An enjoyable cruise, well-organised throughout, no hassles, certainly excellent value-for-money on a late-booked deal.
But all lacking that little something.
The ship decor, the staff, the food, & particularly the entertainment all a little bit bland, a little bit subdued.
Excellent flight (impressive new Boeing Dreamliner) & transfer arrangements, as we’ve come to expect with Caribbean fly-cruises. On arrival in Barbados, our aircraft taxi’d to the perimeter road, where we switched from aircraft direct to our transfer buses to the port. No customs, no immigration, no luggage carousel, we didn’t even go into the airport terminal. We didn’t see our luggage from when we checked in at Gatwick until it appeared at our cabin.
A similarly easy transfer home. Evicted from our cabin at 8am, but with the run of the ship, the pools, the food & the bars until our flight was called early pm. No check-in at the airport, straight to the airside lounge. And our checked baggage, which we’d left outside our cabin at midnight we didn’t see again until the carousel at Gatwick.
How very civilised.
Could never understand those who choose to fly from the UK via the airport zoos in Florida, and get thrown off the ship by 9am on the last day – and usually with a flight home not until the evening.
Not the best itinerary, but it fitted our budget.
And we’d been to all the ports before, which I guess doesn’t help though we managed a new slant on most.
Except St Vincent & Grand Turk.
All the ports seem to have come on quite a bit since our last visits, with a lot of investment in attractive shops, bars & facilities in the port areas, and much more organised for taxis, jeepneys & minibuses at the ports - which has made life simpler but done away with much of the bartering & banter.
Poor weather on St Vincent precluded the limited tour & beach options, & although Kingstown’s port area had been improved dramatically, the rest of the place was as grim, uninteresting & grubby as ever.
And Grand Turk is very much just a beach day since it’s a tiny island with nothing of interest beyond the port area – Carnival has invested in its own private facility there (they call it Margaritaville), with its own beach, pools, bars & shops. Very pleasant, though hardly a “Caribbean” experience. Obviously for their ships it’s a cheap day with income from the over-priced bars & shops, and no port fees. Though step outside the Carnival-controlled part of the beach & the drinks prices are way lower (from nearly 7 dollars a beer down to 4 dollars, though in other ports a beer averaged $2 to $3, & as low as 99cents). Plus a full sea-day of slow-steaming to get to Grand Turk, followed by a slow-steaming sea day re-tracing our route to the next port – a waste of three days, purely to trim the costs.
That made it a generally lazy cruise.
All cruise lines are economising in one way or another, P & O’s way seems to be by more sea-days & by the captain applying only light pressure on the loud pedal - often steaming at a snail's pace.
But praise where it’s due.
He'd made three attempts to get into the narrow approaches to St John’s (Antigua) in windy & gusty weather, before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour & that passengers would prefer another day at sea rather than one on the rocks.
We’d hardly come to terms with facing yet another sea-day before the Captain announced that since we'd missed Antigua, instead of the last cruise day being the scheduled day at sea, he’d arranged as an unscheduled day on Grenada.
What a very nice man.
I reckon missing Antigua as infinitely better than hitting it. And IMHO, Grenada is every bit as good a stop as Antigua.
At most ports we shared a road tour ending at a beach. On St Maarten, after a shared minibus to Marigot on the French side, we headed for Maho beach to experience the jets flying in so low over the beach that you feel you can jump up and touch their wheels. And we took our turn clinging to the fence to face the jet blast of those taking off. And to watch hats, parasols & the like being blown into the sea.
Hint: the big jets fly in around noon-to-2pm, & out from about 2pm.
Plenty of shared taxis available from the bars by the beach for the return to the ship.
Azura is a little too large for us, and its layout a little complicated, with a few dead-ends and a long hike from venue to venue. And the main pool deck split into two, useful in many ways but meant that the ship didn’t have a central “heart”. The little pool area at the stern is so much quieter & more sociable than up-top.
Same basic design as a number of ships, including several Princess ships. But somehow rather ............ errrr ......... "beige", if you get my drift.. Subdued décor, a few ideas such as the Planet Bar that didn’t work for us, staff who were certainly efficient but short on bounce.
Films & live soccer on the big Sea-Screen, though sound quality was poor.
We made good use of P&O’s relaxed attitude to bringing aboard drinks for consumption in our cabin. This, plus reasonable drinks prices in the bars & restaurants, and low auto-tips, makes P&O’s on-board costs much, much lower than those of her American & Italian cousins.
The buffet offered a decent if unexciting breakfast, but the rest of its fare was so-so. Food in the MDR was very acceptable, helped by good company at our table. Four formal nights, and P&O’s rather silly something-&-nothing semi-formal on four other nights.
Entertainment was patchy We saw nothing of the Cruise Director, everything seemed to be organised or compered by his assistants & the captain. Although the theatre had all the whistles & bells, the shows were rather dull - the choreography uninspired and the singing pretty patchy. One comedian (from Hull) was embarrassingly awful, EVERY joke & routine was as old as the hills without even a personalised twist. But we rated the other comedian & all the tribute acts as good, especially Dolly Parton who had both Dolly’s clear singing voice & her croaky southern-drawl speaking voice.
Staff were efficient, but had little fizz. Except for our steward, Ellie, who was great.
Our standard balcony cabin on deck 14 was excellent. Reasonable size cabin & balcony (lounger-chairs) & shower (no curtain-cling), comfy bed, interactive TV (annoyingly slow), fridge, tea/coffee. Good separate hanging/changing area helped keep the cabin tidy. All in good order & immaculate.