How Tarby (and gallons of alcohol) kept spirits up on stricken 'Aurora'

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The Independent Travel

It took more than the small matter of a ruined £42,000 holiday to dent the spirits of the intrepid passengers of the ill-starred Aurora as they came ashore at the Mayflower terminal in Southampton yesterday.

It took more than the small matter of a ruined £42,000 holiday to dent the spirits of the intrepid passengers of the ill-starred Aurora as they came ashore at the Mayflower terminal in Southampton yesterday.

They should have been sliding into port in Rio de Janeiro - where the 81F temperature was double that of chilly Hampshire. But copious amounts of drink and several ageing entertainers ensured the thwarted holidaymakers left the luxury liner feeling "like royalty" despite the cancellation of their 104-day, five-star world cruise.

P&O Cruises, which owns the Aurora, went out of its way to smooth the passage of the 1,700 customers as they circled the Isle of Wight for 12 days hoping that engineers could fix the ship's propulsion problems.

The company decided that drinks would be free and by yesterday morning tens of thousands of bottles of alcohol - including Bollinger champagne, which was available on room service - had been downed. On the final night alone, the 1,400 that remained on board each consumed an average of 1.1 bottles of beer; 1.2 bottles of wine; 0.9 of a cocktail and 0.1 of a spirit. P&O, which is facing a £22m bill after the fiasco, was also offering a full refund, 25 per cent off the next cruise and all incidental costs incurred by the passengers reimbursed.

Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Daniels and the Tom O'Connor were drafted in to provide entertainment, along with a performance by Elaine Paige. David Dingle, P&O Cruises managing director, even visited the ship to apologise in person.

Diana Gelder, 49, a retired lawyer, was realistic about the level of sympathy the public were likely to feel for those, mainly elderly and well-off holidaymakers, whose expensive world voyage had been ruined.

She said: "Who's going to feel sorry for us? But our concern is what is going to happen to the staff. Many of them come from Goa or the Philippines and this is a big thing for them to lose out on a cruise like this."

According to P&O, the 1,800 staff on board will all be paid and receive an estimated payment for lost tips. As for the passengers, the first signs were that they would remain loyal to P&O.

Mrs Gelder reported queues at the on-board sales office as customers waited to sign up for the next cruise on Aurora's sister ship Artemis. Many stay loyal to P&O because they dislike the schism between first class and "normal" passengers on rival Cunard ships, she said.

While no one could be described as angry - most had paid nowhere near the full price for their cruise - there was an air of "cheerful" disappointment as they disembarked. But many had been inconvenienced and let down.

Janice Seddon, 51, was sad to have missed out on the opportunity to show off the full extent of the wardrobe she had packed, 20 pairs of shoes, 12 long gowns and 25 evening dresses. She was also sorry not to be shopping for her favourite designer labels in Rio's chic boutiques.

Kathryn Kelly, 48, who was travelling with her mother, Norma Fretwell, 71, had taken three year's worth of leave in one go to enable her to join the 15-week cruise. She also sold her car to pay for it.

Among those that she and her mother met on board were some whose plans to emigrate to Australia had been disrupted, and another who had had hoped to lay a wreath on their father's grave during a planned stop in the Falklands.

A honeymoon couple, James Taylor, 29, and his wife Janice, 25, were the youngest couple on board. They had been given the cruise as a wedding present from Mr Taylor's father and their plan to meet him in Sydney was scuppered. Their disappointment at returning to a British winter was mitigated by the fact they could go home to their native Cape Town.

For James Hanley, 63, from Blackpool - a veteran of 12 P&O cruises - his chance to continue his domination of the ship's quiz night had been cruelly cut short. His verdict on the time he did spend on board: "Wonderful ... no snobs and no riff-raff."

One of the ship's entertainers, Maurice Grumbleweed, praised the "British bulldog spirit" of those on board. There was one hairy moment, he said, when P&O parachuted in its "comedy cavalry" of 1980s light entertainers. "The only danger was when they bought in Paul Daniels, everyone wanted to jump ship."

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