Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Sailing away to the Western Med
134 people found this review helpful
The Azura, currently the largest cruise ship in the P&O’s fleet, is advertised as having a normal operating occupancy of 3,100 passengers with a supporting crew of 1,226. It’s maximum occupancy apparently being 3.574 passengers. With those figures in mind on first sight of this floating hotel/city you can’t help but be amazed at the whole magnitude of the organization’s modus operandi. But hey at the ship’s information talk, we were informed that the current Captain is overseeing the building in Italy of yet an even bigger ship. Good to see they are involving current up to date staff but what about using experienced vintage passengers?
Travelling to meet the ship Coming from the North of England my husband and I had quite a distance to cover prior to meeting the ship in Southampton. The option of a coach pick up was too far away and the venue not suitable for leaving our vehicle. So our choice was a car trip, with the provision of setting off the day before, and staying overnight in the Newbury area.
Being in a radius of some 50 miles away from the port enabled us to feel relaxed on our sailing day knowing we would arrive in good time. Our earlier arrival wasn’t a problem to the parking staff either and it did eliminate any worries of us being late. Top Tip: Be proactive with your own pre port destination arrangements. We used the Internet and got a good accommodation deal. If you don’t use the Internet and want to make arrangements to stay overnight somewhere near your sailing port, how about checking out your preferred stop over place on the map backed up with a telephone call to your local Tourist Information Centre to access the Tourist Information telephone number covering your choice of stopover area. This option could also be a quick reliable way for looking and booking suitable accommodation to suit your particular needs. Equally if you don’t know any Internet users I have known people pop into the library and ask for some help on the computer. Southampton Embarkation Well there she was," The Azura" in all her glory. Flags flying, her huge towering form glistening in the sun just waiting to sail us away for snapshot day visits to Barcelona, St Tropez, Rome, Naples, Corsica, Gibraltar, Lisbon and home.
For us, this cruise ticked a variety of boxes. For example it was our first time with P&O; previously we had always taken a fly and cruise holiday; it also offered us our first Med cruise with day visits to destinations we wanted to sample. It was certainly exciting for us as we joined other likeminded holiday spirited passengers made up of young and old couples, families and singles. Yes it was the beginning of the school holidays and it seemed the cruise was very popular with teenagers travelling with their families. I came to the conclusion, which was confirmed later, that they had just finished their exams. Great treat ah?
With our blue identifying Azura sticker (appropriate name as she was built in Italy and of course azura means blue) now stuck on our front car window, Port staff soon directed us into the car queue alongside the ship.
Prior to handing over the car keys to the port car parking attendant, we collectively checked over the car and agreed no visible damage present therefore no need to take photographs. Once you hand over the car keys to the car parking staff their organization is responsible via their insurance.
Staff quickly unloaded our 3 cases whilst we carried hand luggage including my little tipple, a bottle of port. Unlike other cruise companies we have travelled with you are allowed to take drinks on board but be prepared to have this and all your hand luggage processed via security. We found the security checks so much more civilized than our bruising experiences at airports.
On initially entering the passenger clearing hall we were somewhat taken back by the volume of pre embarking passengers but it was soon apparent we had nothing to worry about. It was very well organized with plenty of seating and staff guiding us along the process. In less than half an hour we were on the ship hassle free.
1) Excellent customer service is all about getting things right from the word go. Even though your car will be insured when left, before it is handed over, it is prudent to ensure that you have agreed with the parking staff what the condition status of the car is prior to handing them the keys. If you have any doubts take that photograph for your own future record.
2) Place the blue Azura sticker on your dash board or on the window using blue tac. On return from our cruise we found the sticker’s blue dye very difficult to remove from our window. 3) Be aware of school holidays when booking it can be dearer but also more lively! So it depends what you want. For us it was the only time we could go and it was ok.
On Board the Ship We were told our cabin would not be ready for another couple of hours and we were directed to one of the decks which offered your freedom self-service dinning with an array of cuisine. That was fine with us, we had after all arrived early and yet after some food here we were already using our newly issued ship’s credit card sitting on one of the sun decks having a drink.
After a short wonder around the ship we observed the Deck strolling Promenades were considerably narrower than previously experienced on other ships. For example no steamer type chairs where you could stretch out, only sitting chairs with none of the traditional wooden decking boards to tread. On the other hand however we found an abundance of sun recliners on all the sun decks with many placed in the shade. Equally important was all types of mobile chair access were possible, for example children’s small pushchairs, adult wheelchairs and motor scooters for disabled passengers. This was backed up with ramp access from within the ship.
Additionally we discovered finding the access to walk around the front of the ship was hard to find. Later into the cruise we discovered you accessed it by using an accommodation corridor, which wasn’t very well advertised, so a little exploring and we had the front of the ship placed under the Bridge, all to ourselves!
Eventually arriving at our Balcony Stateroom on Deck 11 we found our cases had arrived. Our ship’s plastic credit card also acted as the door key and light switch. Our cabin was very comfortable with ample space. Shower/sink/WC with pamper back and plenty of thick white towels as well as blue sunbed/pool towels; large open wardrobe section with loads of coat hangers and rails reachable for 5ft (Reference Vintage Travellers) people like me; fridge with two complimentary small water bottles and tea/coffee facilities, hair dryer, TV linked into your spending account and other on ship information as well as an easy to operate eye level safe.
Our corridor balconies (which had seats and table) were not over looked from above, so complete privacy. On the other hand our deck overlooked two deck balconies below us. Not something we had picked up on when we booked with the travel agent, so just lucky for us.
1) If you have paid extra for the privacy of a balcony worth checking out at the point of booking that your deck is not over looked.
2) Although you get a paper bill the night before returning to you home port, it is good to check the account information on a daily basis using your TV technology. It is straight forward but ask the Reception to send someone down to your cabin to show you if you don’t feel confident – don’t forget you’re the customer! It is great that technology has done away with those dreadful times when we had to all queue at the reception desk to sort out our bills. Now it is up to you to check before it is taken off your credit card.
Staff service provision We found our cabin steward friendly and helpful. When we asked for decaf tea bags they were there the next day. We always returned to a clean and tidy cabin.
Service in the various restaurants could be slow and meat dishes seemed to be fleshed out with vegetables which were fine for my needs not being a big meat eater. My husband however often found he had to ask for more meat and he got it. From a healthier greener planet perspective I do like the idea of saving on waste. So personally I feel as long as you know you are able to ask for more then we are moving in the right direction.
Initially we opted to use what they call the Freedom Dining which means you don’t have to use the same restaurant and can sit at different tables. But after the first experience of finding ourselves having to wait for a place for over half an hour, we asked to be booked into one of the permanent table service restaurants. We found we had to be persistent with this request as they informed us all the restaurants were booked up. But after speaking to a Manager they did get back the next day as promised and we booked into the Oriental, (that was just the name by the way) they serve the same food as the other restaurants. Having a set table number also helped to ensure that I was able to order my special dietary needs without hassle. Additionally are some other restaurants where you can book and pay.
Tipping on the ship was set at £1.60 per person per day for restaurant staff and £1.50 per day for cabin stewards. But it really is up to you what you put in your envelope so don’t feel under pressure it is after all a tip!
We had access to a free laundry room which was great as we came home with very little urgent washing. You could buy soap tablets at the shop for 55p. But you could take your own if need be.
It was good to see that automatic open doors were in operation on the decks, good for wheelchair users and leaving your hands free to carry food/ drinks out if the wind was blowing. It was great to see easy access for wheelchairs in restaurants, shops, bars, theatre and lifts etc. as well as the use of disability motor scooters. I was also informed by a family with a wheelchair user that the cabin accommodation was spacious. However I was also suitably informed that it was very challenging trying to access suitable coach facilities for passengers who needed to be transported on and off the bus in their wheel chairs.
Shuttle buses from the ship to town centers in each port were free.
Complimentary bottles of water were not provided for any on shore excursions. Filling bottles at water units in the restaurants were not allowed.
Top Tip: On reflection we would take water on board rather than my bottle of port as drinks were very reasonable.
We booked our cruise tour excursions on line with P&O prior to our departure which is the cheaper option. Travelling on their organized tours gives you the safety net of knowing if their tours are delayed back to the ship the responsibility is with P&O. If you decided to make your own arrangements, which arguable can be considerably cheaper, i.e. arrange your own transport and you miss the sailing time the responsibility is down to you. It is also worth being aware that even if you have pre booked a tour and then change it on board you will be penalized. For example: feeling very tired after our visit to Room we visited the ships travel desk and asked to change the next day’s tour to a half day one – we were charged £4.00. For us it was a wise move but we thought what was for them a “seconds computer task” was penny pinching and not a good example of the best of customer service.
1) If you do have any special needs. P&O advertise a telephone number dedicated for passengers with disabilities both on the ship and prior to booking.
2) If you do need to change a pre booked tour ask the staff if there is a charge, even though necessity needed us to change or tour we were never told about the charge until we checked our bill on the TV accounts system later. Yes it could be argued that if everyone changed their tours it could run up costs and disrupt booking arrangements. It all goes back to that old saying,” It’s not what you do but the way that you do it”!
Entertainment and on board day time activities
There is a large theatre with accommodation for wheelchair users which offers a variety of entertainment i.e. shows, comedians, modern and classical performers and bingo. No refreshments are sold in the theatre but you can take your own with you. It is also used for religious services.
There was an assortment of nightclub bars with entertainment. All facilities were also used for presentations speakers, demonstrations etc. For example, dance lessons, cooking demonstrations and talks on jewelry and napkin folding to name a few, were free. I paid £5.00 to join a floristry class and enjoyed the practical instruction from a florist who was also very busy with on board weddings. I made some very professional buttonholes. Attending six introductory sessions of Pilates costing £35.00 held in the in the large Gym with attached health spa, was most enjoyable.
Destination Tours Azura offer a great choice of tours at all the destinations with live and televised pre talks. Barcelona, we thought it was a safe bet to just use the ship’s shuttle bus into the city where we then transferred and paid on a City Tour Bus. For us this was a cheaper option than the ships official tours. We used the ships tour to St Tropez from their part of call at Toulon France. We found it a pretty place and would like to visit again. Rome was very hot and like St Tropez was quite a drive from the port. My trusty little fold up brolly did us proud during the sudden down pour in St Tropez and the hot sunshine in Rome. Naples short tour operator led walk around and climbing up streets shaded by high old buildings provided a welcome rest bite from the hot sun. However Naples is a fast moving place and we were warned about crime so not a place to wonder off on your own. With old uneven street paving I noticed the terrain was difficult for people with walking frames and I was surprised this information was not flagged up in the tour literature.
Corsica was our next stop and we both loved its clean fresh appearance mixed in with its historic buildings. Perhaps it was a myth but everyone commented on how safe they felt. We will aim to return to this destination.
In Gibraltar again we used the ship’s free shuttle bus into the town. We could have walked but this was only a half day visit. The cable car which we were going use on our own was closed due to this mist. We personally didn’t want to see the famous monkeys but I was attracted to the many shop sales in Monsoon, Next etc. I did pick up quite a few bargains. I did not find the duty free perfume shops any cheaper with the items I wanted to buy which was disappointing.
Lisbon was our last stop and again where again we used the free ship’s shuttle bus into the city centre and purchased a city tour bus trip. Both Lisbon and Gibraltar were suitable for wheel chair users with many shopping and eating areas being traffic free and flat open terrain.
1) Take your fold up brolly it has a dual purpose but is particularly useful as a sun shade.
2) Before you book cruise tours check out if it is a safe and perhaps a better option for you to go it alone.
3) Reviewing tour destinations is difficult as we all have individual tastes and needs. Therefore when you are making your initial destination choices again if you don’t have access to the net view as much of the free travel brochures as you can and if necessary get the Travel Agent to contact the Cruise Company with a list of your questions.
For us the cruise was brought together by the daily cabin delivery of the ship’s news sheet Horizon, informing us of all the next day happenings. We also enjoyed the opportunity of chatting to lots of other like-minded passengers who all seemed to think the ships are getting just too big and suggested we try some of P&O smaller ships.
As I unpacked back home I used my “check list of items needed for holiday” up to date before putting it back in the case for next time.
Top Tip: Having a check list of items you may or do need on holiday is invaluable, especially emergency telephone numbers and insurance details. Also copy of prescriptions in case you lose your medication, types of spectacles, camera, and mobile with adaptors and for us many more. So reassuringr when you are packing to know you haven’t forgotten anything. Yes holidays are about relaxing and reducing the stress!
134 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.