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Sail Date: October 2014
This was our first ever cruise and I must say it was an experience of a lifetime and it won’t be our last. If you have never cruised before there were a number of things to consider before booking the cruise. Type of Cruise The biggest ... Read More
This was our first ever cruise and I must say it was an experience of a lifetime and it won’t be our last. If you have never cruised before there were a number of things to consider before booking the cruise. Type of Cruise The biggest decision you must make is to determine the type of cruise you want. This 15 night “Caribbean Isles – Southampton to Barbados” cruise involved 9 days at sea and 6 days visiting 6 Caribbean islands. If you would prefer more than a few hours on the beach or maybe an overnight stay on an island this trip is not for you. Daily, when docked, you exited the ship at 8 - 9am but had to return by 4.30 – 5.30 pm as the Azura sailed by 6.00pm at the latest. Rough Weather Another point to bear in mind is that sailing from Southampton, even in this huge 150,000 ton ship still meant the risk of stormy weather and at times a heaving ship. I passed on one evening meal on day 2 and my wife felt poorly until Day 4. During this time the ability to walk on deck is limited. The Azura has a promenade deck on deck 7 but hasn’t any deck that allows you to walk completely around the ship. Sun and heat Sunbathing was not an option until Day 6 and our departure from the Azores so if sunbathing is you “raison d’etre” then be aware of this limiting factor. Booking We booked the cruise only 3 weeks before departure. We were reeled in by the good value on offer but by booking late we could not chose our deck or cabin, we gained no onboard spending credit and lost the ability to chose where we ate each night, an option called “Freedom Dining”. Medical P&O site gives little guidance but recommends you visit the UK Government website dealing with foreign countries & their specific diseases. I rang P&O customer services are they said there was no mandatory requirement to protect yourself for this cruise. I decided to get jabs for protection against Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid and as these can last up to 15 years or so if they are not of use on this cruise I will find them useful for future travels. What to bring A shower cap, toothbrushes & toothpaste and a corkscrew bottle opener are recommended. P&O unusually for cruise lines allows passengers to bring drink onboard from the islands the ship visits but few shops sell corkscrew bottle openers. Flip flops, sun hats & glasses and swimming trunks are a good idea but like sun tan lotion, after sun, antiseptic creams and most other things, are available at normal prices on board. Cabins We booked a cabin with an outside window and were delighted with the allocated cabin, a mid-ship cabin P248 on Deck 7. I’d like to thank our hard working and very friendly cabin steward Michael who cleaned twice a day and delivered fresh crisp towels, the ships Horizon newsletter and chocolates nightly. In hindsight I’d probably pay the extra for a balcony next time but several of those travelers with balconies claimed not to use them much. Laundry is self-service and there was a room on Deck 7 with a washer, a drier, iron and ironing board. Powder tablets are sold in a shop on board for 60p. A payable laundry service is also available. Meals Breakfast & daytime eating Food is available 24 x 7 at self service restaurants on deck 15 where it alternates from the Venezia to the Verona and back, as they close, clean, re-stock and reopen them. The Peninsula Restaurant provides a waiter served, open seated, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea if that’s what you’d prefer. Open seated means that as you enter they staff check if you are prepared to share a table and just sit you with the people around you in the queue. The Aqua Bar & Pizzaria provides snacks, pizzas, chips etc by the pool on Deck 15, all at no extra cost. Evening Meals – the Peninsula Restaurant We were delighted with the food and service we received in the Peninsula restaurant, where we sat on a table for two. Yes, we missed the banter the travelers enjoyed with each other on the eight seat tables but on the plus side it allowed us to focus on the food which nightly was varied and of the highest quality. The food was beautifully presented and served piping hot and within minutes of ordering. We had a great relationship with our waiters Welber & Alvin, not to mention our wine waiter Lester who made us feel rather like a “lord and lady” rather a “Mr and Mrs”. I compared the eating experience, to our family, on our return as similar to sitting down to the office Christmas evening dinner for 15 nights on the trot. We were allocated a second sitting slot by P&O but the Peninsula’s Manager managed to amend that to a first sitting by Day 3. It’s a numbers game for the restaurant management as people allocated sitting seek to switch times in both directions. On this occasion they were able to facilitate us. The first sitting was 6.30pm while the second is 8.30pm most nights. The only extra charge for the evening meal was the wine which we drank nightly and cost between £15 -20 per bottle and came chilled. If, as many nights we didn’t finish the bottle it was kept for us to enjoy the next night. I’m no expert but I thoroughly enjoyed Chilean white Chardonnay Reserva, Vina Mar, Casablanca Valley (£15.95) and it become our wine of choice for most of the cruise. We saw no need to use the two restaurants where you had to reserve a meal and pay extra to visit. “17” costs an extra £28 per person and Sindhu costs £15 extra per person. The standard and quality of the food in the Peninsula was fine for us. Black Tie Dinner Events The cruise involved four Black Tie dining evenings which all took place before we reached the Caribbean and are optional though most passengers partake. We found it fun to get dressed up and P&O uses the event as an opportunity to sell photographs. Throughout the Atrium and the restaurant’s the ships photographers seek to capture that magic moment when you both look at your best. One can view the picture at £11.80 as a snap that on its return to land will rarely see daylight or you can view it as a cheap way to get a portrait shot of both of you “glammed up and looking hot”. We bought two pictures over the course of the trip but I’d guess the photography team took as many as 30 snaps. If they halved the price I’m sure they’d sell many more pictures. God knows they must shred 95% of all pictures taken at the end of the cruise. Also why not supply a soft copy with/ instead of the hard copy? It’s of no further use to P&O once the cruise is over but people would probably show it to their family & friends on Facebook which might provoke more interest in P&O cruises. Throughout the cruise we had Sailaway parties as we left each port and a Caribbean night in the restaurant when even the waiters went Caribbean. At Antigua we left port, in the gathering darkness, with a US ship alongside and the “Best of British” sailaway party saw the upper deck festooned with Union Jack bunting, hundreds of passengers waving Union Jack flags and singing songs from Ireland, England Scotland and Wales. It was similar to the atmosphere and scenes captured on the “Last night of the Proms”. Quite what the bemused Americans made of it was anyone’s guess but we were partying away and singing loudly until the island and its US boat became a distant glint on the skyline. On Board Activities We found the days at sea just perfect for us. Our routine was to rise by 7.00 am, have a hearty breakfast and join at 8.00 am a group of fellow passengers for a one mile walk round the ship which took about 20 minutes. We then took coffee & a croissant in the Peninsula restaurant where we chatted away to fellow passengers, all more experienced cruisers than us, before enjoying a bit of sunbathing. By 12 noon you could have found us gathered in the Planet Bar on deck 18 where an Azura choir (circa 50 passengers) was formed on Day 1 and rehearsed an hour a day until performing in the ships atrium on Day 8. The Azura Choir I must pay special tribute to Ms Emma Alexander, Assistant Entertainments Manager who along with Robert, the Azura pianist made our cruise experience entirely special by investing their immense talents in the voices of this bunch of knackered older singers. Emma chose and led us through 12 songs that ranged from touchingly sentimental to stridently regimental, from loud to soft, from solo to four part harmony. Standing on heaving decks and tilting furniture Emma displayed incredible control and brilliant communication skills and really took the choir to tackle arrangements we had no right to attempt. I believe she is moving onto the new liner Brittania in 2015 and will be Azura’s loss. Other Activities Similarly the ships entertainment team organized an Azura’s Got Talent competition which involved rehearsals and a show as well as an Azura’s Strictly Ballroom competition, firmly based on the BBC format. Both led to passengers getting a chance to perform on the Playhouse stage and watched by an audience of several hundred who applauded warmly their efforts. Still more daily activities were football, golf and basketball on Deck 19, line dancing, ballroom dancing, card sessions, art classes, lectures on the islands yet to visit and of course work outs in the gym or spa sessions in the Oasis Club. The casino & one armed bandits in Brodies provided alternative options for people with different interests. The library on Deck 6 also provided WIFI at a price and a table in that area offered free books left by other passengers. A book & magazine shop on deck 6 provided fresh reading material and the ship publishes a daily UK/ World newspaper which you could collect for free from that area. The Playhouse theatre, the Malabar and the Manhattan on Deck 7 all hosted daytime sales sessions that P&O portrayed as educational sessions. For example a 10.00 am session on “Arthritis & Back Pain Solutions” in the Malabar bar is actually an opportunity for the Oasis Spa Acupuncture therapist to sell her skills to passengers. Similarly the information sessions on the various islands are hosted by the Sales Team members who seek to inform / sell you the P&O trips available and press home the fear of missing out as trips may be fully booked when we reach the island in question. However there were events of a purely informative nature with interviews with the ship’s captain and other staff along with “behind the scene” visits to the kitchens or staff-only areas of the ship. Sunday Service On both Sundays the ship’s Polish captain led the Church Service which was held in the Playhouse Theatre. A broadly Christian affair it was a mixture of readings and hymns and was particularly moving on the Sunday before Poppy Day when we reflected on our good fortune to be alive when sailing the seas was for pleasure and not for country. We finished each service with the first verse of “God Save the Queen” which reminded both of us of the British’ness of the P&O line and actually added to our enjoyment of the experience as we are from Ireland. The on board shops had rolling sales events focusing on watches & jewelry one day, clothes the next, alcohol and cigarettes another day and so on. The ship has an art gallery and art to sell at prices from a few hundred pounds to several thousands and they ran a few seminars on aspects of art for those interested. Evening Entertainment The Evening Entertainment was varied and each night multiple activities were on offer. Jazz in the Planet Bar and the Glass House, West End style shows with the excellent Headliners, Comedians, ventriloquists, impersonators in the Playhouse, singers in the Malabar Bar, movies up on the large outdoor TV screen on Deck 15 & 16, Ballroom dancing most nights in the Atrium and more we never got to! We found several performances in the Playhouse of visiting performers got filled quickly so we tended to arrive 20 minutes before the show to get seats. You cannot reserve seats. It’s all a first come first served basis. Newspaper Each night a Horizon daily activities ships newspaper was slipped under your cabin door which detailed the numerous activities going on the next day. It was more than sad not to receive it on our next to last day as it signaled P&O’s lack of interest in us as passengers even though we remained such for another 14 hours. P&O Trips The P&O Trips Ashore which we took were a major disappointment in two of the three occasions. Pass to Fairview House, St Kitts - £19 each. The driver was excellent and told us about the buildings we passed on the 15 minute drive and the house upon arrival was a restored plantation owner’s house. The guide spoke for about 10 minutes in the reception room and left us all to wander for the next 3 hours. Truthfully we looked forward to the tropical gardens but there just wasn’t that much to see. Some exhibits detailed on a sign the full latin name of a plant or shrub but behind the sign only a stump stood! The sugar cane example was dead. The whole garden took about 10 minutes to walk around. Perhaps the time of year might have meant less was in flower but there wasn’t much of a garden anyway. My own was bigger! Waterfall & Gardens St Lucia £45 each was an even bigger disappointment. We travelled in a packed coach with tiny seats and a struggling air conditioning unit for over an hour and a half around hairpin bends and up and down hill and dale to reach a very ordinary waterfall. The fall of 30 feet is far from spectacular and the appearance of concrete and chicken wire as part of the waterfall made it almost un-photographic. The pool it fell into was tiny and tricked away into a stream heading off to the right. Hundreds of other tourists streamed in and out as we struggled to understand why we had been taken to this location. A few donned swimwear and stood in the small pool while the water fell on their heads & shoulders. It was a massive disappointment. However the “Garden” was equally unimpressive when we got to it. Owned by the restaurant owner we were about to visit it consisted of a path past some thoughtful religious quotations which weaved its way down and up a small incline and contained some wooden structures and a pond with fish in it. Less than a minute away was the restaurant and its owner who provided what has to be the smallest and meanest subsistence I have ever received on any tour. The small plastic plate was no more than the size of a saucer and its contents were 4 in number and paltry in content. One chicken wing each was part of it. The drink was a very watered down juice of some sort. He invited us to buy beers and drinks but I don’t believe he got any takers. There were only one photo stop where we could exit the coach just to take pictures and the other photo opportunities were only accessible if you sat on the right side of the coach. Taken in its entirety the £90 paid for a bone rattling 3 hour journey to/from a non-site and be fed morsels of food was a complete rip off of £90. No sales staff appeared at the sales desks that night that I could find and probably just as well. I completed my customer questionnaire and invited contact but have not had any to date. Coast to Coast Tour – Barbados £39 each proved to be a reasonably good tour in that it did what it said it would and took us across the island visiting the beaches (10 minute stop), a church (20 minutes) and a refreshment/ photo stop where at 10.30am we drank a rum cocktail. The driver was informative and good humored and we enjoyed the 4 hour outing. My Cruise DVD - £16.95 I purchased the DVD but would not advise others to do so as the DVD is largely a marketing tool for P&O including pre-recorded clips on the ship & the islands. The unavailability of the DVD until the second last night of the cruise is a mystery as so little of the actual cruise is included in the end product. Very little of our actual cruise features in the DVD. There are some video clips from the Sailaway parties but largely of the back of people’s heads. The captain’s speech is given prominence with again the back of people’s heads. The excellent stage shows are shown without actual audio but a homogenous general overriding music track. The Azura Choir’s performance of 40 minutes is brutally edited down to 8 minutes and leaves out all the four part harmony and several decent performances.It also excludes the thanks given on camera by the choir to Emma and Robert. This is despite me being told by the Photography Team on their desk that it would all be included but as an extra on the DVD. Not so. Flight home from Barbados We were coached from the Azura on Saturday at 12.30 to the airport and flew to Manchester on a Thomas Cook A330. The plane sat three rows of three passengers across the main body of the craft. The width of the seats was extremely narrow forcing passengers to crush together. The flight was 8 hours long. No headphones were provided as, apparently the Manchester to Barbados customers had taken the headsets with them. We’d paid for two allocated seats in a two seat section when we booked the cruise as my wife has severe back problems and would need to walk about but Thomas Cook changed the plane type so we were trapped by a third person who fell asleep snoring loudly and restricted us to our seats. In summary we had a fantastic holiday and were sad to be going home. There were opportunities for P&O to make it a perfect holiday but though they fell short I’d give them another chance.   Read Less
Sail Date: March 2014
NIce ship, though odd design, with no big atrium like RC ones have. However, one big plus is the reasonable bar prices, unlike RC who are a total rip-off. Also a sensible automatic gratuity policy. Nightly entertainment pretty dire I was ... Read More
NIce ship, though odd design, with no big atrium like RC ones have. However, one big plus is the reasonable bar prices, unlike RC who are a total rip-off. Also a sensible automatic gratuity policy. Nightly entertainment pretty dire I was informed- didn't go to it myself. Food fine, though it escapes me, why, when going to somewhere hot, they STILL expect blokes to dress like penguins for 4 nights of the cruise. Outmoded IMHO. I didn't take part, which consigns one to the Venezia/Verona Cafe for the evening. Why have a prom deck that doesn't go all round the ship? Sadly, many passengers were made up of men in their 60's who think they can look cool and younger by shaving their heads and having tattoos. Likewise their women folk, who didn't tend to shave their heads but still had the obligatory tattoo. They were the same people who liked to roast in the sun on the loungers they insisted on reserving with towels from the early morning, so they tended to look like lobsters later on. Clearly the entertainment was geared to them: only problem was that some days one was driven from the upper decks, as there was loudly playing "music" with a booming base, by one pool and loudly playing football on the big screen by the other. Excursions the usual rip off- take my advice and don't book ANY- just find a taxi driver or hire a car when you get to an island. IT works well and is much cheaper.   Read Less
Azura Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 0.0
Dining 4.0 0.0
Entertainment 4.0 0.0
Public Rooms 4.0 0.0
Fitness Recreation 5.0 0.0
Family 4.0 0.0
Shore Excursion 3.0 0.0
Enrichment 3.0 0.0
Service 4.0 0.0
Value For Money 4.0 0.0
Rates 4.0 0.0

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