We booked a last minute 2 night cruise on P&O Azura on a roundtrip from Southampton to Guernsey. The destination this time was the ship – our first time on a P&O Grand Class ship and a good opportunity, given our love of watching the wake, to try out an aft-facing cabin.
We drove down early from London on a busy Saturday morning – Southampton was hosting 10 cruise ships that weekend as well as a big football game. After parking up at the Mayflower terminal and passing our suitcase to the luggage handlers, we entered an already packed terminal at 11:45 am. We had a long wait of around 90 minutes before being called to check in but were then allowed straight through security and onto the ship. What a difference to the priority boarding we experienced the previous month by booking a mini-suite on the Arcadia.
By this time the cabins were ready and we headed straight up to D deck. Our cabin was an obstructed aft facing balcony which was the same price we would normally pay for a standard balcony. The room and bathroom held no surprises but the balcony was enormous – we stood there open-mouthed, delighting in the extra space and view it gave us.
The obstruction was a supporting metal panel on the left hand side and barely intruded.
After dropping off our hand luggage, we headed up to the Venezia buffet which surprisingly wasn’t that busy. It had the usual mixture of hot dishes, bread rolls, cold cuts, salads and desserts. There wasn’t a wide choice of hot food (it was repeated on each side of the buffet) but what they had tasted fine. It took a while for the drinks waiter to get to us but our first cocktails were worth the wait:
Next, we went off to explore the ship and were struck how familiar the layout was. It was very similar to the Princess grand-class ships with restaurants on deck 6, lounges/bars in the same location on Promenade deck and the aft facing bar on deck 18. P&O tended to use the spaces differently with live acts booked into Manhattan and Malabar (see pictures below) but quizzes, game shows and karaoke held in Brodies bar.
Our muster drill was held in the Manhattan and, although delayed by an hour, was otherwise uneventful. We headed up to the cabin for sailaway and watched from our balcony as the ropes were unhooked from the dock.
This is where we sat and watched the full glory of the wake as we left Southampton:
We changed tops and headed down to our assigned “freedom” dining room, the Peninsular, for an early dinner. We had popped down to check out the menu earlier as Chris wanted to make sure there was at least one dish he could eat from each course (the gala dinner menu on formal night is way too fancy for his tastes, although there are some ‘always available’ dishes as a fallback).
We both played safe and went for ‘always available’ starters Atlantic Prawn Cocktail and Tomato Soup.
These were fine but not spectacular. I noted that we were only given the chance to pick one bread roll from a basket when on Princess we normally have a small selection on each table.
For the main course, I chose the Slow Braised Lamb Shank (so I could compare it with the Majestic Princess version I had eaten in April) and Chris went for the Sirloin Steak.
Both dishes were excellent. The lamb fell off the bone and was full of flavour (just like on Majestic Princess) but the mint sauce they added needed to be stronger.
For dessert, there was a good selection on offer:
Predictably, we both chose a chocolate themed dessert. Chris was more adventurous by going for the Chocolae Fleur De Sel with a Soft Toffee Centre and I chose the Layered Molten Chocolate Cake.
I failed to find anything molten about my chocolate cake but it was pleasant enough especially when combined with the ice-cream. However, Chris liked his dark salty chocolatey concoction immensely.
After dinner we headed to the 8:45pm performance of the tribute band “Badness” in the Playhouse Theatre. The theatre was packed but had an excellent drinks service from the waiters taking orders on their hi-tech tablets. We still had to sign for every drink on a paper receipt afterwards though! Badness are from Hull and were one of the best tribute bands we have seen. Musically they were very tight and their lead was able to slip into Madness, Bad Manners and Specials songs with ease. They had the audience singing along and dancing in the aisles.
We spent the rest of the evening drinking in Brodies. This has a strange layout with comfy sofas and funky chairs at the back and side with traditional tables and chairs near the front. There is a bar in the middle so you cannot always see what’s going on entertainment-wise which I found frustrating. The karaoke, as always, is very impressive on P&O. You either get very good singers or very drunk awful singers. The words appear on multiple screens around the bar so you can always help them along.
We headed back to the cabin to find the bed turned down and little chocolates waiting for us.
We slept well and couldn’t feel any movement from the ship. However, I was aware of some slight jingling of the hangers as we arrived at Guernsey the next morning. We headed up to the buffet for breakfast at about 8:30am and, again, this was not overly busy.
There was a good selection of hot and cold breakfast items with omelettes made to order. The scrambled eggs looked a little wet for me and I avoided the local “British” offerings.
We made the decision to stay on the ship as the weather was overcast and it was a Sunday so there were less buses available for getting around the island. We would also be coming back to Guernsey the following month on a Saturday.
For the rest of the day, we walked around the ship, had a quick look at the shops (mainly for the alcohol and collectables rather than designer clothes and perfumes) and tried some of the other bars. For lunch, we tried out the grill offerings on the Lido deck.
We tried the Beef Burger, Hot Dog and French Fries, all complimentary.
To be completely honest, the Burger and Hot Dog were horrible. Cheap meat and served cold. The fries were decent enough.
We checked out the pizza offerings on the other side of the deck and came to the conclusion that we might have been better off eating here.
After lunch, we headed up to the Planet Bar to find somewhere to chill. It has these special doors to outside balcony areas which look out to the wake. One has a statue in situ.
The Planet Bar has big screens on the wall where it shows artistic/educational images and has great views over the front and back of the ship.
It also has comfortable seats and a full cocktail menu – our favourite spot on the ship.
After relaxing and chatting to the waitress about the internet and the dongle we were using, we headed back to the cabin. One thing we were starting to notice was that the whole of the aft part of the ship was juddering while in port. We believe the engines were doing something but were not sure if this was normal as we didn’t feel this while the ship was cruising or coming into port. In our cabin, it was so noticeable that we had to put a magazine on top of the lamp next to the bed to reduce the noise.
Tonight was formal night and we were heading to the Beach House, a kind of pop-up restaurant held in the buffet area which charges a nominal fee.
For starters, I chose the Burnt Ends Hash and Chris went for the Nachos.
I found the Hash to be a little too soggy for my tastes but the poached egg and onions were wonderful. The Nachos were a hit.
For mains, I decided to push the boat (as it were) and go for the Speciality Hanging Kebab while Chris chose the Sticky Fried Chicken Breast.
The kebab looked amazing, in fact it drew glances from everyone else in the restaurant. And it was absolutely delicious – the different fish textures combined with the hollandaise sauce, rice and greens were fantastic. Chris also enjoyed his sticky chicken – “spicy but lovely” being the verdict.
For dessert, I chose the Philadelphia Carrot Cake and Chris ordered the Triple Layered Chocolate Fudge cake.
My carrot cake was just okay but the Honey Ice Cream was gorgeous. I didn’t really understand the need for the cherry compote. Chris liked the look of his cake so much he started tucking into it before the photo was taken – it tasted as good as it looked.
We spent the rest of our final evening in Brodies, catching the end of a quiz and the start of the karaoke before heading back with drinks to finish on our wonderful balcony, listening to the sound of the wake.
The next morning we had time for a relaxing buffet breakfast, before choosing to self-disembark at 7:30am – we were off the ship and out of the cruise terminal in 7 minutes.
In summary, we liked P&O Azura – it has good entertainment, drink and food options and some nice places to relax. Most of all, we have discovered the wonders of an affordable aft-facing balcony and will certainly look out for these in the future.