extremely high standard. We particularly liked the performers who 'hopped on board' for a few days as part of their P and O/Cunard circuit. Phillip Browne was outstanding as a singer with wonderful stage presence. Byron Johnson performed classical, Spanish folk and rock guitar pieces in a brilliant manner, Lloyd Davies was a genuinely funny 'old school' comedian and the female singers of Virtuosity were a joy to listen to. Many guests also liked The 4Tunes although boy bands are not to my taste. The Aurora Orchestra (a seven piece band really) accompanied various performers in a highly accomplished manner and both Caravan and Kool Blue performed really well. In short entertainment was varied and vibrant. Yes, the entertainment crew may have been a bit cheesy but they always gave their all and their approach complemented well the various skills of the key performers.
There was a range of daytime activities on board. As the demographics of those cruising averaged about 65 many activities favoured older people. However we enjoyed shuffleboard, regular swims, deck quoits and table tennis. My son even joined the choir. We never felt short of things to do and never felt the need to visit the cinema or attend the daily talks to pass on time. Every hour was enjoyable. Personally (and selfishly) I was a bit disappointed Aurora did not meet the Force 8/9 winds and 6 metre waves expected, but at Force 7 movement was only slight.
Food was generally good without excelling. We were on Freedom Dining which worked out very well. Only twice did we require a pager in order to set a dinner table for us in the Medina and even then the wait was only a few minutes. Service was excellent and attentive although maybe a touch hurried. Sometimes we enjoyed the informality of the Horizon buffet in the evening especially when it was an Asian or Thai themed evening. Here service was excellent for all meals and we never had a problem finding a table or obtaining food. At times presentation of the Horizon food was a bit 'canteen' like and the triangular cheese sliced looked dry even if they were not. The best food we ate was at The Beach House - worth the £5 supplement. With a £15 supplement for Sindhu we decided against going there and the small plates (tapas style) available at The Glasshouse did not interest us. In fact The Glasshouse seemed to be empty most of the time and although only a first time cruise passenger, I feel it would be a great shame if cruise lines moved closer to identical facilities on each ship in their fleet or gave more space away to supplementary restaurants. We never went hungry but I would imagine food on some other lines would be superior.
Venice, Valletta and Dubrovnik were the stand-out ports for us although Koper was a little gem worth visiting. My wife's mobility issues were dealt with very well between the ship and all the ports. At one stage my wife's wheelchair got in a bit of a state after all the hammering it got on cobbles, steep curbs and potholes. However on making a call to reception one of the ship's engineers (Rhode) immediately came to our cabin to repair the footplate - brilliant!
Generally we preferred to do our own thing at each port of call. My son went on the Mdina and Rabat half day Malta excursion and thoroughly enjoyed that. We all went on the Resort Escapes trip in Corfu which was fine. Not ideal for a wheelchair but the tour guide and taverna owner ensured my wife gained safe access too and from the beach.
So to sum up. Aurora is a beautiful mid-sized ship and in speaking to fellow guests it is highly rated by most people.
Dress code? We enjoyed dressing up for Black Tie nights though I think it is a wise move to remove smart jacket required; less packing!
The blue funnel? Looks much more striking that the previous insipid yellow one.
The union flag emblazoned on the bow? It actually looks really stylish. Put Aurora alongside most other cruise ships (I shall not name examples but I am sure you can think of a few) in port and it really does look to be something special
What I should also add is that before booking this cruise I spent many enjoyable hours researching a wide range of cruise lines, ships within P and O's fleet, different itineraries, the deck plans for Aurora and something about each port of call. As a consequence I booked the cruise and cabin that I felt would be most suited to our needs. Aurora not only did that but added so much more than we expected. Maybe some of the people who write poor reviews for Aurora have done so because they had not made themselves aware of the product offered by P and O / Aurora. What is the point of having a go at the dress code, Club Dining or even the fact there may be a few (and it was not many) people with wheelchairs on board? All these things can and should be found out before making a cruise booking. Aurora does what it says on the tin to a very high level. I sincerely hope the cruise industry continues to offer the vast array of cruise types on offer and that those seeking a cruise spend a bit of time trying to get the right cruise for them. The three of us are still in awe at the experience of a cruise holiday provided by P and O and their beautiful Aurora. Maybe Aurora is not for all but it was exactly right for all of us and our needs/expectations.
A great cabin. On B deck the balconies are more open (and spacious?) than on other decks. We actually brought with us 5 suitcases, 2 holdalls and 2 ruc-sacs! Silly really but amazingly the room had so much clever use of space that we fit everything in with nothing 'on display' and room to spare. The bathroom was a bit tired but fine with a great amount of storage space. The main room actually was almost two rooms. An archway with thick curtains separated the main bedroom from the sofa area which gave privacy at night for our son who slept very comfortably on the double sofa bed. By day the whole cabin was very airy and the ceiling to floor sliding doors gave great viewing and access to a good sized balcony. The fridge worked fine for keeping wine, water and medication cool. The tv channels were not brilliant; the only time I seriously watched it was as wee sailed by the North African coast and I switched between sunbathing on the balcony and watching Geoff Stelling updating the Saturday football scores! Freddy attended our cabin with great diligence and courtesy. The bed and sofa were very comfortable and the furnishings/decor of the room of a high standard. Most of the time the room was totlally silent and there was no motion whatsoever. The only sound from neighbouring cabins was of drawers opening and closing and there was only slight motion when the wind reached Force 7/8.
Excellent access for the rear lifts (without being too close), the tiered stern decks and The Horizon buffet. All in all a brilliant room which catered well for 3 people.