Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

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david63
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Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 10 Mar 2019, 23:11

Preamble
This is one of our “bucket list” cruises – searching for the Northern Lights and also the first time that we have sailed on Aurora (just never been going where we wanted to go at a time that we wanted to go on a cruise!)

One of the “interesting” things about this cruise is the variety of clothing that we have to take – not just cruise clothing but cold weather clothing as there is a possibility that the temperatures could go below -20C, and this clothing takes up a lot of space. We have as many cases/bags for two weeks as we had last year for four weeks!

Sunday 10th March

Well the day did not start off too well with some sleet, preceded by heavy rain – the kind of weather that you want for driving down to the other end of the country. Fortunately by the time we were ready to set off the weather had cleared and there were glimmers of sun trying to break through.

OK then I spoke too soon. Just as I had loaded all of the baggage into the car we had a hailstorm – OK it only lasted a few minutes. As is our normal journey now we had booked into the Regency Park hotel at Thatcham which is about an hour’s drive from Southampton. The journey down was one of the better journeys that we have had – no hold ups and the weather was better that we could have expected for the time of year. (On a side note the 20 miles of roadworks in Cheshire is almost complete – the bad news is that they have moved south for the next three years!!!)

To be continued …
Last edited by david63 on 11 Mar 2019, 07:13, edited 1 time in total.

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Gill W
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Re: Smurfies Search for the Norther Lights

Post by Gill W » 10 Mar 2019, 23:24

I was on a similar cruise this time last year, but on Balmoral, although we did see Aurora in Alta.

We did see the lights on two nights from the ship.

I hope you are lucky enough to see them
Gill

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Lynda and David
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Re: Smurfies Search for the Norther Lights

Post by Lynda and David » 11 Mar 2019, 00:34

Hi David, We were on Aurora this time last year on a Northern Lights cruise, Aurora's our favourite ship.

We booked an excursion called something like 'Chasing the Northern Lights' and whilst the excursion was expensive, it was worth every penny. We spent 3 hours watching the lights in a field just outside Alta, they were amazing. Before we went out we were told that if we wanted to take photos of the lights our camera would have to be set to a certain speed and put on a tripod to make sure it was steady so we didn't bother but when we got back on the coach people had taken some fantastic pictures just on their mobiles.

We enjoyed this cruise so much that we are booked to go again next March on Aurora.

Have a great time.

Lynda

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 12 Mar 2019, 16:14

Monday 11th March

What a change in the weather when we woke this morning – the sun was streaming through the windows and whilst it was not hot it was certainly warmer than of late.

Anyway after a leisurely breakfast we packed up and meandered down to Southampton. For once the traffic was fairly light and there were no hold ups. One slight minor problem was that instead of using CPS for parking I was trying Parking4Cruises as they have had some good reviews. The slight problem is that they ask that you text them when you are about 30 minutes out of Southampton – easy to know with the sat nav but finding somewhere to stop isn’t! As we were departing from Mayflower Terminal we took our usual route of going via dock gate 20 which cuts out having to negotiate the centre of Southampton – the trouble was that nobody had told me that there were major road works in the area of gate 20 (although this did not create any problems). Once at the terminal is was a simple matter of driving round to the unloading area to deposit the baggage and then drive back to the short stay car park to deposit the car. I have to say that the process of leaving the car was highly efficient and far more thorough than CPS with every inch of the car inspected and photographed. The one minor downside was that it was further to walk to the terminal than it is with CPS and would not be pleasant if it was raining.

Check-in went smoothly – one small change is that they appear to have scrapped the Health Declaration forms (probably because they were a waste of time – I have often wondered how many were honest!) We were on board just after 12:00 and went straight to the “freebie” lunch (now being in the exalted realms of the Caribbean tier). Never having been on Aurora before the whole ship was a new experience and our first impression was positive. Cabins were ready shortly after 13:00 but we loitered for a while finishing our free wine (not the fizzy stuff that they think everyone likes). Our only disappointment with the cabin is that the balcony is very small and enclosed which for this cruise is not a problem but would be if going to warmer climes.

Another change is that there was no predefined time for the muster drill, just an announcement that it was taking place. Don’t know if this is a new policy, just something on this ship or one of the whims of the Captain – but it does prevent folk assembling at their muster station too early.

Much of the rest of the time was taken with unpacking and trying to find our way around the ship – it is a long time since I have had to resort to using a map to find my way around. We are on second sitting dinner and it was the usual first night chaos!

Tomorrow is our first sea day and first formal night.

To be continued …

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by Manoverboard » 13 Mar 2019, 08:58

Hard to believe that a Smurf would need a map to find the way around diddy Aurora

:wave:

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 14 Mar 2019, 14:16

Tuesday 12th March – Sea day

The started off being grey and overcast with a strong wind and did not improve at all during the day.

We started off today by doing some exploring of the ship only to find that it is something of a “rabbit warren” with corridors suddenly stopping and having to go across to the other side of the deck, or stairs only going part way up/down. All of that having been said I can see why many people class Aurora as their favourite ship and to me is somewhat reminiscent of Oriana.

Guest speakers and talks were the main subject of the day with port talks (reasonably good despite the sales pitch), A talk by one of the photo team on how to take photos of the Northern Lights (something akin to a waste of time as it was so poor!) and a talk by Stuart St Paul who is an ex actor/stuntman/film director (interesting but disjointed).

Tonight was the first formal night and, on the whole, was well adhered to – although some of the women’s outfits were stretching the “formal” definition somewhat. It was good to see that the dress code was being enforced in the venues where it is required – it baffles me as to why some people have to ignore the notice at the door. Excellent gala meal tonight with Beef Wellington.

The entertainment tonight was Harmony 3, not a group I have seen on P&O before, but their music was not to our taste so we did no go.

Wednsday13th March – Haugesund


This port was not on the original itinerary – we were supposed to be going to Bergen, but we were not really bothered about the change as we will/should be going there next year.

The weather was quite surprising today as there was some sun in the skies, even though the temperature was not that high (4C) but was considered mild for the time of year. The local security officer on the gate was looking somewhat bemused with all the passengers disembarking wrapped up as if they were in the Arctic.

We had booked to go on trip to Skudeneshavn which is on the tip of Kamoy island (in fact almost everything around here is on an island. The town was, in its day, a prosperous fishing town and was quite pleasant with all of its white wooden houses. There was also a visit to a 19th century merchant house that had been occupied up until 1961 when the owner died and in 1974 was turned into a museum.

In the afternoon after returning to the ship it was warm enough to sit out on the very small balcony for an hour or so – this was most definitely unexpected.

The entertainment tonight was the Headliners Destination Dance which had been postponed from Monday due to illness. As we have seen this show several times we decided to give it a miss.

Another sea day tomorrow before hitting the “frozen wastes”!!!

To be continued …
Last edited by david63 on 16 Mar 2019, 14:18, edited 1 time in total.


cruisin_duo
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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by cruisin_duo » 14 Mar 2019, 14:56

Thank you for your reports. Enjoying reading about your cruise.

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 16 Mar 2019, 14:14

Thursday 14th March – Sea day

A fairly quiet day today although surprisingly the weather was far more pleasant than anticipated. We had a few laps of the “proper” Prom deck and even managed to sit on the balcony for a short while before being forced back inside by the cold!

Not sure if there is any significance about this but one thing that I have noticed is that the shop staff, apart from those in the jewellery/watch shop appear to be P&O staff as opposed to whoever runs the shops these days (I have forgotten the name of the company).

Tonight’s entertainment was Roy Locke who sounded as if he might be quite good – the problem was that 10 seconds into his act I realised that we had seen him before on some other ship and his act was just the same, and as bad. It was not helped by the “band” drowning him out most of the time – I don’t know why but P&O seem incapable of getting the sound balance right.

Friday 15th March – Narvik


Woke up this morning to find snow on them there hills – not really surprising as that was what we have come here for. Today was supposed to be one of the highlights of this cruise – husky sledging. The tour was not due to leave until 10:30 so we had plenty of time to get ready after breakfast and so turned on the TV to hear the news in New Zealand. Now as many of you know we have family in NZ and for a few seconds everything stopped until it was reported that the shooting was in Christchurch and there would be no reason for any of them to be there, and if they were then it would be highly unlikely that they would be in that part of the city.

So now it was time to get bungled up like Mr Blobby with umpteen layers on as the temperature was -1C and not forecast to get much warmer. This tour was one that we really wanted to do but by the time we got round to booking it it was fully booked and we were waitlisted but got our tickets on Monday night – so we were “happy bunnies”. The tour was to take us across the border into Sweden (apparently they cannot do husky sledging and snow mobiling in Narvik) where we would have between 1 and 1.5 hours sledging. Now for the bad news the tour comprised of about an hour’s drive to where the sledging was to take place, 20 minutes sledging, an hour of standing around waiting for the others on the tour to have their turn on the sledge and then an hour’s drive back to the ship. On top of that the only toilet facilities was the one small toilet on the coach. The tour was obviously well over booked as there were 40 on the tour and the sledges could only take 10 at a time – who was at fault is yet to be determined but I was not alone in lodging a complaint, just waiting for a response.

Having said that this was a brilliant experience (not sure why P&O consider it a “hazardous” experience!) and the huskies are just so placid but at the same time excited to be pulling the sledge – and when it comes to the puppies almost everyone wanted to take one home!

The entertainment tonight was Stephen Garcia a comedy magician – not our cup of tea. Unfortunately there was quite a lot of cloud tonight so there was no Norther Lights to be seen – certainly not from the ship – just hope the conditions improve for the day after tomorrow in Alta.

To be continued …


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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by Whynd1 » 17 Mar 2019, 17:20

That's not very good,only 20 mins of activity with the snowmobile.
Especially for the cost.

Is it cheaper to dock in Naarvik rather than Alta say. I am on a cruise in October 2020 which stops at Naarvik.
Hope you are enjoying the cruise.
Lindsey

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 19 Mar 2019, 10:40

Saturday 16th March – Sea day

You can tell that we are heading north as the temperature is getting colder but there is still a bit of sun around – enough to be able to sit out on the balcony (for 10 minutes!)

Not a lot happening on board today apart from the usual “Paddy’s market” and quizzes. We went to the second talk by Stuart St Paul – the ex-stuntman. Another interesting talk about his career and the making of a film starring Status Quo.

A quick walk around the deck was done later – the trouble is that you tend to lose interest by the time you have got the necessary 25 layers on (well it seems like 25!).

Tonight was the second “Black tie” night and also Black and White night and again the dress code was well adhered to. Just as dinner was finishing there was an announcement that the Northern Lights could be seen on deck, but nothing (think it was a ploy by the waiters to get everyone out of the dining room!). Entertainment was the second show by Harmony 3, but again not our taste in music.

Sunday 17th March – Alta

Woke up this morning to find three inches of snow on the balcony. After breakfast we went up on deck (wrapped up in our obligatory 35 layers) and it was somewhat surreal to see the ship covered in snow.

The ship did not dock until 13:00 and the sail into Alta through the fjords was quite spectacular with all the snow covered mountains. Our tour today was to try and see the Northern Lights but did not leave until 19:30.

After an early room service meal we put on out 101 layers to set off on “the search”. We had booked the trip before leaving home with a company called Glod (who incidentally arrange the Norther Lights tours for P&O). On the Sunday before we sailed I had an email saying that they would pick us up from the ship rather than the hotel in Alta where we had previously agreed to meet. The meeting point was only about 100 yards further than the P&O coaches. The guide arrived on time to pick us, and another couple, up and take us to their headquarters for soup and a briefing before setting off. Additional warm clothing was available to borrow if necessary.

Eventually we became a group of eight (four Brits, two Australians and two Americans) and off we set. The first stop was part way up a mountain but alas there was too much cloud and nothing could be seen. The guide was constantly in touch with other guides to try and find the best location and eventually decided to try down the coast. So we all piled back into the mini bus and off we went arriving at the next location. We all stood around for an hour and again saw nothing, but we did have hot chocolate and cake. Eventually around 00:30 it was given up as a “bad job” – no lights tonight. The Smurf failed in his search :cry: :cry: :cry: . We eventually arrived back at the ship around 01:00. I have to say that the Glod tour was really good and it was not their fault that the Lights did not appear. I would highly recommend then and they were only slightly more expensive than P&O.
I do wonder if the various departments within P&O, either on board or shore side, ever talk to one another. Tonight there was, at least for us, a new Headliners show on in the theatre – on a night when 75% of the passengers were ashore!!

Monday 18th March – Alta

Second day in Alta and still plenty of snow around. After breakfast we “layered up” and took the shuttle bus into the town – about a 10 minute journey but not one that you would want to attempt walking, especially in the snow.

Alta is a fairly small town and apart from snow does not have much. We visited the Norther Lights Cathedral which is very modern, but small. An interesting place but at 50 NOK to enter was a bit expensive. In the basement there is a Northern Lights museum (another 100 NOK to visit). This really is only telling the story of how the Northern Lights were discovered and the scientific advances that have been made over the years in trying to explain them. After that we took a walk along the main street and at the end, quite by chance, we across a spectacular ice and snow carving exhibition – which included a life size tractor made from snow. We then made our way back to the shuttle bus and back to the ship.

Not much happening around the ship today as it was a port day and most things tend to close down but there were more tours going out tonight in search of the lights – but again there was too much cloud cover to see anything.

To be continued …

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by Kenmo1 » 19 Mar 2019, 13:45

david63 wrote:
19 Mar 2019, 10:40
25 layers on
david63 wrote:
19 Mar 2019, 10:40
wrapped up in our obligatory 35 layers)
david63 wrote:
19 Mar 2019, 10:40
we put on out 101 layers
You must look like a Michelin Man rather than a Smurf, David. Sorry you haven't seen the Northern Lights yet but it sounds like the scenery makes the trip worthwhile.

Maureen

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by david63 » 25 Mar 2019, 09:58

Tuesday 19th March – Sea day

The day did not start off too good as the weather was very overcast and dull, and things did not improve with the wind building up during the day meaning that it was impossible to go out on deck – all the doors had notices on not to go out – but as is always the case some have to ignore such advice!

There has been some strange scheduling of entertainment on this cruise with talks/films etc. starting during lunch and shows at 15:30, 17:30 and 21:30. Tonight’s main entertainment was Roy Locke (again!) so we gave him a miss.

Some good news when we returned after dinner that we had be given a 75% refund for our disastrous Norvik husky sledging excursion – who said that P&O have poor customer service?

Wednesday 20th March – Sea day


There was little improvement with the weather overnight and at the noon report we were told that overnight they had recoded gusts in excess of 80 knots on the bridge. The Captain (David Pembridge) came on later in the day to say that the weather had caught them by surprise and was unexpected. As the day progressed the wind did start to ease a bit and it was much calmer overnight.

Still unable to venture out on the decks due to the weather so we were confined indoors all day – did open the balcony door for two minutes but got blown back in.

Another strange bit of scheduling today as it was the Caribbean lunch but was also a Gala dinner!! Skipped the lunch in favour of the stilton with port!

Thursday 21st March – Stavanger

This was our first visit to Stavanger and our first view from the balcony was that it was the perfect example of how not to develop a town. There was the “Old town” along the waterfront with high rise buildings towering above them. Fortunately once off the ship you could not see the high rise stuff.

Now I am sure that on a pleasant summer’s day when the sun is out that Stavanger is a charming place but on a wet Thursday morning it does not have the same effect. Typical weather – just as we are about to sail the sun makes an appearance!

Tonight was 60s and 70s night with the usual lack of enthusiasm from passengers. Entertainment was the Headliners “My Generation” show, which as new to us (or we had forgotten it). I do wish that the Headliners would try and research what they are singing as, in the most part, they managed to murder the songs of that era – that was when they were not being drowned out by the backing track.

Friday 22nd March – Sea day

Last day and the inevitable packing had to be done. However this was not quite as straight forward as it could have been as there was a film on in the morning that we wanted to see (Mary Queen of Scots) – wish I hadn’t bothered, but sometimes I have to do as I am told! Incidentally there have been quite a lot of fairly new films being shown during this cruise – better than on many other cruises that we have been on. Then in the afternoon was the final talk by Stuart St Paul (who incidentally is the “other half” of Doris Visits)

Saturday 23rd March – Southampton (Disembarkation)

This was probably the best disembarkment that we have ever had. We were assigned the Glass House as our meeting place – which was where we breakfast, with a time of 08:00 to 08:10. We went for breakfast at 07:30 and before we had finished our breakfast we were told that we could disembark – naturally we finished our breakfast. So straight after finishing breakfast off we went, no queues, just straight off. I have a strong suspicion that the fact that there were somewhere around 1,600 contractors waiting to board and that she was scheduled to sail at 11:00 for Brest had a major influence in getting everyone off as soon as possible!

Conclusion

This was a strange cruise in that we have never been on a cruise where we have had snow and obviously we were disappointed that we did not see the lights as that was the main purpose of the cruise.

As for Aurora it is now probably one of our favourite ships despite, for us, the shortcomings of small balconies (but we have been used to having large balconies at the back for the last few years) and not having a “fine dining” restaurant. One thing that we did notice was that the ship never felt crowded wherever we went, but obviously we never sat out on deck which may have been a different story.

Would we sail on Aurora again? Well never say never.

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Re: Smurfies Search for the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 25 Mar 2019, 16:09

Glad you enjoyed it.

Aurora is my favourite ship, probably because we had our first cruise on her, back in 2001.
Gill

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