P&O Cruises Azura Caribbean Islands

There is something special about arriving in Barbados, maybe it goes back to the record Barbados made so popular in the 70s by Typically Tropical or maybe just the warm Caribbean air, sound of the steel band welcoming us and the palm trees swaying in the late afternoon breeze. As I am going directly to the cruise ship there are no customs or security to go through, no cases to collect as they will be delivered direct to my cabin, hello Caribbean, hello Barbados. Time to relax on the coach as we make our way through Bridgetown to MV Azura waiting for me at the cruise port. Standing in line with several hundred others to be booked in and collect my cruise card is not the best experience after an 8-hour plus flight and the mercury hitting 27°C but once on board it all drifts into insignificance.

P&O Cruises Azura - by Pjotr Mahhonin under licence CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia CommonsFirst stop, cabin L235 a starboard, forward balcony on deck 15, my home for 13 nights. Large queen size bed, interactive flat screen TV, mini fridge and an abundance of draw space in the dressing table unit housing an excellent hair dryer. And yes, there is a kettle with tea bags, coffee, milk sachets and biscuits. Electric plugs sockets of which there are two are the 3-pin design so no need for adapters. The space for hanging clothes is huge and no shortage of hangers. A tall unit in this area houses the safe and more shelves. The bathroom however is quite small as is the shower cubicle causing you to dance with the shower curtain, however the water pressure is good through the adjustable jet shower head and quality of the body gel impressive. Alongside the wash basin were shelves for toiletries together with a 2-pin charge point for electric razors. To my delight P&O Cruises still supply my favourite moisturisers by the White Company. The balcony is equipped with two recliner chairs, foot stool and table. Standing there looking out across the port the sun feels warm and shines from an azure blue sky peppered with white fluffy clouds, what a change from the cold of the UK earlier that day.

Azura was built in 2010 and christened by dancer Darcey Bussell. Carrying nearly 3,600 passengers this ship falls into the ‘large’ category. Operating 10 food venues and 10 bars/lounges, passengers are well-catered for and cosseted in a variety of cabin styles and sizes. Meridian Restaurant - P&O Cruises AzuraThree main dining rooms, Oriental with early and late sitting whilst Meridian and Peninsular operate Freedom Dining showing how the desire of cruisers has changed to eating when they want rather than being told has come to the fore. Two speciality restaurants, Epicurean featuring classic English dishes whilst Sindhu delights customers with dishes from Asia. The Glass House, another extra charge venue focuses on 40 wines selected by Olly Smith to compliment several menus.

Entertainment is well-catered for on this ship. The Playhouse, an 800-seat theatre operates production shows by the ship’s theatre company whilst Manhattan and Malabar, both large lounge bars, feature tribute acts, guest entertainers and resident musicians. Deck 18 is home to the Planet Bar, sit and relax with a cooling drink, take in the views afforded from one of the highest points of the ship or watch large moving screens featuring a different country each evening whilst music is provided by the resident music duo.

Castries, St LuciaFirst port of call, Castries, the main port and capital of St. Lucia, a mountainous island with Mt. Gimie at 950 metres being the highest point whilst The Pitons are the island’s most famous landmark. In 1979 the island gained its independence and relies heavily on tourism and the tourist trade for the major part if its income. Anyone visiting or holidaying, if they can draw themselves away from the beautiful white sand beaches, should consider visits to the Sulphur Springs, Botanical Gardens and a trip into the rain forests. It’s too far to travel not to take in some of the local sights, scenery and culture.

Day 2 finds us docking in Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts or, to use its more formal name, St. Christopher Island. The island’s west side borders the Caribbean Sea whilst the eastern shore accepts the waves and rollers of the Atlantic. Two islands, St. Kitts and Nevis make up this island nation gaining their independence in 1983. A location to visit is the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, not just a UNESCO world heritage site but also the Eastern Caribbean’s largest ever fortress. Take a trip around the island as I did and take in not just the tourist areas but the real St. Kitts, meet the people and experience their hospitality. The island is surrounded by clear blue waters that roll onto long silver sand beaches, secluded coves and inlets. Frigate Bay, with its mile long white sandy beach typifies the Caribbean, a dreamy location to relax in the sun, listen to the waves washing onto the shore whilst you let time pass you by. And the sun, yes, it shines most days of the year.

Frigate Bay, St KittsCome sunset, three long blasts from the ships whistle indicate we are setting sail for our next port, my favourite island in the Caribbean, Antigua, a location I first visited in the late 90s and always look forward to re-visiting. The capital, St John’s has changed over the years but what hasn’t changed is the warmth and friendliness of its people. A steel band plays as you disembark the ship putting the visitor in the right mind set as they stroll through the dock gates onto the town’s main street, home to restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, stores and the local pharmacy, palm trees abound giving shade from the bright, hot sun. Antigua has many connections with England going back to the early 1600s, later in the early 1700s it was a base for naval vessels, hence the names of English Harbour and Falmouth. In 2017 90% of the nearby island of Barbuda was devastated by Hurricane Irma and the islanders were evacuated to Antigua which luckily escaped most of the hurricane. No visit would be complete without visiting Nelsons Dockyard named after Lord Nelson. St. John’s is home to St. John’s Cathedral, a building that since being built in 1681 has been damaged several times by earthquakes but was finally rebuilt and consecrated in 1884. This beautiful white structure standing upon a hill is an easily identified landmark as you sail towards the island.

St John's, AntiguaWith the sun setting as a large fiery ball it’s time to say farewell to Antigua and return to Barbados, arriving after what the Captain described as a ‘high speed run’, at 9am the following morning to another day of blue sky and hot sunshine. An area I enjoy is the Parish of St John on the islands east coast where the rollers from the Atlantic crash onto its coastline. Perched on a cliff top is the church of St John and within, inscribed on wooden wall plaques are the names of the early settlers buried in the church grounds and within the church itself who braved the Atlantic in wooden ships from England and operated the farms and plantations. Unusual to stand in a church and hear the sound of the sea. Back to Bridgetown and just time for a final rum punch before boarding Azura which is now stocked and ready for sea. With the sun setting fast we say goodbye to Bridgetown, passengers are on deck around the pool attending the ‘Sail away Party’ singing Rule Britannia, Jerusalem and others songs whilst waving flags, personally, I prefer to sit quietly on my balcony, watch the sun set over Barbados and reminisce of the last few days as we head out to sea for the 8-day crossing back to the UK, but that story is for another day.

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