After all the terrible hurricanes that had hit the Caribbean late last year, P&O were eager to let us know that the Caribbean was well and truly still alive and kicking. The sun was still shining, the vibrant culture and scenery was still there and despite some trying times, the happy, laid back, colourful Caribbean spirit was still singing! Come see for yourself said P&O, and so we did by enjoying a 14 night (15 day) Fly-Cruise on the world renowned Azura – a larger, family-friendly ship boasting an incredible choice of bars, restaurants, sports and spa facilities, entertainment and much more. Here is how our reviewer found their first cruise ship adventure go …..
First and foremost, the main reason for going on the trip (as if visiting the Caribbean was not enough!) was for the curiosity – could a fan of the outdoors understand the appeal of staying on a floating hotel of sorts? Being on the younger end of the ‘cruise holiday goer’ it was a curiosity that I have not only always had but one that I always thought I knew the answer to, namely, I could never enjoy life at sea. I still cannot believe I am admitting this but I was well and truly wrong! I am now officially what can only be termed, a ‘cruise convert’ and this is why ….
Day 1: from curious sceptic to “wow!”
We chose to fly from Birmingham airport to Barbados. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by helpful P&O representatives who put out luggage through and assured us of how the system worked. Enjoy your flight, step off the plane to waiting transfers to the ship and don’t worry about your luggage, as it will be delivered to your room on the ship.
We waved goodbye to our luggage, arrived in Barbados and the transfer went exactly as they said ….remarkable when you think that over two days of the Azura docking at Barbados, up to 3100 eager holiday goers would be flown in from various UK airports and descend on the ship!
We had already been told by our travel documents that check-in would be speedy, with minimal fuss. Again, I wasn’t so sure, especially with hundreds of people all wanting to board the ship. Not only did this go as advised but as soon as we arrived for check-in, we were greeted by happy P&O staff (who served us refreshments, welcome after the transfer), to the sound of Caribbean Steelpan music – a feeling of excitement filling the air of all who were there. And then, we got to see the ship in its full glory. All I could repeatedly say to my husband was “Wow!” Honestly, the whole experience up to that point was just amazing – I could not help but be impressed at the sheer organisation, friendliness and cheerful spirit of the staff and transfer/check-in process.
We were staying in Balcony Double Room, which we found well designed – being both compact, clean and functional but relaxing too. Once you have checked in, you are given a cruise card, so you can add any purchases to your tab using it, as well as accessing your room and serving as ID. As our trip was full board, we found this helpful as we added drinks packages to our tab, as well as shop and excursion purchases to it, without having to worry about what card to use. In your room, there is a channel on your TV where you can access your tab, as well as relax to any of the TV channels, films and radio stations. There is a fridge, complimentary safe and of course, biscuits, tea and coffee facilities which are topped up on a daily basis by your friendly cleaner. Our luggage was duly delivered to our room, a couple of hours after arrival. Time to get unpacked and ready to really start our holiday….
Day 2: Getting to know the ropes....
As we learned on our first proper day onboard, so much of the excitement of cruise ship life is getting to know the ship for yourself. What I will say is that the Azura is impressive! At a glance, it has 19 decks, eight dining places, five entertainment venues, eight bars, as well as numerous places to unwind, such as the atrium, pool areas, spa, gym and if like me you, you love a good evening film, the amazing Sea Screen – an outdoor cinema. Getting to know Azura, as well has having our first bit of Caribbean sun was such fun!
Entertainment, food, food and more food….
When you speak to cruise holiday goers to ask them what they enjoy about cruising, many will say straight away, the food and entertainment. We had fixed evening dining in the Oriental restaurant (you can also choose a more flexible dining experience called Freedom Dining).
The food was excellent, with plenty of choice and attention to detail. If you have a food intolerance, you needn’t worry as Azura has a catering team dedicated to looking after guests with dietary requirements. Each evening my husband (gluten intolerant) was given a preview of the following evening’s meal. He was then asked what he would like from the menu. Where possible, the catering team try to adapt any menu option to suit your needs, so guests needn’t feel left out. This was so considerate of P&O. My husband would often remark: “having a food intolerance never tasted so good!”.
As for breakfast and food during the day, you could choose to eat casually in one of the buffet areas or in one of the formal restaurants (breakfast and lunch). There was also a ‘food on the go’ area, open most of the day, if you felt like a cheeky bit of fried chicken, hot dog or sandwich to fill the gap. You never went hungry, that’s for sure.
A highlight of our evening food experience was the Waiter staff. We were assigned the same staff for the duration of our trip and by the end of the holiday, we found ourselves a little sad not to be seeing them again, as they were always cordial and attentive. They also quickly discerned our tastes. For my soup choice, I always chose a piece of delicious focaccia bread, rather than a roll. On one occasion, the waiter could see I was looking for it and when he realised there wasn’t any in the selection, quickly went away to get me a piece, without me even asking. It was a lovely experience to feel looked after every evening. At the end of the holiday, we were gifted by the staff all the menus we were served during our holiday, which we were both surprised and touched to receive.
A highlight of our Azura holiday was a visit to The Glass House. At a small cover charge, small plates or larger one can be paired with a lovely glass of wine, specially selected by the award-winning wine expert, foodie, columnist and author, Olly Smith. We thoroughly enjoyed our treat – the food and wine was excellent and educational too (I’ve now learned I am a fan of wine from Uruguay for example).
As for the entertainment, there was so much to choose from, that often, we wanted to be in two places at the same time! Highlights for us were films shown on Sea Screen and a tribute to Adele in the plush Malabar bar. There was a lot to do during the day but the schedule is subject to change, so if and when you go, you can keep tab on what's on through your daily Horizon newspaper, which details everything you can do or see in terms of eating, excursions, entertainment, classes, shopping and the list goes on for each day.
Caribbean islands and excursions: so much to see but so little time….
Our ports of call were to Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, Amber Cove, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent. We ended up booking excursions (this can be done in advance or once on board) Antigua, St. Kitts, Amber Cove (Dominican Republic), St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent and all I can say is, we were welcomed to paradise! While you can go off the beaten track, we chose to play it safe and book P&O organised excursions, all of which we loved. Whether you are into more active activities such as a spot of snorkelling, fishing, zip lining, forest hiking or calmer activities such as visiting botanical gardens, beach sun bathing, rum or food tasting, P&O tried to ensure there was an activity for you.
We personally loved kayaking and snorkelling in Antigua, zip-lining in St Kitts, a remote island adventure to Paradise Island (Amber Cove), chilling on the beach in St Lucia, Eco trekking in Antigua and snorkelling and seeing the coastal and inland views of St Vincent (the home of some shots from the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise).
In conclusion, so much to say but so little time.... Some useful information for you
I am now, officially a cruise ship butterfly, having transformed from sceptic to convert. Everything about the trip was exciting, from the flight to Barbados and transfer, to getting to know the Azura and staff, to the friendly guests (if you are a lone traveller, cruises are a perfect option for meeting new people) to the stunning islands and adventures.
My only regret is that the holiday had to end. Once the pennies are saved, off we will go on our next holiday adventure, only this time, we will not be staying on land but rather, on a beautiful ship in the middle of the ocean. As goes the P&O slogan, “this is the life!” and it really is!
Some useful information for you ....
Caribbean, 14 nights, £1,399pp - P&O Cruises is offering a 14 night cruise on Azura (A831) from £1,399 per person for a inside cabin. Departing November 16, 2018 the price includes flights from selected UK airports, kids' clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
Departing from and returning to Barbados ports of call are Antigua, St. Kitts, Tortola, Amber Cove, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent.
To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 0843 373 0111 or visit your local travel agent.