Aurora - Autumn Break

Named after the Goddess Aurora, the P&O cruise ship Aurora is certainly a goddess amongst modern cruise ships.  Yes my favouritism is coming out again and I make no apologies for the length of this review.  The final British ship designed for the UK market and based on her older and slightly smaller sister Oriana (herself based in part on Canberra), she has character even for a 7 year old.  Back in June 2006 my friend Rowan and myself were deciding which short cruise to take the following year despite not having done one at that time thus finding out how seasick she would get.  So I suggested a balcony for immediate fresh air instead of rushing to the deck.  She quite fancied Navigator of the Seas in June until discovering Aurora went to two ports rather than one on the 2nd September, excetly three months after the Navigator one.  I had already booked a visit to Aurora for the end of October four days before Rowan committed but went ahead with it to give me an idea what to expect.  I came away more in love than ever with the ship.  

The balance was taken out shortly before I went to stay with Rowan in Plymouth so we booked our shore excursions while I was there.  Unfortunately while there I discovered they'd changed the gift catalogue and the books about their ships were no longer being offered.  As Rowan's birthday was the day after our return I had planned to get one one, as well as one for myself and also for Amy's Christmas present.  So I emailed P&O to enquire and a very nice man called Chris phoned the day before I was due to return home.  He called back on the Monday to say they weren't selling so decided to stop them.  He emailed Aurora to find out if they had any copies.  They didn't.  Four of Oriana which I didn't want so he contacted the rest of the ships in the fleet and found some on Oriana!  She wasn't getting back until the 3rd August so I didn't mind waiting.just over a week as he had been so kind.  

Unfortunately the following week was the last Chris had in that particular job before moving to the corporate side of the company and on the 10th we'd arranged to have them delivered to the cabin.  That way, if I changed my mind, I could hand them to reception and the library could re-sell them.  His replacement phoned on the 13th to say that was not possible as with three ships in they could get lost.  Well so could anything ordered from the gift catalogue on that basis!  She said she would get them delivered that week  They arrived on the 27th, personally delivered by a woman from P&O so I was possibly the only person to get post on a Bank Holiday and what post it was!  The tickets had arrived on the 4th August, my dad's birthday but I got the presents.  No luggage labels.  You have to ask the porter for them.  I certainly don't like dragging my luggage around with me, especially hand luggage when you are allowed to board early for lunch.  I'm not a juggler and neither are a lot of people.  After the bruises on my wrist I received on Navigator I wasn't going to add a suitcase to the equation.  One slight niggle is not being allowed access to the Cruise Personaliser up to five days before the cruise.  What if they upgraded you and you received no notification?  Bit stupid telling the porter your cabin number for the labels if it was wrong.

Rowan arrived from Plymouth on the 31st August in time to see the
QE2 sail after we went to the marina.  She was pleased to gaze over her again as she loves Lizzie so much and is really looking forward to our Fjords cruise next year with Amy and Jason.  As Nick from the Let's Talk Soap board and his partner Geoff were doing their first ever cruise the next day on Sea Princess from City Cruise Terminal, we decided to go to Mayflower Park for a recce to see which gangway they were using in the hope whatever they had, we would too only to be told by an port employee the new ones weren't being used all month.  Oh heck!  Going over on the ferry also gave Rowan a chance to look over Oriana, who was in the QEII Terminal as we passed, while Oceana was in Mayflower.  She enjoyed seeing the ships so has been successfully corrupted!  Discussing our forthcoming cruises with Nick made it more exciting as we shared the countdown and packing hassles.  We went down the marina in the afternoon to wave Nick and Geoff off.  Just 24 hours it would be us!  Ooooooh!!!!

A 4am wake-up call to see them all arrive.  
Grand Princess arrived first to dock at QEII.  Rowan reserved judgement until seeing her in daylight.  Arcadia was next, heading for Mayflower, which she didn't bother about as her opinion hasn't changed nearly eleven months on.  Aurora was last, clearly making an entrance to impress!  She liked her as soon as she came round the trees.  I was interested how Rowan would find Aurora after QE2 which is a hard act to follow.  I have no such problem.  Aurora replaced Canberra as my favourite existing ship which isn't difficult with Canberra sadly gone from these waters ten years this October.  But Canberra will always be my all-time favourite.  Rowan had no hesitation wanting to book a longer trip after ours on QE2 so would she feel the same about Aurora? She had only seen the ship on the end of a DVD I took to her house last year which the last twenty minutes of featured her being built and developed a curiosity.  Being a Sunday there was only one bus an hour and Rowan insisted on the 10.30am one which would have been too early, as she worried about the heaviness of her case.  To sit where we wanted on the ferry we had to get down the pier early to be first in the queue to board and it is a nice stroll in good weather, which it was that morning but the wind did
whip up a bit during the twelve minute crossing to Town Quay.  So there were the girls!  Rowan decided she liked Grand Princess after all apart from the blue.  Still loathed Arcadia though.  

While there were taxis at Town Quay, the drivers had vanished to have coffee.  Someone went to get one for us who then took us to the terminal.  This is where farce number one began thanks to having no luggage labels.  The driver wasn't allowed to drop us off at the taxi rank.  He was told we had to go right to the end of the terminal  En route, he stopped and asked someone else who said the same thing. The queue of cars was growing by the minute as they slowly went to the drop off point and our fare was rapidly rising.  He was as hacked off as we were, especially as there were no other taxis in the queue.  So he kindly offered to leave to queue to let us out so we could walk the short distance and save us money.  We did that and found the porters.  Despite being asked what deck we were on by one, we were them promptly ignored while he went to a man who arrived after us!  We had to ask again and then he messed them up.  Only thing he got right was the A105 number.  Rowan, neurotic at the best of times, now began to be convinced they would go to the wrong ship.  That helped lighten things for me but even though she was getting keener on taking them on board, I wasn't and insisted the porters do it.  After all, it's what they're paid for.  Then we walked the length of the terminal to the entrance.  I stopped to take a couple of photos while Rowan got chatting to a man who asked if she wanted assistance and told him I was on the lookout for rich sailors!  Cheeky cow.  She knows it's a rich captain or nothing.
Check in was a doddle.  They helped Rowan through the scanner which pleased her.  She was amazed at how helpful everyone in this terminal was compared to QEII last year.  It was immediate boarding and we got chatting to an elderly couple of ladies in the queue behind us who were the only people we saw repeatedly throughout the trip.  Once we had our boarding photo done it was up the escalator and on via the NEW gangway!  The little liar!  I kept forgetting to text Nick and ask which one they'd used.
We were onboard at 12.40pm and entered as usual on Formosa Deck where Rowan got her first view of the spectacularly beautiful atrium.  Lunch was in the Orangery and Rowan was less than impressed except by the squirt of hand gel.  Neither was I by the end.  Because of her poor eyesight I had to get the food for us both.  Not one of the staff offered to help even though they saw me struggling and although there was a man restocking the desserts, did he tell us what they were?  Then it was a nightmare trying to find somewhere to even sit.  We went right round, out to the Crystal Pool and back through the entrance we'd started at before finally finding somewhere.  Now perhaps I've been spoiled by Celebrity and Royal Caribbean but that certainly would never have happened on their ships where they bend over backwards to help, even getting you a drink, and finding you a seat.  I had heard beforehand service on P&O short trips was complete shite compared to longer ones.  As we hadn't even seen the cabin yet I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  The food was pretty poor as well.  Once we'd finished we went for a wander as we slowly made our way to the cabin which was available from 1.45pm.
Okay now I'm not ashamed to admit I snogged the ship here.  Call me mad if you like but I never pretended to be sane.  I love Aurora so much and was so happy to finally be aboard for a cruise, albeit a three night one.  Arcadia was partially obscured by a Grimaldo car carrier.
We entered Arcadia Deck via the stern and walked the long way down the almost entire corridor to our cabin which as almost as far forward as you could go.  Only the Piano Suite upper level is farther than us.  We passed the launderette and then ended up getting lost after following the confusing signs.  We later learned it was just a straight walk.
When we arrived, our cabin steward Macedonio was working on the next cabin and let us in.  He explained about the key cards on the dressing table and how we could keep the P&O wallet.  To our surprise our cases were waiting for us in the cabin and not outside as normal.  Macedonio is one of the best stewards I've ever had.  He's on par with Resty on Constellation.  Rowan only had Sheena on the QE2 to compare to and he surpassed her by miles.  He couldn't do enough for us, even leaving the Aurora Today and other things on the beds while others had their in the letter holders outside the door  The bathroom was fairly small, but included a bath and detatchable shower head.  The cabin itself was fairly narrow and a tight squeeze getting between the bed and dressing table to go to the balcony.  The sofa was small too, again compared to what I've been used to.
Macedonio had apologised for us not having our restaurant allocation cards, saying he hadn't been given them.  So we went down to Ellora Deck to speak to the restaurant manager in the Medina to find out which we were in.  Medina, table 26.  I was pleased as during the visit I preferred the Medina to Alexandria and it has a better staircase.  It was around 3pm now meaning Amy should be up or if not she said to text and she would be.  She wanted to get us on the webcam sometime during the trip and there was no time like the present.  Despite frantically waving a copy of Aurora Today it turned out it was pointing to high up so she couldn't see us.
The choice on the telly was a bit naff.  Not even terrestrial channels.  Lifeboat drill was at 4.30pm and we went to our muster station in the Curzon Theatre.  It was a good drill with the woman in charge making funny comments as we waited for it to start.  Once that was over it was back to the cabin to await our departure.  So who would go first as we were all down for 5pm?  We had a tug attached to our stern and we started pulling out at 4.59pm.  We blasted!  Yay!  However that was shortly followed by Arcadia and then we replied.  We lost sight of the Princess so assumed she was going as well as we could see Arcadia was also away from the dock behind us.  Amy sent a very funny text saying, "I don't want to frighten you but you're being followed."  The ship stalker was being stalked by a ship!  But by the time she sent one and the captain said in an announcement we were going to pass Grand Princess it was too late to go up two decks.  Mind you, I was amazed he actually said Ventura would be like the Princess.  More than the Carnival/P&O PR machine has.  I was gutted at missing such a good photo opportunity.  Aurora and Grand Princess blasted to each other though.  By now we couldn't see where Arcadia was as we were in the same lane but heard them both blast again.  Double gutted!  What fantastic shots that would have made.  Grand Princess pulled out at almost half five.  As dinner was 6.30pm we just relaxed on the balcony as we sailed towards Calshot waiting for the stalkers to come into view after we turned.  It was deju vu with Arcadia but Rowan enjoyed it despite her hatred of the ship.
After we turned to pass Cowes we lost sight of them so got ready for dinner in the Medina.  Our table was by the window which surprised me as when asked during the visit, Leo had said only the large ones were there.  Unless that's just the Alexandria.  The standard of service was pretty poor.  The waiters were friendly enough for the brief time you had anything to do with them, but until the last night they didn't even put the napkin on your lap.  We didn't even know their names.  It was nothing like either of us had experienced in the past even though Rowan only had Grill on the QE2 to compare to.  It was beginning to look like the poor service on short trips was true.  After dinner we returned to the cabin briefly and watched the sky getting slowly darker.
My dad rather annoyingly phoned at 8.30pm to tell me about a particular thing which happened in Coronation Street just as we were heading out to the Curzon Theatre to see Richard Digance, but more of that in a moment.  We were now on the mobile satellite network which automatically kicked in when the land signal goes so it cost more.  Rowan had never heard of Richard Digance but found him incredibly funny.  He was on top form and time flew by.  There was a 60s & 70s disco in Carmen's from 10pm so we went to that.  This is where we got to celebrate Rita Sullivan in Coronation Street turning down the marriage proposal from her business partner Norris Cole.  The original plan had been at 7.30pm as viewers were sat down to watch but we were still eating.  As Rita is my favourite character and the only part I still watch of that drivel these days, the entire cruise was on the verge of being ruined if it turned out the stupid writers had her accept as, going by press reports, they had filmed two endings (as if!) meaning we wouldn't find out until later and dreaded coming back to her being the next future Mrs Cole.  Thankfully the spoilers gave it away that she rejected him - hooray!!!!!  We could enjoy the cruise after all.  So my dad suffered for my joy just to tell me her exact words of, "But I won't budge, no matter what you say.  Not now.  Not ever.  The answer's no."  Music to our ears and I hope those dozy articles who call themselves writers haven't put hidden meaning into those words!  I know after all these years how soaps work.  Now Rowan didn't want this to happen either but does like to wind me up and even before the trip she'd been saying they'd have her change her mind and they'd marry at New Year and Rita Cole had a nice ring to it.  ARGH!!!!!  Good job we've been good friends for many years or I could seriously go off her.  I told her straight, one mention and she goes overboard but I could tell she was having trouble keeping her mouth shut.  I sincerely hope she's not right as I'll be on Aurora again over New Year and don't want anything spoiling things after the amount it's costing and with so many cruises during 2008 plus the trip to LA to see Amy I can't afford to drown my sorrows.  Can I sue for the trauma?  I need the cash!  It would be nice to see Rita married again but preferably to a squillionaire because rich men are her only type and the peasant would stand no chance anyway.  Maybe it can be the exit story when Barbara Knox finally quits.  So with that ridiculous proposal being put to the back of my mind I was able to do what I set out to when we booked - enjoy myself!
It was a good atmosphere in Carmen's and it was amazing how many elderly people were jigging about with the best of them, let alone knew the moves to YMCA.  After the band Caravan finished their first set, the DJ came on.  We left around 11.15pm and went back to the cabin to get wrapped up to brave the deck.  Well I was wrapped up as Rowan doesn't feel the cold.  Around midnight we were passing Dover/Calais and that wind was really starting to whip up making the ship rock.  Aurora does have a wraparound Promenade Deck which is good but again I've been spoiled by being able to go onto Navigator's bow and a white metal wall forward wasn't the same.
We were due to dock at the Port of Rotterdam cruise terminal at 10am where we would stay until 11pm.  However we were early birds.  When we woke up, I looked outside to see us passing a P&O ferry. As I had no idea how far away we were I sent Ben a text telling him about the ferry.  He replied telling me to relax as it could take two hours.
We went to breakfast and watched the scenery go by.  The waiter brought bacon for my order instead of beans.  Not a good start.  When we returned to the cabin we were almost there!  Ben sent a text saying he could see Aurora from the train.  He did manage to make it in time and there'll be a link at the end to see his photos and video footage.  We were docked at 9.20am.  Ben and I spotted each other and shouted ourselves hoarse but still had trouble hearing what the other said due to the noise of the coaches and things.
I hadn't realised until much later Ben had got a photo of me on the balcony which I reproduce below with his permission.  If I'd known I would have moved a little further left.
We decided to go down to talk to Ben.  As I went to put my watch on I found it had stopped at 8.40am.  I was very cheesed off.   Anyway we set off via Formosa Deck to meet Ben.  It was a nice terminal. You came off through the gangway and into a building which had little stalls selling Dutch souvenirs.  Outside the building there was a red carpet.  We felt posh!  Ben met us as we came out and we walked the short way to the pier.  It is wonderful getting so close to the ship.
Rowan found Ben to be a perfect gentleman as he helped her a lot.  We went for a coffee at the Café Rotterdam on the pier and chatted.  I did wonder if we were boring her with our ship talk but she told me afterwards she found it interesting.  Ben had to go at 11.30am and by now ominous dark clouds were descending making the ship stand out.  We said goodbye to Ben until later that evening when we were meant to meet up originally.  But it had been a good morning and that's entirely down to Ben.  So thank you for being such a nice, fun person.
After a little souvenir shopping from the stalls we reboarded the ship.  We had a wander and bought a few things from the Emporium.  This was the only shop open and sold a few ship souvenirs, toiletries, other sundries and, most important of all - sweets!  Then we went back to the cabin for a bit to enjoy our new lunch.


© Patricia Dempsey 2nd-5th & Ben van Zeijl 3rd September 2007
Not to be reproduced without permission