ON BOARD THE AURORA
As the new Director of ACE I was delighted to be invited by P&O to join the Aurora’s Mediterranean cruise on 3rd November with my pal, Julie.
We departed from Hove to Southampton by train, watching the lashing rain with trepidation as we considered the journey ahead, in particular the Bay of Biscay which I was warned about. We arrived at the Mayflower terminal, handed our luggage to the helpful porter and were ushered through priority boarding; the whole process took about 10 minutes. We met Lorraine and Michelle from P&O at the ship’s reception which features a beautiful waterfall above the staircase. We were escorted to our cabin where bottles of champagne and chocolates awaited our arrival! The Aurora is very British in design and we found it homely and welcoming, Julie commented ’I feel right at home already!’ We met Suresh, our cabin steward who told us all about meal arrangements, the safety talk we had to attend and his hours so we could call on him for any whim. I was particularly impressed to discover the range of restaurants and options for different meals throughout the day and the 24 hour room service, all included in the price!
We unpacked and headed off to the lifejacket safety talk, then came back to the cabin, wrapped up in our fluffy bathrobes and slippers and sat on our balcony, sipping the wonderful champagne and waving goodbye to Southampton. The evening was kicked off with dinner with Philip Price, Head of Brand Marketing for P&O at Café Bordeaux, the on-board bistro style Marco Pierre White restaurant. The food was utterly exquisite.
Unfortunately the weather had started to turn and we became more than just aware we were on a large ship. We headed for bed and spent the night listening to the ship creak and the waves become larger outside.
The announcement in our cabin in the morning announced hurricane force winds and to prepare ourselves for a full day of unpleasant weather. We took a peek outside and noted the enormous waves, lashing spray onto our balcony. We had lunch in the Medina restaurant, which was amusingly interrupted by diners squealing and pointing at the window as a 10 metre wave lurched threateningly towards our direction. It was all rather dramatic and I felt the need for a lie down! We received a lovely call that evening from David Shepherd, Head Purser, ensuring we were OK and inviting us to meet the Captain on Saturday evening for the Barcelona sail away. We managed to get up and have a small dinner and catch the evening comedy show before heading back to the preferred horizontal position at an unusual (for us) bedtime of 10pm. However the storm eased that night and we finally got the rest we needed.
We ventured onto our balcony and were delighted by the sight of much smaller waves. We celebrated with spa treatments; a truly fantastic deal of £60 three treatments; I opted for the back massage, facial and mud foot soak, my spa room had windows out to the ocean. We also visited the steam room afterwards, by-passing the gym equipment for another day.
The evening was the first formal night, we headed to Andersons for a quick drink and sat with the ship’s singer, Lindsey and the excursions officer, Graham who advised us on the trips we had planned. We went to the Alexandria restaurant in our glad-rags, the food was sublime; three courses (including delights such as lobster), all included in the cruise package. Our waiters, Isaak and Savio were extremely lovely, full of smiles and easy to laugh with.
That night we met Philip Price again and a couple of other passengers in the sports bar and got chatting, after a few reasonably priced Bombay Saffire G&T's we headed to Masquerade, the ship’s nightclub and danced the night away, happily requesting tunes from the very accommodating DJ, Mark, and finally rolled into our cabin at 4am.
We woke late in the afternoon and were greeted by Savio at the lunchtime buffet restaurant, the Orangery. We treated ourselves to another steam room session then lounged once again on the sun deck until the sunset over the ocean - it was a sublime sight. That night we took it easy, knowing our first port of call, Barcelona, meant an early start for our first excursion.
Barcelooona! We woke at 7am and excitedly looked out at the twinking lights on the horizon, by the time we were dressed the ship was almost docked. We had time for breakfast then eagerly went off to meet our excursion group. The tour was led by a true Spanish tour guide who showed us three main sights; the Medieval walls, the Gaudi Cathedral and a village constructed for tourists designed to showcase all of Spain’s architecture in replica. The cathedral was truly bizarre and stunning, you have to see it to believe it; it looks both Gothic and Disney!
That evening we joined the captain for the sail away on the bridge which was a special treat and got to see the ‘behind the scenes’.
Monaco was spectacular, again we had a fabulous local tour guide who took us on a three hour walking tour taking in the Royal Palace in time for the changing of the guards, the Grand Prix circuit and the Monte Carlo Casino.
It unfortunately rained in Florence but that didn’t stop us enjoying another walking tour with another fabulous local tour guide. The city was spectacular and we took far too many photos of all the sights including the statues of David and Hercules, then went off shopping and found some fantastic clothes shops. We managed to get quite lost and nearly missed our return but luckily made it back to the ship in time for more dancing in the evening!
La Spezia looked amazing from the ship, we decided not to venture onto the tender but lazed about on board all day, we went to the cinema instead and watched ‘The Soloist’ which was great. It was our last night aboard, we went to the Pennant Grill for dinner where I had the best BBQ spare ribs I’ve ever eaten then it was back to the nightclub for drinks until late with three of the crew we had managed to befriend.
After saying farewell to the crew who had taken care of us we jumped in a car to Fiumicino airport, left our luggage there and got a train into central Rome. After making a few enquiries we managed to get a subway to the Colusseum; it was a beautiful sunny day and we took in the amazing sights then stopped at a traditional café for the best pizza in the world. We managed to get quite lost on the way back and nearly missed our flight but we made it, Easyjet was an fairly unpleasant experience after been treated like royalty on board the Aurora!
In summary, I wasn’t expecting the cruise to be quite as brilliant as it was, just beware the Bay of Biscay!
Flo Powell, Director of ACE