We flew from Manchester on Friday Feb 3rd on a First Choice plane. We had pre booked our seats and also as it was a special anniversary cruise we had booked the Executive Lounge at the airport. This was a great relaxing start to our cruise. The flight went very smoothly with a short delay to de- ice the plane. Leaving the UK on this very cold and frosty morning we landed at Barbados airport in glorious hot sunshine at about 3:30pm local time and were on board ship by 4:30pm. The only slight hiccup on the way was the coach from the airport to the port had a burst tyre. It was so loud it sounded like someone was shooting at us. The driver stopped inspected the damage shrugged his shoulders and then just carried on. The chorus on the bus was "3 wheels on my wagon. "
We were on C deck in a balcony cabin on starboard. We had stayed in a similar cabin last cruise on Azura so knew what to expect. For those who havn't cruised on Azura c deck have the large balconys which are 1/2 in the sade and 1/2 in the open. It did not disappoint and the sun was on our balcony as we arrived. We met our friends who had flown in from Gatwick and went to reacquaint ourselves with the ship and book the speciality restaurants. Christine in Sindhu greeted us like old friends. We checked the menus for our wedding anniversary, and Valentine's Day and plumped for Sindhu for both but booked 17 for another evening. We then went to the Spa to sort out hair appointments.
Day 1- Barbados, We woke to a clear sky and hot sunshine and after breakfast took a taxi to Payne's Bay (Blue Monkey Beach)to swim out to see the turtles and sample the excellent Banks beer and rum punch. The sea was quite choppy by the beach but calm once out. We did get battered and bruised getting out of the sea because of the waves but the turtles were out in force and it was so worth it. It was the muster that evening for both Friday & Saturday passengers. We had thought that it may have been much more 'high key' because of the Costa Concordia disaster but it was much the same as usual. Dinner was put back by ' hour as there was a delayed plane. We had emailed the restaurant manager in advance as we prefer to eat in the mid ships restaurant and Friday pax are usually allocated the aft restaurant. This meant that on the first night we ate in the aft restaurant and on the 2nd night we ate in the mid ships restaurant but on open sitting. We had hoped to be able to sit on our allocated table choice of 87 but as the restaurant was not busy they only opened half of it.
Day 2 -Sea day and as this was the only day that we would be travelling in the westerly direction and hence no sun on the balcony we made use of the ships facilities and got beds by the sea screen. Much to the delight of the men the rugby was showing.
It was our first formal evening and we ate in the MDR at our allocated table and met our waiters for the first time. Richard and Pravov (aka OK) were very attentive. We then realised that we were their only table to serve. We thought it would get busier as the cruise went on. It didn't. Our only issue with the meal was the very boring cheese board. We explained our preferences to Richard and also the restaurant manager who came over to see us and they assured us that they would find us some soft cheeses. The formal dress code was well adhered to throughout the main areas of the ship.
Day 3 -Bonaire. We had been here before and knew that the best sights in Bonaire are under the water. We had taken advice from someone on the site and we went to Plaza Resort. There is stand as you get off the ship advertising this resort and a free bus to get you there and back to the port. It was 10 US dollars entrance fee which gave you the use of the resorts facilities, beach chairs, umbrellas or very comfy beds (like the loungers in the retreat) by the pool. The snorkelling was good but not excellent as it had been on our previous trip because of the damage the Hurricane had caused. The drinks at the resort were exceptionally expensive. 18 US dollars for 4 cokes and the same for beers. The resort itself is a little run down and the beach is not truly Caribbean white sand but it was a good day out.
That night was the first of our select dining nights in 17. The food and service was excellent. We had tried this restaurant on a previous Azura cruise and were not impressed at all. We decided to give it another go and are pleased we did. However I do think it is expensive at Â£25.00 per head compared to Sindhu's Â£15.00 charge for equally well cooked food and excellent service.
Day 4 Aruba. We had intended catching a local bus up to a snorkelling beach but had just missed it and there wouldn't be another for an hour so instead we headed to the Palm Beach area. We caught the banana bus from the pier which was driven by a real Caribbean character. He was a mine of information and the bus was an old American school bus. It hardly seemed road worthy but it was an interesting journey and only cost 3 US dollars each. Unfortunately the beach itself although very long and sandy was packed full, and there were lots of Vendors around. We managed a swim to cool off and had another lazy day followed by a meal in the MDR. The waiters had tried really hard to find us some cheese but unfortunately although it was or should have been soft cheese it was so cold that it was tasteless. We asked them if they could remove it from the cold storage earlier. They were so eager to please as again we were their only table to serve.
Day 5- Sea day and we were now heading North West to Jamaica. We went to the sea screen pool for the morning and then by lunch time our balcony was in full sun so we passed the afternoon away on there. In the evening we were sat out having a drink with friends when there was a loud bang and a football landed on the D deck balcony just below us. It had come from the sports deck. The pax below was not happy and it was a shock to all of us. It was another formal night and we ate in the MDR. The restaurant manager had managed to find us the smallest piece of Brie but again it was served far too cold to enjoy properly and there was no port marinated stilton. We told the waiters not too worry it must just be because we were in the Caribbean and there were not known for their cheeses.
Day 6 -- Jamaica. We were up early and took a taxi to Dunnes river falls before the crowds got there. If you intend to do this independently it is advisable to go early. It was a relatively hard climb in places but the guides were there to help you if you needed it. It was a great day out and something different to just lying on a beach. After the falls the taxi driver took us to Mahogany beach. We had been there before but this year it was so busy. The music was good and the Red stripe went down well but the sea was very murky because of how many people were crammed in there trying to cool off from the searing heat.
That evening was the first of our three planned evenings in Sindhu. It was menu 'b' and I had the prawns as the main, the others choosing the steak. Everything was delicious and the waitresses in there are so friendly and professional.
Day 7- Sea day and Gold lunch day. We were heading North East to Grand Turk and another glorious sea day. During the morning we were sat out when it was our turn for the leather football to slam onto the balcony. Luckily it missed us but had it hit anyone the weight of it together with the height of the deck where the sports court is situated could have caused serious injury. We took the ball to reception and explained what had happened. They were concerned and said they would look into it.
The Gold lunch was another excellent meal and the wine flowed freely. Our host was Christina an officer who worked on reception and she kept us entertained with her stories of life on board.
We ate in the MDR that night but were still so full from lunch that we all ate very little.
Day 8 Grand Turk. This is a purpose built cruise port. We walked straight off the ship along the pier to an amazing sandy Caribbean beach with free sun beds. There is resort centre behind the beach with more free sun beds and free form pools with a surf rider pool. Lots of shops and bars both in the complex and on the beach. The sea is very clear with good snorkelling right in front of the ship. Another beautiful sunny hot relaxing day. The Margaritas were going down well so it was a good job it wasn't far to stagger back to the ship. The weather this cruise has been amazing and so far we have not seen any liquid sunshine.
Day 9 -This was the last Sea Day of the cruise and our Wedding Anniversary. We had ordered room service for breakfast which we had on the balcony with a bottle of champagne. It was a lovely start to a wonderful day. We had decided against eating in the MDR even though it was a formal evening. I didn't want the singing waiters and balloons so we had booked Sindhu for our evening meal. It was Black & White night and the Portunus Party. After the party we went back to the cabin for yet another bottle of champagne with our friends then off to Sindhu for another excellent meal.
Day 10 St Maarten- A shopping day was planned here. We took the water taxi 6 US$ for a day pass. We wanted some souvenirs and also the duty free prices here are excellent for tobacco and alcohol. Some perfumes are also cheaper here but the one I wear was still better value on the ship. After the shopping we found a beach front bar where the Margaritas were plentiful and we spent a couple of hours soaking up the sun and the atmosphere. The water was quite cloudy here so I just paddled to cool off.
That evening we decided to try the Verona restaurant. This is a buffet during the day and turns into a waiter service Italian restaurant in the evening. At present it is free of charge (other than the speciality choices) but we have heard rumours that soon there will be a charge for all of it. It was exceptionally good and the service was also very good. In the past when we have used this restaurant the service has been dire so an improvement there.
Day 11 Valentine's day and we were in Antigua and the sun was shining. Usually we go to a favourite beach here called Long Bay. It is a fair way in a taxi but the snorkelling is good and there is a lovely sandy beach. This time we decided as there are 365 beaches in Antigua that we would try somewhere else. We had picked out hawksbill beach but this was not recommended by the taxi dispatcher. We ended up at Turners beach which was recommended by some others waiting for a taxi. It was just about as far as Long bay in a different direction, cost us the same amount and was a big disappointment. The sand was shingle, and the sea was very rough . We had a relaxing morning tried out the local beer which is Wadhali (sp) but we will stick to Long Bay next time.
In the evening we had another meal in Sindhu and this time the menu had changed and I had the lobster as did our friends and DH had the steak. I can't recommend this restaurant enough.
Day 12 Dominica. We are creatures of habit and we headed for our favourite place on Dominica which is Champagne Reef. It is about a 20 minute taxi ride from the port through what must be one of the poorest parts of the Caribbean I have seen. At champagne reef is a small bar at the top where you pay 2 US dollars to snorkel. This helps with the upkeep of the reef. You can hire all snorkelling equipment from here for a small cost and also if you want a guide they will accompany you into the water and point fish and coral out to you. It is not a beach. You get into the water off shingle but once in the underwater life is amazing. Normally when we go here there are only a few other people around. I think the max we have seen before is 6 people plus us. Today there were about 50 0r 60. The reef is big enough for all of these people but actually getting into the water is a very small area. If you enjoy snorkelling this is the place to do it but if you want a beach it is not. After the snorkelling the bar at the top serves the BEST rum punch in the Caribbean for only 3 dollars. It certainly washes the salt away. There are changing facilities, showers and toilets.
When we returned to the ship the restaurant had closed so we decided to pay another visit to the lovely Christine in Sindhu and had Nashtas. 3 large tapas style dishes each for Â£4.95 per person. There is a choice of approx 6 different dishes including chicken, duck, whitebait, squid, beef, and others.
Day 13 -St Lucia and we now felt that the holiday was drawing to a close. I had decided to book a P & O trip on this one along with our friends. DH stayed at the ship to pack. This was a new to P & O trip. It was on a fast Catamaran to the Pitons and between the Pitons is a beach called Jalousie. We had been here before on a Cosol tour so knew what to expect. It is quite an upmarket resort but at one side is a cordoned off area which is a marine park. The underwater life here rivals Dominica. There had been some improvements from last year and despite P & O's warning that there may not be sun beds available they were plentiful and free. Not that we used them much as we only had about 2 hours there and the majority of it was spent in the water. The crew on the Catamaran were fantastic. The Captain could not stay at the dock it was used to drop off then he had to move out. The rest of the crew were in the water with us helping the pax who were not confident. All of their equipment was new. It is amongst the best P & O trip I have done. On the way out there were free soft drinks and on the way back the rum punch flowed freely along with some nibbles.
That evening was our last in the MDR. We had a good meal followed by some soft cheese and said goodbye to our very friendly waiters. We hadn't eaten there as often as normal but we still tipped them the recommended amount. As we were their only table on 1st sitting their tips must have been down for the cruise. They did help out other tables when we weren't there.
Day14- Barbados and our return journey home. We had decided to book a day cabin and had another c deck balcony cabin from10 am until 3 pm. We were due to leave the ship at 2:15 but we were the only plane delayed. It wasn't too bad only 2 hours different but we were glad we had the cabin. We got off ship in the morning to finalise some shopping then back on to a day relaxing on the balcony with our friends who left at 1pm. The flight home went very smoothly and we landed at 8am this morning and were in our house for 9:45 am.
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise on Azura. There were minor niggles- We could not access the community site all cruise and we had arranged to keep in contact with family that way. Reception had said they would keep us informed about the problem -- but didn't. They also did not give us any feedback about the football incident. The food in the MDR was excellent as usual other than the cheese which eventually became a talking point.
The entertainment was mixed. The headliners were very good with 2 excellent singers Rebecca & David who also did their own show in the Malabar lounge. The cabaret artistes were a mixed bunch. Some we had seen before but Rudi West who was a comedian was excellent, the other comedian was dire. His whole show revolved around the audience and if one chap had not got up to go out to the toilet I don't know how he would have filled his 45 minute slot. The resident cabaret singer Jessica was amazing. She was very young but the range of songs she could sing was phenomenal.
The entertainment team led by Neil Oliver were brilliant. They were always seen around the ship and got involved with the passengers. We played the syndicate quiz on 10 nights and won on 7 of them. We had plenty of dancing and Peters band in the atrium are a real asset to this ship.
Not sure when we will be back on Azura but hopefully now that P & O are putting the ship back in the Caribbean next winter we will be back then. Just waiting for the itinerary to come out.