I appreciate that different people have different views and priorities so I understand that not everyone will share my views of this 17 day Azura cruise around the Med.
However here goes!
A BIT ABOUT ME
I am 63 year old male, married to Lynne (60) and we have cruised 3 times before this one, on Independence of the Seas, Ventura and Eclipse. We can therefore provide some comparative debate to this review.
Azura is in the 'big ship' class as are all the cruise ships we have been on so far and like all of them we struggled to find our way around even after several days onboard. Some of the signage is quite poor, particularly in relation to the location of public toilet facilities, restaurants and bars. You get a deck plan with your cruise card which is useful but it relies on you trying to work out which end of the ship you are facing at any point in time. Something we found difficult to do without a window reference. A bit more internal 'forward and aft' signage would not go amiss.
Having said all this the ship is impressive with lots of activities, shops, bars and restaurants and is efficient and extremely well run. Air conditioning was a bit fierce in some of the restaurants and bars which meant some of us oldies were a bit chilly at times but we managed.
The ship sailed well with little experience of movement even on the more choppy sea days and apart from the atrium on shop sale days it never felt overcrowded even though full (but see comment re theatre below!)
Embarkation and disembarkation was virtually faultless, both took less than 30 minutes.
We had a standard balcony cabin on C deck mid ships (double size balconies) which was pretty good as we booked a getaway fair and could have gone anywhere.
The cabin whilst not the biggest was more than adequate for our needs with lots of drawer and hanging space. TV position was not the best however (left of the bed on a high shelf) and would be better fixed to the wall opposite the foot of the bed. Live TV choice was pretty poor but this seems to be the norm on cruise ships these days. You did however get an excellent choice of pre recorded programmes and films at little or no cost. You were provided with tea and coffee making facilities and a daily biscuit each which was nice and the air conditioning control was excellent.
The bathroom was on the small side, with a shower only , but lots of hot water and huge towels. We have been in larger cabins with settees in the lounge area and bigger bathrooms but to be honest we rarely used the extra facilities they offered so we were happy with our lot.
Balcony was good and as it was double size you had half in shade and half in full sun, which was ideal as I like to sun bathe and Lynne does not. We would have liked the recliner chairs to recline a bit more but could understand that this could create problems on the smaller standard size balconies.
Sound insulation was good but unfortunately our cabin suffered a bit from cabin creak which was annoying at night (cabin C308 if you wish to avoid it!)
Our cabin steward Avalax was the best we have ever had. Very attentive, remembered our names, always smiling and did great towel animals. The bar staff and waiters were also pleasant and efficient as were the officers when you saw them.
There was usual array of shops selling typical cruise items at inflated prices, although the 'everyday items you forgot to bring' shop was well stocked with useful stuff.
Because it was a mainly EU cruise everything attracted a further 20% VAT and there was no duty free shop even on the last day.
FOOD AND DRINK
For us this is one of the key elements of a good cruise. We both like our food and we like the odd tipple (to excess some might say) but that's who we are and we are much more sensible at home - honest!
We particularly liked the main restaurant food. It was varied, well cooked, hot and plentiful. Service was also efficient and friendly. In our view it is better that Eclipse which had too much of a fine dining element to it for our liking and also the Ventura where the food was sometime bland and cold. Our best dining experience however was when we sailed on the Independence of the Seas which was in our view exceptional. Not everyone we spoke to agreed with us, but we accept that food can be an emotive subject.
The food in the self service was also the best we have experienced especially the curry and oriental themed night. It was busy at times but provided you were willing to share a table seating was not a problem. They were however sometimes a bit slow in clearing tables and hot drinks cups were occasionally unavailable.
For us the big thing that P&O have got right is their drinks policy. There is a good selection of drinks in the bars all at reasonable prices and without a 15% gratuity added. Bottles of wine prices in the restaurants are also OK and you can buy wine packages at a discount. You are also allowed to bring alcohol on board for cabin consumption and you can purchase litre bottles of spirits (about £22 each) through room service. The mixer cans are however a bit on the pricy side so buy on shore when you can. The steward will also replenish your ice bucket daily and provide fresh lemon slices if required at no cost.
There was twice nightly shows in the theatre which is too small to accommodate those wanting to go. So you need to arrive at least half an hour before the start to guarantee a seat. This however has been common problem on all the ships we have been on. P&O used to do 3 shows a night but because of evening dining times they found the first show was virtually empty and the second two were still oversubscribed. Bigger theatres seems to be the only solution.
Two of the bars also had stages and some of the acts were presented there. Again seating was a problem unless you arrived early. We are not big entertainment goers so the overcrowding did not bother us that much. Most of what we did see was of good quality except one comedian who will remain nameless.
We booked three P&O excursions but one was cancelled for safety reqasons because of the weather (with full refund).The two we went on were a bit pricy but reasonably good. There are lots of taxis and opened topped tour buses in most ports of call if you want to do our own thing but make sure you get back in plenty of time. On at least two occasions the ships tannoy was employed at sailing time to try and find missing passengers and the ship does not wait.
HEALTH SPA AND GYM.
This is not an area we normally frequent on a cruise so we cannot really comment. We did walk through it on our last day at sea at it looked impressive but was pretty quiet.
Before we sailed on our first ever cruise we were as bit concerned that it would full of 'posh' people. This has proved to be far from the truth. Most passengers are normal people just like us who are pleasant, friendly and looking for a good time.
This time we were in the freedom dining restaurant and usually finished up on a table with four different people every sitting. We never had a bad experience and met some lovely people, unlike some of our fixed dining companions on previous cruises. This was our first freedom dining experience and it will definitely be the norm on any future cruises.
We had a similar experience in the bars and buffet restaurant where people were more than happy to share a table and chat away.
Free laundry and ironing facilities on every cabin deck.
Everything in £s so no need to contently mentally convert.
Good selection of bathroom condiments regularly replenished.
Ample sun beds even on sunny sea days provided you did not want to lay in the prime poolside area and no real evidence of sun bed hoggers.
Time in port was limited in some places with a few mid afternoon and tea time departures.
The public loos were a bit smelly at times and you did not see many attendants cleaning them.
Coffee bar was too small for the number of passengers especially on sea days. It was however worse on the Eclipse.
Price of connecting to the internet is extortionate but that's the case on most cruise ships. Same applies to ships mobile costs whilst at sea.