P&O’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ themed cruise to the Baltic and St Petersburg sounded like just the ticket for us. We had never been to any of the ports of call – Skagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo and Zeebrugge. The cruise itinerary was advertised 4 times during the summer, but only the first one onboard Azura was advertising the ‘Strictly’ theme. Having sailed with P&O twice before, they are our preferred cruise line. We had previously sailed on Oriana with its 1800 passengers, so were keen to see how different it would be on a much bigger ship – Azura – with just over 3000 passengers.
P&O recently streamlined the check-in procedure at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in Southampton and we were soon under way. Our inside cabin was spacious – probably the most spacious cabin we have had. We were particularly pleased about that as we booked an “early saver” fare, allowing P&O to choose the cabin for us. Good choice. Well done, P&O.
I can honestly say we enjoyed all the ports of call. The weather wasn’t always the best, but we weren’t seeking sunny weather when we booked the cruise. Rather it was a chance to visit the Baltic counries with some dancing thrown in. What could be better? The 2-day organised tour in St Petersburg was well worth the money at around £100 each per day. If you take the ship’s own tour you don’t have to get your own visa for Russia, so it’s well worth it as that alone can cost in the region of £75 and getting around in Russia wouldn’t be that easy on your own unless you speak Russian! In the other ports of call, if you are mobile, it’s quite easy to get around on your own either on foot or by tram/sight-seeing buses. Whilst the St Petersburg trip was excellent, we felt that some of the other trips offered did not provide such good value for money and would advise ‘doing your homework’ in advance so you can make an informed decision as to whether you need an organised tour or not.
We were on the ‘Club Dining’ option, which actually means a fixed time to dine in a fixed restaurant. P&O now also offer ‘Freedom Dining’, which allows you to choose when and where to have dinner. This option seemed to work very well for many people we spoke to and next time we sail with P&O we plan to try it out.
Facilities onboard Azura include a well-equipped gym, lounges, bars, casino, spa, pools, sports facilities and a sea scren outdoor cinema – very cosy cuddled up on a sunbed with a blanket under the stars. Our only complaint about the ship would be that on a ship advertising a dancing cruise, THERE WAS NO DEDICATED DANCE FLOOR of any size. We had to dance in the Atrium, which was essentially the circulation space at the bottom of the stairs. In the early evening sessions when there weren’t many people it wasn’t so bad, but by 9.30 it was almost impossible to dance and all you could manage was to ‘shuffle about’. If you do want to try the ‘Strictly’ cruise with P&O, they do have other ships with dance floors, so check before booking. We just assumed a dancing cruise would be on a ship with a proper dance floor.
Apart from that one disappointment, we would highly recommend this cruise. The ports of call were fantastic. The Headliners Theatre Company were also fantastic and we enjoyed their shows and the rest of the entertainment. Facilities onboard ship are also excellent. It doesn’t matter whether you like dancing or not. As with all cruises, you can choose to ‘dip in and out’ of the various entertainment offerings and just do the things you like to do. We thoroughly enjoyed the dancing and seeing and meeting the stars of ‘Strictly’ and it made the cruise special for us.