Our 14th Cruise with P&O and 4th on Aurora. We chose this cruise as seeing the Northern Lights has always been on our bucket list. We weren’t disappointed!
As with all previous Cruises on Aurora, food and service in the Medina restaurant (freedom dining) was superb throughout. The only (minor) criticism would be the portion sizes of vegetables, which were far too small in relation to the main dish. We had one meal in the Beach House (average) and several lunches in the Glasshouse (very good). We didn’t use Sindhu as it isn’t up to the standard of the excellent versions on Britannia and Ventura, not least because it lacks ambiance and is noisy being in the atrium.
Entertainment, as on all P&O cruises, was mixed. The Headliners troupe was far better than the team we had on board Aurora in October. At least this lot could sing! We always enjoy performances from Caravan and this was no exception, other than two of their performances were somewhat spoiled by irresponsible parents allowing toddlers to run around between the audience and the performers, which was incredibly distracting for both and terribly discourteous. None of the guest singers were particularly impressive. Peter Haworth was average but really fancied himself and we left early as a group of passengers arrived late and then proceeded to talk through the performance (a persistent problem we find). The Brit Tones (4 piece male vocalists) were dire. One of them has a comically low voice and the chatter between songs was far too long and frankly juvenile. Georgina Jackson had a reasonable voice but ruined her act by unnecessarily playing the (shrill) trumpet. Craig Halliday (violinist) was the best performer by a mile. Several classes above the usual standard of P&O entertainment. All performers were let down by the Aurora Orchestra whose backing arrangements were rather odd and, at times, a distraction. Another good artist was Flamenco guitarist Adam Westcott. Really nice guy and incredibly talented but we went to all 5 of his shows and there was far too much repetition.
The main guest speaker was Bob Turner who, in spite of sounding like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses, gave some very interesting talks. He did, however, make the schoolboy error of having his entire script on the (very word heavy) PowerPoint slides, which made them impenetrable.
We did a few tours. Leisurely Alta was pleasant and informative. I really enjoyed Snowmobiling but all my outer clothes stank of exhaust fumes for days afterwards. The ice hotel was interesting but no way would I sleep there. Not only is it cold, it has no toilets inside, mattresses felt cold and damp and the pelts made the place smell like the house of someone who owns big dogs. I did the ‘In Search of the Northern Lights’ tour on the first night in Alta. We only went 10 minutes away as that was where the best viewing was predicted and we had a superb view of them, the strongest being once again between 10 and 11pm. My wife stayed on the ship and although had a good view of them, the light pollution from the ship made them significantly less impressive. We had seen them two nights earlier whilst at sea (although not terribly strong) and a fantastic display, again between around 10 and 11pm at Tromso the day before. Sadly, cloud coverage meant that the 2nd night in Alta didn’t produce anything. The Scenic Rauma Railway journey from Andalsnes was pretty, but only 45 minutes long. The views from the coach on the return were just as impressive.
For those who do not do tours, be aware that there is very little to do in Alta or Andalsnes. Tromso is bigger and several passengers felt that longer there and less time in Alta would have been better, especially as we had a fantastic showing of the Northern Lights in Tromso between around 10 and 11pm.
As might be expected going into the Arctic Circle in March, we had some ‘interesting’ weather conditions. Force 4 to 6 was the norm whilst at sea, but we reached force 10 on the way out and force 10 to 11 on the return. Force 11 is described as ‘exceptionally rough seas’ and is one below a hurricane. We felt absolutely fine thanks to Stugeron, but a number of passengers were a bit off colour. As for outside air temperatures, there was a lot of exaggeration about this. People kept quoting things like -15 degrees but the coldest we experienced was -8 degrees, although it feels much colder when stood on snow in a field or with the wind at sea. The cold weather did cause problems with the ships lifts. 3 of the 7 forward and midships lifts were out of action for 3 days as a result, which was a problem for us as my wife uses a wheelchair.
Final words of advice for anyone doing a Northern Lights Cruise. Take Stugeron for the rough seas and plenty of layers of clothing for the cold. You can see the Northern Lights from the ship but don’t let anyone convince you that it’s not worth doing a tour. Light pollution from the ship is excessive. They make no effort to dim deck lighting. My wife and I saw the same ‘display’ at the same time in Alta. My wife was on the ship and I was 10 minutes away in a dark field. My experience was much better. Perseverance pays. Some passengers who insisted on seeing all the shows and popping their head out occasionally missed the best displays. When the lights appear, although impressive they are mostly white. You do see green and, at times, red hues but the camera does lie when it comes to the Northern Lights as it massively exaggerates the colour. All photos come out very bright green as the camera lens sees the colour far better than the human eye. They look nothing like that in reality. If the lights appear, keep your eyes on whichever part is brightest. It is these parts that tend to evolve into the movement (dancing) that people refer to.
Accessible cabin, ideal for wheelchair users, who cannot cruise without one, so please do not book one if you have a mild degree of disability or are just elderly as these are really needed for those with serious disability.
Easy to get to with no need to stay overnight the night before unless you live in Scotland or the very North of England.
Not a lot to see here. A very minor Fjord and a tiny town with little to see or do. The Scenic Rauma Railway was pleasant but only 45 minutes and the views from the road are just as good.
Northern Lights Museum was quite good. Nice harbour and decent town centre. Had a great view of the Northern Lights between 10 and 11pm. Would have preferred more time here and less time in Alta.