Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

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Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 25 Sep 2019, 16:38

Part 1

Here’s some notes/thoughts/observations from my recent Azura cruise.

This was our third cruise on Azura, although the last time we had sailed on her was back in 2013. We had a good time on our previous cruises, so we were pleased to be returning.

There was a very good atmosphere on board. The crew seemed happy, and seemed to enjoy their work. Our captain was Stephen Haworth, who is new to us. He was very visible around the ship seemed pleased to speak to passengers, and his announcements were very informative.

However, after nine years in service, Azura was a bit worn out in places. I noticed quite a lot of furniture in public places was worn and chipped, and the carpets were worn in patches. There are a few chunks in the wall where trollies have bashed against them, things like that. There’s a refit due next year, so I hope the furniture in the public places gets a refresh – it would definitely perk things up. Work is proceeding ahead of the refit – for about two weeks, several ceiling panels were removed from the entire length of our corridor, and at various times workmen were on ladders, replacing cabling. After a couple of weeks, they moved on to another corridor. Also, each day in the buffet, a chunk of banquette seating was removed to be cleaned, refurbished or re-stuffed, to be returned as good as new.

I would add that none of this impacted on our enjoyment of the cruise.

We had a balcony cabin on deck B. This was the first balcony we’ve had since the Britannia maiden. A combination of longer P&O cruises and cruises on FO and CMV, where balconies are at a premium, has meant that we have foregone the pleasure of a balcony to keep the cruise fare at a price we are comfortable with. I didn’t know I missed the balcony so much until we had one again. The luxury of our own personal outside space, particularly when the weather was so nice, was a huge bonus.

As is our normal custom, we had our breakfasts in the buffet. I recall that the Azura (and Ventura) buffets normally got quite congested, but they seem to have resolved this by putting the cereal station just outside of the rest of the buffet islands. This means there’s not so many people milling around in the main service area of the buffet.

For lunch, we either had a burger or a couple of slices of pizza from the poolside grills or took a Grab and Go baguette back to our cabin to eat on the balcony. I got quite addicted to the brie and rocket baguettes.

We were on Freedom dining. We prefer to eat early, and for the first couple of nights, we joined the queue outside the dining room. But, by night two, it was clear that the situation was ridiculous. We were in the Peninsular Restaurant on deck six, and by the time the doors opened at 6pm, the queue was stretching back well into Brodies. It was completely bonkers! After that, on the evenings we ate in the MDR, we went along at about 6.15pm to 6.30pm, and got a pager for a table for two. We’d then have a pre diner drink, typical wait time for a table was about 45 to 60 minutes. On those nights, if we wanted to see the show, we’d go to the 10.30 performance, or otherwise we’d just have a post dinner drink. (on this cruise we tended not to have wine with our evening meal)

We mostly used the MDR on formal nights. On other evenings we enjoyed two visits to Sindhu, two nights in the Glasshouse, once to the Beach House and other nights in the buffet. I know many people aren’t fond of the buffet in the evenings, but I find it to be a much quieter and calmer atmosphere than the MDR and generally less frenetic.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 25 Sep 2019, 16:39

Part 2

We enjoyed a pre or post dinner drink in several of the bars. We liked Planet for the views and Malabar was good for evenings when we weren’t going to see the show and just wanted to listen to the music. At first, we used the Blue Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but the service wasn’t brilliant – they often seemed understaffed. So, we started going to Brodies when we wanted a pre-dinner drink – it’s very quiet there from about 6.30pm to 7pm. As for the Glasshouse – the original and the best in the fleet. After a couple of cruises on Aurora, where the Glasshouse is nearly always deserted, it was great to see this vibrant space fully used at all times of the day and evening. We had a couple of excellent meals here, and, at the end of the cruise when the weather wasn’t quite as good, we’d have coffee here in the mornings. Also, we visited the main coffee bar in the atrium, Java, really good for people watching.

We didn’t go to Epicurean for dinner. The menu has never really grabbed me, and at £28 per head, I think it needs to be something that you really fancy. However, we did go to Epicurean for the Eric Lanlard afternoon tea. I don’t think we’d do this again – I found the tea to be very weighted towards sweet things, and many of the items were very sweet indeed. I’d have preferred a few more savoury items and less sweet things. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, just not to my taste. After we had finished our tea, I went into the ladies loos, and there was a couple of women in there complaining about the tea, and said basically the same as me. However, they had refused to pay for their tea, which I thought was really a bit off. I’m surprised they got away with it, to be honest.

As mentioned, we didn’t go to all of the evening entertainments this time. As it turned out, we had previously seen quite a lot of the cabaret performers. Just a few comments on some of them – Jeff Stevenson, one of the best comedians afloat. His show was completely different to the last time we saw him. Mike Doyle – I normally find him very funny, but for some reason, this time he didn’t seem as amusing. Manuel Martinez – I’ve been a fan for a long time, but his act hasn’t changed in 10 years. I wouldn’t see him again unless the act changes. Tom Binns – a new one for us. The premise was that he was a ‘psychic’ comedian. All completely fake of course, but it had potential. The reality was that it was a very thin act, only 30 minutes long, and the most amusing thing was his shock when he got things right!

The Headliners were as good as ever. We saw four shows that were new to us. Dusty, which was a Dusty Springfield tribute show. I wasn’t keen as it relied a lot on recordings of Dusty Springfield. Evolution, a kind of Romeo and Juliet story in a dystopian world. I really liked this as something different, but the general view from the passengers was that they didn’t understand it. There was also the illusion show Astonishing. It might not be actually astonishing, but it was still very good and I liked the ‘gold envelope trick’. Finally, my favourite, Centre Stage, which was songs from recent musicals.

One of the main reasons I booked this cruise was for the itinerary. The original itinerary was Malaga, Messina, Mykonos, Piraeus, Santorini, Katakolon, and Gibraltar. Before we left, Mykonos and Piraeus had been swopped around, so we’d go to Piraeus first. I had been keeping an eye on my weather app, and had noted that it was due to be very windy around Mykonos and Santorini, so it was no surprise when the captain advised us on the day we left Messina, that they weren’t going to be able to tender at Mykonos. Instead, they would go to Heraklion in Crete. I was disappointed to miss Mykonos, but was ok about Heraklion, and booked the excursion to Knossos. Then, when we left Piraeus, they advised us that they were going to ditch Heraklion, and go straight to Santorini, as the winds were forecast to be too high on our scheduled day. Everybody was really pleased about this, as for most people, (including us) Santorini was a highlight. Then, after Santorini, we went to Souda Bay. I was really happy with this substitution, as we took the bus to Chania. Ever since I saw Chania Harbour in a Thomson brochure in the 80’s, I’ve thought would be a nice place to visit. Then we were back on schedule, to Katakolon.
Some really nice memories from the ports. We finally went to the Alhambra, which I thought was stunningly beautiful. A wine tasting at a vineyard on the slopes of Etna, a slightly chaotic HOHO bus tour in Athens, lovely Santorini, especially Oia, but so busy. Then walking down the donkey steps to the port at Fira. When we finally got to the bottom, I wondered why the dockside was shaking – I then realised that it was actually my knees shaking! Next was our surprise trip to Chania Harbour. The sea was choppy that day and all the waves were going into the quayside restaurants Then we saw the site of the original Olympic games, and finally to Gibraltar, with not such a good memory. My husband managed to get bitten by something at the Trafalgar Cemetery and got a huge weeping blister as a result. Fortunately, it is getting better now.

The weather up until Gibraltar was excellent, lots of sun, hot (but not too hot) and often calm, almost glassy seas. We saw dolphins twice, at very close range. The three days coming back from Gibraltar were a bit cloudy and not so warm. I had hoped to hang on to the decent weather for at least a day out of Gibraltar, but certainly can’t complain about the weather overall.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 25 Sep 2019, 16:40

Part 3

The passengers onboard were the normal sort of P&O crowd, average age around 70. There were 5 children on our cruise, all pre-school age, and one of them belonged to one of the officers. Contrast that to the previous cruise, which was the last of the school summer holidays cruises, where there were 700 children on board. On our cruise at least 80% of passengers had sailed with P&O before. On the previous cruise, only 20% of passengers had sailed with P&O before.

The drinks package wasn’t pushed at all, and if it was mentioned in conversation, most people thought it was too expensive, as there was no way they’d be able to drink enough to make it worthwhile.

Generally, people weren’t wandering around with a glass of drink all the time, I saw this occasionally, mostly when it looked like there were going in for dinner.

However, there was a couple of occasions when EVERYBODY seemed to have a glass in their hand when walking along. We were dining in Sindhu one evening, and had a seat near the front, so we could see people walking along the corridor, near the photo gallery. It was the evening of some of the Peninsular cocktail parties, and we watched both the 7.45pm and 8.15pm parties go in to Manhattan, and empty out again. Everybody who was leaving the parties seemed to be holding a full glass as they walked past. I can only assume they had picked up an extra glass of free drink before they left the parties!

I know there’s a school of thought that P&O aren’t interested in their existing, traditional, customer base. I tend to disagree with this.

I think the school holiday cruises and the shorter cruises (up to about a week in duration) are now the preserve of newcomers to cruising. But, in term time, and especially on longer cruises, the ships are generally full of P&O’s traditional customer base. They must be doing something right, because everyone on my cruise seemed to be very happy, and moaning was almost non-existent.

In any event, P&O would be mad to ignore its traditional customers. Demographics mean that the baby boom generation is large, and we now live longer than ever. We are the last generation with final salary pensions, and therefore have money to spend. Traditional customers are a huge market.

I’ve always avoided school holiday cruises and would now avoid cruises of up to a week’s duration, but apart from that, I have no qualms about sailing with P&O and I’m confident that they are providing a product that I like.

Just a few other observations.

Flannels are now a request only item, and not provided automatically. I’m not sure why, but it does seem a strange economy.

In the evenings, yellow vested security guards were seen patrolling the main passenger areas. I cannot recall seeing this before and can only assume this has happened as a result of anti-social behaviour on high season cruises.

They have cut down on the use of plastics. For example, in the buffet, there were no individual sachets of milk, yogurts were spooned out from large bowls, and butter was served in large rosettes (like in the MDR) but much bigger. Which led me to observe how much butter some people put on their toast. Honestly, one rosette was plenty for a slice of toast, but lots of people used two rosettes on one slice, and were literally slathering it on!

No flags at the Great British Sailaway. Official reason given was ‘environmental reasons’. Basically, people had been throwing them overboard, and P&O risk getting fined. Another example of anti-social behaviour that has crept in on some cruises.

Incidentally, as we left Gibraltar at 7pm, we didn’t actually have a Great British Sailaway, but had a Great British Sail Along one sea day afternoon. It was very nice in the warm sunshine, but I think the lack of flags does detract slightly from the atmosphere of the event.

I thought they had stopped doing ‘nibbles’ for pre-dinner drinks in the bars, as the glass containers weren’t being handed out at the start of the cruise, but half way through the cruise, this started up again. Perhaps it was a supply issue.

They used to have charger plates to decorate the tables on formal nights. This now seems to have disappeared.

To sum up, this was an excellent cruise. Good weather, interesting ports, food mostly to my taste, decent entertainment, nice people and a happy ship.

P&O is still ticking a lot of the boxes for me, in the off-peak holiday period.
Gill

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by allatc » 25 Sep 2019, 16:53

Interesting what you say about queues for Freedom Dining. We sailed on Azura to Norway in 2017, first week of school holidays and I don't recall queuing being a problem.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by barney » 25 Sep 2019, 16:55

Excellent review thanks Gill. :thumbup:
The Glasshouse is also our favourite hangout.
I've always found their food excellent

Never personally had any serious MDR queue problems but we tend to eat much later anyway.
Last edited by barney on 25 Sep 2019, 16:56, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Kenmo1 » 25 Sep 2019, 18:08

Gill W wrote:
25 Sep 2019, 16:38
by the time the doors opened at 6pm, the queue was stretching back well into Brodies. It was completely bonkers
Thought this only happened on Oriana. It always surprised me how many elderly people were prepared to queue for almost an hour until the doors for freedom dining opened at 6pm.
Gill W wrote:
25 Sep 2019, 16:40
Gill W wrote:
25 Sep 2019, 16:40
Everybody who was leaving the parties seemed to be holding a full glass as they walked past. I can only assume they had picked up an extra glass of free drink before they left the parties!
Oops - we usually do that :oops: :oops:

Thanks Gill for a very useful review.

Maureen


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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by screwy » 25 Sep 2019, 18:54

Glad you found Azura ok,we’re going round the Canaries on the 5th October on her.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by GillD46 » 25 Sep 2019, 19:24

I have enjoyed your reports and summing up. Thank you. Our friends that were on the same cruise said much the same as you. They had a great time too.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Happydays » 25 Sep 2019, 19:40

Thanks for taking the time to do a report, I have enjoyed reading it.


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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Ranchi » 25 Sep 2019, 21:51

Enjoyed reading your report. Thank you for posting. Interesting comment about carrying drinks about. It’s not just me, then. I don’t really know why it doesn’t seem right to me but it doesn’t. I know you can argue that there are risks from spillage and either slip hazard are a dry cleaning bill or broken glass etc. Maybe it’s because I spent too many nights in my youth in the Bigg Market, I don’t know. It’s clearly acceptable practice on P&O as I noticed a table of plastic glasses outside the theatre on Aurora with a sign asking passengers to decant their drinks from glasses and into plastic glasses before entering the theatre.
Last edited by Ranchi on 25 Sep 2019, 21:53, edited 1 time in total.


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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by RAwllE-12 » 26 Sep 2019, 07:35

Thanks, Gill.
I was on this cruise and have to agree with your report. We had booked on the Orina but due to its sale we switched to this cruise and I was not disappointed, I was in club dining on a table of eight, and I have to say the service was first class, as for charger plates we did have those on some nights. Overall a very good cruise.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Jan Rosser » 26 Sep 2019, 08:18

Thanks for taking the time to write a review of your cruise Gill - love to read about other people's experiences - I agree with you that the Glasshouse on Azura is definitely the best in the fleet not just as somewhere to eat but pleasant to sit and have a drink and "people watch" ;)
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by cruisin_duo » 26 Sep 2019, 08:57

Another thank you from us for writing your review Gill. We love to hear about other people’s trips, and have found out a lot in the process. Sounds like you had a great cruise.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by towny44 » 26 Sep 2019, 08:58

Thanks for the review Gill, your observations mirror ours quite closely, although our favourite Glass House is on Ventura, mainly because I much prefer the original Spanish feel of Las Ramblas and its decor, but vive la difference as they say.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 26 Sep 2019, 11:46

allatc wrote:
25 Sep 2019, 16:53
Interesting what you say about queues for Freedom Dining. We sailed on Azura to Norway in 2017, first week of school holidays and I don't recall queuing being a problem.
I can only think that it's because older people like to eat earlier
Ranchi wrote:
25 Sep 2019, 21:51
Enjoyed reading your report. Thank you for posting. Interesting comment about carrying drinks about. It’s not just me, then. I don’t really know why it doesn’t seem right to me but it doesn’t. I know you can argue that there are risks from spillage and either slip hazard are a dry cleaning bill or broken glass etc. Maybe it’s because I spent too many nights in my youth in the Bigg Market, I don’t know. It’s clearly acceptable practice on P&O as I noticed a table of plastic glasses outside the theatre on Aurora with a sign asking passengers to decant their drinks from glasses and into plastic glasses before entering the theatre.
It was Mervyn who mentioned it when commenting on his Azura cruise earlier this year, so I think I was on the look out for it. I can understand why someone would carry their drink into the dining room if their buzzer had just gone off, otherwise it looks a bit odd. Also, when I was at work, it was a key part of our 'elf and safety training not to carry drinks around , especially on stairs.
RAwllE-12 wrote:
26 Sep 2019, 07:35
Thanks, Gill.
I was on this cruise and have to agree with your report. We had booked on the Orina but due to its sale we switched to this cruise and I was not disappointed, I was in club dining on a table of eight, and I have to say the service was first class, as for charger plates we did have those on some nights. Overall a very good cruise.
Glad you had a good time as well. Maybe they did away with the charger plates in freedom to save a bit of time
towny44 wrote:
26 Sep 2019, 08:58
Thanks for the review Gill, your observations mirror ours quite closely, although our favourite Glass House is on Ventura, mainly because I much prefer the original Spanish feel of Las Ramblas and its decor, but vive la difference as they say.

I like the trees in Las Ramblas. It was nice when P&O had individually themed bars on different ships
Gill

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Mervyn and Trish » 26 Sep 2019, 12:13

Thanks for your excellent review Gill. I'm encouraged that you didn't come across the drunken behaviour we experienced earlier this year. We speculated then that the 7 night cruises have become the new booze cruises and it seems your experience on a longer trip tends to the same conclusion. That's re-assuring.

Your experience of the Freedom Dining queues also mirrors what we saw a couple of years back and is the main reason we've stuck with fixed dining. We can't see the point in spending holiday time queuing for dinner when we have the alternative of a table ready for our arrival. We're also not keen on the idea of being send off with a bleeper to a bar as we're not big drinkers and prefer to plan our own drinks as and when suits us, not P&O!

I think our ideal (given that our budget won't normally stretch to Cunard's Princess Grills!) is the concept offered by Cunard Britannia Club with our own dedicated table at the time of our choosing, or Princess Club, where it's not a dedicated table but there are enough of them that the wait is minimal. The max we waited last year was only a few minutes, and that was only once in 14 nights.

Glad you enjoyed. Azura remains our favourite P&O ship.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 26 Sep 2019, 13:22

As you may have seen on another thread, I've booked on Queen Victoria, in a Britannia Club cabin. It's two years away, but it should give us the bit of flexibility that we like, but to know that we have our own table waiting for us
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Mervyn and Trish » 26 Sep 2019, 14:50

Gill W wrote:
26 Sep 2019, 13:22
As you may have seen on another thread, I've booked on Queen Victoria, in a Britannia Club cabin. It's two years away, but it should give us the bit of flexibility that we like, but to know that we have our own table waiting for us
Yes I saw that. We were on QV earlier this year when we binged on a Princess Grills Cabin. Not something we can afford to do often. But we had a look at the BC restaurant for a possible future option, as we loved the ship, and it looked great. The only downside is we like a bit of extra cabin space so we prefer the Superior Deluxe Balconies on Azura, which correspond to the Princess minis on QV, and of course you can't get them on QV unless you book the higher grade. So we may have to compromise next time.

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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Gill W » 27 Sep 2019, 10:37

We've normally had a standard balcony, so we wouldn't miss the extra space.

I like the look of the Superior Deluxe Balconies on Azura, but I'm no sure how I'd feel with people 'looking down at me' as I sat on the balcony. However, I like that it would be possible to have space for a sunny part of the balcony and a shady part.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by towny44 » 27 Sep 2019, 10:40

Gill W wrote:
27 Sep 2019, 10:37
We've normally had a standard balcony, so we wouldn't miss the extra space.

I like the look of the Superior Deluxe Balconies on Azura, but I'm no sure how I'd feel with people 'looking down at me' as I sat on the balcony. However, I like that it would be possible to have space for a sunny part of the balcony and a shady part.
You do get this with a standard balcony Gill, on C Deck.
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Re: Notes from Azura A924 2/9/19 – 21/09/2019

Post by Mervyn and Trish » 27 Sep 2019, 11:33

It's the inside space we like, as we spend time there, particularly on sea days, watching the ocean roll by, rather than scrapping for a seat in the public areas. And to be honesty we've never really noticed the people above so it's not bothered us.

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