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We’re back from our cruise on Azura to the Western Mediterranean and this is the usual ‘summary and review’ page. To give an overview of the cruise, it lasted for 14 nights in September 2015, and the ports of call were Vigo; Lisbon; Gibraltar; Villefranche; Livorno; Civitavecchia; Ajaccio; and Cadiz. We were attracted to it because a couple of the ports (Villefranche and Cadiz) were new to us – originally there would have been a third, La Spezia, but that was changed to Livorno about five weeks before departure. Also, with eight ports of call there were just five full days at sea; many cruises feature seven ports and seven sea days.

Here are the links to the detailed pages:-

 

Now for the review. The ‘executive summary’ would be as follows:-

  1. This was our most enjoyable cruise for some time. The facilities on Azura meet our needs very well, especially for places to eat and drink, and we greatly enjoyed the ports of call.
  2. Freedom Dining was a big success for us, in various ways. We never had to wait for a table, and we felt very relaxed when we were in the MDR.
  3. We continue to enjoy the range of features of a large ship. We actually use comparatively few of them, but the fact that they’re there means that when on board we can configure a cruise to our specification.

Let me give you some more detail about the points above. First, Freedom Dining. For a number of years we’ve resisted this and have stuck with Club Dining, second sitting, and at time in the past we’ve had some very good times. However, on our recent cruises it hasn’t worked so well for us, for a variety of reasons. First, we’ve felt that the table just didn’t ‘gell’; secondly, we’ve increasingly found that finishing a meal very late in the evening (10:30 or later) has left us uncomfortable overnight – we’re not really night owls and often go to bed around at 11pm; and thirdly, with the growth of Select Dining venues there were increasingly people away from the table on odd nights (including us, it has to be said) so there weren’t many evenings when there was a full table. On this cruise we only used the MDR six times in the whole cruise – the four formal nights, plus two others. On each of these occasion we went down at 7:30 and (to our surprise initially) we were seated immediately, as long as we were prepared to share a table (we were). This meant that we were finishing somewhere between 9pm and 9:30 which we found much kinder to our stomachs. I had read about problems in the past with the organisation of Freedom Dining – difficulty finding places, people on the table at different stages in their meal – but those all seem to have been resolved. When we said (at the entrance) that we were happy to share, the supervising waiter (?) got a ticket printed out from a system he had, and gave the the ticket to a waiter who led us to the table indicated on the ticket. There, we found other people who had just been sat at it so everyone was about to start. On one occasion we were the first couple at a table, and all the remaining seats were occupied within five minutes. We generally found the company entertaining and interesting, and we were relaxed about the whole situation – we knew we could just chat lightly with people we were unlikely to meet again. Whenever we wanted a meal together we went somewhere else – The Epicurean, Sindhu, or The Glasshouse, and we enjoyed our meals together in those places. All in all, dining was a very enjoyable experience throughout the cruise.

Next up would be facilities. We tend to use very few of these – we’re not great entertainment users, we don’t shop, and we’re not “lie in the sun” people. What we do like is to be able to enjoy good drinks (and food) in a variety of places, in between visiting interesting and beautiful places. I’ve already mentioned our meals in the Select Dining venues, but it’s also worth saying that we also had a number of drinks in the Glasshouse and also in the Planet Bar. We did go to Manhattan once, to see Manuel Martinez, we sat in Malabar one evening and watched one of the bands, and we went to see Adrian Walsh in the theatre on two evenings towards the end of the cruise. We also went to the theatre earlier in the cruise to see the Headliners company – The Sounds of Swing, or something like that – but unfortunately we came out thinking that the canned music before the show was better than the show itself. To be fair, the canned music was a selection of classic Swing songs from Sinatra, Dean Martin, and so on, so not too surprising really. We also enjoyed our balcony when we could, pounded the promenade deck most days, and attended a few talks. We both went to a couple of port talks, and Val went to a couple of other things about clothes and hair. So we choose the things we want to do and don’t bother with the rest.

There was one silly little thing. On the times we’ve cruised on Ventura I used to enjoy sitting on deck 5 in the Atrium and just watching the world go by, or at least that section of that was on the cruise. I would frequently print the blog entries down there. Azura however has a dance floor in that space, and pretty much every sea day there would be dance instruction sessions with instructors with microphones and their instructions being broadcast over the atrium. I understand that dancing fans would enjoy this but we didn’t – it wasn’t quiet and relaxing at all – and as a result we didn’t use the Deck 5 facilities at all.

Finally would be the ports of call. Vigo and Lisbon were OK – the weather wasn’t kind at Vigo and I think we could have done better at Lisbon, but that was our fault. Gibraltar was functional – we went somewhere on our own and we did some duty-free shopping. The main run of ports (Villefranche to Cadiz) didn’t disappoint at all; indeed, these were the highlights of the cruise. We had to tender twice (Villefranche and Ajaccio), and this worked well enough, although we did hear from other people with mobility issues for whom tendering is a big problem. Overall, getting off and back on the ship worked well, whether by tender or on foot, and excursions also seemed to be well-organised with coaches all present and correct, and tour guides and escorts well-prepared. And finally the weather was very enjoyable. I’ve had some other holidays in warm places this year (Washington, Crete) but Val hasn’t, so this was her summer, and she enjoyed it.

So an enjoyable cruise. We certainly spent enough money! – what with excursions and meals booked in advance, more meals booked on board, and lots of drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), we spent nearly £1000 in extras. Not cheap, but it was what we wanted to do. We’ve come home happy but poorer – which is probably the definition of a good holiday.

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