Aurora - City & Short Breaks

On the 4th June 2009, I received two letters from P&O informing me my Aurora two-night party cruise on the 5th-7th December and twelve night Canaries cruise from the 7th-19th December were cancelled so the ship could have a refit four months early.  I was gutted.  Since Cunard had sold QE2, I was unable to spend my 40th birthday on her so Aurora was the next best thing and had looked forward to being somewhere hot for a change.  The price had been great too for a single.  They gave me compensation towards another cruise of £25 for the short and £75 for the Canaries.  As much as I wanted to be away for my birthday, the Caribbean was out of my price range and I didn't want to freeze in Northern Europe!  So I decided to spend my birthday at home and use the money towards the two night cruise from the 27th-29th December 2010.  Since they changed many of Aurora's itineraries, she was no longer alternating with Oriana and her trips were on average longer than two weeks.  It was £301 for a window instead which was good.  I did go for F109, which I'd had before and had booked for the cancelled trips but accidentally closed the booking window so went for D109 instead to see how they compared.  The balance was paid on the 9th August.  I had my long-awaited surgery on the 4th November meaning more than six months of constant pain would be finally over, leaving me fully mobile again.  So I looked forward to the trip as November progressed.  However, my mum died on the 25th after a year-long struggle against cancer and an NHS ruined by Labour.  I didn't know what to do but my dad insisted in no uncertain terms to go.  As he pointed out, thanks to more stupid NHS rules thanks to Labour we were unable to get the death certificate until the 29th or 30th when it was signed by the GP when he was back at work plus I hadn't recuperated properly from the surgery.  I couldn't help but worry about him but he said it was only two days and he'd be fine.  So I set off for Ocean Terminal later than usual, catching the 12.40pm ferry and freezing in the biting wind.  The former lightship Calshot Spit was now at the terminal, having been moved from Ocean Village at the start of November.

I got a taxi the other side after saying a quick hello to Phil freezing on Town Quay and unlike May for Arcadia, there was NO traffic!  Dropped off and into the terminal.  I had hand luggage only but up in departures it was as bad as back then.  Too many people waiting to check in.  The letter Green W was called and I'd been handed Red D.  I took some pics of the gorgeous ship then filled in the norovirus form.  The ship name given on it was Arcadia.  Did they have a surplus???  Then I and some other people were handed Green Z which wasn't long to wait for.  The queue was fairly long but got there in the end.  They now give you a card for onboard account and cabin key - yay!!!  P&O catch up with the rest of the cruise industry!!!!  Having two was confusing when you'd subconsciously put the onboard card in the door.  The queue for security was massive AGAIN.  They need more machines on.  Finally boarded around 2pm and went straight to my cabin.
I suppose I've been spoilt by other lines with not just bigger cabins (even inside) but wider passageways from door to main area!  Entering the cabin was a shock, mainly because the door was no wider than I am!  The wall of the bathroom and wardrobes gave you marginally more elbow room.  Either I'd forgotten how small an Oceanview is on Aurora or the cabins have shrunk.  Storage was plentiful as always on Aurora though.  P&O have also changed their cruise card wallet which now has two inserts instead of three.  No deckplan though.  My cabin stewardess was Maria but I never saw her that day.
I didn't feel like going to the Orangery for lunch so instead stayed in the cabin, ate the biscuits provided and phoned my dad to check he was okay.  Muster was at 4pm so down to the Curzon Theatre.  It was amazing how many first timers there were - and how many brought in booze!  Afterwards wrapped up warm and headed to the Promenade Deck.  The announcement had said the champagne sailaway party was there due to some decks being unsafe and he wasn't kidding.  It was pretty packed in places.  I bought a glass then waited as the Scottish band played.  We cast off at 4.35pm, giving three blasts before reversing.  I made way way to the less crowded starboard side, passing a load of crew with lots of boxes.
I went back in to warm up and phoned home.  This is where I really began to miss my mum.  Usually once we'd passed Hythe pier I would phone to ask if she saw us, telling her about things so far (and later throughout the cruise) and I'd see her whatever day I got back.  For the first time since I began cruising I didn't want to be there and couldn't wait to come back so was really pleased it was only a couple of days.  If it had been a week like the Constellation trip a month before I definitely wouldn't have gone.  As I waited to go to the 6pm dinner I could hear the rehearsal in the theatre below for that night's Abba show.  You'd think the theatre would be soundproofed with cabins above!  Now I like Abba but this was dreadful.  Some girl singers were too quiet or sounded terrible.  Definitely wasn't going to that!  Dinner was 6pm in the Medina.  I was on a table for eight and the first time it was all women.  There were three sisters, Brenda, Manda and Marie, two other sisters from Exmouth (can't remember their names) and a mother and daughter from the Isle of Wight who basically kept to themselves.  It was a fun evening and helped take my mind of things.  Afterwards I went shopping and found some trousers my local shop stocked one year then I couldn't find anywhere again.  So I picked up three pairs!  The souvenir tat was seriously lacking.  They had men's logo clothes but no women.  The Emporium was a bit naffer too than the previous times I'd been on.  The lady behind the counter was from San Diego and Ventura had been her first British ship.  She really enjoyed all the places she visited she never would otherwise.  Back to the cabin for a while before heading to Carmen's at 9pm for Mike Pender of the Searchers.  The waiters kept walking past and serviing people who came in after me so after twenty minutes I ended up beckoning!  Mike Pender came on at 9.30pm and played mostly his own hits.  Many were there for him but there was some drunken twats at the backscreeching and laughing through it.  Made me wonder why they bothered going when there are other bars.
Bed once the second Abba show shut the hell up but didn't sleep too well.  It was a little bumpy, a draught coming through the window onto my back, light from the spy hole on the pillow and duvets which were supposedly put together went either side of the duvet cover leaving a sheet between.  The pillows were lovely and comfy though!

8am was Zeebrugge.  Didn't get up since it would be almost dark, cold and nothing thrilling
even in daylight.  I got up about 10am and saw it had snowed sometime.  I'd checked the Met Office forecast on BBC before leaving and they made no mention.  Yes they got it wrong again - unsurprise!  Breakfast in the Orangery and it was packed for after 10.30am.  The hot food had two queues, one very long with people complaining so I joined the port side shorter one.  I don't know what P&O are doing to the orange juice these days but it's FOUL!  Arcadia's diluted gunk was bad enough but this was so diluted it was basically coloured water.  Wish more lines did fried bread though.  Always a must have on P&O!
For some reason the outside decks were closed.  We could go outside through the Orangery but not up.  Yet the deck there was pretty hazardous with what looked like soap suds on a lot of it.  It was fairly slippery anyway.
I went up to Deck 13 to see if you could get out that way only to find they were blocked off too.  What was going on????  No one even told us.  I can only guess there was ice or snow on deck making it slippery.  I went into the Crows Nest for a bit afterwards and saw the top of the bridge was a bit white.  The plant hiding the Canberra picture in September 2008 had been chopped so you could see her in all her gorgeous glory now, apart from the reflection still being a apin.  Never a problem with the original Oriana one.
I was becoming desperate now because being so blocked off was ruining some good glass-free shots of the snow patches below.  I went to the Promenade Deck and saw no sign so up the steps only to be thwarted at the top by tape.  Grrr!  They should have put a notice at the flipping bottom!
About 12.30pm I decided to brave the dock to see the extent of any remaining snow and get pics of the gorgeous ship I was on.  There are some ships you can never have too many photos of and Aurora's one of them.  On with the boots and woollies and off I went.  The tops of the gangway was covered but some had melted.  They had put salt down on the dockside but there wasn't much snow around to slip on.  Now for some reason the port were stopping passengers going forward and to the stern of the ship for photos by putting up containers and claiming it's all dangerous.  So as I slowly walked forward I was expecting to be yelled at like on Arcadia but nothing happened!  So I went to the stern afterwards.  The last time I had taken photos of Aurora in the cold was December 2007 when I was on the QE2 and she was with us there and back.  No snow then but it was colder, due to the wind, even though the temperatures were on par.  And then, as now, a ruddy green car carrier came into view as I was getting the bow!  But then Lizzie's bum was also in shot.

I couldn't wait to get back onboard but my phone rang as I was going through security, which was a first for me!  Back to the cabin where I had a nap for a couple of hours.

There was quite a nice sunset over the port when I woke up.  The camera didn't quite pick it up because it takes in as much light as possible but I went to the Promenade Deck to get a couple of shots.  Then it was sailaway at the usual 5.30pm.  The captain came on to say we would be off so I went on deck.  Wouldn't take me long to change for formal night.  Then we had another announcement from the captain saying we were two passengers short and they'd just turned up so we had to let them on.  A bloke I got chatting to said his excursion was meant to have forty-six coming back but was forty-four so he wondered if it was them.  I noticed underneath Hamilton on the life ring was London!!!!  I'd never noticed before.  It was quite funny since it was almost three years since they changed it.  As we left I bumped into Geoff, who I occasionally see down the marina and first met when we were waiting for Freedom of the Seas to arrive in April 2006.  His daughter Natasha was with him on deck so we had a chat.  He said this was his wife's sixth time to Zeebrugge after I told him this was my ninth.
We went in at 5.50pm when I got changed fast.  I decided to wear one of my mum's favourite pendants, which she wore when I was growing up and it did go with my dress.  The dinner announcement was late so that was okay.  The people from the Island didn't show but everyone else was all present and correct.  Waiter service was quite bad, taking ages to remove your plates and not refilling the water unless you asked.  Bit more shopping to get a present for my dad.  Usually I pick up something for both my parents so, rather than the usual sweets they loved, I bought him a top.  Then it was to the theatre to see Steve Tandy.  He was listed as a comedian who does impressions.  I wondered who the hell he was and, while he was okay, I'm not surprised I'd never heard of him!  Back to the cabin afterwards for a hopefully early night.
Another bad night.  After a nightmare about a funeral I couldn't get back to sleep for hours.  My dad woke me with a call at 5..40am to say Balmoral was passing Cowes and we were at Ryde.  Independence of the Seas was already nearly in, arriving for 6am instead of the normal 5.15am.  I went on deck and it was f-f-f-f-f-freezing with a lot of bitter wind!  Now I was strongly reminded of the QE2 trip in December 2007!  It made photo taking difficult so I ended up using the sport setting for a couple of shots of Balmoral as we passed Cowes.  I went back in until we were near Hythe but the cold had then buggered up my camcorder!  It worked fine so I assume going from cold to warm caused the condensation to do something to the mechanism.  Grrr!  We were due to dock at 7.30am while Balmoral was 7am but she was clearly running late and still had to unusually turn around before docking at Mayflower.  It wasn't quite as cold now, probably because it's more sheltered and we'd slowed.
P&O now allow you to stay in the cabin until disembarking, with the stewards working around your hand luggage and leaving towels until you've gone.  That's an excellent idea!  There's nothing worse than lugging it around, especially to breakfast as I've seen some do.  They were doing a free-for-all, which is a pain in the bum because so many people don't understand how to stagger their departure meaning there's a massive queue at the start time.  This was 8.45am and there was no way I was going to wait that long when I could get home so returned to the cabin, took a photo of how it is for the next passengers, grabbed my stuff and went to Formosa Deck to wait for 7.45am.  Several people had the same idea and several also shoved instead of forming an orderly queue!  No taxis on the rank and in the end a bloke from Guernsey, spoke to a security guard who called his boss to ask him to let them know people were waiting.
One turned up just before 8.20pm and I was glad to get into the warm!  Pity really the driver spoke very little English and drove halfway across the road!  But he did tell someone at the office about people waiting.  It was good to be home.  While I love Aurora and had looked forward to this brief time on her, it was the only time I've not wanted to be there.  My heart just wasn't in it.  It was good generally with just the poor service which let things down.

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Balmoral and Indy, click
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© Patricia Dempsey 27th-29th November 2010
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