Thomas Cook flight from Manchester - initially dreaded but turned out fine, efficient friendly service, decent food, decent leg room, but maybe take your own personal entertainment as the media choices are fairly limited - best part was stepping off the plane and directly onto a bus on the runway and being taken straight to the ship - if only all cruises were like this! - word of warning regarding luggage though - when they say 23kg hold and 5kg hand luggage allowance - they mean it! - to the extent that there was almost a fist-fight at the check in desk (which is not exactly an ideal way to start your holiday) and you'll be charged £18 per additional kg over said limits.
Weather fantastic - intermittent (and much welcomed) cloud and a few sun-showers on a few days but typically 80 degrees every day apart from Xmas day when it poured down in classic grey-cloud-all-day-UK style!
Itinerary was excellent - very port heavy which suited us fine - enjoyed all of the Islands particularly Bonaire - water-taxi from the waterfront bars to the marvelous 'No-Name Beach' for $15 return - the water taxi also had $2 beers $5 to hire snorkelling gear - perfect.
Grenada was lovely - first time we'd been there, bit of a tip for noobs though - when you go ashore turn right and walk through the tunnel that takes you to the beautiful big horseshoe bay and marina - nicest part of St Georges by far
Golden Eagle Catamaran trip at St Maarten was a very good excursion (the only one we did via P&O) cracking vessel, friendly professional crew - took us to a terrific secluded beach for snorkeling and had a full open bar with as much cold beer and rum as you handle. Loved it.
Curacao was also a very enjoyable stop - again first time we'd been there and we digged it's tropical Amsterdam vibe..took a local bus ride up the coast as were docked until 8pm and had to time to get back without fear of being marooned!
Dominica - definitely the most underdeveloped island we called at but a fascinating place - very non-touristy - took a local minibus trip from the centre of town with a group of Americans who were docked there on the Liberty(?) of the Seas (Azura was docked about a mile away) that took us into the the rain-forests...very informative commentary and lots of wildlife.
Carlisle beach at Barbados was a lovely way to finish the cruise (20 min walk or so to the centre of town - and then just take a right over one of the bridges and you're there!) superb public beach with plenty of empty / private spots but with full facilities if you want them - $15 pp will get you a sunbed / umbrella / drink / wifi / showers / towel and bus back to the ship - a fraction of what one of the official ships tours will cost.
Food was surprisingly good in the main freestyle dining room (Meridian) - we didnt eat there every night and heard a few complaints about the overall standard but we must have touched lucky with the nights we attended as we had some delicious meals in there. Poolside grill burgers are awful / hot dogs very good as are the pizza's. Room service also decent/tasty but limited choice. Buffets were like a sweaty cattle market and virtually impossible to get a table without walking half the length of the ship - choices again very limited and not worth the hassle of the queue. Glasshouse was good - delicious burgers - and Sindhu was enjoyable although to be honest not as good as the reviews had lead me to believe - service was great and food was very well presented but overall I found it surprisingly bland and lacking in spice/flavour...well worth the fifteen quid cover though as its a nice restaurant experience.
Drinks prices were good...nice quenching Stella on draft for £3.50 very acceptable and the Strongbow over-Ice always hit the spot when on the decks...good wine selection too.....and plenty of room in my fridge for the Parrot Bay Coconut Rum that I hunted down in our ports of call (missing you already Captain Morgan)
The Bad and ugly...
Couldn't work it out - its a big ship but Ive never been on a ship that felt as crowded! every public space seemed packed with people even on port days - the shops were small cramped and always crowded - the atrium coffee bar was the same - the pool area felt like Pontins with an endless sea of sun-loungers crammed in so tightly that you were practically applying sun cream to perfect strangers (well that was my excuse and Im sticking to it) it was an effort even to walk through them at times and if you hadn't claimed a lounger by 10.00am you could forget it. The buffet area as indicated above was just as bad - and seemingly at all times of the day?..and then in the evening the bar / lounge areas were jam-packed for whatever (usually awful) act was appearing.......fact is for all its impressive size - I don't think the ergonomics have been well thought out ...you could knock a 1,000 people off the capacity and it would still feel full.
Entertainment....a couple of exceptions (mainly the very talented young singer songwriter Rebecca Roberts - who seemed woefully out of place) but on the whole the entertainment was abysmal - hackneyed comedians with ancient routines...terrible karaoke style 'tribute' acts..an horrendous 'rock duo' with painful renditions of Tina Turner and Kate Bush songs..and a lounge pianist who'd put you to sleep by the time he'd get to each chorus...every night was was like watching the audition scene in Phoenix Nights. Seriously I cant believe that there isn't better talent available in the UK for the cruise ship boom?....there are endless young bands, young singers, aspiring comics and alternative cabaret / magic acts out there - why dont the cruise lines start employing some of them?
As for the cruise director (Neil Oliver - a Ricky Gervais lookalike / soundalike but with less charm) - sorry, but he's stealing a living ...he seems to be employed solely to front the teeth itchingly embarrassing 'sailaways' - as that was literally the only time I seen or heard him in the entire two weeks of the cruise - no tannoy announcements, no appearances in the theatres or by the pools, nothing - whatever P&O are paying him its twice too much.....but even he is outdone by the omnipresent, grinning, motormouthed enigma that is the 'shopping guide' Jason - what a piece of work..imagine Alan Carr doing a bad impression of Alan Carr and you should be able to picture him...his visage was inescapable - front page of every day's Horizon, turn on the telly - there he is..go anywhere near the Atrium - there he is..banging on about his 6 (six) degrees in 'Gemology' whatever that is - while trying to sell you Tamzanite, Tarzanite or Gazuntite...he was the leader of hard sell brigade, and believe me there's plenty of em aboard.
The P&O Dress code also leaves a little to be desired - ok, 4 formal nights is fine for a 2 week cruise (I love to Tux it up as much as the next guy) but why does almost every other night have to be smart/casual 'Gentlemen in smart shirt and jacket' etc??...It's the Caribbean for pete's sake not the local Buffs club...and why not take advantage of the tropical climate with more beach party / barbecue nights?...loosen up P&O ..have a Mojito..put some shorts on.
Overall then - loved our time off the ship...on it?...not so much!
would I go again?.....well If I could bag a deadline getaway fare.....probably.......hopefully by that time Jason will have jumped ship.