Aurora Cruise R718 to Zeebrugge (Didn’t dock!). Friday 20th - Sunday 22nd October 2017.
DAY 1 - Friday 20th October- Southampton
Our first experience of a 2 night cruise and back-to-back cruise all in one (although I am doing separate reviews for each). The 2 night taster cruise to Zeebrugge didn’t start well, as CPS car drop off was, for the first time, poor. The normal arrangement for a 2 day cruise is for passengers to self park in the short stay car park, but I had called CPS many weeks before and they had linked our two cruise bookings, telling me that I could ignore the self parking option and should pull up at the terminal to be valet parked as normal. I had called CPS again the day before the cruise to confirm and was, once again, told this would be no issue and CPS staff would be available at the terminal. As we arrived at the terminal, we first had a battle with the traffic marshal’s, who seemed incapable of understanding what we had arranged (and were quite offhand) and then, as we arrived outside the Mayflower cruise terminal, there wasn’t a CPS operative in sight. After a phone call to CPS (when I was kept on hold for 10 minutes) and a further wait, two CPS staff members eventually arrived.
During the time that we were waiting I noticed that the porters were just standing idle alongside the building waiting for passengers to take their cases to them. Even though I had two large cases, a carry case, a wheelchair and my wife to attend to, no effort whatsoever was made to assist. When I asked an idle porter whether or not there was porter service today, he replied “No, there never is”. Perhaps he meant on 2 day cruises, but this attitude was shocking none the less.
Thankfully, as we entered the terminal building, first class service immediately took over. We reported to assisted embarkation and didn’t even have to take a seat, as we were escorted straight to check-in and were through security and on board within around 10 minutes. A record for us. Due to high winds when Aurora had docked, the air bridge wasn’t attached, so we had to board up a steep ramp from the dockside. Thankfully we were assisted by two pushers for this bit. Even though we had an embarkation time of 1430, we were in our cabin by 1310 with both cases already present. Very impressed.
We were staying in C152 (Accessible Balcony) which was the same cabin that we had stayed in for our 16 night Baltic cruise in May. We instantly noticed an issue with the bed, in that one half was higher than the other! Also, the previous occupants had stupidly left the safe locked, rather than open as instructed. We could not find our steward, so unpacked and stowed the suitcases under the bed. More than an hour later, we eventually found our steward (Lawrence) who told us that the previous occupant had hired a Mobility at Sea special bed and that the normal bed had not returned as planned. He said he would sort it out and called the deck manager to unlock the safe.
Next stop the Glass House, where we each traded our Peninsular Club vouchers for a freebie glass of champagne. The staff have all changed since our May cruise, but were just as friendly. We also noticed that food was available during the afternoon, even though it was a changeover day. We had already had an early lunch at Maritimo Lounge in Ocean Village, but will keep this in mind for changeover day on Sunday as we are staying on board.
Then to Anderson’s for the muster drill. When we returned our life jackets to the cabin we were impressed to find that the bed had already been changed and was now level!
Up to the Crows Nest for a sailway drink and observation as we pulled forward off the berth, turned (as the ship had docked facing inland) and cruised out past the Isle of Wight. Horns were honked between us and Azura as we passed her. Azura is delaying its departure by 24 hours due to former hurricane (now storm) ‘Brian’ which is due to engulf the English Channel tomorrow. As we are heading North, we are departing as normal, although we will have to come back through the remnants of it. During out time in the Crows Nest we were joined by a lovely couple who lived on The Isle of Wight, so were able to have a good chat about the island.
We weren’t overly fussed about the main dining room menu, so tried to get into Sindhu, which although only had about 4 couples in it was apparently full! We ended up in the Beach House where the manager recognised us from May. We experienced exemplary service but my beef sizzling platter wasn’t as tasty as before and none of the deserts appealed, so I just had Eton Mess ice cream, which was very nice.
We didn’t fancy the Headliners show (Fantasy) as we had seen it in May and didn’t rate it, so we went to Carmen’s for a Showaddywaddy tribute band called Shomaddymaddy. Pure cheese, but we actually quite enjoyed it as the music was good, even though we couldn’t see the band once the dance floor had filled with people dancing!
Our final port of call was a repeat visit to the Crows Nest, as the male members of the Aurora Orchestra were performing. However, they were playing jazz, which is about the only style of music that I intensely dislike, so we retired to bed, although I first popped out to the Horizon buffet for a Horlicks nightcap.
DAY 2 - Saturday 21st October- At Sea (Zeebrugge cancelled)
Although we had heard a lot of people talking very loudly as they passed our cabin late at night, we both managed to sleep well, probably assisted by the combination of alcohol, Stugeron and rocking motion! At 0745 (0645 UK time) we were woken by Captain Turnbull making an announcement that, due to high winds, we were unable to dock at Zeebrugge and would have a day at sea as he had not been able to find a substitute port. Although quite understandable, it’s a shame for those who had booked the cruise specifically to go to Bruges, not least as there are no other stops and this is now a cruise to nowhere! We both commented on how professional and comprehensive his announcement was e.g “the safety of the vessel and all those aboard is, and always will be, my first priority”.
We had a leisurely breakfast in the Medina restaurant where the waiter remembered us from our last cruise. During the morning, we cruised up past the Thames Estuary (passing wind farms and gas platforms) into the North Sea, prior to turning around 180 degrees off Lowestoft and heading back towards Southampton - and storm Brian!
Lunch in the Medina prior to popping our head into Carmen’s for a singer , Sadie Ebbon, whose 11.15pm show had been brought forward to 2pm due to the unplanned sea day. We stayed for a few songs but weren’t really getting in to it, so we left and went to Anderson’s for a quiet read. By now there were a few more white peaks on the waves and more noticeable movement.
We have noticed how busy the ship feels compared to our last cruise on Aurora, which is not helped by everyone having to stay on board and it being autumn, so few people are on the open decks. Although the P&O blurb talks about this being a ‘Discovery Cruise’, the staff on board refer to it as a ‘Party Cruise’ and you can see why. Lots of large groups including quite a few hen parties. We assume that, to keep costs down, they might be sharing 4 adults to a cabin, which also explains the relatively high passenger density.
As the ship was busy, we returned to our cabin for a rest and to read. The wind was now force 9 with gusts up to force 11. The balcony divider door is rattling loudly and our patio door out to the balcony is draughty and doesn’t keep out the noise of the wind. We ordered a cream tea from the new room service menu. This took around an hour to arrive. Our steward is pleased that we are staying on board. He explained that on changeover days he works almost all day and evening and has just 90 minutes off during which time he has to rest, eat and call home.
The band ‘Caravan’ are on board again, so we decided to go to the 7.30pm Bee Gee’s Tribute show which we had very much enjoyed when we were last on Aurora in May. There was no member of the entertainment team present to provide the commentary between each song and the lead singer attempted to do it but really struggled due to his strong Philippine accent. Thankfully the songs were still good.
We decided to have dinner late, so hot footed from Carmen’s to the other end of the ship to the Curzon Theatre for the early (8.30pm) show of a Madness tribute band called Badness. They were the same group that had performed the Showaddywaddy tribute and we enjoyed this performance as much, especially as they didn’t just sing Madness songs but also other Ska groups such as The Specials and Bad Manners. We left before the end as it was 15 minutes before the Medina restaurant closed to new arrivals, so we hope that the show is repeated on our follow on cruise.
Dinner in the Medina restaurant was the Marco Pierre White menu, as it was the Black Tie night. Other than the Beef Wellington, I didn’t particularly enjoy the other courses (other than the delicious port infused Stilton to finish) so may dip into the non-Marco choices next time that menu appears.
As we had finished dinner very late and the ship was being buffeted by Storm Brian now that we were in it’s path in the English Channel, we retired to our cabin. It was difficult to get to sleep due to the fact that the ceiling of the cabin above the bathroom door was creaking and banging as the ship was being thrown around by the storm. That said, we didn’t feel sick at all and obviously slept well when we eventually got to sleep as we didn’t awake until we were alongside in Southampton.
As we were doing our first back to back cruise, there are no disembarkation comments to make and anything beyond this point will feature in the next review.
Accessible balcony cabin. We had stayed in this cabin on a previous cruise, so were happy to use it again. Due to the heavy seas and storm we experienced some issues that we hadn’t on our previous (calm) cruise. The ceiling creaked and cracked loudly as the ship pitched around and the balcony door didn’t form a good seal and let in a drought and quite a lot of noise. As with most P&O ships, sound insulation between cabins is very poor and you are disturbed by neighbours slamming drawers etc and can hear conversations and TV’s from cabins either side of you.
Due to high winds, we were unable to dock in Zeebrugge so the port call was cancelled and we spent an unscheduled day at sea cruising up past the Thames Estuary to the top of the Suffolk coast and back to Southampton. To add salt to the wound, other ships due in to Zeebrugge that day docked with no issue.
Never tire of the sailaway down Southampton Water and out into the Solent past the glorious Isle of Wight