We have been on a number of cruises previously, on each occasion aboard "traditional" ships which are much smaller than Azura and all her other practically identical floating leviathans.
Let me start by saying that P+O did everything they claimed to do. Food was good, entertainment was very good indeed although sometimes not to our taste. The cabin exceeded expectations and no complaints at all about the service.............
Not having cruised with them before, we had been attracted by the sophisticated brand image of P+O. In actual fact we quickly became very disappointed with this aspect. Azura is simply HUGE!!!! It can carry 3000 passengers. Added to this, it is just one of very many similarly sized cruise ships that were travelling around the Caribbean in November. Cruising the Caribbean has clearly become a major tourist industry. In order to support at least ten ships, all with 3000 passengers every two weeks. P+O and the other cruise lines need to appeal to a wide cross section of the population. We were very disappointed that many of our fellow passengers were tattooed, had huge beer guts and non-existent manners and that was just the women!
Clearly P+O needs to fill their many ships but the demeanor of the clientele clearly belies the image that they purport of sophistication and a chic atmosphere. Don't get me wrong. The ship is superb and the many venues aboard the ship were up to the marketing blurb but it was all let down by the "Benidorm mob" who monopolised the sun loungers, (despite frequent dire warnings by the ships crew) hoarded around the self serve food outlets, monopolised the inadequate number of tables at breakfast times and generally acted in an ignorant manner. YEUGH!!!!!!!
One benefit of a more modern ship was that our cabin was superb. It was more like a modern hotel room than a ship's cabin. We had a lovely private balcony but there was however a problem there as well. The passenger on the neighbouring and upwind balcony insisted on smoking the most stinky cigars that you could imagine. Whilst he was outside, seemingly chain-smoking we could not use our balcony. The people at the Reception on the ship were very helpful here but we are not able to publish how they solved the problem for us.
The food was very good, well served and reasonably plentiful. It did, however lack the spark of 'cordon bleu' that we had enjoyed on previous cruises with other lines. I guess that if you have to cater for 3000 passengers plus 1500 crew, mass production must take over. This was certainly the case here. Certain items cost extra. I guess that P+O are in it to make a profit but I would have thought the profit from extra charges for ice cream and certain dining areas is small.
Entertainment was wide and varied ranging from the glitzy presentations in the ship's theatre that would do the West End proud to more intimate rock duo "View" in the ship's pub who were also very accomplished and very friendly. There were plenty of bits of entertainment in between but the ship seemed to lack a "hideaway" where you could sit quietly enjoying a drink without constantly laid on music.
There were a few - too few lectures on the cruise. These were very well attended, engaging and well presented and I could not help thinking that it would have been lovely to know more about the history of the Caribbean and the slave trade for example. This is where P+O does not compare very well at all against "Voyages of Discovery".
The port presentations on "Voyages of Discovery" had always been very informative and engaging and this was our expectation here. We attended a number of port presentations aboard Azura and were very disappointed because they just seemed geared up towards selling the highly priced shore excursions rather than telling the independent traveler what they could enjoy whilst ashore.
The other big problem with P+O and the travel agent who booked our cruise was that they down-graded our flights and then initially refused to refund us. Eventually we ended up having to drive from London to Manchester Airport to fly out. This is a deal-breaker from ever booking with this travel agent again.
So, would we do it again? Probably not. The ship was superb, some fellow passengers less so and the whole experience seems like a huge Disney park that is geared up to separating passengers from their cash. It's back to "Voyages of Discovery" next time for us.