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Cruise Ship Information

MV Aurora is a cruise ship of the P&O Cruises fleet. The ship was built by Meyer Werft at their shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. At 76,000 tonnes, Aurora is the fifth largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises. She officially entered service with the company in April 2000 and was christened by Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal in Southampton, United Kingdom. Aurora was refitted in 2014, during which the ship is the first of P&O's ships to receive a updated British Union flag design on her bow and her funnel repainted from yellow to blue.

Atmosphere on board

P&O announced a £26m refit of Aurora for November/December this year that will see a number of new features. These include Sindhu fine dining restaurant, with an Indian-fusion menu overseen by Michelin-star chef Atul Kochhar, and the Glass House restaurant and bar, with wines selected by TV presenter Olly Smith, will replace Cafe Bordeaux. Both these restaurants are on Azura and Ventura. There will also be a complete refurbishment of the buffet restaurant and Sidewalk Cafe -- including a new Costa Coffee and "Grab and Go" counter -- and the introduction of "Freedom Dining" in the Medina Restaurant, with more tables for two, and Marco Pierre White dishes on gala evenings.

P&O Cruises' Aurora might not be ancient, but, alas, it still looks rather dated -- ship design has simply changed so fast. The mid-ships' gym is so small and in such an unusual location that it looks like an afterthought; the covered balconies likewise look as if they were added at a later date (but were not).

Aurora attracts families during the school holidays, but essentially it is loved by a more elderly audience who prefer a traditional cruising experience.

Decor is unexciting, which appeals to the older Brits. There is a two-sitting fixed dining system in the restaurants, and dress codes are enforced in the dining rooms and in the main bars in the evenings.

Pre-dinner drinks are a popular ritual, and the theatre was packed every evening -- entertainment was run of the mill, British and heavily rooted in song and dance, and variety from the old days -- but half the ship was in bed by 10:30 p.m. Those who weren't already tucked up, disappeared as soon as the last show ended.

Family with Kids/Teens

Aurora is strictly an adults-only ship. Try Ventura, Azura, Aurora and Oceana for P&O Cruises' family product.

Past Passenger Programs

The Library has always been a popular feature of these R ships, and on Aurora, it has wisely been left unchanged since the beginning, with a pretty trompe l'oeil ceiling, dark wood panelling, a faux fireplace and lots of deep leather chairs in which to sit (and sleep, it seemed, with snoring often interrupting the reading). There are a couple of computer terminals up there for Internet access. Aurora also has full Wi-Fi throughout the ship, charged at 50p per minute, or via various time plans; 100 minutes costs £35. It wasn't particularly fast in the fjords, where the satellite signal is often blocked, but it was adequate. There's an annoying £2.50, one-off "connection fee" to use the Internet, which, as far as I could see, goes straight into P&O Cruises' profit.

The ship has an array of retail outlets, Mayfair Shops, that sell perfume, jewellery and logowear. A photo gallery opposite Anderson's on the Prom Deck offers the usual photographic services. The ship's photographers appeared to work extremely hard, and photos are very reasonably priced at £9.50 for a standard print. (Compare that to $24 on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth). Consequently, a lot of people were having portraits taken and actually buying the pictures.

Incidentally, the Prom Deck is a slight misnomer, as you can't actually "promenade" around it very far, although there are two very pleasant, broad expanses of deck with steamer chairs on which to sit.

Finally, the ship has just one passenger launderette, on B Deck.

Fitness And Spa

The Crystal Pool, a decently sized pool with teak surround, is the focal point of Aurora's sun deck, and it's flanked by two hot tubs. New sun loungers and pool towels have been installed, although in the Norwegian fjords these had little use. The pool, however, was beautifully heated and extremely pleasant, even in the cold air.

The pool is overlooked by an upper deck, Sun Deck (with a short jogging trail), and above that is Sky Deck, with deck quoits, shuffleboard and a golf driving net.

The ship has a pretty spa, Oasis, with a modern gym and a small studio. Yoga, Pilates and spinning classes are offered for £7 each, while Fab Abs and Stretch classes are free. These were feeble; I joined an abs class, and it only lasted 15 minutes. I did yoga, too, which was not especially well taught, compared to the regular classes I do at home. Much more fun were the tap-dancing classes, which weren't part of the gym schedule, but were run by someone of the entertainment team.

The gym has several treadmills, exercise bikes and cross-trainers, as well as free weights, and it entertains a steady flow of passengers, although it's usually possible to find an available machine.

The spa is run by the ubiquitous Steiner, but it's much more low-key in its sales approach than on some American-run ships, where the therapists push the products hard while you're trying to relax. There's a slightly restricted list of treatments; for example, there was no Ayurveda on my cruise, as there was no practitioner. A stone therapy massage costs from £79, as does a La Therapie facial. I had reflexology and a facial, and both were extremely pleasant.

Aurora doesn't have a thermal suite, but there are steam rooms and fancy showers in the changing rooms available to anybody, as well as a Spa Terrace on the forward deck. This comes with luxurious, padded loungers and its own giant whirlpool and costs £5 on a port day and £10 on a sea day. On a bigger ship, you might argue that this was a welcome escape from the noise around the main pool, but Aurora's Lido Deck isn't exactly party central, even when the sun shines, so there's not such a great need for a haven. Still, the Spa Terrace is secluded and has great forward views.

Food & Dining

There are four main places to eat. The Pacific Restaurant, situated aft on the Promenade Deck, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and fixed-seating dinner in two sittings, at 6.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. (although this varied slightly on the formal nights, due to the Captain's cocktail party being accommodated). There are tables for two, four, six and eight. If you're feeling romantic, a two by the aft windows is the best location for views of the sea and the ship's wake.

Breakfast (from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.) includes full English, with many variations, as well as a daily Chef's Special (Eggs Benedict, devilled kidneys and so on). There are also healthier options, Continental and a wide selection of pastries. Lunch (12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.) is a choice of starters, soups and salads, mains with a strong British influence (fish and chips, steak and kidney pie) and desserts. Five-course dinners feature starters, a soup and salad course, a selection of mains and a choice of desserts and cheeses. Again, expect traditional dishes like sirloin steak, roast pork, and liver and game pie. There's also pavlova, or sticky toffee pudding, as well as more adventurous veggie options like vegetable tempura. There's always a fish choice and a vegetarian option on the main menu. Chicken breast, salmon steak and Caesar salad are always available, too.

We found the food in the Pacific Restaurant generally very good, hot and nicely presented. The vegetables were outstanding. I was travelling with a vegetarian friend, and although there's a separate, always-available vegetarian menu (you have to ask the waiter for this and order a day in advance), sometimes she simply asked for extra vegetables, as they were so good, particularly a simple but perfect cauliflower cheese one night. I made a special request for curry, being a curry devotee; if there are a lot of Indian crew, I don't feel bad doing this as I know there will be curry on the ship somewhere for them, and usually an Indian chef. On one occasion, the chef made a wonderful vegetable curry and on another, some chicken korma from the lunch buffet was saved for me and spiced up for dinner.

The Pacific Restaurant is also the setting for afternoon tea, served daily from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. There's no charge for this. Delicate sandwiches and pretty cakes are displayed on each table on a cake stand, and waiters come round with hot scones, jams and clotted cream, as well as tea served in individual pots. We only had tea once, as we were eating so much anyway, but it felt special, like a real treat.

Wines are very reasonably priced on Aurora. The house red and white is only £11.95 a bottle, with a good range of European and New World wines, all in an affordable spectrum. If you book a wine package, there is a discount of 15 percent on the list prices.

The Conservatory, the casual indoor-outdoor dining venue on Lido Deck, is unchanged in decor since Royal Princess days. It serves buffet food and is open from 6:30 a.m. to midday for breakfast and then for lunch and snacks. Breakfast includes a big, British fry-up with all the extras, from fried bread to black pudding, and a separate window provides omelettes and fried eggs. (There are scrambled eggs on the buffet.) There are healthier options, too -- fresh fruit, cereals and pastries. Juice comes from a machine but isn't too sweet. Tea and coffee also come from a machine, but waiters will bring it to the table if you ask.

One annoyance is that, although there are two Costa Coffee outlets on the ship -- one in the Conservatory bar and one in Raffles Bar -- the earliest you can buy a speciality coffee (such as lattes and cappuccino, for a fee) is 10 a.m. The bartender in Raffles very kindly fired up the machine early for me when he could, but it still seems like bad planning.

Lunch is served in The Conservatory from midday to 3 p.m. and includes a not terribly imaginative salad buffet and a wide choice of hot dishes, including pies, fish dishes, curries aplenty, roast meats, pastas and a hot vegetarian dish. Puddings were decadent and British -- crumbles, fruit tarts and cakes, with cream and custard. There's always a cheese board on offer.

Strangely, The Conservatory is only open on selected evenings for dinner, when, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., there's a themed buffet dinner. On my two-week cruise, there were two: Best of British Buffet and an Indian/Asian night. So, essentially, there's no casual dining option on Aurora most nights.

The new reservations-only restaurants are gorgeous, particularly on a cruise with long, light evenings. Marco Pierre White's Ocean Grill, running along the starboard side of the Sun Deck (the prime seats with the best views are across the aft of the ship) serves fresh, contemporary British cuisine, described as modern British, with all the influences that this entails: Thai fishcakes, cheese souffle, grilled lobster, Bresse chicken coq au vin, wild boar burgers. The emphasis is on using the best ingredients, hence the Bresse chicken and salmon from Loch Duart. We ate there twice, and the food was generally excellent, some dishes more so than others. A lobster came looking a bit lonely and garnish-free, but my coq au vin was almost black with the rich, red wine sauce and was superb. Battered fish was light and fluffy, but the chips came Jenga-style, piled like bricks, and were a bit soggy. The vegetarian coulibiac is just plain weird -- a vegetable pastry dish, plus tempura mushrooms, plus mashed potato, which equals way too much starch. Puddings, though, were sublime, so save space for those.

There's a good wine list in Ocean Grill, with some excellent and unusual wines by the glass, chosen by P&O Cruises' wine expert, Olly Smith, and reminiscent of his successful Glass House bar on Azura.

Equally lovely is Sorrento, an Italian speciality restaurant opposite on the port side, done out in dazzling white, with black-and-white striped blinds, and serving dishes like baked mushrooms in a cheese sauce, pasta and pizza, or sea bass with prawns. For just £5 a head, it's exceptional value and a pleasing change of pace from the bustle of the main dining room.

The cover charges are fiddly and complicated, related to the length of the cruise. So, for Ocean Grill, it's £12.95 per person on an itinerary of eight or more days, £17.95 for three to seven days and a whopping £22.95 for one to two days. Supplements do apply for some items, but in reality, pretty well everything on the menu is included. Sorrento costs £5 (itineraries of eight or more days), £7.50 (itineraries of three to seven days) or £10.00 (itineraries of one to two days) and also has supplements for some items.

There are two smaller venues, too. The Lido Cafe by the pool serves salads and burgers from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., while a cake and speciality coffee shop, Raffles, just off the Atrium, sells speciality coffees, baguettes and Italian softbread stuffed pockets from 10 a.m. until late for £2.50. However, why anybody would pay for a sandwich with all that free food onboard seems slightly odd. There are also cakes displayed in a glass case, and these don't cost any extra.

Room service is available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for continental breakfast (except on disembarkation day, when there isn't any), and then until 11 p.m. Basic pizzas, baguettes and a couple of starters, main courses and desserts are free, but a lot of things carry a supplement, from £3.95 for a burger to £4.50 for a seafood pie.

Entertainment

P&O Cruises has included several of its own, much-loved trademarks from other ships in Aurora, such as the wood-panelled Anderson's Bar and the Crow's Nest, forward on deck 10, with panoramic views.

Anderson's has deep leather chairs and the old-fashioned feel of a well-heeled men's social club. This and Raffles, which is on the same deck, were popular for pre-dinner drinks, as they're close to the Pacific Restaurant and have a cozy buzz early in the evening. We ended up having late-night drinks in Anderson's, too, as the quiz shows in the Crow's Nest were noisy and intrusive. Drinks are extremely reasonable; cocktails of the day were often only £3 or from £4.25 for spirits with mixers. Various beers are available on tap; half a litre of Old Speckled Hen costs £2.85, while 440ml of Boddington's is £2.65.

The emphasis in the Crow's Nest, forward and high up on the Sun Deck, is light and space, jazzed up by a rather daring tartan carpet. On a Norway cruise in particular, when the ship spends a lot of time sailing inside the long, deep fjords, this is, in theory, a wonderful place for pre-dinner drinks, with gorgeous panoramic views. Sadly, though, most nights were ruined by a dreadful duo who would conduct a noisy and ostentatious sound-check before belting out old cocktail classics, too loudly and not very tunefully. The quiz shows after dinner had only moderate attendance most times we went along, and although the entertainment team worked hard, I felt the Crow's Nest at night just didn't really work. Aurora just isn't a ship for night owls, and by midnight, most of the bars were empty.

Early evenings are another matter, and there is pre-dinner ballroom and Latin dancing in the Curzon Lounge, the main show lounge, every night.

Something else that has been adapted to the tastes of P&O Cruises' target market is the onboard entertainment. This was really good, from the shows by the ship's own theatre company to the guest lecturers and classes with themes like photography and wine-tasting (which carried a £7.50 fee). Guest entertainers included a couple of top-notch comedians who work the U.K. and cruise-ship circuit, a classical pianist, Grand National winner Bob Champion and former cabinet minister Michael Howard. The Curzon Lounge is like a cabaret club, rather than a theatre, with an intimate feel, chairs and tables grouped close to the stage. It was often packed out at both shows, the early and the late. We were also treated to a performance of Noel Coward's Private Lives one afternoon, to another full house.

Every day, there are unhosted games on deck, as well as bridge and whist in the Card Room (also unhosted). There is no casino on Aurora.

Fellow Passengers

Expect fellow travelling companions to be 50-plus, almost exclusively British P&O Cruises stalwarts. They'll be from Middle England, well-off, well-travelled and the kinds of people who wouldn't be seen dead on huge, modern ships. A lot had travelled on Artemis, Aurora's predecessor, and some had tried Aurora, one of the line's other adults-only ships. (The third is Oriana, from November 2011). On my cruise, there was one party of Canadians amidst a sea of Brits. Most people were travelling with a partner, but there were some singles accompanying elderly parents or travelling with a friend.

I saw lots of walking boots and walking poles on my Norway cruise. A lot of people were clearly keeping active. One man, who must have been in his seventies, raced ashore in every port in running gear and was covering several miles each time. The gym was often busy, and all the lectures I went to were packed. Aurora's passengers may not be night owls, but they certainly make the most of everything by day.

Tipping

£3.95 per person aged 12 and over will be added to passengers' on board accounts and is shared amongst the waiting staff and cabin stewards.

Our recommendation