WHERE TWO WORLDS COLLIDE
Arriving in Barbados we were very slowly herded through a very hot cattle shed (the word shed was painted on the outside of the building -- not our derogatory term) before being allowed to board. This really set the scene for our wonderful dream cruise aboard Azura. I wonder if P&O have considered using cattle prods to move things on a little faster!!
This was our first and last cruise on board the Azura. It seems to have become the flagship for the cut-price end of cruising - definately not the "Dream Holiday" promised by P&O. We had 14 days of listening to people & their pre-occupation with boasting about how little they paid. For goodness sake, if you feel the advertised price is good value, book it & if someone has the good fortune to get a better deal later that's life -- live with it.
The ship was filled with a high percentage of rough, graceless foulmouthed people & was a sea of sweating, cigarette puffing bodies and screaming children wherever one turned. Thank heavens for the sanctuary of our balcony (or it would have been a sanctuary if during the island stops we were not continually up against another huge ship with no view (& lack of sun) just a sea of noise permeating from them, coupled with the ever-present fog of cigarette smoke from the surrounding balconies, not forgetting the noise from the rough loudmouthed woman in the cabin next door continually scolding her partner.
Clearly P&O need to fill their many ships, but the demeanour of the clientele clearly belies the image being presented by the marketing blurb with it's purporting of dream holidays of sophistication and a chic atmosphere with superb Michelin quality dining.
Credit where it's due, the ship itself is Excellent and the many venues aboard the ship were up to the marketing spiel, but it was all let down by the "Benidorm mob" that monopolised the sun loungers, the on deck areas and much much more.
The promised "superb culinary experience" was a real damp squib as we were presented with piles of cabbage, over boiled vegetables, watery soup & wafer-thin steaks & square slabs of rock hard mashed potato - absolutely aweful. With generally below par meals, sadly, the promise of superb mouth-watering dishes was unfulfilled. This accompanied by the waiters apologising for the food they were serving meant complete disappointment was the order of the day.
I actually had the opportunity to speak with the Executive Head Chef asking him somewhat tongue in cheek how he kept his food standards high. His response was one of "well we have meetings". P & O must decide if they are going to offer super cuisine -- to Michelin star standard(as their advertising claims) to discerning customers enjoying a holiday of a lifetime on board their fleet or are they going all out for the pack all and sundry in at rock bottom prices to fill the ships and serve what can best be summed up as school meals type mediocre cuisine. Judging by our experience, I fear they may have made their choice.
I do not for one moment buy into the argument that if a catering operation is geared for 3000 plus people standards should reflect this -- they should not. Standards are Standards and if one sets ones self up as a professional in this area you are telling the world you know what you are doing -- so get on with it. Mass production appears to have taken over in a big way onboard the Azura. To watch my wife preparing for wonderful formal evenings wearing all her finery and to be served " school meals" dinners was quite a joke if it was not so sad. This along with the jacket dress code that was "enforced" according to the literature, but certainly was not in our restaurant and again lowered the overall experience. It is not acceptable to follow the dress code (& there were times having spent the day on the beach we wanted to stay casual & there were plenty of dining opportunities where you could do this) to witness, uncouth individuals striding past the Restaurant Manager stating "I've paid & I want to eat in here so I'm going to Tha Nos". P & O must have training courses to allow staff to handle this type of scenario.
If one ventured outside the restaurants to dine in the various buffets, a seating bun fight was almost a certainty. Despite it's size, the Azura clearly was not big enough for the "sea days" crowd when people generally ate at the same times. It became a guessing game as to what time would be the most advantageous i.e. you could actually find a spare table & seat. When a stop due to weather could not be made on the island of Grenada, there was not a lettuce in sight in the salad bar at the buffet
One suggestion for the toasted teacakes was donation to a "clay pigeon shoot" & I heard mouthed, for the Lasagne at the Italian Buffet
was "learn to make it".
During island stops we were continually up against another huge ship with no view or sun from our balcony just a sea of noise permeating from them -- this coupled with the ever-present fog of cigarette smoke from the surrounding balconies - wonderful.
The entertainment was generally very good, although the outside events were spoiled by the sea of cigarette smoke from those who ring fenced the outside areas from dawn to dusk. These passengers were rewarded by the appearance of tired old act "Mercury Rising" better described as "Mercury Spreading" followed by a Phil Collins look/sound alike (who I thought at first was a comedy act who looked & sounded uncannily like Alexis Sale!!!). These acts were obviously popular though & appealed to the level of passenger obviously being targeted for the Azura & it is a sad fact, that several world class performances by the superb concert pianist David Lampiere-Laughton attracted relatively small audiences. The superb Headliners Theatre Company were very entertaining putting on a variety of first class shows providing you did not mind the ignorant people arriving for the show almost up till the end of every performance.
Sea days should be renamed "cash cow" days as the whole thing is geared to relieving the passengers of as much money as possible. What else is there to do as all the loungers are purloined by any means - occupied from early am by the Benidorm crowd.
When the scheduled stop to Grenada was cancelled meaning another "sea day" captive audience, I thought I heard a cry from the Bridge -- "more bonus" as we slowly circled the island on fuel bonus economy money making mode.
My request for a replacement bottle of shampoo seemed to fall repeatedly on deaf ears and was unbelievably refused until a visit to reception where we pointed out that having paid several thousand pounds to stay in their floating hotel "were they really rationing a small bottle of shampoo"
An embarrassed member of the reception staff, organised a replacement arrived immediately!!
P & O ship designers did well when they created an adult only small swimming pool at the stern end of the ship with it's own bar, easy chairs & sunloungers. This had the potential to be a pleasant oasis away from the crowds & disco music. I do have one observation however. Why on earth did P & O in their infinite wisdom put the kids groups play area & splash pool on the next deck up overlooking this area & fill the surrounding seats with a cigarette smoke haze from dawn to dusk !! Unbelieviable!!
Lots of cruisers enjoy swimming & we are no exception. Out of the 14 days on board the Azura we had the opportunity to use the aft pool 3 times as every other time we tried there was a net over it. After enquiring as to why, a ships officer told me the chemicals reading was not right, but it would be sorted within 30 minutes. 5 hours later -- well the reader has guessed it -- the net remained.
Would we go again? -- definitely not. Thank you Carnival, that's another traditional quality British cruise line GONE. As for the next sunshine holiday, well - we're off to Benidorm as it should be quiet there -- they're all on board the the P & O cut price fleet.