P&O UK is “British to the bootstraps” but I do believe they are trying to be something they are not, particularly in regard to dress code and maintenance.
For example, the information pack provided to passengers before they board states that the dress code for each evening applies from 6 pm throughout the ship, and “asks” passengers to comply. What it doesn’t tell you is that if you are sitting in the Crows Nest or some other public area at 6 pm, reading a book or drinking a cocktail and minding your own business, and you aren’t in a black tie or jacket on those evenings, you will be told to leave (even if there is no one else there). This was annoying – even more so when I went to dinner in my finery to find myself sitting opposite a fellow wearing a T-shirt. I suspect this was because the wait staff were too busy ogling his 20 something blonde girlfriend to notice whether he was wearing anything at all. On complaint, the maitre d’ personally assured me it would never happen again but it did - two nights later: same guy, same shirt, same girlfriend.
On a 25 night cruise there were 7 ‘formal’ nights, 7 ‘jacket required’ nights (both of which we thought were excessive, especially in summer in the South Pacific) and 11 ’evening casual’ nights. Except for my T-shirt friend, if you didn’t wear the nominated attire, you were banished to eat at Horizon buffet/cafeteria. However, every night they closed half the serving area and half the outside dining area in Horizon as it was being used by the (extra fee applicable) Beach House restaurant, resulting in a much longer queue to collect your dinner. In effect, this was double punishment for dress code violators.
If they put as much effort into maintaining their tenders/lifeboats (which broke down on quite a few occasions) as they did policing the dress code, it would have been a much happier ship. If there is ever a real emergency, I hope that the lifeboats are in better condition than they were on our cruise.
Embarkation at San Francisco was straightforward. The porters at the dock touted for tips – I gave one guy $2 and he took our bags away. Another passenger gave a porter $1 and the porter scoffed and handed it back. There was no roll call or card swipe at the lifeboat safety drill, so they wouldn’t know who attended. My lifejacket didn’t have a whistle and our cabin attendant advised there were no spares. About halfway through the cruise we had to leave our lifejackets on our bed for inspection, so I left mine there with a note “no whistle” which was still there when we returned in the evening – with no whistle.
We had booked a wine package on the internet as it was significantly cheaper than buying one on board. The ship’s shore excursions were also significantly cheaper if booked over the internet beforehand. The ship’s shore excursions were significantly more expensive than the local tours, however you run the risk of a local tour being fully booked out by the cruise line and therefore not being available when you get off the ship.
There was initial confusion amongst the staff in regard to how the coffee cards and wine packages would work. There was no restriction on the amount of alcohol you could bring on board and the fridge in the cabin could easily accommodate 2 bottles of wine. I would describe the staff on the Aurora as “reserved” and generally (with a few exceptions) not as friendly as say Holland America or Princess. This could have been the result of a perception that they had to maintain a “stiff upper lip”.
We had an inside cabin (C162) on Deck 9 (Canberra Deck) which was quite compact compared to inside cabins on other cruise lines, but entirely adequate. I had trouble with backache on waking up in the mornings but everyone is different. The bathroom was a good design and although it had a shower curtain and not doors, no water spilled onto the floor. The shower curtain was replaced at least once during our voyage. As suggested on CruiseCritic, I sprayed the air conditioning vents with Glen20 every second day and we had no trouble with cabin cough. Our cabin attendant Rex kept our accommodation spotless (well done Rex!).
Laundry washers and dryers are free on the ship, which was great. The design of the ship around the Crystal Pool was the best we have seen on any ship. There were plenty of tables, chairs and deckchairs in both sun and shade. There are plenty of deck chairs all around the ship, to the extent that no-one, at any time, had to reserve a seat by throwing their towels on it. However towels were rationed to two per cabin and it took some time to learn that extra towels were hidden away in the dressing rooms situated in the Spa area of the ship. Topless sunbathing was restricted to 'Deck 14 forward' which, given the average age of the passengers, was a blessing.
We never felt the need to eat at the “extras” restaurants as the quality of the food in the Medina was generally very good for both lunch and dinner. Movies in the theatre were recent releases, however the TV shows and movies in the room repeated ad nauseam. Considering the number of DVDs in the Library, this could have been fixed very easily.
Shopping on the ship is expensive: the same Citizen Eco-drive watch we bought in November on Voyager of the Seas for A$125 was £165 (or A$321) on the Aurora (true!!). There was a “50% off the ticketed price” of pearl jewellery one day – the only problem was there was no price on any of the tickets and to obtain any price you had to ask the sales assistant.
We suspected that some “disabled” passengers were not so: a woman with a white cane swung it like a baton when she thought no-one was looking and another with a zimmer frame only used it when there was an advantage to be had. One old bloke with an ”L” plate on his electric scooter nearly took out the rear wall of the elevator, and continued to be a menace all around the ship. Genuine disabled passengers, young and old, were in full control of their movement aids and were an absolute pleasure to assist when the need arose.
Daily gratuities were even charged for the International Dateline day, which didn’t exist. However the daily newsletter for this missing day was a hoot to read – well done P&O. The “Sounds of the Supremes” show was akin to scraping your fingernails down a chalkboard. Other regular passengers told us the comedians were still telling the same jokes as they did on the Aurora world cruise three years ago.
We found that the arrival and departure times at ports that were advertised pre-cruise were often not the actual times we experienced. This makes booking independent tours more challenging.
In Maui we were on the first tender but when we tied up at the wharf the US Customs guy ordered the tender to leave as he had received insufficient paperwork! We had to reverse and bob around outside the shipping lane while another tender raced from the ship with the necessary papers.
At Honolulu there was no free ship’s shuttle (as promised by the Cruise Director) – the only free shuttles were run by the Maui Diver Pearl Shop and Hilo Hatties, each of which required you to spend some time in their shops. There was much pushing and shoving (and no ship’s crew in sight) by passengers with a Maui Diver sticker when the Hilo Hatties bus arrived first. On our afternoon shuttle back to the ship, the Hilo Hatties bus was half occupied by crew, meaning that some passengers had to wait for the next bus in one hour’s time.
In the Bay of Islands the shuttle buses from Waitangi to Paihia were free – a service supplied by the local community. When we got off the ship in Wellington a girl with a ‘Security” tag asked to see our cruise cards – it turned out this was so she could scan them to charge us £4 each one-way for the ship’s shuttle bus, parked about 5 metres further on. Another security guy suggested we walk instead, which we did. Cruise ships don’t dock at Dunedin but at Port Chalmers, 10km away on Otago Harbour: the ship’s shuttle to Dunedin is £5 one-way. At Dusky Sound the captain announced over the PA that a naturalist would be giving a commentary into the Crows Nest as we sailed through the Sounds, but except for a ”Testing 1-2-3” we heard nothing.
We had a 2 for 1 package ($3200 for 25 nights for both of us) so the value for money was unsurpassed. Others had a fly/cruise package which was also good value. However, due to the strict dress code, I could not recommend P&O UK to anyone, although I do appreciate that others may enjoy being regimented on holidays.
Equal to the smallest we have had on any cruise ship, but perfectly adequate. Plenty of hanging space and drawers. Bed was certainly not the most comfortable we have experienced, but each to his own. Suitcases would not fit in closed state under the bed - had to be left open. Flat screen TV but the shows and movies were unnecessarily repetitive. Good size safe and excellent fridge - cold and could take at least 2 bottles of wine. Tea making facilities with biscuits. Lollies also but not replenished. Chocolates every night but no towel animals (double yay!). Bathroom was a good, compact design. Toiletries were of excellent quality. Shower was adjustable and easy to operate. Small clothes line in shower area. Shower curtain was such that it did not let water leak on the floor. We sprayed Glen20 on the air conditioning outlets every second day, to guard against cabin cough (successfully).
Berthed right at the town waterfront. We took an independent 'Taste of Waiheke' wine tasting tour to Waiheke Island, which was very memorable for all the right reasons.
The ship docks opposite the ANZ Stadium. It is quite a walk to town or the ship runs a shuttle for 4 pounds sterling per person each way. Free wifi on the waterfront near Te Papa - no free wifi near the ship.
Tender port. Be careful of the overpriced independent local 1 hour tour of the town for $25. There is a free shuttle (run by the locals) between the two ends of town - goes from the end of the tender wharf. The town is flat and easy to walk around. Free wifi at the local library.
The ship berths at Port Chalmers, 10 km from Dunedin. Ship's shuttle costs 5 pounds sterling per person one way - we decided to do a $80 each, 6 hour independent tour (including lunch and other refreshments) instead. Dunedin and the surrounding area are lovely.
There's not much to do in Pago Pago. It was also stifflingly hot when we were there.
Walking distance to Fishermans Wharf and other attractions. The night view of the Bay Bridge from the deck of the ship was magnificent. Sailing under the Golden Gate at midnight was a highlight.
Tender port. Would have been better if the captain had completed the paperwork to allow us on the first tender to land! (soon rectified of course). Lahaina is a quaint town, quite level for easy walking. Great when the whales re breaching.
Berthed in Pier 2 on the Waikiki side of Aloha Tower instead of the expected berth on the other side of the Aloha Tower. Much confusion, with no ship's crew ashore to guide us, looking for the advertised ship's shuttle (a lie - there wasn't one). No direction or advice whatsoever for independent travelers wishing to go to Pearl Harbour. Some passengers got stickers and lined up for the Maui Divers free shuttle but there was a lot of pushing & shoving when the Hilo Hatties free shuttle arrived first. Both shuttles went to the vicinity of the Ala Moana Shopping Centre, from where you could take a trolley bus to Waikiki for $2 each. Waikiki is lovely and well worth the visit (as is Pearl Harbour). We Hilo Hattie people had been instructed to return to the shop at Ala Moana for an afternoon bus back to the ship, and once 25 people (a bus load) had arrived we were marched to the bus - only to find that some crew (who had obviously done this before) had boarded the bus and were taking up half the seats. They would not move (in spite of being told quite clearly it was a passenger shuttle), resulting in some passengers who had done the right thing having to wait one hour for the next shuttle bus. Black mark for incompetence to P&O UK for this stop, and a black mark to the crew - very hard to consider paying the gratuities after this effort.
Being awake for, and witnessing, the sail into Sydney Harbour is a "bucket list" event. Berthed right in Circular Quay with the bridge on one side and the Opera House on the other. As we were disembarking, we went as directed and notified in writing to the Curzon Theatre to be told quite curtly that this was for shore excursions only and to go away. So we just went to the gangway and got off the ship. Very welcoming and helpful people ashore.