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Cruise Review: P&O Cruises Azura Caribbean – Part 1

Wednesday 13th February 2013

My adventure begins at home. Suitcases strewn across the lounge floor, luggage scales laying idol next to them. Ooh should I weigh them just one more time. Its been driving me insane for days trying to achieve that magic weight of 23kg. Why is it 23kg? Why can’t it be 25kg? 25kg is so much more realistic. But I had it sussed or so I thought. Last weigh in before bringing them down stairs was 22.7kg and 22.45kg, but somehow some evil demon attacked them on the journey downstairs and they weighed 23kg+ each. That was last night when I was past caring. But the scales were in my hand, ready to be put away so one final weigh in revealed they were both magically back under the 23kg. The luggage scales were singing to me. No best of three this time, they were officially no more that 23kg each so the scales were going back in the wardrobe. Hand luggage on the other hand was another matter. 5kg each? Who dreamt that one up? Minimum suitcase size I can deal with. Why cant we just fill a minimum suitcase size like BA and the like. Has anyone who made the 5kg rule ever tried to fill hand luggage with just 5kg? I need my laptop so thats the majority of my 5kg before I have even started, plus the leads, note pad, calculator, blimey do I have a few gram of weight restriction left for a pen? Nightmare, and probably the worst part of flying.

So it turned into a busy morning. Work has to go on, plus I have a nail appointment (essential part of any girls pre cruise preparation) oh and then there was washing to contend with. The washing machine gremlin attacked on Friday afternoon, and decided to cast an evil spell on my washing machine and it was to function no more. An engineer came on Tuesday afternoon and replaced parts, but since then it has washed nonstop, with back to back loads. Outside the weather had decided to grant another load of snow on us. It was having a proper go again this morning. After lunch Mr C returned from work, car was loaded, all pre departure checks satisfactorily completed and we were on the road.

SatNav woman was banned. She knows I hate her, she wasn’t allowed to speak or display today. The route was childs play, straight onto the M6, up to Knutsford turning, right along the posh road full of big houses (and speed cameras. Beware of speed cameras) right onto the M56. Off at junc 6, right at the roundabout, under a bridge, left, left and hey we have reached our destination. It wasn’t a pleasant drive, the snow was coming down thick and fast in parts and it was oh so grey with lots of little red lights leading the way from the cars infront. Just outside Stafford we thought we had met our maker. An almighty bang hit the entire length of the windscreen. We both yelled with fright. What hit us? We were dead, and this was the journey to heaven, or hell? We had just driven under a bridge, just outside Stafford, as a gritter was going over a bridge above us, and basically threw a load of salt and grit over the edge at us. It hit us with some force, and have chipped and marked the windscreen in several places. Good job Mr C is trained in blue light driving because he kept his cool. I would most likely have let go of the steering wheel to cover my face qand caused a multiple pile up. We were alive but shaken, and after a bit of cursing he carried on!

So yes, we have reached our destination. Premier Inn, Hanger Lane North. Premier Inn Hanger Lane South was literally opposite across the car park, but was about £40 per room more expensive. £39 was a better sounding option, so thats the one I booked. Usual cheery Premier in welcome on arrival, and it all looks very nice. Keys issued from the self serve booth, and we were granted room 514. Nice room, bit of an unusual triangular shape, and bigger than the usual Premier in standard. Two windows overlooking Manchester airport, and a bit of a lake below, which Mr C insists is actually a flood, but it looked like clever landscaping to me. it looked pretty in the dark. But we thought we had entered Narnia. It was freezing. Had the air con been set to super chill? No it was on 21 degs which should have been comfortable. We whacked that up to the  max 26 degs and hoped for the best. I had work to do, so laptop was set up and I indulged myself in an hours work catch up. The draft seems to be coming straight down my back from the aircon so I had to dig a jacket out to keep the chill of me. Mr C had ventured downstairs to the bar, still wearing his work coat from the car which he had worn whilst getting the cases in. He had also been deployed to do a bit of meeting and greeting to welcome friends who had a horrendous sounding journey from the other side of the country. They had hit a traffic, which was down to slow moving traffic and one lane, so took a detour over Saddleworth Moor. That sounded bleak, and pretty dangerous given the weather conditions. They worked out when it was too late that some orange flashing lights they had seen through the pounding snow was in fact a road closed sign. We all needed a drink!

A quick change and we were all in the bar ready to start the holiday. Mr C did not want to part with his work coat. Im talking about a coat more suited to the engineering factories that he visits, not one that should be worn for social occasions. He took some convincing to part with it, and was not a happy man. Mr C was at the bar and all I kept hearing was ‘sorry sir, we had a large party of Irish Rugby supporters in at the weekend and they drank us dry’ What? A bat without drink? Was someone having a laugh? The weekend was Saturday Sunday was it not? This is Wednesday? Surely supplies could find the way here during that time. So there was no draught anything. Just bottles of Becks. No vodka. What have you got? The bartender pointed to a few almost empty optics and a few bottles of beer in the fridge. That or wine. I was ok as the Irish clearly didn’t like Southern Comfort. A measure of Bacardi had been spotted in the neck of the bottle so that was purchased and we could toast our holiday. Lovely big soft leather sofa’s but as we sat nattering we were all freezing cold. Now I could see why Mr C did not want to surrender his coat. I asked the bartender very nicely if he could deploy some warm air out of the vents above, but he just grinned, in a cheesed off sort of way, and dragged a heater towards us. Time to eat, and I specifically asked for a warm table and commented on the near freezing temperature of the bar area. The girl enthusiastically pointed out that one type of vent puts warm air in, and the other sends cold air blasting through for some reason. She said it had always been a cold hotel ever since it was built. I reckon they built it on some battle graveyard or something because it was a temperature more befitting a cold cemetery.

We were shown to our table.” Is this one alright for you?” Eeerm no, its got one of those cold air vents directly above. Quite why she thought I was joking is beyond me and left us to sit while she read the specials board to us. Mr C tried his chances with the beer on a meal deal. A meal deal should include a pint of draught beer, glass of wine or soft drink. But they had no draught so he was rather hoping for two Becks instead of the non existent pint of draught. She was having non of that. It was one small Beck or nothing Mr C. As the meal went on, the hairs on my arms were starting to creep out of the sleeves of my jumper. I cant explain how cold I was. I was frozen through to the bones and the icy air continued to rain down on me.  Retreat to the bar in the hope of finding a warm seat, but no the only vacant one was directly under the wrong type of vent. Even the leather of the sofa was icy cold. Hot chocolate please. Surely the Irish hadn’t drunk all of that at the weekend? No but they had all the marshmallows and cream. But to compensate I was blessed with 4 scoops of chocolate powder instead of the usual 3! Oh that’s alright then hey?

Enough of this, time for bed. The bedroom is set to 26 degs so should be like a sub topical paradise by now? No, I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe less of a chill in the air but my cold bones needed some warming. Mr C was straight into bed, and within minutes he was snoring his brain out. Night then! I decided to watch a bit of TV. No signal? Am I on some sort of wind up TV show or something? Did we actually check in to Faulty Towers to see how much patience I had?  So out of bed I get and across to the TV. Press a few buttons, still no signal. What do I know about TV’s? I decided to take a look around the back. Ha ha, a loose lead! Now where does that go? Several sockets on the back of the TV were tried, then I found a choice of 3 sockets down the side. Mr C needs waking from his slumber. I need assistance. He was not a happy man. Just as he started cursing me I spotted an aerial socket in the wall. Ah, that will be the one then! Yes, I now have sound and picture, you can go back to sleep now Mr C. Back in my bed, I too was fast asleep in no time. I woke about an hour later and realised the TV needed to be turned off so I reached for the remote but it was having non of it. By the time I had fought with that, and had to get out of my bed I was wide awake. Somehow I managed to get back off to sleep, but by 1.30 the arctic blast had turned into a tropical heat wave. I was beyond hot. I threw back the duvet to try and cool down but the air was thick and warm. Mr C might as well have been a fire breathing dragon. Snoring is bad enough, but a sharp nudge to the ribs quietens him to heavy deep breathing that sounds like hard work. Why is it so hot? And why is he so loud with his breathing? There is an international airport outside and I can’t hear that, so why is my own husband inflicting this on me?  I retreated to the bathroom for a splash of cold water, then a twiddle with the air con controls. Where did that arctic blast go? I tried my bed again, but decided I needed medication to sort my splitting head out. That’s when my laptop called to me, so here we are an hour later at 3.25am. Good Nights Sleep promise my wotsit!! It aint working Premier Inn.  Is it tomorrow or still today?

 

Thursday 14th February 2013

So, after a couple of hours with my eyes closed I decided enough was enough and I made the decision to get up at 5.30 and get in the shower. Took my time getting ready and was ready for the rendezvous downstairs for breakfast. I was actually looking forward to being downstairs where I thought it would be guaranteed cold after last night. The room was sweltering and making no attempt to cool off. But no, had somebody finally found the thermostat? It was way to warm in the restaurant too. We were in a different section of the restaurant and the absence of an air vent above was noticeable. Time to get back to the room, sort the bags out, load the car and get out of here. Oh and you know that nice landscaped lake just below the window? It was a flood, pretty though!  As we wheeled the cases across the car park to the car a lorry load of barrels of beer arrived. Typical!

So now we just need to find the airport car park, get parked, check in and start the holiday. Sounds oh so simple doesn’t it? We had booked short stay multi story, I can never quite work out why short stay is cheaper than long stay and more convenient, but there you go.  Finding it however was another thing. We followed directions for multi-storey and drop off, but where were the silver barriers that they mentioned in the instructions? And where was the short stay? We drove past a pink floor option, through the drop off area and the only two remaining options were exit or green floor. Mr C chose green floor. I was not amused. Were we about to enter completely the wrong car park? Press green button and ask the man. Car park man said if we had a token we should take it and use at the exit. Make yourself clear Mr car park man – do you mean exit now and find correct car park? He seemed a little puzzled as to why we would want to leave the car park so soon after arrival. Eventually it was concluded that we were in the correct place and we could find a space, park up, unload and go to check in.

Oh the stress. Check in was the usual windy snake, with health declarations thrust upon us half way. Im not liking the look of checkin. The checkin person at the Premium desk was giving a couple some grief over weight distribution. His case didn’t look oversized, and his hand luggage appeared to be smaller than mine, but she had weighed it and she was insisting he take stuff out of one and into the other. He obliged, but she still wasn’t happy, so she made him to it again. I could tell she was trying his patience but he was keeping his cool. But she pushed him again and at the third attempt she was happy with him. We had a different girl who was quite pleasant and chatty. The first case was placed on the scales. 24.1kg!!! Noooooo!! How has that happened? How did it go from the perfect weight just before we left home, to being considerably heavier? Nothing had been placed in it. My stomach was doing loops and I was just waiting for her to suggest that I pull all my smalls out and wear them on the outside of my trousers or something. Please don’t say anything I chanted under my breath, and it worked! Maybe she knows her scales were weighing a kilo heavier than they should be. Next case on and it was 23.4kg, again nothing was said, it was tagged and it was allowed through on the conveyor belt. I said another prayer to make sure it gets on the same plane as me. Hand luggage? Oh here we go, she must have liked the look of it because she just handed us two special tags, one for each case to show at departure gate.  Next is passport control, closely followed by baggage scanning. Laptops and ipads, in the trays, belts, shoes, coats, phones, keys, loose change. Then it was luck of the draw as to whether you had to pass through the body scan or not. We were lucky and the doors didn’t open for us. Not that I have anything to hide, but do I want my bits looked at? Mr C’s camera bag has been pulled to one side for a search, so we wait in line for that. Eventually we are through. Boots chemist is next on the to do list. I actually only needed mouthwash, but I wish someone would explain to me why I need to have my boarding pass on me to make such a purchase? Was it duty free or something?  Stress levels are not starting to diminish. We need a drink, and it needs to be strong. Oh wait, WHSmiths is now calling the boys. That was the hair that broke the camels back. I flipped. My foot was down. We walked through duty free and was offered a sample of the new Absolute vodka, lemon grass honey and something else. I expected a tiny tot, but no it was a decent measure with lemonade, ice, and slice of lime. Oh very sociable. We all had one. It was nice, I liked, but I realised that if I said I liked it so the hard sell would start. So much easier to say I wasn’t keen, but only for the reason that I couldn’t be doing with carrying a litre of vodka around with me. Nice limited edition bottle though. So bar, where is the bar? We found it but by this time only had about 40 mins until the gate opened, so no time to chill really. In no time we were called to the gate which was called as the gate for ‘P&O ferries’. Some ferry trip! We were invited to board in row order but suddenly there seems a fair few in the front and back rows of the aircraft. We were on, we were in, bags safely stowed away, doors closed and the slow taxi around the airport to the runway. Captain informed us it was expected to be an 8 hr 20 min flight. Oh can I last that long?

I’m not enjoying my flight. I feel so hemmed in. It’s a 3 4 3 configuration and in the past we have flown Thomson which was 2 4 2 configuration which is so much better as a window and isle seat.  Plenty of leg room, but seat width seems smaller. The sides of the aircraft seem closer and Mr C is encroaching on my space because he has nowhere else to go. I feel like I need to fold my shoulders up to make space for the wall and Mr C’s shoulders. Its way to confined space for me, the backs of the seats are grubby and I just think of them as a breeding ground for norivirus. It could have been worse, I originally pre booked row 10 on flight seat booker. After all the hassles of wondering when and if flight seat booker would ever go live, I sat up until the clock struck midnight on the day as notified and I was first in with a plane full of seats to choose from. I fancied extra leg room, but could I justify £75 each round trip for each of us. £150 for two seats. I decided instead on the on the row behind, on row 10. 48 hrs later I had nothing better to do, so for some mad reason I googled Airbus 330 to see what they were like. I found a virtual map of the aircraft and seats etc. Oh hell, my worst nightmare I had selected the only window seats on the plane that didn’t actually have a window. I was not happy. If I was paying for the privilege why wasn’t flight seat booker advising of the lack of window? Girl in P&O flight department advised me that I was correct, no window on that row and yes they do receive complaints. So can I swap my seat to another? Yes I can, but the only seats remaining are in the middle of the aircraft or over the wing. I’m not looking at a wing for 8 hours and no way was I sitting in the middle. Can I have a refund then and get allocated at check in? No, not an option! There was a vacant row of seats on row 11 that had a window, so could I have those? No they are left for people travelling together in a group of three only to book. After a lot of fuss it was sorted and I was allowed to pre book row 11, but I had to pay again and wait for a refund on my original seats. What a farce!

Barbados portSo where are we now? Well to be precise we are 2hrs 40 from our destination, so about two thirds of the way there. I have passed the time with a little snooze aided by a Southern comfort and coke, which we had to purchase. Then a bottle of pink fizz pre lunch of sausage and mash, cheesecake, crackers and a bread roll. The tea was some time later due to a bit of turbulence. We have also had a little mini cornetto thing. Getting to the loo is a bit of an effort. Poor bloke at the end of the row must be fed up of Mr C, and its downstairs and I refuse to touch the germ filled handrails so I put my life in my hands when I go. But I have managed a little snooze, and I have magazines and tv programmes on my ipad to keep me entertained.  Be glad when we are there. ETA 16.29 local time. I can’t wait!  I decided to watch an episode of Young Doctors on my ipad, but 4 mins from the end we were asked to turn off all electrical devices, fasten seat belts, place loose items under the seat in front of you and prepare for landing. We did the famous bank to the right and then there she was. Azura berthed in Bridgetown with a Royal Caribbean ship and a smaller ship opposite. Those of us on the left of the aircraft had a birds eye view of her has we banked round and then lined up for the runway of the airport. The pilot did a lovely smooth landing and we were soon taxied round to our gate and ready to transfer to the coaches, except there weren’t any coaches. We are asked to remain in our seats until it was announced that we could leave the aircraft, but suddenly everyone is deaf and they all surged forward hemming us into our row and Mr C couldn’t get to the locker behind to grab our hand luggage. Eventually we were let off the plane, but then left on the tarmac awaiting more coaches and Barbados Airporttransport. All the time the people at the back were moving forward and generally just dam well annoying me. We were asked to wait in line of two, so why can some people just dam well do it!!! We were all anxious to get to the ship, but jumping the queue was just ignorant. Eventually we got on a bus and were on our way, but the traffic was horrendous as it was now Barbados rush hour time. I was so relieved to see the terminal, but OMG I have never ever seen so many people in the shed at the side of the ship waiting to check in. I thought we were one of the latest planes to land that day, clearly not! Three more buses and a people mover unloaded ahead of us before it was our turn and pilied into an already full embarkation shed. By the time we got in the shed it was rammed. No priority boarding for Suite passengers, which I was aware of, but to be honest we have never witnessed so people many in the shed at any one time so didn’t think it would be an issue. There was a priority check in for wheelchair users and families with young children, but suites had to wait their turn. More heath declaration forms were thrust into our hands for completion. Did we not do this in MAN airport some 10 hrs earlier? Is this P&O’s left and right hand not speaking to each other again? I’m hot, I’m tired and my patience is wearing thin. Im sick to death of being herded around. All day it has been stand in this queue, go to this place, wait in that queue, sit in a confined space for  8hrs plus, sit on a bus, and then queue and be herded some more. I was sick of the sight of people, I was fed up of smiling sweetly at people and trying to look as if I was in a good mood. Enough now! I have to say that check in was far speedier that in Southampton so the check in staff at Ocean Terminal could take a few lessons. But once processed it was into another long queue to pass though the bag scanners, then some woman dropped her purse. Grrrr… Finally we were alongside the ship and making the walk up the gangway.

Did I really expect much of a welcome? We really didn’t get one! Instead we were herded once more through the centre of the Atrium onto some red carpet to be sold some bloody Spa treatments!! Did I wish to buy a drinks package? Would I like to see the Sindhu menu? If I said what I wanted to say now it really wouldn’t be polite!!!! Sell, sell bloody sell. I’ve not been on the ship a minute yet and you think I want to stand and chat about booking a spa treatment?!?  I’m sorry but I had to blank them, I was up the atrium stairs and taking the long walk aft on deck 7. Not a soul in sight, nobody to take my bags from me. Did I really have a suite? Is this how suite passengers should be treated? Into a lift, out at deck 10 and find my own way to my suite.Im lucky, I know where im going, but others may not. Surely it’s not rocket science for P&O to give the Butlers a rough idea of when suite passengers are expected, planes landed, checked in etc.

 Azura SuiteI confess I was completely totally utterly underwhelmed when I walked into my suite! Just a tiny bit of effort on P&O’s part could have changed all that. Not even some champagne on ice waiting for me. Not like the Downton advert that’s for sure! Champagnes, chocolates and flower on arrival is what the brochure says. I had the chocolates, no champagne in sight apart from a bottle in a gift bag with someones compliments which was a lovely gesture. Flowers were nonexistent. The cushions on the soafa looked grubby and lifeless. It all just looked a bit dull really. I decided to unpack the hand luggage and try and chill. Domas the cabin steward dropped by with his spiel, closely followed by Deepak the Butler who we had met a couple of years earlier. I really wasn’t in the mood for being sociable. Not their fault, just circumstances. Eventually I found a bottle of house champagne in the fridge, but the P&O fridges aren’t capable of chilling anything so it wasn’t chilled enough for drinking, and like I say it was a lost moment – champagne should have been in an ice bucket, chilling, on the table with the glasses waiting. More effort required P&O!!!

Time to shake it off, get in the shower, and change into something a little more suitable. I had a nice dress in my hand luggage and Mr C had linen trousers and a polo shirt so we were sorted. A phone call to lynn & Co and they were invited round for a glass of fizz. At last I was chilling, the bubbles bubbled, the drinks flowed and the giggles started. The suite was looking better, and Domas had just bought the cases! Thats a first. Our plane landed later than any of our other planned arrivals, but we had our cases sooner than any other Caribbean fly cruises we had done. I wasn’t in the mood for unpacking, but was relived at least to see the cases there. One was a little worse for wear, but they are brand new and under a 5 year guarantee so easily sorted when we are home.

Azura BBQWe tried to decide where to dine this evening. We had so much choice, plus the opportunity of open dining in Peninsular, but we ventured out onto deck 15 where a deck party and barbeque was in full swing so just sat and chilled with some love potion that was on offer for Valentine’s Day. The Ents team came around the pool to start the party dancing, but not one familiar face. Where was Neil Oliver, her was supposed to join today. Instead we had someone called Liam?? Im non the wiser. They all looked like a young team though. Barbeque was good. I had some chicken, a jacket potato and a bit of salad washed down with a Caribbean cruise. Just as we set sail we decided to call it a night. It was getting on for 10.00pm which was 2.00am UK time so we had been awake a long, long time today. I started to unpack the cases but caved in about two thirds of the way through it. It’s a job for the morning. Good night all!