When it comes down to value for money my wife and I have always rated P & O very highly - first class standards of comfort, cleanliness, fine dining, entertainment, all round customer care - and these elements were all present and fully met our expectations on our latest cruise to the Norwegian fjords - 28th June, 2013 - 7 nights.
The check in and boarding procedure in Southampton was very well organised and it took us no more than 20 minutes from handing over the car to the meet and greet parking company (worth every penny it cost) to boarding the ship. Just in time for a light lunch in the buffet as we waited for the cabins to become available at 2pm. Greeted at the cabin by our steward, and found a welcoming bottle of champagne - a good way to start our holiday!
The first night's sleep was interrupted as a medical emergency aboard required passenger to be evacuated by helicopter to a hospital ashore. A special announcement was made by the Captain at around 3.30am, apologising for disturbing everyone, and advising all passengers that this would be taking place - for safety reasons everyone was asked to stay in their cabins and NOT to go out on the balconies before or during the arrival of the helicopter and subsequent evacuation of the passenger. Unfortunately the Captain had to make two further broadcasts to request those passengers who had ignored his instructions to get off their balconies and to go back inside their cabins!
It always amazes us how many people one comes across on cruises who do not have a good word to say for almost any aspect of the ship, its facilities, staff, food quality and choice, entertainment, excursions, etc and, unfortunately, it seems more of these feel driven to share these views, during and after the event, than do people who have thoroughly enjoyed their cruise.
It might perhaps be more understandable if these were first time cruisers who had no idea that ships do move in rough weather, that there would be a lot of other passengers also wishing to share, use and enjoy the facilities and who simply find the experience is not for them and not something they would repeat. Strangely however, most of these unhappy people are regular cruisers, as they are only too prepared to tell anyone and everyone who will listen or who happen to be within earshot - if things are so bad we sometimes wonder why they keep coming back for more? We are happy cruisers and decided to post this, our first, review to redress the balance a bit perhaps.
We have heard moans that the staff are hostile and rude - not so, every crew member we encountered was friendly, anxious to please and more than happy to go out of their way to assist in any way possible. Perhaps this has something to do with how one treats them - saying please when you ask for something, and thank you when receiving service - a simple smile, saying good morning or just Hi, how are you today? .. and treating those who are serving you with respect works for us.
In a recent review of the Azura, we read prior to embarkation that Cabin D214 (the one we were booked in) was noisy with banging and creaking and that sleep was impossible - really? We did not notice anything other than the occasional slight creaking that one gets on any ship, in fact it was a very quiet cabin and sleeping was not a problem.
The Ports of Call:
Bergen - free shuttle from ship to town centre, famous old wooden houses, delightful port area. Fish market a "must", and the funicular ride to the top of the mountain overlooking the city is well worth taking; two other cruise ships in town that day though did make the queues for this rather long.
Andalsnes - The Scenic Train trip to Bjorli from Andalsnes is spectacular and we can recommend this.
Olden - Mainly trips going to see the Glacier - there were a number of excursions where one could actually walk on the glacier or, for those wishing just to see the beautiful countryside sights the open-top bus available from the quayside is to be recommended. Not much else to see or do in Olden so an excursion of some sort is a good idea.
Stavanger - Nice town centre with charming old wooden buildings - an easy walk from the Quay so no need for shuttles, etc.
Overall the cruise was great, fantastic scenery in the fjords, calm seas and reasonable weather. Consistently good, the food was the best we have experienced on any P & O ship, and service in the Peninsular Restaurant was very good. The Glass House offers great value wines by the glass or bottle as well as excellent food at a low cover charge. Entertainment was well up to standard with a hard-working, talented ship's theatre company and a couple of comedy shows by Roy Walker which were great fun. Guest speaker David Shute, a former BBC producer, very interesting. With the usual broad spectrum of other entertainments and the added bonus of Lions rugby and Wimbledon Tennis on the TV's in Brodies and on the outdoor screen on Deck 15, there was plenty to keep us occupied. As usual, the bar prices were sensible and without service charges - wish the other cruise lines like Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, etc would follow this example.
Disembarkation was well organised in groups and ran right on plan for timing - it was all really easy and we were in our car and leaving the port within 15 minutes of our designated disembarkation time.
In summary, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "You can please some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Despite having a huge range of different requirements to meet for age groups, mobility, dietary requirements, entertainment preferences and expectations we think Azura and P & O very successfully manage to please most of the people, most of the time.