Category Archives: George’s Blog

Tregenna Castle Hotel – St Ives

On the North coast of Cornwall less than 40 miles from Lands End is the beautiful small town (or village) of St. Ives. It is one of those popular tourist spots where visitors revel in the narrow streets and on the sea front overlooking the harbour with colourful fishing boats, and golden sand when the tide is out.

High up on the hill above the town is the Tregenna Castle Hotel which has become one of our favoured places to stay when we visit the county. We have just had our fourth break at this hotel, and we enjoyed it again.

Let’s begin my overview of this hotel by confirming that it is in no way a typical castle with a moat, drawbridge, or turrets. It is however a superb Grade 2 Listed building.

Built in 1774 it was the family home of a wealthy local man called Samuel Stephens. It began with just 12 bedrooms and sat in an estate of 72 acres overlooking the Bay of St. Ives. During the 19th century it was extended and eventually bought by another local family called the Bolithos.

This was the beginning of its life as a hotel, and as the decades have passed, it has grown further and now boasts 84 bedrooms, with an 18 hole golf course, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and features delightful woodland walks.

The granite built building means bedrooms are large, and the sound insulation between rooms is really good. There is a choice of rooms, some with less than spectacular views, others with woodland views, and finally the top of the range sea-view ones.

Our first visit was many years ago when I returned to Cornwall for a reunion party for past workers at Goonhilly Earth Station. We had a quite basic room then, but were so impressed with what we got for our money, and the standard of service, that we came back again. Since then we have splashed out on a sea view room, and the extra cost is worth it for a chance to stare down over the golf course and woods to the town which is almost surrounded by the sea.

OK, to the nitty gritty.

As I said, the rooms are large with bathrooms that are enormous. Our bedroom was made up with twin beds, but they are flexible, and could have been moved into queen format to suit your preference. As a guide to the room size, there was in the region of five feet to either side of the bed, and more at the foot of the bed, with a settee and single armchair to relax and watch the large wall mounted television.

The wardrobe was a built in, and consisted of two double areas with serious amounts of space for clothing. To one side of the bed was a good sized dressing table that had the kettle and tea tray. On the other side of the bed were two almost floor to ceiling sash windows to make the most of the views.

Our bathroom had obviously been modernised recently with a bath long enough, and deep enough, to drown in. It had a large sink and perfectly adequate toilet.

There was an annexe next to the bathroom to hang coats and store suitcases.

The hotel bedrooms are spread over three floors, and there are wide staircases, and a lift between the floors. Because the building is old, the staircases are creaky, but I feel that is a part of the character expected of Grade 2 listed hotel.

If you want something a little different to the standard bedroom, the site has a number of smaller cottage style units, and large alpine style lodges that are available for self catering. Many of the lodges are privately owned and offered to the public when available. They are also currently building new lodges if you fancy a holiday home in Cornwall.

Turning now to exercise opportunities. Neither of us are golfers, and we have never used the large outside swimming pool as our visits have always been out of season, but the indoor pool has been used several times. It is adequately long enough to give your heart a bit of exercise, and it was usually quiet on our visits. The pool complex also has a steam room and sauna plus a reception desk where you can get towels (50p) for your swim, and the lockers in the changing rooms were free. There is also a spa/beauty salon for a those wanting a bit of pampering.

Of course it is good fun to include a walk down through the woods to the town for a look around. There are plenty of shops selling traditional Cornish Pasties, and tasty ice-cream. Even away from the main season there are tourist shops for a souvenir as well.

Just be careful of the sea-gulls. They are scavengers, so don’t feed them! They already attack visitors to grab ice-creams or other unguarded  food.

Back at the hotel, apart from bedrooms, there is a long main corridor with reception, brasserie, lounge bar, lots of comfortable casual seating and two more formal restaurant areas. The smaller of these was not in use on this visit, but we took our breakfast in the large one. It is huge, and able to cater for a full hotel of guests. For those considering a venue, the hotel will perform weddings, and this room is perfect for receptions, or anyone wanting to host dances.

The breakfast choice was wide with a full range of cold and hot food. The majority is laid out as a buffet but some things could be ordered from the waiting staff, including porridge.

We also ate one evening in the brasserie, where the menu has steaks, burgers, pizzas, plus popular favourites and local fish dishes. The food was not cheap, but the quality was good, and the service efficient and friendly.

Outside, as well as the golf course, there are several perfect spots for wedding ceremonies and photo opportunities. Or you could just sit on the benches and make the most of the tranquillity and warm sunshine.

Ok, so there must be some bad points, but there are not many things that annoyed or upset me.

  • The creaky stairs and bedroom floors will certainly upset some people.
  • There is adequate parking, but it is a bit of a trek over rough areas to drag suitcases, and at night the external lighting isn’t brilliant.
  • It is an old building, and one weakness is the plumbing with very low water pressure in the rooms we have been in. The huge bath took a long time to fill, but hot water was always available.
  • The bedroom windows might be a little heavy for some people to open and close, and only allow a limited opening. This is a standard issue now with Health and Safety restrictions for hotel windows.
  • And I wish they wouldn’t try to save money with cheap toilet paper.

These weaknesses are not serious, and overall I believe the Tregenna Castle is a really comfortable good quality hotel with lots of character.

So if you fancy something a bit special, rather than a standard corporate hotel chain, or bijou hotel, then I recommend the Tregenna Castle. As well as a superb location, it has a choice of large and comfortable bedrooms, good food, and lots of extras.

Finally a suggestion for anyone planning to go there. After you have checked prices or offers with online comparison sites, and with the hotel’s own web site, make a final phone call direct to the hotel and ask for a price. We have regularly got a better deal with the reception staff.

Of course, I must warn you that this revue is based on my personal views.
As accurate as I try to be, it may not always reflect the thoughts of other people, and actual experiences can be different from one occasion to another.

St. Ives – Part 3

After breakfast on our third day at the Tregenna Castle Hotel we sat with our tablets to catch up on the news for a while. It allowed the hotel to wake up, and for us to digest our morning meal.

At about 9:30 we set off for the village of Tregony to the east of Truro. It was getting a little critical to find some petrol on the way as the alarm was bleeping to us. We tried one petrol station just after we began our journey, but they were charging ridiculous prices. Fortunately our route passed by Sainsburys in Truro where the prices were similar to those at home.

Fifteen minutes early we arrived at the Retirement Village in Tregony, and after a welcoming cup of coffee we spent an hour looking around the site, and some of the apartments available to buy.

Deb and I had no intention of going beyond looking and see what a typical retirement village looks like, so we weren’t having any kind of hard sell tactics.

Anyway to spare the detail, we were suitably impressed with the site and the facilities. The apartments we saw were very pleasant and perhaps surprised us with what we could expect for our money. This village is unusual as it also has a nursing home, and a respite centre as well as the apartments. Hence it can deal with changing circumstances from the fully able, through to end of life situations.

We came away with a bundle of information to consider over the next few months, and maybe we will look at some other sites to compare what is on offer.

From Tregony we retraced our journey to Truro, and as it was well after midday by now, we stopped for a snack in Sainsburys.

Our last stop of the day was in Matalan to look for some new clothes, and while I couldn’t find anything interesting, Deb came away with a few bits for her wardrobe.

Back at the hotel Deb had a swim. I couldn’t face it with my legs still complaining about the walking we have done this week, and especially the climb up from the village of St. Ives to our hotel that is high up above it.

After Deb had returned, and woken me up, she had a shower, and then I lay in the bath. The room has a huge bathroom, and an enormous bath tub that allows me to lie virtually flat in the water with room to roll around. The problem of course is waiting for the water to fill it.

It is our last night of our break, and we are eating in the hotel this evening. A part of the deal we purchased is a bottle of wine with our meal, so tonight we can both drink as we eat.

Well, the meal was delicious. We both had pizza and mine was crispy duck and various oriental flavours, whilst Deb’s was BBQ chicken. For desserts we both had sticky toffee pudding, and once again absolutely lovely. Our free bottle of wine was only a House Red but it went down very smoothly.

From dinner we returned to our room, and the packing was begun. It was just dumping in the basics into the cases before we finish it properly in the morning. Then it was time to lay on the bed and let our stomachs recover after a really nice meal. I am sure there will be something on the TV to watch.

Maybe we will go and have a final drink later.

St. Ives visit part 2

After a reasonable night’s sleep (not brilliant) we were up and having breakfast by just after 8:00. The hotel offers a good breakfast choice, and we found plenty to top us up for the day to come.

Mid-morning we set off towards Cury to take some flowers to my parents’ grave. They were only a couple of bunches from a supermarket but we do our best to pay respect whenever we visit the area. The quiet graveyard is the resting place for many of my family, but mainly those on my mother’s side.

From Cury we set off across country to get to where I worked for over 20 years. This was Goonhilly Earth Station and although closed to the public there is a nature walk path around the site that allowed me to get near to the antenna where satellite communications began in this country.

It is so sad now that the once busy site is no longer doing what I experienced, but at least it appears to have a new role in space communications, so at least some of the history is preserved.

With a few photos to remind me of the day we drove back to Helston for yet another nostalgic walk around the town that was where I grew up. Once again I was sad to see what was a vibrant market town as a child, with crowded streets and shoppers bustling from shop to shop, but which is becoming run down like so many others in this country. Now it is typical of many towns with an abundance of charity shops, estate agents and small businesses that will rarely stay solvent for very long.

We did spend 15 minutes looking around the museum, but soon gave up on the town and made our way back towards St Ives.

For lunch we stopped at a Wyevale Garden Centre to get a snack. It was packed, and we realised it was Wednesday with the over 60s lunch special. They even had a sign up warning there was a 30 minute delay for food orders.

We were in no rush.

Back at the hotel before 3:00 we changed into scruff and went to the pool for a swim. The pool has very warm water, and this creates a foggy atmosphere in the conservatory style room. I worked my legs and shoulder quite hard, and I came away with quite an achy shoulder, and tired slightly cramped legs.

It was time for a relax now before we go out again later. Tonight we are meeting up with my brothers at the same chain of restaurants as last night. I already have an idea of what I will order.

My turn to drive tonight so that Deb can have a drink with my sister in law (Joyce) who enjoys having Deb around as an excuse for a few extra glasses of wine.

It was a lovely evening with the three brothers and our wives catching up on the family gossip. As expected, the menu was the same as last night, although in a physically different layout. I think we all enjoyed what we chose, and a special offer code reduced the bill considerably. The waitress worked really hard for us, and deserved the tip.

Back at the hotel by about 9:30 we had a final glass of wine before climbing the creaky stairs to our room on the second floor. All being well we will get a good night’s sleep before a busy day tomorrow.

Our plans include a visit to a retirement village on the outskirts of Truro. This doesn’t mean we are ready for that style of living yet, but a chance to find out what they are like, and the pros and cons.

Ice Cream pirates and a Reunion

Deb and I arrived at the Tregenna Castle hotel in St Ives early in the afternoon. We were far too early to check in, so quickly set off down the hillside walk through the woods of this lovely hotel towards the beautiful fishing village. By the time we reached the road, I had cramp in my legs but it wasn’t going to stop me looking around St Ives.

It was out of season, but there were still quite a good number of tourists investigating the seafront and staring out over the sandy beach at the sea. It as if they were mesmerised by the scene. Once full of this view they wandered into the narrow streets and the numerous tourist shops that were still open and attempting to tempt people to buy a picture, or a bit of pottery to remind them of a day in this quite special Cornish village.

Of course most people had a pasty, or an ice-cream, and we were no different. The pasty was delicious as we sat on a bench and watched the harbour activities. The ice-cream however was not so good. It tasted delicious, but in that mesmerised state I mentioned earlier, Deb was caught out by a seagull that swooped down over my shoulder and put its claws into her salted caramel ice-cream. The  screeching seagull never won its trophy, but Deb missed out on the sweet delight and binned the remainder.

She was just one of the hundreds, or possibly thousands, that get mugged by the flying blaggards.

Annoyed, but satisfied with our visit, we climbed back up the hillside streets and then through the woods to the hotel. After sitting and dozing with our books (perhaps the dozing was just me) the bedroom was ready and we unpacked for our short stay.

The room was huge and had a view out over the sea and the village below. We had been in a similar room twice before, and knew just how wonderful the view would be.

The evening was approaching, and after quick baths in the huge swimming pool of a bath, we got ready to drive to Helston where we would be meeting up with some of my childhood friends.

There was seven of us, and I was taken back to the first half of my life with Perry, John, Keith and two of their wives. Deb and I laughed the evening away with stories, memories, and simple observations about our lives. In the 25 years Deb and I have been away, so much has changed but the four of us who grew up together were just the same. Yes there were a few medical issues that have got to us, and a few new parts in our legs, but we hadn’t really changed, and we all had a good head of hair still.

We eventually got up to go, with the restaurant virtually empty, and out in the car park we said our goodbyes. Hopefully we will meet up again soon, and perhaps a few others will come along as well.

Thanks to you all for a fantastic evening.

Early Morning Gardening Session

I was dressed in my scruffs this morning, and out in the garden before 9:00. It was dry so I dug over the last little bit of the vegetable patch. The patch was a small raised area with wood planks around it. It was used for root vegetables from seed, and could be covered to protect the crop from the pesky carrot fly, and slugs. We have been eating some delicious carrots for a few weeks, but now empty of veg, the little patch grew a terrific crop of perennial weeds.

Anyway, it is dug over now and ready to rest until next spring.

This was the first serious time in the garden for two or three weeks. The wind, rain, and decidedly cooler temperatures meant outside work had been abandoned. But when I was out there last, I dug over two borders where I had soft fruit bushes and rhubarb. When cleared and flat, I decided to experiment and sprinkled some grass seed in the hope that it might grow over the winter. I was not confident, especially with the way the weather went, but this morning I could see the little green spikes of grass.

With confidence boosted I decided to experiment further, and turned my attention to the raspberry bushes.

Next year’s canes have already grown and are waving around above the highest of my support wires. Rather than cut the tops off, I decided to bend the shoots over and wrapped them horizontally around the wires as if they were apple or peak cordons. I have no idea if this will be successful, but it is better than letting the wind snap the shuts.

I was outside for about 30 minutes, and then my body screamed at me to stop being physical, and go inside.

Even with the cool temperatures outside, I was sweating from the digging so it was time to change my clothes, but first I leapt onto my trusty exercise bike to give my knees a workout.

Over the last fortnight I have pushed my routine up to ten minutes, and includes a period of heavy loading, and sprints. Today I managed four kilometres (according to the computer) and burnt off 60 calories. I doubt if the computer is very accurate, but I can confirm I was breathing very hard, and my pulse was beating at quite a fast disco rate.

Time for fresh clothes and a cup of coffee. As I sat and relaxed, I checked my blood pressure, and the measurement confirmed I was alive, and reasonably healthy.

The exercise bike is actually having quite a positive effect on my fitness, and the knee is certainly feeling better…

… or maybe that could be the new pain killers

Tuesday 6th November

It is five days on from the steroid injection in my shoulder.

The initial local anaesthetic has worn off, and the stiffness from the bruising seems to be going away as well. So now I am at the point where the steroid ‘gunk’ squeezed into my shoulder can begin reducing the inflammation and hopefully make my shoulder pain free, or at least better.

I have been careful not to do anything strenuous, or lifting things, and I am perhaps just beginning to notice an improvement. My problem of course, is that when I stop being careful, and begin using my arm properly again, will it continue to improve.

As well as the injection, I also had new painkillers from my doctor. Once again, without being over excited, they do appear to be making me feel more comfortable, and without side effects.

Other news is that we survived having our daughter and grandson visiting us. He is a lovely little man, and growing physically, and loving his school. He no longer needs to be supervised when going up stairs, and managed to survive the visit without banging into anything, or injuring himself.

Goodness he is boisterous though!

He enjoyed himself with different toys to play with, and didn’t need constant attention, and continual input from us with his games. We could sit and do our own thing for most of the time while listening to his chatter and laughing at his fun and games.

When they left on Saturday afternoon, it was sad to see them go, but Deb and I did collapse from exhaustion…probably mental exhaustion.

I am getting to the end of my patience with the coverage of Brexit. It really seems as if every television news reader, political correspondent, or guest pundit, is predicting mayhem and Armageddon after we leave the EU. They also make the public aware that virtually every piece of bad news is because of Brexit.

Maybe if it does prove to be a shambles, and Britain becomes a third world country, our children will blame their parents for voting to leave the EU. But perhaps it will turn out alright, and the sky doesn’t fall on us, we still get sufficient food, and there are sufficient medicines to survive.

Will those TV presenters, political analysts, correspondents, and pundits then apologise to our children?

Physical and Mental Pain

I went to see my doctor on Tuesday. It was to bring him up to date about the pain and aches in my knee. He had a report from the hospital surgical team so he could see what I was talking about. I have accepted that I am not going to have a replacement knee because it is not worn or damaged seriously enough at present, but I am still in pain, and need some form of relief.

My doctor was sympathetic and explained that my knee is wearing out, and cannot be repaired, but I do not tick all the boxes on the criteria used by the NHS to warrant a replacement joint. If I was to go to my doctor with a similarly worn out knee in 10 years-time, I would be on a waiting list.

The problem I have is that a replacement knee might last around 10 years before possibly needing to be replaced again. That second operation is extremely problematic, and the outcome can sometimes be worse than before the operation. Fair enough, I understand the situation and will struggle on, but I do need some pain relief.

We chatted about the possible pain killers available. I struggle with traditional anti-inflammatory drugs because they upset my stomach. The next level is co-codamol that I have tried for a couple of years, but they seriously upset my digestive system in another way. My GP suggested I try another similar drug to co-codamol that might be less of a pain in the backside (so to speak).

So, I thanked him and went home with a little bag of new drugs to try out. My doctor assured me he would do his best to give me a method of pain relief before we go on holiday in January.

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Turning to the mental pain, I had the first comment left on the book reviews for my latest book.

Sadly, the reader did not like it, and gave some quite negative feedback. To sum it up, the book is boring, repetitive, has bad grammar and has put them off ocean cruising for life.

Ouch!

I accept the feedback, but it did make me feel quite sad for a few hours while I considered if I should give up writing.

As far as the material is concerned, I have had vast amounts of positive feedback about the book from the forum pages, so obviously this reader is of a different mind-set. Concerning the grammar, I apologise but I write as I think and my mind does struggle with grammar. In school I was one of those people that could not come to term with adjectives, adverbs, commas and apostrophes. I believe my thinking process is similarly untrained and I ignore grammatical niceties that I don’t understand. Punctuation is based on the first thing I was taught, that when you run out of breath reading some text, it is time for a comma or a full stop.

Anyway, I will continue writing, as I enjoy doing it, and slowly I am coming to terms with certain aspects of grammar that I never understood in school. Unfortunately trying to use Google to decide if I should use a colon or semi-colon, and just how many commas I should use, is not very successful. I will leave it to my readers to decide for themselves if my books are enjoyable enough to purchase.

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Finally, today was another physically painful day. I went to see my physiotherapist for a pain killing injection in my shoulder. This is the last resort, and I considered long and hard about having it done, but I really would like some relief.

The initial medical history check was going well until she asked if I had had any ‘live vaccine’ injections. Well, yes I have, as the yellow fever vaccination is a live one. She was unsure what to do, and initially went to check with a doctor, who did not know if I should have the injection. The steroid injection weakens the body’s immune system, and potentially it could actually give me yellow fever. The physiotherapist then turned to the bible of information…

… Google!

Apparently my situation can be a problem, but as my yellow fever jab was more than a fortnight ago, I will be alright.

With my arm exposed she began the ‘sharp scratch’ procedure. Unfortunately her first target point for the injection did not allow the needle to go in sufficiently, so she had to pick another place for a second ‘sharp scratch’. Much later than expected I was allowed to leave the surgery with two injection wounds, a should of steroid gunk, and the promise of a painful arm in a few hours-time.

I can put up with the immediate pain in the knowledge that I might have long term relief in this joint.

Quite an interesting week so far.

As well as trips to the doctor’s surgery, and considering my future as a writer, I have managed to complete the garage insulation project to a point where I am satisfied for now. We also have our daughter coming to see us tomorrow with our grandson.

Winter certainly arrived this week with our first frosty mornings. I can’t complain though, as we have had a superb summer. If only we could be confident of a summer like that every year…

… but if that was the case, it just wouldn’t be Britain!

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.