Baltic Capitals (R706) - 19 May 2007 (13 nights from Southampton)
This was our first time on a P&O ship, having previously been on Thomson Celebration and The Calypso. It would be hard to go back to Thomson’s after sampling P&O!
Check in at Southampton was fast, efficient and courteous. Arriving at the terminal around 2:15, our taxi was met by a porter who I assumed was there to help us to take the luggage to the check in desk. Not at all, it was whisked away and taken straight to our cabin.
There was virtually no queue to check in, we waited less than a minute to ...
go to one of the many check in desks, and completed the formalities within five minutes. Making our way to the ship, there was an opportunity for a photo but it could easily be bypassed. Entering the ship, we were given directions to our cabin which we found easily. The cabin door was open and the keys were on the dressing table. The cabin keys are electronic, but are separate from the cruise cards. A luggage mat was placed on one bed; an array of welcoming leaflets (including our Portunus Club welcome letters) was laid out on the other. Read More
Our cabin, the cheapest inside on deck 9 (C288) was spacious and very well appointed. A single and a double wardrobe with 28 hangers, and 8 drawers of various sizes, gave plenty of storage space. The cabin was well lit and well furnished with a small sofa, chair, coffee table, dressing table, 2 bedside lockers, 2 large mirrors, two pictures, fridge (initially stocked with two small complimentary bottles of water), electronic safe (free), and tea and coffee making facilities - which we did not use as our cabin steward or room service could provide a pot of tea or coffee and a range of food from a croissant to a hot meal 24 hours a day at no extra charge. The bathroom had two cabinets concealed behind side mirrors, which when open can be arranged to let you see the back of your head, and giving plenty of storage space. The bathroom cabinets contained racks for the drinking glasses and a shaver point (handy for charging up the electric toothbrush). Everything was tidily hidden away when not in use. There were even two small litter bins recessed into the shelf below the sink. A small selection of moisturising creams and gels was provided, and a nice touch of luxury – Molton Brown shower gel.
The directory in the cabin contained a surprisingly good room service menu, postcards, and writing paper, and a guide to the TV and the ship’s facilities. We had 3 movie channels, 3 news channels (BBC, Sky, CNN), BBC World, the view from the bridge, the ship information channel (showing maps of our cruise, weather, speed etc), and a channel which showed the Port Talks and Lectures after they were shown live in the main Theatre. Announcements are not made in the cabins (thank goodness), but can be heard through the TV on Channel 1.
Aurora is beautiful. I didn’t think I was going to particularly enjoy such a large ship (I know, she’s quite a modest size by today’s standards), but she is stylish, elegant, with a great range of facilities and a decent amount of deck space. Most of the time, it was hard to believe there were 2000 people on board. Where were they all? There is so much space on this ship.
Our cabin was close to the aft decks. We loved these traditional tiered horseshoe decks, a great place to sit, sheltered from the wind, on sea days, or to wave goodbye when sailing from the ports.
The promenade deck is very wide at the sides of the ship, giving plenty of space for walking, strolling gently, or just sitting and watching the world go by. At either end, the promenade deck goes inside the ship, and there is no view as you walk around the bow. At our sailaway from Southampton, champagne was on offer at £2.90 a glass, and the prom deck was full of people waving Union Jacks while a brass bank played on the quayside.
We tried “The Orangery” buffet for afternoon tea soon after boarding and were not overly impressed (but we rarely are impressed by self service!) The quality of the food in The Orangery does not match the quality of the restaurants – certainly for Tea. However, afternoon tea in the Median restaurant was delightful. We always got a table for two with our own stand of cakes, while waiters came round serving finger sandwiches, scones, and toasted teacakes, and pouring tea. If you ask for a speciality tea such as Earl Grey or Assam, you get your own pot. The tea was usually fresh leaf, although my Earl Grey was made with teabags on one afternoon. A pot of clotted cream and a selection of Frank Cooper jams in individual glass jars was on each table. Afternoon tea in the Orangery simply can’t live up to the same standards of elegance. Tea is self service, whipped cream replaces clotted, and a cheaper jam in plastic pots is used.
Aurora has two main restaurants, each is open for Dinner with fixed sittings at 6:30 and 8:30. The Orangery buffet was also opened each evening, and for a cover charge of £7.75 one could eat at the Pennant Grill or Café Bordeaux. The Pennant Grill is in the open air at the back of deck 12 if the weather is good, but on this cruise was mainly a reserved part of the Orangery. Café Bordeaux is the ships 24 hour Bistro with waiter service and food cooked to order. The cover charge for Café Bordeaux only applies for dinner (18:00 to 21:30). The menus for the Pennant Grill and Café Bordeaux change every three or four days. We had dinner early on in the cruise in Café Bordeaux, and the food was outstanding. We had Surf and Turf, and the fillet steak was the best I have had for a long long time. The steaks are apparently imported from the US. The prawns were also full of favour. We had intended to try Café Bordeaux a second time, but Dinner in the main restaurant was generally so good that we didn’t see the point of eating anywhere else. We had late sitting in the Alexandria restaurant with delightful companions on a table for six. Our table was close to a window and had a good view, although we noticed when having lunch in the Medina restaurant that even tables in the middle of the restaurant had a fair view because of the way the levels of the restaurant are tiered. Our waiters were truly excellent. If you didn’t like something, it was changed almost immediately. One evening, one of our companions asked for a scoop of ice-cream with her dessert, and of course when it arrived we all looked rather envious. Our waiter had anticipated this, and was back a moment later with ice cream for the rest of the table. The Alexandria restaurant was only open for dinner, and breakfast and lunch were open seating in the Medina. If our dinner waiters saw us in the Medina they would always come over and say hello, and make sure everything was alright, even though we were not on one of their tables. Generally though service at breakfast and lunch could be a bit hit and miss. It was OK, but often not up to the standards of excellence that we found at dinner.
The quality of the food was often superb, especially on the gala nights. Getting rare beef and pink lamb was not a problem. Dinner was usually better than lunch, which tended to be simpler and only three courses – thank goodness! Lunch one day was fish, chips and mushy peas, and made a welcome change. Curries were often available at lunchtime, and again made a nice change from the gastronomic excesses of the evening. Wine was excellent value. The “wine of the cruise” was £12 a bottle. The house wine was £7.50 a half litre, and was absolutely fine. There was always a special after dinner drink – a port or a liqueur - at a reasonable price (and the cocktail of the day in the bars before dinner.)
The range of entertainment was very good. The ship has a large theatre and a 200 seat cinema, which is also used for port talks and classical recitals. A pianist – Naomi Edelmariam – gave five recitals, and her concerts were a highlight of the cruise. It was wonderful listening to these recitals in such a small venue, sitting so close to the stage that we were able to appreciate her dexterity visually as well as aurally. Naomi’s recitals lasted about 45/50 minutes, and were often themed according to the countries we were visiting, so we listened to the likes of Beethoven, Sibelius, and Grieg as we made our way around the Baltic and up to Norway. Around half of each programme was well known “popular” pieces.
Four different cabaret acts were on this cruise; comedian/impressionist/singer Allan Stewart and jazz singer Elaine Delmar were on board for the first week, illusionists “The Twins” and west end vocalist Robert Meadmore were on board for the second week. There was also an after dinner speaker, Diane Simpson, guest lecturer Guy Caplin talking about the golden age of television, and a series of excellent lecturers by on board jeweller Chris Burgess who spoke authoritatively about Faberge, Russian Art, and Amber. Chris was passionate about his work, and also had some beautiful pieces of jewellery in his shop which he was happy to show to people who he knew had no intention of buying it!
Aurora’s own 13 strong theatre company gave shows of typical cruise ship standard! Four different bands and a cocktail pianist played in various venues around the ship.
An “interview with the captain” was quite interesting, as was a “virtual bridge tour” by the second officer, a theatre presentation using slides. Both offered the chance to ask questions at the end.
CONDITION & CLEANLINESS
Public areas were in excellent condition and spotless. It was noticeable that handrails were constantly being cleaned. Decks were washed down every night.
Our cabin appeared reasonably clean when we got on board. We always give drawers a wipe with a face cloth before we put our clothes away and it was still white after we wiped them – a good sign. However, there were stains on the sofa and one of the bed spreads. About a week into the cruise, I had lost something, and ended up pulling the sofa and beds out and checking the top shelf in the wardrobe where the life jackets were. The wardrobe top shelf was dusty and there was a bottle of hand gel left by a previous passenger. There was some discarded paper behind the sofa. The cabin was not vacuumed all the time we were on board – the carpet was getting noticeably “bittier” as the cruise went on, and one of the concealed waste bins in the bathroom was not emptied for 3 days. We made a note of some of these issues on our CSQ on the last full day of the cruise and put it in the box at reception. That evening, the carpet had been vacuumed, and the waste bin in the bathroom had been emptied. Our cabin steward was very friendly but clearly a bit lazy. We should have said something to him earlier in the cruise, but I was curious to see how long it would before he finally checked the waste bin and vacuumed. He got half the tip that he otherwise would have received and a note in his envelope expressing our disappointment, and will hopefully learn from that. I noticed housekeeping sometimes left cards outside cabins to warn that they would be inspecting them the next day. This system seems flawed – if you warn the passengers, then you also warn the stewards. Managers/Supervisors need to carry out more spot checks.
There was some slight damage to the bottom of our wardrobe that was patched up with duck tape.
PORTS OF CALL
Copenhagen, Warnemunde (Rostock), St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Kristiansand.
We did all ports of call on our own, apart from St Petersburg, where we had a private tour with Red October. I think it would be difficult to attempt St Petersburg independently. The ship docks in the commercial port some distance from the city, and a long way even from the dock gates. You need a visa to attempt to do St Petersburg on your own, but not if you go on an organised excursion (and you can organise your own tours through Russian companies such as Red October, Alla, or Denrus).
Port information leaflets were good, providing a map and practical information. For example, for Warnemunde, I had checked up the times of trains into Rostock on the internet. What I had not appreciated is that Rostock station is in a modern part of town, perhaps a 15 minute walk from the historic centre. The directions in the port information leaflet told me which tram to take from the station to the town centre. A word of warning though, in Helsinki we were not berthed where we were meant to be – check before leaving the ship! We found our way to the centre easily enough, but didn’t know how to get back!
Berths were often some distance from the town/city centre. In Warnemunde and Oslo we were berthed in the centre. At Kristiansand the berth is perhaps a 15 minute walk from the centre. At other ports, were were half an hours walk or more. Shuttle buses were provided, usually at a charge. A free shuttle was provided in Stockholm, and in Copenhagen a city bus runs from the cruise ships to the centre.
Berthing in the port of Stockholm was an unexpected bonus, as this cruise was meant to anchor at Nyneshamn, a tender port an hour away from Stockholm. This was the first time Aurora had been into Stockholm, and it was touch and go whether we would get there or not. Stockholm is reached through an archipelago of small islands, the route is about 100 km from the open sea and takes four hours. We picked up our Stockholm pilot in Helsinki, as he wanted to be satisfied about the ships manoeuvrability before allowing us in. We were also dependant on winds staying below 25 knots. One thing that had not been factored in was that we had to leave Stockholm the way we came – by the northerly route – as we were just too big to leave by the southerly route. This added 4 hours to our journey on to Oslo. However, this was nice as it meant we navigated the fjord into Oslo from 9:30 to 11:30, and it was very pretty. Our departure from Oslo was delayed until 20:30 to make up for the late arrival. The passage out of Stockholm was also very beautiful.
We had a superb holiday on board a wonderful ship, and we are looking forward to cruising with P&O again.
Tour Operator: P&O