Night and day, Azura offers a large array of entertainment options. As you would on most large ships, you really have to plan your time well if you want to attend as many performances, activities and onboard events as possible.
To make scheduling a bit easier, the main two-deck Playhouse Theatre performs its shows three times a night, at 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Be sure to arrive ahead of time though -- each show was busy and often full at least 20 minutes before show time. Our favourite show was "Reel to Reel," which was a celebration of British films. It featured songs from blockbusters, such as "Bridget Jones' Diary," "The Full Monty" and various James Bond-themed tunes.
Additional performance venues include the Manhattan Bar, the place for comedy and tribute acts, and the Mumbai-inspired Malabar, which offers a cool and dark setting for cabaret acts and dancing. (Daily bingo sessions also take place there.)
The new London-inspired pub, Brodie's (named after Brodie McGhie Wilcox who co-founded P&O Cruises), is a popular haunt for an evening drink or two. We loved the black and white photos of London and the fantastic, colourful flooring. During the day, Brodie's is one of the quietest places on the ship, but later in the day, it really comes to life. There, passengers play pool or darts in groups, and during our cruise, the house band played background tunes before the trivia quizzes began. The quizzes were quite popular, possibly because prizes included bottles of wine -- much better than the plastic trophies or logo pens given out on other cruise lines. Brodie's is also the place to go for late-night Karaoke.
Since this is a British ship (and we are simply not as big on gambling as our American cousins), the onboard casino is pretty small. Located to one side of Brodie's, the casino consists of two roulette tables, three blackjack tables and about 20 slot machines. From noon to 8 p.m., there were discounted bets on the tables.
The Planet Bar (inspired by Ventura's Metropolis Bar) on Deck 18 is a fun place to have a drink and take in the virtual scenery on the walls, as well as the actual scenery outside. Situated at the most forward part of the ship, the Planet Bar has floor-to-ceiling audio-visual screens with footage from across six continents (no Antarctica, sadly). Each night has a different theme, and six different continent-inspired cocktails (created by Olly Smith) match up with the evening's virtual destination -- these cost £3.50 per cocktail.
If you are a wine-lover, then you are in for a treat in The Glass House on Deck 7. This relaxed venue is the idea of extravagant wine connoisseur Olly Smith. Olly has selected 32 wines especially for P&O Cruises' Azura, and each wine can be sampled by the glass, thanks to the nifty Enomatic wine system that keeps the wine preserved and the temperature correct for each type of wine. It looks pretty impressive, too, with huge glass wine-storage areas close to the bar. The bar serves up an a la carte menu of light bites, steaks and seafood, with prices ranging from £4.95 to £7.50, and bartenders can pair wines with your dinner choices. Olly has also introduced "Wine Flights" at The Glass House, and for £9.95, you can choose one of seven "flights," consisting of three 125-millilitre glasses of wine to try.
We noticed that The Glass House was always busy pre- or post-show, due to its proximity to the theatre.
Drink specials throughout the ships' bars are a good way to cut down on your bar bill. Cocktails of the day are priced at £2.75, mocktails at £1.80 and coffee liquors at £2.90. For beer-lovers, the Bucket of Beer deal gets you five bottles of beer (in a bucket, naturally) for the price of four. This offer was valid on Carlsberg (£9), John Smiths and Old Speckled Hen (£10.80), Becks and Budweiser (£11.40) and Corona (£11.80).
One of our favourite activities during the balmy Mediterranean evenings was to sit up and watch a movie on the new SeaScreen, placed high above the Aqua pool. It was busy, but we were always able to find a couple of lounge beds to perch on and watch a film. We loved the cosy blankets and the smell of popcorn (which was available for £2) popping away. During our cruise, a variety of films were shown through the day (the first film at about 1:45 p.m., with the last film starting at around 10:30 p.m.). Movies included "Clash of the Titans," "Invictus," "The Duchess" and "Moulin Rouge." British television programmes were also broadcast during the cruise.
During the summer, deck parties take place around the pool. On our cruise, these included a tropical party (complete with passengers and crew dressed up in bright, floral clothes, dancing away to summer tunes) and a night at the Oscars event, which was held on the "Black and White" formal night and included a James Bond quiz and a theatre show based on the best tunes from films.
Enrichment programming on sea days ranged from digital photo classes to twice-daily craft sessions. Talks on upcoming ports took place in the theatre at 3 p.m. during sea days. We poked our heads into one of the talks, which happened to be about Venice. It was well-attended, and the presenter gave some good tips and insights.
Sports enthusiasts can take part in darts, quoits, table tennis and shuffleboard contests.
Azura Public Rooms
Azura has taken some tips from sister line Princess Cruises and has made the hub of the ship the atrium, with the wooden dance floor in the middle of Deck 5. The space is constantly in use, day and night, with salsa classes and couples dancing to live bands.
Deck 5 is also home to Java, the specialty coffee bar. P&O Cruises has teamed up with U.K. coffee shop chain Costa Coffee to offer a mixture of espresso-based drinks with prices ranging from £1.80 to £3.15.
Other public rooms located around the atrium are the art gallery, Chronicles (a well-stocked book and magazine shop), the shore excursion desk, future cruise sales desk and the library.
The library is also the Internet centre (albeit a smaller, scaled-down version of Ventura's Cyb@centre). Six computers are available in the library for passenger use, and Netbooks are also available to rent. Taking your own laptop? Wi-Fi packages are available -- £35 for 100 minutes or £65 for 250 minutes -- with a setup fee of £3. During port days, the Internet signal was very strong, but during sea days, the signal was often weak, causing lost connections.
Smoking is not permitted in any public rooms, but it is allowed on cabin balconies and in designated areas on the open decks. Unfortunately, due to the addition of extra cabins on Azura, there is no wraparound deck like the one found on sister ship, Ventura.
Azura Spa & Fitness
Azura has four main pools onboard. The Aqua and Coral pools are located mid-ship on the Lido Deck, and during our cruise, both were packed with families. The Terrace pool at the aft of the ship is an adults-only pool; however, during the first day of our cruise, it was full of children. This got better after notices were put on the daily programmes and messages left on the in-cabin televisions to gently remind parents to keep the kids in the family pools. Finally, the Oasis pool is reserved for spa and Retreat passengers. Small children can splash around in the wading pool on Deck 16.
Want to indulge a little? Situated high on Deck 16 forward, the Retreat is a for-fee exclusive sun deck area with its own private terrace, cabanas and sun beds. (Some double beds are available, too.) It's worth the money because, during our busy Mediterranean cruise, the main decks were overrun with kids, pool games and bands, and we had a hard time finding a quiet area to sit in the sun. The Retreat offers solace away from the hullabulloo. Prices range from £12 for a port day to £20 for a sea day. When the ship launched, P&O Cruises had been advertising half-day passes, but we were told this has been revised, and only full-day passes are now available.
The Retreat, we found, offered the kind of service you expect from a first-class airline lounge -- but in a much lovelier setting. Everyone gets special treatment. Whenever we wanted food or drink, it was there, and the staff came around regularly to make sure there was nothing else they could get us.
A word of advice: Book early for the Retreat. On our cruise, availability on the eight sea days had sold out by day two of the cruise.
The Oasis Spa, hair and beauty salon, and gym take up the whole of Deck 16 forward. The facilities are almost carbon copies of those on sister ship, Ventura. The spa features a relaxation lounge, a thermal suite and balcony treatment rooms.
Fun treatments on offer include the 24-karat gold facial (from £199) and the heated stone massage (from £79 for 50 minutes). Be sure to check the daily programme for special offers, such as three 20-minute treatments (facials and head, neck and back massages) for £50.
Azura's gym is packed full of the latest cardio equipment, including state-of-the-art stationary bikes that act as mountain bikes, with you steering and changing gears as you work out. A large floor area is set up for mat work and use of exercise balls and kettlebells. (Don't know what a kettlebell is? You can take a class for £7.) During sea days, the fitness centre was often busy, but there was a limit of 15 minutes on equipment (when it was busy), so you won't have too long to wait to use the treadmills or cross-trainers. Personal training sessions were available by appointment and at a cost.
For early-morning fitness fans, there is always an 8 a.m. class -- tai chi or yoga (each for a fee of £7), QI-Gong (a complimentary meditation class) or a daily stretching class. If you're interested in learning more about health and beauty, check the daily programme for seminars. On our cruise, these included "The Damaging Effects of Sun" and "Eyes, Lips and Skin" workshops.