Sunday 27th November
By 9.00am we are all pacing the living room floor waiting for the mini bus to arrive, by 9.15am we have started to check for it down the street, but at 9.30am on the nose (the time he was booked for) he magically appears outside the house and before he can switch the ignition off a fleet of cases are at his back door.
A clear run down to Southampton with only one short stop and we arrive at just gone noon.
Check in is rammed, completely full through the zig-zag, but we head for Gold checkin which already has 3 in front of us. Well, I think they put the new girl on gold checkin desk today because she was taking forever, and we waited and we waited without moving. Suddenly Liz noticed the other queue had completely disappeared so we jumped our queue and got to a desk. But, there had to be a but, this time we have Mum in her new wheelchair which she will use for embarkation and disembarkation and for which we have asked for wheelchair assistance. So we are told we have to queue at the ‘mobility’ checkin. Oh but Im at the front of the queue now and I aint moving nowhere, so they have to sort it themselves and check for me that Mum does have wheelchair assistance as I have said. By the time we get through to the embarkation lounge I notice they are giving out H embarkation tickets – good job we don’t need one of those. Next hurdle, Mum is aloud into the roped off ‘mobility’ section of the lounge in her wheelchair but we aren’t, despite the fact that 50% of this large area is empty. Jack is aloud to sit with her and we have to sit elsewhere but it does seem a bit unnecessary – another case of the jobsworths doing their jobs me thinks!
1.15pm on the dot and Golds are invited to board, we are assured that Mum will be pushed onboard straightaway and not to worry. Lizy is feeling terribly important today and a white gloved steward carries her ball gown to the Crows Nest and sits her down – bless! Mum eventually arrives with her assistance, but apparently only after kicking up a fuss. She had been forgotten because the man who should have took her onboard had been sent to carry flowers onboard – not a good start. But the complimentary drinks were flowing in Crows 2 glasses of champers, 2 southern comforts and they were large without asking. Jack and Mr C had quite a few large brandy’s and we were the last but one table to leave the Crows despite them announcing cabins available ages ago.
We get to the cabin and all cases are waiting so we unpack. All of Lukes new clothes have been wrapped up and I pile them up infront of the mirror ready for when he comes back from exploring. He comes in and cant believe his eyes ‘oh wow, are we stopping on for Christmas?’ Ooops hadn’t thought of that scenario! His face was a picture looking at all his new stuff and thankfully I have chosen all his stuff well and it all fits.
We go for a bit of a wonder around and end up in Champions at the bar so Luke can see the Man U match. We get talking to a very nice couple at the bar, Caroline and Taf and before we know where we are we have downed a few more drinks before the bar closes, but then the Captain announces that muster drill will be delayed for another 25 mins and we get the bar back open – hooray! Somehow we managed to sit at the bar for the entire muster drill and luke just carried on watching the football – nothing new there then! It amazed me that nobody even came and suggested we go to muster.
Sailaway, isn’t delayed and me and luke head outside to see the band. Wow we have a full Scottish band in their kilts and it was one of the best quayside sailaway bands I have seen for ages. The champagne was flowing and it was freezing cold but it didn’t matter. Sadly we didn’t get either streamers or flags but at 5 on the nose we slipped our lines and we were away.
Our next stop was Andersons, but after one more brandy Lizy decides to escort Mr C to his bunk and she joins me back at the bar for a Cosmo or two.
We have a very nice table for diner, table 51 Medina, and we all turn up present and correct.
After dinner we go and try out our new ballroom dancing skills in Carmens. Flippin heck we can just about get round but I think the alcohol was taking effect. A very late night of skipping around dance floors is finished off with cookies and hot chocolate in Café B.
Monday – Oh dear my head is not well this morning! I manage a cup of tea and a Danish from the Orangery because they are the only things I can see that don’t make a noise in your mouth.
Can not believe how flat the Bay is today, its like a mill pool and the sun is beaming through the fluffy white clouds. A perfect day, apart from the fact that I feel dreadful. Shortly after noon I have to take to my bed and I stay there until getting ready for Captains Cocktail Party in Crows. The drinks are flowing again as are the nibbly bits and even the Captains Speech is slightly different. One of those to die for meals in Medina with far too many nice choices of everything and Im stuffed. Tiredness beats us again and we retire quite early.
Tuesday – arrive in Vigo and I get to test my new skills as a wheelchair driver. No problems getting off the ship as 3 stewards take the chair down the almost flat gangway and are there again to push Mum back onboard. With the whhelchair we were restricted to the souvenier shops along the front as Vigo is far to hilly to cope puching the chair, but Mum was happy. The quayside has finally been refurbed and is looking quite smart with its new block paving. Back on the ship the crew are doing ‘man overboard drill’ and everything is shut down – shock hooror, no bars are open! We make do with a coffee and then decide on Café B for lunch. Seems like they have some new staff in here and need a few prompts from the head waiters but very nice meal never the less. Cant believe we are in Vigo and its not raining but it is very cold. After a bit of a stroll I have to go see my duvet again and get some more rest before the evening ahead. After dinner we haed for Carmens but its not quite the same without Caravan. We don’t even have a band change its just one band, who are ok, do their job and go, but there is no band change so when they take a break someone puts on records to dance to which seems to empty the room pretty quick. We spent the night chatting to Justin the Portunus Manager who tells us a few snippets of info regarding the new ‘phase’ of Portunus! A drink or two in Masquarades and that’s the end of another day.
Wednesday – Another calm and pleasant day at sea, spent doing mothing much at all. Black & White Ball and Portunus Party this evening, bought forward apparently because the Staff Captain is getting off tomorrow and likes a bit of a party. A new raffle prize tonight of a very nice clock/barometer, but we didn’t win. We were one of the last to leave the party (no surprises there then) but it made for a good entrance into dinner down the Medina stairs in our ball gowns – oh if I had a pound for everytime someone stopped and complimented me on my black & white dress tonight. St Andrews Day dinner was so scrumy tonight. Haggis, scotch broth, turkey and cloutie dumpling, finished off with coffee and whiskey fudge – wow I was nearly ready for my bed after that. A fashion show was on in Carmens before only an hours dancing in Carmens so we went for a very civilised drink in Andersons and was joined by Linda & Hugh. Eventually, got down to Carmens to find we had missed the ball and they were cleaning the room! So it was onto Masquarades where we met up with Linda & Hugh again and a very very late night followed. Hugh seemed to be having trouble holding his pint of Pedigree in anything but a horizontal position and Mr C was full of life shaking a few dance moves. Mr C had a tour to do in the morning and camels to ride etc but he really thought ‘just one more stella for the road’ was a good idea! Where as I don’t think its that wise to turn in at 4.30 in the morning - but he knows best.
Thursday – Lanzerote. A couple of hours sleep and the wake up call is ringing on the phone but its not an easy task waking him this morning, but when I do there is a lot of huffing, puffing and grunting going on. I leave the boys to fend for themselves and I turn over and have a well deserved lie in this morning. Lanzerote isn’t one of my favourite places so I choose to stay onboard and sit by the Riviera Pool and feel the warmth of the sun trying to get through the clouds. Mr C & Luke have been up to Fire Mountain for a camel ride and check out the volcano. Probably his first and last experience of a P&O tour but they seem to have had fun.
Pre dinner drinks this evening in Crows this evening and a chance to catch up with Linda and Hugh (apparently he has been feeling a little ‘delicate’ today LOL) After dinner its Deck Party at the Crystal Pool. Well we are all flagging but are determined to stay up for the ‘grand finale’ at midnight of streamers and balloons. It was a good party with plenty up dancing and enjoying themselves but we just sat quietly observing at the bar. The ‘grande finale’ well – we had streamers yes, but it didn’t make a massive impact, maybe they just weren’t that generous with the streamers this time. Speaking of streamers, I doubt we will ever see them at sailaways again, due to environmental issues, same goes for balloons – they are not allowed on opend decks incase one gets out to sea! But due to last nights late night, the streamers signal its time for bed!
Friday – Tenerife. Oh what a beautiful morning. Breakfast in the sunshine by the Pennant Bar. Mr C has agreed to push Mum in the wheelchair this morning and oh boy am I glad he has. Lots of steep kerbs to negotiate would have been too much for me. Mum’s not happy that the little craft market isn’t there on the front but maybe it will be there at New Year when we return. We have a couple of hours retail therapy and then take a seat outside a nice café for a rest and a few drinks. We pass a few moments away haggling with a table cloth seller for a lovely Christmas embroidery tablecloth, but Mum gets her down to what she wants to pay and before long Im the owner of a Christmas tablecloth – I guess I had better cook Christmas dinner then this year! Soon back onboard to soak up the rays and down a few cocktails of the day – oh it’s a hard life. Eventually we all end up having a little snooze under the sun. Great British sailaway on the back decks with lots of flag waving leaves the lights of Tenerife behind us. We’ve been invited to the Chief Engineers Party tonight in Uganda Room so arrive at 8.00pm promt. Wow, just how much do they want us to drink, they just cant serve you fast enough. The little sausages are in abundance and Lizy is challenged to eat a loaf full and almost succeeds! Needles to say she has to skip dinner tonight! The Blues Brothers show in Carmens we are told, is the one to watch so we take in our first show of the cruise. And it has to be said they are very good and the show as very enjoyable.
Saturday – Madeira. Wow, its hotter and sunnier than yesterday. We’re only here for the morning and well, the suns out, so, I jsy had to stay onboard and get a pre Crimbo tan. Mr C and luke took a walk to the gardens around the dock and got some nice photo’s so they were happy. Slightly late leaving Madeira, and the wind whips up a little. But needs my nap – Executive Pursers & Captains Private Party this evening. Well we made it to the party but not a lot of others did – never mind, more drinkies for us! After dinner finds us in our usual haunts of Andersons, Champions and Masquarades.
Sunday – No doubt Mr H is back home saying 2 more sleeps. Yep our little cruise is almost over. To make matters worse the sea has a few lumps and bumps in it and we nick name our cabin ‘the washing machine’ because every time we enter the cabin we get thrown around all over the place and shock horror, I almost feel sea sick! But once out of the cabin Im fine. Portunus Gold lunch today. Our table is hosted by Leon, Cruise Director and oh what a laugh we have. I think every other host wishes they had our table, and we get some very funny looks from some of the other Goldies. Justin the Portunus Rep cant wait to come and join us for coffee. But as usual we are the last table to leave. It gave us a priority viewing and photo opportunity of Chocoholics Buffet. Make the mistake of going for a sleep in the afternoon and its takes some convincing for my body to move from a horizontal to a vertical position again and end up literally having a bed bath to get out of the cabin ready for a 5.45pm !! Oooh and its in the Uganda room on Deck 13 forward – bad planning that one. Stanley, the waiter nearly falls over when I order a glass of water followed by a glass of coke – must be a first for me? Most of the ship is deserted as the Captain insists on going over as many lumpy bits as he can find. We chill out in Andersons and then go on to have a nice family portrait. A lot of empty tables at dinner too, and we are at the stage where we just want beans on toast. But we settle for chicken and chips with tomato ketchup – not very Gala Dinner I know but it was really scrummy! We try out our ballroom dancing skills again in Carmens but oh dear, we thinks we need a few more lessons as our Foxtrot turns into a mass giggling session in the middle of the dance floor. Mine and Pauls Barn Dance doesn’t go to well either as we were so busy chattering at the start of the dance that we didn’t hear it was a ‘progressive’ barn dance – he soon found out though when some old gent elbowed him out of the way LOL! As soon as the band go for a tea break we have to move on and find Hugh and Linda sat at Champions Bar so its afew in their followed by a few for the road in Masquarades.
Monday morning– our last one, and the sea is a tad calmer this morning, so I do a spot of packing while our ‘washing machine’ of a cabin is still. We’ve missed breakie so its straight onto Café B for lunch. They start serving lunch at 11..00 and yet we are told that we will have to wait as they are nowhere near ready! The wait was worth it though and its much more civilised than the Orangery. The packing is finished and I know its nearly all over. Our last dinner is marred slightly by a slight disagreement with the Restaurant Manager which I might tell you about later, but other than him, we have received top class service and the food has been first class. Parade of the Chefs signals the end of Aurora Dining for a while. Now I know you may well be intrigued by my disagreement with the Restaurant Manager but as it’s a long story its going to have to wait. But what I will say is that I was so seathinhgy mad that I had to go back to the cabin and write the Executive Purser a 3 page letter!! Once I had calmed down we went back upstairs to pop into the Panto – Aladin. It was the same one as last New Year, but it wont stop me watching it again next cruise. So we opted for a tour of the bars instead, purely to say bye to the lovely barstaff who had looked after us so well. We ended up in Carmens where there was a Gary Lovin show so we ended up staying for that. Was shocked to discover that Hugh had sat through both a Panto in the Theatre and the Gary Lovin performance!! Shocking! Apparently Hugh is like me and doesn’t do shows. LOL. A swift drink in Masquarades and it was all over – our last night onboard Aurora.
Tueday – We wake up and switch on the TV to see Southampton sitting outside via the webcam. Oh well, sooner we get home the sooner we can get back.
We deliver Mum in her wheelchair to Andersons for assisted disembarkation and she manages to get off before we do. Very swift operation and much better than embarkation – she cant stop singing their praises now!
Janies Observations and anecdotes
The whole ship is in top A1 condition. New sunloungers were delivered on our first day and none of the old ones remain. I did only count a total of 20 steamer chairs on Prom deck , which is a shame because the white plastic ones do look tacky. The deck hands were contantly cleaning and re varnishing the railings every single day. I swear the Riviera Pool railings had 3 coats of varnish every day for 4 days. The public areas are as immaculate as the day the ship came out of the yard. Our cabin was spotless and remained that way thanks to Millicent. There was never any mention of norivirus once onboard and all public loos were spotless. Reception staff were very pleasant and always helpful.
The Bar staff were great. A mix of old and new faces. It was nice to see more European staff had been taken on as bar staff once more. There was always a cocktail of the day £2.25 I think, and you had the chance of going supersize if you wanted for £3.30. You can purchase hot waffles with maple syrup etc from the Crystal Bar for £1.25 and it was good entertainment if nothing else just watching Phil trying to make them. Phil was great fun, one of the newbies, and was at Crystal in the day and Carmens at night – great cocktail maker too! Phil (Gibbo) was behind Champions, Raj was in Crows with another newbie, Theo. Clifford was in Andersons but was getting off to fly home and see his 5 week old baby – ah bless! Geoff, was finishing his tempory stint of being bar supervisor and it seemed quite strange to see him with stripes – suited him though! I know he was looking forward to getting Andersons back tonight though as hes not keen on paper shuffling!
The Entertainment Team – what a fab bunch of people. The only one I really knew was Paul Carrington. Leon was CD and did a great job. I had never met any of the rest of the team but they were so chirpy all the time they were just great.
The Entertainment – Mmmmmm well…….. Ok so I don’t do shows, but I have expressed my views to both Paul and Leon. P&O need to take a wake up call with the entertainment. We had Nikki Martin, Gary Lovini and the bloke who sings the voices that you cant tell who they are! P&O’s view – if it aint broke don’t fix it, P&O passengers love it etc. Its time for new acts and quick. I don’t want the same acts every time I cruise. Wouldn’t be so bad if they did fresh routines but I could probably do Nikki Martins act for him! In my opinion, yes make sure one of the old traditional acts is onboard each cruise to keep every one happy, but give us some variety and choice and throw in some new acts with them. Ocean Village gets it why cant we? Sadly Caravan aren’t back on until 7th January and we had a trio, an orchestra and an Eastern European band, who did their job, played their tunes but that was it, they might as well have been robots. And when they needed a break they put CD’s on which emptied Carmens everytime. Paul informed me it was head office cutbacks and he has tried telling them it doesn’t work – so I might drop them a line too and tell them its not good for a 4* cruise liner. The DJ – oh dear, we got Tim Baylis again fresh from Artemis – don’t know who was more shocked him or us! The radio show was dire – 2 hours of the Goons every night!!!! The webcam was more interesting. Im informed he is the ‘floating DJ’ and will be gone for the New Year Cruise – phew! The show company were very very good from what I saw and I did sit through the Blues Brothers show late one night in Carmens and I can recommend it. There was one cocktail pianist who was usually in Charlies which meant we got the band or trio in Crows pre dinner and they were far too loud. I didn’t attend any of the guest lectures but those who did said they were very interesting. We had Terry Waite, Gerald Scarfe, Clement Frued, Murray Walker, as well as some famous’ish concert pianist who I had never heard of, but again was very good so Im told. Linda also reckons that Harvey Smith was onboard but I wouldn’t know him if I fell over him and Jane Asher was onboard too. Another ‘Celeb’ passenger was ‘Lesley’ from Big Brother (the one in the PVC police woman’s uniform who was first to leave) Personally I found her rather strange (but to be fair we never spoke) she seemed to crave attention but be very standoffish at the same time. Enormous boobs that were very in your face! And she hid behind a lot of makeup. Luke became best mates with her little brother and all I know is they now have a bath which bubbles the water up and one of those posh showers that squirts water out of loads of different jets! Kids hey?
P&O calendars as I have posted can be bought from ships photographers for £9.99 and are same as most other years with shots of the ships etc.
Alternative Dining – we didn’t eat in either Café B or Pennant Grill this time. We had great food and service in Medina so didn’t feel the need. I think the cover charge is now £6.75? The Orangery gave constant service throughout the day, breakfast ran into lunch, lunch into afternoon tea etc but there were no late night snacks as you could get these in room service or café B. Still no charge for room service by the way. The continuous service in Orangery meant there wasn’t ever a queue and afternoon tea was a breeze, they also serve nice little filled rolls as well as sandwiches and a hot option like bolagnase etc. Side walk Café now also issues a raffle ticket to stop confusion over who’s order is who’s etc when they are busy.
Portunus – We had a new loyalty Manager Justin Cohen who I have to say was an absolute star. He obviously loves his job and we thought he was one of the best loyalty managers to date. We spoke about the new tier, but Im told it will be a new ‘phase’ and not a new tier as such and it should be announced in January. I reckon if he had known what it was he would have told me but hes as much in the dark. As usual, I gave my suggestions on how they could improve things and he liked some of my ideas which I know he has mailed to his new boss ‘Leo’ – oh yes hes the man at the top now! Ive told him I am tired of the ‘special event’ being a lunch and we have worked out a new system which will be better if they decide to listen.
Security – This was pretty tight for obvious reasons and I watched sniffer dogs inspecting all the new stores being loaded this morning on the dock side. The gangway staff check you pass when boarding for cruise number and name etc before scanning you in and checking the photo on screen. The Ghurkers have now all gone as someone worked out you could have 6 Nepalise security staff in place of 3 ghurkers. The double checking of all passes resulted in some long queues to embark after a day ashore but it had to be done. Many passengers complained that they should open the ‘off’ gangway, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have a scanner for the bags etc, so fair play to them.
Internet – its as slow and expensive as ever. I bought 15 minutes worth for £3.75 to check my ebay and that was all I managed to do! They don’t have WiFi and you cant access CC for free either. They reckon WiFi is coming though.
Dress Code – Oh dear I might offend here, but I’ll say it anyway! Why do people choose a P&O cruise if they don’t want to adhere to the dress code? Night after night I would see men turned away from Andersons for not having jackets/ties etc yet they seemed to get past that stupid restaurant manager!! I sat in a packed Andersons on the first informal night and looked around and honestly thought that I had got my nights mixed up when I looked at the ladies attire. Yes I know we all say dress in what you are comfortable in, but Im talking outfits that maybe I would go shopping in. Men look great in their DJ’d but look out of place escorting a woman in trousers and t-shirt etc. The dress code was very hit and miss and I think its such a shame as there are plenty of casual/informal cruise lines to choose from.
Smoking – Well I made a point of checking out the smoking area of Crows Nest as I for one would have been annoyed if they had made all the window seats smoking as previously posted by someone. Breath a sigh of relief, it still smoking on the port side and non smoking starboard side. I also noted that they had placed notices on the seats above Medina Restaurant along the inside of prom deck stating ‘no smoking’ area which meant we didn’t have to walk through that vile cloud of stale smoke every evening.
Engineers and officers – what a great bunch they were. Always willing to socialise and have a chat etc. I didn’t see any clans of them blatantly ignoring passengers as they have been known to in the past or ‘white walling’ in Masquarades etc. We knew many of the senior officers hence the private party invites.
We had some great company and met some great people.
Generally, I think the cruise was quite lively for the time of year and I was pleasantly surprised, but I reckon that the free child places meant that it attracted the younger families and bought the age range down a fair bit.
Our Cabin – Yes it was a strange one and took some getting used to. Firstly there was the movement when the sea was rough. I don’t get sea sick and was fine anywhere on the ship including Crows in rough seas, but that cabin must have been on a stress point as it moved all over the place and it really affected me badly a couple of nights ago. We have had a cabin just a few doors away before without complaint so goodness knows what was wrong with it. It was as if you came down the stairs and turned the corner into dizzy land! I also found it very very hard to adjust to being in a in inside cabin again especially when the bunks were down at night. Insides had never bothered me, but more recently it has been either me & Liz or me & john in an outside cabin with no bunks. But I did feel quite closed in this time and could never wait to get out as soon as I could.