We have cruised a number of times before with Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America, Thomson & Royal Caribbean, all offering different things for different travellers but always providing 1st class service and never having given us any reason for complaint. Due to the fact that we could fly from our local airport into Barbados we thought we'd give P&O a try - what a mistake that was.
Embarkation - the cruise started off so well, our flight was on time and after an uneventful flight we were met by a fleet of coaches that took us straight from the plane to the ship, no customs and after probably a 1/2 hour queue to complete the check in procedures we were on the ship, compared to some of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale check-ins we have experienced this was fantastic and we were all set to go!!
THE CABIN - as always we booked a balcony cabin, on deck 12, mid ship and port side. When we walked through the door our initial impression was that the cabin was both dark and quite small compared to what we were used to, the decor looked old and tired and there was no sofa to sit on, just a couple of chairs. However, we had the balcony so we could live with the cabin being 'functional' - and herein lies the problem!! Basically our cabin neighbours turned out to be what can only be described as chain smokers and every time we went on to the balcony they were both there smoking! We like to take breakfast on the balcony and if the balcony is in the shade we like to sit there and read i.e. relax and enjoy our cruise. I went to reception on our 2nd morning to ask if anything could be done, I didn't know smoking on balconies was allowed but as it obviously was our neighbours could not be told to refrain but I asked if there was the option of a)moving cabins or b) could they give me some sort of other solution. The member of staff told me the ship was unfortunately full so we couldn't move but he would speak to his manager and come back to me ASAP, he did not contact me at all and I also completed the mid-cruise questionnaire where again I stated the above. There was also no response to this, we did not want to constantly moan about this issue but basically we spent about 3 hours on our balcony over the length of the cruise -P&O did nothing to try to assist us and I have sent in a formal letter of complaint as they have charged me for something I was unable to use!!
Also the air-conditioning is strange, we had it set at the coldest setting and the cabin was still to warm, both my wife and I had horrendous colds/chest infections and by the end of 2 weeks the ship sounded more like a plague ship than a cruise with the majority of the passengers appearing to be coughing and spluttering - the flight home was 'delightful'!
THE SHIP itself is very traditional in its decor i.e. very dark, we couldn't believe it is a pretty new ship as it looks like it was decorated in the 80's, the design itself is strange in that the layout doesn't appear to flow and whereas on the American ships the atrium is a grand centre piece on the Azura I wouldn't actually say there is one!!
RESTAURANT, SERVICE & FOOD - like the rest of the ship the restaurant is traditional by design and the service from our waiters, we were on 2nd sitting, was very efficient whilst the food was very British i.e. fish or meat and veg.
BUFFETS - repetitive and boring, unattractive and no imagination involved whatsoever. The amount of passengers NOT washing hands on entering buffet was disgusting. It resembled a motorway service station rather than a cruise ship with people pushing and shoving. Lack of cutlery and cups and the 'hot' breakfast was simply swimming in fat.
ENTERTAINMENT - certainly not up to the standards we have previously experienced plus the way the shows are timed means some people may not be able to see what they want to i.e. on some evenings there were 2 performances of the 'main show' plus a singer/artist would perform in one of the other entertainment 'venues'. 1st seating diners could choose which performances to see whereas we could only go to the late show, this meant that on 2 occasions we got to the theatre at 10.15 for the 10.30 show, straight from dinner, only to find the theatre full - very poor organisation.
PORTS OF CALL - very good itinerary but very little information was provided to the cabin i.e. at a few of the islands we got off the ship to find out we had to pay to get into town i.e. no shuttles were provided.
CONCLUSION - if you want to get what you paid for you have to keep your fingers crossed as if like us you don't wish to inhale someone else's smoke for 2 weeks you need to hope you don't end up in a cabin next to chain smokers!! It is highly unlikely we will cruise with P&O again. If they had had the decency to come back to us on the ship and explain what our options were, or even if we didn't have any, we might feel differently but courtesy counts for nothing but it does go a long way.