Azura’s black Sea Cruise

Hello and welcome to Solent Richard’s cruise Blog and this my first cruise review since activating the Blog.

In October 2012 my wife and I took our second cruise onboard P&O’s Azura, completing a 24 night cruise from Southampton, through the Mediterranean Sea  to the Black Sea and returning  to Southampton…

For this cruise we had booked a  Deluxe Balcony Cabin on 9 Deck…

…which had a full ensuite bathroom…

The Cabin  met all our requirements and expectations; it made an excellent home for the duration of the cruise.

Dining

Azura has a number of dining venues.  We had chosen second sitting dining and had been allocated a table in The Peninsular Restaurant…

…one of three main dining restaurants onboard Azura.

Azura’s  buffet restaurant, Venezia, can be found on Lido Deck…

 

*****

There is a selection of alternative themed restaurants, three of which required a supplement to be paid. These are the Michelin starred Atul Kochhar’s ‘Sindhu’…

for a treat to authentic Indian cuisine with a British twist.

Sindhu showcases Indian cuisine with a British twist: a triumph of perfectly balanced spices, delicate flavours and wonderful aromas set in an opulent décor amidst sumptuous fabrics in which to treat one’s palate and senses including this ‘Tawa Jingha’…

 

There was also the classic fine dining restaurant, Seventeen…

…which additionally boasts a delightful ‘al fresco’ patio dining area overlooking the stern of the ship…

There are two alternating menus, one of which features the best ‘Jamon Pata Negra’ carved tableside…

NOTE: Since our cruise on Azura ‘Seventeen’ has been renamed ‘Epicurian’

A popular, and maybe more casual ‘supplement’ dining venue is The Glass House’…

*****

Headed up by the irrepressible, award-winning wine expert and passionate foodie, Olly Smith, The Glass House is the perfect location for a light bite, lunchtime tipple, afternoon apéritif or a tastefully informal evening out.

With a choice of around 40 wines handpicked by Olly, accompanied by a menu of delicious food options including a lunchtime selection of ‘Lite Bites’…

What’s not to like about this place on a sea day…

Cheers…

 

Entertainment

Azura boasts a number of great entertainment venues, the centrepiece being the 788 seat theatre, The Playhouse…

and two cabaret style show lounges, Malabar…

and Manhattan…

There are, in addition,  many other bars and lounges for relaxing evenings: each with differing styles and in general, something to suit all tastes.

Our favourite venue, certainly for a pre-dinner drinks, was high up on Deck 18, The Planet Bar…

Boasting a unique floor to ceiling audiovisual plasma wall screening iconic, man-made and natural wonders from the world’s continents guests can also enjoy panoramic views astern of the ship while enjoying a cool drink.

Decks and Pools

Azura is well served for deck space and boasts four pools. The main pool area is centred midships with two pools, one being The Coral Pool…

Our favourite however, when not enjoying The Retreat, was the pool and deck at the stern of the ship,  The Terrace Pool…

 

Azura, like its sister ship Ventura, has a dedicated Spa Deck called The Retreat.

The Retreat is a luxurious open-air spa terrace, offering the ultimate in sophisticated pampering on board Azura.

Here you’ll find luxury sun loungers, airy cabanas for al fresco spa treatments…

The Retreat is child free, a personal waiter service operates and there are  gorgeous panoramic views ahead of the ship. Because it’s a paid-for,service it  guarantees an exclusive experience with just  48 sun loungers within the Retreat, 18 of which are  outside in the sun area and the rest in the shade.

Access is either via the purchase of a Spa Package or purchase of a day pass for The Retreat.  The Retreat also has its own swimming pool, The Oasis Pool…

That’s just about covered the ship so time now to look at the amazing itinerary…

Having sailed from Southampton our first port of call was a hastily re-arranged one.

We had been scheduled to spend a day in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. However, industrial action at the port made  a stop there a trifle risky and P&O quickly organised a visit to Oporto. Good news for Mr and Mrs Solent Richard despite having to quickly cancel a privately arranged tour of Estadio de Luz – the home of Benfica FC.

We had visited Lisbon on many occasions and will no doubt call again but Oporto was a first for us and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise…

…and P&O are to be complimented on their efficient Shuttle bus service into the city.

Two sea days were to follow as we headed for the island of Malta, entering on arrival  Valletta’s  Grand Harbour…

*****

This was not our first visit to Malta and prior to this visit we had done some research and settled on a trip out to Mdina – the Silent City…

…from where we enjoyed the island view from atop the ramparts…

…before we returned to Valetta and walked around the ramparts and historic parts of Grand Harbour…

*****

 

A full review of our time in Malta can be found at…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2014/04/28/one-way-to-do-malta/

Our next ‘Port of Call’ was the Greek Island of Rhodes. Here we took the opportunity to take the local bus service to the town of Lindos…

..where we headed for it’s famous  Acropolis…

 

*****

 

 

Bidding farewell to Rhodes we now headed firmly in the direction of the Black Sea with the considerably anticipated adventure, and one of the great aspects of this particular cruise,  a full daylight transit of the Dardanelles…

 

…sailing past Istanbul…

and on into the  Bosphorus…

 

Once through the Bosphorus we headed to first  Odessa…

Here we had pre-booked a private tour through ‘Tours by Locals’ and were met by our guide for the day, Yuri. We had previously, during the booking process, that we had wanted our priority to be a tour of the famous Catacombs…

*****

The inscription reads…”Blood for Blood, Death for Death” …and was a patriots warning to the Nazi occupiers of Ukraine during WWII.

The catacomb complex was fascinating to visit

 

 

…and Yuri duly obliged with a very special tour…

 

Once inside and below ground he negotiated the mazes of passageways offering clear explanations of all the interesting features.

On completion of our catacomb visit Yuri then gave us a tour of a number of other visitor sites plus a visit to the most popular of tourist places in Odessa itself…

 

A full review of our visit to Odessa is available in the ‘Port Review’ section of this Blog….

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2013/04/23/one-way-to-do-odessa/

Our next port of call was one of the gems of this particular itinerary, Yalta…

 

Once again we had hired a private guide in expectation of making the most of this visit. Due to the importance we placed on this visit we decided to book a local tour guide and following some internet research settled for the impressive Sergey Tsarapora…

This guy was absolutely amazing and produced one of the most exceptional visits we have ever experienced: including an early entrance into the  The Livadia Palace…

…where the famous post World War II Yalta Conference was held…

Access that afforded us a view of The Big Three Meeting Room and Table…

…before any other tourists were admitted.

Again a full review of our visit to Yalta is available in the ‘Port Review’ section of this Blog. Here’s the link…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2013/04/23/one-way-to-do-yalta/

 

Our final Black Sea port was the Romanian port of Constanta at the mouth of the River Danube.

For this visit we turned to the ship’s excursion organisation and took a two hour scenic drive through the Romanian countryside to Tulcea before joining a mini-cruise through the Danube Delta…

…the second largest in Europe.

Following our departure from Constanta we headed out of the Black Sea and into the Bosphorus once more. On this occasion though we made an overnight stop in Istanbul…

…where we made the most of our time in this vibrant city visiting places like the underground Basilica Cistern…

We made. in our opinion at least, the most of our overnight stop at Istanbul. Again careful internet research had found an evening entertainment venue called Sultana’s…

…where we dined while experiencing the movements of Didem…

…billed as the best and most famous Turkish Belly Dancer.

A full account of our Istanbul ‘Nocturnal Adventure’ can be found in another of my reviews, here’s the link…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2014/08/11/one-way-to-do-istanbul-the-nocturnal-edition/

Day two in Istanbul saw us, among other things, learn to master the  İstanbul Metrosu  (Metro) and visit the Turk Telekom Arena,  in the Şişli district of Istanbul, home of Galatasary FC

 

…and the area around Taksim Square…

 

 

The next port of call after a day at sea was re-programmed from Kusadasi to Izmir.  No real big deal as both ports serve pretty equally as places to dock for a visit to Ephesus…

Our next port of call, and definitely now heading home, was Athens. Here again we relied on a Ship’s excursion to get us to Corinth, site, not only of Ancient Corinth, but of The Corinth Canal…

We now had a further two sea days as we cruised westwards towards the island of Palma de Mallorca, a place visited  many times.

P&O provided a complimentary shuttle bus and on this occasion we indulged in a little morning retail therapy while in the afternoon I ventured up to the Castell de Bellver which dominates the Palma skyline and is well worth a visit.  

 

No review of a P&O ship could be allowed to pass without mentioning one of the more enduring traditions of P&O – The Sailaway Party…

Three further pleasant sea days and a calm crossing of the Bay of Biscay saw us arrive in Azura’s home port of Southampton. Twenty Four  nights since leaving and  a veritable treasure trove of memories of the places we had visited.

Summary

This was our second cruise on the Azura and we knew exactly what to expect. From our more than comfortable accommodation, the entertainment and the port visits, this cruise was one outstanding experience. Food wise P&O offers pretty middle of the road British fare to a reasonable standard. One knows what one is getting and a request for a variation or additional items and alternative vegetables are always happily accommodated. Azura has two outstanding speciality restaurants which we made full use of: not to mention The Glass House, a wine bar and restaurant created in partnership with TVs Olly Smith which also gets full marks from my wife and me.

Entertainment was particularly very  good: something for everyone. Indeed, such was the  variety on most evenings that a conflict existed on where our priorities should take us. We danced, dined, watched some really good shows and enjoyed the Cabaret evenings in the  Manhattan and Malabar show lounges.

Deck space and sun lounger availability was more than  adequate and there was always the alternative of The Retreat for those wishing to spoil themselves.

A second excellent cruise on board P&O’s Azura and again, good value for money.

Would we cruise again on Azura?

Damn right we will. No hesitation.

If you have enjoyed this review of Azura’s Black Sea Cruise and would like to be amongst the first to hear of new reviews including a return to Cunard’s Queen Victoria  plus  Solent Richard’s next guide  in his ‘One way to do…’ series,  why not join over 500  followers by clicking on the ‘Follow’ link on the front page.

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3 responses to “Azura’s black Sea Cruise

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