This was a" Strictly Come Dancing ", themed Cruise. We are not dancers and this was our first ever cruise! Having read the mixed reviews about the Azura and P and O in general I was worried that we had made the wrong choice. Just ... Read More
This was a" Strictly Come Dancing ", themed Cruise. We are not dancers and this was our first ever cruise! Having read the mixed reviews about the Azura and P and O in general I was worried that we had made the wrong choice. Just so that readers may know that our opinions were not biased by the cost of our cruise I will say that we paid select price and chose a cabin C328 because it had a larger balcony. We arrived at port easily Having stayed the night at the Holiday Inn Express just outside Southampton.The car was taken away to be parked and luggage immediately loaded onto a trolley.. We were directed into the embarkation hall given number and told to wait until number was called, this was about 20 mins. and as we had turned up early we were not expecting such a quick embarkation. We were soon on the ship and directed to the self service area for lunch.
At 2pm an announcement was made that the cabins were now ready for occupation. We went to our cabin ,were pleased with what we found and then explored the ship, everywhere was spotless and plenty of sun loungers on all appropriate decks , all the staff were immaculately turned out and every single one on the whole cruise always greeted you ,wherever you were.The restaurants were good , a varied selection, we went to the Beach House a few times Zindhu twice and the Glass House once, which was our least favourite , due to the amount and presentation of the food for the extra cover charge. We opted for Freedom Dining and we enjoyed this very much and would probably opt for this every time in the future. we only used the MDR about five times. I found it to be very noisy and we liked to have a table for two and these were so close together that you felt obliged to start a conversation with your close neighbours!!!! Defeated the object of wanting an intimate dining experience! The rest of the time we enjoyed the self service options and had room service on 2 occasions which was very nice and at no extra cost. The quality and portion sizes of the food on the cruise was very good on the whole. Breakfast we always had at Venezia, and the choice was superb. ranging from cereals,to poached dried fruits and berries ,yoghurts ,cheese ,cold meats, omelettes cooked to order and of course the traditional "fry up". Couldn't fault it,and why people moan about the layout I don't understand, it was never unbearably crowded even when it was busy , one thing I found out on this cruise is that some people will moan about anything and mostly its the ones who like the sound of their own voices !! We enjoyed the 4 formal nights that we had and on three of those occasions we ate in the MDR. The food was good, could have been served a little warmer, and the choice of vegetables let it down. ? tinned carrots on the first night we ate there and very undercooked green beans that were frozen, on the other times we ate there. I am a good cook and enjoy my food so for me this was one of the only two complaints of the whole cruise that let it down for me, and such a simple thing that could easily be rectified. The meals we had in the other restaurants were great. Zindhu was fabulous and well worth the extra cover charge for a treat, and the same at the Beach House for a 5 pound cover charge , the dining was quiet and unhurried and we preferred it to the MDR.
Entertainment; We so enjoyed the Strictly Come Dancing shows, what fabulous dancers, and the "one to ones" with the dancers as well. A good variety of shows and the Headliners were very good too and the costumes superb. Really enjoyed the Tribute acts and The Cuban magician and his workshop where he showed how some of the tricks were done!! All in all couldn't fault it , but now for my second "complaint". the daily entertainment on the sea days was lacking, unless you were in to Bingo or quizzes!! I was hoping for some good interesting speakers but sadly not to be. Everything seemed to be geared at getting you to buy things, craft, beauty , foot and back therapy etc etc, not for me but I was quite happy on those days to read a book or sit on the balcony. I was hoping to hear the likes of Simon Weston or speakers who could tell you about the history or things of interest of the places we were about to visit as I suspect St Petersburg was top of the list for most passengers. The port talks was mostly aimed at selling the tours but some of the information was useful. The port excursions that we booked with P and O were superb and other than the Bruges one good value for
Ports of Call: Skagen . Went ashore and did our own thing, sleepy little place not much going on there but it stretched our legs and as we were only there for half a day was just right
Stockholm: Up at 5am to see the approach into Stockholm . What a pretty 3 hours sailing past small islands with log cabins on and it was wonderful, so much to take in and such magnificent scenery. Watched the docking and we took the shuttle bus into town although a few walked it but as it was raining and a good 30 mins walk we gave that a miss .I loved Stockholm and would like to back for a second look! We were dropped right in the middle where it was easy to see the sights and the palace etc, Everywhere so clean . Visited the palace and found a very interesting armoury museum that had costumes , toys of the royal children ,sleighs , golden coaches etc etc and all free! Would never happen at home ! easy shuttle back to ship and no excursion taken! Tallinn: A beautiful old walled city, Picturesque buildings and lovely churches. Easily "do able" on your own and no need to take an expensive excursion.
St Petersburg: The main reason for me persuading hubby to even go on a cruise ! It exceeded my /our ! expectations. We pre purchased a 2 day Splendours of St Petersburg tour from P and O on the cruise personaliser ( would recommend as these tours get sold out quickly on board) It seemed expensive at the time but on reflection for what we did and what we saw it was excellent value for a once in a lifetime event! Our tour guide Gallina was superb what she didn't know about the buildings and the history and the items in the palaces was nobodies business and her English language was faultless. It covered everything from the palaces to river cruise to going down and travelling in the Metro and lunch in a restaurant etc , fabulous. Couldn't fault it.
Helsinki: Caught the shuttle and did our own thing. Nice clean city , it was Sunday and no shops open so quiet in that respect . Visited the cathedral but after St Petes everything was going to be a let down !!!! Had a nice coffee sitting in the sun and then walked to the harbour where we caught a ferry to the island of Suomenlinna, what a find that was . Lovely,pretty island, 800 inhabitants and a world heritage protected fortress there . We really enjoyed it and all the locals seemed to turning up there for their Sunday picnics.
Copenhagen: Got the shuttle into town but you could just as easily walk it as we found on our way back which passed the Little Mermaid and was not far from where the ship was docked! Watched the Changing of the Guard and walked around , all very clean everywhere and ate the most expensive ice cream ever 5 pounds each for a cornet!!!!!!!!
Oslo: Having read a bit about Oslo we decided to book a trip as the ship is moored a long way out of town and there is no shuttle bus, glad we did . A very interesting trip which took in the Olympic ski jump, viking ship museum and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, now this I thought hubby will not enjoy, but like with a lot of things on this trip he surprised me by saying that this was one of the highlights for him and an amazing sight it was too . We had an excellent guide too who also spoke perfect English.
Bruges: We took an excursion because to get to Bruges you would have to get the shuttle bus and then a train, so we didn't trust that we wouldn't get lost so went on the" Do Bruges on your own" trip which meant that we were taken on a coach to the city , walked by a Guide to the centre and then left until the afternoon whereby he escorted us back to the ship,it worked well but would have been a lot cheaper if we had done it by train!!!Very enjoyable city , lovely cafes and chocolates and a super canal cruise.
To sum up all excursions were good and well thought out.
Disembarkation: This was a bit of a pigs ear !!! To sum up , ship was late docking , cases were not unloaded on time and people were held up. What can you do about it , nothing I am sure they were not late on purpose so why do so many people moan about things that you can't change !! In the end we all got off and once re united with the luggage ,which was a very easy process ,we were on our way .
To sum up : Loved every minute of the Cruise. A Superb ship and wonderfully helpful and polite crew, spotlessly clean, on the whole good entertainment, good food , fabulous ports of call and brilliant Srtictly Come Dancing theme and most enjoyable to hear the Captains thought for the day , usually spoken with tongue in cheek in his report of the day. Husband who only came for me as he said , Why would I want to be on a ship with 3000 other people ,was totally converted ! A first cruise , yes, but a last cruise, definitely NO, and would we go with P and O again , Oh Yes. Read Less