Azura A308N Western Med. Cruise April 2013
We travelled down from Yorkshire the day before and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Botley Road, a perfectly acceptable modern budget hotel, but alas no central heating in the rooms and Easter week 2013 was bitterly cold. The room heating is provided by an electric radiator which works only when the single key card is in the power slot, so the room cools down rapidly if you are not in it.
Despite this we managed, and the included breakfast was well up to budget hotel standard and did include a hot section. Travel time to the Ocean terminal was about 25 minutes, including a short wrong turning.
Because this was an early season cruise we had chosen a partly obstructed accessible cabin rather than a balcony. This was a very good choice as these E deck cabins are exactly the same layout and dimensions as the balconies, and the partial obstruction only covered the bottom half of the window and allowed in plenty of light; and it was £350pp less than a balcony.
Over the first few days we felt that dining service standards had slipped significantly since our Ventura cruise in June 2012, but it was probably due to us comparing it with our last cruise in September on the Eclipse.
Little things like Celebrity ensuring the freedom dining table was quickly filled, and only then would the waiter introduce himself provide menus and then give the table his views on the night's menu. Also the assistant Maitre D' would be constantly patrolling and ensuring things were running smoothly and sorting out any minor problems, and the sommelier (wine waiter) always within view seeming to have eyes in the back of his head.; and despite never feeling rushed service was maintained at a steady pace without any unnecessary delays.
This cruise it felt a little like a school dining room, menus were given out immediately upon seating, no introduction by the waiter, no information on the choices unless you asked, and lengthy waits for the table to fill up, and between choosing and being served, as a result we missed the start time of several shows. In addition the wine waiter was seldom there when wanted and the assistant Maitre D was noticeable only by his absence.
However by the end of the cruise things seemed to have improved or perhaps we had just become accustomed to the service level. It will be interesting to see if our perception of Celebrity standards had been rose tinted when we take our next Eclipse cruise in June.
Which brings us to the standard of food presented; again I felt that although the choice was still quite extensive the quality, especially of the steaks, was well down on previous experience; but having said that it was still good and certainly much better than my own cooking at home.
We did not use any of the speciality restaurants on this cruise, again probably Celebrity's fault, since after experiencing the location of their Tuscan Grill overlooking the ships wake from promenade deck level, Seventeen and Sindhu just do not compare.
We mainly used the buffet for breakfast and an occasional lunch or afternoon tea; we found the quality quite good and always found a seat somewhere, even if we had to search for a while. However the design with two separate sides is not the best, we prefer to have a walk through central section which allows you to choose seating from both sides.
However our cabin steward was one of the best we have had, nothing was too much trouble for him and he looked after the cabin very well and was extremely polite and friendly.
The entertainment was enjoyable, the Headliners were up to the usual standard and there were good tribute acts, singers, and comedians. But the show timing was poor, theatre shows at 8:30 and 10:30, Malabar shows at 8:45 and 10:45 and Manhattan at 9:30 and 11:30, which made it a bit difficult to see two consecutive shows, that is if you wanted a seat. On Ventura last year most of the Headliner shows had a third one at 7:00 or 7:15 which, because we are freedom diners and my wife a wheelchair user, suited us far better. Trying to obtain an aisle seat on the ground floor level to sit next to my wife in her chair proved almost impossible at the 8:30 show and 10:30 is too late for us. However by the end of the cruise some seat back top covers had appeared on the aisle seats, which had printing on the back asking that the seat be reserved for wheelchair user carers, pity they had not been on from the start.
We did not book any accessible port excursions, but decided just to do our own thing.
Lisbon - it was still cool and a little damp in the morning and because of this, combined with a crew emergency drill at 10:00am which included the lifts being out of action and the fact we had been before and Azura was berthed way downstream from the tourist centre, we decided to stay on board.
Gibraltar -- it was warm and sunny and there is a level walk into the town centre, which is relatively easy when pushing a wheelchair. There is one main shopping street and quite a lot of pavement cafes which enabled us to while away a couple of hours.
Barcelona -- there is a shuttle to take you from the port to the world trade centre which is about 100yds from the bottom of Las Ramblas. For wheelchair users there was only one accessible bus, so you need to be prepared to wait and not be in a hurry. Ramblas is uphill but it is only a shallow incline, and there are interesting stops along the way, the market and a couple of squares with lots of pavement cafes.
Valencia -- the shuttle takes you to the old town which has lots of charm, is quite pedestrian friendly and masses of old Churches and buildings to admire, as well as the ubiquitous pavement cafes.
Malaga -- there was a shuttle bus into the centre but a short walk will take you into the town or to a local beach. We chose the latter and walked along the promenade and of course stopped for drink at one of the cafes, this time beach rather than pavement.
Cadiz -- we had wanted to take a tour to Seville but P&O did not offer any accessible tours, so we wandered around the town and found Cadiz to be our favourite port on this cruise. Lots of narrow winding streets, a very pleasant park area and some nice beaches, as well as lots of old buildings including the cathedral which started life as a mosque back in the days of the Moorish occupation. This is all contained in a small peninsular which enables you to see most of the town easily in a full day stop.
We have another Azura cruise booked for October this year, but for 2014 we will be on Princess and Celebrity, enough said!