Like about 98% of the passengers on this cruise, we had booked it in April 2009 at a price that you would pay for a cruise of half the duration, and we had upgraded flights. As we had already been on the Ventura and we knew that the Azura was very similar in layout, we had no misgivings about what we were in for regarding the size and style of the ship and we were looking forward to the cruise immensely, even though we had not previously spent so long on a ship.
Our flight from Manchester to Barbados was good and check in to the ship was fine. Our luggage arrived without too much delay. So we had a quick look around the ship, something light to eat and then bed.
Our balcony cabin was on B deck, port side. It was virtually the same as that on the Ventura. Tons of storage space and we had 62 coat hangers!!!! Comfy bed and quiet - you could not hear anything from next door or the corridor. Our cabin steward, Moses, efficiently kept the room clean and tidy, serviced twice a day. We hardly ever saw him.
The ship was beautifully decorated for Christmas - lots of trees in the public areas and lots of festoons - what a contrast to the previous Christmas on Celebrity when there was one miserable tree in the Atrium, a bit of bunting only on Christmas morning and that was it.
For preference, for sunbathing we sat on deck 19 at the back of the ship - nice and quiet. Sunbeds generally were still an issue but not as much as on the Ventura. The ship's blurb says that there are enough beds for all passengers. Yes, this is probably true but if everyone took a bed there would not be enough room for them all on deck. Not everyone wants to sit or lie cheek by jowl with a total stranger. We like some personal space. We were able to achieve this on deck 19.
We were freedom dining and never had a problem getting a table straight away as we were always prepared to share a table - this can be a nice way of meeting people. The food in the Meridien varied. What you could say was that the plates were boiling hot. The starters, soup and desserts were probably the best. Mains varied. What really got up my husband's nose was that you were served one roast potato each - OK if you asked you could have more, but isn't this a bit mean? On one occasion someone got 4 chips! We also ate in the speciality restaurants: twice in 17 and twice in Sindhu both of which were superb, twice in the Glasshouse which was excellent and once in the Verona (evening waiter service) which again was excellent. My husband had the sizzling steak in the Verona and said it was superb. We cannot recommend these restaurants highly enough. The Venezia/Verona buffets were what we expected and the food at breakfast was fine. We preferred to go here rather than wait to be served in the sit down breakfast in the Peninsular restaurant. We did not bother much with lunch and tried the Venezia once in the evening for dinner (Thai) and were not impressed. We had afternoon tea in the buffet restaurants - yes on occasion you had to share a table with someone else but we didn't mind. The only problem was the amount you ate - all those calories!!!!!!!!
We had good service in all the bars and commented on the large number of staff waiting to take your order. We thought the drinks prices were very fair -for example, £2.75 for a pint of Boddingtons, cocktail of the day £2.50 and around £12 - 15 for a bottle of wine and no 15% extra on the menu price. We liked the Glasshouse for a pre - dinner drink. We like its ambience and the wine and the staff were nice too. The only slight problem was at certain times, a queue would form for people waiting to go into the theatre and then conversely there was a lot of activity with people coming out of the theatre.
The entertainment varied as it always does. Some of the acts were excellent and got standing ovations. Others were so-so. We heard that the ship's company, the Headliners were very good but we did not see them as we are not really show people, prefering instead to see the act on in the Manhattan.Tom O'connor was good and he gave extra performances as he could not get off the ship at Grand Cayman due to bad weather. On balance, we thought the entertainment we saw was better than on any of our previous cruises.
As previously mentioned this ship is almost a copy of the Ventura but I think the Atrium is different. They had ballroom dancing on the ground floor here but people who did this said it was like performing in a goldfish bowl and it put them off. Yes, it is like a goldfish bowl - like all Atriums!! We never found the gym, the spa or the Retreat and we never used Costa Coffee - why pay extra for something you can get for free on deck 15 or in your cabin??????? We also never sat around the pools and only went there for the sailaway parties or for New Year's Eve. NYE was superb and apparently there were 2,000 people at the party on deck around the Coral Pool. We staggered away about 02.00 and it was still going strong. But the next morning you would never know anything had taken place - all the sunbeds were back in place etc. There were some children on the ship. However, you would never have known. Deck 16 keeps them happy and out of the way!!! The one thing we did see whilst walking past one of the pools was the SeaScreen. Is this of any benefit? One night there were people huddled in towels watching a film - each to his own I suppose.
The itinerary was interesting - with ports in Florida, 2 days in New Orleans and the rest in and out of the Caribbean islands. We did 2 ship's trips - one to Kennedy Space Centre which we thougt was excellent and one to the Everglades. In New Orleans we had booked our own steamboat cruise with lunch at a third of the price that the ship was charging. We had also booked an evening meal at a restaurant in the French Quarter and then went on to a jazz pub - Fritzells in Bourbon Street - wonderful. Bad weather stopped the ship from docking in Grand Cayman which was a shame. One of the ports was Montego Bay which is definitly not suitable for a port of call. Really threatening to walk around in the daytime and we were warned on about 4 occasions by local people to be careful.
The main topic of conversation during the first week was how did you pack for 7 formal nights, 4 semi formal nights,17 smart casual nights and all your day clothes within 23KG each? With great difficulty is the answer. Consequently the launderettes were probably the most used facility on the ship. There were stories of people being charged for extra luggage at the departure airport - £15 per kilo seemed the going rate, people being told to repack their bags at the airport - whilst others got away with being overweight and did not get charged at all. Of course, coming home, no one bothered with weights of cases as you don't check in.
A word of caution - check your onboard account carefully. We had 4 overcharges on ours which were all sorted out but we heard of others who had been overcharged by £100s.
Finally, about the moaners on the ship - and there were many. A lot were seasoned cruisers (this was our 7th cruise and we were novices compared with some) who had taken advantage of a really cheap price to get this cruise. Being seasoned P&O cruisers they knew what to expect from P&O but they moaned about everying - the size of the ship (which they knew about before they booked), the food, the service - you name it - it was a cause for a moan. They even moaned about the weather as if it were P&O's fault. If I had heard one more time from someone saying they wished they were on the Oceana or the Oriana - I would have screamed. When we were in St Lucia, the Oceana was also there and your felt like saying to these people - there she is - go and jump ship.
So did we have a good time? Yes!! It was superb value for money, we met some nice people and it was relaxing and we were away from the horrible winter weather at home!! Would we go on Azura again? Yes.