Archive for the ‘Azura 2017’ Category

Bergen from Floyen

Almost a week has passed since we disembarked from Azura and it’s time to do a summary of our thoughts on the cruise.

We chose this cruise well over a year ago for two reasons. First was the itinerary which included no less than six ports (out of seven in total) that we had never visited; in fact two whole countries, Iceland and the Faroes, would be new to us. The second reason was that we enjoy Azura – we like the cabins, the balcony size, the fact that you can walk (almost) round the promenade, and the collection of bars and restaurants. So how good were our decisions?

We ended up frustrated by the itinerary – or perhaps it would be fairer to say that we were frustrated by how it happened, day-by-day. Chief among this would have to be the weather. I think we were being realistic in our expectations – you don’t go almost to the Arctic Circle, even in June, expecting high temperatures and unbroken sunshine. We had in fact packed for all eventualities – lights clothes for some sunshine hopefully, but also reasonably heavy fleeces and of course waterproofs. In the end it was the latter that we seemed to need most days. The weather was good for the first two days at sea and we enjoyed the sun on those days, but thereafter the only time we saw significant amounts of sun was in Akureyri. It rained in Bergen and Alesund, it rained and was bitterly cold in Isafjordur, it rained on and off in the Faroes, and it was grey and overcast and not warm at Belfast. Sadly, the overcast & cold theme continued during the last couple of sea days – the first from the Faroes to Belfast, and the second from Belfast down the Irish sea and then around Devon and Cornwall and into the English Channel. I’d been hoping for some warmer weather and perhaps some sun during that day. Didn’t happen. So we seemed to spend a lot of time getting a bit wet and a bit cold.

Then of course there was the missed call at Reykjavik. I’m not criticising the decision to abandon the call because I don’t know the full details nor do I have the requisite knowledge of the requirements. Nonetheless it was disappointing. For us it was just one more port that we’d been looking forward to, but we gathered that for a lot of passengers Reykjavik would have been the highlight of the cruise, and many people were very disappointed indeed. Azura was a pretty subdued ship that day. It didn’t help that because of the high winds, walking round the promenade was cold and windy that day; and it was even more frustrating when the clouds rolled away during the evening and we had that spectacular sunset that night. So during the day the ship was full of disappointed passengers wandering around looking for something to do. (To be fair to the on-board team, they did arrange a programme of events at very short notice.)

We certainly enjoyed the ports that we visited; there was something at each of them that was rewarding. At Bergen we enjoyed walking the paths on Floyen (and I had the quiet satisfaction of getting the pre-cruise Floybahnen tickets right); we were delighted by the architecture at Alesund; we enjoyed the waterfall and the geo-thermal landscape at Akureyri (but were frustrated because we wanted to spend longer); we even found a couple of things at Isafjordur that were good – the photographs in the Library & Art Gallery, plus of course the coffee & cake in the cafe/bar, Husid; the Faroes were delightful, certainly out of Torshavn; and we enjoyed the Titanic experience in Belfast more than we expected. But we found the number of sea days too many – it should have been six but was actually seven, out of thirteen full days. Indeed, we also felt that a fourteen night cruise might itself be a bit longer than we really want, these days – we were ready to get off several days before we actually did so, and I have a feeling that would her been true even if the weather had been better.

As regards Azura itself, we had no complaints. The cabin was perfectly fine, we enjoyed the balcony on the first couple of days, Freedom dining worked well for us, we thought the food in the MDR was good, and as ever we enjoyed the drinks in the Glasshouse and the Planet bar. (And in the Glasshouse we enjoyed the food as well.) We had a couple of meals in Sindhu which were good, but perhaps not great – I think the concept needs refreshing a bit. We didn’t go to any of the shows in the theatre; instead we watched a couple of films in the cabin during the late evenings. We enjoyed a series of talks on ‘Literary Performers’ by Priscilla Morris during the day times, and we also watched a film in the theatre one day. And finally, we were impressed by the hardy souls on sunbeds around the Sea Screen – every time we passed that spot there seemed to be some people there, wrapped up in blankets.

Overall, we enjoyed the cruise – we certainly don’t have negative feelings about the ship or about cruising as a result of this cruise. Would we do a similar cruise again? – I’m not sure, but probably not. I’d love to see Alesund or the Faroe Islands in sunshine but that can never be guaranteed. If we went again, there’s every possibility that we’d simply repeat the experiences of this cruise.

So where does that leave us for future cruises? Well, after two successive years in northern waters we want warmer weather next time. We also think that we don’t want too many sea days, so that points us towards a fly-cruise. So (as I posted previously) we’ve booked a seven-night fly cruise on Oceana for September 2018, to be preceded by a two night pre-cruise stay at a hotel in Malta as part of the holiday. We’re already looking forward to it.

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Here are some images I took with the iPhone during the cruise. I’ve only had the chance today to do things with them.

The cafe-bar was called Hûsid, in Isafjordur. Probably the best cake Val has eaten for a long time!

 

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Home again

So nearly 48 hours after getting home I’m just about able to raise my head and take a look around!

We did self-disembarkation once again. We had been wondering about doing normal disembarkation this time – we’ve found doing it ourselves getting harder and harder in recent cruises – but for this cruise we didn’t buy any duty-free (thus avoiding festooning ourselves with even more bags), and we felt that, given the typical age of passengers on this cruise, there wouldn’t be many self-disembarkers, and this looked to be correct.

We woke up at 6am on Friday morning after a bad night’s sleep (self-inflicted – too much food and alcohol the night before) to see the Southampton grain terminal just drifting past our balcony. By the time we’d got up, showered etc, and had breakfast it was 7:30, which was within the self-disembarkation time slot of 7:15 to 8:15. So we took ourselves down to deck 6 – we were able to get a lift –  and just walked off; the queue had already been cleared. We were in the car by 7:45. A slight navigation mishap meant that it was nearly 8 o’clock before we were properly on our way, and we hit the M3 at about 8:20. Then it was a simple drive home, arriving at 12:15.

Since then I’ve been washing and ironing, but I’ve nearly reached the bottom of it. Apart from feeling tired I’m OK, but unfortunately Val has picked up a cough and doesn’t feel too good. The perils of a holiday….

So that’s it for our 2017 cruise to to Iceland. In the end we were a bit disappointed – the weather fell below our expectations, let alone our hopes, and the cancellation of the call at Reykjavik was disappointing and just added a sea day, of which there were already plenty. More and more we’re thinking that the seven-night fly-cruise we’ve booked for next year, with a couple of pre-cruise days at a hotel in the departure port, will be a better choice.

I’ll do a fuller review of this year’s cruise in a day or so. In the meantime I hope that my readers have found the posts interesting and helpful.

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Next Cruise Blues

We’ve been holding off making a booking for our next cruise, for several reasons. Firstly, we’ve been wondering if we’re ‘cruised out’. Well, we’re not sure about that but we haven’t completely gone off them. Second, we’ve been waiting until Val’s work situation was clearer, and it now is – she’ll be working on a big software implementation project until June or July next year. So armed with that knowledge we’d started making plans for September 2018.

We had already spotted a tempting itinerary for a 7-night fly-cruise on Oceana in the right period: Valletta, Split, Venice, Ravenna, Dubrovnik, and back to Valletta. We need to restrict ourselves to just 7-night itineraries for these fly cruises, as the fact that they start mid-week means that Val would have to take three weeks off work, certainly more than two weeks, to fit in the fourteen nights of the actual cruise. But that’s OK – we’ve been feeling on this cruise that perhaps fourteen nights was a couple of nights too long, and in any case P&O helpfully invite would-be passengers to extend their holiday with a pre- or post-cruise stay at the Excelsior Hotel in Valletta. So a couple of extra nights there before the cruise would bring it up to nine nights which feels about right, would give us a day or so to recover from a 6:15am flight from Manchester, and would also allow us to explore Malta, a place we’ve never been to.

We found ourselves opposite the Loyalty and Future Cruises desk here on the ship, ventured in and were soon in conversation with Jack and Christian, the Loyalty and Future Cruise managers for the cruise. They couldn’t have been more helpful. Flights from Manchester? – no problem. A night at the Excelsior in advance? – of course. A second night? – I’m sure that will be OK. What with promises of hassle-free transfers, plentiful OBC (especially for a seven night cruise) and a low deposit, we were convinced and duly signed up; and more importantly from Jack and Christian’s viewpoint, we produced the credit card.

Later that day we got the booking confirmation printout, and that was when one or two questions emerged. The second night at the hotel couldn’t be confirmed, and while the round-trip was described as being Manchester to Manchester, the flight out seemed to be from Gatwick. Driving from Sheffield to Gatwick is not a journey to be undertaken lightly, especially if you have a deadline by which you have to get to Gatwick. So various further discussions ensued.

The issue seems to revolve around the fact that we’re booking so far in advance – more than a year from now. P&O know they’ll be running the cruise so that’s definite. They also know that they will be chartering flights for those travelling on embarkation and disembarkation days, so even though the charters may not have been arranged yet for the dates of our cruise, everyone knows they will be. But P&O don’t normally charter flights on other days to cover passengers staying extra nights at the hotel – they book passengers onto whatever flights are available, and at the moment (late June 2017) none of the relevant airlines have published their schedules for September 2018. So the advice is – contact our TA (the booking has been passed to them) in October to sort out the details.

Our first reaction was to feel very uncertain about this, but on reflection we’ve decided that we’re being wusses. So we’re booked on a fly-cruise plus a pre-cruise stay in September 2018 for which we don’t know the flight details nor even how many nights we’ll be away, and by our standards this feels like living dangerously. I’m sure we’ll come to relish it eventually!

(Update later but before posting: we’ve had the second night in the hotel confirmed so we do at least know how long the holiday will last. That’ll do for now.)

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Belfast…

…is where we’ve been today. Val has never been here, and my last visit was over 50 years ago – my father came from N Ireland, and for some years when I was a boy, family holidays included visits here.

As I mentioned in an earlier post we were going to visit some of the places from those long-ago holidays, but in the event it was very dull and grey this morning and we thought better of it. We got the shuttle bus to the City Hall (15 to 20 minutes) and were dropped off outside the ‘Visit Belfast’ information centre. There was a bit of a scrum here but eventually we found a city map and decided to walk over to the Titanic Experience, with a view to going in if it wasn’t too expensive. The walk took about half an hour and was easy enough, though some stretches along the river were pretty open and would be very wet in rain. We hadn’t hurried off the ship so it was about 11:30 when we arrived. (Frustratingly, we were probably only a quarter of a mile from Azura when we got there; just on the other side of the river.)

The attraction itself cost us £14.50 each. That was a ‘Seniors’ price which I was able to get even though I didn’t have the proof of eligibility that I required. Val did, and they raised no objection to also giving me the reduced price. (The normal price is £18pp, btw.) That gave us access to two attractions – the Titanic Experience and a chance to walk around the SS Nomadic, which is berthed in a dry dock just outside.

We enjoyed the Titanic Experience. It’s an immersive museum/attraction in the modern style, and Val found the first stage,which covered the development of industrial Belfast in the 19th century, confusing, but once the story focused more clearly on the construction of the Titanic the experience improved. There’s one section where visitors enter cars which swoop around huge multi-storey displays about the shipbuilder’s experience of the construction – riveters, frame benders, and so on. It brings out what a very hard job a shipyard worker had in those days – I was particular struck by the ‘heating boy’ tossing white-hot rivets up in the air to be caught by a other workers who performed the actual riveting process.

The Experience finishes with a brief account of the voyage and the sinking, but I did get a feeling that that wasn’t the story being told (although it’s impossible to ignore it, of course). The main focus was its construction and the role of Belfast and its people in that, and how it fitted into a long and proud industrial tradition. We enjoyed it. I suppose if I was being really critical I could wish that Titanic’s position as the middle one of three huge (for the time) sister-ships, and not a unique object, was brought out more clearly – Titanic was built more quickly than Olympic which preceded her, as all of the problems had been sorted out during the construction of the earlier ship. Butt that’s a counsel of perfection – it’s Titanic that the world remembers, not Olympic, even though she did 25 years service on the Atlantic run, or even Britannic which was also sunk. It’s an extraordinary fact that of that class of world-beating ships, built specifically for the North Atlantic run, only one of the three ever reached New York.

SS Nomadic was less interesting, but as our ticket included it we did visit her. She was used as a high-class tender at Cherbourg for 1st and 2nd class passengers of the Olympic-class liners, Cherbourg harbour being too small at that time for them to berth alongside the quay. (Third class passengers had to use a different tender ship – perish the thought that the great and good should come into close proximity to the great unwashed…) She was interesting enough, I suppose, but if I’d paid the £7 pp just for admission to Nomadic, I’d have been pretty disappointed.

Then we walked back to the city centre, quickly got a shuttle bus back to the ship, and were back on board just after 4pm, having had a more enjoyable day than we expected at breakfast time.

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Pictures from the Faroes

This morning we’re at Belfast and therefore I have a good phone signal and can post some pictures from the Faroes. Unfortunately I don’t think they’re very good. My memories of the Faroes are of ever-changing light, with cloud and rain changing quickly to sunshine and then back again. Even when it was raining where we were, I could almost always see somewhere – a mountainside, for example – where there was sunlight. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve bought this very well. Ah well, here they are.

 

Belfast today is grey and drizzly, so we’re uncertain what to do. I was really hoping it would be sunny for the call here and we were planning to revisit some places I’d visited on childhood holidays. Instead I think we’ll take ourselves ashore to the tourist information centre and see what inspires us once we get there.

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Sunset pictures

I took the pictures below at around midnight on the day we didn’t call at Reykjavik. This was the first actual sunset we’d seen for days, and it did us proud.

 

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