Possibly because we’ve done almost the identical cruise before, this one felt a bit ‘flat’ somehow. Nothing wrong with it at all, just nothing amazing – apart from it being a cruise! And cruise on Aurora, to boot!
Maybe the fact that I wasn’t too well for about half the time has coloured my thoughts, but certainly I didn’t have my usual energy, and spent more time than usual lying around on sun loungers.
I bit the bullet and went to the medical centre, where the doctor diagnosed viral bronchitis. Ironic that the day after I qualified for free prescriptions I had to see the private medic!
Yes, I turned 60 on board. Got a card from the captain, and a dish of chocolates, and we ate that evening in the Beach House, which was lovely.
But P&O are still doing it for us, and we managed to book two more cruises while on board – Oriana to Scotland in September, and Arcadia to Norway a year later.
We had generally fantastic weather, apart from in Corfu and a few hours crossing back past Tunisia when the seas became a bit lumpy. Otherwise it was so calm it was hard to realise we were actually at sea.
ARRIVAL AND EMBARKATION
We drove down to Southampton the day before sailing, as we usually do. Checked into Holiday Inn and sorted out the cruise parking stuff, before walking to Pizza Express, where we had a free bottle of prosecco with our meal – it’s good to have a birthday sometimes!
Next morning after breakfast we walked into West Quay to kill some time before getting our taxi to the Mayflower terminal. It was pretty busy when we got there, probably due to this being a Peninsular Club cruise, so loads of us entitled to priority embarkation. Even so, we were on board well before 1.00 and quickly having our ‘welcome on board’ drinks and nibblies in the Alexandria restaurant. After muster, unpacking and dinner (first sitting, table for eight), we watched the ‘welcome’ show before turning in.
We’d booked the cruise late and the only standard balcony cabins left were those with a shower (no bath). Ours was on ‘C’ deck aft, and was perfectly fine. The mattress and pillows, though, felt extremely hard, which meant we didn’t sleep too well at first. But Nixon, our steward, changed the pillows to thinner and softer ones, which helped. He told us that all the mattresses, pillows and duvets were brand new for this cruise, which was nice to hear, and probably explained the lack of ‘give’ in them.
Nixon also told us that he had 17 cabins to look after, which is surely far too many. He said the pressure from the hotel department to have cabins ready on turn-around days is extreme.
Around the time we were approaching Messina we kept hearing a repeating noise that at first we thought was the fog horn. But with no fog anywhere it obviously wasn’t that, so we reported it which resulted in a visit from a reception bod to try and work out what it was. Fortunately it went off while he was in our cabin: he instantly identified it as something to do with the hydraulics that keep the lifeboats steady. Problem sorted, identified – and resolved.
OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS!
I’m no skinny lizzy, but on this cruise I felt THIN! There were a vast number of weeble-women on board, and I don’t think I’ve ever before seen so many men needing bras and/or about to give birth to twins. Shocking.
And I think the title of this cruise should be ‘Invasion of the Mahogany People’. I’ve never understood how folk can crash in the sun for literally hours on end, their skin must be like leather.
The age profile was clearly pretty high, with quite a few couples who’d been married more than 60 years, which is impressive. There were a handful of children on board, mostly pre-school age, including twins not quite two years old: not sure how much of a holiday their parents got, even with grandparents to share the load!
Loads and loads of wheelchairs and walking frames in evidence, at least one extra-wide one for one of the weeble-women which barely got done the cabin lines.
One good thing: we saw almost zero evidence of peeps avoiding the hand gel as they went into the dining venues.
We’d opted, as usual, for first sitting on a table of eight, and it was fine – nothing spectacular, but nothing dreadful either. Portions were a good size and service was efficient as always. Our table-mates were friendly and chatty, and no-one had any disgusting eating habits, which is always good!
Breakfast and lunch we took in the Horizon buffet, and I have to say we’re both very impressed with what’s been done here following the refit last year: it seems much more spacious, despite the addition of sectional ‘walls’ everywhere.
We ate twice in the Beach House, having a table outside on the first occasion though it was too windy to eat al fresco the next time. Lovely food and service, and a very reasonable cover charge of just £5.00 pp, although a few of the menu items incurred a small supplement on top of this. Worth it, though. And you know it must be good when the Captain takes his guests there!
We didn’t try Sindhu as the menus did nothing for us, and the £16.00 pp cover charge we thought a bit steep for food we weren’t sure about. The refitted venue looks good, though.
As for the Glass House – well, words fail me. Okay, you pay per item rather than having a cover charge, and there’s no need to book, but really – what a waste of a perfectly good space. The menus were like glorified fast food restaurants, and we could have got burgers anytime from the Lido Grill. And the place was deserted 90% of the time! The busiest we saw it was one evening when there were as many as – ooh gosh – ten people eating! Unlike the old Cafe Bordeaux, where you often had to queue for a table as it was so good.
Bring back Cafe B!
The Peninsula Club lunch was fine, but maybe my memory is rose-tinted as I’m sure it was a bit more ‘spectacular’ (not the right word, but I can’t think of a better one) than it is now. The Peninsular Club cocktail party was held round the Terrace Pool, which was nice, tho’ we had a lot of passengers on the higher horseshoe decks trying to see what was going on! I heard one woman rather loudly asking why had she not been invited!
We listened to a series of four talks gives by a criminologist, about Ruth Ellis. These were very interesting, even though his Belfast accent made the speaker hard to understand sometimes. Other guest lecturers’ subjects didn’t interest us, so we didn’t go to hear them. Likewise we gave the port presenter a miss, but this was because we knew where we were going!
There were the usual array of quizzes – individual, progressive, name that tune and battle of the sexes. Not much to say here really, except that if they are running a quiz as an individual effort, shouldn’t they monitor it? One couple regularly did it as a team, often winning, which caused much muttering.
Deck sports, short tennis, cricket and table tennis were held daily, and were popular as always. Daily classes included watercolour art, whist and bridge, and there was also a passenger choir who put on a performance in the Curzon Theatre two days before we arrived home.
The crew put on ‘Aurora Uncovered’ in the atrium one morning, which is an interesting way to see a little of what goes on behind the scenes.
The usual interview with the Captain was missing, which was a shame. But the entertainment team didn’t seem to do very much at all (apart from quizzes), so maybe that’s not so surprising.
The library doesn’t seem to have had any new books since it was moved up to Deck 13. As someone who’s not a fan of fiction I struggled to find much of interest – and the two I did find both had big sections of loose pages in them. But you’ll be happy if you enjoy books about the royal family or biogs of footballers and reality telly people.
Oh how I wish the Headliners would throw away their scripts and come up with an entirely new set of shows. Yes, the performers are very professional, but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen some of their offerings. Having said that, passengers who’d not seen them before were full of praise.
There were quite a lot of opera and classical performers, which are not to our taste at all, but they seemed to satisfy those who like that sort of thing. I do wonder if P&O equate Peninsular Club high-tier members with classical fans? Just a thought….
One act that impressed us a lot was a Four Seasons tribute act – ‘Walk Like A Man’. Some slightly dodgy dance moves, but both shows were excellent and had the audiences up on their feet bopping and singing along. More like this please!
We did go to see one pianist, who was advertised as being a bit of a comedy act – Maria King. She was certainly a tremendous player, and yes her shows were amusing. She even gave us Victoria Wood’s ‘let’s do it’ song.
Apart from that there were two shows from magician Matthew McGurk, which we enjoyed. We’ve seen him on two previous cruises, but at least he changes his act!
A comedian, Micky Zany, joined us in Hvar and did two well-attended shows, mixing stand-up with musical impressions. Apparently he’s been working the cruise ships for 20 years or so, but we’ve never come across him before. Really enjoyed his performances.
The syndicate quiz remains popular. However, we were ‘adopted’ by three people we just couldn’t get on with, so only went to a couple of nights, and spent the rest of the cruise hoping not to run into them around the ship.
We had outfits for the 60s/70s night as our local pub’s new year party was on the same theme. I guess around a dozen of us dressed up, which was okay. George got pulled up to dance to ‘Hey Baby (oo aa)’ and was a given a Marguerita cocktail for his pains, which I enjoyed!
The tropical night party was held on the aft terrace deck. We wandered over to see what was happening, but the lack of any atmosphere and nowhere to sit sent us back to Andersons instead. A few people were having a bop, but not many.
One thing missing was the P&O version of TV game shows – Weakest Link, Deal or No Deal, and the like. Not that we missed them, just noticed their absence. There was also no Venetian masked ball, which there’s always been after previous visits to that city.
The formal dancing in Carmen’s was fine, but we didn’t do much as my alleged bronchitis left me pretty knocked out much of the time. And occasionally the band seemed to go on a loooong time: George commented on one waltz “surely it’s time to stop this tune soon?” It did go on a bit!
SPA AND SHOPS
As ever, Hardings fail to impress, with absolutely nothing worth shelling out for – they seem to excel at producing overpriced tat. I did, though, have a couple of spa treatments (lash and brow tint, and a 20-20-20 selection treatment), and George had a massage – not because we needed them, but because we had a shed-load of on-board credit to use up. Wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.
One major criticism of the spa: why do they advertise one price, but add an additional 10% tip automatically? Yes, I know you can ask for it to be removed, but that’s a bit embarrassing. I’d rather they priced it with the tip included to begin with.
(NOT ‘debarkation’ – we’re British, not American!)
A fairly painless process, begun by ‘booking’ our disembarkation time slot. We know from previous cruises that you have to do this a.s.a.p. if you want an early time, as the slots fill up very quickly.
Our group, the earliest time slot, were assembled in the Crow’s Nest, and were actually on our way downstairs well before our expected time of 8.45 am.
The only annoyance was having to get all our luggage outside the cabin before 8.00 pm the previous evening! A lot of passengers hadn’t even gone to dinner at that time. They’ve always managed in the past to collect cases left later (usually before midnight), so why the change?
I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve visited Cadiz, and there’s really not much we wanted to do here. We wandered into the city and had a mooch around the shops, and bought a couple of items before returning to the ship to spend the afternoon topping up the tans.
We were on a ‘San Michele Wine Tasting’ tour today (to use up some of our on-board credit), which took us half way up Mount Etna to the end of the recent lava flows, before we stopped at the vineyard. After seeing how the wine is processed, we had a chance to try six varieties (red, white and rose, both still and sparkling) and try some of the local produce. All in all, a really nice tour.
We had a tour booked here too, but all tours ended up being cancelled as there was the most terrific thunderstorm from midmorning. At one point our gangways were closed, as it was deemed too dangerous to step ashore in the high winds. And the Holland America ship ‘Oosterdam’ completely disappeared from view, even though she was docked just beyond our bow! Amazing weather, which fortunately cleared up a bit in the afternoon.
For people on Saver fares who ventured into town here, the shuttle bus charge was £4.00 pp per trip (not us, as we paid full whack so get them free).
The shuttle charge here was a bit more expensive: £5.00 pp per trip. We went in and walked through the Old City to the harbour, where we found a boat about to leave for a trip around Lokrum Island, a little way off shore from Dubrovnik. We paid €10 each, and had a lovely trip which lasted about 50 minutes. Lokrum is beautiful.
As I was suffering with the alleged bronchitis, we didn’t do much more than wander around the little market, buying earrings and ice creams (as you do), before getting the shuttle bus back ‘home’. I would have liked to walk the walls again, but what with my chest and George’s hip, that was a non-starter, but probably for the best once we’d seen the crowds up there!
VENICE, DAY ONE
Although we’ve been to Venice maybe six times now, this is the first time we’ve had an overnight stop. We sailed in at round noon, and when I went down over to the starboard side of the ship to see how busy St Mark’s Square was, there was a young bloke down on one knee, presenting his tearful girlfriend with an engagement ring! Sooo romantic! I just hope he treated her to a gondola ride later on! (She said yes, by the way!)
We got the water shuttle to the pontoon just beyond St Mark’s Square (cost was £28.00 pp for unlimited trips on the two days. One day was £15.00 pp). From there we reacquainted ourselved with the back lanes and bridges, window shopped a lot, and bought ice creams. After about an hour and a half we shuttled back to the ship, where we showered and changed before going back into the city (on the water shuttle again). This time we searched out a back street trattoria, where we had a pizza each, and a carafe of red wine. Finally returned at about 9.30 on one of the last water shuttles of the day.
VENICE, DAY TWO
We took the water shuttle back into the city, intending to check out the queue for the Doge’s Palace, and join it if it wasn’t too long. But luckily we were there early enough that there was no queue at all – we went straight in! This was something we’ve wanted to see for a long while now, and we weren’t disappointed. It’s a stunning building, with a fascinating sting in the tail – the prison. We had the chance to go across the Bridge of Sighs, which of course we took, meaning we can now tick that off our bucket lists!
We spent around two hours in the Palace, during which time the queue to go in was back up to its usual long snake-like length. Getting there early is definitely to be recommended.
After another wander round the back streets, we got the water shuttle back to the ship where we crashed on deck for an hour or so. We sailed at 5.00 pm, so we stayed on our cabin balcony with a bottle of bubbly and room service (spag bol and apple pie for two, thank you very much!) watching this most beautiful of cities disappear into the distance.
The only tender port of the cruise, so we weren’t off the ship especially early. But there was no waiting around for tenders, the whole process was very smoothly done.
We visited Hvar last year, so knew there was not a lot to see in the harbour town. But none of the tours on offer appealed, so we just wandered around the shore, eating ice creams and people watching. It really is a very pretty place.
Not a lot to say about Gibraltar that hasn’t already been said. Over the years we’ve done most of the tours and today they seemed pretty well booked up, so that’s good. We just walked into Casemate Square and along Main Street, looking for a birthday present for our son-in-law. Had an ice cream as well, of course!
By the time we walked back to the ship NCL’s Independence of the Seas was docked next to us, dwarfing poor little Aurora and casting shadows on us. I really don’t understand the attraction of the mega-liners.