All temperatures in Celcius. Times in the 24 hour format. Currency onboard GB£
I flew from Manchester (UK) on a Dreamliner. My bag was checked in and I went through the usual security. We landed at around 1630 local time and we were bussed to the ship which took around 45 minutes. Unusually, we didn't go through passport/customs when we arrived. I expected to go through the normal checks but this didn't happen. We did, however, have our passports checked when we arrived back to Barbados. I think that this needs to be reviewed.
We entered a large building with literally hundreds of people waiting to check in. P&O don't do online checking in (although a recent announcement from P&O for the new Iona will introduce online checking in) so I had no choice but to wait inline. I eventually boarded at around 1830 and by this time I had been travelling for around 17 hours, I was very tired so I went directly to my cabin to wait for my bag. My bag was not there so as I had a bit of onboard credit, I decided to have a few beers in Brodies-the "pub" style bar. My case didn't arrive until well past 2300. I only found it because I was coming back from Brodies and my bag was in the corridor. I realise that "turn around day" is the busiest time for the staff, but everything was in this bag and I needed to unpack before turning in for the night.
Disembarkation was a different story. I will say at this point that most of the problems were not of P&O's doing. My flight was scheduled for 1820. I left the ship at 1500 and I was bussed to the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA). Again we went through security and I settled in for the wait. I got talking to a couple of sisters who was on the cruise which helped kill the time. At around 1630, the airport display said that we were boarding at Gate 13-this is on Friday 13th. Not a good omen. At our time, the plane had still not turned up at our gate. The GAIA is around three to four soccer pitches long but only half as wide. There is ample seating but the main walkway is only around 15 feet wide. At around 1700, a Virgin Atlantic plane turned up-not our Dreaminer. We were then told that our gate was now Gate 12. This meant that up to 900 people had to swap gates. Taking into consideration the width of the walkway, things got a bit busy and tempers started to fray a little. By now it was 1900 and we were 40 minutes late. At 1915, we were bussed to our plane. GAIA does not have the usual international airport style bridges to board the planes and all of the planes sit on the tarmac. Everyone was onboard by 1945 but the captain came on to announce that there were still 18 wheelchair passengers to board. He also added that the airport only had one lift for the disabled passengers. This one lift had to serve-what I estimate to be-16 to 18 planes. We eventually took off at 2100-over two and half hours late. I arrived back to the UK only one hour late but the GAIA needs to sort out it's procedures quickly.
Exclusively British. I didn't hear any other accents (apart from the crew). There was a large contingent of Welsh and a some from the ethnic minority community. There were around 20 or so children (under 12-I don't count teenagers). As this was (UK) school term time, I didn't expect this many. The ages of the passengers varied from young couples to senior citizens.
The ship and it's staff.
The staff were brilliant and nothing was too much trouble. My steward kept my cabin spotless (and he was well rewarded) and the ship was kept very clean for the entire cruise. Well done to the staff!
The ship is a mess. Azura is looking old. Worn carpets, threadbare seating, chips in paintwork and a general feeling that it had seen better days From the outside, Azura has rust streaks all over the hull. The crew repaint the hull but this is just painting over the cracks. Azura is scheduled for a refit this year (I believe this will happen in March or April) and she really needs it.
Food and drink.
The food was the usual high standard that I have come to expect. I had my evening meal in the Oriental restaurant on a table of six. Myself, two married gay guys Danny and Ryan, A senior Dutch lady Henrietta (who has been living in the UK since 1971), A girl Clova and Andrew. Clova only had one meal with us and disappeared. I didn't see her on the ship again. Andrew only turned up four times (he said he didn't do "sit down" meals) which left the four of us. We got along very well. At the start of the second week-just before we arrived in Antigua-Henrietta was visibly upset. She explained to us earlier that she was supposed be on the ship with her sister but she was taken ill and couldn't travel. She said that her sister had died in the morning. We were upset at this news and tried to console her the best we could but the trauma was obviously evident. The next night after we left Antigua, Henrietta didn't turn up and we never saw her again. The ship kindly allowed her to use the phones to contact relatives in Holland but we were convinced that she left at Antigua as the island has an international airport.
The breakfast buffet was the usual "full English" bacon, sausages, eggs cooked in vareity of ways, tinned tomatoes, baked beans, cereals, porridge, Danish, muffins (for breakfast?), smoked haddock and kippers (to non British readers, kippers are heavily smoked herring-I particularly enjoy kippers for breakfast), minute steaks, fruit. The lunch buffet featured carveries, seasonal veg etc. They also had themed days..Italian, Caribbean, curries, English pub food. All very good. Evening meals were similar to lunch with much the same style of foods. There was a small selection of foods for people with dietary requirements-gluten free, vegetarian and vegan-but these were very limited.
Now to a subject that really gets up my nose-alcohol prices. P&O claim to charge UK pub prices. Not where I live they don't. Draught beer (served in UK pints) was around £4.50 to over £5 a pint for some premium beers. Bottled beers of 330ml are around the same price. I was drinking Corona which was £4.40 a bottle. If I lived in London, I would expect these sort of prices. My regular pub charges £3.30 for lager and if I went to my local Wetherspoons (to non British readers, Wethersoons is a major UK pub chain) I would pay around £2.80 for a pint. So no P&O don't charge pub prices and they charge as much as they can get away with. If P&O dropped these prices, it would make me happier and I'm certain that a lot of people would agree with me.
We visited St. Maartens, St. Lucia, Tortola, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, Antigua and Grenada. I did several excursions-mainly sightseeing-but I did enjoy a coastal hike, visiting a chocolate processing factory and a beach hike. I will say that the official excursions are a little pricey and I felt that some of these were a bit "whistle stop" with not much time to see or visit properly. I did my own thing on two of the islands-Grand Turk and Tortola. Grand Turk is a mess since the recent huricanes and beyond the "tourist" port there really is nothing to see.
NOTE: If you do your own thing and miss the sailaway, it's your responsibility to get to the next island at your own expense. The ship will not wait. If you do one of the official tours and you're delayed, the ship will wait for your return. The local taxis and guides are not obliged to get you back to the ship on time. It would only take a breakdown or a puncture to ruin your cruise.
I don't do shows but I did see a Tina Turner tribute act. She was exceptionally good. There was the usual troupe "Headliners" doing West End musicals in the main theatre. I heard mixed reports as to how good they were. There was two resident bands-Pulse and The Fantastic Four. Pulse were ok but The Fantastic Four-although there were four of them, weren't "fantastic". There's an orchestra-who apart from accompanying the Headliners in the theatre-also did a Glenn MIller tribute. This was very well attended and they were very good. There was also a guest speaker-a retired criminologist-who gave lectures on serial killers and the like. Although murders are a gruesome subject, these lectures were very interesting but sadly not well attended.
There were the usual pub quizzes and karaoke in Brodies and of course football (soccer to non British readers). I don't do football (I'm F1 and Rugby Union) but they only sport shown in Brodies is football. The ships TV system had Sky News (the only news channel that doesn't have any news), Sport 24 (football again) and a selection of free and pay-per-view films and TV shows.
The temperatures were in the high 20's to low 30's during the day and didn't drop much below 20 degrees at night with almost wall-to-wall sunshine. We did have a couple of days of rain but overall the weather was excellent.
Observations and other stuff.
Sadly, we had two deaths on the cruise. One in the first week and one in the second. Obviously, no details were forthcoming about the people concerned due to medical confidentiality. There were also two medical emergencies. We were leaving one island and we were about 50 feet from the quay when we had to reberth due to a medical emergency. The person was carried off the ship to a waiting ambulance. The day after we left Grenada (our last island) the captain announced that we were diverting to Martinique due to a person who had suffered a heart attack. The medical facilities onboard are limited at best. Ambulances were on the quay to take the passenger off. We weren't allowed to get off and we were only there for an hour and a half.
On the first day of the cruise, I went to the smoking area on deck 7 main promenade. There were three 20 something blokes having a smoke and a beer. An senior lady also joined for a cigarette. This lady spoke to these guys and told them in no uncertain terms that they'd "ruined over a thousand peoples cruise". Upon hearing this, the three guys let loose on this lady with language I can only describe a disgusting and they didn't care one bit. As I didn't want to get involved, I left to go to the smoking area at the other end of deck 7. Upon making enquiries with the staff, it turned out that these three guys were treating the cruise as a two week Stag Night (again to non British readers, Stag Night=Bachelor Party). Apparently, they would start drinking as soon as the bars were open and didn't stop until they were shut. They were also shouting all the time and generally being obnoxious. I'm actually surprised that they weren't kicked off the ship and I was pleased that they were getting off just as I was starting my cruise.
Going back to the resident bands. In the open air bar, Pulse would sometimes play. The band was on the other side of the open air pool around 50 yards away. On one night I was sat with friends (on a formal night) and the band was so loud, my beer was rattling on the table. I was trying to talk but I had to shout just to be heard. A friend-Sabina-was only a couple of feet away but she couldn't hear me. I realise that the ship has to provide entertainment, but does it have to be so loud?
For the first four days, the staff were extra vigilant in the public areas and the buffet. This was because they had Norovirus onboard the previous cruise. There were reports (from the previous cruise) of people filling up water bottles from the taps in the public loos. There was a member of staff on duty all the time (day and night) for the first four days at all of the public loos to stop people doing this. The water is perfectly safe to drink so why didn't people fill up in their cabins? The buffet staff didn't allow us to have self service-again for the first four days-which was a little inconvenient but necessary to stop any virus. Additionally, although the water is safe to drink, it did have a nasty metallic aftertaste which wasn't pleasant. This did clear up a little, but teas/coffee from the buffet didn't taste right.
Food. Excellent with a wide variety in the buffet and main dining rooms.
Drink. As I said in my review, alcohol prices are far too expensive and P&O need to think about this. £1 less per pint would be better.
Staff. Again excellent and they kept the ship spotless all the time. Well done!
The ship. Tatty, threadbare and going rusty. She desperately needs a refit which as I have said above is going to happen in March or April this year.
Entertainment. MIxed reports of the "Headliners" shows. Guest speaker was very good. The Fantastic Four weren't, Pulse are too loud.
All in all, the cruise was very good. Excellent staff, good weather, good food and friendly passengers. I am giving this cruise six out of ten.
If you're thinking about travelling on Azura, wait until she's had the refit.