We booked this cruise 4 weeks before sailing on a 'Getaway' fare offering a substantial saving as we were fairly flexible on dates and destination. It seemed that there were many passengers paying these reduced fares judging by the people we got speaking to during our time on board.
Embarkation was reasonably speedy and efficient although I was surprised that with all the negative publicity regarding outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships the antibacterial hand gel dispensers on the walkway to the ship were empty! More on this subject later.
Entering our cabin we were delighted with the extra space provided by it being 'Superior Deluxe' but this pleasure was short-lived when we saw the dust on the coffee table. A call to house-keeping resulted in a visit from a senior member of that department's staff to inspect the problem and a re-visit from the steward.
Although we hadn't had a long journey to the port we were feeling hungry so we went up to the buffet restaurants. The memories of a previous cruise on Azura came flooding back as we saw the absolute chaos in this area. Poor design means that access to the servery areas is difficult to say the least. Add to this the constantly changing opening and closing times, the overcrowding caused by closures as each restaurant in turn prepares for lunch or whatever and the limited choice of food (compared to Princess ships)and you can see why we think the buffet restaurants leave a lot to be desired. Needless to say too, many guests totally ignore the hand gel dispensers (which were filled up!). Even more on this subject later!
So off to the Pizzeria we went where our rumbling tums were soon calmed by the delicious pizzas that are cooked to order. On the same deck there is a Poolside Grill serving hot dogs, burgers and jacket potatoes. The hot dogs come with onions but I dared on one occasion to ask for onions with a burger and was told this was not allowed. Daft if that is really their policy rather than that of a miserable member of staff! Incidentally, one day I had lunch on my own near the Coral Bar near the Grill and the whole time I was sitting there not one waiter came to take my drinks order even though they constantly passed by. This never happened when my husband was with me. Was it my imagination or was the fact I was a woman on my own a factor here?
While on the subject of food, we were allocated second sitting in Peninsular restaurant. We much prefer Freedom Dining as we prefer our own company and dining at a time of our choosing but booking late as we did this was massively oversubscribed (the Maitre D showed us the waiting list and it was long, believe you me). One wonders if P&O should consider designating 2 main restaurants for 'Freedom Dining' and just the 1 for Club (fixed time) Dining rather than as it currently is. The demand certainly seems to be there. Anyway, having been unable to secure the Freedom option we asked to change to the first sitting and this was possible. We were very fortunate in that all 4 couples on our table hit it off and we found the experience a lot more pleasant than we'd anticipated. Our first choice would still be Freedom Dining though.
Peninsular restaurant was where I was finally totally amazed by the mixed standards regarding the whole hygiene issue that I have already referred to. In the inevitable mass 'queue' (for that read 'onslaught'!) to enter at the allocated time a senior waiter was heard to call "there is no need to use the gel dispensers if you washed your hands before leaving your cabin". This assumes that having left your cabin you do not touch the lift buttons nor the hand rails on the stairs amongst all the other surfaces that all and sundry have touched before. Mad - but I promise no more on this subject!
The shops on board make for a pleasant interlude if you like that sort of thing (i.e. you're a female!) but we noticed on occasion they closed 10 minutes or so before the advertised time. Not a problem for us but it might be for some.
We didn't 'do' many shows as timings of shows and dining times do not sit well together. We did get to one of Roy Walkers late shows and he was very funny. Mention should also be made of the pianist on board who was very talented. I do agree with an earlier reviewer who likened on board entertainment to 'hi de hi'. There certainly are times when it is all a bit holiday camp.
Before the cruise we were informed by P&O that there would be 2 black tie evenings, 2 smart and 3 casual. Once on board we were told 2 black tie, 1 smart and 4 casual. Reception said on querying this that 'head office' had instructed them to change the format and it was nothing to do with Azura. As expected, when I spoke to Carnival House on our return they knew nothing of this and said it would have been a decision made on the ship. The young lady I spoke to agreed that she could see no need whatsoever for this to have happened. It didn't bother me too much but we heard other ladies complaining that they had needlessly purchased at some expense the two outfits required for smart dressing when one was all that was used.
On a personal note we really like dressing up for the black tie or formal nights if that's what you want to call them but find the distinction between smart and casual unnecessary and a bit of a bore. We are on holiday after all. On a week's cruise such as this 2 formal and the rest casual would suit us better.
Throughout the cruise the Captain proved to be very informative with his calm and 'laid back' delivery. Even when he had to broadcast from the bridge at 4am on the first night to inform us that an emergency medical evacuation by helicopter would shortly be taking place he was cool, calm and collected although by the time he had had to tell passengers not to go on to their balconies for the 3rd time (yes, third time!) for safety reasons you could just about detect the frustration creeping in. Who were those idiots I wonder?
It was noticeable that since our last cruise ship's officers (the ones in uniform with epaulets) no longer seem to say 'Good Morning' etc nor even raise a smile as they pass you by. Blanking passengers seems to be the order of the day.
Ports of call were Bergen, Andalsnes, Olden and Stavanger. All were enjoyable. We took the train excursion at Andalsnes and did think it would have helped if this had been escorted as on leaving the train at our destination we were left to our own devices with no information as we waited the eventual arrival of the coaches that formed the second part of the trip taking us back.
Disembarkation was a bit of a farce. On arriving on the ship all passengers were asked to visit Reception early on in the week if they needed to disembark at a certain time. I went to Reception on that first evening to say that we needed to be off the ship by 09.30. When we were informed of our disembarkation time towards the end of the holiday it was to meet in Malabar between 09.30 and 09.45. Off I went to Reception to be given the new time of 09.00 to 09.30 and a new venue of the Playhouse. Needless to say they did not start emptying the Playhouse until 09.40 and because it was done in sections and guess what, we were the last section, we did not disembark until nearly 10. Fortunately it was a matter of personal choice rather than necessity that had prompted us to request disembarkation by 09.30 or we would have been furious. Poor administration.
Reading this you will see that I have inevitably highlighted failings but I will say that regardless we did enjoy our cruise to the fjords. Having sailed on Azura twice now it is not our favourite ship (Grand Princess outshone it in all respects) but whether our opinion would be the same of other P&O vessels we do not currently know. Many experienced P&O customers have told us that P&O are not what they used to be and there is certainly an element of having worked hard to convince us all that cruising is the holiday to have they are now sitting back and not perhaps trying so hard. Whatever, we still enjoy cruising.