All posts by ACEOTT

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.
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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.

Tuesday 2nd October – Sea Day

I didn’t sleep very well again – too hot, and the bed is harder than we are accustomed to.

I made a cup of tea at 7:30, and we sat up in bed with our cuppa and daily pills. Azura was nearing Cape Finisterre to set course south along the coast of Portugal. The sky was clear and blue with the promise of a lovely day at sea.

We had breakfast in the Venetzia buffet where we found an empty table. It was still very busy and I am beginning to think that many of these passengers must camp in the buffet for the day.

After breakfast we went to the gym and got a bit of exercise. I know I have to keep this up to strengthen my leg muscles and ease the pain in my knees. The problem is that I can only manage a few minutes before I begin to make it worse. It was strange cycling and walking at a steady, but quite slow pace, while behind me some sadist was screaming at people to pedal their spin bikes at ridiculous speeds.

With the exercise over we had a cup of coffee (no cakes) and then took our places in Brodies for the progressive quiz. There weren’t as many teams in today as the slightly warmer temperature and sunshine had made some passengers venture outside.

We have the Baltic / Ligurian lunch at midday, so with the quiz over, we went back to the cabin to relax before changing into some tidy casual clothes for our meal.

Our meal was wonderful, with a new menu, and good table companions including the manager of all the cleaners etc. We drank too much wine, but it would have been rude to refuse as we chatted away the time.

With the meal over, we went to a port talk on Ibiza, and I have to apologise for falling asleep almost instantly. Deb was similarly in doze mode, so we didn’t gain very much from the talk. We went back to the cabin and relaxed. I even sat out on the balcony in the glorious hot sunshine, fell asleep, and slightly burnt my face.

Late in the afternoon we showered and dressed in our finery for the Captain’s welcome speech. It was held in the Atrium, so not a very comfortable venue. Rudely we didn’t stay for the speech, and after grabbing a glass of wine set off to dinner. Our waiter was rather surprised with us, as we both simply had a starter followed by a plate of chips. That was more than sufficient after the lunchtime meal.

Our evening began with a trip up to the Planet Bar where the video wall theme was European tourist highlights. We have definitely decided this is our favourite bar.

On the way up towards the lofty bar, we did also investigate the Epicurean Restaurant and took the menu away to consider. At £28.50 each for a cover charge, and rather OTT food choices, I don’t think we will be going there.

Deb and I got to the theatre very early to get a good seat for the Headliners’ show called Curtains Up. I thought we had seen this before, but perhaps it has been updated, as I didn’t recognise it. It was sensational, and the singers in this troupe are superb. The dancers were also good, but I believe the singers make or break these shows.

Suitably entertained, we had a rest in the cabin before going to the late night Syndicate quiz. There were 5 teams tonight and we managed to win on a tie break. There will be a bottle of Rose to drink in tomorrow night’s quiz.

Our beds beckoned. The sea is still calm and Azura is making her way south, for a morning arrival in Lisbon.

Goodnight.

Monday 1st October – Sea Day

The sea was not uncomfortable overnight, but was making the ship move around sufficiently to remind me that we were at sea again. I didn’t sleep beyond fitful dozes and when Deb got up just after 6:30 the daylight was peeping through the curtains After a final attempt to keep my eyes closed, I got up at about 7:15 to make a cup of tea.

Azura was rounding the Brest Peninsula as we approached Biscay and the sea was just a little lumpy, and certainly not causing my stomach or head any issues.

A leisurely wake up was followed by breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant where Deb had the Monday Eggs Benedict special. There were six others on the table, and slowly we began to chatter. After our buffet experience yesterday evening, we could be using the main dining rooms more often than we expected on this cruise.

Once washed and respectable we went and sat in the Blue room.

…after another adventure finding our way around the ship.

We planned to have a read, but a couple asked to sit next to us, and I recognised them as dinner table mates from a cruise 12 months ago. Reading was forgotten, and we chatted about cruises and shared arthritic ailment stories over the last year. They live little more than ten miles from us, and obviously have similar cruise habits.

Quiz time in Brodies, and we did very well.

Next, we tried again with the Costa coffee shop and managed to get served. We bought a 10 for the price of 8 loyalty card and hence realised that the ‘All Inclusive Drinks Package’ is no longer available.

Personally, we are very happy with this.

At midday I went to the choir session, and Deb joined in with the Battle of the Sexes.

Lunchtime, and we had a different battle in the buffet. Total chaos. Nowhere to sit and the salad items were running out.

As we left we checked out the burger, pizza, and ‘Grab and Go’ counters as an alternative lunch option.

This may be unhealthy alternative, but the buffet arrangements are ridiculous.

There was time to relax in the cabin before we challenged ourselves again with a ‘Name that tune’ quiz where once again we did very well, but certainly not up to the winners’ performance.

When we returned to the cabin we had that surprise bonus I mentioned in the first part with the dolphin playing outside our cabin.

As afternoon moved towards dinner, it was time for the first individual quiz, and Deb proved to be far better than me.

…so no change there then

For dinner we went to the Peninsular Restaurant and were almost at the front of the Freedom Dining queue. Deb and I were shown to a table for two, not because we wanted to be unsociable, but because we had the choice.

Let’s just say, the Freedom Dining experience has not convinced me yet.

It was very noticeable that the waiter was getting all the orders from the early arrivals, before actually getting the food. A group of 16 people sitting on five or six different tables, now virtually ate together for starters, main-course and pudding. It took as long for us to eat our dinner as it does in the Club Dining room. We were in the restaurant for an hour and a quarter.

On a positive note, the food was good and the company of the couple to one side of us, was very pleasant.

After eating we took an express lift to the Planet’s Bar for a drink before going to the show. The video screens were showing views of the USA tonight, and a very enjoyable view while we listened to a duo called ‘High Tides’ that were playing through a Reggae set.

The show in the Manhattan Lounge was a comedian called Tony Wallace. We thought we had arrived quite early at 30 minutes before the start time, but we had to search through the unpopular seats, and many struggled to get a decent seat at all.

He started his act slowly, but after a few minutes he had the audience with him, and by the end, it was belly laughs all round.

It was 9:30 when we left Manhattan and the ship’s venues were now packed. We couldn’t find anywhere to sit for a drink on decks 6 or 7. The only place where there were places to sit was in Sindhu. So far we had not seen more than half a dozen tables in use, and now it was shut for the evening with empty tables and chairs crying out to be used.

What a waste of a room.

As a restaurant it is underused, and after it is shut at night it is totally stupid for the room to be deserted.

As we strolled along the main walkway on deck 7, it was like a busy motorway with passengers wandering up and down looking for a place to sit. There were probably two or three hundred people just strolling aimlessly along the carpet.

We went back up to the Planet Bar where there were still a handful of empty tables. High Tides were now singing through some Country music while we sipped our red wine.

Just before 10:30 we set off on another expedition to discover the ‘Karmala’ room where the syndicate quiz was being held. We eventually found it, and prepared for the late-night challenge. Unlike most ships we have been on, this was not very popular with just four teams playing. Deb and I were joined by two other couples and we chatted our way through the quiz for 40 minutes. We did all right but lost by two points.

It was time for bed.

Tomorrow we have the Baltic/Ligurian loyalty lunch to look forward to, followed later by the first of our formal nights.

Azura was purring along at a snail’s pace of 15 knots. The sea was still being kind to us, and although there was a bit of roll, it was quite gentle. By the time we get up in the morning we will be nearing the end of our transit of Biscay.

Our Azura Cruise Begins

Monday afternoon at 2:45, and we have just seen a lone dolphin playing in the sea. We are about a third of the way across Biscay, sailing at a stately 15 knots, and mother nature is being kind to us.

Yesterday, after a typically sleepless night in the Southampton hotel, we had an early taxi to the Mayflower Terminal, and were boarding Azura shortly after midday. There was a little confusion trying to work out just where we were on this giant of a ship, but we soon found the correct restaurant and sat down for a buffet snack and a couple of glasses of fizz. A mother and daughter couple joined us and we chatted about where we were from, plus the usual questions about what cruises we had each done.

By 1:00 the cabins and luggage were ready for us, and having finished our final glass of champagne (ish), Deb and I set about unpacking, and organising our balcony cabin for the next 12 nights.

The cabin was perfectly adequate, and the door-less wardrobe area is a real bonus compared to the usual cupboard style. I think the only drawback of our decision to have a low-price cabin was the small bathroom with a bijou shower cubicle.

With clothes and bits stored away, we set off to explore the ship, and being used to the smaller vessels, this became a real challenge. With 18 decks Azura is big and we managed to get slightly lost on several occasions as we looked at the various bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

This cruise is going to be quite a challenge for the first few days!

Slightly confused, we returned to the cabin and relaxed until Muster time. Our collection point was the main theatre and our first opportunity to work out suitable places to sit for the shows. With the theatre virtually full, Captain Paul Brown made his first announcement, before we all practised putting on our lifebelts.

Exiting the theatre was not easy, with little or no organised method of getting 600 or so people out through the various exits. Luckily there was no hurry and few people seemed to be outwardly showing any frustration.

We didn’t bother with the deck sail-away party, but simply watched from our starboard side cabin as the sea began to move. The captain announced that the weather was going to be kind to us, with light winds that would be behind us by the time we get to Biscay, and just a couple of metre swell.

I rarely find the first night at sea very pleasant, and ignoring the captain’s positive weather forecast, I took my precautionary sea-sickness pills.

It was time for a shower, and a fresh set of clothes before Deb and I went to dinner in the Venezia buffet. Officially we are on Freedom dining in the Peninsular restaurant, but we decided to go to the buffet to give us a little more time for the evening entertainment.

OK, so we weren’t in the buffet at its opening time, but it was busy, and the servery layout is chaotic. It is only a small area with two identical sections, from two ways in, and a middle way out that quickly doubled as a third way in. It was solid with people walking in uncontrolled directions back and forth looking and selecting food. Somehow people missed a counter from one end, perhaps with the salad choices, and then crushed into the queue of people coming in the other direction creating mayhem in the very compact space.

By the time we had got back to our table, the decision was made to avoid dinner here again, if at all possible.

The food was fine, but the experience was not pleasant.

We also noticed that while most people complied with the dress code in tidy clothes for dinner, many remained in scruffy daytime clothes with men in shorts, tee shirts and trainers. We were joined at our table by another couple, and they expressed similar thoughts about the way the type of passenger has changed over the last ten years, and perhaps not for the better.

This is of course a personal view, and everyone is entitled to their own way of enjoying their holidays. But cruising with P&O really is so different compared to how we discovered it.

Our evening entertainment began with a drink up in the lofty Planets Bar which is superb with the wall screens showing video clips of places around Australia. Next it was a quiz in Brodies – once we had found it again – followed by the welcome on board show in the Playhouse theatre. We were late getting there and had to sit in the lower area of the theatre and virtually at the front.

This was not a good idea as the bottom half of the legs of those on the stage were obscured. We will take care to avoid these seats for the remainder of the cruise.

When we left the theatre, we planned to have a cup of hot chocolate in the Atrium, but after waiting almost 15 minutes to get served we left in disgust. That was just as the waiter came to us of course, and we made it very clear that it was far to late by then.

We had tea in the cabin, and an early night.