Back in May this year I was given the opportunity to take my family onboard the P&O cruise ship Azura for a mini break to Bruges.
Azura is billed as a family-friendly ship (alongside Aurora, Oceana and Ventura) and, as one of the larger ships in the family, holds 3,100 passengers.
So what can you expect from the Azura? Well, let me take you on a little tour!
First of all, a little background.
We boarded the ship at the Ocean Cruise Terminal at Southampton, which is lovely and bright and well run to ensure you’re not left sitting around for too long.
Embarking was very slick and easy and in no time we were onboard and having an explore.
And certainly when we were onboard, the atmosphere was really family friendly – many older passengers chatted to my two in the lifts, at the restaurants and around the pools, curious to know what they were enjoying most, which they really liked.
Our superior deluxe stateroom was comfortable and easily big enough for a family of four, with a bathroom, bedroom and sitting area which leads out onto the balcony.
The walk-in wardrobe offers plenty of space for clothes (we found it best that you store your suitcases under the roomy double bed)
There was also a comfortable sofa bed for the children, two TVs (one facing the bed, one facing the sofa bed) and a pair of binoculars which is a nice touch!
So, what can you expect on this P&O cruise?
A tour of P&O cruise ship Azura
Sat at the top of the ship, right at the back, this is one of the most important areas when you’re travelling with youngsters.
My kids usually hate kids clubs as they’re quite shy and hate the thought of entering a room full of other kids on their own.
But we went along to register and have a look around and we couldn’t drag them out!
The Reef kids’ clubs are divided up into four different age ranges – mine being in the 5 to 8 and the 9-12 rooms.
At first Mia really didn’t like the idea of being in a different room to her brother, but the ship are strict in enforcing this and told her she would be fine. And, of course, she was.
Luckily for us, on our first evening we me another couple with four kids, all of a similar age, and that was it, we pretty much didn’t see the children for much of the days at sea as they took themselves off playing various sports, watching movies, crafting, exploring, hanging out.
The programmes are busy and extensive. Even teenagers are catered for really well.
There are PlayStations in the older rooms although the staff do monitor their usage and encourage the kids to turn them off and join in with other activities. And, as Dan could check himself in and out he spent a lot of time there and on the sports deck.
In Mia’s room, late night movies were watched on beanbags, under blankets which they absolutely loved! She had to be signed in and out by either myself or her dad, but she was really happy there.
The heart of Azura, it’s set over three floors and features a cafe, an art gallery, library, bookshop and lots of shopping. There is also the chance to learn a spot of ballroom dancing at the foot of the glass staircase on the dance floor.
Not so glitzy, but no less important, you will also find the information desk at this hub.
We found dinner times easy and stress-free and the staff are very attentive to young diners.
P&O is renowned for it’s onboard cuisine and there was certainly something to suit everyone – they even have a kids’ buffet between 5 and 6pm every day with dishes more suited to their taste.
Venezia/Verona (above): The main buffet dining areas. It’s huge (split over two sides of the ship) and it’s a bit of a freeforall at busy times, but you can pretty much eat at any time of the day here!
Meridian: The ‘Freedom Dining’ restaurant which means you can turn up whenever you’re ready – no reservations are needed. Which is just perfect when you have children in tow.
Sindhu: One of the ship’s speciality restaurants, this is a fusion restaurant with Indian and British influences. Cover charge is £15 to £25 per person depending on how long you sail for). It is operated under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar and the food is extremely tasty rather than spicy.
I can recommend the beautifully presented and flavour-packed Rogan Josh.
Seventeen (above): Our favourite restaurant onboard. The food is stunning and the service is pure theatre. Cover charge: between £28 and £30 per person.
I opted for the melt-in-the-mouth ribeye steak, which was cooked to perfection. And if you chose the flambeed pineapple for dessert, it is prepared at your table and is a sight to behold!
Other restaurants we didn’t try: The Peninsular (elegant silver service), Oriental (silver service).
You should also note, that afternoon tea – traditional crustless sandwiches, cakes, and scones – is available in the self-service restaurant, but if you head to the Peninsular you can get the same fare served by a waiter for a truly British feel.
Planet Bar: Our favourite bar was at the very top of the ship, which has views over the sea as it’s situated right at the back. Also it serves a mean cocktail
On a clear night the views are just gorgeous.
It also has a floor-to-ceiling audiovisual wall, showcasing spectacular footage from across the world continents which I really liked.
The Glass House: Serves food and wine and has a lovely modern wine bar feel to it. You’re also in the hands of wine expert Olly Smith, with his selection of 32 different wines to choose from.
Manhattan: A New York-inspired lounge where you can sit back and enjoy live music, quizzes or discos. The entertainment centre of the ship.
Malabar: This has a totally different feel to the rest of the ship. Like stepping into an oriental lounge, it’s all gold and luxurious fabrics.
Brodies: Apparently this is a London pub-themed bar and we completely managed to miss it during our time onboard! It is right next to the casino so that could explain it!
Playhouse Theatre: This is the home of the ship’s big entertainment itinerary. On our ship the big show was tenor Alfie Boe. The performance I attended was packed and clearly filled with a lot of fans who brought a great atmosphere to the night. And the theatre was most definitely up to handling his huge voice.
The SeaScreen: Is basically an open-air cinema where you can sit around the pool and watch a movie. The movie choices were great (The Lego Movie for example) but if it’s cold no one wants to sit on a sun lounger for 2 hours. However, saying that there are ‘pool blankets’ which are basically fleece sleeping bags you can crawl into and there were loads of people being adventurous and taking advantage of these.
Casino: Everything from roulette to slot machines. For obvious reasons we didn’t spend a lot of time in here!
The Spa: Can you call a spa entertainment? Not sure entirely, but it’s worth noting there is a spa and salon and the Retreat is a luxurious open-air spa terrace, offering the “ultimate in sophisticated pampering”. Clearly we didn’t get the chance to indulge but we wafted by and had a sniff.
Coral Pool: A great area but honestly it was just too cold for many on our trip. Except my daughter and a handful of kids who were in there ALL THE TIME!
The sports deck on the very top of the ships, plays host to cricket, football, basketball, tennis, golf and anything else you can throw into the mix. Dan and his friends probably managed to have a go at them all!
Our short break stopped off at the gorgeous medieval town of Bruges and the island of Guernsey.
You can read all about our day out in Bruges here, which was absolutely lovely.
But after a day at sea our next port of call was St Peter Port in Guernsey.
Much to the children’s delight, our ship was too big for the port, so dropped anchor off shore, and we were ferried ashore on board a tender.
Guernsey is really quite small but bursting with interest. And great for photographers!
We wandered around past the very expensive yachts in dock and the old fashioned buses.
Then it was on to our excursion – to be onboard a rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) for a ride around the coast. And what a brilliant adventure it was. We all had to climb into waterproofs and life vests, and then clung on for dear life as skipper Pierre took us on a high-speed tour of the coastline, zipping past Azura, bouncing off the waves, with stop-offs to see breeding birds, points of interest and a colony of grey seals.
A real highlight of our cruise – we all absolutely loved it.
- Take time to get to know your ship and save yourself from spending 20 minutes (yes, yes embarrassing, I know) searching for the kids club at the back of the ship and KEEP stepping out of lifts at the front of the ship.
I’d totally sussed it by day 4. Dan had it sussed by day 1.
- Study the layout (you are given a map at check in) – where are the restaurants, kids club, pools, theatre. Also study how to get from from one side of the ship to the other – you can’t do it on every floor! The layout of the ship doesn’t really flow. You can’t go from one end to the other easily; sometimes you have to go down, along and back up again!
- Decide before boarding to switch off and have a properly relaxing break. Wifi is expensive so if you do buy it, use your time wisely or just switch off. Or wait until you are on land for an excursion and see if you can use free WiFi if you really can’t wait to Tweet a photo!
- Smoking is allowed around one of the pools – and it reeked. So find out where these areas are if you want to avoid.
- I’m not sure if it’s a rule all the time, but they didn’t serve juices at lunchtime in the main self service restaurants – just water and tea/coffee – which was a disappointment for the kids.
- The professional photographs are extortionate. We had one taken on the steps of the Atrium on the black tie evening and upon visiting the photo gallery to view it, discovered it would cost us £17.95 for a 10” print. When you’re in your finery, make sure you ask someone to take your photo for you.
- The ship was full during our cruise, with 3,100 passengers and more than 400 children. Yet it never felt crowded; just ensure you pick your breakfast times wisely or you’ll have to queue for your sausage and bacon.
- Check out your daily Horizon magazine, which is left in your room every evening, so that you can find out what is happening on the ship the following day, what films are showing and what events you can join in with.
So what was our verdict?
The Azura is a great ship for this sort of short cruise. We loved the variety of things to do, the different venues to eat in on board and the fact that the children were engaged and enjoying themselves the whole time. It’s a laid-back, stress free bread.