Frustrating Moments

I went to B&Q this week to get what I thought would be the final sheets of MDF and supports that I needed to complete the insulation of our garage. Off I went and I had a virtual clear road to the store. Things appeared to be going well, but…

They only had five sheets of the correct size, and I needed seven. I considered getting longer length sheets to come up with a suitable combination… but they didn’t have any of those. I bought what I could and came home, slightly miffed.

The roads of Hereford are always busy, and there are several junctions making most journeys a bit of a pain. Unlike my trip into the city, the homeward journey was more typically busy. At one junction, an elderly man on a large scooter squeezed through the traffic queue to get a clear getaway when the lights changed.

At the green light he slowly wobbled away and eventually reached his desired speed of about 20mph. The queue that he had squeezed through now followed him with no way of passing him.

Thoughtless twit.

While on the theme of traffic, the city of Hereford has had a major change recently. The city now has a speed camera!

Now having moved here from Staffordshire, that must rate as one of the leading purchasers of speed cameras, I am very familiar with these speed control units. I don’t mind them, as I am one of those very unusual people that try and stick to the limits.

Anyway, the stretch of road in Hereford is usually one where many drivers exceeded the limit, and I would often produce a queue behind me with frustrated drivers with a heavy throttle foot. Now with appearance of this unfamiliar yellow box, it seems all the county’s motorists have suddenly become law abiding drivers. Almost everyone has reduced their speed, but concerned with technology, they have seriously dropped their speed.

Now I find myself being held up by these over cautious people.

Back to the garage insulation project. Yesterday we went into the city again, and stopped at the other DIY store (Wickes) to get my panels, plus a roll of insulation, shelf brackets, and waste pipe clips. Although the web site had assured me the panels were in stock, they weren’t. I left with nothing.

I drove across the road from Wickes to a cut price sell everything (well almost). This was where Deb was buying something on her own list. Just on the off-chance I checked if they had MDF panels. Success, and they were even cheaper than anywhere else. They didn’t have insulation, pipe clips or shelf brackets.

At least I had something to keep my project moving.

We tried a shop in the city for shelf brackets and waste pipe clips without any success. So, it was back to Wickes where I at least managed to get the insulation, and pipe clips, but no suitable shelf brackets.

Aagghh!

Time to give up and go home.

I spent the afternoon on the final length of wall I want to get covered before winter really kicks in. The shelf brackets can wait, or I might just use the old ones again. This project has been enjoyable, if a little time consuming.

My Thoughts on Azura

After 12 nights on this ship, Deb and I came back with negative views of the ship. Rather than immediately spouting rants about it, I decided to wait a few days and gather my thoughts before summing up our little holiday.
First things first, Azura is significantly bigger than the ships we prefer, and bigger means more people. Our primary gripe about the ship is the number of passengers, meaning that bars, restaurants and corridors are usually packed with people. I just felt like I was on a busy city pavement, and it made me uncomfortable.

And then it dawned on me that I am not a city person, and prefer the quieter life of a village or small town. So I now believe that this was one of the reasons for my discomfort. Perhaps people who are used to busy pavements and packed shops can feel at home on these enormous ships, but others, like me, feel happier with a slower paced, and less crowded ship.

Anyway, I have both positive and negative thoughts about Azura:

Cabin

The cabin we had was a good size with a decent balcony. For those looking for a bargain, look at the C deck balcony cabins at the front and stern. We could look down on these cabins from our lofty position on A deck, and their balconies were big enough to lie on the beds in all directions.

The wardrobe space is great. They don’t have doors, and the opening is towards the bathroom so avoiding stepping on each other’s toes as one or the other tries to get clothes out of the wardrobe, which can be a struggle on some of the other ships.

The television was out of the way above the corner unit, and the signal was superb compared to any other ship we have been on. The TVs were being upgraded while we were on board, and apparently this has meant the ability to see cabin statements on the TV has now been lost.

Sadly, our low budget cabin only had a small bathroom with a rather bijou shower cubicle.

We also found the bed mattress was rather hard, and combined with air conditioning that refused to cool the cabin to our preferred temperature, we didn’t sleep very well throughout the cruise.

Eating

We were on Freedom Dining (not our choice) and once again we did not enjoy the experience. Vast numbers of passengers like Freedom Dining, especially those trying to have a table for two. Of the five nights when we used the restaurant, we managed to get a small table, but that meant being in a queue before the room opened.

There are plenty of the small tables, and many of them are in blocks five or six. This was where this dining experience left me confused. I assumed Freedom Dining meant individual service and we could then eat quicker or slower to suit our mood. But this was not the case.

The waiters and waitresses simply waited for the tables to fill, and then took the orders. Everyone had their starters, mains, and sweets, at the same time. We generally eat quickly, but had to wait for the slowest to catch up.

So instead of a large table for eight, we actually became part of a large set of tables for eight. Perhaps as the evening moves on the service become split up as people come and go, but certainly our experience was far from what we had expected.

The main restaurant menu is the same as we have been eating from for two years, and I am bored with it. The biggest issue for me is that there is a serious bias towards fish.

I don’t like fish.

On one evening there were three fish options, two chicken options, a single vegetarian dish and a beef dish. There was also the three ‘always available’ options that were salmon, chicken, and steak. I may be in a minority about fish, but it was difficult to find an alternative each night. On top of that I still cannot understand why people rave about Marco Pierre White’s ‘Beef Wellington’. This is supposed to be beef in pastry, but ship’s cooking systems do not appear able to make pastry crisp, so their version of Beef Wellington, is beef inside a soft imitation of pastry.

Deb and I used the buffet some evenings, plus a couple of visits to the Beach House. This is our favourite select dining venue, and  we enjoyed our meals here. Sadly however, on Azura the Beach House is inside with no extractor fans, so the smoke from the ever-popular ‘sizzlers’ and ‘lava rock steak’ meant everyone could see and smell them coming long before they reached the person eating it. The waiters screwed up their eyes as they carried the dishes.

The buffets appear to have been planned by a committee with no idea of mass catering. There are four separate areas that each have a central servery with two identical blocks of each food option. These areas can be entered from either side, plus a central opening to allow people to escape towards their tables.

The result was sheer chaos. People trying to get in from either side and moving back and forth between the two identical serving areas. Collisions, spillages, and frustration were common place. Hopefully the refit will change the buffets to avoid bad tempers and poor dining experiences.

We didn’t eat in Sindhu as the food does not appeal to us. And very few other people on this cruise ate there either. I don’t think we ever saw more than five or six tables being used, and it was regularly shut by a little after 9:00 each night. Sadly, this venue was never available as somewhere to go and sit and have a quiet drink, when most other bars and lounges were packed.

The Glass House was busy in the evenings, but was shared between people eating, and many others just having a drink and a chat. We sat there one night and played Trivial Pursuit as there was nowhere else to go.

Entertainment

I have to say that the Headliners were superb. It is a bigger troupe than we have seen on most of the ships, with extra singers who can also dance rather well. Their new show ‘Astonishing’ was terrific and it will be popular across the fleet. My only reservation is that having seen the tricks, I don’t think I would get the same excitement watching it again.

We had three comedians during the cruise and this was a real treat. We hadn’t seen any of them before, and the material was fresh. It has been a long time since I laughed enough to have tears in my eyes.

There was also a duo playing folk-style music on a guitar and violin, and again this made a pleasant change.

That leaves the singers, and they were very good – so I heard – but we didn’t go to their shows. I am someone who loves music, but I rarely listen to an album, and prefer having different artists and different genres of music. My iPod is usually in shuffle mode to give me the variations I like. So my negativity about cabaret singers is a personal thing, and not based on their talent.

Outside on the decks I was surprised one afternoon to see just four people in the table tennis competition. I didn’t see it at any other time, but it seems that with over 3000 passengers, hardly anyone took part. I don’t know if this was also the case with those playing deck quoits or shuffleboard, but it appeared unusually unpopular.

That just about leaves us with guest speakers and quizzes.

There was one visiting guest speaker who I am sure was popular, but his topics never interested us. The only other options for talks were from the spa and shop teams. In other words, the majority of the talks were a chance to promote products and services…so not really talks.

The quizzes were very, very popular. Most of them were held in Brodies, which was always packed for the mental exercises.

The late-night Syndicate quiz was strangely quiet. It was in a small room under the theatre and I think the busiest night had just five teams. I have never known the Syndicate Quiz to be this quiet, especially with so many in Brodies for the other quizzes. We took part most nights, but it didn’t have the atmosphere that we have had on other ships.

I really don’t understand why numbers for the deck games and Syndicate Quiz were so low. Perhaps it was a strange age profile on this cruise, or perhaps Azura passengers are different. Certainly the bars were busy all day and night, so perhaps that is enough entertainment for the majority.

Conclusions

The ship is beautiful, but not in the same way as the smaller traditionally-shaped ships. It is glitzy and bright with music from stern to bow all day and evening. It has lots of venue choices that offer almost everyone a perfect spot. Sadly, the one venue missing is a quiet bar to chat. Obviously the thousands of regular Azura passengers are content to shout loudly at each other rather than have quiet chats.

I liked the cabin, and I enjoyed the choice of entertainment.
The Planet bar with its video screen is superb. It would have been even better if it was at the front of the ship to look out at where we were going, rather than where we had been.

The musical bands and duo were so much better than some of the groups we have seen on the smaller ships. P&O do seem to be spending more on these giant ships where the greater percentage of their customers are sailing.

I disliked the buffet arrangements, and was not overly struck on the food being offered in any of the free dining rooms.

The open deck space appears good, but once again it was almost impossible to find somewhere quiet to lie in the sunshine. One pool had live or piped music blaring out constantly, and the other pool had a giant video screen with booming levels of audio.

The swimming pools were enjoyable to use before the crowds gathered. It is the first time we have had deep water to swim in.

Finally, my main gripe was the sheer volume of people. As I said earlier, I am not a city person and prefer the less busy, and slower pace of the smaller ships. Deb and I are not the only people who share that preference for holidays, and P&O currently appear to be less interested in us. New ships planned are even bigger, and the current smaller ships are getting older.

Maybe Carnival will eventually notice that some other cruise companies are investing in smaller ships for the near future, and allow a choice for all styles of cruising. It should be remembered that the young 100 mile-an-hour passengers of today will eventually become the older strollers who just might prefer the smaller ships with fewer people while they enjoy the sunshine.

A Week of Disappointments and Successes

Since coming home from our short holiday, a lot of things have been happening.

I went to see my physiotherapist about my shoulder, and it looks like the exercises have failed to reduce the pain. A few weeks ago I was suggesting on my blog that I hoped to play cricket again on the ships, but that is no longer looking like happening.
I go back to see my sharp fingered nurse next week, and she is going to resort to the ultimate treatment with an injection. The exercises are continuing, but the short sharp scratch looks to be inevitable.

We had to call the plumber back after our boiler failed. He had been here three or four weeks ago, and thought the problem was solved, but this week the hot box decided to repeatedly switch itself off for no obvious reason.
Another probable reason has been found, and I hope that when the new cable is connected tomorrow, we will have o more problems….please!

On a more positive note, I have made real progress with my project to insulate the cold walls in the garage. Two sections have been completed, and I have just one more to attack.

Another success has been finding a way of emailing posts to my blog. While on the ship I discovered that I cannot open my blog fully to allow me to put posts onto to it direct. It is blocked by the internet service used by the ships. So after much research, and several false attempts, I can now post my thoughts as an email. So far it looks to be successful. There are a few weeks to go before I can test it properly on the next cruise, but it seems to be working fine from home…..so far anyway.

Now a solution has also been found to the lack of mobile phone signals in and around our home. Following several conversations with the BT Mobile technical team, I have bought a little box that is called the BT Signal Assist. It plugs into the internet hub and generates a local mobile signal that allows me to get the full 5 bars of radio signal on my phone.

So there is disappointment with my shoulder pain, and my knee is pretty bad as well, but at least some other problems have been solved.

Speak to you all again soon.

Our Next Cruise

Deb and I had to go into Thomas Cook this morning to sort out a bit of an issue with our next cruise.

We are going to try out a cruise with a different company from our favoured P&O.

We are going on a SAGA cruise.

Yeh, yeh, I can hear you laughing and coming up with all the jokes:

“I going on a SAGA cruise because I fancy an early night”

“Red, white, or Ovaltine with your dinner sir?”

” What time would you like you wake up call this evening madam?”

Well we are trying out SAGA because they have a new ship coming into their fleet next year that is small with all cabins having balconies. It is all about planning for the future when P&O don’t offer the small ship experience anymore.

It is going to be a major change from our previous cruise. Last week we came home from 12 nights on Azura with 3000 passengers. The ship we are going on in 7 week’s time is called SAGA Pearl and has just 500 passengers.

We booked this a few weeks back, and chose a cheap cabin quite low down. It will probably be near the engine room…

… but we hope the noise of coal being shovelled into the boiler doesn’t disturb us much.

It was a bargain. The cruise was on offer already, and we had further reductions because we were new to their company, also because we didn’t want their travel insurance, and even another discount because we subscribe to their magazine.

Well worth considering this magazine which we get for £12 for the year, and has some decent articles, plus the offers for day trips and other things.

The cruise is expensive, but is inclusive of tips, has chauffer travel to and from the port, wine with meals, and free WIFI.

We think it will be worth it to find out what their cruise package has to offer, and the levels of service on the ship.

Anyway back to our visit to the travel agent.

We booked the cruise via our friendly agent in Thomas Cook, because it is what we have done for several years. Sadly when Deb tried to log onto the SAGA internet site, a message came up to say that we had to do everything via the travel agent.

Now, it must be pointed out that we are trying SAGA as an option, and based on our experience, we just might go back on another holiday with them.

Well so far the booking process has not been the slickest, or customer friendly.

Our agent rang the SAGA office, confirmed that the process did indeed have to be done through her, and then sorted out the tour we want to go on. Even this discussion was proving complicated, and not impressing our agent….or us.

Half an hour later, we left knowing that the tour is booked, but a little frustrated with the process. We now have to wait several weeks before we know what cabin we have got, when our chauffer will pick us up. And apparently this may be as late as 10 days before the cruise.

So that little issue can now be forgotten for a week or two.

Before we left the shop we also bought our first US dollars for the Amazon adventure in January, and paid the balance on the cruise north when we get back from the Amazon.

All in all this turned out to be an expensive morning, and gave us something to think about in terms of SAGA cruises.

 

 

Home again

Friday 12th October – Southampton

We both woke with the sound of the ship spinning around in the Solent before docking at the Mayflower terminal. Our cruise was over except for the breakfast rush, and waiting around for the call to disembark.

As usual disembarkation was a farce. Passengers crowded in lounges and bars trying to find somewhere to sit. We were in the early priority group that filled the Blue Room and Glass House, and we did begin getting off just about on time. We were directed on a route march along various corridors and down the stairs and then another snake across the Atrium to the gangway.

We began disembarking at about 8:50 and we were in the car and away from the hotel car park by 9:30. People were probably already nearing Southampton in their cars, or waiting in hotel lobbies with their cases, all looking forward to their cruises.

The journey home wasn’t too bad, but we were shocked by weather forecasts and warning about strong winds and rain. It is amazing how the weather could change so quickly.

Deb and I were home, and suitcases inside by 1:00. We had a welcome home plate of beans on toast, and then set to work on emptying the cases, and putting clean clothes and other bits and pieces away. The washing machine began two or three days of serious work to catch up, and we attacked the various bits of post from the previous 12 days.

The cruise had been enjoyable, and a chance to try out a large ship again. There had been good points, and we had a lot of fun, and met lots of very nice people. The cabin had been as good as we hoped, and the range and quality of the entertainment brought smiles to our faces. Of course, we didn’t enjoy everything about Azura, but we are probably in a minority group who prefer the smaller ships.

It is difficult for me appreciate that thousands of people find the Mega Ships amazing, and these people cannot understand why others of us find them so alien.

We all have different tastes, and the choice of ship allows P&O to attract the majority of the cruise market in Britain.

Well, the cruise is over, and we look forward now to another in about seven weeks. We will be experimenting again, with six nights on a tiny ship from the SAGA fleet.

I will post one final batch of thoughts about the cruise on Azura, and the ship itself. I want to wait a while and think carefully about those 12 days.

So for now Bi, and enjoy your cruising.

Last Days of the Cruise

Wednesday 10th October – Sea Day

Unfortunately, the swell did worsen a little overnight, and the pitching was quite obvious way up here on ‘A ’Deck. I doubt many people were affected by the movement, and once out and about the ship I felt fine.

After breakfast we sat and read our books for a while before going to the penultimate round of the Progressive Quiz. Today it was a general knowledge round and the pair of us managed 16/20. I doubt we are going to win this quiz when it ends tomorrow, but I think we have done quite well.

At midday I had another choir practice session before tomorrow’s concert on the stairs of the Atrium. We have one more rehearsal at 10:00 tomorrow before the real thing at 3:00pm.

The sun has been shining brightly on our balcony today and after lunch we both sat out there for a while. It is really hot out there, and after about 30 minutes I noticed some redness of my chest and decided I had been out there long enough.

We have a formal night tonight, and Deb and I will be visiting the main dining room again. Our planned entertainment after dinner is in Manhattans where Rudy West is giving his second comedy show. In the theatre it is Jimmy James with his final show. He still gives good entertainment but the comedy is more appealing.

Well, the dinner was a Marco Pierre White menu and personally it was disappointing. Deb and I struggled to find anything to match our taste buds. Unfortunately for him, when the head waiter came and asked if everything was OK, I told him the menu was boring. We have been eating off this set of menus for two years, and it is time there was a change. He seemed to think that there are plenty of options, including the ‘every night choices’.

That fuelled another barrage from me that it might be very good for people who cruise on the P&O fleet occasionally, but for those like us it is less than enjoyable knowing what is coming each night. The choices are very much focussed on fish which quite a number of people simply don’t enjoy. The head waiter tried one final blast that there was lots of choice.

I nodded to humour him, and he quickly walked away.

One evening this week when we were looking at the various restaurant menus, the main dining room had three chicken dishes, and four fish dishes plus a vegetarian option and I think another was beef. Add on the continued reliance of green beans and I begin to think the P&O imagination is slipping.

Anyway, we came away from the restaurant refuelled, and were soon parked up in Manhattan’s for the cabaret from Rudy West. He was good and I really did have tears in my eyes at one point, but the show only lasted just over 30 minutes. It looks like he may be short of sufficient material to give two different shows.

He is still worth watching, even if this second show was quite toilet humour based.

After the show we found a spot in the Glasshouse with our trivial pursuit set. It appears to be one of the quieter spots on the ship in the evening and certainly occupied by more casual drinkers and people like us, rather than being a busy restaurant.

Just to point something out here. It was around 9:30 by now, and there were still people ordering and eating in the Glasshouse, but Sindhu’s was being put to bed for the night with loads of unused seats that could have been for other passengers looking for a place to sit and chat. I hear and read so many stories about Sindhu’s being so popular, but on various ships over the time it has been operating, we have rarely, and I mean very rarely, seen it busy.

What a waste of space.

Anyway, while challenging ourselves with trivial pursuit, a curious couple came and sat with us. With our game over we chatted over our drinks for quite a while. It was all but 11:30 by the time we finished talking about ourselves, reminiscing, and discussing the pros and cons of P&O.

The ship was well into the Bay of Biscay crossing by now, and with a lively, but a tail wind it was a quite smooth ride. There is just one day to go on what has been a very pleasant cruise with lots of very nice people to talk to, and some really enjoyable entertainment.

Bedtime.

Thursday 11th October – Sea Day

Well, I had a really good night’s sleep. It was nearly 8:00 when I woke and put the kettle on. Azura is roughly half way across the Bay and although the wind is quite lively, it is almost exactly from behind us. The sea is a bit choppy but the ship is giving a nice smooth crossing (so far).

Today we have a few things to complete (choir performance, battle of the sexes, and progressive quiz) as well as the dreaded packing. I think the suitcases will be dragged out from under the bed after lunch.

One new thing for us this cruise. The end of cruise feedback sheets have now been abandoned in favour of online feedback. Perfectly fine for us….

but….

…. Many passengers are of an age, and mind set, that they have no access to the internet. This may sound amazing to the people reading this, but it is true. Hence, they have no option of giving feedback.

You might say it is only a small number in this situation, and you are correct, but there is another issue…

… The feedback P&O receive is going to be predominantly from younger passengers. So any feedback and comments reflect the younger passenger preferences and views. The views of many older, traditional, and yes small ship lovers, are no longer going to be received.

Anyway, Leon (entertainment manager) has woke up and is telling us to go and spend money in the shops. Oh, and as an afterthought he is also letting us know what is going on around the ship. Leon has his fans, but he doesn’t show himself around the ship very much. I was imagining he was in his cabin, still wearing his pyjamas, reading out this announcement, before turning over and going back to sleep.

… YES, I am only joking!

While it was still quiet we had a cup of coffee, and were served almost instantly. Our card had finished so we had to pay for these cups. That took us through to time for the final round of the progressive quiz.

Sadly for us, it was all about advertising slogans, and we had an absolute disaster. At the end they announced the top three and we were not one of them. We must have been close to the winning teams, and Deb and I felt we had done quite well.

Back to the cabin for a few minutes, and then it was my last choir rehearsal, and soon after that Deb went for the final Battle of the Sexes. My singing went OK and we would meet up again mid-afternoon for the performance. I was out early so went and watched the Battle’s final few questions. The ladies won but it had been one of the closest competitions they have had on the ship for a long time.

Lunchtime. We sunk to the depths of hot dog and chips, and they were very nice thank-you.

The early afternoon was spent packing and securing the cases and putting them outside for collection. It is a horrible sight to see the corridors full of cases.

It was time for the singing performance.

Our large group of singers filled both sides of the Atrium staircase, and virtually every other part of the Atrium was filled with spectators. I think we sang well, and received wonderful applause from the audience.

I thoroughly enjoy singing and look forward to the January cruise to exercise my vocal chords again.

The afternoon was coming to an end, and there was just time for a quick cup of tea before having our showers. Then it was the last individual quiz where we didn’t do too well, followed by going to the prize giving people to get our reward for three gold stickers. It was yet another pen and key ring set.

Time for the final dinner of our cruise, and we went to the main dining room and shared a table with three other couples. The menu wasn’t spectacular but we found pleasant enough dishes to round off the cruise. The chatter around the table was enjoyable as well.

Now it was the show from the Headliners in the theatre which was one we have seen before, but these boys and girls really give a good version of everything they have done. They are certainly one of the best groups we have ever seen.

From the theatre we walked the length of the ship and whisked ourselves up to the Planet’s Bar for a final glass of wine and listened to the duo playing some rock and roll with videos of USA landmarks behind them.

Without a doubt this has been our favourite drinking place, but we still wish there was somewhere quiet on this ship to sit and chat without music in the background.

It was time for an early bedtime. The last suitcase was put outside the door and our alarm was set for the morning. Azura continued her smooth ride. We have had calm seas, and warm weather throughout, but there have still been people complaining about the ship’s movement. All I can say is that I have not felt uncomfortable, and I am certainly not a good sailor.

Tuesday 9th October – Gibraltar

Overnight Azura sailed south and west towards our final stop at Gibraltar. The sea was calm again and this has really been a cruise with friendly seas.

I woke and made tea at 7:30 as we were just moving sideways to the berth. It was still dark, but within a few minutes the Rock appeared through the gloom. There was a layer of cloud over the top of the familiar cliff, and the deputy captain warned that although it will be warm for our stay, rain showers are predicted.

He was correct. We walked in to Main Street in the dry, but returned (having spent nothing) with our anoraks on as a few showers began.

As usual our stop in Gibraltar was simply to stretch our legs before the final two days at sea towards Southampton.

For lunch we intended to get a hot dog or burger from the take away, but the deck was being used for a barbeque. Not to be beaten we simply had a burger and hotdog from the barbeque options. It was probably not as good as from the takeaway, and we still had to get chips from the takeaway counter.

We spent most of the afternoon sitting on the balcony as Azura left Gibraltar. Our ship made her way out of the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. The weather was perfectly fine by now and no sign of the rain we had this morning. The captain says the sea will be calm with only slight winds for the passage up the coast of Spain.

For dinner we used the buffet again where there was a Great British selection. I thoroughly enjoyed the fish, mushy peas and mash. It would have been chips but they were on a different serving counter and I gave up looking for them.

One of the other dishes available was a ‘Traditional Cornish Pasty’ and I couldn’t resist trying one…

…well, a bit of one

It fell short of most things about a Cornish pasty, and after many years of seeing these on a ship I finally decided to complain about it.

Hopefully the Food and Beverage Manager will get the message that this Cornish foodstuff can only be called Cornish if it is made in Cornwall, and even if they said it was ‘based on a Cornish pasty’, it should at least look like one, and have the correct filling.

This evening we will be going to the Playhouse Theatre for yet a different comedian called Chas Burnett. Once again, we don’t recognise the name, so perhaps yet another new comedian us.

It does appear that the entertainment on this ship is more varied than on the smaller ships, and the acts are not the same old ones we have been seeing for years.

Yes, the comedian was superb and took the Mickie out of teenagers with fat bellies and tattoos who spend too long on their mobiles.

…wonderful

He told jokes and parodied various songs with a guitar. This was a good show, even if it did offend several people…mainly the teenagers!

After the show we struggled our way to the other end of the ship, and up to the Planets Bar for a drink. It was packed once more with people continually arriving to find a seat, and failing. It was too noisy to talk so after our wine was finished, we moved the Glasshouse for a chat over a nightcap before bed.

Azura is beginning the northerly journey back home. The sea is just beginning to suggest a bit of a swell as the ship is pitching. I hope this doesn’t get too much worse.

A Trio of Spanish Ports

Saturday 6th October – Barcelona

We both had another good night’s sleep, and although some of the early docking noises disturbed me, it was 7:30 when I finally got up to make the tea.

It was a dry morning with a bit of cloud, but also a lot of blue sky around, and it promised to be another fine day.

At breakfast up in the buffet we decided that we had seen enough of Barcelona on our many visits here, so Deb and I will enjoy a peaceful ship for the day.

It began with a swim, although the initial dip into the favoured pool brought a shriek from me as it was freezing cold. Fortunately, the other large pool was warm enough for me to breathe. I struggled once again with my shoulder making it difficult to swim front crawl, but breast-stroke was better and I managed a decent few minutes of swimming up and down. When I got out I sat in the morning sunshine watching Deb continue in the water.

Once dry and changed we actually went ashore in the hopes of there being something in the terminal to look at, but there was nothing. We couldn’t even come straight back because the boarding security desks and scanners weren’t open yet. Instead we sat in the sunshine watching the queue of people boarding the shuttle bus. As soon as the gates opened, we returned to Azura.

It was coffee and cake time, before spending half an hour reading our books in the Blue Room. Then we went up on deck and sat in the sunshine until lunchtime.

The buffet beckoned for lunch with just a bowl of soup and a bread roll. We may eat a lot in the evenings, but we are doing quite well as keeping the intake down during the daytime. After our snack we put on our sun worship clothes and spent an hour seriously soaking up the golden rays. It was occasionally a bit cloudy but still perfectly enjoyable.

The harbour is a busy and noisy place, and back in the cabin we were thrilled by the view from our balcony of yellow cranes stacking containers on a ship. As well as the roar of the cranes there was a constant ringing of alarms as vehicles moved back and forth. You can guess that our cabin is not on the interesting side today.

Late in the afternoon, the MSC ship that had been parked behind us left the port. They sailed by us with horns blaring, and hundreds of passengers waving goodbye to us as they passed by very closely. This MSC block of flats is very new and appeared of a similar height to Azura, but it was seriously shorter than our block of flats.

After a basic evening meal in the buffet, Deb and I found a good central spot to sit in Manhattans for the comedy show from Rudy West. We had a long wait but it was worth it. Rudy West is a comic that is on the adult side. He describes his act as topical, and observational. This means he tells stories and jokes about cruising. A lot of it covers toilet flushing, or cabin stewards being quick to pounce on an empty cabin, but he did move on to a more topical theme of everyone getting lost on Azura, and the mysteries of the lifts.

After a few minutes of cruise related stories, he moved towards far more adult material, talking about getting drunk and coming home late to a domineering wife.

He got a lot of laughs, although the material was probably a little extreme for the children in the room, but he never swore, and kept it innuendo descriptions, when grown up topics were included.

We enjoyed it.

When that show ended we went to the other end of the ship for the Headliners performing their new show called ‘Astonishing’.
Before we went into the theatre we took a few minutes to watch sail-away out on Promenade deck. It is so different leaving in the dark.

The theatre doors were not opened until 10:00 for the 10:30 performance and the queue was good humoured. The venue was virtually full by the start time, and I think almost everybody enjoyed it, and were amazed by the magic tricks.

This new show is going to be very special, but I wonder if it can be performed on all the ships, and I suspect that repeatedly seeing it will quickly make it become boring as it will be the same each time.
If I had any say on the matter, I would suggest this moves between different cruise fleets to allow a wider audience to see it, rather than becoming ‘just one more repeated show’ for P&O passengers.

When we came out of the theatre, we went up to the buffet once more to have a late-night cup of hot chocolate to round off the evening. Then it was time for bed as Azura sailed slowly southwards to tomorrow’s stop on the island of Ibiza.

Sunday 7th October – Ibiza

I was awake and ready to get up at 7:15 to make the tea. It was not as good a night’s sleep as the last two nights.

The weather appeared OK but there were some black clouds overhead as we docked.

After breakfast we enquired at the Future Cruises desk about a possible cruise in 2020 going to the USA and Canada.
I also needed to go to reception to see if anyone has found my reading glasses which I believe I forgot to pick up in the restaurant. Sadly the lost property box proved unsuccessful.

Being Sunday we realised that Ibiza will not be very active, so we waited until 10:00 before catching the shuttle bus. Our docking position is the furthest possible point from the Old Town area, so walking was not even considered today. I know this is a major holiday resort, but I was shocked at just how many of the buildings we passed were hotels and apartment blocks. When we got into the commercial area of the port it then changed to cafes, bars, and tourist shops as well as the ferry tickets offices and water-sport businesses.

I am sorry but Ibiza does not appeal.

We strolled on from the shuttle drop off point to the Old Town area which was s a pleasant break from the tourist shops. We climbed the narrow steep road up quite a way to get some wonderful views and photo opportunities. Sadly my knee began to complain before we reached the top, so we started the return journey. On the way back along the harbour front we looked at a lot of shops that were now opening but although we were looking for a few things, the only money we spent was on a fridge magnet.

Deb noticed that one outlet was called the Submarine Shop, which sounds like a business with a very narrow field of customers, but when we returned to the ship we actually saw a real submarine leaving the harbour. Obviously they had a good morning for sales….

… or perhaps it was just on a test drive

For lunch Deb and I had a slice (two actually) of pizza from the deck side outlet and then prepared ourselves for a few minutes in the sunshine. Sadly, it had become quite windy as the morning progressed and it was difficult to find a quiet sheltered spot. We gave up after half an hour and went indoors.

The entertainment choices tonight are a Bruno Mars tribute act by Jeff Dingle in the Manhattan Lounge, or Jimmy James in the theatre.
I think we will pass on these.

Having tired of Freedom Dining, and not been impressed with the evening buffet food, our plans were to eat in the Beach house again. At least we get good food, and good service there.

Well, the Beach House was as good as always, but on this ship, the restaurant is fully inside, and when someone has a ‘Sizzler’ or ‘Lava Rock Steak’, everyone has to savour the smoky smell of their food. The waiters appear from the cooking area with the sizzling smoky trays, and their faces are screwed up as they try and avoid breathing in the cooking smoke.

After our meal we had three quarters of an hour up in the Planet’s Bar. Our wine was savoured as we chatted and watched the video wall show various amazing places throughout Europe. It is very pleasant to see so many places we have visited, during our travels.
Our only other activity of the evening was the late-night Syndicate Quiz. I think this will be the last one of this cruise. There are only four or five teams each night, and although we have won it twice, there is one team who have won all the rest. Deb and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge, but perhaps we are becoming uncomfortable with some of the people we sit with.

Azura is now gently and slowly making her way southwards and westwards to our final Spanish stop in the port of Cartagena tomorrow morning.

Monday 8th October – Cartagena

It was only just becoming light as Azura completed her docking manoeuvres. It was dry and about 20°C and as the light improved we could see a cloudy sky, but with lots of clear bits.

Our breakfast was a short visit to the buffet. I had a fruit salad and a piece of toast, and Deb had a bowl of porridge followed by a croissant. This is typical of our start to the days during the cruise.
Back in the cabin we enjoyed the view of the city for a while. From the balcony we have a clear view of the terminal area below us, with hundreds of yachts on either side of a wide boulevard style pedestrian walkway. The terminal buildings are a series of obscure shaped blocks with roofs of different shades of blue and white tiles. One of these blocks is the security gatehouse, while the others are simply shelters for passengers to get some shade from the sun, or from rain.

Further to the right is a large building which is the local Yacht Club.
Immediately outside of the terminal gate is a tourist information booth for maps and advice.

The tree lined boulevard is about 25 metres wide and makes a pleasant change from some of the walkways we have encountered around the world. It is probably nearly 150 metres long before it meets the main walkway going along the waterfront, and this is again about 25 metre wide, and vehicle free.

Across a quite busy road from there is the city itself with the majority of the frontages a creamy grey colour. Apart from the odd one or two, nothing appears to be higher than eight to ten stories. Behind these buildings we can see a tree lined hill that is the old fortress and parkland area. To one side is the new amphitheatre and we know from our map, that just to the side of this is the old Roman Amphitheatre that we intended to go and look at.

We were on our way before 10:00, and began with a walk to the shopping area a couple of hundred metres to the left down the harbour-side boulevard. We spotted possible shops for souvenirs later, and cafes for a rest after our walk up the hill. Sadly, museums are closed on Mondays so our choices were limited, but after some 20 minutes of steep hills and steps we got our view of the old Roman amphitheatre. It was worth the uphill struggle. From there we continued up to the old fort area that gave us lovely views over Cartagena and the enormous Azura dominating the waterfront. From this viewpoint we could also look down on the modern amphitheatre with backs on the seats, and a more modern stage for concerts.

We didn’t go any higher up the hill as my arthritic legs suggested it was time to get down to the shops. Our shopping list consisted of coke, chocolate and Gaviscon.

… interesting mix

Then it was coffee and more Churros. For those unfamiliar with these Spanish snacks, they are made from a doughnut mix that is squeezed out of a machine in lengths about 2cm in diameter and fried. Most people shake or dip them in sugar before eating, but the café we sat at also offered a hot chocolate dip for the fearless.

We sat and chatted to three lady passengers from Azura who went for the full chocolate dip treat. They asked me to take a photo of them, but just as I was about to take the shot, one of the ladies threw a cup of coffee all over her dress.

There was chaos for a few minutes.

Eventually with her dress partially dried enough to continue, the photographs were taken and we left them to their day ashore. We returned (via a fridge magnet shop) to the ship.

Lunch was just a bowl of soup, and then Deb and I relaxed on the balcony watching the passengers come and go while we listened to someone playing Spanish music on a guitar. We had no idea where the musician was, but the music was very enjoyable.

After looking at the dinner menus, we decided to eat up in the buffet this evening. The Freedom dining option is not for us. We will go there on the last formal night, but will probably avoid the main dining room on the other nights.

It was time for the individual quiz and we had already dressed for the evening as we had the Loyalty cocktail party at 6:00.

Three people scored 17/20 in the quiz including Deb…..and ME! In the tie-break two people got the same answer, and one of them was me again. We were both award a prize. Finally, I have managed to beat Deb and added a gold sticker to her card.

After that we went and queued to get into the Loyalty party in Manhattans. By accident we were waiting at the door where the captain was having photographs, so we now have two photos that we won’t buy. The first was the Loyalty lunch, and now this one with Captain Paul Brown. Sadly, we didn’t win the raffle for the photo album.

Actually we were quite happy with not winning something we would never use.

Deb and I chatted to a young officer, and drank a few glasses of fizz before the party came to an end.

The buffet beckoned for an Indian themed evening meal which Deb enjoyed while I took the boring choice of a gammon steak, although I did have Mulligatawny soup and a samosa.

… I know how to live dangerously

Our dinner was shared with another couple who we chatted with for quite a while about World Cruises and sizes of ships.

The next stop was the Playhouse Theatre for the Headliners show called ‘Electric Avenue’. It featured music from the 80’s and was yet another truly spectacular show from this group of performers. They really are very good.

To round off the evening we went to the Planet’s Bar for a last drink while listening to the ‘High Tides’ duo performing a Rock and Roll set. The background video walls were showing tourist hot spots in India. Planets is always full at this time of the evening, proving to be a popular venue whoever is playing the music.

There was also a Deck Party tonight, but an announcement came on the PA to say that it was raining, so the party was being moved to Manhattans.

Typical really, this is the first time it has rained for the cruise.
We glanced in Manhattans on the way to bed and is was quite popular in there, but we had done enough for the day, and our books and pillows were waiting for us.

Friday 5th October – Sea Day

Success!

We woke up at just before 8:00 after a wonderful night’s rest.

Deb and I had breakfast in the buffet again, but only a slice of toast with a cup of tea. We have eaten enough over the last few days.

After food we both went to the gym. That was followed by the progressive quiz where we had an absolute mare of a morning with geography themed questions.

Coffee and cake refreshed our empty tums in time to rest for a moment, before it was my choir session, and Deb’s Battle of the Sexes.

Lunch consisted of a sandwich for me, and barbequed chicken for Deb.

… Oops, I apologise for forgetting to mention the bowls of chips we also had

The sun was shining and it was hot, but on the open decks a cool breeze was making it quite pleasant, so we lay under the golden globe for almost an hour.

It is a formal night so we will be sorting out the posh clothes for later. In the meantime we had a cup of tea, (plus a couple of sausage rolls) and then returned to the COOL cabin to relax and read.

Dinner was not special with nothing on the menu standing out to say “Eat Me”. At least the service was fast and we were out of the restaurant by 7:00 in plenty of time to get a good spot in the theatre for the show. In fact we were so early that we had a few minutes in the cabin first.

Well, the show was superb. A duo called ‘Livewire’ played guitar and violin, with a set that was Celtic based, but included a range of songs and tunes that suited the instruments. As a real treat for us, the finale was the spectacular Riverdance and we left the theatre totally amazed.

Look out for this act if you want to enjoy 45 minutes of good music.

After the show we made our way up to the Planets Bar for a glass of wine and chatter about the show, and about Azura. Perhaps I am softening to her a little, but the number of people is still making me feel uncomfortable.

The evening was rounded off with our team winning the Syndicate Quiz. We are not sure if we will get together tomorrow evening because there are two shows that most of us want to watch. We will have to delay drinking our bottle of white wine for a night.

Our ship is still enjoying calm waters, and Azura is purring smoothly northwards for our stop tomorrow in Barcelona. There was just time for a read before switching off the lights, and sink into sleepy land again.

Lisbon and Cadiz

Wednesday 3rd October – Lisbon
I slept well, although perhaps a bit fitfully at times, but woke suddenly as we passed under the noisy bridge over the Tagus River. Called 25th April Bridge its road surface roars as the vehicles drive over it making a buzzing sound like a gigantic swarm of bees. We first heard it in 2000 on our first cruise aboard Oriana when Lisbon was the first stop of the cruise, and the beautiful city has a sweet spot in our hearts.

It was just after 7:00 by then, and although I managed to doze again for a few minutes, it was soon time for the morning cuppa and pills. Once again, the skies were clear and blue, and it was pleasantly warm with the mercury pushing towards the 20°C point.

Deb and I had breakfast up in the buffet, and we were early enough to find a table easily. Azura was alongside the new terminal by now, but not tied up yet. There was a delay as a couple of barges were forced to move, to allow our ship to get to its official mooring point. The captain advised us of the slight delay and told us we were to be joined in Lisbon today by three other large ships.

Behind Azura came the Navigator of the Seas, then Independence of the Seas, and at the old terminal area was the Sapphire Princess. Lisbon was about to be invaded by potentially 12000 + passengers.

… they are going to need a lot of custard tarts!

We started our day with a swim. To be accurate Deb swam, but after trying just a handful of lengths my shoulder made it clear that swimming was not the best thing I could be doing.

I wasn’t happy, as I had been looking forward to swimming.

After that aborted physio-therapy session we got ourselves ready for a look around the city.

We took the shuttle into the city. As we were on a saver fare, the shuttle ride cost us £4 each, and then we remembered that traffic system meant that our bus had to start by going the wrong way. It initially went away from the city centre until it could turn off the main road, before turning back again and re-entering the main road going in the correct direction. Eventually we stopped at the Restoration Square where there was chaos, because of some sort of incident involving police all over the place.

Deb and I were not put off by such simple things as that, and as seasoned cruise passengers, we ignored the slight mayhem and strolled off towards the Black Horse Square.

This was only ever just going to be a walk, but, of course we did include a stop at a street cafe for coffee and Nata cakes.

After that delicious break, we walked back to the ship. It took us 30 minutes, which was just about how long the shuttle took earlier, but it didn’t cost us anything.

After an unhealthy lunch of burger and chips we spent 30 minutes in the hot sunshine. I think we had planned for it to be longer, but it really was very, very, hot.

Back to the cabin, and the balcony. It was still warm, but no sunshine to make it uncomfortable.

We had a view of the busy city, and at about 1:45 I could see a queue of passengers waiting to get into the terminal building, and back onto the ship. The delay was caused by the sheer number of people trying to pass through the security scanners, which were apparently not working very well. That queue was much more than 100 metres and stayed at that level for 30 minutes.

We are trying to be positive, and give Azura a chance to impress us, but the number of passengers is really putting us off.

Deb and I had our dinner in the main dining room and we sat at a table for six. The other couples were chatty, and the waiter was one of the cheeky ones and joked through the service. He also somehow knew all of our names, which was a little strange as we had never been near his station before.

From dinner we simply went up to the Planet’s Bar and watched scenes of Europe on the video screens while we chatted over a glass of wine.

We had no plans this evening to go to the entertainment venues except to take part in a quiz in Brodies. Of course we rounded off the night with the Syndicate Quiz where we had a bit of a disaster coming last.

Our complaints about the air-conditioning don’t appear to have been successful as our cabin is still ridiculously hot. We went to bed without any confidence of a good sleep.
——–
Thursday 4th October – Cadiz
This is another port we have been to on many occasions, but one that is pleasant, and easy, to stroll around.

After breakfast Deb had a swim, and I went to the gym to do my daily knee physio workout. My surgeon recommended I cycle to strengthen my knee so I pedal away for a mile of so and then bring my heart rate back to normal with a five-minute walk on the treadmill.

Is the exercise working, I hear you ask?

I am not really sure, as being away from the routine at home I cannot compare the pain from day to day properly.

Anyway, suitably exercised Deb and I went into the city of Cadiz.
SHOCK HORROR! – There was a big surprise this morning to discover that the eternal flame on the monument in the park near to the dockside… has gone out!

Our 90 minutes in the city included a visit to a supermarket for coke, and shampoo, plus we stopped for coffee and a plate of ‘Churros’. These are strange sweet lengths of fried batter that tasted like doughnuts.

Absolutely delicious.

Back on the ship we had a light lunch of salad and then found a quiet, and shaded spot to relax. We were there for well over an hour simply reading, listening to music, and dozing. It came to an end when the sun had moved enough to shine on Deb’s legs, and that was the cue to return to the cabin.

We complained about the air-conditioning again this morning, and finally there was a suggestion that our cabin was beginning to cool down.

Tonight we had a meal in the Beach House, that we have always enjoyed in the past, and it didn’t disappoint this evening. The only drawback is a lack of outside tables to enjoy a warm evening, and being totally inside, it also meant that the popularity of ‘Sizzler’ dishes and the Lava Rock Steak, meant the room was continually being filled with smoke.

Our meal was early, and this allowed us time to get to the Manhattan Lounge for the early show from comedian Tony Wallace. He will be giving a late-night adult only show tonight, but we had had enough when we came out of the lounge at 9:30. We struggled back through the main street of the ship with hundreds of other passengers. The walk from the back to the front end was made even more difficult tonight with the shops having a corridor sale.

They do this on all the ships, but it is really annoying that they are allowed to create obstructions. Surely if they stock the correct products at suitable prices, they could make their target sales from within the shops rather than having to force people to look at the over-priced ‘stuff’ they try to sell.

We were exhausted from almost a week without proper sleep and went back to the cabin for a read, and an early night.

The cooling appeared to be working at last, and by 10:00 the lights were off, and sleep was just about instant.