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Cruise Review: P&O Cruises Azura Weekend Break

Saturday 15th September 2012

You know I always say its good to look out of your window and see the funnels of a ship waiting for you? Well today was one of those mornings. There she was sitting basking in the sunshine, Azura. She was sitting tall and proud over at Ocean Terminal and her funnel was glowing in the sunshine.

There was something wrong with the Premier Inns ‘Goodnight sleep Promise’ last night. I think it was broken because from ten to one in the morning I have been wide awake. Ive watched old reruns of Masterchef and the BBC News on a loop. If its happening anywhere in the world, I am the current expert on it.

We needed to aim for a late breakfast this morning. Southampton Boat show was in full swing and we were warned that breakfast was very busy before 9.00am. Yachty types and salesman from that domain tend to be very loud, and have a tendency to want to be heard above all others, as we found out during dinner last night, so I wanted to try and avoid them this morning, which we did. Outside there were droves and droves of people heading to the Boat Show, constant crowds were pouring out of the car park.

At 10.30 I sent Mr C for the car and by 10 to 11 we were in the car and heading down to the docks. The very short drive over to dock gate 4 was effortless, all cars seemed to have avoided the city centre. By 11.00am we had driven straight upto Ocean Terminal, handed the car over to CPS for parking and were up the escalator sat filling in our health questionnaire. By 11.15 we were checked in and held at the other end of the terminal for the call to embark the ship. Ligurian Teir members, all 3 couples, had a massive roped off seated area with complimentary refreshments, whilst use mere Baltic and Caribbean members were made to sit facing the walls. No windows for us. I thought that was a bit unnecessary. But we were soon onboard and sat in Sindhu with a nice chilled glass of fizz in hand. There was a lovely hot buffet of food, same as we had experienced some weeks earlier on Grand Event. I partook in a spring roll and a small cottage pie, but I wasn’t really hungry. The fizz just kept coming and Mr Chadwick kept accepting! A waiter appeared handing out XVII menus so I asked if we could make our reservations for the following 2 nights in Sindhu and XVII, which we did.

We did stay the full 2 hours in Sindhu whilst others seemed to have a drink and leave, but cabins weren’t ready and I hate trekking round with a wheelie case so we stayed put. The waiter knew not to pass us without asking Mr C if he was ready for another drink lol.

2.00pm and the cabins were ready so we made our way there via the forward stairs, well the lift actually. We were on Riviera deck, only by the skin of our teeth, and I do have a very cautionary tale to tell about the down falls of booking a Getaway deal, but I will save that for another time. I had managed to upgrade, only by the skin of my teeth at the 12th hour and we now had a higher grade balcony on Riviera but I knew it was just slightly forward of the massive overhang. We were going to be shaded? Was I going to look aft on my balcony and be hit by a massive white wall of steel from the overhang. Phew relief, I went straight out on the balcony and it was perfect, a clear view all the way aft. The sun was glorious and a perfect clear view upto Western Docks of Celebrity Eclipse and Oriana. We very quickly unpacked and we went straight out to Breakers bar to soak up the sunshine. It was busy up there and the Caribbean Cruises were slipping down nicely. After Muster drill the deck soon filled and it was a very very busy sailaway party. A bit of a missed opportunity I felt because we didn’t have a sailaway party as such and passengers were very much up for a party. We had the DJ spinning a few disks but no dancing or the ents team doing their dances. The deck by Breakers bar was packed, busier than any Southampton sailaway I have seen for a long long time. People were in the Jacuzzi’s and swimming and generally just having a good time. Celebrity Eclipse was the first to pull away from the dock and sail past us. There was a bit of horn tooting, and Captain Paul wanted to get out before Oriana, but Oriana Captain won and we had to wait for her to sail down from Mayflower. We had a proper horn blasting session with her, and the crowds cheered. Why couldnt Grand Event sailaway have been like this, sigh! We were soon on our way, and there was a type of mini re enactment of all three ships sailing down Southampton water together, except we were being lead out by a Celebrity ship. But Azura did follow Oriana on the Grand Event so it was part right. We stayed out on deck for ages, as did many others. We kept doing the zig zag down and past the Isle of White. Infact we seemed to pass Isle of White and Spinaker Tower three times, some closer than others. As always I was confused, but nothing new there. We left deck at 7.00pm, so it had indeed been a very long sailway lol. We had to do a very fast turnaround and get ourselves out for pre dinner drinks

We had decided to eat in Glass House tonight and was unsure how busy it would be. We had only just stepped inside Glass House and were immediately greeted by Al, Glass House wine Host. Time to catch up with his Herbie adventures. For those of you that don’t know Al has just taken an extended leave and driven his beloved, fully restored Herbie car from Liverpool to Monte Carlo to raise money for the Claire House Hospice. We sat at the bar and once the place had cleared for second sitting we had no trouble getting a nice table. I had the corn fed chicken and Mr C had the lamb and rosemary sausage. I had all sorts planned for this evening. Beetles show, Freddie Mercury Tribute act, but Mr C had other ideas. He was struggling to stay awake. I cant explain how fast this man can fall asleep. All his Stellas and glasses of fizz had caught up with him. I kept sending him outside to get some air in the hope it would wake him up. But when he falls asleep in his sausage and mash, a quick kick in the shins is required and a frog march back to the cabin. I had this delusional idea that if I let him sleep it off for half an hour we could go back out. But I fell asleep in my full rig, which wasn’t surprising after the broken promise of a Goodnights Sleep at the Premier Inn last night. I woke at 12.15 and decided it was best to stop fighting it and just get ready for bed

Sunday 16th September 2012 Zeebrugge

I wont say I woke up this morning because I have laid awake for most of the night. I was woken up by what sounded like the slamming of a cabin door and I presumed I had drunken neighbours returning after a night out, but then it happened again, and again and again. I drifted in and out of sleep a few times and then the door banging started again. I couldn’t believe it. Eventually I got up, with the intention of banging on my neighbours door for a few short sharp words. But then I realised what it was. We were right opposite a crew door which is used by bridge officers and all levels of crew as they come and go on duty. The door doesn’t have the slow release mechanism fitted so it just bangs closed every time. I wasn’t happy!

Breakfast arrived at 7.30am and we were soon out of the cabin for a wander round the ship and to decide what we wanted to do with our day. There was a big thick grey rain cloud threatening and I knew I needed to sleep, so it was decided we would stay onboard, take it easy and hopefully catch some sleep. I had to go to reception and have a polite word about the banging crew door, something had to be done for my sanity and the sanity of those who had the same cabin after me. He made some notes and assured me it would be dealt with.

We had a little wander around and I had to smile as we passed the photographers displays. It would appear that they had been determined to accommodate 2 weeks worth of photo shoots into this short cruise. The photo boards were crammed with embarkation photos, sailaway photos, table shots, soft focus, and various different portrait backdrops. They were even putting up the Bruges gangway shots from earlier today. Talk about cram it all in!

We decided to have lunch in the restaurant. Just a light lunch, I had jacket potato with tuna mayo and Mr C had soup and a main course, washed down with a glass of wine each. Very civilised table for two by the window, watching all the shuttle and tour buses coming back to the ship. Snooze time was fast approaching and we both settled down to rest our eyelids, but then the door banging started again. Mr C kept watch for a while, but nobody went through the door during his watch period lol.

I couldnt sleep, so I decided to get showered and dressed and we went for a stroll, stopping by the buffet area for a little sandwich and warm sausage roll. We sat out by Terrace pool eating those but a family with children were playing in the pool and the noise was a bit too much so we moved on. They weren’t doing anything wrong, just enjoying themselves, but I was like a bear with a sore head through lack of sleep so best that I moved. We wandered along top deck and past Breakers but it was windy and chilly so went back to the cabin to prepare to get ready for the evening ahead. I nipped down to the laundrette to press my dress and interestingly that door did have a slow release mechanism on the door so it closed on its own without banging.

We were out very early this evening at just after 7.00pm. pre pre dinner drinks in Blue Bar. I had a seat overlooking the atrium so I could people and dress watch. Overall the dress code was very well adhered to. The photogs were out in force again. Backdrop between Glass House and Blue Bar, Atrium shots on the opposite side, Atrium stairs at the top, Atrium stairs at the bottom. Then before you got to the end of the Photo Gallery there were another two formal backdrops to choose.

I was very excited to see that Blue Bar now had a martini menu with cocktails shaken at the table, something I had been asking for, for a long time. I chose a Mayflower Martini, but have to say I was disappointed when it arrived already in a glass! Not even a chilled glass! No garnish, just a drink in a glass! I pointed these things out to the waitress but she advised they were too busy to shake at the tables. Blue Bar was not busy at this time, and why say that a service is on offer when it clearly isn’t. Half way there again P&O!!

Next it was pre dinner drinks in Planet Bar. We were early enough to get a seat at the bar, and it took Sid a while to realise who the lady at the end of the bar was, lol. All good when he did though. It soon filled up in Planet and very soon it was packed with standing room only. It got very noisy in there, so we decided to retreat to XVII for a quiet and relaxed pre dinner drink as we were dining in there this evening. Sheer bliss, very tranquil and lovely comfy sofas too. Bit disappointed that we weren’t offered any special pre dinner champagne cocktail, I imagined that some signature drink would be available in there. I had a champagne cocktail instead which was very nice. We were shown to our table for two which thankfully was at the quieter end of the restaurant. A large block booking was dining in there this evening and they were a little loud and distracted from the general ambience of the evening, but we didn’t let it spoil our evening. I suppose compared to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ship it was still a relatively calm oasis in XVII. Was just about to order wine and we were presented with a bottle of wine with someones complements which was a very nice surprise and greatly appreciated. The meal itself was amazing. I have never dined there before, but each and every course was well presented, beautifully served and exceptional taste etc. Nothing was rushed, all came at its own pace, everything explained. It was nice to dine without feeling rushed and constantly having menus shoved back under your nose. The waitress was attentive, the restaurant manager checked on us twice and we also had a visit from senior restaurant manager to check all was well. Ive lost count of how many times we have been on Azura now, but this is the first time that we have dined in XVII, or White Room on Ventura. Im not a massive foodie, I get ‘fooded’ out on a longer cruise, so it never really appeals to me. I’ve listened to many mixed reports from good to bad, so all I can say is go and try it for yourselves if you haven’t done so already.

It was very late when we left XVII and we thought we would go upto Planet for a quiet drink before hitting the nighclub. Wrong, it was packed again up there. We struggled to find a seat. We were just getting ready to go down to Manhattan when we were joined by some friends and 3 or 4 drinks later we did eventually leave. Despite it being late, and it being very busy. I did see the Bar Tender constantly observing the room and he did approach a gent sat behind us and ask him to put his jacket on. He begrudgingly obliged! It was 2.00am and still very busy.

Down on Deck 7 we entered Manhattan and I felt like I had entered another land through some secret door or something. I have never seen Manhattan so busy during any cruise, it was 2.00am and it was packed! We struggled to even find a spot to stand. It was a bit like a freak show in some respects with drunken leery people dancing in random places – lol, thats saying something as I had consumed more than my fair share by that hour! I suddenly felt very sober. We soon got fed up of being pushed and shoved so I planted myself on a bar stool that had been abandoned and observed my fellow passengers. The bar staff were pleased to see me, but a little concerned that I only wanted a lemonade! The DJ was constantly requesting no drinks or glasses on the dance floor, but most dancers seemed incapable of understanding English by this time. We left the room at about 3.15 and it showed no sign of letting up in there. I dread to think what time the last person left! We strolled through an empty and calm ship all the way along deck 7 and back upto our cabin

Monday 17th September 2012 – St Peter Port

After only a few hours in bed we were up, dressed and in the Oriental Restaurant having breakfast. Far more civilised than buffet breakfast. Not many people about at that time of day and I would say that there were less than 30 in the restaurant the entire time we were there. Tenders were ready to go ashore, so we collected a ticket from Manhattan and went ashore in the next available tender. We weren’t quite sure why we had gone ashore, just wanted to stretch our legs really. We walked along the front and then up the hill through the old quarter. Hardly anything was open. Not sure why, maybe because it was Monday. Lots of flags and bunting everywhere too. By 10.00am we were ready to go back to the ship, but I suggested we went to see the Little Chapel. The Tourist information centre informed me I needed a number 4 or 5A bus, so off we headed to the bus stop. But one wasn’t due until 10 to 11, so we walked to the bus station. A 5a was ready to go out but the driver said we were best to wait for the 4 as it would get us there quicker. We sat and waited for the next bus. It took us there in about 15 mins, also stopping at the hospital museum and the wartime underground tunnels. Bit of a hair raising journey as most roads are not wide enough to take two passing buses, trucks, or vans, so we spent a lot of the time riding the pavements. Locals seemed to think it pretty normal though. Arrived at Little Chapel and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We walked up a path, past some Guernsey cows and there it was. A little chapel made out of broken wedgewood china. Very pretty and quaint. It took all of 10 mins to photograph from every possible angle. We thought we had an hours wait for the next bus back, but the gift shop owner informed me that it was due past here again, on the way back into town at 20 to the hour, so we waited at the bottom of the drive and 15 mins later were back in the town. A brisk walk back to the tender, straight onto a boat and back to Azura. I had been to St Peters Port lots and never realised that there was so much to see. And most of it doable by local bus. I will pay more attention next time I am there and maybe go visit something else. We didn’t come on this trip to go ashore though, it was all about 3 days chilling out for us.

Back onboard we went and relaxed in the Glass House with a nice glass of chilled Blind River, and we both had catch of the day. The fish was so fresh and white I think it had been caught today! I needed to check my emails, but for some reason we cant get wifi in our cabin, which is unusual as I have always got wifi ok on Azura. So we went and sat in the Atrium with a cream and marshmallow hot chocolate while I did a bit of catching up. My eyelids were getting heavy though so sleep time was declared.

I did have a lovely nap and when I woke up the sun was blazing onto the balcony. I opened the doors and it was red hot. We could have been in the med it was that hot. I made myself a cuppa and sat out for as long as I could but I could feel my face burning, so retreated inside.

I received a call from Reception Desk to ask how the banging door situation was. I thanked him for following it up and yes, miraculously the door appeared to be functioning a lot quieter, closing at a much more acceptable noise level. It felt good to know that I had helped solve a very irritating issue for my future fellow passengers who occupied the same cabin.

I also received another telephone call ‘Congratulations, you are our most travelled passenger this cruise. A gift will be delivered to your cabin later this evening’ Ooh exciting!

Its the last afternoon, and we all know what that means – packing. At least there is not much to pack on a short cruise so that was easily sorted and cases put back under the bed. We have decided to self disembark in the morning so no need to have them outside the cabin door later.

There were a lot on the pre dinner drinks list of places to visit this evening. First stop was Blue Bar. It was early, but I chose to sit at the bar because I like sitting at the bar. Waiter seemed determined to move us to one of the sofas before he served us, but I wasnt for moving. I tried another hand shaken ‘at the table’ Martini but again it was just shaken by the bartender, served to the waiter and in turn delivered to the passenger. Why? Baffles me?! It was nice though and I did get a wiggle of orange peel in it this time lol. Next stop was Planet Bar, at the bar, but they expect me at the bar in Planet lol. Lovely salt rim margarita. It soon filled up in the Planet Bar, it got really busy again with standing room only again.

We were eating in Sindhu this evening so final of the pre dinner drinks in Sindhu. I was so looking forward to my Benares cocktail. I loved them on the Grand Event cruise and had saved myself for one this evening. It arrived looking like a milky glass of dishwater, which is not what it was supposed to be. I sent it back, but the bartender dared to question it and I advised it should be a red and white frozen drink (I think there is a picture of it on the entrance to Sindhu?) she re did it but it might as well have been a strawberry daiquiri. It was bright red and so much acid in it, it would have stripped my throat so I had to send it back again. The Manager arrived bewildered at what was wrong with the drink, but I knew what it should be and it wasn’t what had been mixed. She was insistent that I order something else, but the Sindhu drink menu is really restricted on choice. I reluctantly settled on a Kir Royal but the bartender had to have the last word and advise that they weren’t served in Sindhu but she would make me one! Should I have felt honoured? No pre dinner nibbles were offered. We pay premium prices to dine in Sindhu during a ‘party’ cruise. I don’t agree with it, but I accept it. And then they cut out pre dinner nibbles which have always been offered every time I have dined in Sindhu, or even just gone in for a drink.

We were shown to a lovely table in the little glass booth in the divide of the restaurant. Another couple were already dining on the other table. Waitresses introduced themselves, explained the menu and the meal and explained that any dish we wanted could be prepared with extra spice to be served as hot and spicy as our personal preference etc. Chicken Tikka starter arrived and it was very nice. Mr C had ordered Lamb Rogan Josh, extra spicy and they had discussed that he wanted it nice and firey with the waitress. I just wanted the chicken Biryani as per the menu. It all arrived with all the theatre that we expect from Sindhu, beautifully served and presented. All the side dishes in lovely copper bowls etc. But from there it was down hill and our evening ended earlier than we anticipated. I had reason to send my meal back and it was not handled very well, so it was just best to call it a night and try and leave without making a scene. I was very, very cross though as I didn’t think it was handled very well at the table, and I was conscious that we could be spoiling the other couples evening. We had planned our weekend dining so carefully. We had always planned to dine in Glass House, XVII and the Sindhu. The extra cover charges didn’t bother us, it was what we wanted to do, but as I say, not the best of dining experiences on this occasion, which is a shame as I do love dining in Sindhu, East and Orchid.

I wasn’t a happy bunny by the time I reached Glass House, but I knew it would be a haven of tranquillity and calm in there, which it was. A nice ice cold glass of Canadian fizz at the bar. A final farewell to Al, who has been a perfect Glass House host as always. Next stop Planet Bar, it was a lot quieter in here this evening. I went and sat with Paul who is now Deputy Cruise Director. Its rare I get chance to chat to him, but he was just playing a few chill out tunes for our listening pleasure and winding down on the final night of another long contract. I must find the pics I have of him on his first cruise as a Baby Ents lol. Our night wouldn’t be complete without a call into Manhattan. Yes, all the usual suspects still in residence, all making sure they enjoyed the last night of the party. I don’t know how some of them intended getting home in the morning but they can’t have been considering driving. I perched by the bar, and observed, as I do. Oh I do love to people watch.

Eventually it was bedtime, we had to do it, and Southampton would be outside the balcony again in the morning! My Peninsular gift should be there to cheer me up, but no, nothing!!

Tuesday 18th September 2012 Southampton

Oh that blessed Crew Door opposite ours, I could have gone and ripped it off its hinges in the night. It was ok last night and yesterday afternoon, what has gone wrong. All night it was bang, slam, bang, slam as the entire ships company seemed to pass through it – bridge officers, Butlers, cabin stewards, stewards collecting the luggage etc. It has driven me insane. We were up and dressed before we had even glided past Queen Elizabeth berth. We, well Captain Paul, then turned and reversed into the Ocean Terminal. By 6.30am we were in Peninsular Restaurant having breakfast, and just after 7.00am we had our case and hand luggage and were disembarking – sadly without my promised gift from Peninsular as it never arrived this morning! Most travelled passenger disembarked feeling not very valued by P&O this morning! Those that were self disembarking could go at anytime, but those that had sent cases ashore were encouraged to wait until after 8.00am to allow all cases to be off loaded. They were offering free flow, silent disembarkation this morning which meant there were no allocated lounges or rooms it was just a case of go as and when. I presume it worked but there weren’t many of us about at that time of day. I dare say that most of the party revellers would have needed more than a gentle nudge to encourage them out of bed this morning! I was so, so tired, I fell asleep on the A34 and woke up just as we were leaving the M40. I love it when that happens. Poor Mr C, he was driving.

So we had a good time, the weather was fab. I went ashore in Guernsey and saw the Little Chapel. We ate in Glass House and had some lovely chill out time, had drinks, in there. We had a lovely meal in XVII and I will be dining in there again. We chatted to some lovely people and generally had a nice time.

Having recently also been on a 3 night Voyage on Queen Elizabeth I cant help but compare that with the Azura experience. Cunard Queen Elizabeth was very much more comparable with any other Cunard Voyage despite the fact that it was only 3 nights. Everything happened very much as it should do and always does do on any Cunard Voyage. Everything seemed so much calmer and serene. Bars not full to the rafters and crew happy to serve. P&O short cruise experience is very different to a longer P&O Cruise. Bars aren’t normally that busy and the nightclub certainly isn’t. But I can’t help but notice that service is also a little different. Too much focus on upselling all the time and not enough on delivering good customer service. Little things like the hand shaken Martini cocktails at the table that don’t happen really do annoy me! It still happens on Cunard, regardless of how busy they are so why doesn’t it happen on P&O? Still we had a good time, its nice to see the ship lively, but in hindsight I think I do prefer a quieter chilled out experience of a longer cruise.

To view the full photo album of this cruise click HERE

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