There were a few moments of doubt during the first evening spent on the Azura – one of the largest and newest ships in the P&O Cruises fleet. First was the cringeworthy entertainment that involved several of the ship’s entertainment team dancing around the edge of the pool to cheesy live music that could have used a few more sound checks. Then there was the movement of the ship coming out of Barbados that made me feel a little bit queasy.
Despite this less than perfect beginning, the overall judgement of my family holiday cruising around the Caribbean Islands was that it was absolutely amazing! There turned out to be an abundance of entertainment on board that catered for a variety of tastes, and the slightly choppy departure that had gotten me a tad worried was not an issue for the remainder of the trip, which was very much smooth sailing.
Going on a cruise was a completely new style of travel for me. I’d been on resort holidays before, but most of my previous trips had involved long-term backpacking jaunts or budget weekends in Europe; nothing anywhere close to the luxury and inclusiveness that a cruise holiday like this entails.
When my family began planning an extra special holiday to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday more than a year back, there were two ideas on the table: A week exploring New York or two weeks on a luxury cruise around the Caribbean. We all jumped at the latter option. Going on a cruise is such a great way to see so many beautiful places in one go. We visited nine Caribbean islands: Barbados, Curacao, Aruba, St Vincent, Grenada, St Maarten, Tortola, Dominica and St Lucia.
We would go to sleep and wake up most mornings anchored down in a new and exciting location. There was a whole day to explore as we wished. The food on board was ridiculously tasty and there was always friendly, immaculate service throughout the ship. There were four days at sea and each of these ‘sea days’ would be followed by a black tie evening, which was a great opportunity to get glammed up to the nines. The other evenings would be a mixture of smart and casual dress.
The dining experience on the Azura was incredible. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all included and there was also the option to go for afternoon tea. You did however have to pay for drinks and each passenger had a cruise card that had been linked to their bank account. You could keep track of your account on the TV in the cabin, but it was dangerously easy to spend money. The drinks were reasonably priced though and top notch quality… especially the cocktails! There were a few exclusive restaurants available where each diner would pay an extra charge. We tried out the Asian-themed Sindhu for my dad’s birthday, which cost £12 per head extra, and were all really impressed.
We selected ‘freedom dining’ which allowed us to eat whenever we wanted and sit by ourselves, as oppose to the ‘club dining’ where there were specific time slots and you would be sitting with other people. Just imagine if you were stuck seated next to obnoxious people for the whole trip?! Unsurprisingly, freedom dining is an increasingly popular option. We were there to spend time together as a family and this eating arrangement suited us perfectly.
We were allocated a restaurant for dinner – the Meridian – where we went each night. All of the standard restaurants have the same dinner menus. For breakfast and lunch, you could go to any of the restaurants and there was always the option to take advantage of the buffets. We preferred going to the buffet for breakfast and eating at the restaurants for lunch and dinner.
How was the entertainment on the Azura? After the first evening of shocking entertainment, we were happy to discover that plenty of other options were available. The Playhouse always had great shows on: theatre, comedy, quality singing acts etc.
The Malabar was our favourite bar due to its plush seating and colourful decor, plus the entertainment was always perfect with a house jazz band and various other acts such as an incredible reggae group called Changez. The resident Headliners Theatre Company (pictured below) presented shows with a real west end quality.
Before dinner, we would often go to the Planet Bar on the 18th floor to watch the sunset over a cocktail or two.
Overall, my first time on a cruise was fantastic. This was the perfect set-up for a family holiday and it was a great way to get a snapshot of several Caribbean islands. However, this is not the kind of holiday to go for if you like to spend time exploring and getting under the skin of a place. The time you get is very limited and it’s so easy to get ripped off or end up in the grasp of blatant tourist traps. At times, you walk off the ship feeling like a walking dollar sign and some of the ports are located quite a distance away from the beaches, for example, and you have to get taxis which charge through the roof.
There is the option to book tours with P&O, which we did for a few of the islands, and this enables you to see more in the allocated time slot. But, although the tours were enjoyable, I felt they were too expensive – around £40 per person. My advice to you if you want to make the most of your time on each of the Caribbean islands would be: do your research beforehand and have some idea what you want to do in each place. If you play it by ear too much, there’s always a risk of being disappointed. I would also recommend finding out about public transport options instead of taxis – especially in St Lucia which was crazy expensive.
Have you ever been on a cruise holiday? How did you find it?