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Cruise Ship Information

MV Azura is a cruise ship operated P&O Cruises and owned by Carnival PLC. The ship was built by Fincantieri at their shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy. At 115,055 tonnes, Azura is the second largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises. She is also the sister ship of MS Ventura. She officially entered service with the company in April 2010 and was named by Darcey Bussell.

Atmosphere on board

The 3,100-passenger Azura is one of P&O's largest ships at 115,000 tons. It was christened in Southampton in 2010 by ballet dancer Darcey Bussell and is one of the most popular of the seven P&O vessels, partly because it is the newest.

The ship, which is the second ship of this size for P&O (the first was sister ship Ventura, which was launched in 2008), will be familiar to fans of Princess Cruises, as it is built on the same design as Princess' Grand-class ships. Yet Azura definitely oozes P&O's traditional style: full dress codes, afternoon tea, deck games and ballroom dancing. Dancing is especially popular, and dancing sessions feature prominently in the daily programme. There is always something happening on one of the ship's three dance floors, including the wooden one in the atrium, which hosts regular dance evenings.

While these much-loved favourites strike a chord with P&O aficionados, some innovative firsts, such as new dining venues and entertainment options, are exciting repeat passengers and attracting new ones too. Many of these now established features -- such as SeaScreen (the new outdoor cinema) and the adults-only Retreat sun deck -- have been borrowed from sister line Princess.

Azura is marketed as a family-friendly ship and has clubs for children ranging from 2 to 17, plus a good range of sports courts for tennis, football and basketball. Children over 14 are also allowed in the excellent gym if accompanied by an adult.

However, couples and singles are well catered for with sophisticated evening venues such as The Glass House -- a wine bar and restaurant for which TV wine expert Olly Smith has selected 32 different wines for cruisers to enjoy -- and the Sindhu restaurant, where the menu is by Michelin starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar. In all there are nine restaurants and 10 separate bars including the night club style Planet Bar with a giant plasma screen.

Passengers who prefer an adults-only vacation can book into The Retreat, a stylish sun terrace with cabanas for alfresco spa treatments. It has easy access to the spa and thermal suite plus its own pool -- one of four pools on the ship. There are also the well-publicised solo cabins. The fact that there are no extra supplements to pay is great news for single travellers -- but be warned, you will need to plan ahead to nab one of these cabins as there are only 18.

Evening entertainment is a mix of family and adult entertainment ranging from tribute bands to West End shows and dancing until the small hours.

Overall, P&O has done a good job of making sure everything runs smoothly. The staff work hard and create a pleasant atmosphere for passengers, the entertainment and dining options are appealing, and the new additions give the right amount of extra sparkle to this mainstream ship.

Family with Kids/Teens

Azura is strictly an adults-only ship. Try Ventura, Azura, Azura and Oceana for P&O Cruises' family product.

Past Passenger Programs

The Library has always been a popular feature of these R ships, and on Azura, it has wisely been left unchanged since the beginning, with a pretty trompe l'oeil ceiling, dark wood panelling, a faux fireplace and lots of deep leather chairs in which to sit (and sleep, it seemed, with snoring often interrupting the reading). There are a couple of computer terminals up there for Internet access. Azura also has full Wi-Fi throughout the ship, charged at 50p per minute, or via various time plans; 100 minutes costs £35. It wasn't particularly fast in the fjords, where the satellite signal is often blocked, but it was adequate. There's an annoying £2.50, one-off "connection fee" to use the Internet, which, as far as I could see, goes straight into P&O Cruises' profit.

The ship has an array of retail outlets, Mayfair Shops, that sell perfume, jewellery and logowear. A photo gallery opposite Anderson's on the Prom Deck offers the usual photographic services. The ship's photographers appeared to work extremely hard, and photos are very reasonably priced at £9.50 for a standard print. (Compare that to $24 on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth). Consequently, a lot of people were having portraits taken and actually buying the pictures.

Incidentally, the Prom Deck is a slight misnomer, as you can't actually "promenade" around it very far, although there are two very pleasant, broad expanses of deck with steamer chairs on which to sit.

Finally, the ship has just one passenger launderette, on B Deck.

Fitness And Spa

The Crystal Pool, a decently sized pool with teak surround, is the focal point of Azura's sun deck, and it's flanked by two hot tubs. New sun loungers and pool towels have been installed, although in the Norwegian fjords these had little use. The pool, however, was beautifully heated and extremely pleasant, even in the cold air.

The pool is overlooked by an upper deck, Sun Deck (with a short jogging trail), and above that is Sky Deck, with deck quoits, shuffleboard and a golf driving net.

The ship has a pretty spa, Oasis, with a modern gym and a small studio. Yoga, Pilates and spinning classes are offered for £7 each, while Fab Abs and Stretch classes are free. These were feeble; I joined an abs class, and it only lasted 15 minutes. I did yoga, too, which was not especially well taught, compared to the regular classes I do at home. Much more fun were the tap-dancing classes, which weren't part of the gym schedule, but were run by someone of the entertainment team.

The gym has several treadmills, exercise bikes and cross-trainers, as well as free weights, and it entertains a steady flow of passengers, although it's usually possible to find an available machine.

The spa is run by the ubiquitous Steiner, but it's much more low-key in its sales approach than on some American-run ships, where the therapists push the products hard while you're trying to relax. There's a slightly restricted list of treatments; for example, there was no Ayurveda on my cruise, as there was no practitioner. A stone therapy massage costs from £79, as does a La Therapie facial. I had reflexology and a facial, and both were extremely pleasant.

Azura doesn't have a thermal suite, but there are steam rooms and fancy showers in the changing rooms available to anybody, as well as a Spa Terrace on the forward deck. This comes with luxurious, padded loungers and its own giant whirlpool and costs £5 on a port day and £10 on a sea day. On a bigger ship, you might argue that this was a welcome escape from the noise around the main pool, but Azura's Lido Deck isn't exactly party central, even when the sun shines, so there's not such a great need for a haven. Still, the Spa Terrace is secluded and has great forward views.

Food & Dining

There are four main places to eat. The Pacific Restaurant, situated aft on the Promenade Deck, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and fixed-seating dinner in two sittings, at 6.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. (although this varied slightly on the formal nights, due to the Captain's cocktail party being accommodated). There are tables for two, four, six and eight. If you're feeling romantic, a two by the aft windows is the best location for views of the sea and the ship's wake.

Breakfast (from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.) includes full English, with many variations, as well as a daily Chef's Special (Eggs Benedict, devilled kidneys and so on). There are also healthier options, Continental and a wide selection of pastries. Lunch (12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.) is a choice of starters, soups and salads, mains with a strong British influence (fish and chips, steak and kidney pie) and desserts. Five-course dinners feature starters, a soup and salad course, a selection of mains and a choice of desserts and cheeses. Again, expect traditional dishes like sirloin steak, roast pork, and liver and game pie. There's also pavlova, or sticky toffee pudding, as well as more adventurous veggie options like vegetable tempura. There's always a fish choice and a vegetarian option on the main menu. Chicken breast, salmon steak and Caesar salad are always available, too.

We found the food in the Pacific Restaurant generally very good, hot and nicely presented. The vegetables were outstanding. I was travelling with a vegetarian friend, and although there's a separate, always-available vegetarian menu (you have to ask the waiter for this and order a day in advance), sometimes she simply asked for extra vegetables, as they were so good, particularly a simple but perfect cauliflower cheese one night. I made a special request for curry, being a curry devotee; if there are a lot of Indian crew, I don't feel bad doing this as I know there will be curry on the ship somewhere for them, and usually an Indian chef. On one occasion, the chef made a wonderful vegetable curry and on another, some chicken korma from the lunch buffet was saved for me and spiced up for dinner.

The Pacific Restaurant is also the setting for afternoon tea, served daily from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. There's no charge for this. Delicate sandwiches and pretty cakes are displayed on each table on a cake stand, and waiters come round with hot scones, jams and clotted cream, as well as tea served in individual pots. We only had tea once, as we were eating so much anyway, but it felt special, like a real treat.

Wines are very reasonably priced on Azura. The house red and white is only £11.95 a bottle, with a good range of European and New World wines, all in an affordable spectrum. If you book a wine package, there is a discount of 15 percent on the list prices.

The Conservatory, the casual indoor-outdoor dining venue on Lido Deck, is unchanged in decor since Royal Princess days. It serves buffet food and is open from 6:30 a.m. to midday for breakfast and then for lunch and snacks. Breakfast includes a big, British fry-up with all the extras, from fried bread to black pudding, and a separate window provides omelettes and fried eggs. (There are scrambled eggs on the buffet.) There are healthier options, too -- fresh fruit, cereals and pastries. Juice comes from a machine but isn't too sweet. Tea and coffee also come from a machine, but waiters will bring it to the table if you ask.

One annoyance is that, although there are two Costa Coffee outlets on the ship -- one in the Conservatory bar and one in Raffles Bar -- the earliest you can buy a speciality coffee (such as lattes and cappuccino, for a fee) is 10 a.m. The bartender in Raffles very kindly fired up the machine early for me when he could, but it still seems like bad planning.

Lunch is served in The Conservatory from midday to 3 p.m. and includes a not terribly imaginative salad buffet and a wide choice of hot dishes, including pies, fish dishes, curries aplenty, roast meats, pastas and a hot vegetarian dish. Puddings were decadent and British -- crumbles, fruit tarts and cakes, with cream and custard. There's always a cheese board on offer.

Strangely, The Conservatory is only open on selected evenings for dinner, when, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., there's a themed buffet dinner. On my two-week cruise, there were two: Best of British Buffet and an Indian/Asian night. So, essentially, there's no casual dining option on Azura most nights.

The new reservations-only restaurants are gorgeous, particularly on a cruise with long, light evenings. Marco Pierre White's Ocean Grill, running along the starboard side of the Sun Deck (the prime seats with the best views are across the aft of the ship) serves fresh, contemporary British cuisine, described as modern British, with all the influences that this entails: Thai fishcakes, cheese souffle, grilled lobster, Bresse chicken coq au vin, wild boar burgers. The emphasis is on using the best ingredients, hence the Bresse chicken and salmon from Loch Duart. We ate there twice, and the food was generally excellent, some dishes more so than others. A lobster came looking a bit lonely and garnish-free, but my coq au vin was almost black with the rich, red wine sauce and was superb. Battered fish was light and fluffy, but the chips came Jenga-style, piled like bricks, and were a bit soggy. The vegetarian coulibiac is just plain weird -- a vegetable pastry dish, plus tempura mushrooms, plus mashed potato, which equals way too much starch. Puddings, though, were sublime, so save space for those.

There's a good wine list in Ocean Grill, with some excellent and unusual wines by the glass, chosen by P&O Cruises' wine expert, Olly Smith, and reminiscent of his successful Glass House bar on Azura.

Equally lovely is Sorrento, an Italian speciality restaurant opposite on the port side, done out in dazzling white, with black-and-white striped blinds, and serving dishes like baked mushrooms in a cheese sauce, pasta and pizza, or sea bass with prawns. For just £5 a head, it's exceptional value and a pleasing change of pace from the bustle of the main dining room.

The cover charges are fiddly and complicated, related to the length of the cruise. So, for Ocean Grill, it's £12.95 per person on an itinerary of eight or more days, £17.95 for three to seven days and a whopping £22.95 for one to two days. Supplements do apply for some items, but in reality, pretty well everything on the menu is included. Sorrento costs £5 (itineraries of eight or more days), £7.50 (itineraries of three to seven days) or £10.00 (itineraries of one to two days) and also has supplements for some items.

There are two smaller venues, too. The Lido Cafe by the pool serves salads and burgers from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., while a cake and speciality coffee shop, Raffles, just off the Atrium, sells speciality coffees, baguettes and Italian softbread stuffed pockets from 10 a.m. until late for £2.50. However, why anybody would pay for a sandwich with all that free food onboard seems slightly odd. There are also cakes displayed in a glass case, and these don't cost any extra.

Room service is available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for continental breakfast (except on disembarkation day, when there isn't any), and then until 11 p.m. Basic pizzas, baguettes and a couple of starters, main courses and desserts are free, but a lot of things carry a supplement, from £3.95 for a burger to £4.50 for a seafood pie.


P&O Cruises has included several of its own, much-loved trademarks from other ships in Azura, such as the wood-panelled Anderson's Bar and the Crow's Nest, forward on deck 10, with panoramic views.

Anderson's has deep leather chairs and the old-fashioned feel of a well-heeled men's social club. This and Raffles, which is on the same deck, were popular for pre-dinner drinks, as they're close to the Pacific Restaurant and have a cozy buzz early in the evening. We ended up having late-night drinks in Anderson's, too, as the quiz shows in the Crow's Nest were noisy and intrusive. Drinks are extremely reasonable; cocktails of the day were often only £3 or from £4.25 for spirits with mixers. Various beers are available on tap; half a litre of Old Speckled Hen costs £2.85, while 440ml of Boddington's is £2.65.

The emphasis in the Crow's Nest, forward and high up on the Sun Deck, is light and space, jazzed up by a rather daring tartan carpet. On a Norway cruise in particular, when the ship spends a lot of time sailing inside the long, deep fjords, this is, in theory, a wonderful place for pre-dinner drinks, with gorgeous panoramic views. Sadly, though, most nights were ruined by a dreadful duo who would conduct a noisy and ostentatious sound-check before belting out old cocktail classics, too loudly and not very tunefully. The quiz shows after dinner had only moderate attendance most times we went along, and although the entertainment team worked hard, I felt the Crow's Nest at night just didn't really work. Azura just isn't a ship for night owls, and by midnight, most of the bars were empty.

Early evenings are another matter, and there is pre-dinner ballroom and Latin dancing in the Curzon Lounge, the main show lounge, every night.

Something else that has been adapted to the tastes of P&O Cruises' target market is the onboard entertainment. This was really good, from the shows by the ship's own theatre company to the guest lecturers and classes with themes like photography and wine-tasting (which carried a £7.50 fee). Guest entertainers included a couple of top-notch comedians who work the U.K. and cruise-ship circuit, a classical pianist, Grand National winner Bob Champion and former cabinet minister Michael Howard. The Curzon Lounge is like a cabaret club, rather than a theatre, with an intimate feel, chairs and tables grouped close to the stage. It was often packed out at both shows, the early and the late. We were also treated to a performance of Noel Coward's Private Lives one afternoon, to another full house.

Every day, there are unhosted games on deck, as well as bridge and whist in the Card Room (also unhosted). There is no casino on Azura.

Fellow Passengers

Expect fellow travelling companions to be 50-plus, almost exclusively British P&O Cruises stalwarts. They'll be from Middle England, well-off, well-travelled and the kinds of people who wouldn't be seen dead on huge, modern ships. A lot had travelled on Artemis, Azura's predecessor, and some had tried Azura, one of the line's other adults-only ships. (The third is Oriana, from November 2011). On my cruise, there was one party of Canadians amidst a sea of Brits. Most people were travelling with a partner, but there were some singles accompanying elderly parents or travelling with a friend.

I saw lots of walking boots and walking poles on my Norway cruise. A lot of people were clearly keeping active. One man, who must have been in his seventies, raced ashore in every port in running gear and was covering several miles each time. The gym was often busy, and all the lectures I went to were packed. Azura's passengers may not be night owls, but they certainly make the most of everything by day.


£3.95 per person aged 12 and over will be added to passengers' on board accounts and is shared amongst the waiting staff and cabin stewards.

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