BEFORE YOU READ THE DETAIL : first thing to note : Buy spirits for onboard at your departure airport, or get them port side in Barbados. Also purchase soft drinks/mixers from Barbados to take on board. You can now buy duty free onboard P & O at reasonable prices, but not as cheap as in port or from your airport. Yes, you can take it onboard....they don't seem to mind in the slightest ! Okay read on for the review !
After a pleasant flight from Manchester Airport on 25th November to Barbados, we embarked Azura with skies full of cloud and rain !! Not the best welcome to the Caribbean ! Extremely efficient service once onboard. Luggage from our Manchester flight arrived within 3 hours (other people ...particularly coming in from Cardiff appeared to have a very long wait for luggage and reported that a lot of it was wet on arrival).
Our cabin was C708 balcony cabin. Tastefully decorated in greens and browns with nautical prints on the walls. I liked the layout of the cabin with a large open wardrobe and lots of space. One of the first things I checked was the hairdryer as the one on the Oceana had been rubbish. Pleasantly surprised to find very powerful one in the cupboard. Our cabin steward was Milanda who looked after us very well the whole fortnight, with some wonderful towel sculptures on formal nights.
The Ship : Having travelled previously onboard Oceana, found the size of Azura a little daunting but beautiful, although I have to say that the Atrium area on Oceana is prettier.
We opted for Freedom Dining in the Meridian Restaurant but only used this facility about four times in total during the fortnight. An ABSOLUTE MUST for future cruisers on Azura is to carefully familiarise yourself with all the dining facilities. During the second week we spoke to a couple who had no idea the Italian restaurant existed, and someone else who thought the only lunchtime options were hot dogs or burgers/pizzas by the pool !
Dining : If you're on Freedom dining, you're in the Meridian Restaurant, but here are the options we tried :
Meridian Main Dining Restaurant :
Waiter service four/five course menu. Menu is posted outside restaurant each day so you can decide where to dine that evening. We opted to share a table each time we dined as we like to meet different people and met some really interesting ones this cruise ! I have to say I was a little disappointed on one of the evenings with the waiter service. We were seated for quite a while at a table of 8 before they came to take our orders. We asked twice for bread and three times for some butter for the rolls. Our main that evening was Beef Wellington and four of us having the same had one very thin slice of the Wellington which we didn't consider ample. We asked one of the waiters if we could have more and he did eventually bring it after we had more or less finished our meal. We found it very difficult to get eye contact with any of the waiting staff that evening and I'd have to say the standard of service in here is totally dependent on the area in which you are seated.
Verona/Venezia : Deck 15 : Buffet restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner but worth remembering that Verona in the evenings turns into a waiter service Italian Restaurant with absolutely fabulous food ! Best to get there early though otherwise they give you a buzzer to let you know when a table is available. It's part of the complimentary dining, so no extra charge unless you choose a couple of the "Pay extra" dishes such as flambeed prawns or fillet steak. We had baked garlic mushrooms to start served with garlic bread, followed by lasagne served with homefries and a side salad (delicious) and then panacotta for dessert. Highly recommended !!!
We also dined buffet style a few times. Can recommend the Great British night (amazing rib of beef and proper Yorkshire puds!) Indian food night also excellent. Worth noting that no matter what the theme in the buffet, they always have a roast meat choice (beef, lamb, pork etc.,), for those with a "meat and vegetables" type of appetite.
Sindhu and Seventeen : We booked for Sindhu and Seventeen as soon as we boarded as we heard they got booked up very quickly (however people were able to book tables well into the week so no panics). Couldn't quite understand why a lot of tables in both restaurants were empty when some people had been told they were booked up for that particular evening ? We could only put it down to a lack of waiters perhaps ?
Sindhu : we were given an amuse bouche of mint and pea soup in a little teacup to start, followed by our starter (hubby had a crabcake starter, I had beef skewers). We then had a sorbet. Main course for me was Lamb Rogan Josh and for hubby can't remember what it was called but was basically fillet steak chopped and reshaped with various spices. Lots of accompaniments to the main meal. We opted for panacotta for dessert. Would give Sindhu 10 out of 10 ....delicious, excellent service and worth the extra Â£15 each cover charge.
In Seventeen (which is obviously on deck 17!) We dined the first week (at both Sindhu and Seventeen the menu changes after the first week. We chose the first week as one of the main course choices was Chateau Briande and we were sooo glad we chose that menu .. Absolutely delicious. I had pate foie gras and hubby had lobster cocktail. Main was Chateau Briande. For dessert hubby had a trio of creme brulees and I had a melt in the middle chocolate cake. Followed by complimentary chocolates which they wrapped for us as we were stuffed ! Again..highly recommended at the extra cover charge for this restaurant of Â£20 per person. On arrival back at our cabin we had a thank you card from Seventeen with more chocolates (which we gave to our cabin steward ..we were chocolated out !).
Bars on the ship :
Malabar : open style bar in an Arabian style theme used for showing movies and also with a stage area for groups/entertainment in the evening.
Manhattan : large open style area with dance floor and stage area used for late night disco and performing artists etc.
Brodies : I wasn't impressed with Brodies at all ... it's not what I'd call welcoming and it doesn't help that the casino is within this pub instead of being in a separate area. It's described as "contemporary", but a little too modern for my liking. Some of the seats actually had a bar down the middle so that if you were sitting next to someone, you had to "peer around" the divider to see them ! Again preferred the pub in Oceana which has a real English pub feel and is very welcoming. Didn't spend much time in Brodies at all...quizzes held here most nights etc.
Main shows are held either in the Playhouse Theatre, Manhattans or Malabar. If you're going to a show in the Playhouse, be aware you can purchase a drink at one of the bars (or take one from your cabin!) and drink it during the show. There's no bar facility in the Playhouse Theatre.
Sailaways : These are a must and we enjoyed several sailaways (one from each port). The entertainment crew are absolutely fabulous and the more you join in, the more you'll enjoy !
Sunbathing : There are many areas to find sunbeds and I was impressed that the staff were actually collecting up towels and belongings and removing them when people had tried to "reserve" beds before and during breakfast. Warnings were up on the seascreen each day and they carried out their threats ! Well done P & O !! There are plenty of beds for everyone, so it's so annoying when people spread towels over five or six beds then disappear to breakafast for an hour or so !!!
Sunbathing areas : Must tell you this ....we spent most of the first week sunbathing in the Seascreen area as the beds there have cushions and are very comfortable. They show images from around the world on the seascreen daily but they're on rotation and you see the same ones each day. Many of us commented that it'd be nice to have some music playing ..... then at the beginning of the second week we discovered that from noon onwards, the sunbathing area around the second pool, where the Coral Pool and Breakers Bar are situated there's a quiz, a music request show and lots of music playing the whole afternoon ....lots of various types too .. something to suit everyone ! There's also a very nice sunbathing smaller area at the very rear of the ship (Terrace Bar area), but beware it fills up very quickly ! There's a nice little pool there as well.
9th and final Port of Call : St Vincent (wasn't space for this on port review)
You disembark to look over the side to see angel fish and tropical fish swimming around near the ship, but that's where the charm ends ! St Vincent is dirty and smelly and there's nothing worth getting off the ship for. I have NO idea why cruise ships call here, except to let you do an excursion (which I would highly recommend unless you want to spend the day onboard, sunbathing, which is what we did). There's absolutely nothing to see in the town, it's full of local food market stalls and the roads are uneven and in places, dangerous to cross. Unless you're booking an excursion here...stay onboard.
IN SUMMARY : TOP TIPS
Do a full walk of the ship and establish dining and sunbathing areas early in the cruise.
On every island you can do a tour by local taxi/tour driver very cheaply, but NEGOTIATE !!! and always agree to pay the taxi driver at the end of the tour, or when he picks you up from the beach. Never pay before you begin.
Buy soft drinks and mixers to go with your cabin duty free vodkas and gins whilst ashore. You can usually pick up a can/bottle of coke for around 2 dollars .. it's more expensive onboard. We took 2 bottles of vodka from Manchester Duty Free for our cabin and bought Rum and local spirits from the ports with mixers from the local shops. You can now buy duty free drinks onboard but be aware that they only deliver them to your cabin the day after you order and you can get them more cheaply in the ports. We had a few sea days the first week, so we considered ourselves lucky to have remembered to buy vodka from the airport ! If you like orange juice with your gin or vodka etc., take a small water bottle to breakfast and fill it up to put in your cabin fridge. It's only offered at breakfast time, so I filled a couple of small bottles and used it to have with my cocktail hour vodka on the balcony each evening !
WATER : Don't pay for P & O bottled water at the bar or in the restaurants. In the buffet restaurant they put a bottle on your table and if you open it, they charge you Â£1.80. In every buffet area there is water on tap ... just help yourself. Also beach bars during the day have ice, plastic glasses and jugs of cold water on the side ...help yourself it's free.
Going home : whatever your flight time, make yourself up some sandwiches from the breakfast or lunch buffet to take to the airport with you. We had 1 hour delay before flying home and it took ages to be served food once we boarded the plane, so we were glad of the sarnies ... Barbados airport cafes are not cheap ! It's a silly detail, but if you take a couple of food bags with you in your case just to pack your sandwiches in, you'll be happy I suggested it, I promise !
Hope you enjoyed reading my review !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!