Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)
Ship: 399 out of 500
Accommodation: 154 out of 200
Food: 249 out of 400
Service: 287 out of 400
Entertainment: 77 out of 100
Cruise: 301 out of 400
Overall Score: 1467 out of 2000
Size: Large Resort Ship
Cruise Line: P&O Cruises
Former Names: none
IMO Number: 9424883
Builder: Fincantieri (Italy)
Original Cost: €535 million
Entered Service: Apr 2010
Length (ft/m): 951.4/290.0
Beam (ft/m): 118.1/36.0
Draft (ft/m): 27.8/8.5
Propulsion/Propellers: diesel-electric (42,000kW)/2
Passenger Decks: 14
Total Crew: 1,239
Passengers (lower beds): 3,096
Passenger Space Ratio (lower beds): 37.2
Passenger/Crew Ratio (lower beds): 2.4
Cabins (total): 1,557
Size Range (sq ft/m): 134.5-534.0/12.5-49.6
Cabins (for one person): 18
Cabins (with private balcony): 910
Cabins (wheelchair accessible): 25
Wheelchair accessibility: Good
Cabin Current: 110 and 220 volts
Casino (gaming tables): Yes
Slot Machines: Yes
Swimming Pools: 3
Hot Tubs (on deck): 6
Self-Service Launderette: Yes
Dedicated Cinema/Seats: No
Onboard currency: UK£
A large ship with sedate decor to suit British tastes
Overview. Azura is best suited to families with children and adult couples who are seeking a big-ship environment with comfortable, unstuffy surroundings, lots of options, and a British flavor.
The Ship. Azura and sister ship Ventura, which debuted in 2008, are the largest cruise ships yet built specifically for British passengers (until the 141,000-gross ton Britannia debuts in 2015) and are P&O’s version of Princess Cruises’ Grand-class ships. With its flat, upright stern, Azura looks a bit like a giant hatchback, although the ship’s side profile is softer and more balanced. Promenade walking decks are to port and starboard sides, underneath the lifeboats. You can’t walk completely around; it’s also narrow in some places, with deck lounge chairs in the way.
There are three main pools: two on the pool deck, one at the stern. There’s not a lot of outdoor deck space - unless you pay extra to go into a covered, adults-only zone called The Retreat, with its faux-grass floor, private cabanas, and personal waiter service. What’s new is a huge open-air movie screen, the aptly-named SeaScreen, forward of the funnel by the Aqua Pool.
Inside, a three-deck atrium, with integral dance floor, is the focal social point, like a town center at sea. Four large, three-deck-high black granite archways provide ‘gateways’ to the center. It’s the place to see and be seen - as are the specialty dining venues. Also in the atrium are a smallish open-plan library (that isn’t at all intimate or good for reading in when noisy events are staged in the atrium) including computers for Internet access; and Java Café for extra-cost coffees, teas, cakes, pastries, and snacks.
Other rooms, bars and lounges include a casino; The Exchange, an urban ‘warehouse’ bar; the Blue Bar, the ship’s social hub; Brodies, a ‘traditional’ British pub (named after Brodie McGhie Wilcox, P&O’s co-founder); and the Planet Bar, set high in the ship, featuring a video wall.
The upper-deck public room layout means you can’t easily go from one end of the ship to the other without first going down, along, and up. Anyone with mobility problems will need to plan their journey and use the most appropriate of three elevator banks.
Gratuities are optional, unless you choose Freedom Dining, when they are automatically applied to your onboard account. Smoking is permitted only on cabin balconies and in designated spots on the open decks.
Families. Azura is really child-friendly. There are clubs for the under-twos up to 17 years, plus a rock ’n’ roll school. Children between two and four will find Noddy, the popular Enid Blyton character, on board. There’s a Night Nursery for under-fives. Youngsters can also enjoy a dedicated Wii room; Scalextric at sea with Grand Prix-style track; 3D cinema; and interactive classes. Family shore programs include aqua and ‘theme parks.’
Accommodation. There are 27 price grades, but really just five types of accommodation: suite with balcony; family suite with balcony; outside-view twin/queen with balcony; outside-view twin/queen; interior cabin. Although there are more balconies than aboard Ventura, more than a third of all cabins have no outside view. Some have extra third/fourth berths that fold down from the ceiling.
Most welcome are 18 single-occupancy cabins, a first for P&O Cruises, located in a small section on the port side. Also new are spa cabins, with added amenities and direct access to the ship’s spa, and two large suites for large groups.
While the suites are small when compared to those of lines such as Celebrity Cruises or Norwegian Cruise Line, whose top suites are four or five times the size, they are intelligently laid out, and feel spacious.
Standard in all cabins: bed runners, 10.5 tog duvets, Slumberland eight-inch sprung mattresses, and Egyptian cotton towels. Tea/coffee-making facilities are adequate, with UHT rather than fresh milk. Bathrobes are provided only for passengers occupying grades A, B and D accommodation. There are UK three-pin sockets plus US-style 110-volt sockets for electrical devices.
Open closets provide easy access, but the ‘no trust’ attached hangers can bang against the wall when the ship is ‘moving’. Balcony cabins have wooden railings atop glass dividers, green plastic floors, a couple of small chairs and drinks table, and an outside light. Most cabin bathrooms are small, as are the shower enclosures.
Wheelchair-accessible cabins, which have a large, user-friendly shower enclosure, are mostly located in the front section of the ship, but one of the main restaurants is aft. So be prepared for lots of wheeling time, and waiting time at the elevators.
There is no room service breakfast on disembarkation day, when you must vacate your cabin early.
Dining. P&O’s marketing blurb claims that there are 10 restaurants. There aren’t. There are five genuine restaurants (Peninsular, Oriental, Meridian, Sindhu, and Seventeen), and several bistro-style eateries or fast-food joints.
The three main dining rooms, Peninsular, Oriental, and Meridian, share the same menus. Peninsular and Oriental offer fixed seating dining with assigned tables (typical seating times: 6:30pm or 8:45pm). In the Meridian restaurant, you can dine when you want, with whomever you want, between 6pm and 10pm - P&O calls it ‘Freedom Dining,’ although at peak times there can be a bit of a wait, and it’s not open for breakfast or lunch. Occasionally, special dinners are served in the main dining rooms, one of which is a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs event.
Wheelchair users should note that breakfast in the fixed dining restaurants typically ends at 9:30am on sea days and 9am on port days. To take breakfast in the self-serve casual eatery, you may need to wheel across the decks containing the forward and midship pools and a sea of deck chairs - not easy. Alternatively, you can order room service breakfast - typically cold items only.
Other dining options. Sindhu is an Indian-themed restaurant (reservation-only, extra-charge). It is overseen by Michelin-star chef Atul Kochhar, whose specialty is British and Indian fusion cuisine. The food is cooked to order, unlike in the three main dining rooms. Table seating includes several alcove-style areas that make it impossible for waiters to serve food correctly without reaching across others at the same table.
For the Glass House, TV wine expert Olly Smith has helped create a ‘Select Dining’ restaurant and wine bar. The venue offers seafood and grilled items, paired with wines chosen by Smith. You can, of course, have a glass of wine, without food.
Seventeen is a reservations-only, extra-charge, à la carte restaurant in a quiet setting, with plenty of space around tables for waiters to serve correctly. The venue also features an outdoor terrace for warm-weather areas.
Venezia is the ship’s large, casual, self-serve buffet eatery/food court, open almost around the clock, with a large indoor-outdoor seating area. The buffet layout is confined, and can get congested. On the same deck, adjacent to the forward pool, are a poolside grill and pizzeria. Verona is a family-friendly self-service eatery.
In addition, 24-hour room service is available in cabins.
Entertainment. The 800-seat Playhouse theater spans two decks and is located at the front of the ship, and is the venue for shows; with two large video screens on either side of the stage; the sight lines are very good from all seats.
The Manhattan Lounge, a multi-function social/entertainment venue, hosts family shows and cabaret acts, and is a late-night disco. Malabar, another night venue, has decor based on the hotels on Marine Drive, Mumbai. Cabaret, live bands, and dancing are featured here. Meanwhile, the Planet Bar, a nightclub and entertainment venue, is an activities room by day and a club by night.
Spa/Fitness. The Oasis Spa - located forward, almost atop the ship - has a gymnasium, aerobics room, beauty salon, separate male and female sauna and steam rooms (no charge), and 11 treatment rooms. An internal stairway connects to the deck below, which contains an extra-charge Thermal Suite (there’s a cost per person, per day, or a composite price per cruise). Treatments include special packages for couples, and the SilverSpa Generation.