Azura Cruise Review by Michael Vickers: Azura to the Baltics
Azura to the Baltics
Southampton gets gridlocked at busy times. Allow plenty of time to get through. I find it embarrassing that visitors might see this as their first experience of Britain. Considering the amount of money that cruising must bring to Southampton, they should do something about it.
We parked with Purple parking (half the cost of P&O) and they were superb. You phone them when you are 20 minutes away (that's about 100 yards in Southampton!). They tell you to drop off your cases and go to the short stay car park. You cannot miss this. You phone again and they were with me in 20 seconds. Departure was even smoother. they even give you Â£2 for the car parking.
Embarkation was brilliant. They give you a card with a letter on. You sit and relax until your letter is called and then go straight through. No long snaking queues.
Loved the ship. Staff were fine. I do not know what some people expect reading some reviews. Food was excellent. Paid extra for the asian restaurant one day More and would not recommend this. It was fine - but no finer that the routine meals, every one of which was good. Worth going up to the Italian restaurant for a couple of evenings - no charge but get there early or be willing to wait. Entertainment (shows, comedians, talks, tribute artists) was good.
We were given a balcony overlooking the stern and loved it. I booked quite late and got a good deal. If I had waited another 2 weeks, I could have saved Â£800! I would advise this if you are willing to risk the cruise selling out.
The ship gives you an OK map for each port the night before you arrive. I had a couple of guide books with maps as well. There was always a free shuttle when it was needed.
We had a wonderful afternoon and did not spend a penny. I had no Norwegian Kroner (I was going to use a card) but did not need any. The ship parks up very close to the city centre and near all the main sights. Tourist information are their to give you a map. Walk down to Radhusplassen. It was lovely. Statues, fountains, the harbour, lovely, helpful people.
We then went to the nearby tourist information office and through some lovely streets up to the palace. We walked down the main street past the parliament and to the cathedral, then through the fortress and back to the boat.
Copenhagen: Lovely, helpful people.
Got and spent a few (about Â£15) Danish Kroner. Having these enabled us to get on a local bus and very cheaply travel right into the city centre. The HOHO (hop on hop off) buses are expensive and a fair bit of the walk back was pedestrianised and so it could not take you there. A local guide was there as you got off the boat to give free maps and advice. It is a long walk back but well worth it. You end at the little mermaid which is close to the boat. I'll not list all the sights here or other ports as it will probably get boring.
Stockholm. Lovely, helpful people.
The boat parked way out but the shuttle meant this was not a problem. I had about Â£50 in Swedish Kroner and think that this was about right. The HOHO boat was superb value and we loved the Vasa Museum. The guide really brought the story to life. we wanted to go in the palace but time was getting short. There is so much to do. You can even go salmon fishing whilst waiting for the shuttle.
Euros is the currency and I had plenty. Free shuttle. Beautiful old town. Bought some local beer to take back to the ship. P&O do not mind this. They even sold duty free (spirits only) on 2 days that you could take back to your cabin. That said, bar prices are reasonable (Â£3.50 for a pint of Stella/Spitfire/Old speckled hen and no service charges- about the same for a glass of wine).
We found the people OK. Not so open or warm but that is to be expected with the history. Awful treatment by the Germans in the war but now seem to take that as history long past.
We booked trips with TJ Tours via cruise Critic Roll Call and we were really pleased. The 2 day "All St Petersburg Highlights" was tiring but they take you to so much. You cannot just go ashore and do your own thing without a visa. TJ looked after this for you. No roubles needed - just lots of American dollars (or Euros).
Helsiki: Euros again. Lovely, helpful people. Shuttle to town. Walk to the tourist office nearby. Get a map and and buy a 5 euro ticket that gives you (free) travel on all buses, trams and the Suomenlina Ferry. One tram alone takes you close to all the main sites.
Warnemunde: Euros. People not so warm - again I think you have to forgive this and remember the history. Went to Rostock on the local train. The boat parks near the station and its only a few euros. Go to the ticket office. There were long queues at the machines as the instructions were in Germana t most of them and we brits showed our usual fluency in foreign languages. Loved the old buildings. Moving scenes from the holocaust in the cathedral. Visit the old convent. Frequent trains and a short ride.
We spent the afternoon in the lovely harbour town/seaside resort of Warnemunde. Fish and chips hard to resist.
We did the P&O Brussels in a Day" trip. The only P&O trip that we did. It was a ot of travelling but worth it to see the lovely old city square, see Maneken Pis and have a few (and then a few more) chocolates. The guide advises you on price and quality.
Overall: A wonderful experience that we will always remember. If you get the chance - do it. we were very lucky with the weather - sunbathing on the balcony several days.
Loved the sights, tram, ferry and market. Less
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