We have just returned from a 12 day cruise on Azura to Canary Islands from Southampton and wish to share our experience of a first cruise with P and O, after having sailed with Princess each year since 2016. The contrast between the two ... Read More
We have just returned from a 12 day cruise on Azura to Canary Islands from Southampton and wish to share our experience of a first cruise with P and O, after having sailed with Princess each year since 2016. The contrast between the two companies is frankly alarming despite there being no difference in the prices we have paid, like for like. We have stayed on Lido deck forward on three occasions; twice in an outside partially obstructedand once in balcony and up until now and despite some rough seas off Cadiz, have not been unduly bothered by that location. This time we stayed in L101, which I will comment on shortly. We have also stayed on deck 12 on Crown Princess at the rear but the vibration from below was terrible.
Embarkation was excellent and we were able to gain access to our room quite early, but once on deck it was apparent that all was not good. As we passed through the automatic doors from the outside deck to our corridor we were greeted with a tatty, very worn carpet which didn’t improve much all the way to our cabin at the end. There were also numerous scrapes on the walls. First impressions were bad and didn’t get better in the cabin which also had a worn grubby carpet but worst of all a horrible configuration with the bed back against the window leaving about a foot all around to maneuver. We had to move the table under the clothes rack and were unable to use it. Annoyingly the rooms either side had the bed against the side-wall and far more space all round. The TV was a joke, Not only tiny, but positioned on a shelf high above the coffee making area which made it impossible to view unless you were standing up. That didn’t really matter because there was no signal for TV for most of the cruise (and even in Southampton), and the film choices were terrible. The maps for showing the position of the ship looked as if they had been drawn by a 5 year old. The young girl steward, Misty worked tirelessly keeping our cabin clean and neat given the poor state it was in and was the only person on the ship we found worthy of a tip.
We went to the buffet where we found the hot food was the same temperature as the cold stuff. It resembled what you would expect to see in a works canteen. I had a stone cold curry and rice. We thought this might be just a changeover day problem but it was the same the next day. In fact lunch was pretty well the same every day, often cold, repetitive and bland.
Having enjoyed some great sail aways from Southampton on Princess we were expecting something similar but this one was totally dead with little effort from our entertainment team and bar staff who looked as if they had just heard gratuities were being removed next month. In fact far from being the friendly, attentive, happy people, mostly from the Philippines, we had experienced on other cruises, this bunch were in many cases morose or doing their best to pretend we weren’t there. In fact for the entire cruise we found many staff to be indifferent. At the front desk, staff often chatted to each other or looked at computers rather than acknowledge us. I lost my glasses and reported that to the desk along with a detailed description of case etc and this was noted down with a promise to inform me if found. A few days later I called at desk and identified them. Nobody had bothered to check or inform me. Why would they when they can’t even be bothered to acknowledge a guest standing waiting in front of them? Who trains these people in such basic customer skills?
I now turn my attention to various areas of the ship in the vain hope that somebody might actually take note of my observations.
The buffet at breakfast was probably the worst aspect of the cruise. The scramble for tables was horrendous with guests reserving tables with various discarded items such as handbags or coats and even books. Once secured those guests would often remain there chatting over numerous cups of tea regardless of the poor souls trying to find somewhere to eat. Staff struggled to clear tables and the jostling for food was really annoying. Staff looked particularly irritated if asked to make poached eggs, omelets or pancakes. What was also annoying was the closing of one side of the buffet, which had the effect of compressing the already large volumes of people into less space. Trying to get a table that wasn’t occupied or reserved (people like to occupy outside seats or diagonally opposed or even place bags on unoccupied seats to discourage/prevent others from sitting down, such is their selfishness) was difficult bordering on impossible. Welcome to the 2 star holiday camp. This was also apparent in some bars and the theatre where you had to arrive 30 minutes early or risk not getting a seat or being split up courtesy of everyone leaving one spare seat next to them.
The bars all had their own character. The Planet bar on the18th level was like a care home. Where Princess have skywalkers disco with late night dancing, a happy hour and a place for those still willing and able to enjoy a decent club atmosphere, P and O had Beth and James, A piano and guitar duo you could get a good nights sleep listening to. What a waste of a great venue that actually looked good. The Atrium was a massive disappointment as it was not only compact but devoted almost entirely for the whole cruise to ballroom dancing where the same usual suspects were in attendance showing off nightly. The so called Brodies bar which also housed the casino had the best choice of drinks but often the worse choice of entertainment and guests. If this is P and O’s impression of a British pub they need to get ashore more often. Most of the quizzes were held there along with bowling on the Nintendo Wii, bingo, darts and live football (satellite reception permitting). This was where Benidorm meets Jeremy Kyle and having to listen to one large family singing loud Liverpool football chants was definitely a low point. Incidentally the quizzes of which I attended a few were decidedly hit and miss with themes such as breeds of dogs, for gods sake or fish.
The prize for such huge efforts was laughable. You could win a gold star (great if you are in primary school, but not particularly exciting if you were much older but sadly the P and O faithful embraced the idea. I accumulated a couple of the coveted stars and after great difficulty, managed to locate a prize redemption area at the end of the cruise. The prizes actually weren’t bad but it would have been so much easier just to give a prize to the winner at the time.
The Glass house was another rest home for the elderly enjoying crosswords, sudoko or a nap. The Blue bar at the Atrium was popular for pre dinner drinks but just ok. The Malabar looked smart with fancy red lighting and Palm trees outside but on approach absolutely stank of sewage. The smell was disgusting and it never subsided. Some people commented on it, some ignored it, and some didn’t seem to notice, such was the diversity of clientele. It had nightly music, usually the resident group, Authorised or Pulse who popped up all over the ship for sail aways or filling in. I can honestly say that whoever is booking these bands either never heard them or needs a hearing aid. The girl singers were terrible and managed to either murder songs or sing them in a way that made even the most popular and well-known song sounded unidentifiable.
The other main bar was called Manhatten and was used as a secondary venue for shows which were mostly Tribute acts or comedians. Head and shoulders above the rest was Jeff Dingle as Bruno Mars who really rocked, closely followed by an Adele act and the inevitable Beatles. The Bootleg Beatles are still the bench mark but this band did a fair job whilst actually looking nothing like them. What was really annoying in Manhatten however was the family that sat boozing whilst their two young daughters ran around the bar for hours annoying other guests until midnight. Staff as usual did nothing as they did when same girls were running around the pool ‘bombing’ earlier. On a plus note, and there aren’t many, the Headliners shows were good and clearly a lot of effort had gone into them and the guest speaker Stephen King commanded huge audiences with his insights on the music industry.
With regard to one of the more important aspects of cruising, we were on freedom dining which is supposed to mean that you were free to dine anytime between 6pm and 9:30pm. Sadly this was not the case. It did not take me long to figure out that they we working a ‘sitting’ operation. At 5:30 a queue started forming, that was 60 strong at 6pm opening time. Many guests were opting to dine table for 2 and were accommodated. Once full, buzzers were given out and you would think they would be called in as tables became vacant. Not so. We witnessed whole lines of tables empty and not being filled. Eventually when all tables were empty buzzers were going off all over the place and in came sitting number 2. Finally around 8.30, in came sitting 3. We noticed a keenness to move us swiftly through courses on sitting 1. On sitting 2 staff became a little overwhelmed and waits between courses extended. As sitting 3 progressed they began clearing up vigorously. Menus in restaurants looked impressive but the reality was not always so good. Some meals were good, notably slow cooked lamb shanks, but then that’s not rocket science. Starters were small and often basic and bland. Deserts were also just okay with watery custard and rather tasteless or ice cream. Some staff made the effort whilst others just looked bored.
Front of house seemed much happier.
I walked around the ship one day to see what was on offer. The sports deck was an absolute disgrace. There was a large open deck area covered in green matting completely unused. No putting green or bowls here. Two members of staff were playing basketball and the golf net was just a small, tented area and a bag of clubs fit for the bin. The whole area was an absolute disgrace, totally neglected and abandoned.
Deck 16 housed Breakers bar, an area almost totally given over to smokers. Down on 15 smokers were again occupying one side of the deck next to the pool. They had slowly on a daily basis been able to extend even further along the deck and when you were going to and from the buffet you had to pass through a wall of smoke. Congratulations to who ever came up with this positioning. The one table tennis table was squeezed into the other corner outside the buffet area.
Clearly P and O put greater emphasis on accommodating smokers than people who wish to engage in sporting activities.
I have reserved a few final comments for the cruise director and staff. Again on previous cruises with Princess we knew and recognized him and his staff who connected with passengers and seemed to always be around. I’m afraid I found Chris to be conspicuous by his absence and I would fail to pick him out in a line up. His merry men (and girls) were equally grey and seemed to only pop up briefly for quizzes before fading away into anonyimity. Their stupid holiday camp style dancing on deck sailaways left me cringing. This might be Butlins or Haven but it sure wasn’t expected on what I thought was going to be an upmarket holiday. P and O are clearly targeting the mass market in order to fill cabins. There was one other trauma that deserves a mention and also was the pivotal point in my deciding never to book P and O again. One evening we identified a few things to see. One was billed as an Elvis show. What transpired was possibly the stupidest and most pathetic rubbish I have ever seen. Unbeknown to us ‘Elvis’ was not a tribute act but cruise director Chis dressed in a silly costume and making stupid noises. He asked if there were any Elvis fans present, to which there were a few affirmatives including an elderly Welsh couple seated next to us. He then proceeded to make silly wheezing noises and stupid mimicry of Elvis which clearly offended said couple who promptly stood up and walked out. I personally am not an Elvis fan but I felt sorry for them and we did likewise. This man acting the fool on stage was being encouraged by quite a few of the crowd who would definitely not be candidates for Mensa and reinforced my feeling I was on the wrong ship.
Fortunately we were able to make it to Manhatten for the Adele tribute singer who actually had some talent.
In summary we had a highly disappointing holiday on a tatty ship, with average food and entertainment, constant queuing and a firm conviction that Brits will often accept this. If this had been full of Americans or even Germans, staff would have been overwhelmed with complaints because they expect and demand better standards and get them.
Would P and O be our first choice when booking another cruise? Not likely if this one is anything to go by. We will just have to pay more for Celebrity or find a Princess ship going out from Southampton. Read Less