Aurora - Weekender
Well this was the end of Pam's mission - to have set foot on all current P&O ships.  I completed mine two weeks earlier with Ventura.  Although neither of us had cruised Arcadia, we've both visited so that's the setting foot part sorted!  Originally we planned to do the Weekender on Aurora in June when we discussed it in 2006, but it was a little too close to Boudicca for Pam to come back down again so we opted for the end of September and booked Stateroom with Balcony B207.  This would be my third cruise on my favourite existing ship and the love affair was far from dying.  I loved Aurora more than I ever thought possible for a 'hulk of metal', as my Australian friend Juanita calls them and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  It's just very easy to become attached to them, ending up broken hearted when they're sold to other line or for scrap.  So while I still adore Aurora, my thoughts were on Pam.  Would she like the ship like Rowan had or never want to go on her ever again?  We'd done so many Weekenders now to Zeebrugge we could write a book.  In fact, Rowan's husband even suggested I buy a holiday home since I spend so much time there!  After the revamp of P&O's website these trips became known as a Party Cruise.  Pam's ticket arrived on the 30th August.  Mine, for some reason, turned up on the 1st September.  Very odd, even for the Royal Mail!  Having done the dreadful Ventura I was looking forward to a ship where decor was perfect, which knows what it is and gorgeous to boot.

Aurora returned from a charter in the early hours of the 27th.  I arranged to meet Pam at Town Quay.  They were testing the lifeboats as we went over on the ferry on what turned out to be a gloriously hot day.  So hot I packed my coat in the case as soon as we got off the ferry.
The drill, supposedly over by 12.30pm, wasn't.  Pam arrived and took some pictures then off we went to Mayflower.  My girl looked as gorgeous as ever.  How could anyone not love the gorgeousness that is Aurora???  I wished I were having a longer cruise but two nights on her was better than none.
We went to check in and the queue moved fairly fast then boarded.  I was so excited to be going on her again I think Pam sometimes got fed up with me.  We went to the Orangery for lunch.  I wasnt't particularly hungry so Pam ate alone.  Service was lacking in the drinks department despite waiters coming and going.  Then we went for a wander and I snogged my favourite ship!  I love the QE2 but Aurora's just got that certain something.  If I had the money I'd live on her.
I went to find the cabin while Pam did other things.  Having been in an ordinary cabin with balcony and window this was larger but just as nice.  Plenty of storage space as usual and a nice sized bathroom. Our stewardess was Irene and absolutely great.  She's up there with Macedonia on Aurora for me.  The lifeboats were still out and I was shocked at the exterior state they'd let this ship get into!  The rail from the next cabin along was appalling, as was the other side of our balcony door.  The seat covers were filthy as well.  Still generally the ship was still perfection itself.
I went down to the Emporium since Pam was still doing whatever to buy the postcards while I had the chance.  I was surprised to find the other shops open too so spent money!!!!  Pam arrived and couldn't get in.  She was, as I often did, using her onboard card as the key.  Our muster station for lifeboat drill was Vanderbilts, according to the plan on the back of the door.  However when we went down we were directed to the cinema.  Many first timers aboard.  Afterwards we went to get a drink for sailaway.  A glass of champagne had doubled in price!  It's getting as bad as Cunard for ripping people off! Perhaps it's got something to do with P&O running Cunard now so they've picked up tips on how to grab your cash.  Forward for the departure.  It was the same captain I'd had at New Year so that would be interesting.  When we cast off, we blasted several times, several more shortly afterwards then another three a bit later!  I was in heaven!
We went to dinner.  It was casual night.  We had a table for eight by the window in the Alexandria Restaurant.  I'd never dined in that one before and preferred the Medina.  Our waiters were great though and service was definitely far superior to the three nights I'd done with Rowan a year earlier.  Only two other people turned up at the table, a mother and daughter but they were nice enough.  In fact, the restaurant had many empty chairs which was a shame.  One thing we were shocked about though was the prices on the wine list.  A wine we'd had on Ventura was now a fiver more expensive!  How the hell could that be????
After dinner we went shopping and Pam spotted Aurora models - yay!!!  They're only £20 like Artemis but look better than those dreadful $50 QE2 ones.  A rather funny thing was on the side they have the P&O Cruises logo instead of the black P&O lettering despite the fact Aurora doesn't have the logo.  Then back to the cabin.  Pam was exhausted after a very long day so fell asleep by 9.30pm.  I wasn't going to bed that early so listened to music and did a few other things.  After midnight I went to bed and the couple next door were at it which kept me awake.
The following morning we came into that familiar port of Zeebrugge.  We would be docked in 702.  There was something in front of us meaning not even any long shots from the ro/ro ramp, then a ro/ro was due to dock in 705.  It was starting to get light making it quite pretty.
Breakfast in the Orangery and Cliffon, one of my New Year waiters, was squirting hands.  I was surprised he remembered me and also the table I was at.  We queued up and they had fried bread.  It wasn't uniform so you could get really thick pieces or thin.  Pam went to cut into one of hers, sending the end flying to the floor and hitting my foot!  Bet she couldn't do that again if she tried.  Today we would actually have another vessel in I was interested in - Astor!  Yes, baby sister to Astoria which had been in Southampton ten days earlier.  She was due for 9.30am so I went to get the coats while Pam finished her breakfast and made Irene jump when I returned to the cabin.  We'd taken an interest in the P&O Cruises robes she had on her trolley the previous night so I decided to buy one.  I told her I'd filled the form in, grabbed the coats then back to the Orangery.  Pam and I went to the stern and there was Astor coming through the mist.
As we were watching Astor docking by the ferries, the window washers were getting strapped up to clean the beautiful girl.  The sun was slowly burning off the mist while creating a gorgeous pink glow in the sky.
Once she docked, we heard Amazing Grace blaring from the German ship.  Pam went to explore while I went for a snooze.  There was a crew drill going on and the announcements kept waking me up.
Later the mist had cleared leaving haze.  We had a good view of Astor from the balcony.  Below was the new gangway which had been sitting on the dock when we'd been there on Ventura.  One of our curtains had two tears in which was pretty bad.  They need to keep my girl up to scratch!
Pam had been pissed off she'd been unable to get to many areas due to the drill and crew in them.  We went out for dock shots and down the new gangway, taking three times as long to get onto terra firma now.  I have one question for the port of Zeebrugge - WHY????????????  Yes it's better for wheelchairs but a bloody pain for the rest of us, especially as you use the old one to get back on!
At the end we tried to walk to the stern but a jobsworth security officer said we couldn't.  It's a working port, he said.  Not where we were it wasn't.  Nothing was working, just there.  Officer of the watch could see from the bridge.  What a load of crap.  We said we'd done it two weeks before on Ventura.  I told him I'd done it in December when I'd walked from QE2 to the stern of Aurora and wasn't stopped.  He wouldn't budge.  We couldn't go there.  We wondered if he'd been the same one on Oceana who kept yelling at us when we went forward and transferred so decided to go to the bow and take photos then try again when they changed over.  At the bow they'd been painting the anchor and lifting the stuff back in.
We decided to try and get to the stern around the diggers but got yelled at by a port employee which was fair enough.  We don't mind them saying we can't go somewhere but not jobsworths when the vast majority on any trip never stop you.  We loitered a while then saw the changeover.  Once jobsworth was gone, we meandered down to the end and weren't prevented at all which proves he was a moron.
After reboarding Pam resumed her exploring while I went to Raffles to wait.  It was so quiet but that didn't matter.  During my cruise with Rowan she commented every seat was the most comfortable she'd ever sat on and she was right.  Pam arrived after getting her latest horrible then we went to the Crows Nest.  In all the times I've been there I cannot believe i never noticed the paintings of the first Oriana and Canberra before.  Canberra was practically hidden behind a plant and very sun faded by now.
Time to say goodbye to Zeebrugge after too many calls!  It was still a lovely day and one plus for Aurora, like older ships, is getting to the stern deck from the corridor rather than having balconies taking up the space.  We blasted three times then backed up, level with Astor.  Some passengers or crew were doing a drill on the boat deck.  Then we set sail for home.
Formal night.  We went to the gala party in the Crows Nest before dinner then down to the restaurant.  After dinner we went to see Tom O'Connor.  Pam stayed awake!  I was stunned.  In the act he said they don't get gales any more at sea.  I remembered the force 11 which prevented us picking him up from Lisbon in January.  After a very funny set we left.  He was signing his books outside the theatre so we bought the travel one.  I mentioned January and thought he may well have stayed on Oriana and he and his wife agreed.  It was a stupid situation.  Still I got to see him at last AND on that ship!
Back to the cabin where I changed into warmer clothes for our deck wandering to put the case out.  Pam went as she was.  After a while we lost each other so I carried on in case I bumped into her somewhere.
I went back to the cabin and there was Pam.  The neighbours were much quieter so I was able to sleep.  In the morning we would be all alone in dock again when we docked for 8am.  This time though it would be starboard instead of port.  That would be interesting!
I went back in and our twin was now a double ready for the next passengers.  As usual everyone had to be out of the cabin by 8.30am.  It was still a lovely day.  Pity it hadn't been like that during summer.
We waited in Masquerades for our colour to be called.  As we sat there they called names to go to reception including one Mr Thomas O'Connor which got a huge laugh.  We were off a little earlier than planned and had to use the old gangway via the dockside which was great for shots of the ship.  Then we collected our luggage and went back to the car.
Pam used her new Sat Nav to drive me home and it did fail a little but got there in twenty minutes then she headed home.  That was the last of eight cruises in a year we did together and they were a lot of fun.  I'll miss not going with her next year.

I don't need to write a verdict because
Aurora is always wonderful.  Pam did notice how the atmosphere was completely different to that on Ventura among passengers and crew.  Also, while Aurora has plenty of brown in various shades, it works because there's a warmth on her missing on Ventura.  I just wish I was going on her again sooner than I am.  I would if I won the lottery that's for sure!  For more photos of Astor in Zeebrugge, click here.

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© Patricia Dempsey 27th-29th September 2008
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