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Caribbean Cruise on the Aurora - Christmas 2002 Music Controls
This was a 22 night return cruise from Southampton to the Caribbean on P&O's ship Aurora. This fairly new ship was launched in 2000 and is very wheelchair friendly. Our views about the ship can be read on our cruise ship pages here.

We made the booking direct with P&O over a year in advance to insure a good discount and to secure a suitable wheelchair accessible cabin. The Aurora has 22 such cabins of varying grade and they are very much in demand. We understood all these cabins were all fully booked 11 months before sailing, This I can believe as there were possibly up to 70 passengers using wheelchairs on board, many of whom, being partially ambulant, made do with standard cabins.

For convenience, we drove to Southampton. You can drive right up to the ship, unloaded, and hand your car over to the local services to be parked for the duration of your trip. There is a parking charge but if you off set this cost against the alternative cost of public transport that you would have had to pay, the cost is well worth it. P&O offer assistance with embarkation which you request at the time of booking and this is most useful when you have hand baggage to carry aboard as well as push a wheelchair. Sherry and minced pies were served in the departure lounge while we waited for our turn to board.

On the outward journey we stopped at Madeira and in the Caribbean visited Tortola, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados before returning via Ponta Delgada in the Azores. The whole ship was decorated for Christmas and, in the cabin, we even put up a few decorations which we had brought with us. Christmas and New Year were spent at sea relaxing after too much food or partying.

The weather after leaving Southampton soon warmed up and only the first and last 2 days could really be called cold. We had some windy and showery days but on the whole both Atlantic crossings were a pleasant experience. Of course the Caribbean was calm, warm and predominantly sunny.

P&O have considerably tightened up their descriptive literature of available port tours and now make it quite clear whether these are suitable for the non ambulant or those with walking difficulties. As you would expect with travelling to third world countries, none of the organised tours were suitable for the non ambulent. P&O send you the tour brochure before departure so we knew this before the start of our trip and had resolved to do our 'own thing' or stay on board at each port. At all the ports the ship berthed alongside and, with the help of the crew, the jetty was relatively easy to access down a ramped gangway. We went ashore at all ports except Ponta Delgada in the Azores.

Madeira The quayside is located close to Funchal centre, we strolled there in about 30 to 40 minutes. It is a litle rough along the quayside but once the pavement was gained it is quite good going along the sea front. There was a courtesy ferry service across the harbour to the centre which was much quicker but jetty steps at both ends of the trip made this unusable for a wheelchair user. Funchal slopes steeply up a mountain side away from the level promenade sea front and it is not easy for a wheelchair user to get about in town but it was well worth the effort in the evening to at least get back one street away from the beach front to view more of the Christmas lights. They were superb and put the Blackpool illuminations to shame. There is a 15 minute cable car ride from the front up the mountain side from where you can get a wonderful view of Funchal and the harbour. This is wheelchair accessible. Once at the top, it is difficult to travel far, we lingered a while before returning.

Tortola- It is but a short walk into Roadtown from the quayside. We chose to use a communal ' taxi' (more like a small lorry with bench seats on the back) and for US $15 each we took the standard tour of Tortola. Wendy, with help, transferred to the front passenger seat of the cab and did not alight at all the stops. The wheelchair just fitted in the small boot at the rear. The tour took us via the heights of Tortola to Cane Beach where you had the oportunity to take a dip in the Caribbean or relax in one of the beach bars and enjoy a local rum punch. We decided upon the latter course of action! On our return to Roadtown we ambled around for a while. There are no dropped curbs and don't expect a smooth ride!

Antigua - The ship berths almost in St Johns! We took a taxi (US$20 return) to Millers Bay for the morning. Here there is a restaurant, bar, changing facilities, showers and sunbed hire but no wheelchair facilities. In the afternoon we strolled around the town. The tourist shops by the quayside are easilly accessible but like Tortola don't expect any dropped curbs and once out of the tourist shopping area it can be a little steep and rough.

St Lucia - For us the jem of the trip. The ship berthed along side the duty free shopping area which is easily accessible from the ship. It is a long walk into Castries, the alternative is a taxi or take the ferry across the harbour. We shared a taxi (US$40 return) with another couple and went to the Rex St Lucian Hotel at Rodney Bay for the morning. This hotel is on the beach and you can use it's facilities. It is fairly level but has no public wheelchair accessible toilet facilities but if you are willing to carry your partner, access into the swimming pool is possible down some steps. On our return we shopped in the duty free centre and I went alone into Castries because the ferry was not wheelchair accessible. Castries was even more wheelchair unfriendly than I remembered from our last visit in 1996.

Barbados - The ship berths about a mile out of Bridgetown, but there are accessible duty free shops on the quayside. We walked into Bridgetown. On route there is a fully accessible collection of craft shops complete with poor quality wheelchair accessible toilets. The walk in is not very easy and there are no dropped kerbs. Bridgetown is one of the more westernised Caribbean towns and there is a good range of shops. A small area of the centre is pedestrianised and this was perhaps the easiest place to get around in a wheelchair although we discovered no specific wheelchair facilities. We chose a different route to walk back to the ship once we had finished site seeing and shopping because we find walking is the only real way to appreciate a place.

Azores - The quayside at Ponta Delgada is a good walk from the town. A courtesy bus service was available but this was not wheelchair accessible. Due to a knee injury, don't ask how....., we did not go ashore.

Disembarkation at Southampton on a very cold and frosty morning was a bit of a shock to the system but it all went very smoothly. P&O provided assistance, the car was waiting and we were quickly on our way home, heater going full blast, discussing where perhaps we might cruise to next.

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