Silver Travel Advisor Alan Fairfax writes his daily Blog from the deck of the P&O Cruises’ Aurora on his 17 day Mediterranean cruise. He gives a day by day account of life on board this classic ocean-going vessel.
Last nights dinner was up to the usual standard. The mussels as a starter were most enjoyable as was the Breast of Duck that followed. After dinner it was off to the Curzon Theatre for the show, ‘Blame it on the Boogie’. In my humble opinion it was the best show yet. The enthusiasm and professionalism of the Headliners really shone through. It was over far too soon. The clocks went back another hour to bring us in line with GMT and for Lisbon today.
It was about 7.30am when we entered the Tagus River that would take us to our berth at Tobacco Wharf. For those who have never visited Lisbon the journey from the sea along the River Tagus into Lisbon is, I think, one of the best. You first of all pass the Belem Tower, built in 1520 to defend the city. Soon after you pass the Monument to the Discoveries, built in 1960. This is in memory of all the Portuguese explorers who sailed and discovered the ‘New World’. Both of these are on the port side as you sail in. Next is the huge 1925 Suspension Bridge which looks like the Golden Gate in San Francisco which is probably because they were built by the same company. It carries road traffic as well as the railway. The huge pillars supporting this structure have dolphins painted on their bases just above the water line. As you sail towards it you get the illusion that the ship is far too big to pass under and at high tide some of the large ships have only a few metres of clearance. After passing through you will see on the starboard side the huge statue of Christ similar to that in Rio de Janeiro.
Once safely berthed our Captain come on the public address system to say we are safely docked and soon passengers will be able to leave the ship at the ‘Speed of a Thousand Gazelles’. I am beginning to wonder if he has actually seen the average age of the passengers on this cruise!!!
We decide to have breakfast and let the mad rush go first. We have already arranged to meet friends who are on the Arcadia which has berthed ahead of us.
Finally we disembark and board a shuttle bus for the city where we meet our friends. It is then time for shopping. For those of you who don’t know me I have this thing about ‘Hard Rock Café’ T-Shirts and yes there is a Hard Rock Café in Lisbon so this is our first stop for me to acquire the latest T-Shirt. This accomplished it is then a taxi ride to the other end of the city for coffee, cakes and more shopping. It is amazing the number of places that give free Wi-Fi connection and this allows me to update Facebook and Twitter. 4 hours later we are stocked up with various goodies including a bottle of Gin and some Rose wine as cabin supplies were running low. That is the good thing about P&O, they allow you to take alcohol on board.
It’s then back to the shuttle stop, say goodbye to our friends and back to the ship for afternoon tea.
At 3.45pm despite heavy rain we are on the Promenade Deck to see Arcadia sail from Lisbon. As she passes us the air is filled with the sound of ships whistles as the 2 ships salute one another. When they stop you can hear the passengers of Arcadia enjoying their sail away party and giving 3 Cheers for Aurora. Have a safe cruise Arcadia.
Also in port with us today and moored between us and Arcadia was Costa Fortuna, 105,000 tonnes carrying nearly 3,500 passengers.
We have now sailed and heading back towards the Atlantic and Southampton. The cruise is nearly over, just 2 days at sea left. My next Blog will be in 2 days time when I will summarise the cruise. The good and the bad so don’t miss it.
DAYS 16 and 17
As we sailed out from Lisbon and back down the River Tagus the rain cleared to leave a blue sky and a setting autumn sun.
On entering the dinning room that night it has been decorated for an early Halloween Night and a lot of thought had gone into it with Pumpkins, Skeletons, Witches and the like. After dinner in the theatre prior to the main act was a ‘Sing Along’ with the Cruise Director. Great if you enjoy singing Rule Britannia and the like whilst waving plastic Union Flags. Usually this is held on deck but because of the rain was held indoors. It was then time for the main act, a tribute band to The Beatles. Personally I thought they were excellent and even looked as the Beatles used to. The applause was so good they did a couple of extra numbers. It was then time for bed and by now the boat was beginning to sway a little as we made our way northwards along the Portuguese coast towards northern Spain.
On waking in the morning the boat was rocking on a blue sea with white topped rollers as we started our journey back across the Bay of Biscay. The morning was spent in the Crows Nest and in the afternoon I went to the Curzon Theatre to listen to the Cruise Director interview the Captain, Neil Turnbull. This Captain has a great sense of humour and was indeed most informative about his coming to sea, his private life and where P&O are going. He finished the interview with a DVD he made in response to the question ‘What do the crew do when the passengers are ashore?’ It is a great DVD and extremely funny. I will not spoil the enjoyment for future passengers by describing the content.
It was then time to get changed for a social function with the Deputy Captain, Executive Purser and other ships officers. It only lasted about an hour but the wine flowed freely and I enjoyed a one to one with Simon Terry the Deputy Captain. We also had a collection for the RNLI which was well supported. This was our last formal night of the cruise and dinner was excellent. As we finished our dinner Sumanto and Sundeep presented us all with copies of the menus for the 17 day cruise in a folder signed by them. A nice touch. We then visited the casino for the first and last time as there was only one winner and it wasn’t me.
Time for bed so we made our way to our cabin with the ship bouncing nicely through the Bay of Biscay. On undressing I staggered with the roll of the ship but my wife suggested it had something to do with the amount of wine consumed at dinner and a pre dinner social gathering as well some gin and tonics. I personally thought it an outrageous suggestion!!! Where are the Paracetamol?
This morning the ship had stopped bouncing as the seas calmed a little. However on entering the restaurant for breakfast it could be seen that there was a heavy swell running which we were headed into. By mid morning the ship had changed from rolling to an up and down motion. The sky was very overcast and it was obvious that we had seen the last of the sun and it was not going to be a smooth passage back to Southampton.
The question is ‘Has it been a good cruise?’
On the whole the answer has to be yes. The ship is well laid out with a number of facilities that are adequate for the length of cruise we did. I personally would not want to do more than 3 weeks on her. There is certainly one area that is in need of refurbishment and that is the windows. Some of those in the restaurants and the Crows Nest are badly ’blown’ so that you cannot see through them properly. When the ship is refurbished attention should be given to sound proofing between the gym and the cabins below.
The speciality dining venues also proved a disappointment. In the Pennant Grill our steaks were not up to standard and I was unable to cut a lot of my T-Bone despite asking for a sharper knife. In fairness the head waiter recognised the problem and cancelled the charge that is made for this venue. Café Bordeaux is the Marco Pierre White dinning venue and for me did not live up to the expectations of an MPW venue when compared with the White Room on Ventura. It was also noticeable that the cost of drinks has gone up considerably in the last 2 years and some passengers thought the quality of food had gone down. However you can’t please everyone and P&O has a very loyal following.
To finish on a positive note. The staffs really do try hard to go that extra mile. Our waiters Sumanto and Sundeep were excellent. As for our cabin stewardess, Dina, she is without any doubt one of the best we have had on any cruise with any cruise line. The gratuities on P&O are some of the lowest at sea and there is no 15% added to your bill every time you purchase anything on board which really does reduce the cost of your on board spend. For me the food in the main dinning room was adequate with the odd meal that was exceptional. The Rack of Lamb was one of these. Beautifully cooked and presented. Another was the Breast of Duck. Also many of the deserts were very well presented. Also the TV channels all worked all the time which was a refreshing change from some ships I have been on.
Well, that’s it. We will soon be home and the cruise will fast become a memory. I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog as much as I have enjoyed doing it despite ‘Her Who Shall Be Obeyed’ complaining about my bringing a laptop on holiday.
Alan Fairfax – Silver Travel Advisor