Iberia 2014 P&O Azura

Day One, Saturday 2nd August – Southampton

Liz arrived in Birchwood on Friday morning aboard a slightly delayed train. Whilst Richard finished washing and drying some towels, we had some lunch (McDonald’s finest bought by Ian), and then packed all of our cases into the car. The weather was not very encouraging and it had been raining for most of the morning.

We left Birchwood at about 1 o’clock only to run straight into heavy traffic on the M6. This persisted for most of the way to the toll road and it took us over an hour just to get out of Cheshire. There was further heavy traffic on the M42 and then the A34, as well as on the final stretch of the M3. A journey that normally takes us about 3½ hours took well over five hours and we finally arrived in Southampton just after 6pm, just in time to meet Rachel at the railway station. Her train journey from Crewkerne had been much easier although she was also a little delayed.

Having amassed all of our luggage (three cases for Ian and Richard, two for Liz and two for Rachel, as well as a small hold-all), we checked-in to the Premier Inn at West Quay and then walked the short distance into the city centre for dinner. We decided to go for an Italian at Lupa where we have eaten before: Richard had Bresaola followed by chicken cacciatore and then Tia Maria cheesecake; Ian had deep fried mozzarella, chicken Neapolitan and then shared his tiramisu with Rachel; Liz had deep fried mozzarella, veal with mushrooms and finished with cherry tart; Rachel had bruschetta and then lasagna. After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and then went to bed.

We left the hotel at 9am to go into the city to do some last minute shopping. The weather was not very good and we all needed our raincoats. We had breakfast in Starbucks. Liz had forgotten one of her many medications, so had to phone for an emergency prescription which was then collected from Boots. Rachel needed to buy a notebook and Ian bought some new t-shirts from Hollister. We checked out of the hotel just before midday and then Ian drove Richard and the entire luggage to the Ocean terminal, before returning to collect Liz and Rachel and drop-off the car.

Check-in was very efficient and we didn’t have to wait at all. We were finally onboard Azura by about 1.30 and then had lunch in Verona: salads, cold meats and chips, followed by some light desserts. The weather had improved a lot by now and we were able to enjoy some afternoon sunshine, whilst showing Liz and Rachel some of the ship. The cabins were ready by 2 o’clock and all of our luggage had arrived in plenty of time for us to unpack and then get ready for the emergency drill at 4.15. Liz and Rachel are sharing an inside stateroom and Ian and Richard have a balcony on the back of the ship.

Our cabin

After the drill, we all went upstairs to the Sun deck to enjoy the sail-away. After a slight delay, the ship set sail at 5.30 and headed down the Solent and out to sea. The sun was very warm by now and we enjoyed listening to the party music: Ian and Rachel even danced, albeit sitting on a sun lounger!

Sail away

We returned to the cabins and dressed for dinner. We are in the Peninsular Restaurant, which is mid-ships on deck 6, just off the Atrium, on a table for eight right next to a window so we had lovely views of the Isle of Wight during dinner. We had to wait some time for the other people sharing our table to join us: they were delayed because they had to register their ten-year old son for the children’s activities…

Richard and Matthew

However, Matthew is quite a pleasant child and keen to talk to the adults on our table. He is very polite and tackled his steak with great aplomb.

After dinner, instead of rushing to a show, we wandered through the ship, visiting some of the shops and then having a drink in the Glass House. We then went to see the first of the Headliners’ Theatre Company shows in the main theatre: Destination Dance. Ian and Richard had seen it several times before, and Liz even remembered the shoes from when she saw it on Oriana two years ago. Then, it was off to bed.

At sea
Day Two, Sunday 3rd August – At Sea

We agreed to meet at 10 o’clock for breakfast so that we could all have a bit of a lie-in. Everybody had slept well, even though Liz and Rachel have some quite noisy children for neighbours. We had breakfast in the Venezia buffet and then wandered off to watch some of the activities taking place on board: line dancing in the Atrium, cookery demonstrations in Malabar, dance classes in Manhattan and an interview with Pasha and Katya from Strictly Come Dancing in the main theatre. Liz and Richard also bought some Duty Free.

This is a Strictly Come Dancing cruise. We have already seen Craig Revel-Horwood onboard: he will be judging the dance efforts of passengers later in the cruise. Later on in the cruise, there will be shows, talks and competitions all themed around the TV show.

At lunchtime, we went to the Glass House for food. We all choose a selection of small plates, including a chorizo and pork belly cassoulet, hummus, fish cakes and tiger prawns. After lunch, Ian went back to the cabin to sit on the balcony, whilst Richard, Rachel and Liz went to a port talk on Cadiz, where we all fell asleep at various points. We have decided to spend the day in Cadiz rather than travelling to Seville as it will take two hours to get there and back, leaving only about three hours in the city. There seems to be plenty to occupy us in Cadiz and none of us have ever been there before anyway.

The Glass House

After the port talk, Liz and Rachel went to sit in the Planet bar and Richard went to iron some shirts. He then went for a cup of tea in the buffet. He also saw a small pod of dolphins jumping off the starboard side of the ship, which was very exciting.

At 5.45, we all met to attend the welcome onboard Captain’s gala drinks party. After listening to the usual introductions and pleasantries, we went for dinner in the main restaurant. Ian went via Reception to register us for the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour later in the cruise: an exciting opportunity to visit all the areas of the ship that passengers don’t normally see.

After dinner, we went for cocktails in the Planet bar where they were showing panoramic scenes of Australia: Liz recognized the Blue Mountains that she had visited many years ago. Later, we went to Manhattan to watch a magician, who was quite good, and then retired to bed at 10.30. Liz became very excited when she spotted Patrick Robinson from Casualty outside the cabaret lounge!

Our table
Day Three, Monday 4th August – At Sea

We were up a little earlier this morning and went for breakfast in the buffet just before 10 o’clock. The weather is warmer today so we sat outside beside the pool. Liz and Rachel had misread their Horizon newspaper, and thought the watch sale was between 9am and 10am; it is actually on until 10pm, but Richard still bought a cheap Sekonda watch to replace the one he had bought two years ago.

After breakfast, we all separated to do our own thing. Liz bought a new watch too. Ian bought some chocolate and then went to sit on the balcony and read quietly. Richard went to a diamond talk in Malabar: this lasted for nearly an hour and was really interesting, particularly as the presenter was a real expert and wasn’t trying to sell anything. Liz and Rachel sat and relaxed in the Planet bar. At midday, the captain asked for one minute’s silence in recognition of the start of World War One and the losses P&O had suffered during the conflict.

We then met for a light lunch at 12.30 in the Peninsular restaurant. Ian had cauliflower soup followed by an apple brown betty with custard, Richard had a hot chicken and bacon sandwich, Liz and Rachel had a cottage cheese salad with lots of fresh fruit, and then Richard and Liz had a strawberry and almond gateau and Rachel had ice cream.

Following lunch, Ian returned to the cabin to continue relaxing and Richard went to read in the Blue bar followed by a port talk on Ibiza at 2.30. Liz and Rachel went to watch Patrick Robinson in the main theatre. They really enjoyed the interview and found him to be a very down-to-Earth and genuine person. Afterwards, we went for afternoon tea in the Peninsula restaurant that was a very civilised experience, and then caught the end of the tanzanite talk, again a very informed presentation. Following this, we were invited to see the unveiling of the reduced price tanzanite collection, but really we only went for the free glass of champagne. We then returned to the cabins to get dressed for dinner. Tonight required men to wear jackets and it did get rather warm in the restaurant.


After dinner, we had tickets for the first of the Strictly Come Dancing shows starring Pasha Kovalev and Katya Virshilas. Everyone is allocated a ticket for a different day and time to ensure that we all get to watch the show – this is a very good idea and prevents people from being disappointed. It also stops people saving seats for latecomers, which is a definite faux pas on a cruise ship! They performed six dances, including a passo doble, tango and a jive. They also invited three female members of the audience to join Pasha on stage to compete for a prize. They were very excited. In between dances, excerpts from the TV show were shown and Alan Dedicoat provided the voiceover.

We finished the evening with cocktails in the Planet bar and then retired at 10.45 so that we could be up in good time for our first port of call in the morning.

Day Four, Tuesday 5th August – Lisbon, Portugal

We were up and ready for breakfast by 8am this morning. The weather is lovely! Ian and Richard were able to watch us sail up the river Tagus and past the old city centre from their balcony. We were then followed by Oriana, who would also be in port today. We ate breakfast in the main restaurant this morning, as we wanted to have a larger meal and skip lunch as well as avoiding the queues in the buffet. We disembarked just after 9am and then caught the shuttle bus into the centre of Lisbon: we were dropped off in the Black Horse square. Because we paid the select fare for this cruise we did not have to pay for the shuttle bus transfer; passengers paying the advantage fare (cheap) have to pay £3 for their shuttle transfers.

Black Horse Square

Lisbon is located on the mouth of the river Tagus on the large bay of the Sea of Straw. Following the earthquake and tidal wave of 1755, the centre of the city was rebuilt using a grid layout with many formal squares that make the city very attractive. The Baixa, or lower town, was where we started our walking tour of the city. Richard and Ian had visited Lisbon three years ago (also on Azura) so were familiar with the main sites. We began with some souvenir shopping, Liz making quite an impression upon the shopkeeper. We then walked towards the waterfront and the grand square Praca do Comercio: three sides of the square are lined by tall arcades, and the fourth side is open to the river. Here, Liz and Richard had a paddle before we returned to the city, passing underneath the Triumphal Arch and walking up Rua Augusta, a pedestrianised shopping street. On a side street, we stopped for a drink and a comfort break.

By the water

Continuing on, we turned to the right and began to climb one of Lisbon’s many hills up to Castelo de Sao Jorge. This took us through the winding streets of the Alfama, which still retains it Moorish character. The cobbles have been worn quite smooth over the years, and at times this made for some difficult walking, especially for those of us just wearing flip-flops. We saved some time by using a car park lift. Reaching the top, we had some very good views across the city, but decided not to pay the entrance fee for the castle itself, instead wandering around some quaint, narrow streets (avoiding the manic drivers) and visiting a number of small shops. Ian bought a t-shirt and Liz and Rachel bought some cork bracelets. We all had ice creams as well.

How big is too big?

We returned to the Baixa area and then walked up to Bairro Alta, the upper town, on the opposite side of the valley. This area is filled with very smart shops and restaurants. By now, it was getting very warm, so we decided to head back towards the ship, choosing to walk this time, rather than wait for bus. Along the way, Ian was offered sunglasses and narcotics!

Lisbon Tram

We returned to the ship at about 2.30. It was very hot by now. Liz stopped to by some postcards and then we were back on board by 2.50. Richard went to get some hot food in the Venezia buffet and then we all met for afternoon tea in the Peninsular restaurant at 4 o’clock. Afterwards, we went out to our balcony to watch the sail-away from Lisbon: we departed at about 5 o’clock. The passage down the Tagus was very impressive, and we were able to enjoy passing beneath the 25th April Bridge (commemorating the revolution in 1974), built along the lines of the Golden Gate and being Europe’s second longest suspension bridge, as well as passing both the Monument of the Discoveries and the Belem Tower. We were clear of the river and sailing south by about 5.40, which is when we started to get ready for dinner.

Snap, snap, snap!
Belem Tower

After dinner, we went to watch the second of the Headliners’ shows, Blame it on the Boogie. This was a tribute to the music of the 60s and 70s and was passable… Following the show, we went to Planet Bar and then bed. We had been surprised that the clocks hadn’t changed for our visit to Portugal, but they would be changing for the first of our ports of call in Spain in the morning so we would be having an earlier start than normal.

Day 5, Wednesday 6th August – Cadiz

Richard was up very early this morning in order to cut his hair. Having popped outside for his ‘constitutional’, he was disappointed to find that his door key no longer worked so had to go back to Reception to get a new card. This meant the early start was wasted but he did manage to get himself ready for breakfast at 8.45. We all ate in the main restaurant again, sitting at a table for four, which is pleasant if a little cramped with all the breakfast bric-a-brac.

There was a slight haze in the air although it was very warm when we disembarked at 9.45. We were a little doubtful about what we would find in Cadiz: would it be as attractive as the tour guides said or would it just be an industrial port? We are berthed in front of the huge Independence of the Seas so it was difficult to get a clear view of Cadiz itself, apart from all of the cargo containers and derricks.

Port of Cadiz

We needn’t have worried however: Cadiz is a lovely city, and as one of our fellow passengers commented, it is very ‘Spanish’… Cadiz is the oldest inhabited town in the world, dating back three thousand years. It is situated on the northern tip of a very long peninsular, meaning that the city is surrounded on all sides by water. The city was founded by the Phoenicians but really developed when America was discovered and it became Spain’s principal port. Today, 140,000 people live in the city and it is a major shipyard and naval base. We saw a Greek naval frigate arriving, with its complement of cadets out on deck.

We began our exploration of the city at the Plaza de Espana, opposite the cruise terminal.


We then walked anti-clockwise around the city, along the sea wall. This was a really picturesque area as there were a number of formal gardens and parks that we passed through, offering some pleasant shade as well as pretty vistas. We walked through the gardens of the Alameda de Apodaca and Marques de Comillas before arriving at the larger Parque Genoves, where we had a cool drink. The park has a splendid walk, lined with interesting topiary and small fountains.


We then decided to walk into the city itself, through the narrow streets. As with Lisbon, the drivers appeared fairly fearless, often tackling turns in cars that seemed far too big for the streets. We arrived at the Plaza San Antonio, with its grand buildings and then walked through the shopping district before arriving at the central market.

Central Market

The market was a fascinating area. It appeared to be a renovated older colonnade that had a more modern structure in the centre. Around the outside were mainly fruit, vegetable and butchers’ stalls and in the middle were the fishmongers. Every stall had a wide selection of produce and we were amazed at the prices: one kilo of cherries for €1.50! Rachel discovered from a local that the harvests had been particularly good this year, hence the low prices. The fish were equally surprising: one stall had a huge tuna, others live clams that squirted water, and others many types of fish, including swordfish and sharks.

Fish galore

From the market, we made our way towards the cathedral. Along the streets are painted coloured lines, which correspond with the walking tours on the tourist maps. These are really useful: we were following the purple route. Along the way, we visited several small shops, buying both souvenirs and gifts.

Wash Day

The cathedral is situated in the south-western part of the city, very close to the ocean. It was begun in the 18th century and has a grand central dome covered in small yellow tiles that shimmer like gold in the sunlight: the dome is the main landmark in Cadiz. The square in front is very attractive. We sat on the steps in the shade of the main entrance but decided not to pay the €5 entrance fee.

Pose for the camera please!

We then continued along the purple route, heading west towards the town hall, again situated in a very beautiful square with many restaurants, bars and fountains, and a view towards the cruise terminal. A short walk took us in a loop from here, where we visited a convent that is now a hotel, through very pretty little streets, and then back to the eastern side of the city and the port. We returned to Azura at 3.20, in time to relax and then go for afternoon tea.

King of the World

We had to get dressed early for dinner tonight and as it was a formal night this took some time. However, Craig Revel-Horwood was having a ‘Meet and Greet’ posing for photographs in the Atrium at 6 o’clock and Richard, Rachel and Ian met there to take part: Rachel had an individual portrait and Ian and Richard posed with him together - a possible Christmas card!

Ian, Craig and Richard

After dinner, we went to watch a singer perform a selection of Motown and soul classics: a very energetic performance! We watched the sun set over the ocean then had a final drink in the Planet bar before retiring at 10.15.

Craig is a very charming man, not at all like his pantomime villain persona from Strictly
Day 6, Thursday 7th August – Gibraltar

Another reasonably early start for almost everyone today: Ian had decided to stay onboard today as he has visited Gibraltar before and hates it, so he remained in bed. Rachel, Richard and Liz went to breakfast at 8.30 and then disembarked just before 10 o’clock. We are finding breakfast in the main restaurant to be very enjoyable and a good way to start the day, although this morning we shared a table with other people and service was rather slow.

From our berth at the cruise terminal, we had a good view of the western side of the Rock, but the skies were quite clear so we were also able to see across the straits to the second Pillar of Hercules in Morocco, a short distance of fifteen miles. By the time we got off, it was already very warm and we were in full sun as we walked the mile into town. On the quayside, Richard met a former colleague of his who is also sailing upon Azura: apparently her sons had spotted him earlier in the cruise, but Richard hadn’t seen her, which shows just how big the ship is.


Our walk began in Casemates, which was one of the original gates to the town and would have been along the quayside. A lot of land has since been reclaimed from the sea and it is surprising to see just how much the colony has grown out into the bay, much to the chagrin of the Spanish, no doubt. We then walked along Main Street, taking in the splendid sights of Next, Marks and Spencer’s and BHS, before rounding the corner by the Trafalgar cemetery and cutting across a car park to the cable car to the top of the Rock. There was a surprisingly short wait (no more than thirty minutes) despite what the taxi drivers were claiming when they offered to drive us. The return journey cost £10.50 and we paid in Sterling.

The journey up took around six minutes and the views across the bay were spectacular (for those of us that could look). We could see Morocco, Algeciras and way across Spain towards the mountains. Even before we arrived at the top station, one of the famous Barbary apes had jumped onto the roof.

View from the Cable Car

Apart from admiring the views and watching the apes, there is not a great deal to do on top of the Rock. However, we still took our time as there was a refreshing breeze and we were kept entertained by the famous inhabitants. The younger apes were very excitable today; there were some mothers with babies, whilst the older animals lay in the shade trying to keep cool. Despite the multiple warnings, a foolish young boy from Azura decided to try to eat some biscuits. Within seconds, one of the apes had stolen the packet from him and then calmly opened it before sitting in front of us to eat the contents. We spent some time taking photographs from various angles, before having a cool drink in the café. Liz bought some souvenirs and then we descended in the cable car.

Top of the Rock

Opposite the station are the Alameda botanical gardens. We visited these next (they are free). The gardens were well laid-out and we enjoyed strolling around in the hot sunshine: it was nearly thirty degrees. The air was filled with the chirruping of insects in the trees, and often the sound was quite loud. There are many gravestones on display in the gardens: the area was originally outside the town and was used as an informal cemetery for many years. They often have many moving tributes engraved on them and some effort has been taken to relocate them sensitively. We spent about an hour here, and then decided to make our way back to the ship before we melted completely.

Alameda Botanical Gardens

Instead of battling our way through all the bargain hunters on Main Street, we decided to walk along the old fortifications. This was not quite as attractive as it might have been, although it did give us a good sense of the Rock’s history and just how important the colony has been to the British. One thing we did notice was that for all the claims of this being just like Britain, most people were speaking Spanish and everybody drove on the right hand side of the road.

It took about forty minutes to return to the ship, and we had an ice cream along the way. It was very hot by now, so we were glad to get back on board at 3.30 to take advantage of the air conditioning. Richard located Ian reading in the Atrium. He had started the day at 10.30 with a coffee in Java, and then read before going for lunch in the Glass House. The rest of his afternoon had been spent reading quietly and listening to music. We all then went for afternoon tea in the restaurant having purchased our very glamorous portraits with Craig Revel-Horwood. Richard spent some time writing his diary whilst the others relaxed and then we met for dinner.

This evening, we went to watch Craig Revel-Horwood being interviewed live on stage in the main theatre. This was very entertaining and interesting. He spoke with good humour and was very frank and honest about his life and experiences. He also took questions from the audience. We all really enjoyed listening to him and he spoke for well over an hour. After spending some time on the promenade deck looking for dolphins, we retired early at 10 o’clock.

Day 7, Friday 8th August – Cartagena

We were up again reasonably early this morning, and met for breakfast at 8.30. We sat with a lovely family. Rachel’s fried egg was even runny this morning! The day was already warm when we got up, with the temperature expected to reach thirty degrees.

P&O Azura

We got off the ship at 10 o’clock. Cartagena is situated in a natural harbour in the Spanish region of Murcia: it is one of the driest areas of Spain and we certainly felt it this morning. The city is now an important port and naval base, but it has a long history, starting as a Carthaginian colony before being occupied by the Romans, Moors, British and French. It was also an important Republican stronghold in the Spanish Civil War and was one of the last cities to fall to Franco. As such, it has a rich archaeological history. Many of the mountains, hills and cliffs show evidence of fortifications from a variety of eras. Ian and Richard had visited the city on their first cruise ten years ago, so took the lead today.

Liz and friend

The seafront has changed considerably since their last visit and now boasts an impressive esplanade and sculptures, as well as a new museum of maritime archaeology. We started by strolling along the promenade before turning into the main town past the town hall and walking along the Calle Mayor and visiting some of the shops. We made it as far as the Plaza de Espagna and looked at the fountain, before turning back into the town. We decided to stop for a drink and selected a pleasant café in the pretty Plaza de Juan XXIII. Walking through the narrow side streets, we found the escalators that led up the hill to the Molinete Park. From here, we could look across the city and get a sense of the archaeological history. There were a number of Roman excavations to see and the park was landscaped well to accent these. We then descended to street level again, visiting La Caridad church briefly, and then taking the scenic lift up to the castle: €2 each although Liz could have had the concessionary fare! The best thing about the lift ride was the excellent air-conditioning: by now temperatures were well into the thirties.


From the top of the hill, we were able to admire both the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre (only uncovered in 1987) and the remains of the Roman theatre beneath the castle. In the shade there was a pleasant breeze, but out in the open the heat was becoming oppressive. However, the views out across Cartagena were impressive. We walked down the hill and then returned along the quayside to Azura and were back on board by about 1.30. We enjoyed a much-needed cold drink and complimentary snack in the coffee bar in the Atrium and then indulged in some relaxation time.

Can you see the ship?

At 3.30, we met on our balcony for the sail away. We passed by many of the fortifications and were in open water fairly soon. The coastline looks very arid and rocky, but between the mountains there are some fine beaches. At 4 o’clock, Liz, Rachel and Richard went for their afternoon tea and then browsed through the shops before getting ready for the third of our formal nights.

Leaving Cartagena

Tonight was the Peninsular Club cocktail party: disappointingly, we were unable to go as it was at 8 o’clock so that would have meant rushing dinner, and it was hardly worth it for a couple of free drinks. We were a bit annoyed that P&O hadn’t timed it better or arranged for two separate events matched to the different dinner sittings.

Sunset at sea

After dinner, we went to the third of the Headliners shows: Curtain Up! This was a collection of songs from the West End and included numbers from West Side Story, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and Miss Saigon, as well as a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber. This was probably the best show so far and the performances were excellent. Following the show, we sat in Malabar and had a cocktail before going to bed at 10.30.

Day 8, Saturday 9th August – Barcelona

Today is the highlight port of call for this cruise – Barcelona. We were due to dock at 9 o’clock so once again we went for breakfast in the main restaurant. Liz had the breakfast special: corned beef hash. Rachel’s egg was very runny, just as she likes them.

This morning we decided to take the free shuttle bus into the city as the walk was longer than usual and would have taken us through the unattractive port area. The shuttle bus ride took about ten minutes and we were dropped off in front of the World Trade Centre on the waterfront just before 10 o’clock.

Post of Barcelona

Unusually, we had been told that we would need to carry our passports with us today. In addition, a new law introduced in 2011 means that people wearing swimwear or skimpy clothing on the streets of the city can be fined on the spot up to €600! Fortunately, Liz and Rachel dressed sensibly…

Barcelona is Spain’s major Mediterranean sea port and is a very busy city. It is in the region of Cataluña in the north east of the country, however we did not notice much of a difference in temperatures! Whilst a little hazy, it was already into the high twenties. Barcelona is also Spain’s second city and this can be seen in the wealth of high-end shops and restaurants. Most famous for the Gaudi architecture (known as ‘Modernista’ and inspired by Art Nouveau), there is also a quaint and picturesque gothic quarter that we began the day by exploring.

Drink anyone?

From the bottom of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous street, we walked a short way into the city, before heading east into the Barri Gotic: we admired the elegant Plaza Reial built in the 1850s with its colonnades and cafes, as well as the lampposts designed by Gaudi. Liz and Ian bought some tasty assorted biscuits and Liz also found a nice handbag, and then we walked through the narrow streets to the gothic cathedral. This is an impressive structure and pleasingly there was no scaffolding up so we could appreciate the scale of the building and its beauty. Begun in 1298, the façade and spires were only completed in 1913 to plans dated 1408.


We then continued north to Placa de Catalunya, the central square, and continued walking up one of the main avenues, Passeig de Gracia, so that we could see some of the more famous Gaudi buildings, such as Casa Batllo. We also window-shopped at Chanel. Turning east, we walked along Calle de Mallorca, which brought us to Sagrada Familia.

The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia was begun in 1883, with Gaudi taking-over a year later. He completely transformed the plans for the building and spent sixteen years living on the site. However, he only got to see one tower of the Nativity façade completed before being killed by a tram. Today, work has progressed significantly, with the exterior walls completed and the main facades. It looked like they were beginning work upon the next set of inner towers that will be even taller than the current ones and the building had changed considerably since Ian and Richard visited ten years ago. Sadly, after queuing to gain entry for about twenty minutes, we were told that the basilica was full and the only tickets available would be for 5.15. This was a real disappointment as Liz and Rachel had never been inside before.

Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia

Having decided to leave, we caught a taxi back to Placa de Catalunya (about €7.50, and much quicker than walking!), calling in at the massive El Corte Ingles department store to visit their bathrooms. These were on the ninth floor, near the café and restaurant, and afterwards we bought some apricot and pineapple juice, which Ian deftly mixed for us. There were also some surprisingly good views from the terrace area across the city.

We then walked back down Las Ramblas towards the port area. Originally a dry bed of a seasonal river beside the old city walls, it was filled in in the 1770s and became a fashionable place to stroll. There are lots of cafes and stalls today and it was very busy. Along the way, we visited the Mercat de Sant Josep, or La Boqueria, food market, one of the best in Europe. It was designed as an open space in the 1840s, but an iron-framed pavilion was erected in the early 20th Century. This made the market in Cadiz look mediocre by comparison: the fruit and vegetables were arranged beautifully, as were the stalls selling dried fruit, meat, tapas and fish. We bought two punnets of fruit to eat on the way back to the ship: pineapple, melon and strawberries. Delicious! At the end of Las Ramblas, there was also a small craft market and Liz and Rachel browsed the stalls.

Yum Yum

We returned to the shuttle bus and were back on board at 4 o’clock, just in time for afternoon tea. It had been very hot in Barcelona in the afternoon and the tea was certainly refreshing.

Tonight was casual night with a tropical theme: even the cabin stewards and waiters had Hawaiian shirts on this evening! We also received complementary leis to wear. After dinner, we moved to the theatre to watch the Strictly Come Dancing passengers’ competition. Four couples had been selected at the start of the cruise to perform in front of an audience and a panel of judges: the captain, Patrick Robinson, Ian Waite and Craig Revel-Horwood. The show was very professional, although the dancing wasn’t. We saw a modern jive, a waltz, a salsa and a tango. The couple performing the salsa won. It was very entertaining and Craig wasn’t too mean on the poor couples.

Patrick Robinson

Finally, we went to Planet bar for some cocktails and then retired to bed at 10.40 in preparation for our final port of call in the morning.

Day 9, Sunday 10th August – Ibiza

It was again already very warm when we awoke this morning in the port of Ibiza town. Ibiza is the smallest of the Balearic Islands, but has a formidable reputation: there is a greater concentration of nightclubs and discos here than anywhere else in Europe. We arrived at about 9 o’clock on Sunday morning, to find a very sleepy town and not much evidence of the previous night’s debauchery!

We ate breakfast at 8.30: Ian had an omelette and Rachel’s fried egg was perfect. Despite never ordering any eggs, Richard is always asked if he would like some, for some reason.

There was a very long queue for the shuttle buses this morning and we had to wait for about fifteen minutes before we could board one. Crew drills and exercises were taking place on board Azura this morning, so most passengers wanted to get off early to get out of the way. The ship is moored on the far side of the bay from the town, so we couldn’t really have walked, especially as it was so hot. The journey took about ten minutes and we were dropped off beside the ferry terminal.

The bay is almost circular and is dominated by the old town and the hill upon which it sits. We soon decided to make our ascent, passing through the thick walls that had been built in the 16th Century and climbing steeply to look out from the fortifications. There was a cooling breeze that just about made it tolerable. Once at the top, we could look out across the bays and watch the myriad of small pleasure craft heading south. There were also some very large and very expensive yachts in the harbour. We walked along the western and southern parts of the walls towards the cathedral that sits right at the top of the hill. The cathedral was built on the site of a Roman temple and a Moorish mosque and dates from the 13th Century. After pausing in the shade of the cathedral, we began to descend the hill.

We made our way through the narrow and winding streets of the Dalt Vila (Old Town), lined with whitewashed buildings and pretty views. We stopped at a very impressive hotel, the Mirador, in the Plaza de Espana, for a drink and to use the facilities, as well as cool off in their fabulous air-conditioning: €19 for four drinks! But worth it…

We then continued along the eastern walls, to look out over the town and the bay. Rachel lost her straw hat to a gust of wind. It disappeared over the wall into the streets of Sa Pena, the lower town. It was surprising to look down upon the roofs and terraces: they were very untidy! We continued along the walls and then descended by the Portal de ses Taules. On either side are headless Roman statues, discovered in the Roman cemetery. At the bottom of the old town, Liz bought a very pretty white cotton blouse, and then we headed back towards the shuttle bus, stopping for ice creams along the way. The old town was very attractive and worth visiting, but none of us thought we could spend two weeks here on a beach holiday. We were back on board by 2 o’clock and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

Leaving Ibiza

This evening we were going to a special tasting meal in the Glass House, Olly’s Supper Club, where each of the four courses was matched to a specific dish. We arrived at 6.45 and were seated in the corner of the bar with the other guests. We started with a tartare of cured Scandinavian salmon with poached quail egg and seeded sourdough rye bread. This was accompanied with a glass of Peller Ice Cuvee Rose from Canada. The main course was a rosette of herb-crusted grain-fed beef fillet with Perigourdine sauce, woodland mushrooms and parsnip rosti, served with a Chilean Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon. Next came the cheese course: Brie, Cheddar, Danish blue and goat’s cheese with an assortment of crackers, grapes and quince jelly. We had a choice of wines for this course: Ian and Liz had a white Bourgogne Blance Les Setilles Burgandy from France; Rachel and Richard chose an Argentinian red Ruca Malen Petit Verdot. Dessert was an assiette of golden pineapple with olive pistachio cake and elderflower ice cream, served with a sparkling Peller ice wine from Canada. The food and service were excellent and each course was accompanied with a very informative introduction.

We chose not to go to the show tonight and instead spent some time on the Promenade deck before retiring to bed.

Strictly At Sea
Day 10, Monday 11th August – At Sea

As we were having the first of our sea days on the return leg of the voyage, we all had a lie-in this morning. Liz and Rachel got up at 8.15 and lazed around in the cabin before going for breakfast in the buffet. Richard and Ian stayed in their cabin until 10.45. We met at 11 o’clock in the coffee shop on deck 5, and after waiting for a table to be vacated we had coffee: Ian and Richard also had a snack.

At 12.30, we went to the Indian restaurant, Sindhu, for lunch. They serve a tapas style meal during the day called Nashta. We each chose a selection of three dishes: chicken, onion bhajis, prawns, broccoli and lamb samosas. The meal was very tasty and well-worth the £4.95 cover charge. We had begun our transit of the Straits of Gibraltar during the meal, so afterwards we went out on deck to watch. The view of the Rock was spectacular and it really did look like a lion.

This afternoon, we had booked the behind-the-scenes tour of the ship. We met outside the theatre at 2 o’clock and then were escorted around some of the working areas of the ship by the entertainments officers and two security guards. First, we went into the theatre and were given a talk by the production manager: this included standing on stage, having our photographs taken and visiting the backstage area and dressing rooms. The stage crew was setting up for a theatrical performance of Potted Potter, based on JK Rowling’s books. We were then given a tour of the medical centre by one of the doctors, before moving on to the print room, engine control room and the waste processing area. We moved on to the ship’s stores, standing in one of the freezers, and then were given a tour of one of the ship’s galleys by the executive chef, before having refreshments in the Meridien restaurant. We saw the large vats of soup being prepared for the evening meal and also the bakery team hard at work preparing hundreds of rolls and loaves. The bakery operates around the clock, with three shifts.

P&O Azura

Next, we were taken to the mooring deck at the front of the ship, where the Safety Officer instructed us in how the ship was moored and how the anchors work. We also saw the ‘Azura Zoo’, a kennel where stray animals and birds are cared for. Our final stop was the highlight of the tour, the bridge. We were greeted by Captain David Pembridge and had our photographs taken with him on one of the ‘wings’. The views fore and aft were fantastic. The officers on the bridge told us all about the navigation and control systems: it is remarkable how small the controls are when you think about the size of the ship. Most steering is done by a tiny joystick and the wheel in no bigger than that found on a go-kart. Whilst on the bridge, we had to maneuver around a fishing boat which had stopped right in front of us: apparently they do this because large ships attract a lot of fish in their wake. Our final stop was the Glass House, where we were given a glass of champagne and some canapés.

We found the tour very interesting and informative and it was a real treat to be able to visit places the majority of passengers would never see: there were only sixteen of us on this tour. However, Ian and Richard had been on a similar tour last year on Oriana and we felt that was better as we saw more areas of the ship and met more of the officers.

On the Azura tour, we were given some very useful factsheets from the department heads. For example, 13 000 meals a day are prepared on the ship and passengers and crew consume twenty tons of meat, ten tons of fish, eighty tons of fruit and vegetables and three tons of cheese on a two-week cruise. 2 850 bottles of wine, 7 200 cans of beer and 10 000 cans of soft drinks are drunk. There are separate chefs for passengers and crew, with different meals being prepared for the different nationalities of crew: Pakistani, Pilipino and Indian.

Azura Atrium

In Southampton, they load around three hundred tons of food and drinks for each cruise. This includes: 2 800 kg of bacon, 14 500 kg of beef, 12 tons of flour, 134 000 tea bags, fourteen tons of potatoes, ten tons of chips, wedges and hash browns, 1920 kg of baked beans 13 500 toilet rolls and 114 450 stirrers, straws and coasters! When fully loaded, Azura holds about six hundred tons of stores.

From the engineering department, we learnt that Azura weighs 116 000 tons, the same as 94 710 family cars. It costs about $2 million dollars to completely fill her fuel tanks, with on average $800 000 being loaded in Southampton: she could sail for 8 400 miles on a full tank and does about sixty-three feet to the gallon. Water is extracted from the sea and the ship’s tanks hold three million litres of water, enough for fifteen million cups of tea.


The tour finished at about 3.30, and then we returned to the cabins to change for dinner. After dinner, we went to watch Lance Ellington from Strictly Come Dancing sing in the main theatre. This was quite entertaining and he accompanied his songs with some amusing anecdotes. He even performed a duet with his daughter. After the show, we went to Planet bar for a cocktail, before taking a walk along the upper decks and then retiring for bed at 10.45.

Azura at Sea
Day 11, Tuesday 12th August – At Sea

Another lie-in for Richard and Ian again this morning: up at 10 o’clock. Liz and Rachel were up earlier and had breakfast in the buffet. Liz, Rachel and Ian then went to watch the interview with Ian Waite and Camilla Dallerup in the main theatre at 11 o’clock and Richard sat in the Blue Bar to write up his diary. Ian had his photograph taken on stage with the stars.

We all met in the Glass House at midday and went for lunch in the Peninsular restaurant: Ian had orzo pasta, Richard had cottage pie and Liz and Rachel had a croissant filled with creamy chestnut mushrooms. For dessert, Ian and Rachel had marmalade sponge pudding with grand marnier sauce and Richard and Liz had a chocolate and marshmallow biscuit cake. We then spent the afternoon reading in different parts of the ship. Liz and Rachel went for afternoon tea, having had a doze in their cabins after sitting out on deck. Richard read in the Blue bar and then went to the Glass House. Ian sat on the balcony and then went to bed.

Strictly Dresses

Tonight was our final formal night on board. The menu had been prepared by Marco Pierre White. After dinner, we went to Malabar to watch three boys from the Headliners Theatre Company singing their favourite musical numbers. The venue was very busy because Ian and Camilla were dancing in the main theatre: we would be going to see this tomorrow night. The boys sang very well.

After the show, we went to Planet bar for a cocktail before going to bed at 10.30. Richard bumped into two of his pupils from school outside the lifts. We have been having some relatively early nights on this cruise – must be all the sea air…

Azura Atrium
Day 12, Wednesday 13th August – At Sea

We all had a lie-in this morning. Ian didn’t get up until 10.50! There is a moderate swell at sea today, which is making things a bit bumpy around the ship. Richard and Ian did some final shopping: another watch for Richard and a teddy bear for little William, as well as a fridge magnet that says “Keep calm and carry on cruising”.

We met up in Java for coffee and then wandered back to the cabins to sort some things out. Liz and Rachel have nearly finished their packing; Ian and Richard haven’t even started yet! We wrote our ‘thank you’ cards for Philip, our cabin steward, Stephen and Vishal, our waiters at dinner, and Sherry our wine steward. They have all provided us with excellent service and we really appreciate how they have enhanced our experience. We also discovered that Liz and Rachel’s noisy neighbours have been moved to another cabin: adults-only cruises for all of us from now on.

Richard, Liz and Rachel went for lunch in Sindhu at about 1.30. Ian stayed in the cabin as the motion of the ship and looking at the computer screen had made him feel a bit ill. We had a nice lunch that was spoiled at the end when they tested a fire alarm and then couldn’t turn it off.

Richard returned to the cabin and completed the packing. Liz and Rachel also finished theirs and then ended up falling asleep later in the afternoon. Richard finished packing and then went to read in the Glass House, leaving Ian to sleep in the cabin. The sea had calmed somewhat by now and the sun was out as we rounded Cape Finisterre and headed up the English Channel towards Southampton.

Soft Focus Portraits

After dinner, we went to our final Strictly show with Ian Waite and Camilla Dallerup. This was even better than the first show with Pasha and Katya. They began with a very elegant American Smooth: Camilla was flown in from the wings. They also danced a waltz and a tango, finishing with an impressive rumba.

Camilla Dallerup

The evening finished with a final cocktail in Planet bar and then we went to bed at 10.30. The clocks would be changing tonight, but we would still need to be up earlier than usual to disembark in Southampton.

Home again
Day 13, Thursday 14th August – Southampton

We were all up before 6 o’clock this morning, just as Azura was making its way towards the terminal. We met for breakfast at 6.45 in the main restaurant, this morning choosing a lighter option. We then returned to the cabins to collect our suitcases and made our way to deck 6 to disembark at 7.30. Unusually, we were allowed to keep our cruise cards. There was no one at customs or immigration, so we quickly made our way to the car park. Ian then drove Rachel to the railway station so that she could catch her train back to Crewkerne, and then returned to pick up Liz and Richard.

We were taking the scenic route home via Cardiff to visit Charlotte and William. We arrived at 11 o’clock and stayed for about an hour and a half. We then drove back to Birchwood in time for Liz to catch her train to Scarborough. The traffic was heavy and at times we drove through showers. We helped Liz board the train, putting her in the wrong carriage, and then drove home to start the laundry… The one disappointment was that someone had either mistakenly removed or stolen one of Liz’s suitcases from the train. What a way to finish the holiday. Fortunately, most of the important things were in the other case.

Overall, we all really enjoyed our cruise on board Azura. There was lots of entertainment and we visited some really interesting places, notably Cadiz and Ibiza, places we had never cruised to before. Overall, we travelled 3 500 nautical miles. However, we have all resolved to only do adults-only cruises from now on, and Ian and Richard will be choosing the more comfortable northern cruises. We look forward to Iceland and the Faroes in 2015!

P&O Azura
Created By
Ian Parkinson
Created with images by grassrootsgroundswell - "Premier Inn" • andym68 - "IMG_5210" • Picapau17 - "Azura"

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