P&O Cruises – 175th Anniversary Cruise – AZURA (Canary Islands).
With 7 ships expected to arrive and depart in Southampton on the same day, and the movement of some 15,000 passengers, we decided to come to the city a day earlier just in case of traffic problems on the 3 July 2012. We managed to find a hotel room after much searching at the Southampton Park Hotel. The hotel is adequate for a one night stay. It is handy to the city centre and a short taxi ride to the cruise terminal. The hotel is clean and comfortable but is in need of update and re-decoration in some areas. The breakfast served is good.
Tuesday 3 July 2012 – “The day of the Grand Event.” We left the hotel at 10.45am for the Ocean Terminal at Dock Gate 4. Traffic was fairly heavy, but the experienced taxi driver used side streets to get us to our destination. Whilst the terminal was busy, our luggage was immediately taken from us and we moved inside the building for check-in. From the time that we arrived at the terminal, checked-in, went through security, we were on board the ship at 11.50am. Well done to P&O – this is an area where they excel. (Embarking and dis embarking passengers)
Cabins were still being serviced, so guests were invited to have lunch and to wait for an announcement when cabins would be ready for occupancy. This announcement was made at 2.00pm. Our cabin was a balcony cabin on deck 15 Lido deck. The cabin was on the whole clean and tidy, there were however some ledges that obviously had not been dusted for some considerable time- chairs and power sockets in particular. There were a number of stains on the carpet and the balcony furniture could have done with a good scrub. The bed configuration was as requested. The bed was extremely comfortable. Some area of the cabin looked tired. The fresh flower had already wilted, possibly because there was no water in the vase. The cabin was well laid out with ample storage and all the main electrics were working. It is a pity that P&O do not provide bathrobes for all grades of cabins. Whilst the cabin attendant was extremely pleasant, he did just the bare minimum in keeping the cabin tidy. We had to ask each day for ice, sometimes we got it, mostly we didn`t. I cut myself shaving and during the night, a slight bleed stained the pillowcase. It was noticeable but the pillowcase remained unchanged for several days. Towels on occasions were threadbare and often not replaced... Midway during the cruise, one of the lights in the bathroom started to “blink” – despite mentioning it to the cabin steward, which he could see for himself, nothing was done to fix it - it only needed the bulb changed. The same thing happened with a second light bulb. However a quick call to reception on each occasion, soon had this sorted out.
Soon it was time for the Grand Event, the seven ships of the P&O fleet leaving Southampton at the same time Unfortunately the weather had gone from bad to worse and we were advised that the appearance of the Red Arrows display team had been cancelled, this was a huge disappointment but understandable. It was truly remarkable to see the seven ships in convey as they sailed down Southampton Water. The firework display was good and after the salute, taken by the Princess Royal, the ships headed in different directions on their various itineraries.
The Azura itself is a beautiful ship and one that is easy to find your way around. The Public areas are spotlessly clean and well maintained and there are lots of fresh flowers everywhere. Staff on the whole, were very pleasant and willing to assist passengers, there were some however who were confrontational and obviously had not undergone the P&O - C.R.U.I.S.E. Training programme or if they had it must have been a long time ago and it is time that they attended a refresher course especially to be educated in courtesy and respect to passengers. There was a very noticeable lack of visibility of senior officers around the ship – many passengers also made comment on this.
For dining, we had chosen Freedom Dining in the Meridian Dining Room. – The average waiting time each evening for a small table was around 30 minutes. Without exception all meals in not only this restaurant, but in all the restaurants including the Lido buffet were excellent. Menus were varied; the food was well presented and was extremely tasty. Service in the main dining rooms be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner was of the highest standard. This was our 34th cruise with P&O and without doubt, the best food ever.
The Gala Event Dinner was interesting. There was an comprehensive menu, with a free glass of champagne. The menu brought back memories of the standard, variety and quantities of food which were actually presented during my first cruises with P&O on-board the Canberra and the old Oriana.
The Cruise Overview – “Your Cruise Highlights not to be missed”, which was in our cabin on boarding, perhaps summed it up – other than telling us of each evenings dress codes and how to book for Spa treatments and speciality dining options at a supplement – the only two events listed were – The Grand Event Sailaway and when the Round World Cruise Winners would be announced – there was nothing else- nothing in regard to what entertainment would be available for this Great Event Cruise..
There was an entertainment programme which was lacking in thought, especially in relation to the timings and venues chosen for particular events... The programme was disappointing especially during sea days – thanks goodness for Wimbledon! Being a Grand Event Cruise, most passengers were expecting some well-known “star” to make a guest appearance or indeed a celebrity guest speaker – there were none! It was just the typical normal entertainment on a basic 11 day cruise. The Headliners-the on-board entertainers – singers and dancers were good – occasionally some of the singers struggled to reach the notes. These shows are “loud”. Unfortunately more than once some of the singers lost the microphone transmission connection with the speakers which caused awkward pauses. Having been on Azura two times previously in the past few years, it is time for change insofar as the production shows are concerned.
We particularly, on Formal nights, having made the effort to dress up, like to go and see a production show on formal evenings. Not on the Azura, not one production show was presented on such evenings. Formal evenings are supposed to be something special.
The Cruise Director and staff were energetic in their approach and were highly visible throughout the ship.
Stateroom television was disappointing – especially the presentations by the Entertainments staff – these was amateurish.
Films on stateroom television too are drastically in need of change – same old – same old.
One channel is devoted to the ships log and in particular “Meet the Officers” – the only officers featured are the deck officers – no mention is made of the Engineering department nor the hotel department. Location information, weather reports etc. were often not updated on some occasions for up to 24 hours.
Events which were held on the first couple of days were re-run again and again on the cabin television.
PORTS OF CALL - La Coruna, Madeira, La Palma, Tenerife, Lisbon & Oporto.
Shore Excursions offered at each of the ports were varied, professionally organised and were reasonably priced. It is pleasing that P&O still offer a complementary bus shuttle service from the ship at ports where such a service is necessary.
The many bars on-board offered a wide variety of drinks and cocktails, full of flavour and again reasonably priced.
The on-board photographers were everywhere. At least when you said No – they left you alone. Their prices are far too expensive. Almost £10.00 (GBP) for a single photograph – lower your prices and you will sell more photographs.
The shops stocked a wide variety of goods and the sales assistants were pleasant and helpful.
The staff on duty at the reception desk were always courteous and professional in their approach.
Probably the best way to summarise is to divide the summary into two parts –
The Grand Event Cruise and P&O Cruising.
The Grand Event Cruise.
A remarkable and unforgetful Sailaway - However, it takes more than a few balloons and union jacks to class something as a Grand Event and even these disappeared after the first couple of days... After the Sailaway and other than the Grand Event Dinner, nothing could be described as being “Grand” – It was as if, right that’s that over, now let’s get on with our normal cruise programme. We left feeling that the Grand Event was nothing more than a very successful publicity stunt by P&O, paid for by the passengers on these particular sailings. It`s a pity but this was the feeling felt by many of the passengers on-board.
P& O Cruises have a well-defined and excellent product – well they have 175 years of experience in this regard!
They offer something for everyone – from the choice of ships, the various itineraries, the duration of their cruises and voyages, together with excellent food and normally very good and varied entertainment.
As with many other cruise lines, cutbacks are obvious on-board, just be careful not to go too far in this regard – it’s the wee things that passengers notice.
In all, leaving aside the disappointment that the “Grand Event” theme was not carried out and executed for the duration of the cruise, we did enjoy this cruise despite some of the things not being completely up to standard as on previous P&O cruises. The cruise on this occasion fell short of meeting our expectations and certainly did not exceed them. There was a noticeable lack of attention to detail in many aspects – which is a pity.