Wouldn't it be great if we could take the best bits from each cruise line and combine them into one? This was our second time on Azura. The first time she was only 6 months old and I was waiting for a knee operation and felt I couldn't find a comfortable seat anywhere on board. So, it was with some apprehension that we decided, because the price was right, to choose to spend Christmas with her. This time it was somewhat better comfort-wise.
Basically, I feel Azura is a badly designed ship - in several ways. The two main entertainment venues - the theatre and Manhatten - are at opposite ends of the ship. Visibility of artists in Manhatten is poor and therefore guests leave the theatre before the end of the show to scurry along right to the other end to get a reasonable seat in Manhatten. However, this doesn't always work. We didn't go to the theatre one night and arrived in Manhatten three quarters of an hour before the comedian was due to come on - and still couldn't get a reasonable seat. Every showtime many people have to stand. There are only 3 ladies toilets outside this busy venue which meant that every night there is a queue. There are no places in the theatre to put your drink should you have one. The Glasshouse, where people can be eating, is one of the thoroughfares to get to the theatre and I wouldn't like streams of people coming through if I was eating. The pub, Brodies, is in the same space as the Casino and can therefore be noisy. The two buffet serving areas are rather small and this creates congestion, especially as P&O only open one at lunchtime. To get to the dining room from some venues you have to go up 2 decks to go down 1! Azura, like many ships, uses the atrium as a venue - mainly for dancing. This is a poor venue as there is very little seating and the dance floor is very small.
Food-wise it was unfortunate for P&O that we had cruised on Celebrity Eclipse the month before and, of course, were bound to make comparisons. On the Eclipse the food was exceptional - every piece of meat was first rate. Sadly, Azura could not compete. Our travelling companion sent a steak back twice before deciding to opt for the lamb. In the buffets Eclipse had so much more choice and it was easy to get around.
On Azura on several occasions they ran out of decaff coffee and tea and were slow to restock desserts. There was no choice of drink other than water at lunch time (unless you paid). The waiters in the MDR were very pleasant but on several occasions forgot to bring something we had asked for.
The entertainment on this particular cruise was rather disappointing though the Cruise Director was great and very hands on and his team were up to the usual P&O standard. Christmas Day was a sea day, of course, but the lecture was about the execution of Ruth Ellis - hardly an uplifting subject. The cabaret artists were not up to the usual standard either.
Our main grumble, however, was about the loud music we were constantly bombarded with. In this day and age of personal music systems why do P&O feel it necessary to play loud music on the open deck and in the buffet areas. On Christmas Eve there was a deck party, scheduled to finish at 12.15 am. Our cabin (B402) was 3 decks below and all we could hear was the thump, thump, thump of the music - the bass must have been on full. At 12.10 I phoned down to reception to see how long this would go on and to ask if It needed to be quite so loud as we couldn't get to sleep. The receptionist was very dismissive, saying it WAS Christmas Eve and she couldn't do anything about the volume. In the event, it was 1 am when it all ended and we managed to get to sleep. One night there were only 4 of us on the open deck, trying to concentrate on a game we were playing and the music was blaring out then - so we had to move.
Although we had some showers, as you can expect in the Caribbean at this time, the weather was good and Azura sailed through what little swell there was with ease. Embarkation, immigration and disembarkation were made very easy for us. Arrival at ports of call were on time and formalities were soon completed so that passengers could go ashore. We didn't use the shore excursions offered by the ship but from past experience P&O are usually good organisers. Of the ports of call on this cruise, our favourites were Curacao and Bonaire. If we visit St Lucia or Dominica again (having been to both several times) then I think we would stay on board ship. Castries and Roseau are very disappointing.
Flights were with Thomas Cook. The flights themselves were comfortable, the food adequate and the legroom ok for us. We now both, however, have streaming colds due to the person sitting behind us coughing most of the way home! We have now had two charter flights with Thos Cook and, with these 2 flights have spent a total of 14 hours at Barbados airport! Three years ago we spent 9 hours waiting and this year 5!! Passengers apparently took their frustrations out on the crew. As we landed in Manchester the pilot said "to those of you who felt it necessary to take out your frustration on the crew - I hope you feel better for it"! At one time, years ago, the customer was always right - now we're just the butt of sarcasm!!
On the whole, it was enjoyable. It was good to get away from the cold weather at home. Our accommodation was well maintained and, if rather on the small side, was at least comfortable. Our first choice, however, with P&O would be an adult only ship. Parents were allowing their children to run full length of the accommodation corridors - so don't waste your time trying to get an afternoon nap!. Children tended to take over the swimming pools and on Azura there is no adult only pool. The depth of all the pools means if you're 5ft 2in, like me, you won't be able to stand up in any of the pools. Although there are clear signs saying no diving or jumping, these signs are ignored. Ignored also are the requests that passengers do not reserve sun loungers. Nothing is done about it by the cruise line so this will persist.