Azura Transatlantic: not the cruise from Hell! Warning: long review!
Just back from this cruise, with my oldest friend; it was certainly “interesting” and actually made me realise how P and O cruises (of which this was my 20th) usually do run like clockwork! This one didn't; however much of what happened was not the fault of the staff and was handled well.
We had priority boarding and were aboard by 12.50 and in the fizz and canape lunch in Sindhu by just after one. As it was my 60th birthday I really enjoyed a glass or 3 and something to eat; what a start to the cruise and still dinner in Epicurean to look forward to!
Our cases had arrived by the time we had eaten and chosen a library book each, so we unpacked, found plenty of hangers and our cabin steward Cliford, who was superb, got us some more as we'd slightly overpacked, despite the fact that we would be flying home from Barbados.
Muster was a little late as there was a coach stuck in traffic, so we got some Peller Ice from the Glass House and watched the people boarding through the window as we sipped. This meant that we sailed late, at nearly 6 o clock, something we were to do repeatedly on this cruise though for different reasons!
We had a wonderful birthday meal in Epicurean, with smoked salmon carved at the table; pea and ham soup, main courses of lamb and veggie option, and crepes flambeed at the table with Grand Marnier. There were little extras from the chef, and some very nice wine; shiraz for me and chardonnay for my friend.
We were too tired and replete to see the show, so relaxed on our balcony before bed. We had a lovely A deck midships balcony which was an upgrade to HA category from the HD one we'd booked. It was opposite the midship lifts but there was no noise at all from them. The beds were soft and in no time we slept.
For the next 3 days we were at sea, with very calm weather for the first 2 and only a little moderately rough sea on the 3rd, so we explored, and went to many activities. Films, shows, talks, quizzes and displays. We enjoyed the daily sudoku and crossword from Reception, though we quickly got to know the style of the crossword setter and got a bit irritated with his 2 and 3 word clues and the grammatical inaccuracy of some clues which led to wrong conclusions! However we got all or most of them right each day, and it kept our brains working along with reading, talks, quizzes and the excellent Murder Mystery which we absolutely loved. It's the first time I've done one on a P and O ship; more please!
A retired detective, Terry Brown, gave 3 interesting talks on these first 3 sea days, leading up to the Murder Mystery on the 5 days to the Caribbean. He had 11 volunteer suspects from passengers, set the scene, and put the rest of us into teams of detectives who had to interview each suspect, ask for further relevant information, discuss, and then come to a conclusion on the final day. We got it wrong but that didn't detract from the fun. The sessions overran each time which was a bit annoying as it prevented us from doing other things in which we were interested, so perhaps the Entertainment Manager needs to allocate more time than the standard 45 minutes to sessions of this kind in future. But I'd love to do it again!
We were allocated a table for 6 on 2nd sitting, but only ate there about half of the nights of the cruise, though we enjoyed both the company of our table mates and the menus, because as it was a special birthday cruise we had decided to do more speciality eating, and tried the Epicurean twice, the Glass House 3 times, Sindhu once and the Beach House twice. All were excellent, though Epicurean is the best of all and I shall be there again next time I cruise!
We had chosen this cruise as there were a lot of sea days, as we enjoy time at sea. I heard some people complaining about the number of sea days (one of which was actually spent docked for reasons I shall explain) and wondered why on earth they had chosen a transatlantic repositioning cruise if they didn't like sea days!
There was always plenty to do; a bit of something for everyone. Pub quizzes and bingo, talks, shows, bands, comedy, choir,art classes, dance classes both formal and informal, etc etc. No classical music though, which disappointed me as I love it. Nor were there any of the more “intelligent” art house type of films that the ships which have dedicated cinemas sometimes show; the seascreen was all very “popular” stuff and many repeats. We also enjoyed just chilling out on our balcony or on deck with a coffee, iced water, beer or glass of wine too. What sea days are all about!
Sunbeds: well despite pleas in Horizon and announcements on deck, the Lesser Spotted Azura Sunbed Hog is still alive and well even if there are definitely enough beds for all when people use them considerately. One announcement actually told us that there was no real way of policing sunbeds and appealed to our better nature; that might work on Aurora, sunshine, but you've got to remember that the big ships attract a minority who don't have one! But we could always get a bed somewhere.
During the cruise I enjoyed my Caribbean privileges of free champagne one formal night and at a sailaway, and the excellent lunch with the officers and engineers.
Before we got to the Caribbean, things went wrong though I shall say from the outset that none of it (except perhaps the sadness we all felt on learning of the road accident) stopped us from enjoying our cruise.
We arrived on day 4 at Ponta Delgada, where despite cool weather we spent a morning exploring the town. There wasn't a lot to see but it was new to us so we enjoyed it.
Pouring 2 gin and tonics for drinking on the balcony as we sailed away at 6 o clock, we awaited the usual “bing bong” names of pax not aboard, but instead got an announcement from Captain Camby telling us that there was a mechanical problem and that engineers were working on it, and we would sail late, without an announcement if it was very late.
We went to dinner and tried not to think of the possible consequences. We didn't sail, and the Captain updated us again. During the night I kept waking up and peering out of the balcony curtains to see if we were still there. We were.
And we were in the morning. I went up on deck for an 8 o clock update from the Captain, who told us that parts were being flown in and the problem still being worked on.
We eventually slipped quietly away from the Azores at about 9.30 that evening, as we were eating our dinner in Sindhu. The Captain had kept us regularly updated, but would not make announcements late at night.
Apparently it had been quite a serious problem, but it was handled extremely well by the Captain and staff. Disappointing to be stuck in Ponta Delgada for another rather cool day, when we were looking forward to the sun, but better than having a problem in the middle of the Atlantic!
We all felt for Captain Camby as his wife was about to give birth to their first child and he wanted to get to St Maarten to fly home to them. In the end she gave birth the day before we got there, to an “adorable” boy called Austin Robert after his father. We were all delighted for him and hope he is enjoying time with his new family. So we changed Captains, to Angelo Vago whom we didn't warm to nearly as much, in St Maarten, where we did eventually arrive only 4 hours late after sailing 30 hours late from the Azores! Quite an achievement if you ask me!
Unfortunately, late arrivals did somewhat spoil our enjoyment of some of the ports at the end of the cruise. I didn't mind the heat, but the humidity really got to me, and while we could have coped with doing things in the morning, arriving after noon made walking about almost impossible, and I am quite fit! I used the gym every day until we arrived in St Maarten, but for the final 6 days just found it too much despite the aircon in there!
We did walk to Philipsberg and were not terribly impressed. We walked around, got hassled by vendors, had a rather expensive rum punch, and visited a shop advertising “clean restrooms” to buy a bottle of local rum and use their toilets. The “clean restrooms” turned out to be a filthy toilet in a corrugated iron shack with no paper and a notice on the door saying “No poo poo only pee pee.” Culture shock or what! Wonder what the American tourists made of it?
Afterwards we found a small beach and had a lovely cool swim, followed by a hot and uncomfortable walk back to the shopping centre near the docks, sand in toes etc. We did a bit of shopping, had a cold beer, and got back on Azura, hoping to be a bit more comfortable the next morning in St Lucia.
Unfortunately the late sailings continued, as one of the trips was very late back to the ship after a rope got tangled around a boat propeller, forcing the passengers to have to be rescued by coach. I bet they were pleased! We eventually sailed in the late evening, having changed Captains (Vago didn't keep us nearly as well informed as Camby), which meant another late arrival into St Lucia, and leaving the ship in the full heat of the day.
Waiting for a water taxi to the town, we were informed that we would be put into groups of 16 and there would be a 25 minute wait. I could have gone with this at 9am, but not at 1.30pm in the humid 32 degree heat! My friend and I reluctantly made the decision to forget going to town and just to explore on foot the area around the docks, shopping and gratefully subsiding into a seat at a bar for cold drinks. We stayed over an hour and listened to the local band playing which we enjoyed. At least the toilets, though simple, were clean here!
St Lucia looked nice from our balcony. I'd like to see it from a boat or first thing in the morning another time.
We still sailed late (another delayed trip) which was annoying as we had not had a single sailaway so far. I am not wonderfully keen on the manic activity round the pool, preferring to have a quiet drink on my balcony or in a quieter deck bar, but part of a cruise for me is that lovely moment when the ship's horn sounds and we pull slowly away from our dock. I was missing it keenly by now.
However, as the distance was short, we were docked early in Dominica, so looked forward to going ashore after an early breakfast.
Again we were disappointed. We docked miles out of town as Celebrity had the town berth (do they pay more?) and it was too far to walk in the heat. We expected a P and O shuttle as we were docked so far away but there wasn't one (nor anywhere in the Caribbean; are they not allowed or something) so we paid for a private minibus tour of the area, only to discover that we had to wait nearly half an hour for him to fill up and there was no aircon, only open windows useless in the humid heat. I hated every minute on that bus and was glad to be dropped near the port, opposite the Celebrity ship. We had a short walk in town and retired gratefully to a cafe for cold drinks, where at least there was a large fan which we sat behind! It was a little slice of life sitting drinking local beer and watching the world go by.
We managed to get a private taxi back to the ship. But he tried to charge us twice. As we had paid the asked for 10 dollars at the start we refused to pay again, and were left still with a walk to the ship, though not a long one. We went to the market but most of the stuff was tat. The current exchange rate makes everything expensive so you only buy what you really want!
Unfortunately that was the day that there was a road accident on Dominica involving a car and a minibus which was carrying passengers on a P and O tour. One was killed and a number injured. Captain Vago announced this at departure time though rumours were already around the ship, and asked us out of respect not to speculate, particularly on social media, as no names could be announced until relatives had been contacted. This was fair enough though we found out that it was already on social media by the time he made his announcement.
I decided to ring my husband at home and get him to ring my friend's family, which was just as well as he was faced with calls over the following days from friends and family who had seen it on social media.
We were Speciality dining that night and went for cocktails first in the Planet Bar, but the news took the shine off our and others' evenings a bit as we all felt for those involved. Eventually we sailed, again later, with some of the pax with minor injuries able to reboard the ship and continue their holiday, though several were left in hospital with relatives being flown out and the Port Agent taking care of their arrangements. We felt sad as we watched their cases being offloaded.
The next day was Grenada, which was our favourite island of those we visited. We had booked on the Rhum Runner, originally in the afternoon, for a sail around the island, a beach visit and some rum punch! Our trip was changed by P and O “for operational reasons” to the morning, which actually turned out better for us. As Britannia the monster was docked opposite us, we guessed the “operational reasons”; their pax got the afternoon trip! As it happened, we got sunshine and they got rain!
We were very apprehensive about the trip after the Dominica incident, but we really enjoyed the island cruise on the big flat bottomed catamaran, with a chance to see the marine life, and the visit to an idyllic beach with time to swim, drink and laze. And lots of rum punch, and a steel band and dancing all the way back. It was all good clean fun, no one was too drunk and we loved it!
Getting back onboard for lunch, we enjoyed more swimming and lazing in the afternoon.
This time we sailed on time, more or less, and looked in on the Great British Sailaway with Britannia and Azura trying to outdo each other, but found it a bit full on and took our cocktails back to our balcony instead for a more peaceful departure.
I was up at 6 to see the last docking in Barbados, and was glad we'd gone for the 15 night cruise as it gave us a full day and overnight there.
As it was early we tried a walk, and saw some of the town, but got hopelessly lost trying to find a nearby beach and gave in to one of the persistent taxi drivers. He of course took us to his mates' place on Carlisle Beach, but it was very nice, with cold drinks, chairs and umbrellas for hire, showers to get the sand off etc, and free wifi. We had a swim and a short sunbathe, then more cold drinks. The driver picked us up and delivered us back to the docks where we did our last shopping before getting back onboard to start the dreaded packing and get a quart into 2 pint pots acceptable to the aircraft! We threw a few things away or stuffed them into handbaggage!
Cases outside and vanished within 5 minutes, it was time to enjoy our last night, where we ate in the Beach House, and then had a drink on deck. I went to the show and my friend went to see a film, (that was often our after dinner choice) then we met for a nightcap before our last sleep.
I had never done a transatlantic fly cruise so didn't know what to expect, and it wasn't a good way to end a lovely holiday!
We were picked up on time, the coach was airconditioned, but it was a long ride and we were waiting by the roadside for a time. The airport lacked facilities and the duty free was too expensive. The flight was on time but we were made to stand at the gate in the heat for an unacceptably long period. An 8 hour flight is not pleasant and I shan't be doing it again. The service on the aircraft was appalling, a complete contrast to the excellent service we had from all the staff on Azura, and when we landed there were no trains for hours. We spent a freezing 3 hours at the station trying to get warm with hot drinks. Not recommended!
On balance, we really enjoyed the “cruise” part of this cruise: the food, entertainment, service, and the huge majority of the company. The Caribbean; well I'm unsure. I liked Barbados and Grenada, and probably would have liked St Lucia if we had got to see more, but wasn't impressed with St Maarten or Dominica. Maybe you can't judge after so few islands. If I return, it'll be on a cruise sailing both ways from the UK. We passed Aurora who was on her way home as we sailed out to the Azores and I was envious (we had a great horn competition!)
We met lots of really nice fellow passengers, and unfortunately 3 very rude people; really not bad out of over 3000! One woman who thought we had pushed in front of her in a queue (we hadn't, and she wouldn't accept it and ranted on and on like a lunatic!) and a couple who obviously thought they were better than everybody else on the ship and got into a rant about our being “chavs” (we aren't). But it's Azura again. We've never had any rude pax on the mid sized ships!
So much so that we have a phrase in our house when someone is rude or crass: “Oh how very Azura of you!”
To sum up: a chapter of accidents, couldn't be helped and well handled. Some ports we loved, others not. Great food and service. Great entertainment though less for the more educated and more for the lowest common denominator; quite a contrast to Aurora!
Made myself stay awake till the night after the sleepless flight, and rested now though a bit jet lagged. Can't wait for my next cruise (Aurora!). Might give Azura a miss for a while, unless the itinerary is a must! Read Less