We have just got back from the Baltic on Aurora and had a fantastic cruise.
This was my fifth time on Aurora, and she still is my favourite ship, just the right size with prefect deck space/ public rooms/ passenger numbers/ ratios. She is beautiful to look at from outside as well with her sharp bow and tiered stern, and is certainly one of the best sea going vessels I have sailed on.
All was as expected with a great start at Southampton, being on the Lido deck we were boarded early and by 13:15 we were seated on the rear deck in the sun eating our first excellent meal (Of many) and sipping the first cocktail (Of many) bags unpacked and settled into L108 a port side balcony cabin perfectly situated for the adults only Riviera pool, the Library, as my wife reads a book a day, and the crows nest, which is our favourite pre dinner/ post show venue.
We booked second sitting set dining, as this fits in perfectly with our battle plans for the days, breakfast, all day in port, back on leisurely shower and pre Carmens show drinks in Charlie's or the crows nest, then catch the 19:30 show. Dinner at 20:30 with a large table of 8/10 which we have found gives the best chance of having at least 2 couples that you really get on with, plus the real benefit that you have the same waiter/asst waiter /wine steward for the whole cruise, and you really get to know them and they you, resulting in what I have found to be the best service ever. We have tried freedom dining on many ships including Brittania, and have always found the service to lack that certain something that you get once this relationship has formed.
Then post dinner up to the Curzon for the late sitting show, and then back to the crows nest for a nightcap.
The cruise itself took in Copenhagen, Helsinki, St Petersburg with an overnight and second day, Tallinn, Riga, Kiel and lastly Skagen, before hitting the north sea back to Blighty.
On a previous Baltic cruise I had been to the first three ports, and they all lived up to my memories as being real Baltic gems. Copenhagen is lovely, and I would really recommend getting a river and canal cruise, which is available very frequently from a pickup point a few hundred yards from where the ship docks. This took us about a hour and a half, and we saw a different aspect of the city from the canals, very enjoyable.
Helsinki is another lovely city, with beautiful churches, and a great town centre for the shopaholics, again we picked up a cruise from the harbour which took us round many of the small islands that make up Helsinki, and was again very enjoyable.
St Petersburg is a star, a very big sprawling star, with the highlight being around the winter palace, the bridges and the magnificent river. Because of the cost of Independently obtained Visas we opted for a full day excursion of the city and the main palace on day one, and a river cruise and stop of at the Czars burial island, and then lastly the spectacular Church of the bleeding heart, at the scene of the dramatic assassination. This church is amazing and a must see if you get the chance.
We then went to Tallinn, which was my favourite port of call, and a place we will no doubt go back to for a long weekend at some point. Just like a Disney castle on every turn it is a fabulous characterful wonder, here we just did our own thing and walked around the town at our own pace (Note for diary, bring larger camera memory card)
Then on to Riga which was a smaller less Castle like old city, but still very beautiful, and again we had a pleasant day walking around admiring the sights.
Then after a sea day it was Kiel in North Germany, here we booked a coach and boat excursion to see some German lakes and Castles, we booked this as I wasn't sure that there would be enough to see in Kiel itself, as it was a large and busy working port.
The day here was ok, but wasn't quite up there with the previous stops, with not enough time at the castles for us to go inside and browse.
Then lastly after Kiel was Skagen, which was back to Denmark, and unfortunately this was the only time the weather let us down, not bad considering the latitude and time of year, and it was very windy and wet. Skagen is a lovely little fishing village, but best seen in the sun without a force 6 blowing.
So ports of call were a real highlight, and I would recommend this to anyone who fancies a scenic and very interesting cruise, but my advice would be do it June/July and August, to make sure of good weather and long days.
As for the other aspects of the cruise, food in the buffet was great, with plenty of choice.
Our restaurant was the Alexandria, and as always the food was superb, especially on formal nights, and the service was exemplary, friendly fast and after 2 weeks very personal. We ate one night in Sindhu, which was my favourite meal of the 2 weeks, amazing flavours, if you like Indian food then it is a must.
We also ate once in the beach house where we sat out on the rear deck, and enjoyed a very tasty Prawn sizzler, a great way to spend an evening with just the 2 of us for a change.
Entertainment in the first week was somewhat under par for P&O but improved dramatically in week 2, and overall is still up there with the best, although it does seem to me that this is one area where P&O have trimmed the budget, probably not the best idea!!
So to sum up a great cruise on a fantastic ship, and my advice is if you travel on a large ships like Oasis, as we do for our 15 year old son, then Aurora seems like a real "Liner" experience in comparison, with a classic shape, teak decks, and a real feel of being at sea, and this is what I really look for in a cruise.
Great cabin in a perfect location near the Library, crows nest, Gym and adults only pool.