It seems like many moons ago since I set foot onboard the brand new Azura but she has still left a big impression on me even three weeks later.
Many people were expecting ‘just another Ventura’ but I had always hoped she would be more, and she didn’t disappoint.
We arrived at Ocean Terminal and there she was all shiny and new. A blue carpet led us into the arrival lounge and we were handed numbered cards to check in. We were amongst the 3rd group and up until this point we had no idea of our cabin allocation for our evening onboard. As we checked in we were handed the new style, one card does all, cabin key and charge card. The check in lady advised us of our ‘cabin’ number R417. Immediately I knew that was not a ‘cabin’ I really do know P&O ships, like the back of my hand, including newly constructed ones, and I knew R417 was not to be referred to as a ‘cabin’. Im trying really hard not to screech with excitement at this point and Mr C is totally oblivious as to what is going on. as soon as we moved away from the check in desk I had to grab my brochure out of my laptop bag and prove it to myself. Yes!! Mr & Mrs Chadwick residence for the evening was to be the Formosa Suite!! How cool.
After the obligatory ‘Welcome onboard’ photo (before you are even onboard) we are through security, through the walkway and Im straight in the midship lifts – no need for directions. Out to the starboard side (how did they know I prefer starboard?) and there it is. R417 The Formosa Suite!!!
Im so excited, as I glance around to see whats what and where is where. But wait, the lights dont work – oh yes they do its just a new system, similar to hotels, where you have to insert the cabin key to activate the electric.
So what does this suite have to offer me then?
To the left of me is the bathroom, or should I say the toilet and wash basin area. There was a step up into the cloakroom, a lovely inset marble topped type sink and bo0x of full size White Company toiletries. There were two doors, one leading out into the lounge are and one leading through into the bathroom area. The bathroom had a full size, deep and wide Jacuzzi bath and a separate rooms glass shower cubicle. Huge luxury white fluffy bathsheets were folded and ready for use.
The bathroom door led out into the bedroom area where I was greeted by the kingsize bed, made up with crisp white Egyptian linen and a green and coffee coloured throw across the bed. The bedhead wall was decorated with a fresh but calming patterned wallpaper. Either side of the bed had a bedside cabinet with drawers and a lamp. On my side of the bed there was also a 3 draw chest and a small cupboard, which was under the corner dressing table. Mirrors ran across the corner above the dressing table and it was well lit for applying make up etc. I loved the bright pink dressing table chair – very me! A flat screen TV was housed in the corner unit and again storage space below.
To the other side of the bathroom door was a proper walk in wardrobe closet. Floor to ceiling shelves and 3 hanging rails of various heights. We also had our white fluffy bathrobes hanging ready for use, and an iron and ironing board ready for use. Just outside the walk in wardrobe was another floor to ceiling until housing more shelves with wide drawers below.
Balcony doors led from the bedroom to a long balcony housing a wooden patio table and reclining chairs and foot stools.
The lounge area was divided by luxurious coffee coloured drapes that were fastened back to open up the area. The longe are had shades of green sofa and two contrasting easy chairs. A coffee table and a beautiful display of orchids in a long stemmed vase. Balcony doors lead back out onto the balcony, and both sets of windows were shielded by shimmering privacy nets. There was also a full size flat screen TV in the corner unit facing the sofa and below that more storage and shelving. Next to this was the Butlers sink and prep area and below that the fridge/mini bars.
So now we are back in the entrance are and to the right is a long desk unit with drawers below. Teak and coffee making facilities with a wooden box containing a selection of teas and coffees. Very nice new and dudey design of china. There was also a coffee making machine.
Other benefits of the suite also included a Bose stereo system, atlas, binoculars and a selection of magazines.
Other benefits of booking a suite include – Butler service, mineral water on arrival, luxurious premier pamper pack, exclusive access to 17 for Breakfast, bathrobe and slippers, magazine and newspaper selection, atlas and binoculars, fruit basket, flowers on arrival, champagne on arrival, chocolates on arrival, Daily canapés.
One note about the having to use the key card to gain power to the cabin or suite. I did get caught out during the afternoon when I left my lap top on to charge up but of course took my key card out of the slot to take with me. I returned to a dead laptop, but a senior officer advised me later that any card will action the electric and I’ve since been advised that the ‘please make up our cabin, card works equally as well, which is no good if you need to go out, charge a camera up and have your cabin made up at the same time. But then Mr Senior officer advised that there is also one plug socket per cabin that is marked ‘on all the time’ that may have been more obvious in a standard cabin with only one or two plug sockets, but we had many plug sockets in the suite and why would I think to go looking at them all?
Formosa suite was one of the midship suites and some see them as a poor location with the main Lido deck pool are area above and the chance of disturbance from above. I wouldn’t doubt that you would hear any deck party that might be happening above, but as I’m not a particularly early to bed person I doubt this would bother me personally. I wont deny that I didn’t here footsteps above, but this was groups of people all being herded in the same direction at the same time on a ships tour and mostly ladies in heels as the dress code was smart business attire during the day. I doubt you would hear so much clomping from above during a normal cruise as passengers strolled around in deck shoes and flip flops etc. all in all the noise from above was infrequent and didn’t bother me at all and I doubt it would on a 14 night cruise.
So what’s beyond the Formosa Suite?
Well I love the carpets in the corridor, a warm goldie beige with a pattern running along one side. All of the stairwells and lift areas were light and airy with different art work at each.
Up on deck to the Lido deck. The Aqua Pool has the new sea screen above the open pool and bar area. Azura doesn’t have a covered pool and I dont see that as any major drawback, personally im not a lover of the covered pools, always cold and drafty in my opinion, smell of chlorine and too much of an echo for mildly hungover head each morning! I reserve judgement about the seas screen. Im not a TV watcher at home and I dont think I would want it blasting out across my deck space, but hubby on the other hand would love it, sitting in the sun, with a beer and watching tv at the same time. Yes his idea of heaven! I like all the new wooden coloured deck furniture, much better than the stark white furniture of the other ships. The usual poolside grill and pizza and ice cream places can be found around the Coral pool with a charge only applied to the icecreams and sundaes etc.
Venezia and Verona are similar self service dining areas to those of Ventura, and in the evening Verona turns into an Italian Bistro where you can cook your own steak on a sizzling slab and choose from a varied menu, with some at extra cover charge, but otherwise all included.
One deck up at the aft is all of the amazing kids facilities, they have a huge are split up into different age groups to meet their different needs. The Beach Hut for the younger children is every little kids dream with plenty to keep them occupied. Frontiers houses the next age group and has all the computer stations, craft areas and toys that would keep kids occupied all day and beyond. As you move up through the age groups the rooms become a little more sophisticated, with chill out areas, gaming machines video consoles etc. The Sea Bed is a dedicated night nursery with small beds and plenty of cots. Children need to be settled in here by parents and then they are given a bleeper should they be needed through dinner etc. the sleeping children are fully supervised by a fully qualified nanny until 2.00am when the little ones must be collected and returned to their cabins.
Seventeen is where you would expect to find in on Deck 17! This is an alternative dining option offering classic fine dining, which carries a £20 per head supplement. Small and intimate restaurant with a more personal service.
Above there is the Planet Bar. I love this bar on Ventura and can see no reason why I would not love this bar equally as much. The screen wall shows dramatic footage of manmade and natural wonders of the world, so you can never be tired of the view, especially when there is the ocean or a different port outside the back window!
Down on Promenade deck Manhattans is the nightclub venue at the aft of the ship. Very similar in many ways to Havana on Ventura but they have taken out some of the ‘cattle pens’ opening up the room a little. We were treated to an Annie Lenox tribute sho in her during the evening and I love the tribute acts. Most are very good and offer an alternative to the usual run of the mill shipboard entertainment.
The photo gallery remains much the same as Venturas with a lecture type are for camera seminars etc.
Sindhu is Atul Kochars signature, Asian fusion restaurant. The bar area has been opened up and made into more of pre dinner lounge area, which makes it more inviting to those wishing to just go in for drinks etc.
Malabar again is very similar to Venturas Tamarind Club. A lovely room in rich colours and exotic tree features. Dancing and cabaret artists perform in the evenings and the room is often used for lectures and film showings during the day.
Through to the Atrium and the lovely ever changing colours contribute to a different atmosphere every time you walk through it. I loved the changing lights of the crystal feature hanging from the ceiling and thought it both tasteful and stunning.
In the bottom of the Atrium is the new much talked about dance floor, and im not so sure that it is going to impress the keen dancers?! It seems too small and a long oval shape to me to cater for ballroom dancing and it is an odd location at the foot of some stairs. Still it could make for pleasant people watching and keep those dreaded ‘shop sales’ out of the area!
Java coffee house again is similar to Ventura’s and I always like the snacks on offer in here and light lunches that re served.
The Library is in the place of the cyber centre and it is very tastefully furnished with a circle of high backed leather chairs and a couple of internet terminals.
Back on deck 7, Eternity jewellers ran though into Essence Perfume shop and again were the same as Ventura’s and similar good to those found on any ship in the fleet.
The Blue Bar shocked me – it wasn’t Blue!! As the Red Bar on Ventura is scarlet red I was expecting an Azure Blue Bar but instead I was faced with drab greys and beiges and I cant really get my head around the thought behind that. Even the crystal pillars looked dull in there as they had nothing to bounce the light off.
Walking forward and you are met by the GlassHouse. All the literature I had seen this place looked very stark and uninviting, but the place fascinated me. It was like a maze. Lots of mirrors too so it was easy to get confused. The bar and seating area was spread over a vast area with lots of nooks and cranies and different seating areas. I really, really liked this bar and would have loved to have spent the evening in there but it was always in use during our stay for private functions. Food is served in here at a small supplement and I would think it would be my spot for a nice chilled out, alternative lunch. Wine experts are also on hand to offer advice and suggested tastings. A selection of 3 glasses of wine can be matched to your chosen meal and served accordingly. From what I have seen of the types of meals served during the Maiden voyage I would really be keen to try it for myself. Looks fab!
The Playhouse Theatre offers some new shows to P&O this season especially chosen for the more traditional entertainment value. Feedback of the new production on during the evening was first class so the three tiered theatre should have some good new shows to offer.
One deck down and into the brand new Brodies. This has been totally turned around from Ventura’s Exchange layout and is slightly smaller to house the new single cabins on the port side. Brodies is the co founder of P&O in 1837 along with Mr Anderson, and this bar did have the touch of an Andersons about it, but a little more pub like than Andersons. Lots of high backed, comfy leather chairs and sofas. A much talked about pool table, that is balanced to cope with a rocky sea, but a dare say a game of pool would be interesting! The P&O memorabilia that P&O had requested was housed in some low level display cabinets and they were easy to miss. Nothing really riveting and I wish I had offered to donate some of my memorabilia now as I’m sure I have more stuff than they have on display. Brodies is used for quizzes, karaoke, live music and has lots of TVs for broadcasting live sporting events. The casino on the other side of the room has all the usual slots and gaming tables.
I nip around to see the single cabins and ‘compact and bijou’ is the only word that can describe them. I would question whether I could stay in one myself but it depends what you want from a cabin I guess. The inside one was of a better layout and did seem larger.
The Pursers desk was midship overlooking the middle layer of the atrium.
The shops on this floor were stunning. Crystal lights, modern mannequins, some nice goods, although I’m sure there was nothing much different to any other ship.
Oooh The Retreat up on deck 18, I almost forgot that. Loved it!!! I knew roughly what to expect after having seen the Princess version of the area, but I really did love it, and I probably would pay the £6 for half a day use every now and then. Loads of luxury beds, both double and single with deep mattresses. A lovely aroma of calming lavender. Kabanas for treatments out on deck and loungers and sofas, both in the shade and in the sunshine. Specialist cocktail menus are available in here with personal waiter service. They bring round fruit platters and smoothies in the morning and light lunches and sbnacks throughout the day. Admission is exclusive to sap stateroom guests or you can purchase full day or half day tickets for admission.
I loved all the quirky artwork around the ship, figures leaning against the rails, legs dangling from the ceiling etc, you never knew what you were going to find.
I also checked out the new aft Riviera deck balcony cabins which have now be classed as overlooked from the deck above. I didn’t consider them to be that overlooked and in all honest I doubt many people would spot them there as I really had to lean over the rails to look into the balcony below.
The new JG grade balconys on E deck forward were also another thing that fascinated me as I could see quite how they had been built into the superstructure. It was easy to see from the dock side that they had been slotted in where the wrap around front deck had been on Ventura. Balcony’s looked very deep and really dark with a deep overhang from the deck above. I tried to gain access nut even I couldn’t sweet talk the accommodation officer into letting me in to one. I nipped out of what I presume to be a crew door to try and lean over the rail and crane my neck round the partition for a nosey, but the superstructure of the ship was too high for me.
After my marathon walk around the ship I headed back to the suite. Mr C still hasn’t got his bearings as I sent him via somewhere to take a photo and he had to phone me from his mobile to be guided it – I ask you!
I had a champagne reception and seminar to attend for an hour (yes I do work at these type of events honest) so it was back down to Brodies for a glass or two, good job the waiters recognised us as it kept the glasses flowing. Then I found myself right at the front of the theatre second row back. Not to be recommended for an hour of neck strain.
Back to the suite once more for a well earned Jacuzzi bath. Ooh I love it, its massive and could have stayed longer but hair and makeup needs attention!
Pre dinner drinks in and around the Atrium. Lovely atmosphere as everyone had a chart about the ship and the place was buzzing. We had a lovely time flitting from deck to deck chatting with different officer s and people that we knew. Canapes were being bought round on large glass trays and were in plentiful supply.
We were allocated a table in the Peninsular Restaurant and service and food was all first class, the waiters were as efficient as ever and the meal was rounded off with coffee and chocolates. All three restaurants are similar in layout and design to Ventura, with very similar coupr schemes. I did look in all 3 and I did prefer the Oriental, but for no other reason than I liked the colour scheme better.
We had breakfast the following morning in the Peninsular Restaurant (did I really only get 3 hours in that huge luxurious bed?!) we asked for a table of two and it wasn’t a problem to be allocated one. To my delight, Mohit who was our waiter on Arcadia last summer was pouring my tea. He soon had Mr C weighed up as he ordered the full English plus an omelette!! I didn’t know where he puts it. I opted for a slice of bacon and a few baked beans, even the toast was too noisy for me.
Before we left we chatted to our Butler who was charming, but I could tell he was shocked to discover I am a Gold Portunus member and have cruised on every ship in the fleet. He obviously thought I was ‘just another travel agent’ ha, just another travel agent indeed!!
All in all I fell in love with Azura. She is different to Ventura. For me she possibly has that little thing which is lacking on Ventura, which I cant quite put my finger on. I prefer a more traditional form of cruising with formal dress codes etc so for me personally Azura should suit me better. I liked the little tweaks and changes that had been made to her from Ventura. And I very much look forward to making myself much more acquainted with her, hopefully in the near future!
A full set of photos is available for viewing in my ‘photo’ section at the top of the page.
Fancy trying Azura for yourself – there are some fantastic deals around for 2010 departures! she is doing a Caribbean Season over the winter months. During 2011 for the summer season she will be based back in Southampton – book now to get great OBC and free parking deals. Contact me for more information