We were on A219, departing Southampton on 10th August and visiting Stavanger, Flaam, Geiranger and Bergen. The ship was at capacity.
The overall feeling of the cruise was one of disappointment due to the mediocre food in the Peninsular restaurant. Things that were free via self-service on other ships (e.g. fruit juices, soft-serve ice-cream) were decidedly not free on Azura.
Food would often turn out as bland, lacking in seasoning and be lukewarm. "School Dinners" is a good description, helped along by the extremely old fashioned silver service of soggy veg. A lot of the items on the menu seemed to translate to a less-than-impressive roast dinner. "Slow cooked brisket in ale" turned out as two slices of unpleasant tough brisket in a tasteless sauce. The pomp and ceremony of black-tie dinners quickly becomes a farce if the food is not good.
The service was quite surly, by waiters who made no real effort to introduce themselves and whose English was on the whole poor, and not easily understandable. It is clear that the switch to automatic gratuity hasn't exactly incentivized the staff to do their very best -- no-one was making any attempt to work for their tip. The second night I had a request for a Margarita cocktail turned down as it "wasn't possible", with no explanation or apology. Speaking to an apologetic head waiter later I was told it was in fact possible, just it would take longer due to the limited drink availability for the restaurant. Whereas that explanation is better than the brush off I was given, it's still crazy that a full bar service wasn't available to the restaurant - from a business perspective if nothing else. Requesting two main courses caused a certain amount of hand-wringing and a suggestion that it may have to be accommodated on a single plate. It did come as two separate plates, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable in making a request like that again. Maybe that was the idea.
One night my wife who just fancied a salad as a starter, asked for the egg mayonnaise on mixed salad without the egg mayo. A plate of dry baby gem lettuce leaves subsequently turned up.
Hygiene seemed a non-issue on this ship. There were plenty of hand-gel dispensers at the buffet, but no attempt to ensure that people were using them before getting their food. No hand-gel was offered in any form going into the Peninsular restaurant.
The children's menu was quite limited. Food tended to be of the chicken nuggets (and the really cheap ones at that)/burger/sausage/pasta/chips/mash variety. No fish fingers/battered cod. No home cooked style food like shepherd's pie, or any sort of nightly special. No jacket potatoes or even pizza. Ice-cream for desert was strictly vanilla. No chocolate, no strawberry, just vanilla. Heaven forfend that P&O should miss a sale of its over-priced Carte D'or ice-cream on deck.
The buffet at lunchtime could be hit and miss. There were many cold meats, seafood items and a number of hot dishes, but it was decidedly lacking in theme and choice. The daily curries, whilst a welcome addition could be quite bland. There were pies served canteen style (in a gigantic tin) but again these weren't seasoned particularly well. Desserts were often of the mousse variety. There were a few glaring omissions -- whole prawns were very welcome, but served without cocktail sauce.
Breakfast in the Peninsular was slow. Poached eggs were always hard boiled. We found the buffet was the best bet for breakfast as it offered a good choice, and had a number of specials (kedgeree, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon).
The grill on deck served very mediocre food. The chicken nuggets were the same ones from the children's menu the chips were seemingly on ration, and the burger was a very low-quality, filler-laden affair.
The one food highlight of the trip was Sindhu, which we went to twice. Food was a delicious Anglo-Indian cuisine that was genuinely inventive in its taste and presentation. Everything on the menu was appetizing, delivering far more than promised. Service was warm and accommodating.
The ship was clean and in good shape, but lacked the wow-factor, especially in the atrium. Cabin was clean and maintained well, but the thing that let it down was that it had to be in twin, rather than double configuration in order to use the pullman bed. A balcony room such as this should have had a sofa bed. We had to bring our own bed guard for the pullman as all the ship ones had been allocated.
Children on the ship seemed on the whole well behaved, although there was a contingent outside the boundaries of parental or any other adult supervision that seemed free to roam the ship. This was especially prevalent in the pool area, where the rules were not maintained in any way. Children would repeatedly bomb in the pool, making it virtually a no-go area for anyone who wanted to swim or for parents with young children. The terrace pool at the back of the ship was more welcoming for younger children.
Alcoholic drinks were reasonably priced and served without 15% gratuity prevalent on many ships. Soft drinks were a comparatively costly affair. We got the soft drinks package consisting of 20 post-mix (i.e. the bar soda pump) drinks for Â£35. Considering the normal price was a whopping Â£1.95 the package amounted to Â£39 worth of Coke for the price of Â£35 -- not a massive saving considering the initial outlay. For a seven day cruise we only just used it all. Fruit juices were decidedly not free. Machines that freely vended apple juice at the buffet breakfast were rather meanly disabled for subsequent services. Apple juice was available at Â£1.60 for a 330ml can.
We went to see The Headliners in the theatre twice, and they were consistently good. There was a comedian two nights in Manhattan Bar, who delivered a good, if a little close-to-the-knuckle performance.
Officers were noticeable by their scarcity in public areas, especially up on deck.
The Fjords were breathtakingly beautiful and definitely worth having the balcony for. Waking up to their beauty outside your window was the highlight of the trip. We did the Flaam railway excursion under our own steam, but I would recommend that people always try and book through the cruise line to save a lot of angst. We bought tickets via raileurope.com without reserved seating, and whereas we did get a seat we were squashed into a particular carriage. People who tried to get tickets on the day from the station were disappointed as they quickly sold out. (by 08:30).
We did the Bergen Heights and Highlights excursion which was definitely worth the money. It consisted of a cable car trip up Mount Ulriken, followed by a bus tour round the city. We did the 9am excursion and had the mountain to ourselves for a time.
Due to a problem with a starboard engine, the ship was delayed in its journey from Bergen back to Southampton. This meant we got into port over 3 hours late, and into the Mayflower terminal. (Due to its size Azura normally goes to Ocean Terminal) Subsequently the self-help disembarkation was massively over-subscribed. (After all, people didn't fancy waiting until midday to get off) We were lucky in that we were able to get wind of the fact that the door would be opening on deck 5 (rather than 6 as per Ocean Terminal) and were one of the first groups off. From other reviews I gather it got quite heated with people who had waited in areas on other decks.
All in all, we loved Norway and would go back, but were deeply disappointed with Azura.