Azura - Cruise Break
I had a mad moment on the afternoon of the 8th April 2011.  Just looking at P&O’s cruises for the following year, I went and booked Azura for the 2nd December AND got a single cabin.  Considering the cruises for this part of the year only went on sale that morning, I was amazed they had several available.  Inside singles to share started at £199.  This F318 was just £233 with a £23 deposit paid.  I had an email from Thomas Cook.  Their starting price to share was £289!  I paid it off on the 31st July.

The day arrived.  Azura was docked in Ocean Terminal and was all alone in the big, wide port.  Normally, this time of year, she was in the Caribbean sunning herself but P&O decided to give her a world cruise in January - only to then cancel it months later due to lack of interest and sent her back to the heat after completing these cruises, plus a three night after New Year.  I caught the ferry over, gingerly walking along the pier which was at least a third covered in ice.  At least they had put grit down.  I went later than usual, figuring by 1pm most would be aboard.  Wrong!  It was so packed with many standing despite being told to sit down.  Red H was called just after I arrived and I'd been given Green J so a looooooooooooooooong wait.  A bloke next to me was Red R so at least he'd be having lunch soon.  Just why do some party cruises take longer to board than longer ones????  After more than an hour, my letter was called - woooo!!!!!!  I was told to go to the desk where the arrow was pointing and discovered a blast from the past - Nicky!  Nicky had given me four of my five visitor passes to the QE2 between August and October 2008 when I was with my then-boyfriend who worked on the ship.  I'd last seen her in January 2011 at the pass office in Ocean when I was with the late journalist, Steve Read and Lisa Page from Cunard briefly visiting Queen Elizabeth.  Surprisingly, she remembered me and the ex-boyfriend.  She did this time too, and when we'd previously seen each other, so had a bit of a natter as she checked me in.  After security I went to find my cabin.  By now it was 2.40pm and they closed the buffet at 3pm.  I went into the cabin and was surprised at how spacious it was.  NCL would really do well giving singles something like this.  Pity about the fixed shower head though.  My steward was Joquim and really friendly and helpful.  He found my case and I explained it was so huge because I was going over to the QM2 immediately afterwards.  I know I live locally but it's really pointless going home, change cases then go again, not to mention expensive when you don't drive.  On the back of the Horizon, it said Carol Marlow was onboard.  There was some awards thing going on so it was also full of travel agents.  Azura has one of those slots you put your card into for the lights but I found the make up room card fitted it better than in the door!
Our muster was late at 4.05pm and the muster station Brodies on the same deck.  Our sailaway was pretty cold so I went onto the Prom deck.  Unlike her Princess sisters (including Ventura), the fabulous observation area beneath the bow (aka: dolphin's gob) is crew only on this ship.  Why???  It's the best area - when they're open!  There aren't many decent passenger deck spaces as these ships have added more cabins so why take it away?
After phoning my dad after passing Hythe, I went in and had a drink in the Glass House.  This will be replacing Ramblas on Ventura during her refit in March 2012.  Service was fast and good.  It was full of travel agents, some of whom were comparing prices for Carnival Sunshine like "My dad's bigger than your dad" while a couple thought it was a brand new ship, saying it was like Carnival Breeze.  Glad I don't book with them!  The shops were open and I needed food for my painkillers.  The sundries shop was where the duty free one was on Ventura, which was quite confusing but actually a better location with more space.  The salesman was rather fun too, singing and happy.  The souvenir tat, however, was dreadful.  Ventura had so much more variety.  This was about a fraction of what you get on all the other ships with not even a model while flogging watches was more important.  What happened????  I'd forgotten some washing powder tablets for the Mary, in case you couldn't get any on her so did that before going to Brodies.  After waiting more than ten minutes despite the waiter seeing me sat there I finally was asked what I wanted and he was very brusque.  Like Ventura, there are not enough staff and this was a quiet period so service should be quicker!  The cabin had been done when I went back, complete with pillow chocolate.  I signed up to sixty minutes of internet but the connection was dreadful for a newer ship.  So to dinner in the Oriental Restaurant, right at the stern of deck 6.  I'd been told Azura had more of a P&O feel than Ventura but I found it was still more Princess.  I suppose, if you've never sailed on a Princess ship then you won't know how much everything is identical.  This is the problem when you put the same ships in different brands without making proper changes to give them their own unique identity.  One couple turned up and the waiters were very good.  The food was okay.  I've had worse.  I decided afterwards to skip the shows as they sounded rubbish so bought my boarding photo, which came free when you purchased a 175 album.  The atrium was heaving as I tried to fight my way through to get to the cabin then I went to bed.
I woke up rather too early for our call in Zeebrugge so I went for breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant just down the way, sitting with some nice people.  Then, since many were buggering off into the cold, wind and rain, I went around the ship getting pics of what I could.  Carol Marlow dashed past at one point but I did get to say how I liked the single cabins but wish there were more.  I spotted Blondie on the dock soaked through and looking miserable.  Good!  I decided it was too vile to battle Blondie as he tried stopping people taking photos of their own ship so went back to bed until lunch time and decided to order room service.  P&O's menu is pretty lame.
Popped to the Glass House before sailaway then headed outside.  Blondie was busy packing cones away (probably wishing he could hit people taking photos with them) and we left late due to traffic but at least it had stopped raining.  It was freezing though and we had some tuggy help, Smit Emoe alongside for a while.  Some arse stubbed his cigarette out on the deck and it wasn't even the smoking side!  Now I am not against smoking even though I stopped in January 2008.  But smokers are to blame for all these restrictions imposed on them by doing stupid things like this.  I've seen them flicked over the side on another ship while passing Fawley oil refinery while Ventura's prom deck in July was disgusting, covered in stubbed out fag ends.  They will be the loudest complainers when smoking is banned on decks as well but they will have brought it on themselves.  Everything is give and take - cruise line gives smokers places to smoke and the selfish minority of take the piss.
Back in and we were already rocking as we hit a force 8.  It was formal night, which is incredibly stupid on a short cruise when we're back in Southampton in the morning.  Due to the music, merchandise tables and everything in the atrium, it was harder fighting my way through than the night before.  It was a full house on our table at dinner.  The shows were boring again so I went back to the cabin to put the case out.  I tried again with the internet but it was appallingly slow with a poor signal.  The crew had better!  It wasn't just this time of night as I had been trying to log on most of the day and the first night with the same result.  Despite having 49 minutes left, I was cut off at 36 minutes, 8 seconds and could not reconnect so went to bed after discovering the bed had drawers.
I annoyingly woke up around 2am and couldn't get back to sleep so went around taking photos of the rest of the ship and the decorations.  Outside was blowing a gale but not raining - phew!  The only forward observation area was closed, though it was too windy anyway. I was quite disgusted to see more cigarette butts on the Prom deck - inside!  It was nearly 4am, there were cleaners around but every one had missed these.  Whether they were dropped and already out, I have no idea but it could have been dangerous.  I'm not calling for a total smoking ban as I always say there should be a designated smoking room, but others are and things like this do not help the smokers' case.  I popped outside briefly to get a bit of air and spotted a rather large vessel nearly Ryde - Mary!  I dashed back inside for my coat then got as many photos as I could.  Oriana came into view when she rounded Calshot.  Black Watch was behind us and hard to spot and I went in afterwards to charge the phone and warm up a bit until we were closer.

I went for breakfast in the Peninsular and was delighted to see Mathi, who had been our assistant waiter on Aurora in 2011.  I noted his name badge had his full name rather than just Mathi.  On the next table were a couple boarding Mary on the 10th January and sailing to Sydney, but said they had spend over £500 on various visas, such as for India.  It was a free for all disembarkation so I waited as long as I could in Brodies but was bored so decided to leave at 9.10am and go to my other shippy.

The verdict is a simple one - I hate this ship!  I actually dislike it more than I did Ventura the first time.  Well while Ventura and Azura are undoubtedly Princess ships, this is worse for the lack of passenger deck space amongst other things.  The single cabins are the only good thing about it.  It's cold, overcrowded, dirty.  I really could not get off fast enough.

To see more photos of Azura with the others in Southampton click here, while my QM2 cruise review can be found here.

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© Patricia Dempsey 2nd-4th December 2012
Not to be reproduced without permission