By Peter Newall
All images copyright Peter and Julie Newall unless otherwise noted.
Peter Newall takes his first P&O cruise, an eighteen night return voyage from Southampton to Venice, aboard the charming and stylish AURORA.
Tied up at Dubrovnik
At 76,152gt, the sixteen-year-old AURORA is the perfect mid-size cruise ship. She is also the final ocean-going P&O passenger ship completed for the venerable Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company which was established in 1839. P&O Cruises, which had been demerged from the P&O group, was taken over, along with Princess Cruises, by the Carnival Corporation in 2003. Built at Papenburg, Germany by Meyer Werft, the £200million AURORA is an improved and more streamlined version of ORIANA (1995/69,840gt), P&O’s first purpose-built cruise ship. However, unlike ORIANA, which has variable-pitch propellers and direct-drive engines, she has fixed-pitch propellers and diesel electric propulsion. She is a fast ship with a cruising speed of 24 knots. On trials, she achieved an impressive 29 knots.
Approaching Cape Town in her original P&O colours. Photo courtesy of Andrew Ingpen, Ocean Images Cape Town.
Another major difference between AURORA and ORIANA was the distinctive duck-tail stern which provides added stabilisation. A duck-tail was added to ORIANA in 2011. With 9,200 square metres of open deck space, AURORA seldom feels crowded. I have never been on a ship with so many wooden decks. 3,730 square metres of Thai teak decking has been fitted throughout the ship.
The open access terraces.
Seven of the eleven passenger decks are open at the stern which features a magnificent, horse-shoe shaped terrace overlooking the Terrace Pool. Another rarity on a modern cruise ship is the ability to access all these decks by outside stairs.
The gentle art of deck quoits.
The traditional sports areas are at the after end of Sun Deck 13. On the port side is the shuffleboard court whilst the starboard side is laid out for deck quoits.
The crew vs. passenger’s cricket match.
Abaft the funnel is a court for ball games, netball and cricket. There are also golfing practice nets and a golf simulator.
The Crystal Pool looking aft.
The largest of AURORA’s three pools is the 10 metres long by 6 metres wide Crystal Pool on the Lido Deck 12. This all-weather pool has a retractable Skydome. At the forward end of the pool is a perfectly balanced bronze sculpture, Pearl Diver by Allan Sly.
The Riviera Pool.
The terraced, 9 metre long and 6 metres wide Riviera Pool is sheltered from the elements by large screens.
One of the best features on AURORA is the wide wrap-round promenade Deck. Not only is it well sheltered but it also has easy access from all the main public rooms and dining areas.
Captain Andrew Hall.
Like most P&O captains, AURORA’s Captain Andrew Hall has had considerable experience and was one of the last deputy captains of QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 before her withdrawal from service.
The wide, uncluttered bridge is situated at the forward end of the Deck 12. Despite its modern appearance it was interesting to see an old-fashioned brass inclinometer complete with a plumb line. On AURORA navigational updates are broadcast from the bridge at 8am, noon and at 6pm.
The view of Venice from the private open deck on Deck 9 forward.
One of the major problems with modern cruise ships is the removal of forward public areas which are an essential part of the arrival at iconic places like Venice. On AURORA there are four areas, three open decks forward, one of which is an invite-only private deck, and the large Crow’s Nest lounge on Deck 13.
The bar area of the Crow’s Nest.
For over sixty years a forward observation lounge has been a feature of P&O-designed passenger ships. The name Crow’s Nest was first introduced in 1961 on CANBERRA
Above the bar counter is an illuminated half model of STRATHNAVER (1931/22,547gt) the P&O liner which first featured buff funnels, a white hull and red boot topping which until recently were the distinctive colours of P&O passenger ships.
The Crow’s Nest offers sweeping panoramic views and is a perfect place for pre-dinner cocktails.
On the port side abaft the Crow’s Nest is an extensive library.
Throughout the ship, the passenger flow is very easy. There is also a sense of calm and spaciousness because of the clever use of carpets and wooden railings on the stairwell landings and in the passenger corridors.
Art Deco-style carpet.
One of the forward corridors on Deck 5.
Comfortable twin-window cabin.
Although AURORA has a lower proportion of balcony cabins than more contemporary ships (40%), all the cabins are very well fitted with polished cherry wood laminate furniture and nice touches like Egyptian cotton towels and robes and coffee/tea-making facilities. We were in a very comfortable cabin forward on Deck 5. Did we miss having a balcony cabin? Not at all because it was so easy to get to the open decks.
The main public rooms are on Deck 6, 7 and 8. These are linked by a four-deck-high atrium which is dominated by the stylish 35 feet high sculpture, Water-carrier by John Mill. Designed to look like a giant René Lalique glasswork it is made from greeny-blue translucent resin.
The impressive 660-seater Curzon Theatre forward on Deck 7 has perfect sightlines. The range of entertainment was very impressive with a wide-range of acts, entertainers and lecturers.
Abaft the Curzon Theatre is Anderson’s, a traditional, English 18th Century-style lounge with its comfortable sofas and armchairs. I have never been very enamoured of period decoration on modern ships as the result is usually a poorly executed pastiche of the period. However, I was very impressed with the accuracy and quality of the furniture and fittings in Anderson’s, especially the richly-designed carpets.
Amidships on Deck 7 is a lounge which is the exact opposite to Anderson’s. Masquerade is an ultra-modern night club and bar with jazzy carpets. It also has a large screen for broadcasting major live sporting events such as Formula One or football.
Carmen’s at the forward end of Deck 7 is the alternative main entertainment venue.
Carmen’s with its beautiful inlaid dance floor is also used for ballroom dancing.
The laidback, 213-seater Playhouse is used for classical concerts and for daily showings of recently released films.
Executive Chef Andy Yuill.
P&O Cruises has made great strides in recent years in the quality and variety of food served. Although the food in the main restaurants has more variety and is of a better standard than before the menus still features “P&O Cruises Favourites” such as cream of tomato soup, mixed grills and prawn cocktail. This means that there is less room for more interesting dishes, especially pasta which hardly featured on the evening menu. Trying to keep the P&O traditionalists and “foodies” happy must be a major challenge for AURORA’s Executive Chef Andy Yuill.
The new-look The Horizon.
In 2014 AURORA underwent a £26 million pound make-over which includes a complete refurbishment of The Horizon, the buffet restaurant aft on Deck 12. This is now a very well designed area where it is always possible to get a seat. Open for much of the day in the evenings there is usually a themed dinner i.e. Asian, Spanish, fish etc. The quality and variety of the food served is very good.
Blueberry meringue pie.
Salad selection in The Horizon.
Since the 19th century curry has been a “signature” dish on P&O ships.
“Grab and Go”
Feeling peckish mid-afternoon after time ashore to find that there is no food on offer has been a bugbear in some ships. The new “Grab and Go” counter in the Lido Grill on Deck 12 has an interesting choice of salads and sandwiches.
There are two formal dining rooms on AURORA on Deck 6. The midships 528-seater Medina Restaurant offers Freedom Dining with variable dining times.
Medina tile decorations.
The décor in the Medina Restaurant is based on Moorish styles reflecting P&O’s traditional links with North Africa and the Middle East. On the after wall are a series of colourful painted porcelain tiles by Russell Coates.
Middle Eastern-style carpet panels decorate the port side of the Medina Restaurant.
Alexandria Restaurant entrance.
The 520-capacity Alexandria Restaurant situated at the after end of Deck 6 offers traditional two-sitting Club Dining. Like the Medina Restaurant it has two entrances, one on Deck 6 and the other via an elegant staircase from the Promenade Deck 5. The theme of the restaurant is Egyptian, hence the stunning ibis statue which greets diners.
With large picture windows on three sides, the Alexandria Restaurant is undoubtedly the more attractive of the two restaurants. The seating is well spaced with fine china and Elkington silverware.
The Glass House entrance.
In the 2014 refit three speciality restaurants were introduced on AURORA including The Beach House aft on Deck 12 with a family-style menu and a £5 per person cover charge. The Glass House is a small, 50 to 60 seater restaurant and wine bar on Deck 8.
The Glass House.
Designed in a contemporary style the Glass House features wines selected by expert and TV presenter Olly Smith.
The third speciality restaurant, Sindhu, is also on Deck 8. This exclusive 48-seater restaurant offers Indian fusion food designed by Michelin-star celebrity chef Atul Kochhar for a reasonable cover charge of only £15 per person.
The food served in Sindhu is amongst the finest I have ever tasted at sea. Our starter was a delicious Karara Kekda, crisp fried soft shell crab with an avocado mousse, tomato, cucumber and passion fruit salsa.
Of all the ships in the P&O Cruises fleet AURORA has the best crew passenger ratio. The staff are extremely good, very well trained, friendly but not obsequious. On the right is our cheerful table steward Sanjay. Like many of the crew, he is from India.
Although our cruise called at seven different ports in Spain and the Mediterranean, one of the highlights was passing through the narrow Needles Channel north of the Isle of Wight. The usual route from Southampton is to the west of the island. This was the first time AURORA had taken this route.
Our first port of call was Cadiz.
Our disembarkation at Corfu was delayed because of an unusually powerful storm which tried to pull us off our moorings.
Blue skies and Gibraltar, our final stop before returning to grey-skied Britain.
Last night on AURORA, a wonderful, traditional-style cruise ship.
A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer,
Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57
years, visited and travelled on many famous ships. As well as numerous
articles he has written nine highly acclaimed books including the
definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line. He also owns
the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant
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