Entertainment varies depending on the cruise. There is a large choice of daytime activities and evening shows on most cruises, but our two-day mini-cruise offered only a limited range consisting mostly of quizzes and films. Longer cruises would have dance classes and enrichment classes such as digital photography and crafts, with talks about the ports of call.
There are 12 bars, including the Glass House, but the other main hang-outs are Brodies, a cross between a sports bar and traditional pub but with a small casino attached; Planet Bar, a very smart nightclub-style affair; Malabar, which has live bands, and Manhattan, where you'll catch the tribute bands and dancing until "Late".
Brodies had Premiership Football matches on its three or four screens during the day, with a pub quiz, house band and Karaoke at night -- and some surprisingly good singing from the passengers. It's a good-fun, down-to-earth bar and a million miles away from the cool Planet Bar, which not only has a dress code but transports you around the world with a wall of changing photographs taking you from one continent to another, which can be a bit disorientating after a few drinks.
Drinks on Azura are extremely well priced, with wines selected by expert Olly Smith. You can buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio or Shiraz for £12.95, or various beers for £3. Daily promotional drinks included a Caribbean Cruise cocktail for £3.95 and mocktail for £1.94.
The quieter Blue Bar has a pianist in the evening but if you want lively entertainment then the Art Deco-inspired Manhattan is the place to go -- the Freddie Mercury tribute singer created the perfect party atmosphere -- although Malabar, with its spicy Eastern decor, is fun too. The School Disco Party Night from 9:45 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. ticked a lot of people's boxes.
Then there's The Playhouse with two shows a night (8:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m.). We were taken back to the 1970s with Blame It On The Boogie, a lively celebration of disco, motown and teenybop bands but sadly no discernable plot. That didn't stop most people from enjoying it, though.
Those who stayed onboard during our one day in port could enjoy organised get-togethers for solo travellers plus deck quoits, shuffleboard and table tennis. Reasonably new films were played in the afternoon in the Manhattan bar and there was a Social Whist Drive and afternoon quizzes for those who had returned from Bruges or an organised excursion to Brussels, Ghent or the surrounding villages.
Longer cruises would include deck parties around the pool, particularly in the summer, when sports equipment such as the Golf Nets and Sports Court would come into their own.
Azura Public Rooms
The Atrium is the central public area onboard Azura, starting with the dance floor and Costa Coffee cafe on Deck 5 where drinks start at £1.80. Also on this deck is the library, a pleasant room where you can borrow books, use the computers or just get away from it all. There is also a Cyb@centre in the sitting area around the dance floor, with paid-for Wi-Fi Internet access. This costs £2.50 to activate and from 25p to 35p per minute depending on the number of minutes you buy. You can also borrow free laptops, but there's a £6.50 per day insurance charge. As on all cruise ships, the strength of the Internet signal varies and can be very slow.
Also on Deck 5 is the Chronicles Art Gallery, with a variety of styles of paintings for sale and on Deck 6 next to the Atrium are the Emporium Chic and Regalia & Wardrobe shops. Interestingly, they can only charge duty free prices on cruises where the ship calls at a minimum of one non-EU port, such as Gibraltar, so V.A.T. (a UK goods and services tax) had to be added during our cruise. Chronicles Bookshop on Deck 5 sells a few selected paperbacks. Self-serve launderettes are also available on most cabin decks.
Azura Spa & Fitness
Of the four pools, the open air Aqua Pool and Coral Pool on the Lido Deck (15) are for families (there's also a paddling pool near the Deck 16 children's clubs) and the Terrace Pool at the back of Deck 14 is for adults only. The family pools have two whirlpools beside them, open year-round. There are two hot whirlpools attached to the Oasis Pool, which is adults only and connected to the spa, and sheltered by the terraced sun lounge area of The Retreat above, also connected to the spa.
Spa packages can be pre-booked and start from £200pp to give you special access to The Retreat with its luxury loungers, cabanas and general film-star atmosphere. There are no special spa cabins so you can add the package to any cabin category.
The Oasis Spa offers treatments ranging from the 24 Karat Gold Facial -- 75 minutes for £219 -- to gentlemen's pedicures for £29. There are five facials on offer, massages including a Thai Poultice Massage, detoxifying therapies and acupuncture.
The Gentlemen's Grooming options include an Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial and there's a hair salon, nail parlour and waxing services for men and women.
We opted for the cruise-long access to the Thermal Suite, which in this case cost £50 or £80 for a couple, but the price may change for longer cruises. There are heated ceramic loungers, a Laconium Chamber for a mild sauna, Caldarium Steam Chamber for a very welcome warm-up and Aromatic Grotto to steam-clean your airways. Free body scrub is available to exfoliate and moisturise your skin, and on this trip our entry cards gave us access to the Oasis Pool and whirlpools. The pool usually costs extra, we were told, but how much depends on the length of the cruise.
There was no time to use the well-equipped gym, with its lovely picture windows, or take part in the Health Club classes such as the Tour De Cycle spinning session or Body Sculpt Bootcamp (both paid-for activities) and we have long discovered that the free sessions such as How To Re-alkalize Your Body are just long-winded sales pitches.
However, the gym is free to use and as well as state-of-the-art treadmills, cross-trainers and bikes there are also weights and exercise balls. Other cruises may have paid-for tai chi and yoga classes which should cost around £7.
Next: Azura Family
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