Travel This would be our seventh cruise and the first on a British ship with P&O. We decided on this trip as a celebration and commiseration for my partner Diane who was coming up to her 50th and this trip being a Baltic cruise meant Diane would be in St Petersburg on her special day. Having attended the cruise show in London earlier in the year and chatting to the guys on the P&O stand followed by tasting their excellent wines had left me with the feeling that it was a real British experience and it felt rather like going back in time to better days.
We journeyed down the previous evening and stayed at my sisters over night in Christchurch .We left for Southampton at about 12.30 which should have taken 40 odd minutes, but as related by other cruise chums on this site and allowing for the delays experienced by others we left with extra time in hand and we found the jams to the port which had been reported.
Embarkation Our time of embarkation was from 2pl till 4pm and we were told not to arrive early as this would cause a bottle neck and create further problems this in mind we dutifully arrived at the Port having allowed for the traffic by just after the 2pm window. We had arranged with CPS parking to meet at the Port and found them straight away and they looked after us well and soon we were devoid of luggage and on our way inside the terminal. We were given a ticket and asked to sit and be patient as they had incurred a problem with the computers and were delaying the boarding. We sat and sat and finally after what seemed like hours our ticket colour was called and we were asked to board. I must say that the whole experience was like being in a new rather poor version of terminal five at Heathrow, bland, impersonal almost military.
Stateroom – we choose as on a tight budget, as this will be one of three cruises this year an inside on A for Australia deck the 12th floor mid-ships 529 – on entering we were nicely surprised by what we found – larger than we had expected having read others opinions with a small dressing area hanging rails etc. very comfortable bed and nice décor. This was our home for two weeks and besides a slight vibration from what we thought was the air conditioning system which reverberated through the headboard which could be annoying and the noise from the same it was all tickete boo. Wilson was our attendant and a jolly fine fellow he was – polite helpful a tentative, kept pointing us in the right direction as he knew we were hopeless navigating around this rather confusing layout of a ship. The great thing which was a first for us was the jolly old Kettle and tea and coffee provided –plus very nice biscuits thank you.
Ship info Having traced a missing suitcase (which somehow they had lost the attached label) down at reception we explored the ship and found it very pleasant and spick n span – but then the dreaded muster stations where the first announcement given by the invisible Captain of the ship suddenly stopped and we all stood like Muppets with the usual impatient Brit moaning and cursing while they tried to sort out the tanoy system in vain. The staff improvised and after a bit of a laugh we dutifully wandered of for our sail away. This was fun as the weather was kind enough to stay dry and warm enough to stay on top to listen to the brass band as we were played out of Port. So with a glass of champagne at £3 and a free union jack flag in hand we were on our way –all jolly good British stuff and fun.
It didn’t take us long to get the measure of where things were on the ship - I would say about 13days as they state all lifts face forward - not true most do not all – deck five aft is a no go except for the Oriental restaurant ---- they kept moving Bars around and sometimes the front of the ship the Bow was at the rear aft and visa versa – they moved my dining room several times just to confuse us this we put down to the décor being similar on both sides of the ship and the fact we suffer from what we call cruise brain. It switches off. The planet bar was a nice asset, somewhere to sit and gaze from on high watching the world go by and occasionally looking at the HD screens depicting different places of interest around the world. In the evenings on the Azamara Quest they had an excellent trio playing in their top bar and consequently it was quite full most evenings, where on this there might be only a few tables taken with a piano playing for a few hours, seemed a wasted opportunity for a great venue. This was made up for by the other bars that were usually full with the different acts they provided and there were lots to choose from.
The theatre was as described by another rather bland and no waitress service which is why there is nowhere to put your drinks and felt rather cramped in comparison .The Glass house on the other hand was a very well thought out area which led you into it and great to sit relax and enjoy the good food and wine, of course at a cost but well worth it. We had dinner there one evening fish n chips in Batter for £4.95 and the three top wines French classic selection where one of the wines a Château Latour 2004 priced at £10 on its own was one of three excellent glasses of wine for £12.95 –recommended.
The sky screen to us was a noisy intrusion and a wasted space removing the optional enclosed pool area enjoyed on other ships with temperatures plummeting in the evening you had to be a dedicated film buff to want to endure the elements -- obviously better for the Mediterranean etc.
The kids clubs looked to be thriving with lots of smiling children involved in various adventures.
Dining We were in the Oriental restaurant where we shared a table for six with two others – the food was good rather than great - with posh descriptions of average food, but no complaints. Again we found the wine to be reasonable and fairly cheap compared to other cruise lines we had experienced previously and made full use of the wine list. Dress code my partner thought was nice to see everyone making the effort and visually celebrating the chance to feel special – personally I thought four formal evenings was a tad to many as the food was the same where on Costa ,Celebrity and RCI cruises we had experienced a special menu for the special evenings. Semi formal and smart casual being the others in pretties much equal amounts. Speciality Restaurants We were going to book for Diane’s 50th the Sindhu Indian restaurant but luckily we met the chef from 17 and he persuaded us to dine there. We dined in the so called Indian restaurant on our third night and as reported by some others we found the food to start well and end average –the starter being yummy and my main disappointing being 2 pieces of what I presume to be fillet steak cooked uumm like fillet steak with 4 tubby chips and a yet to be decided small pile of something – it tasted ok and very edible but not special £15 a head. 17 on the other hand was wammo – on Di’s 50th we sat and enjoyed an excellent Prawn starter a Chateaubriand for two cooked to perfection and an excellent sweet, washed down with a nice Cotes du Rhone – a lovely evening. Cost £20 per head plus wine.. Venezia For breakfast and most other times when we felt the need and as I put on 5lb in two weeks – so a lot. The food here was good - the tea and coffee station for the competitive – every man for him self .The main problem here is logistics, basically 3000 plus people on one ship can sometimes feel like 3000 people in one place, finding a table was quite testing sometimes and it was a challenge walking from one side of the ship to the other hoping someone had moved we usually landed up sharing and in away this was good as most people were quite pleased to share there days experience with you and it was always amazing how someone else had a completely different slant on the day having done the same as you but was on a different planet. Be prepared for winging moaners who can’t help but make out A > standards have dropped B > it was not as good as last year on the Titanic etc. etc – mainly the old time P&O crowd who refered to themselves as posh cruisers - at one breakfast in the Peninsular restaurant told us that they have been on 50 plus cruises and were of to a special lunch with the Captain - then relate to the good old days I suppose before they let the steerage class up stairs I have read others refer to them as rude - personaly I thought of spitting image and actualy laughed at one comment great fun.
Staff and service Waiter and staff in the Oriental ok but it all seemed a tad rushed and lacked the personal touch we had enjoyed on other cruise lines – eg. Don’t ask me my waiters name or the wine waiter they never passed the time of day – rush, rush, rush. Generally the rest of the staff all seemed the same as other cruise lines pleasant and attentative. Entertainment - We enjoyed the Azura singers and dancers and their stage performances We enjoyed the antics of Morgan lee James in the Malabar We had an audience with Olly Smith – we listened and laughed at the life and experiences of Maggie Stredder – the tribute to Cher in her undies by Laura Miles – the sail aways from ports with our (red coat ) Benni cruise director who just loved YMCA Plus we had the docile tones of x Foundations singer Clem Curtis for two enjoyable evenings In all, it was a great experience had by us.
Excursions The Tallinn excursion we experienced was average – we chose the Russian memories – this was to experience going on board a Russian submarine that was Estonian made in Barrow and Furness England – our guide who took us on the submarine was totally inept – he introduced himself as too tired to do this as I have only had 3 hours sleep.com and as I had done some research previous to the visit I was helping him – the visit to the museum of occupations was an eye opener and very in depth and we listened to the experience of a lady who had suffered at the hands of the Russians – quite emotional. St Petersburg – 1st day sunshine and the Hermitage – good excursion – great guide – wonderful winter palace – recommended Evening ---- the Russian Ballet at the Conservatoire – Swan lake was enjoyable – the theatre not so the seats were uncomfortable and the 1st performance too long so everyone complained of backside ache when we went out for our glass of champagne – we had to queue up for most of the interval to get the small glass of champagne and then rush down stairs for the toilets before we returned to our seats. But it was worth the effort though a bit expensive. That’s all we tried re the ship the rest we done ourselves – Kristiansand Norway -- overcast drizzle – wandered around the town ok but not great Tallinn After the excursion we walked into town and found a thousand things to photograph lovely colourful buildings in a walled town with character great fun – Stockholm Having stayed there many times we met our Swedish friends and took a boat trip to an Island for drinks and a meal – great day
Helsinki – been their before so we just walked around having done the markets and church etc. – there was some youngsters playing in a concert in the main thoroughfare and we sat and listened had a few beers and enjoyed the day Copenhagen This was the surprise package museums and town halls parks and forts great busy waterways with bars and happy faces – great photo shoot opportunities Had a great day Oslo Been there before so again we walked miles just taking pictures of the palace and wonderful grounds loads to see and enjoy and the inevitable one beer 330 cl Carlsberg and one small coke £12 – enough said
Disembarkation No problems all went well and at the call to leave the ship we were of in ten minutes and walking across the road to pick up our car –easy Summary We had a great time – we enjoyed the British feel about the ship – the value for money aspect – the fact people were still awake like me at 1am in the morning not heard of on an American ship and still something to do – yes there were some problems like the ship loosing power out at sea late one night it all went very quiet and dark in the cabin for about 10 minutes but someone found the starting handle and off we went again – not a word from anyone as to why. Must have been a very large fuse or someone leant on the wrong switch – have to laugh – We loved the fact there wasn’t any tax on the drinks and that the tips were not forced on you to leave your card details so they could remove vast sums of money from your account to save them paying wages as with most other lines –this was £1.50 a day for each person and the amount being doubled as for your attendant and waiter is I think reasonable. Prices in the shops were reasonable with decent shops – Diane bought a lovely pair of sunglasses for about £25 and my daughter a watch for £10 so all in all we never felt we were being ripped off - i bought a bottle of Gin and vodka cheaper than in a shop in the uk.
So all in all – all I can say is = Believe me we would have stayed on for the Mediterranean trip if they had asked -- but sadly they didn’t.