P&O Azura has always been... by Gordon1310Sail date: /
P&O Azura has always been one of our favourite ships. Despite being a frequent sufferer of sea sickness, I wanted to experience a Norwegian Fjords cruise and knew the risks of days sailing in the North Sea. We found the ship to be very stable despite a couple of fairly choppy seas and even eating in Epicurean on 17 during one such evening didn’t prevent me from enjoying a wonderful meal. Our Cabin Steward was excellent, polite, unobtrusive and understood most of our needs. Waiters, sommeliers and staff in the peninsular restaurant were all excellent as were those in Epicurean, Sindu, The Beach House and The Glass House. In fact all staff across the ship seemed to be very friendly and helpful, acknowledging passengers as they passed by. We didn’t get to speak to any of the officers on board though, and from what I observed, nor did the officers appear to speak to many passengers, apart from those they clearly knew or were related to! We were disappointed to see some aspects of the ship showing its age, and in places a lack of care and attention. For example our stateroom windows and balcony glass were dirty and remained dirty throughout the whole cruise. Windows in restaurants and lounges were also dirty with no sign of recent cleaning. Some of the chairs in Java and the piano bar on 7 were in dire need of refurbishment and cleaning, some were so loose on their bases that we couldn’t sit in them. Despite advising staff, they were still in use (but not safe) the next evening. Each time we passed Malabar, there was a distinct sewage smell. We heard from other passengers that it had been an issue for some time but fortunately did seem to be confined to quite a small area. Our stateroom was clean, but again looking old and uncared. For example, the Sofa(bed) was uncomfortable to sit on a needed cleaning, a picture on the wall needed to be repaired/replaced as it was delaminating/ripped from its backing. Embellishments on the tv/fridge unit were loose. Mould in the shower was being painted over one day when we returned to our cabin. The Balcony was unnecessarily cramped with 2 Sunbeds, 2 footstools (why?) and a small table, despite asking if the sun beds could be replaced with usable chairs, this did not happen. Quite a lot of rust was evident where painting maintenance had not been done. The TV system in our stateroom has small screens and lacked connectivity and choice especially in today’s world of modern technology. USB access or Screen mirroring isn’t difficult to achieve, but was either disabled or impossible in our stateroom, (probably the latter due to the age of the TVs) Internet access in the stateroom and generally around the ship, despite the cost was appalling, inconsistent and slow. On most days there was not enough room/seating around Java, and very limited seating in the atrium which always appeared busy. Other public areas seemed to have good space and seating availability. Although the theatre was busy we always got a seat. Entertainment was good, we didn’t get to see it all though, a couple of shows in the main theatre, a talk on The Northern Lights and listened to some music in Manhattan bar Food on board Azura was quite variable, excellent in the speciality dining such as Epicurean, Sindu, the Beach House and even in the Peninsular restaurant but pretty basic and lacking in some healthier options in the buffets which were always busy and often overcrowded. Attention to food hygiene needs to be addressed, I saw one steward telling people to use the hand sanitiser on the first day, thereafter it didn’t seem to happen. I do think staff in buffet area really do need to be more vigilant around the food! On many occasions I witnessed fellow passengers using their hands to pick up food from display or using the same tongs from seafood to shellfish and meat thus contaminating food and seriously risking the health of other passengers. Staff just stood by and did nothing! One senior uniformed member of staff was reluctant to take away a salad bowl after I watched a woman rummage around in it with her hands! For that reason alone we stopped eating in the buffet. P & O really need to improve the quality and range of their room service menu, which had limited healthy choices. It seems that they have introduced a cynical charging policy for items ordered instead of a standard (reasonable) tray charge. For example the prices being charged for a basic wrap were not that different from any UK high street and certainly not a ‘minimal charge’ for what is an underwhelming service. It seems passengers are being penalised for not wanting to go to an overcrowded buffet where seating was rarely available. It was great to be on ship and not be hounded by staff to purchase a drinks package! As always, there was an eclectic mix of passengers on board. Sadly we witnessed some incredibly rude (and unnecessary) behaviour towards staff, unhygienic behaviour (as mentioned) and an inconsistency in following the ‘dress code’. This latter point is purely my subjective view but find it bizarre to be sitting at dinner near to others in jeans and a tee-shirts/day-wear, when everyone at our table and around had ‘made the effort’. Not quite the image P&O tries to portray in its advertising and promotional media. Getting on and off the ship at ports was easy. We were docked at each one, so we didn’t have to test their tender procedures. There were short queues at the point of disembarkation and likewise on return. Yes there were queues for the lifts but even they didn’t take long to clear. Final disembarkation was well organised and a fairly painless experience. Without feeling rushed and unwelcome we were still off the ship 20 minutes ahead of schedule and cases were fairly easy to find.. The tours all. seemed to be well organised and reasonably priced, although in most ports we chose to explore independently. Not such a risk, when everything we wanted to do was in close proximity (walking distance) to the ship. We did however pay to travel to Flam railway as part of an official P&O organised tour. So all in all, was this a good cruise? On balance, yes it was! Azura is a great ship and has lots of positives. The itinerary was very good, the scenery was stunning and it was a great opportunity to see a new part of the world we will undoubtedly return to. Maybe we were just unfortunate that on this cruise the standards we’ve come to expect from P&O appear to have dropped slightly as other cruises on this ship have been brilliant.