Aurora - Fjords & Iceland
My friend Juanita popped down for a flying overnight visit on the 28th July 2010.  She was in the country with her mother after touring Europe and, once her mother had been put on a train to Rugby to see the cousins, caught a train to Southampton.  She wanted to see my mum, who had terminal cancer, in case it was the last time.  I was booked on Queen Mary 2 to the Fjords in June 2011 and mentioned how I would be now alone.  She was unable to help due to the month then I mentioned how we wanted to do the Iceland trip on Lizzie in 2008 but had to go for just the week-long Fjords due to how much is was costing Amy and Jason.  Juanita quite fancied the idea of that, since Iceland was a place she wanted to visit.  I searched the Cunard site and, while you could choose Fjords and Iceland in the past, no cruises went that way, even on the Vistas.   We discovered many lines had dropped Iceland from itineraries which was very frustrating.  Silversea was too expensive, Fred Olsen from Rosyth or the other few were the wrong month.  We eventually found one on Aurora for the 6th-24th July 2011 which included Greenland (somewhere else Juanita’s always wanted to visit) and Ireland (where she could return to).  We made enquiries with Steph in Thomas Cook the following day before going to the station so Juanita could catch a train to Rubgy.  There were just seven cabins left in the LC grade so we decided to go ahead and book E100.  The deposit was £518 but between the two of us (thanks to a massive queue in Nationwide stretching onto the pavement), we were £18 short.  I popped that in the next day because I wanted it all up to date.  Meanwhile, after Juanita returned home, she managed to book both flights using her Frequent Flyer points, which took some weight off her already heavy expense, and by September was making plans!  As the months progressed, Juanita started checking with her friends about catching up with them so it was definitely on and balance paid (to Thomas Cook at least!) on the 31st January.  The excursions became available on the 29th March and I booked some for Nuuk, Reykjavik, Alesund and Geiranger on the 30th (Juanita booked hers the 25th June).  An email from P&O saying the e-tickets were ready plus postie delivered the luggage labels.  All it needed was Juanita here then we'd be ready to go!!!!

And here it was, Juanita having arrived in London on the 2nd July then came down to me on the 5th, where I met her at the station.  It was a relief both Chilean and Icelandic volcanos were behaving!  The weather was rain and sun and sometimes at the same time until we left to catch the bus over to the station.  From there we caught a taxi to Ocean Terminal and the driver had visited Western Australia so we chatted about that.  Unlike my previous experiences at that terminal, it was actually very fast.  They were on letter E when we arrived and called F as we were taking photos of the ship.

Then we came to grumble number one.  We went to the check-in desk and was told she couldn't do it so subsequently we were taken to one at the end.  It turned out it was because Juanita is a non-EU national and they also kept her passport, which would be onboard in the Purser's office.  The woman behind the desk had such an attitude problem.  "Everyone knows that," she said.  I pointed out the travel agent put my address for Juanita's to save hassle while making no mention of it.  I had also booked next year direct with P&O and Greg Fitzgerald, an American, had been given my address "for paperwork" and they didn't say the passport would be held either.  She just looked snootily and kept her gob shut.  Juanita wasn't happy and I don't blame her.  This hadn't happened when we did Celebrity Equinox in 2009.  Totally ludicrous.  What happens with Greg's next year when we're in Amsterdam and you need your passport????  Oh well.  At least he'd been warned about it now.  Security had a whole three scanners working - wow!  That's a first!  We had our boarding photo taken before it and the bloke was asking people if they'd been on Aurora before.  When we got to us, he saw my top (which I'd bought for my mum many years ago - you can't get them now) and said, "I can see you've been before."  It took about twenty minutes then to get onto the ship which was very good for the Naughty Corner Terminal.  Because the cabins weren't ready, we went to the Orangery for lunch but Juanita was already impressed with my favourite ship as soon as she set foot in the atrium.  RESULT!!!!!!  The P&O experience compared the the fabulous Celebrity would be the test though and I wouldn't be surprised if she hated it.  I do!  P&O is good but too much is aimed at the nearly dead or under tens with nothing in-between.  Would this be any different?  We sat on the deck while we ate and it was a reasonable day after the brief showers before we left the house.  It was getting a bit colder and windier though with the cloud cover.  The also gorgeous MSC Opera was also in.  The last time there were together had been the 20th June and I just knew we'd be in boring old muster so would miss her sail so hoped she'd break the habit of her current Southampton season and leave late!.
There was an announcement at 2pm to say the cabins were ready so we tramped down to E100, as far forward as you could go ont he port side which had a crew door and laundry cupboard opposite!  My case had been put outside the wrong door so I dragged it with me.  It's quite funny, Juanita's was half the size of mine, but she did have limits on flights whereas I didn't but still packed too much.  Well you need summer clothes and woollies just in case!  That doesn't include clothes for the five formals (or Black Tie as they're now called) and four semi-formals (now confusingly labelled as Smart).  I'd brought one of my winter jackets for her to borrow if it became too cold oop north in Greenland and Iceland.  With my back it was hard enough to drag let alone lift!  I was impressed with the cabin.  It was larger than the D109 I'd had in November when I kept hitting the walls whenever I entered or left.  Juanita just loved the kettle!  I felt like I'd come home.  I have other ships I love which are still in service (Vision of the Seas, Celebrity Constellation, MSC Opera - though have only visited Opera so far but was instantly in love) but each time I return to Aurora I'm reminded why she'll always be my number one girl.  I have spent most of my cruising life on her and my only previously long P&O cruise was on her.  If I had squillions of pounds I'd live on her!  Mind you, they'd have to improve the activities!  After Juanita christened the kettle on this cruise, we went to the Medina to check my dietary requirement had got through and it hadn't.  Then up to the Cyb@study so I could enquire about the internet packages since it was not only the first time I'd taken my laptop, but also the first time I used internet aboard.  Then next door to the Crows Nest for a pre-muster orange juice.
We could see the sailaway band on the quayside from our window though did hear them first!  Muster was at 4pm in the theatre once deck up and went for FOREVER!  We finally finished around 4.20pm so unless something had gone wrong, Opera would be long gone.  We dumped the lifejackets, wrapped up warm and headed to the Terrace Pool for the sailaway party.  The wind had whipped up and it was very cloudy though thankfully dry.  As I'd thought, there was no sign of the other shippy.  Captain Pembridge came on and told us about some lovely bad weather and mentioned Lizard Point off Cornwall a few times.  With the assistance of Sarah, we left about 4.45pm and reversed.  We ended up being followed by a Red Funnel and also the Hythe ferry so they'd have had excellent views of Aurora's gorgeousness!  My dad was down the marina, easy to spot with his white cap, while Caryll Young waved from her flat using the hand she'd bought during Artemis's farewell cruise!  I'd seen her the day before at the Rotterdam visit and she told me she'd do it.
Our final song at the sailaway party had been Sailing, which I can never listen to now without thinking of Steve Read's funeral in February.  The dry weather didn't last and it began to spit as we began to pass Fawley.  I waited until we went round the Hook in case I saw Opera ahead somewhere and I did!  She was nearing the Forts in glorious sunshine while we were getting wet. Such weird weather!
Back inside and I couldn't be bothered to unpack because of my back, plus it was an eightenn night trip so plenty of time.  Instead Juanita checked her excursion tickets and a couple she was waitlisted for had come through.  When she noticed she had a low number one of the same trips I was doing, I checked mine and was surprised to find I was number one on them all!  What are the chances of that happening?  She was quite high on many in comparison.
By the time we reached the Forts it was time for dinner!  I hate first sitting because it's too much of a rush but Juanita felt second was too late to eat.  We were on a table for six, sharing with Gareth and Beth from Wales and Marge and Cedric from Melton Mowbray.  On the table for two by the window was Brian and Val and had different waiters to us.  They had Gregory and someone else for wine while we had Savio D (who's getting married in December), his junior Mathi and the wine waiter was Oswin.  There will be a lot of food photos in this review from dinner because it shows what having no salt gives you compared to the usual serving.  Our Freddie Mercury lookalike head waiter, Sabu, would go around all those with a dietary requirement and give them the following night's menu for them to pre-order all bar dessert.  The first night is where we got the measure of each other around the table and it all went downhill from there but in a good way!  Meanwhile this was the only night they used anything to differentiate between steaks.  Cedric was trying to recruit for the line dancing but we were having none of it.
Because I was supposed to be meeting Jacqueline Arnold from Facebook in Raffles at 7.45pm, I left and arranged to meet Juanita outside the theatre for the Welcome Aboard show at 8.30pm.  Dopey me forgot to check Jacqueline's photo before leaving so I couldn't remember what she looked like.  Instead I went shopping then up to the theatre after dumping the bags.  The entertainment they had lined up in the form of comedians and guest speakers were clearly aimed at the nearly dead.  While I'd only heard of comedian Allen Stewart and actor Chris Ellison, Juanita heard of none!  I could tell this trip would be more action-packed than my last long - not!  The Headliners Theatre Group were grinning so much in their preview theatre performance they reminded me of synronised swimmers.  Oh how I wish I could chuck them in water if only to wipe those grins off their faces!  Due to the winds they had started to lock us in and it made me glad I'd stopped smoking in January 2008.

Juanita had a restful cuppa while I went to connect to the internet in the Cyb@study since the telly was crap and bars like libraries (shhhh!!!!!) thanks to the nearly dead.  Hell, the undertakers was far more lively when my mum was lying in there!  They were doing an offer of an extra twenty minutes on embarkation day but you could also do it the following day.  So no choice really but to have an early night afterwards in our force 8 in the English Channel - yes!!!!!!

The next day it had dropped to a force 7 as we headed towards our first port, Cobh.  We would be staying about eleven hours.  Juanita gets up far too early then freezes on the deck after getting breakfast at the Orangery so I asked her to bring me back a banana or something and went back to sleep until it was a more decent hour.

Juanita's original Dublin excursion had been cancelled so she went to book her second choice only to be informed they'd cancelled it that day.  I'd already planned to get the shuttle or stay onboard so she ended up doing the same because there was nothing else of interest. As we made the approach at around 11am, the Captain came on to tell us a few things with neither Celebrity or Royal Caribbean had done when I'd been here previously.  In fact, they hadn't said anything so this was interesting.  For instance, the houses were painted different colours due to which passenger shipping line you worked for in the transatlantic heyday.  Juanita had been to Ireland many years ago but this was her first venture by sea and she appeared to enjoy the view.  We gave five blasts to let everyone know we were coming.  When I went port for our turn before docking, I met Mike Zumbuhl and his friend Sue who were part of a wedding party onboard.  Mike was travelling on his own and it was his first cruise.  He'd thought Dave and another Sue, the bride and groom, were only doing a short cruise.  He got a shock when he found out it was so long.  He knew where I lived, having worked on the Hythe ferry about twenty years ago.

It started to rain as we docked at 12.30pm so I went and grabbed some lunch while Juanita headed off on her Cork and Kinsale excursion and Marge and Cedric joined me at the table.  The weather stayed wet and windy so I decided to stay onboard, I taking some photos of the cabin, since I'd forgotten the day before, and also unpacked.  I popped down to Reception to leave a note for Jacqueline Arnold since we'd missed each other then ordered some room service to tide me over until dinner.

There was a show with the Cork Irish Dance Group in the Curzon Theatre at 6pm which we went to.  These were youngsters from a dance school and very good.
My dad had sent a text saying the News of the World was going to print its final edition on the 17th due to the phone hacking scandal.  I really wished Steve were still alive to give his opinion on all this and his former employers!  He'd worked 21 years at The Sun before going freelance then a couple at Sky Travel before they pulled the plug in 2010 while he was on Norwegian Epic in America doing his job for them.  I know my feelings on the Murdochs!  Dinner at the usual 6.30pm and my interesting salt free dishes.  First up was Caesar salad which was just lettuce - ugh!  Everything else, including the Garden pea soup, was fine while I was told the batter on the Icelandic cod was made separately.
We went to the theatre after dinner to see Allen Stewart.  Juanita had never heard of him but enjoyed his act, even though when he did Michael Jackson entertaining on cruise ships singing George Formby I had to explain who George Formby was.  This was his only show and he'd be getting off in Dublin.  The ship began to judder and they called for some passengers so we knew we'd be going soon and headed up to the Sun deck.  It began to rain so we popped down to the Prom deck for our sailaway just after 10pm.
It was far too early in the morning when the racket of the ship's thrusters woke me up.  I looked out of the window and saw we were in the port of Dublin.  As soon as we'd docked, containers were put up, just like they had been in Zeebrugge which ruined decent photos of the ship!  They reckoned it would get up to 14c today - woo!
Up to the Orangery for a very healthy breakfast where Mike joined us.  Juanita warned him about the hot water for tea and coffee only filling half a cup so you had to do it twice then pull it out so it didn't overfill.  It started to rain - typical!  We took the shuttle into the city and the journey only took about fifteen minutes, half the time it said on the port presentation.  Juanita wanted to see the book of Kells in Trinity College, which was closed the last time she'd been in Dublin.  She had a huge list of places she missed before.  It cost €9 to enter the exhibition.
I was bored so decided to return to the ship, especially since my back hurt, you couldn't take photos and it was pouring.  I did a little souvenir shopping first, spending almost all my remaining euros then headed back to the stop.  The driver reckoned it was because of the Oxygen music festival, which is guaranteed to make it rain.  Sounds like Wimbledon fortnight!  As we drove back to the port, the rain stopped - grrr!  Still, at least it gave me a chance to take photos of the gorgeous ship and our cabin under the U of Cruises.

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© Patricia Dempsey & Juanita Adie-Cooper 6th-24th July 2011
Not to be reproduced without permission