We recently completed (9 February) a 2 week Caribbean cruise on the P&O 'Azura', having previously had a similar, shorter cruise on the Silversea 'Silver Whisper'. Inevitably we were tempted to compare the two, but tried to have realistic expectations, given the vast different in price between them (a holiday on Azura is about half the cost of Silver Whisper). Despite that difference, our views of the quality of the Azura are fairly positive, in particular:
i) the staff were mostly extremely friendly, helpful and efficient. On the few occasions they were not, it appeared to stem from their being over burdened. Our steward was lovely - kind, hard working and enormously helpful; thank you Remy!
ii) the ship is kept spotlessly clean, and P&O appear to do all that is reasonably possible to eliminate the possibility of outbreaks of unpleasant viruses;
iii) organisation and management on the ship was mostly excellent, with disembarkation arrangements being particularly impressive. Communications could, however, have been better: cabins have a neat messaging system transmitted via interactive TV, but the most important information seems not to be included. For example, we still have no idea what caused the fire on board, nor the electrical fault which caused the ship to stop mid ocean and, although we weren't alarmed by these, a good chance was missed to reassure passengers that all was well safety-wise. Strange.
iii) the gym is good. Large enough for the number on board, and well equipped. Nice library and reasonable internet access, although the latter is too expensive. Lifts and loos are sufficient;
iv) we only went on one excursion, which we felt was overpriced, so we usually made our own arrangements - satisfactorily. Taxi services in all the Caribbean Islands are reasonably priced and efficient;
v) our major concern had been food quality and service, but this was good, given the low cost of the cruise as a whole. Having said that, meals sometimes looked grey and uninteresting, although puddings were usually excellent, and the Stilton-in-port was superb. All tastes and styles were catered for: casual, smart/formal dress in different restaurants; self service/waiter service both available; 24 hour availability of food; international cuisine; burgers and chips. Menu choice was quite wide in the 3 main restaurants; 5 courses with up to 5 choices on each. We were lucky enough to get the 'Freedom Dining' option, which we thought worked very well. If we wanted a table for 2 we usually had to wait around 30 minutes before being paged; if we were happy to join a table with others we could usually be seated almost immediately. The Italian restaurant was excellent, although we thought the booking arrangements were a little archaic. In summary, maybe not 5 star dining, but certainly a good 3 stars (we think comments that the food on the Azura is "dreadful" are just OTT/silly). For those wanting something more upmarket (which we rarely did) the 3 speciality restaurants seemed excellent, at a supplement of between £6-£30 a head.
Onto the main negatives:
a) we were disappointed with the entertainment. Although there were some very good/professional "Tribute" acts, and the resident bands (particularly "Changez") attained a high professional standard, the generality was fairly average. The "Show" dancers worked really hard and did pretty well, but the singers (although not the backing musicians) stretched themselves beyond their limits when trying to handle heavier rhythms (ie Tamla Motown, or even The Beatles); song choices were sometimes strange (ie a run through of the best musicals ignored "Hair"). We could live with that, were it not for the fact that the whole tenor of the entertainment was brought (dumbed) down by the Cruise Director and her team. Note to them all: YOU DO NOT NEED TO SHOUT AT GUESTS! ....... nor to preface every recommendation with "grab a cocktail"....... nor to repeatedly shriek that all the passengers, all the acts, everything on the Azura and all the Caribbean Islands is "fantastic/amazing/incredible". It really is reminiscent of Butlins/Hi-de-Hi at their worst: vulgar, inane, moronic (entertainment announcements were even shouted at guests at breakfast time) and - worst of all - monotonous. An on board choir (which we understood had been part of the offering on previous Azura cruises) might have helped to redress the balance a little;
b) as for the non-musical entertainment, we would have expected more in the way of mental stimulation. We had hoped maybe for some musical/cultural/scientific appreciation/current affairs discussions; the little that there was (especially the excellent talks about "Concorde") was well attended and appreciated, but rather an oasis. Other talks were mostly sales pitches. As for sports coverage, no 6 nations rugby - sad; lots of football - yawn;
c) the nature of the entertainment, plus the relatively low cost of the cruise, seems to have attracted a client group that largely, but by no means entirely (we met many interesting/fun people over dinner and during trips off the ship) we would not want to spend our time with. Specifically, there is a heaving lumpen-mass of overweight humanity which lollops by the 2 main swimming pools from sunrise to sunset, seemingly content to do little more than eat, drink and sit in the sun all day every day (leaving little room for others wishing to lie on deck), and then sing outdated 3 chord songs at the "Sailaway". If that is the client group which P&O wish to attract, and it does seem to be, then its cruises would not usually hold a great appeal for us, or for most of the other passengers we spent our evenings with.
In summary, though, we think the Azura offers pretty good value for money, particularly for the more lethargic holiday maker: the cabins are spacious and well appointed (our balcony cabin was really nice), the food is good value for money, the drinks reasonably priced in a number of comfortable (though often overcrowded) bars, and the service is fine; but the entertainment is (mostly) poor.