Great, but . . .
There were so many good things about this cruise, from ports bathed in hot autumn sunshine to superb service from officers and crew, that it seems churlish to start with a moan.
But it needs to be said that if Carnival isn’t careful, its unrelenting focus on savings at the expense of passenger enjoyment could do lasting damage to the P&O brand. Cutbacks on this cruise included:
- No turndown service in cabins on the first evening;
- No toothpicks on tables at dinner
- No face cloths in cabins unless requested;
- No Costa coffee discount cards;
- No individual pots of jam in the Horizon cafeteria.
Displaying a rich vein of humour at Board level, Aurora does, however, offer a Happy Hour promotion at the bewitching hour of midnight. More seriously, some passengers no longer receive the pre-cruise booklet containing details of excursions and the all-important luggage labels. I understand Carnival is testing reaction to this withdrawal in different regions. Some lucky customers (including me) still receive the booklet - but for how long?
Enough. What about the cruise? I had doubts about the weather in the Med – this was October, after all – but apart from a morning shower in Valetta, the sun shone in every port with temperatures regularly reaching around 24c. On sea days, reading and snoozing on the open decks was a regular activity. Cadiz, Valetta and Cartagena were my favourite stops along the way, three places with fascinating histories and plenty of narrow streets to explore and experience the local culture.
Less attractive is Naples, a city which can best be described as a work in progress. Each time I go the roadworks outside the terminal gates become ever more intrusive and the short walk across the road to the castle is an obstacle course of barriers, ramps and narrow causeways. Heaven alone knows when the new Metro station will finally open for business but it won’t be in my lifetime. More positively, old Naples is full of history and the city is a good starting point for Pompeii and Sorrento.
Of the others, Messina (Sicily) has a handsome cathedral and ornate clock tower (with not much else) whilst Civitavecchia is a bustling resort with a good rail service to Rome. Don’t linger too long in the capital, however, because return trains can be busy and you wouldn’t want to watch the sailaway from the quayside, would you? I have done the trip into Rome independently and enjoyed every minute, but a ship excursion is less stressful.
Back on board, I could not fault the service. In Filipina I had a steward who took so much pride in keeping my cabin spick and span that she even tidied my books and always paused long enough to offer compliments about my paintings. Which reminds me that one of the best-value cruise activities is the sea day art class. Mike Purcell led the sessions with expertise and good humour and everyone I spoke to said how much they had enjoyed developing forgotten skills. An art pack of paintbox, brushes, palette and quality art paper is sold at the start and would cost twice as much in the high street.
Food and drink is the key to a successful cruise and on Aurora the galley team didn’t disappoint. I used Medina for Freedom Dining and service was excellent with people like Hanif and Marcelino keen to offer menu advice where needed. I eat too little fish at home and try to make up for it on cruises. The lobster tails, sea trout, barramundi and good old battered cod and chips were my favourites. A nice touch is that the restaurant manager, Archie, and head waiters like Judith took time to take a genuine interest, asking regularly about the dining experience.
Upstairs in Horizon, there was a vast array of choices at breakfast and lunch, and the counters were always well-stocked. The themed Indian evening proved popular with some flavoursome curries and Indian desserts on offer. Costa coffee outlets were popular venues too, especially in Raffles where after 11.30 the range of cakes proved too tempting for me to resist. Full marks for the Victoria sandwich!
Our arrival in Gibraltar coincided with the launch of the 2021-22 brochure and the girls in Future Sales were kept extremely busy as we queued to benefit from low deposits and extra onboard credit. Two days later, they were still working flat out to meet demand. On occasions like this, it pays to be in the top loyalty tier because Ligurians enjoyed coffee and pastries in The Glass House as they waited their turn.
Despite my niggles about cutbacks, I too was in the queue. P&O offers a good deal in terms of value and satisfaction, and service across Aurora on this cruise was excellent. But wouldn’t it be nice if Carnival accountants lifted the constant pressure on P&O to make savings and instead allowed officers and crew space to concentrate solely on delivering a first-class cruise experience?
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