We booked this trip in January 2010 and were told when we booked that there were only 4 cabins left, these were outside cabins and that there were no balcony staterooms left. As my wife and I are both smokers we were disappointed but were assured by Thomas Cook whom we booked with that the Azura had deck 7 starboard side and decks 15 and 16 on starboard as designated smoking areas. We booked the cruise at a cost of £7,200 for the 2 of us for the 28 days, unfortunately throughout the cruise we felt like lepers nearly every day. Deck 7 (Promenade Deck) is like a runway, with walkers getting their exercise early morning and most of the day on sea days. The majority would wave their hands across their faces and give us filthy looks because we were having a smoke. Deck 15 at the back of the ship was a nice seated area where like-minded smokers would have a chat and this I must say was where we met some wonderful people whom I now class as friends as we exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. One day on deck 15 at the rear of the ship, my wife and I went to have a coffee and as the sun was shining on starboard side, the majority of seats were taken by non-smokers as they didn't want to sit in the shade. I sat separated from my wife as as soon as I lit a cigarette, a man on the next table of 4 made a comment about smoking, this said loud enough for me to hear (all the smoke around here is terrible). I explained to him that this was the smoking area on this deck and position and that smokers have 10% of the ship and non-smokers have 90% of the ship. His answer to this was it should be 100% non-smoking, I explained to him that if it was the price his cruise would be more expensive as P & O would lose a lot of customers and revenue. At this he said that I had an attitude problem and as they walked away he called me a wa*k*r!!
As I stated earlier we met some wonderful people and 2 of these we spent the whole of our holiday with. They told us that they were cruising again on the Azura Jan 2012 and asked if we fancied booking the trip. We went and booked the cruise as this was done at the end of our first week. After the above incident I went to the Portunus booking area and asked if we could cancel this booking as we felt insulted and like 2nd class citizens. The Portunus Rep was shocked and dismayed at our treatment and this was not acceptable behaviour.
One comment I feel I must mention is the card system. The Portunus club is a loyalty system where passengers get rewarded for the amount of nights spent on board ship, as this was the 2nd time we have travelled with P & O we are Ruby club members and our cruise care is coloured Ruby. All this means is the more nights you are on board the higher the loyalty points gained giving percentage discounts as a reward. On more than one occasion "Gold card" membership was quoted in a superior manner and as far as we could see people were getting to gold cared status by gaining their points by using the cheapest cabins possible and then looking down their noses at any lower status cards as not worth having. These are the cruisers who made the cruise after 10pm a ghost ship as they were all in their cabins afraid to spend money. The only time they were seen socially was at the free functions such as the gold card get together and any other free drinks function where it was noted that they drank as much a possible while it was free. P & O have made a rod for their backs by introducing this in your face card system and brought snobbery back to cruising and made the cruise full of twopence halfpenny snobs, if this had been our first cruise it would have been our last, but we are hoping for better next time.
Reception was not great as every time I needed information it took ages to be understood by the staff and never with a smile.
On a positive note the entertainment team lead by Neil Oliver were fantastic, the shows run by Headliners theatre group were as good as some West end shows.
The captain and crew were very approachable, polite and helpful.