We had spent a few days in Dubai visiting family before embarking on Aurora at Dubai cruise terminal so jet lag was long gone and we were relaxed instead of worrying if our plane was going to be delayed etc. This was our 6th cruise, our 3rd with P&O but our first time on Aurora so it would be interesting to compare our experience on this ship with elsewhere.
Check in at Dubai was relaxed as not many passengers were getting on - about 250 in all we heard. At check in we were asked to complete the usual health form to state that we had not been ill within the last so many days etc. What we were not told was that we were about to walk on a ship with the norovirus present. I smelled a rat as soon as we got on board and went into the Orangery for some lunch - no salt and pepper pots on the tables and the doors to the public toilets were jammed open. No one told us about the virus but there were rumours among those who had embarked in Dubai and the Captain confirmed a couple of days later that the ship was now free of it. I think that passengers have a right to know what they are walking into. We have to sign a health declaration. What about the ship's operator doing the same? In future on boarding I shall be asking if the virus is present on the ship and I expect an answer. P&O be aware that yours will be the next ship I will be boarding.
Our cabin had a balcony on the starboard side of the ship. We chose this side so that we would get some sun onto the balcony during the voyage. This worked out really well and spectacularly well when we reached Hong Kong (read on). We usually choose the port side.
The cabin was very compact with not as much storage space as we have had on other ships. For example, shelves were very narrow around the dressing table area and a good quarter of the wardrobe was virtually inaccessible as you had to reach right behind a fixed door. Also the top shelf in the wardrobe was too high and so a good half of this was not accessible. The life jackets were kept on this shelf and whilst I am not short in height I had to ask my husband who is 6 feet tall to get mine down as I could not reach it. Goodness knows what would happen in an emergency. There were quite a few hangers in the wardrobe but they were those awful ones with a fixed position and which are useless outside of the wardrobe and none had skirt or trouser grips on their bars. Fortunately I had taken about 20 plastic hangers so we managed. Also the hanging rail was too low and long dresses trailed the floor. Drawer units in the cabin were shallow and the safe small. There was one hook outside of the bathroom and this was in a silly place over a bedside cabinet so you could not hang anything more than a jacket and then you had to be careful as it was spring loaded and shot back against the wall as you removed a garment from it. When we got to the cabin, the beds were apart and separated by the smallest bedside cabinet you have ever seen. This meant that you could hardly walk past the dressing table without banging your leg against the bed. Fearful of getting off the ship with legs black and blue from bruises we moved the cabinet and put the beds together. This then created enough space to get round the dressing table. There were enough mirrors and 2 British style plug sockets. Beds were OK and comfy. The TV was out of the ark - really poor. The balcony was very shallow - just enough room for the 2 recliner chairs and a small table. We have definitely had better cabin facilities on other ships when paying similar money. The bathroom had a shower over a small bath. Good storage cupboards around the handbasin. No shampoo but there was a dispenser over the bath that is supposed to be both shower gel and shampoo. It was something like using Fairy Liquid so I stopped using this after day 1. Fortunately I had taken decent shampoo with us. Even my husband who is not into fancy shampoos gave up after a couple of days on the stuff supplied by P&O. There was a tray by the handbasin containing small containers all of which turned out to be as much use a a chocolate teapot - stuff the average person never uses. What a waste of product. Bath towels were nice and big and changed twice a day.
We were assigned to The Alexandria restaurant, 1st sitting on a table for 6. The others on the table had also embarked at Dubai and were also getting off in Hong Kong. We got on really well with them. The food was excellent, well cooked, hot and nicely presented with portion sizes just right and our waiting staff were superb. The table settings and cutlery were good. We utilised a couple of wine packages which we thought good value. All in all, we were more than happy with the Alexandra and looked forward to our dinner each night. The whole table booked to eat together in the Pennant Grill one night. Apart from a cock up with the booking, they accommodated us even though we could not sit outside and the food again was excellent. We also all booked to go to the Cafe Bordeaux one night. Unfortunately we did not return from our trip in time but the other 4 said it was superb and proceeded to taunt us for the rest of the trip over what we had missed!!!!!! We ate breakfast in the Orangery. One problem here was the eggs. You could have hard boiled or "fried" which were kept on a tray for self service, or scrambled. No omelettes, poached eggs, eggs benedict etc. This was poor compared to American ships where you can have your eggs freshly cooked any number of different ways. We ate our dinner once in the Orangery but this was not fantastic. Lunchtime sandwiches were freshly made and good. They could do with having mugs for tea and coffee instead of the cups and saucers and dispensing with the chemical fruit juices.
We tried several of the bars and found the service good, cocktails good and the prices reasonable. No complaints here except my husband would have liked draught beer in more of the bars. We went to some shows in the evening and liked them. We also took part in some quizzes to keep the grey matter ticking over.
We liked the general decor of the ship - tasteful and clean. Plenty of sunbathing space on deck but what would it be like if the ship was full of young people and children? Good quality sunbeds. The laundrette on deck 9 was great and so useful.
We found the staff polite and efficient although some of the reception staff could do better. For example one complaint I put in was never acted upon and I had to go back and start again.
We did trips organised by P&O in Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Phu My (Saigon) and Halong Bay (Hanoi). They were all interesting but the Hanoi trip was ill - thought through by the orgainizers and we did not return to the ship until after 8pm when we should have been back before 6.30pm. We did our own thing in Singapore and a whole day out to Sentosa Island cost us £17 which included entrance fees to Fort Siloso. We also did Saigon on our own but got the ship's coach to transfer us from the port to the city. This was an experience and real fun.
Eventually we reached Hong Kong where the ship was berthed for 2 days so we had the first night on board before disembarkation. This was where our starboard cabin came in really handy as the ship berthed at the cruise terminal and we were looking directly at HK Island. This meant that we got the symphony of lights show for free. We felt sorry for those you had paid to go on a trip from the ship to see the same stuff. We loved HK (not been before). We were sorry to leave the ship and the friends we had made on board. We loved the itinerary for the cruise except that they could leave out Kemaman in East Malaysia and perhaps include Cochin instead. We also loved the days we had at sea - 4 in a row between Mumbai and KL but perhaps the really good weather helped???!!!
We had been to India before and therefore knew what to expect. We did a 5 hour coach trip from the ship. This took in a Jain temple (interesting), Gandhi's house which was awful as there were about 300 people trying to walk round a very small building. Could not wait to get out of the place and they had allowed 3/4 hour for this stop. Most people were bored waiting for their coach. The most interesting things to see were the Gateway of India and the Dhobi Ghat laundry. The least interesting thing to see was the handing gardens. You could easily have left these out and reduced the trip by a good half and hour. The guide was very informative.
It was about a 2 hour coach journey from Port Kelang to KL. We then went on a walking tour of Independence Square, a Chinese Temple and the Chinatown market.We had an excellent lunch at an hotel before going on to the KL Tower. The views from the observation deck were very good. We did not go up the Petronas Towers but got some good pictures of them. The guide was very good.
We had been to Singapore before and stayed on Orchard Road so did not need to do the tourist trail of Orchard Road, Raffles and Clarke Quay etc. We had not been to Sentosa Island. Unfortunately the cable car was closed for maintenance to we got the mono rail over to the island. We then got the free beach tram to the end of the island to see Fort Siloso, went in the fort and then got the tram back to the mono rail station. Once back on Singapore island we went into a hawkers market and had an excellent lunch. Then back on the shuttle to the ship. The whole day cost us £17 including fares, entrance fees and our lunch. This made good use of the free shuttle bus from the ship to the Harbour Front and then the free beach tram on Sentosa island. A really nice day out.
Hanoi is not a port. You have to put in at Halong Bay and then take a 3.5 hour coach journey to get to Hanoi. The views from the coach were an education in themselves as we went through rural Vietnam - no tourist trails here. We only had about 3 hours in Hanoi which included almost an hour for lunch (which was very good). So this meant a dash around Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, his house, the one pillar pagoda and the old French quarter. We were supposed to have had some time to wander round the French quarter but there was not time to do this and we were whisked around on foot through a really interesting market. We then faced a 3.5 hour journey back to the ship and everyone was exhausted. We had to tender to the ship. As everyone was so late returning, the ship was late sailing. Whilst what we saw was interesting, this trip is too much to do in a day from Halong Bay. All in all we were on the go for nearly 11 hours. Too much. Our guide again was really interesting.