Aurora to the Baltics – May 2017
Andrew Harvey | November 4, 2017 | P&O Cruises | Aurora
I stayed overnight before the cruise at the Holiday Inn on the waterfront in Southampton. There is nothing special about the hotel but it is very clean and comfortable. The public areas have been refurbished in recent years and the bedrooms are gradually being refurbished. The ones at the front of the hotel overlook Southampton Water and are good for ship-spotting. Park-and-stay rates are available. The buffet breakfast was good quality and hot with plenty of choice.
I had been allocated a 3.00pm embarkation. I left the hotel at 2.00pm and it took only 5 – 7 minutes to drive to the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in light traffic. My car was taken immediately by staff from CPS – there wasn’t a queue of any sort. Once inside the terminal building, I was told that I could check in straight away and joined the queue for the check-in desk. This was pretty efficient and after going through security, I was on board and inside my cabin at 2.30. Thirty minutes from hotel to cabin – well done P&O and the Mayflower Terminal!
The Good Ship Aurora
Aurora entered service for P&O in 2000, so whilst certainly not ancient, she does have 16+ years of service under her belt. Despite this, she is in fine fettle. Yes, you will see odd little rust-spots/patches but these are dealt with on a regular maintenance basis. Unfortunately, there was some fairly ‘heavy duty’ maintenance being carried out on both the Promenade Deck and an external staircase on Lido Deck, resulting in excessive noise at times. This is really something that P&O should do when there are no passengers aboard but unfortunately these ships are worked so hard now to maximise profits.
Aurora has lovely public rooms, most of which are ‘enclosed’, rather than being open to a corridor or the atrium. There is a lovely observation lounge (The Crow’s Nest) forward on Sun Deck, the Horizon Buffet on Lido Deck, Raffles Bar, Sindhu Indian Restaurant, the Playhouse Cinema and Glass House Bar/Restaurant on D Deck plus the two main dining rooms on E Deck. The remainder of the public rooms are on Promenade Deck and comprise the Curzon Theatre, Anderson’s Bar, Masquerade Nightclub, Champions Sports Bar and Carmen’s Show-Lounge. There are also various other useful spaces for children, card-players, casino buffs etc. Interior décor, fittings and furnishings are all in good condition.
I was in a standard inside cabin on B Deck. These are not the largest of cabins but are certainly adequate. The queen-size bed (which can be two twins) was extremely comfortable and I slept very well most nights. Storage space was good with two two-drawer bedside cabinets, four drawers in the dressing-table and a triple wardrobe with lots of hanging space. There is a stocked mini bar (which I asked the steward to empty so that I Could use it as a fridge) and a safe for your valuables. This was big enough for my 10” tablet but would not take a laptop. There is a small-screen TV with a range of channels including Sky News and Sky Sports. Others are Film Channels and information channels. There are tea & coffee making facilities on a small table and a compact sofa. Again, all furniture and fittings were in very good condition. The compact bathroom included two corner storage cupboards and a shelf under the washbasin. The shower is big enough for an average-size person and has a curtain rather than a glass door. There was plenty of hot water with a stable temperature and the toilet flush worked well.
There has been a fair amount of criticism about P&O food over the last couple of years and they had relatively recently introduced a new menu. I ate in the Alexandria Dining Room on second (8.30pm) sitting ‘club’ dining, meaning I had the same companions every evening. You can choose Freedom Dining, which means you choose when to eat each evening. The menu consists of 4 starters, 3 soups, a salad, 4 main courses 3 desserts and cheese & biscuits. There are also ‘Always available’ starters and main course plus 2 ‘Signature’ or ‘Always available’ desserts plus a ‘Chef’s Choice’ ‘Classic Roast’ and ‘Daily Grill’ main course. Additionally, Ice Cream, sorbet and a Sundae were available. You will not go hungry! The quality of the food was generally very good with both meats and fish being generally well-cooked and to my liking. Food was served hot and was usually tasty, with a couple of stand-out desserts: White Chocolate Mille-Feuille with Toffee, served with marscapone and basil sorbet; Milk Chocolate & Pistachio Delice, Dark Chocolate Sauce & Sweet Fennel Ice Cream – outstanding! Our waiters and wine waiter were all very friendly and really efficient.
Breakfast in the main dining room gave plenty of choice, with everything being tasty and of course freshly cooked. There is a different daily special each morning. The breakfast buffet in the Horizon was okay but quite repetitive and the quality was variable as it usually is in large hotels ashore. There was an omelette station for nice, freshly-cooked omelettes where they also prepared poached eggs. There was always plenty of seating in the Horizon Buffet and waiters walked around in the morning pouring tea and coffee.
Lunch in the Horizon comprised plenty of dishes to choose from and the quality was variable. Afternoon tea was served in both the Horizon and one of the dining rooms. The Lido Grill served burgers hot dogs and fried chicken but these were all cooked in advance rather than fresh which meant they were not that appetising. You could also get a small range of sandwiches at the grill but again they were not freshly made so not particularly appetising.
I also ate in Sindhu twice which was really excellent. I did not eat in the Beach House as the menu did not remotely appeal to me – it is the sort of food you find on a Leisure Park and might eat after going ten-pin bowling.
Of course, entertainment is very subjective. The Headliners Theatre Group were just about average. I have seen better but also seen worse. The in-house bands were excellent but the cocktail pianist/vocalist was pretty poor. The Guest Artists were generally pretty good, with Clare Bonsu (vocalist) and Byron Johnston (Guitarist) being outstanding in my view. There was a comedy ventriloquist who many appreciated but who I found dreadful. A selection of films were shown in the cinema but none particularly appealed to me on this sailing.
Daytime activities consisted of quizzes, deck-sports, seminars, lectures and Port Presentations. The seminars were sadly regurgitated selling opportunities that have been doing the rounds for years. Unfortunately there was only one lecturer on board and I had seen her on my two previous P&O cruises. The Port Presenter (from the Shore Excursions Team) was excellent, giving some historical perspective and also advice for passengers not taking tours.
The Entertainment Manager was friendly and personable but I did feel he could have given a bit more information about what was on in the evening when he presented the theatre show each night. His Entertainment Officers were okay but again, I have seen better.
Oslo, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, Talinn, Riga, Gdansk, Klaipeda, Travemunde and Skagen. The selection of ports was excellent and the main reason I chose this cruise. I booked P&O Tours in St Petersburg, taking three half-day trips over the two days. At all other ports I simply walked off the ship and explored. They all had their own charm – some more than others. My favourite was Riga and although I had been to Oslo once before, I fell in love with it a little.
A few days before the end of the cruise, you were invited to visit the Pursers Desk (Reception) to book a time slot. I chose the latest possible, which was 1030. I was asked to vacate the cabin by 0830 and wait in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. This was comfortable and not crowded. At about 0950 a member of staff came around informing us that disembarkation was ahead of schedule and we could leave when we liked. I waited about another 20 minutes and strolled off the ship and straight through arrivals – no rush, no stress.
A really good cruise to interesting ports. Great companions on my dinner table and met lots of friendly and interesting passengers around the ship. Food and entertainment pretty good. Oriana is still my favourite ship but I will be very happy to board Aurora again any time. I feel this size of ship provides me with an excellent cruise.
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