Editor's Note: Aurora received an update in March 2019 that saw the ship redesigned as an adults-only vessel. Gone are the kids clubs and teen areas, in their place are 28 brand-new cabins that were added to Deck 8. Other areas benfit from refreshed carpets, soft furnishings and upholstery.
The 1,910-passenger Aurora joins Arcadia and Oriana as the line's third child-free ship, though the latter will leave the fleet in August 2019.
Aurora is one of the oldest ships in the P&O Cruises fleet (it was launched in 2000), and came out a much-needed £26 million refurbishment at the end of 2014 as the first to carry the new livery, featuring a contemporary version of the Union Flag on its bow, and a blue funnel. This may have disappointed a few P&O Cruises regulars, but it indicates the line's policy to combine a traditional British atmosphere with an up-to-date cruise experience.
New features added in the refurbishment include the Sindhu fine dining restaurant, with an Indian-fusion menu; and the Glass House restaurant and bar, with wines selected by TV presenter Olly Smith, which replaced Cafe Bordeaux. Both these restaurants are on P&O Cruises' twin sisters Azura and Ventura.
The buffet restaurant and Sidewalk Cafe were also completely refurbished and include a new Costa Coffee and Grab & Go counter and flexible "Freedom Dining" in the Medina Restaurant, plus more tables for two; and Marco Pierre White dishes on gala evenings.
The refit has transformed the public rooms and they are now bright and attractive, with exceptionally comfortable seating. But some of the rooms and corridors are distinctly chilly, and there is evidence of minor wear and tear in places, despite the refurbishment which is inevitable with a ship that is now approaching 20 years old.
There are normally two formal nights per seven-night cruise. Black tie for men predominates, although lounge suit and tie are acceptable. Low key evening and cocktail dresses are usual for the women. Those who don't want to dress up can use the cafeteria, but formal attire is required in the main restaurants. The other nights are either semiformal or smart casual, according to the ship's itinerary. Shorts and jeans aren't welcome in the restaurants.
The Curzon Theatre (Deck 7) has a normal theatre layout with two entrances and raked seating. On our cruise we saw a comedian, a super quartet of male singers -- Viva Voce -- and a Queen tribute group -- QE2.
Daily activities range from the old-time favourites such as deck quoits, shuffleboard and table tennis to line dancing and party dance classes. For card players there are whist drives and bridge, and lots of quizzes throughout the day including a pub challenge and a daily Twenty Teasers. Trivia sheets are left in the Crow's Nest to be filled in at leisure.
The Playhouse (Deck 8): is a cinema with several showings of feature films each day. On our cruise they included "Jersey Boys", "Get on Up", "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "Hercules".
There's live music in various spots around the ship, plus nightly karaoke and a late night disco into the early hours. There are three main entertainment venues and as part of the refit all sound and lighting equipment has been upgraded.
Carmen's (Deck 7): A large show lounge where we saw the Headliners' production show, "Killer Queen in Concert". The Headliners Theatre Company is a high standard production group of professional singers and dancers presenting musical shows for P&O Cruises. On Aurora they perform four different shows on a seven-night cruise and eight on a 14-night sailing, including a welcome show. Titles of the shows give some idea of the content: "Blame it on the Boogie", "Destination Dance", "Thank You for the Music", "I Write the Songs", "Live 'n' Swinging", "My Generation" and "Killer Queen in Concert". The show lounge has certain viewing problems for people seated further back, and the fairly low ceiling limits views of the dancers' lifts. At night the Spectrum orchestra plays in Carmen's Lounge for early evening ballroom dancing and for party nights until midnight.
With 10 bars and lounges dotted about, Aurora is unusually spacious for a medium-sized ship and the only place that was crowded on our cruise was the Crow's Nest.
Champion's (Deck 7): The main pub-style bar, with live music throughout the evening, a small dance space, and a TV screen showing sport. Champion's bar and casino have been refurbished with a new open-plan design, new furniture and improved stage area. On our cruise-instrumentalist Lyn Frederick played each night, interspersed with pub quizzes and karaoke, which takes over from 10:15 p.m. until late.
Monte Carlo Casino (Deck 7): next to Champions's is fairly small, with two roulette tables, two blackjack tables and slot machines.
Masquerade (Deck 7): is a pub by day and turns into a disco hosted by the entertainment team from 9:30 p.m., until late. Under 16s are not permitted after midnight.
Charlie's (Deck 7): is a small bar overlooking the Atrium, with music throughout the evening provided by a cocktail pianist; on our cruise the very talented Alec Negriuc.
Anderson's (Deck 7): is a large space luxuriously furnished in English country house style.
Raffles (Deck 8): Done out in British Raj style, this is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink as it's just by Sindhu.
Terrace Bar (Deck 8): is situated by the Terrace Pool and open from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Crystal Bar (Deck 12): next to the Oasis Spa, is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Riviera Bar (Deck 12): next to the Riviera Pool, opens from noon to 5 p.m., weather permitting.
Pennant Bar (Deck 12): next to the Beach House, is open 9 a.m. until late, weather permitting.
The Crow's Nest (Deck 13): Right at the top of the ship, with panoramic views of the sea, this is the most popular bar for pre- and post-dinner drinks, with music from the Aurora Orchestra and other groups throughout the evening. It is also the spot for sailaway celebrations when the weather doesn't permit them outdoors.
There's the Terrace Pool on Deck 8, (previously reserved for families), with a whirlpool and bar. The Riviera Pool on Deck 12 has a whirlpool and is sheltered from the wind by the Lido and sun decks. Three terraces full of deckchairs surround the pool. The Crystal Pool, also on Deck 1, is Aurora's largest, with a sliding, clear glass Skydome, which allows swimming in any weather. It has two adjoining whirlpools and a bar. There are plenty of lounge chairs around the deck of the pool and on the sun deck which overlooks it.
At the stern of the sun deck there is a sports court for tennis, football, cricket and basketball. Alongside, are golf nets. Clubs and balls are provided, or you can use your own. There is also a golf simulator, with 30 different courses to choose from. The entertainment staff host a variety of tournaments. Aurora has an attractive wraparound teak promenade deck that is perfect for walking or jogging.
The sun deck and other outside seating areas are very spacious compared with the size of the ship. Deckchairs seemed in new condition.
The central hub of the ship is the atrium, spanning four decks and dominated by John Mill's dramatic 35 foot sculpture and water feature. The reception, shore excursions desk and shops are all located in this area. There has been an extensive shop refurbishment, and an upgrade of the photographic gallery to include more touch screen technology.
The library has relocated to the former cyb@study space adjacent to the Crow's Nest on Deck 13. It's well stocked with books and has several comfortable seats. The number of onboard computers has been reduced from 14 to 5, and they are now situated in the library. Wi-Fi is available in three package options; The Connect Package (£7.75 for 24 hours) provides social media access and internet messaging services; The Browse Package (£12.50) offers internet browsing (with the exception of video streaming), internet messaging, email and social network access; and The Works Package (£24.95) offers web browsing, including YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music streaming, video calls, email, instant messenger services and social media access.
Self-service launderettes are situated on Decks 9 and 11.
The Oasis Spa on Deck 12 can be reached via a short spiral staircase off the midship stairwell on Deck 11. It's an attractive and welcoming environment and offers a wide range of treatments from facials, massage and acupuncture, to hair and nail services. Prices range from £10 for lip or chin waxing to £177 for the Elemis Absolute Spa Ritual. The Gentleman's Spa has a range of grooming services.
The well-equipped gym on Deck 11 has a complimentary programme of relaxing, stretching and conditioning classes such as Fab Abs, Tai Chi and Walk for Wellbeing. There's a nominal fee of £7 for yoga and Pilates, and a 60 minute personal training programme costs £47, or three for £131.
A big improvement since the refit is the introduction of Freedom Dining in the Medina Restaurant, which allows you to eat where you want and when you want. There are however still the usual two sittings for dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant, and food and drink available around the clock in various parts of the ship. Food is generally good, with a wide choice of traditional and sophisticated dishes.
Medina Restaurant (Deck 6): Freedom Dining means you can turn up without booking at any time the restaurant is open and can usually be seated right away -- if you don't mind sharing a table. If you prefer to wait for a table for two, you get a pager and are called back, usually within a few minutes. Menus appeal to British tastes, with favourites such as roasts and hearty puddings (although lighter choices are available). Following passenger feedback, classic dishes have been returned to the a la carte menu in the Medina and Alexandria, such as prawn cocktail or egg mayonnaise to start, followed by fillet of salmon or sirloin steak and bread and butter pudding or fruit salad. The classic menu is the same each day. The five-course a la carte menu, which changes daily, might include starters of wild mushroom risotto and creamed blue cheese, minestrone or cream of potato and goat's cheese soup, main courses of roast leg of pork, braised beef in Guinness or tempura of vegetables and then sticky toffee pudding, fruit Pavlova or ice cream, followed by cheese, to finish. The Marco Pierre White menu, available on gala evenings, might include a trio of smoked and cured fish to start, chicken consomme with julienne vegetables and shaved black truffle, Champagne sorbet, Beef Wellington and, to finish, the cruise ship favourite of Baked Alaska. Open for dinner 6 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. The Medina also serves breakfast from 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m., lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m., and afternoon tea from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Alexandria Restaurant (Deck 6): There is the familiar dining system with the two sittings, one at 6:30 p.m. and second sitting at 8:30 p.m. Again, Marco Pierre White dishes are served on gala evenings, and the menu is the same as the Medina. Open for dinner 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Lido Grill (Deck 12): replaces the Sidewalk Cafe and offers Costa coffee and the new "Grab and Go" counter. Open for breakfast 8 a.m. to noon and lunch noon to 4 p.m.
The Horizon (Deck 12): The self-service buffet has been completely refurbished in the recent refit with a cheerful new decor. Food and drink is available more or less round the clock, but it can be very crowded at peak times. Breakfast includes a continental option, with fruit, yoghurt, pastries and cereals. Needless to say, there is a full English breakfast that can include any combination of bacon, sausage (or a choice of vegetarian bacon or Quorn sausage), tomato, fried bread, saute potatoes, grilled mushrooms, black pudding, plum tomatoes and baked beans. Omelettes are available to order and daily chef's specialities include eggs benedict, grilled gammon and eggs, kedgeree, corned beef hash and scrambled egg with smoked salmon. There are also themed dinners. Healthy options include smoothies, porridge, fruit salad and poached eggs on wholemeal toast. Open for Continental breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., full breakfast 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch noon to 2:30 pm, afternoon tea 3 p.m. to 4.45 p.m., a themed dinner 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and late-night snacks 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. The self-service drinks selection includes fruit juice and special teas -- including decaffeinated and camomile.
Room Service: Room service is available 24 hours, with breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and sandwiches, snacks, pasta, burgers and other items the rest of the time. Some carry a small charge (e.g. £1.50 for chicken and bacon sandwich, £2 for smoked salmon and £3.95 for a burger).
The refit has brought big changes to fee dining on the Aurora with unusual new menus and well designed venues, including Sindhu replacing the Library and the Glass House replacing Cafe Bordeaux.
Sindhu (Deck 8): One of the line's signature restaurants originally designed by Michelin-star celebrity chef Atul Kochhar (who as of 2018 is no longer associated with the line), in exotic surroundings serves an eclectic Indian fusion menu. Menu choices might include a squid salad with passion fruit chutney or spiced white crab meat with vermicelli to start, a main course of pan-fried sea bass with coconut sauce, a trio of duck or baked parcel of vegetables with tomato and fenugreek sauce with warm spiced chocolate or lavender scented yoghurt cake for dessert. There is a cover charge of £15 per person for cruises of eight days and longer, £20 for three to seven day sailings and £25 for shorter cruises. and booking is recommended. Open for dinner 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Glass House (Deck 8): The a la carte restaurant and wine bar features house wine displays and wines selected by expert and TV presenter "Jolly" Olly Smith. Self-service Enomatic wine systems allow passengers to buy premium wines by the glass. The menu includes a selection of small plates, which are ideal for sharing, and cost £5.25 for three different dishes, such as tempura king prawns, smoked aubergine dip and garlic mushrooms. Large plates include three types of British steak, ranging in price from £5.50 to £7.50, a lobster sandwich for £5.95, trio of different sausages and mash for £4.95 and a vegetarian salad for £3.50. Desserts include a peanut butter sundae or cheese board to share for £4. The Glass House also has a private room for wine tastings and dinners. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Beach House (Deck 12): Situated within the Horizon Restaurant on Deck 12 this casual eaterie replaces the Pennant Grill. There is a £5 supplement for dinner. The menu includes favourites such as buffalo wings, crispy bacon and cheese potato skins and tiger prawns to start, fillet of beef on lava rock, macaroni cheese, burgers and Cajun chicken Caesar salad for mains and desserts including cheesecake and chocolate fudge cake A few items carry an additional charge, such as £2.95 for the lava rock beef and £5.95 for lobster. Booking recommended. Open for dinner 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
There are ten different categories of cabins, ranging from single cabins to penthouse suites. They include twin and double bed configurations, plus cabins with one or two additional beds in the form of single and double sofa beds and pull-down berths. There are also a number of interconnecting cabins that are ideal for families. All 934 cabins were refurbished in the refit, with new soft furnishings and flat screen TV.
Suites have a magazine and newspaper selection, atlas and binoculars. A fruit basket, mineral water, flowers, champagne and chocolates are provided on arrival.
There are 16 wheelchair accessible cabins, well fitted for the disabled passenger and mostly close to lifts.
Bathrooms are supplied with shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, body lotion, tissues, shaver point and ample towels including large bath/pool towels and all have hair dryers. There is plenty of storage space for personal items. All suites have bath and shower. Inside cabins have shower. All outside cabins and balcony cabins have bath or mini bath and shower, apart from the following categories which have shower only: JB, LC, OA, OB, OC and OD.
Interior: Inside cabins have a large mirror instead of a window and measure approximately 137 - 181 square feet. They have wardrobe and door space and two lower beds which are convertible to a king-size bed. The bathroom has a shower and WC. There is a vanity/writing desk, TV, radio, telephone, safe, and tea and coffee making facilities. Mineral water and a pamper pack, containing shampoo, conditioner, moisturising lotion, soap and a shower cap, are provided on arrival.
Oceanview: Standard outside cabins have a picture window or portholes and measure approximately 137 - 181 square feet. They have wardrobe and drawer space and two lower beds which are convertible to a king-size bed. The bathroom has a shower, or shower over bath, and WC. There is a vanity/writing desk, TV, radio, telephone, safe, and tea and coffee making facilities. Arrivals are offered mineral water and a pamper pack.
Balcony: Balcony cabins measure from 178 - 237 square feet, including a 36 square feet balcony. They have two lower beds which can be converted to a king-size. Bathrooms have a bath with shower or shower only, and WC. There is an ironing board, trouser press and hair dryer. There is a chair and table, TV, radio, telephone, writing desk, refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities and a safe. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors lead to the balcony. Arrivals are offered mineral water and a pamper pack. Deluxe balcony cabins are provided with an atlas and binoculars and the balcony measures 39 square feet. Our balcony cabin on A Deck had twin beds, a two-seater sofa and coffee table, dressing table with large mirror, excellent lighting and concealed shelves on either side. Drawer and cupboard space was ample and well distributed. The balcony, which showed signs of wear on the side of the ship, had two chairs and a table.
Mini suites: Mini suites measure from 368 - 384 square feet, including a balcony of 57 square feet. They have a separate bedroom area with two lower beds which can be converted to a king-size. Bathrooms have a whirlpool bath, shower, twin basin vanity unit and WC, plus a luxurious pamper pack - with additional items including bath and shower gel, a vanity kit, mending kit and shoe mitt - bathrobe and slippers. There is an iron and ironing board, trouser press and hair dryer. The suites include a sofa, chair and table, TV and DVD player, radio, telephone, writing desk, tea and coffee making facilities, safe and refrigerator. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead to the balcony with chairs and a table.
Suites: Suites measure from 449 - 753 square feet, including a 75 square feet balcony. The suites have two lower beds which can be converted to a king-size. Bathrooms have a whirlpool bath, shower and WC, plus a luxurious pamper pack, bathrobe and slippers. There is a walk-in dressing area with iron and ironing board, trouser press and hair dryer. The lounge has a sofa and chairs plus a dining table and chairs, and a TV, mini stereo, radio, telephone, writing desk, refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities and a safe. Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors lead to the balcony with loungers, chairs and table. Suites have an optional butler service.
Penthouse Suites: Upper level Penthouse Suites measure approximately 362 square feet, including a 72 square feet balcony. The lower level suites are approximately 575 square feet, including a 72 square feet balcony. They have a spiral staircase leading to the upper level bedroom containing two single beds that are electronically adjustable to create a king-size bed. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors lead to the balcony with table and chairs. Bathrooms have a whirlpool bath, shower and WC plus a luxurious pamper pack, bathrobe and slippers. There is a walk-in dressing area with iron and ironing board, trouser press and hair dryer, and a guest cloakroom. The lounge has an L-shaped sofa and armchairs plus dining table and chairs and a bar area, with stereo system. Penthouse Suites have a butler service, magazine and newspaper selection, atlas and binoculars. The Piano Suite has a baby grand, and the Library Suite is stocked with books.