We (Cathy & Ian) were so looking forward to our 15 night Panama Canal cruise on the Coral Princess from Fort Lauderdale on 21 April but the Icelandic volcano stopped us travelling to the USA. We were very proactive and were able to get a transfer from Princess to P&O and almost the last cabin on Azura leaving Southampton on 28 April instead.
We have only cruised twice before, both in the Med with RCI. We hope that our review will be an honest attempt to review the Azura and compare and contrast P&O and RCI. We have future cruises booked with both companies for later this year and 2011.
We soon noticed a huge difference between the 'customers' on board Azura and those we had cruised with on RCI. The average age of the cruisers on P&O must have been 20 years older and there were many disabled people on the ship. The staff were fantastic and dealt with the elderly and disabled passengers with patience and understanding, so we would definitely recommend P&O for its service to these groups.
We'll get the negatives out of the way first: 1. The promenade deck did not go all the way around the ship so had its limitations as a jogging track, especially when all the smokers congregated outside - why don't cruise ships restrict smoking more? 2. We thought that the buffet meals at breakfast and lunch were not as good as RCI - couldn't find a bagel or any cream cheese on the ship for instance, and the serving areas were very cramped. We didn't think the staff were very friendly either at these times. 3. The number of photographers who continually tried to take your photos became very annoying after a couple of days. 4. Don't expect to get a seat in any lounge area during the day if the weather isn't too good. We have never seen so many people drink so much tea over so long a period before! 5. The staff in bars were not as friendly as those on RCI, although we did appreciate the lower cost of most drinks (no added 15% to the bill). 6. Some of the P&O regulars (they think P&O stands for 'Posh and Offensive' and behave like that all the time) weren't friendly at all, especially over dinner so we tried not to share a table if we could avoid it. We also thought that, for us, there were too many formal nights (4) although we appreciate that this is very popular with many passengers (on this cruise they seemed to be P&O again, 'Pretentious & Overweight'.) 7. The Retreat spa: great idea but we didn't see many people using it and those who had paid a lot of money for it as a package seemed to regret the cost as there was little value for money. The problem as we see it is that if the weather is good then there are too few spa beds in the sunshine and if the weather is poor then the covered area is too cold.
Time for some positives:
1. Gym was fantastic and had a great view if you were using the aerobic machines. 2. Open air cinema was excellent, even blankets if it was cold. 3. We chose Freedom Dining which meant we could turn up at any time for our evening meal. If we wanted a table for two (which we did most of the time) and it was busy you were given a pager. We didn't wait more than 20 minutes on any night for a table. However, Freedom Dining is a bit of a misnomer. Even though you are sat at a table for two you are always very close to tables either side of you and you are served in tandem with those table around you so you quickly realise that the pace of your meal will be determined by how many courses those tables near you order and how quickly (or on this cruise) how slowly your fellow diners eat! 4. The food in the main restaurant was excellent with a varied choice and a 'default' menu which always had a plain chicken or beef option. Puddings were exceptional. The Head Chef was very visible throughout the cruise and was paying great attention to the standards of service in all restaurants. 5. Speciality restaurants were superb and well worth the extra costs. We ate twice at Sindhu and thoroughly recommend it. Not a 'spicy' Indian restaurant but very subtle flavours, the Indian wine was good too. Our second night there was slightly spoilt by a very unfortunate P&O regular ('Prickly & Obnoxious') who was incredibly rude to the very helpful staff. '17' was also very good, we wish we had had a second night there as well. The Glasshouse was excellent, very different wines to try and a relaxed atmosphere, if you could get a seat when the tea drinkers went for a pee! 6. Entertainment: this obviously depends on your taste. A word of warning for you P&O regulars - you will have probably seen most of the comedians and tribute acts an another P&O cruise. However, we really enjoyed the tribute acts (Elton John, George Michael and Phil Collins) plus most of the other cabaret singers. Peter Piper was a terrific comic but some of the others were a throwback to the 1970's but not in a good way. Toyah Wilcox was also a guest speaker. The cruise singers/dancers were very professional and versatile. Jason the pianist is also worth a mention for his hard work in various bars and with the choir. 7. Cathy really enjoyed the cruise choir, which practiced 3/4 times during the cruise and performed on the last formal night and again at the talent show on the final night. 8. Neil the Cruise Director was a real star. However, we are split on the 'Sailaways' every evening at 5.30 ish whenever we left a port. Ian hated them but Cathy generally enjoyed them although the choice of music became very repetitive 9. Our steward Arlindo was a star. He was always there when we needed him and was incredibly efficient, we came back from breakfast one morning and the room had already been cleaned. 10. We did our own thing at most ports of call but did go on a wine tasting tour in Vigo. We thoroughly recommend this tour, it's only an hour's coach trip to the winery and the choice of drinks to sample is very good. You then go to a hotel for a tapas lunch and more (free) wine, great value for money.
Overall we enjoyed our Canaries cruise and we would definitely cruise on the Azura again.