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Raoul Fiebig

Age: 21 to 30

Occupation:Public Relations Work

Number of Cruises: 6 to 10

Cruise Line: P & O Cruises

Ship: Aurora

Sailing Date: July 6th, 2000

Itinerary: Tour of ship (Skandinavienkai, Travemünde, Germany)

On July 6th, 2000 I was given the opportunity to visit P&O Cruises' M/S "Aurora" during her call at Travemünde (Germany). This is a brand-new ship that inaugurated only two months earlier.

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) is considered a pioneer of the earliest hour in leisure cruising, with the first cruise carried out in the second half of the 19th century. UK-based P&O Cruises is one of the company's affiliated cruise lines, the others being US-based Princess Cruises, Germany-based Aida Cruises with Seetours International, Australian-based P&O Holidays and UK-based Swan Hellenic Cruises. All ships but one ("Victoria") in the P&O Cruises fleet bear mythological names, and "Aurora" is no exception, as the name Latin name Aurora plays an important role in several ancient mythologies:

To the ancient Greeks, Aurora (known as Eos) was "the rosy fingered dawn with the snowy eyelids bringing the first glimmer of the day." She was the sister of Helios, the Sun god and Selene, the goddess of the Moon and resided on Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the gods. Every morning she rose from the ocean into the sky sometimes as a winged goddess tilting an urn from which fell the morning dew, sometimes mounted on Pegasus, the winged horse, but most commonly riding in a purple chariot drawn by two horses.

Far to the North, the Slavs believed that "Aurora (or Zorya) of the Morning" opened the gates of the celestial palace to allow the sun to set forth on its daily journey across the heavens. Across the world in the South Seas, the legends of Melanesia also revere the goddess of the dawn.

Aurora is probably best known as the term for the spectacular displays of the Northern and Southern Lights; Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis respectively. Both phenomena can take a number of forms - vertical rays of white, tinged with green, gold or red, being the commonest. In other formations the rays appear to meet overhead in a star-like shape, ripple upwards, or rise from curving bands.

Let's take a look at "Aurora's" - naturally rather short - curriculum vitae:

In April 1997, P&O Cruises announced plans for a new 76,000 gt cruise ship. The order went to German yard Meyer Werft in Papenburg on the river Ems, which had built the company's "Oriana" in 1995. One year later, in May 1998, steel cutting started for yard number 640, witnessed by Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Construction began at the end of that year. In August, 1999 the yard's covered building dock was flooded and in January, 2000 "Aurora" was floated out stern first from the dock and positioned to a fitting-out berth. In February, 2000 a slow passage down 45 kilometers of the river Ems from the Meyer Werft yard took "Aurora" to the seaport of Eemshaven in The Netherlands, where fitting out continued and which was her base for sea trials that were carried out in February / March. "Aurora" was handed over to P&O Cruises on April 15th, 2000 and immediately departed for her home port of Southampton.

On April 27th, she was officially named by HRH, The Princess Royal. Only 18 hours after the departure to her maiden cruise on May 1st, a propeller shaft bearing overheated and the vessel had to return to Southampton. The damage was that extensive that "Aurora" had to be taken into drydock at Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg (Germany) for repairs. Those repairs were carried out quickly and allowed her to depart on time for her second cruise.

For a tour of the M/S "Aurora" from bottom to top, let's start on Granada Deck (4). The ship's well-equipped Medical Center is located forward, while the rest of this deck is a "crew only" area.

Passengers board the M/S "Aurora" one deck up on Formosa Deck (5), either at the lowest level of the Atrium or more aft at the midships staircase. Inside and outside twin cabins are also situated on this deck.

The Atrium is four decks high and features a 35 ft. tall Lalique-style sculpture of a water bearer by British artist John Mills, which is framed by a water curtain. The Reception Desk is located in the Atrium Lobby. While the Atrium is beautiful and classic there are no elevators nearby. Warm, colors in combination with blue are dominant onboard "Aurora", and there are lots of gold tones.

A grand staircase in the Atrium leads up to Ellora Deck (6). "Aurora's" shopping center is situated around the Atrium on this deck and the deck above. As we were in port, it was naturally closed. On port side, the shore excursion office, Explorers, is found.

Forward of the midships stairway, inside and outside twin cabins are located. Those include eight Cat. LC outside cabins and one Cat. OC inside cabin that are wheelchair-accessible. While it was generally not possible for me to take a look at "Aurora's" cabins as I visited her during a cruise, it was possible to look into some cabins while they were cleaned. The standard "twin cabins" seem to be quite spacious and are laid out in light tones. Britons usually have a high need for safety (much higher than e.g. Germans) and therefore it should be a very welcome extra that all cabin doors feature a spy-hole. All cabins have a coffee or tea making set, which should also be well appreciated by the mainly British passengers.

Aft of the midships stairtower, the Medina Restaurant is found. This dining room accommodates 525 passengers in two seatings and has a Moorish theme, that is subdued and in no way obtrusive or kitschy. The number of tables for two is good and there is ample space around each table.

All the way aft, the Alexandria Restaurant with windows on three sides is located. As the Medina Restaurant, it accommodates 525 passengers in two seatings but it features an Egyptian-influenced décor. It is lighter colored than the Medina Restaurant and the wrap-around windows give an airy feeling. Both dining rooms feature a grand staircase.

One deck up on Promenade Deck (7) a large number of public rooms are situated. All the way forward the wonderful Curzon Theatre is found. This is the ship's primary showroom and features good sight lines from all seats (theatre- not lounge-style seating that is). Only the emergency lighting was on when I took a look into this large room and it was too dark to take a photo. Nevertheless I was quite impressed with the Curzon Theatre and the red seating reminded me a bit of that in the Saga Theater aboard the S/S "Norway". The stage is huge and should work very well for production shows.

Next aft, Anderson's resembles the fine atmosphere of an early 20th century British club, complete with mahogany paneling and even a fireplace. The beautiful and colorful carpeting resembles the look of expensive Oriental rugs. This is really an elegant room and one of the most "British" places onboard the "Aurora".

Further aft on port side, Charlie's is P&O Cruises' first champagne bar. The combination of leather, marble and an Atrium view create a posh atmosphere. This is the place where people meet "to see and to be seen".

Masquerade, the ship's nightclub, is located aft of the midships stairway. This is a futuristic place which is spacious and well suited for late-night entertainment and comes complete with a dance floor and high-tech equipment. Adjacent to Masquerade a grand staircase leads down to the Medina Restaurant.

Next aft, the Art Gallery is situated on port side. Naturally the displayed art can be bought at those beloved (or loathed) art auctions.

Monte Carlo Club, "Aurora's" casino, is located adjacent to the Art Gallery. It is small given the size of the ship, but most European passengers are far less passionate gamblers than Americans or Asians. The room itself is quite nice, and neither too bright nor too dark (either seems to be a problem with most shipboard casinos).

Next to the casino, Champions, the vessel's sports bar is found. Unlike its counterpart on the "Oriana", this sports bar does not have the traditional cricket theme, but feature memorabilia from several events. There are, however, not that many TV monitors, and the use of sports memorabilia is not that effusive. Whether that's good or not depends on one's personal opinion.

All the way aft, Carmen's is "Aurora's" main show lounge (in contrast to the theater all the way forward). Again, lots of gold tones in combination with blue are evident. There's a large dance floor as well as a well-sized stage. I was able to attend a rehearsal of a performance that features the music of the legendary band "Queen" and was very impressed.

The wide teakwood promenade on this deck is completely wrap-around, and has lots of seating, in contrast to so many other ships today. There is even a good number of teakwood chairs, while the plastic loungers at least have thick cushions. There are also some wooden benches with the ship's name carved in the backrests - wonderful!

One deck up, on Devanha Deck (8), inside and outside cabins are located forward of the Atrium.

The Library, Writing Room & Cyb@study is situated adjacent to the Atrium on starboard. There is an impressive array of books and there's even a librarian. Multimedia computers and writing desks complete this room that has a charming and cosy atmosphere because of the warm (neither bright nor dark) shade of the wooden cabinets and desks.

Opposite of the Library, Raffles Court, a fine specialty coffee and chocolate bar is found. The selection of different chocolates and other goodies that have about sixty million calories is extensive, as is the choice of different coffees, espressos and cappuccinos. This is definitely a place I would have to intentionally avoid during a cruise, otherwise lots of chocolates would change ownership. :o)

Did I mention that the area feature warm wood tones, as well as blue and gold tones?

Vanderbilt's, a huge card room, is located next aft. The picture only shows about a third of this really big room. Passengers can register for tournaments in several different parlor games. According to the lists put up in the room, this offer is very well accepted by "Aurora's" passengers.

Adjacent to Vanderbilt's, The Playhouse is situated. This is combined concert hall / cinema, as it is rarely found on today's cruise newbuilds. The room has comfortable seats and features an unobtrusive décor with gray being the dominant shade.

The Café Bordeaux, P&O Cruises' very first 24-hour bistro-style restaurant, is located next aft. In the center of this room, a spiral staircase that is crowned by a chandelier leads down to Promenade Deck. Café Bordeaux features a marble floor, leather chairs and fine artwork on the walls. The room is very elegant for a casual eatery, and does not whatsoever have the feeling of a cafeteria. It's good to see that P&O Cruises makes it possible to its passengers to dine in such fine surroundings.

The aft section of Devanha Deck accommodates excellent facilities for children and young families. Toybox is for children under five, while Jumping Jacks caters to the six- to nine-year-olds. Quarterdeck is reserved for 10-13 year olds, and older teens are able to set their own pace in Decibels that comes complete with the latest Karaoke and music equipment. Toybox and Jumping Jacks each have an adjacent outdoor deck area and an own partitioned off Paddling Pool. A night nursery for under-fives is also available and Intergalactica, an interactive games center, completes the exemplary children's area.

During times of the year, the Terrace Pool, which is located adjacent to the children's facilities, is reserved for young families. This is a great idea, as parents can keep an eye on their kids while passengers who want to be left in peace can use the other pools and the adjacent sun decks without children being a pain the neck to them.

On Canberra Deck (9), Britannia Deck (10) and Arcadia Deck (11), passenger accommodations are located. There is a wide range of cabin categories, and most of the outside cabins have a private balcony (the balconies of the standard twin cabins are very small, however). Two spectacular duplex suites have two-deck-high windows that overlook the bow of the ship. Those penthouses also feature a baby grand piano, as well as a private library and two balconies. Butler service is available for suite passengers.

There are two self-service launderettes (one on Canberra Deck, the second one on Arcadia Deck) that can be used free of charge by the passengers. A welcome touch, as this ships often operates longer voyages.

M/S "Aurora" features an expansive fitness and spa area, which extends over two decks. The lower part, which includes Weights & Measures, an aerobics room and a gymnasium, is located on Arcadia Deck, adjacent to the Riviera Pool, that is situated between Arcadia Deck and Lido Deck.

The upper part of the fitness and spa area is found on Lido Deck (12) and includes the Hair Saloon, Beauty Rooms and The Oasis with saunas and steam rooms. The two levels are connected by a spiral staircase. All the way forward on this deck, "Aurora's" command bridge is located. Aft of it, some inside and outside cabins are found.

Forward of the fitness and spa area, the Riviera Pool is situated. While the upper pool and sun decks do not feature a teakwood decking, there is at least no hint of Astroturf, that tends to absorb water like a sponge (and tends to give it off when someone walks over it after a rain shower). P&O Cruises has also tried not to let the open decks look monotonous by e.g. adding yellow "sunbeams" to the red decking around the Riviera Pool.

On starboard side, the Sidewalk Café is located next aft. It offers light meals as well as fast food favorites.

Further aft, the Crystal Pool is found. In another "first" for P&O Cruises, the pool area features a retractable "Magrodome". The pool is of a generous size with a ample space for sun-worshippers nearby. A 10 ft tall bronze sculpture of a pearl diver by British artist Allan Sly is situated at the exit of the pool next to two Jacuzzis.

The Orangery, "Aurora's" buffet restaurant, is located next aft. In contrast to its counterpart onboard the "Oriana", this casual eatery has been greatly expanded to reflect the huge interest of today's cruise passengers in casual buffet breakfasts and luncheons. The Orangery's décor is supposed to span the colors of the rainbow, and accordingly the room is really colorful without looking "restless" or "Carnival-like". There are several buffet stations in contrast to the long buffet lines often found on other ships. Seating is in several (partially separated) areas, each having an own self-service beverage station. On some evenings, The Orangery is open for themed dinners, with live music and dancing on a small dance floor.

All the way aft on Lido Deck, the outdoor Pennant Bar is found.

One deck up, on Sun Deck (13), The Crow's Nest, the ship's observation lounge, is located all the way forward, overlooking Aurora's bow. It is a wonderful and elegant room, that cleverly combines the festive décor with the wrap-around walls of glass. The artwork in The Crow's Nest features paintings of former P&O vessels including the first "Oriana" and the unforgotten "Canberra" that was retired in 1997.

Adjacent to The Crow's Nest, two small rooms for private functions, the Uganda Room on starboard and the Himalaya Room on port side are situated. Both rooms are named after P&O passenger ships of the past. The 27,955 gt "Himalaya" entered service for P&O in 1949 and was retired in 1974, while the 14,430 gt "Uganda" originally entered service for British India Steamship Corporation in 1952. In 1972, that company's fleet was taken over by P&O. The vessel that served as a cruise ship for students since 1968 participated as a hospital ship in the 1982 Falkland War, before being finally retired in 1986.

The Sun Deck is the right place for sun-worshippers. Aft of the funnel, a netted Sports Court complete with Golf Nets as well as a Golf Simulator are situated. Popular shipboard games like deck quoits and shuffleboard are of course also popular.

The aft open decks are laid out in an amphitheater style - a beautiful sight!

The small forward-only Observation Deck (14) offers spectacular views over the bow of the ship . "Aurora" features a futuristic mast that actually consists of two u-shaped tubes.

During my visit to the M/S "Aurora", lunch was served and I decided to check out The Orangery. I have to say that I had been skeptical about the food in the up-run. This is a ship that caters to British passengers and except for the great British breakfasts the Britons seem to have a totally different taste than my person. :o)

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and taste of the food offered. The freshly carved rack of lamb was delicious (although I went without the mint sauce), as was the Moroccan lamb casserole with fresh and dried fruit, that was served with couscous. A wide choice of cold cuts, salads and desserts, as well as favorites like French Fries and pasta completed the lunch buffet. Thumb up for the buffet food!

This time it is easy to draw a final conclusion: The M/S "Aurora" is a wonderful and important addition to the world-wide fleet of cruise ships and to the British market in particular. The ship tries to cater to the traditional British passenger as well as to families with children - and it does it very well. The facilities for children are exemplary and the very best I have ever seen. There are classic and traditional rooms as well as futuristic ones. Four marine architects and designers, Swedish Tillberg Design, its affiliate SMC Design, Yran & Storbraaten from Norway and John McNeece designed "Aurora's" exteriors as well as her interiors.

I would sail aboard "Aurora" in a minute. While she is not perfect (there is no perfect ship), she's a very good cruise ship. Please note that my review can of course only cover the ship's "hardware" and not the "software" (i.e. the level of service, food, entertainment etc.). I'm sure international passengers will be having a good time aboard this ship. One should, however, note that this is a rather formal ship. While Britons tend to dress very casually during daytime, many of them love to dress up at night. As a result, there are normally five formal nights, five semi-formal nights and only four casual nights on a two-week cruise. Therefore the ship cannot be recommended to those who demand a casual atmosphere.

I'd be glad to receive your comments, questions etc. upon this review. Please feel free to get in touch with me!

Raoul Fiebig

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