Aurora - Iberian Celebrations

It took all of three days resistance back in July 2006 before I gave in and booked Iberian Celebrations on my wonderful Aurora from the 27th December 2007-7th January 2008.  Single rate was NOT cheap. I had to pay 50% on top of an already expensive price for my F109 cabin with window.  But hey, all those other ships and fireworks in Madeira for New Year made it too hard to say no to myself, even if I only ended up doing it the once.  I had heard so much about this particular cruise, which Aurora alternates with Oriana, it made it very tempting.  A woman I met on the Aurora visit in 2006 had done it and told me to do this, that and the other in Funchal.  A couple in front of me as I returned from Stockton-on-Tees a month later have a timeshare and told me all about it and the competition in June to determine who would host the New Year fireworks.  A local woman whose family owns the Silverline taxi firm also told me so much about it.  I'm very easily thrilled, especially when I'm looking forward to something!  It would be my longest cruise to date.  In fact, including 2008 trips, the longest full stop!  

As with the first two cruises of the year and the QE2 nearly two weeks previously, I would be on my own but with no balcony.  I love balconies so how would I manage, especially in warmer climes when they're ideal?  Windows aren't the same and rubbish for photography.  Surprisingly a payment confirmation email arrived on the 1st November, the day the balance was due, even though the bank still had the money.  Luckily it appeared on on the statement on the 5th.  Now I could plan my cruise and, more importantly, what to wear!  Be very full cases with summer and winter clothing, not to mention a coat for every eventuality with the weather.  I reserved my shore excursions while trying not to get too excited at the prospect of a fabulous New Year and all those ships!  Nine were due in with us.  Ship stalking heaven!  The ticket arrived on the 1st December and included the sort of luggage tags they give you when you check your luggage for short trips.  You also use them for disembarking.  The Port of Tenerife caused no end of confusion listing us arriving on the 1st January when it was the 2nd but they eventually changed it so I could see which ships would be in with us there too.

Christmas would be a much smaller affair with me going away two days later.  I didn't want to gain too many pounds when I'd doubtless gain plenty onboard!  The 27th arrived and it was a murky old day but not too cold.  Unfortunately we were the only one in as is usual for these end of year cruises.  The taxi arrived and it was Les, the same driver who took me to the
QM2 visit in 2006 and picked me up afterwards and who used to work for Royal Caribbean so we had another interesting conversation.  And there was the beauty sitting in Mayflower Terminal waiting to head off for some winter sun.  This would be her third voyage under the new Hamilton registry, having had it changed during a wet dock in Southampton between the 10th-14th December.  The check-in queue was fairly long but moved quickly.  It was also more festive than the QEII terminal had been with at least five trees of varying sizes.

Then things began to go wrong and I realised the Curse of Hamilton had possessed my beautiful ship!  Ever since Oriana had returned with her new registry she had become a pain.  Already Aurora had had a few hiccups since the 14th, mainly Zeebrugge when her ropes were tangled with the QE2's.  I would find out later a few more.  So I went to board then realised I'd left my bag behind.  A woman came back down with me and when I went back up the escalator, the woman at the top, after giving me a strange look, laughed when I told her.  So onto my gorgeous Aurora and I would have snogged her there and then if the queue wasn't long so made to with touching her outside as I boarded and gave a little smile.  Up to the Orangery for lunch and better this time.  Though why you cannot get orange juice after noon is ridiculous.  Finding somewhere to sit was easy.  Then curse effect number two - my camera flash was jammed!  It had been fine in the terminal.  It's a pop-up, annoying at the best of times, but I needed it for the fireworks and other ships.  How could this happen at the start of the cruise???  I would have to buy a new one before getting to Madeira but until then apologies for any blurry interior shots.  
Once I'd finished lunch (and I do wish they said what the sandwiches and desserts were) I decided to explore and check out how well or poorly decorated the ship was after the
QE2.  This is one area I wasn't disappointed with as they really made such an effort and the ship felt very festive.
Then I discovered the piece de resistance - a tree tied in front of the mast!  How wonderful!  I hadn't seen one on the QE2 when I'd heard they usually have one so was delighted about this.  The webcam had also been giving a better view for the past couple of months so Amy was able to see me this time!
The cabins were available from 2pm so I went to find mine.  It was quite nice and would do for one at least with all my clothes.  There was a large double wardrobe as well as a smaller one with two racks for clothes plus plenty of drawer space.  No sofa but a chair beside the coffee table.  There were also tea and coffee making facilities.  The bathroom was a reasonable size with a shower.  One thing I did love was my wide window ledge.  In most window cabins you don't get one.  The only drawback of having the bed so close was the draught and at night, the light from the spyhole would shine on the left side. But it was comfortable and now had the same rustling duvets as the rest.  My steward was Roque, who was pleasant enough but rarely cracked a smile.
Lifeboat drill was 4.15pm and my muster station was again the Curzon Theatre.  I hadn't realised before the droning speech was identical to Cunard.  No one seemed to nod off this time though.  When it was over, silly me went up instead of down when I reached the stairs.  I was so used to going up every time in September it would take a little time to remember not to.  So I went on deck for sailaway.  A jazz band were playing under shelter on the quayside.  As my flash wasn't opening I couldn't get any photos of them (or what could be seen of them) or our departure.  As I got my sailaway champagne I chatted to a bloke from Scotland called David who was on his own.  I went to the observation deck, as my parents wanted to know when we were near Hythe pier, and he followed me.  He did this cruise on Oriana last time and was doing it again on her in 2008.  Our 5pm departure was late by nine minutes.  Two minutes later we gave five blasts, followed by another four a couple of minutes later.  We had to go slower than normal due to a tanker going into Hamble and as we sailed down Southampton Water, someone came on the tannoy to tell us the sights.  Lovely except it was dark so we couldn't see them!  Also some of it was wrong and I couldn't stop laughing, mainly due to his lack of enthusiasm.  I was miffed he missed out Hythe.  What's wrong with it????  Once we'd passed the pier I went in.  It was casual night so I didn't change.  My table in the Medina was for eight but the confirmation said six for some reason.  My table companions were really nice but we only had four of them the one night.  Arthur and his friend (can't remember his name) were stroke victims.  Arthur had an electric buggy and due to the position of our table, it was difficult getting to and from it.  His wife Jean announced confidently she had been told Oriana or Aurora were leaving the fleet next year.  I said nothing.  Maybe it will happen but not 2008 as there are cruises planned plus the world ones in 2009.  Also they have plans for Aurora's Café Bordeaux and have just had her registry changed.  They wouldn't go to that trouble and expense if they planned to get rid.  Oriana would be the more likely as she's the oldest.  Both ships are incredibly popular so they would be foolish to transfer or sell them.  I'd have thought Artemis would be the one to go anyway if that time comes.  Anyway, the other people on my table were Joan (the wife of the one I can't remember) as well as Terry and Joyce and her dad (whose name I never got).  Our waiters were Tito and Cliffon and the wine waiter Brian was so wonderful and funny.  After dinner we were now in a force 6 as we traversed the English Channel towards Spain and I went to look at the shops.  I have to admit I was very disappointed with the Aurora souvenirs now.  Back in September there were more to choose from, including a jigsaw containing the current fleet.  Most of it had gone.  They did have a new fridge magnet which I never got around to buying.  Even the pay desk was now gone and you had to pay in the other part of the shop.  Makes more sense really but the space saved could have been utilised better.  I went to the Crow's Nest for a late-night drink with David.  He's another to add to the list of people who cannot believe I'm as old as I am.  Flattering really.  Then I went to bed, wondering what the Bay of Biscay would be like in the morning.

Well I was rudely awakened at 3am when a wave hit the side of the ship very loudly.  I checked the info channel and saw it was now gale force 8!  There was also the following warning on the TV.
What an understatement!  I went back to bed, getting up at 8am.  We were now going through the Ushant Traffic Scheme - aka the Bay of Terror as my friend Nick calls it.  I have a new name - the Bay of Evil!  I was feeling a bit queasy, which is unlike me as I'm usually good in rough seas.  Rowan and I had a force 7 on Aurora in September coming out of Zeebrugge and I was fine.  I decided breakfast would help so went to the Medina.  One drawback of being a single traveller is you get put on a table with couples or several people travelling together.  Not so bad at dinner but breakfast is mostly an ignored affair.  Back to the cabin and my window, although recessed so more protected, was taking a bit of a battering.  Every time I tried to get one of the wave crashing against it, it wouldn't cooperate until I put the camera down.
Breakfast hadn't been much help settling my stomach so I tried to have a snooze for a bit until going to the Crow's Nest for 11am for a meet with some people from the Crow's Nest forum.  I only managed a couple of minutes the way we were pitching and rolling.  So I headed up to Sun Deck and saw someone had been sick on the carpet a couple of doors away from me.  As none of us knew what the others looked like it would be interesting to see if we had turned up but not known.  I got chatting to an elderly man as I took the photos below in-between being thrown into the chair who had done the Christmas cruise and he told me they'd had terrible weather, including a force 12 meaning they couldn't get into Cadiz.
I saw someone standing around looking for someone so wondered if she was part of our group.  I went over and it was Sue, who was with her husband Patrick.  A little while later we were joined by Isobel and Tommy.  We were the only ones to be there.  Whether others were but we didn't see them or they were ill in their cabins, we have no idea.  This certainly took my mind of being queasy!
At around 11.45am a plane flew dangerously close around the front of us making everyone sit or stand to watch.  I didn't manage to get video of it, let alone a photo.  The clocks went forward an hour at noon so now it was lunch!  We said our goodbyes and sadly I never saw Sue again the rest of the trip.  I returned to the safety of the cabin and waited a while to wash my hair.  Thank goodness for detachable showerheads!  I don't think I could've done it if it was attached.  Hard enough on my hands and knees trying to do it without falling into the cubicle and failing badly.  But I did it with no injuries. Then it happened - I saw my breakfast again!  Thankfully only once as I then stayed on my bed with my Sudoku book and listening to my mp3 player which did help me feel better.  The weather didn't abate and often the cabin would go dark when the waves hit the window.
It was the first formal night and the Welcome Aboard Reception at 6pm, another name for the Gala Party they have on short trips, before dinner and the sickbags were out on the stairs and in the lifts in force.
Medina guests had to go to the Crow's Nest while Alexandria were in Carmen's.  Really stupid having two parties when there's one captain.  We were greeted by the staff captain or an engineer as Captain Brown was in Carmen's.  I got chatting to a fellow single traveller as we gripped anything to stay on our feet as we waited to go in then Isobel and Tommy joined us.  One of the waitresses was trying to get Tommy to have a drink.  "Get one, get one free," she told him.  "I'll have to start charging soon.  Make the most of this offer."  He didn't succumb.  The captain finally arrived when it was close to 6.30pm to give his speech.  Funnily enough a similar speech to that he'd given in Carmen's when he claimed to have been with us lot when he wasn't.  He also said in his earlier speech we had hit force 10 which is more than we were told or the info channel said.  Then down to dinner and the restaurant was quite empty.  No idea if it was seasickness, though room service were very busy I was told, or people going to the themed buffet in the Orangery.  Terry and Joyce shared their wine with me which was very nice.  They also invited me to join them at the Syndicate Quiz in Vanderbilt's at 10.30pm.  I never thought I would go to cruise ship quizzes, even though Rowan and I did one on the QE2.  Back to the cabin as I didn't fancy the show and out came the Sudoku and mp3 player until it was time for the quiz.  We were still going up and down and side to side.  The outside decks had been closed since shortly after noon apparently.  They had still been open when I left the Crow's Nest at noon anyway.  I got to the quiz and this is where I had my first encounter with Eric!  He's a mad, 69 year old (he said) randy Welshman who tells corny jokes!  We came second which wasn't bad.  At the lift he asked if I was single and said he's in the Yellow Pages.  I made my escape to go to bed and as I was about to eat my pillow chocolate, was thrown onto the bed by the ship.  I was just glad I had a soft landing and it wasn't the wall or something.  We were doing 15.4 knots at 11.45pm and I hoped for better weather the next day.

We arrived in a wet La Coruna in the dark.  Spain really should be on the same time zone as us.  My Leisurely La Coruna excursion was 9.15am.  For some reason I thought it was half past and as soon as I got to the Curzon my tour was called so I quickly got a sticker and followed them.  I hadn't gone on deck for our arrival as it was so dark so was surprised to be getting wet.
Our guide Dorothy was originally from Wales where she had met her late Spanish husband and moved there in the 60s so had seen how much the place had changed and how vandalism and graffiti had increased.  I was sat beside a lovely elderly lady called Betty on the coach who had also been on the Christmas cruise and said she'd only ever worn her raincoat so was hoping for better weather in the Canaries, though wouldn't have been surprised if it said 20 degrees in Madeira but rained.
Our one and only photo stop was the Torre de Hercules (Tower of Hercules in English) lighthouse.  Dorothy asked if anyone wanted to get off.  People said no.  Well I did!  We were originally due to stay there half an hour but it was reduced due to the weather.  So she opened the door anyway and I was the first to move.  "Now we'll see who's brave," she said.  A few people did follow but we all got back on pretty sharpish.
After a bit more driving around seeing various sights through rain-soaked windows, we arrived at a hotel for tapas.  Dorothy had told us not to have the tea because the water isn't boiling, just hot.  We also had the choice of wine.
The tapas were lovely and they even had crisps to pad it out.  This is where I met Karen and her parents Alice and Hammy.  Karen is interested in ships so that gave us something to chat about.  Betty also joined us and we had a nice hour before heading back to the ship.
I decided to get some photos of the display under the atrium as I walked back to the cabin.  The talent of the chefs to create something like this always amazes me.
When I got back to the cabin, I found Roque had put my flower from the previous night in a can of tonic water and left it on the bedside table.  Time for shopping in the Emporium.  Postcards, a P&O umbrella my dad wanted after seeing the one I'd bought on Oriana and, more importantly, seasickness pills just in case!
As the rain stopped in the afternoon I decided to go for a wander and get some shots of our surroundings.  David went with me.  We found our champagne glasses from sailaway still where we'd left them.
Once back inside, we wandered around.  I popped into Andersons to get some shots of the decorations before hunting down the builder's plaque.
Karen and I went to afternoon tea.  It was a far superior experience to Cunard's.  Although less formal, being in the Medina rather than Queens Room with tea/coffee, sandwiches and cakes, on P&O you have a selection of teas, sandwiches, fancies on a cake stand, scones, toasted teacakes and crumpets.  They even offer you more sandwiches and scones.  I much prefer this version of afternoon tea.
The captain came on at 4.43pm to say, as everyone was back onboard, "We may as well push off."  Karen had already left so I dashed to my cabin to get by coat and bag and as the lift reached deck 12 we blasted and headed back into the rough seas.
As there was still plenty of time before dinner, I went to get a new camera.  Their choice is limited between Nikon and Kodak meaning I would have to also buy a new card.  They don't sell them!  How stupid is that?  I spoke to someone days later who also had to buy a camera and couldn't understand why no cards.  After dinner the info channel said we were now in a force 3.  That was better.  Dinner was fun and our other table companions had definitely been moved.  Joyce told me a passenger died during the first night around 4am.  They kept that quiet.  There had been no Aurora Today in the letter holder when I arrived, nor when I got back from the quiz.  Also for some reason the MCP didn't kick in when we lost the mobile land signal.  Anyway, I went to the quiz but ended up on the team of Karen and her parents as Joyce and Terry arrived late.  Isobel and Tommy joined us.  We got 13/20 which wasn't bad as the four tie-break teams had 15.  They all disappeared to Champions for another quiz while I was waylaid by Eric.  I finally made my escape by the stairs and retreated to the cabin to go to bed.

When I woke up at 8.15am it was pitch black!  I went for a wander to let Roque do the cabin and picked up an Aurora Today at reception and got some Euros while it was quiet.  There was a gorgeous sunrise around 9am but I'd left the camera in the cabin.  While watching it, I got talking to a woman who told me her grandson had been confined to the cabin since we left as he had norovirus.  After getting back to the cabin I washed my hair and was glad not to be falling over then as I let it dry, dozed off for a couple of hours.  When I awoke the info channel said we were 170 nautical miles west of Lisbon though how long it had said that was a mystery.  MCP still wasn't working but it was 15 degrees out there.  I went out on deck.  Our first good weather since we left but a little chilly for me.
I went to the photo shop and pre-ordered the Madeira DVD as the photographer told me they were doing a special one this year as the cruise DVD will feature just a bit of the fireworks.  As I had already ordered the cruise one, I got that at the reduced price.  I also bought some photo albums, which weren't on display so I had to ask if they still did the ones which held 200, and some more batteries for the camera.  Then it was afternoon tea before going back to the cabin before dinner.  It was 60s and 70s night/casual so need to change.  As the others had gone to the Orangery for the Indian themed night, I got through very fast but skipped dessert so I could get the sunset.  Before leaving I told Brian he was so good as a waiter he drives people away so they avoid him.  I think the joke was lost in translation as he wanted me to tell his boss what a great waiter he was so I did and he came with me.  Then I dashed outside onto the Promenade deck for the sunset.
Went to the show tonight.  It was The Magic That Is Eurovision with their very own Terry Wogan and Ulrika Johnsson.  They recreated various UK and other acts from the history of the contest while we occasionally waved the Euro flags they'd placed in front of us.  At the end it was, "Oh no!  It's Scooch!" and on the screen it said, "23rd....Oops!"  Chatted to my past and current tablemates as we were leaving then went to Carmen's for the 60s and 70s night.  Not many people had dressed up though a couple of the dancefloor did make an effort and had long black wigs.  We nicknamed them Sonny and Cher.  David was there as well as Isobel and Tommy.  We went to Vanderbilt's at 10.20pm for the quiz.  As we waited for it to start, Eric crushed me and asked if I wanted to go with him afterwards for a fruit tea.  I'm sure that's code for fruity!  Karen and her mum thought it was amusing.  After the quiz I made a hasty exit.  The clocks went back at 2am and there was still no MCP signal.

I set the alarm for 6am but then the next thing I knew an hour had passed.  I checked the webcam on the TV and saw we were nearly there so hurried on the deck then realised I'd forgotten my camera so quickly went back for it.  
The World had arrived two days earlier, AIDAdiva the day before and Thomson Destiny an hour before us.  Albatros was following us in and, despite my flash not working, the pictures came out very well.
After returning to the cabin I saw my window was being washed.  Hadn't it suffered enough water since the cruise began?  Pity about the wall blocking my view of the ships at anchor.


© Patricia Dempsey 27th December 2007-7th January 2008
Not to be reproduced without permission