P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 2: Sea Day

Day 2 of this cruise sees us sailing down past France towards northern Spain.  In the morning, the sea was still a bit rocky although less so than it was last night. The wind had dropped quite a bit and it was ever so slightly warmer.

Starting as I mean to go on, I got up early to get a gym session in before breakfast, even though the clocks went forward an hour last night to bring us in line with Spain. The gym on this ship is open 24hrs, although you can only use the treadmills between 8am-8pm as there are cabins below. They also ask you to take care with resistance machines and weights outside these times.

After breakfast, I woke up my shipmates (well, only Mr FFF as MIL was already up and about!) and we went for breakfast in the buffet. It was about 9ish by the time we got there and again, although it was busy, we soon found a table. The selection was very good. I chose a freshly made omelette with cheese, tomatoes and onions with tinned tomatoes and mushrooms followed by fruit and a croissant – I find breakfast pastries so hard to resist!

There was a cooking demonstration being given in one of the speciality restaurants at 10am so Mr FFF and I went along to that whilst MIL went to look around the shops (we were slightly worried we’d never see her again!)

The demo was hosted by the Executive Chef, Andy Yull, who hails from Glasgow. It was held in Sindhu which is the Indian specialty restaurant on board that has Atul Kochar’s name associated with it. Andy was very entertaining giving us facts and figures about food on the ship (285 tonnes of it were loaded yesterday!!!) whilst talking through the dishes that various chefs were cooking from the different specialty restaurants. We also got to try a chicken tikka bite whilst we were watching – it was delicious though not photogenic. There was also the opportunity to sample some Crepes Suzette afterward but I was too stuffed from breakfast and Chicken Tikka! As a foodie, I obviously found the talk interesting and, although I’d already got 2 speciality restaurants booked for the cruise, I was impressed to find that there was no hard sell to book any. That said, I’ve ended up booking Sindhu as well (at Mr FFF’s insistence, honest!) and Mr FFF is also very keen to try the steak in the Glass House which I’m more than happy about as it will mean I’ll get to sample both that and whatever I choose from their menu.  Yum!

With the weather still not that great and having tracked down MIL, we grabbed some coffees from the café, Java (Costa coffee – £2.60 for a small latte) and went to the theatre to hear the presentation about Barcelona. Having been there 3 times before, I didn’t really learn a great deal about Barcelona itself although it looks like I’m going to have to visit again after this cruise as I now quite fancy going to visit the monastery at Montserrat. MIL seemed to enjoy the talk though and is quite excited for this port.

By the time the talk finished, the weather had started to improve slightly so we headed out to the Terrace Pool at the aft of the ship to relax. I made some good progress with the book I’m reading before we had a sudden rain shower. The closest inside place to this pool is the buffet and so we decided that the best thing to do was to eat lunch! I again went with the healthy option of soup and salad.

The afternoon saw us relaxing with a book in Planet Bar before heading back to the cabin for a quick siesta before getting ready for our first ‘Black Tie’ night. There was a Captain’s Gala with free fizz, red & white wine, whiskey, G&T or fruit juice, scheduled for 6pm and 8pm. We managed to time it just right to grab a drink on the way in to dinner at 6pm, beating the dinner crowds, and were out just in time to grab a drink and experience the 8pm Gala – every little helps when you haven’t got the drinks package!

Dinner was a menu devised (apparently) by Marco Pierre White, although there were also other options to choose from. However, we all went with the Marco option. All of the savoury courses were delicious although the dessert was just ok. I find this is often the case with cruise desserts but I keep trying them in the name of ‘research’! We also enjoyed a very nice bottle of wine – Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley, CA £23ish – which went very well with the Beef Wellington. As we only drank half of the bottle with dinner, we asked the wine waiter to keep the rest for us for the following night. It is possible to do this at all of the restaurants and, I think, most of the bars.

Following our second round of free drinks at the gala, we headed to Malabar Lounge where we thought there was going to be a country singer but actually it was one of the house bands – a Caribbean band called Accent. They were very good and managed to get a few people up dancing – quite an achievement on a ship full of Brits so early in the evening!

When they took a break, we went to the Manhattan Lounge where the country singer was actually performing and were there just in time for her second show. Her name was Laura Austen. She’s from Wales and had a fabulous voice. She said that she is going to be playing the young Tammy Wynette in an upcoming Netflix film so I’m definitely going to look out for that.

After a good old country sing-a-long, it was time to head to bed before another sea day tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Embarkation Day

Although we had an early night last night, it was still a bit early to be woken up by a phone call from my MIL at 6:58am to say that she was up, showered and ready to go for breakfast! It’s her first cruise and I think she’s a bit excited so we’ll let her off.

We were soon dressed and downstairs to fill up at the buffet to set us up for the day. Breakfast was not included but is pretty good value at about £9 per person. There were all the usual cereals, fruit juices, tea, coffee, breads, pastries, fruit, yogurt and, of course, all the elements needed for a full English. Mr FFF & MIL both went for the full English option whilst I went for a bagel, yogurt and fruit – I’m intending to make more healthy choices than I ordinarily would on this cruise whilst still having some treats.

After breakfast and with time to kill before we could go to the port, we had a wander around Southampton and stopped at some shops for some last minute purchases. We walked down to the port to see the other ships that were in – P&O’s Britannia and Oriana, RC’s Independence of the Seas and Sapphire Princess. It was very windy and with the forecast stating it’s going to get worse, I wasn’t hopeful that we’d be sailing on time.

At 11:30, it was time to check out and drive to the port. It was only a 5 minute drive and we had valet parking booked. Although busy, the parking was efficiently run and we only had to queue for a few minutes before being able to unload our luggage. Once inside the terminal building, we were given a coloured and numbered card and told to sit down in the lounge and wait to be called to check in. We arrived at the terminal at approximately 12:15 (after unloading luggage) but it took nearly 2.5 hours to actually get on board. This was disappointing after experiencing quick and seamless check-in on our 3 previous cruises with Royal Caribbean and Princess where each time we were on board within 30 minutes of arriving. Oh well, it was time for the cruise to begin.

By the time we got on board, our cabins were ready so we went straight to them to drop off our carry-on luggage and found our other luggage already waiting for us. We then headed straight to the buffet as we were all pretty hungry after our early breakfast and now late lunch. Although it was busy, we managed to find a table straightaway and were all able to find something tasty to eat.

After lunch, we spent a couple of hours exploring the ship. First impressions are pretty good – the décor is very smart; much better than Crown Princess and I would even give it a slight edge over RC’s Navigator and Independence.

Terrace Pool

Muster was at 4:45 and I was pleased that they’ve changed the procedure and you no longer have to take your life jacket with you to your muster station. We waited until we heard the alarm sound before heading to our stations, although it appears we were some of the few who did as we arrived to a packed station. It did mean we weren’t waiting very long though – I think we were dismissed at about 4:55.

We then went back to the cabins to unpack. Shortly after, a message came over the tannoy system to say that we would soon be sailing away. We ended up watching sail away from our balcony as it was still pretty windy before heading up to the Planet Bar for pre-dinner drinks and to continue watching as we sailed past the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth.

Feeling peckish, we decided it was time to try out the main dining room. We’ve chosen the ‘Freedom Dining’ option for this cruise meaning we can turn up at the restaurant any time between 6pm-9pm. There was a very short queue and we decided that we would be happy to sit with others if that was quicker as we could see some people waiting nearby with pagers. We were seated immediately with another couple who were very friendly and we had a very pleasant dinner with tasty food and good service.

MIL decided she was ready for bed straight after dinner but Mr FFF and I decided to go to another bar for a final drink. We originally chose the Blue Bar which is at the top of the atrium and has a cocktail pianist, however, they couldn’t make the drink I wanted so suggested we go next door to the Glass House. Here I had a very tasty flat white martini which it was worth moving for. Mr FFF had his cocktail of choice – a pint of Peroni. The bar was very quiet which we think was because there was quite a bit of ‘motion in the ocean’ tonight due to the gale force winds.

After our drink, we headed back to our cabin where we were pleasantly surprised to find that although they no longer offer a turn-down service on embarkation day on P&O, our room steward had still left us some chocolates with tomorrow’s Horizon events programme.

All in all, a pretty good embarkation day and we’re now looking forward to having 2 days to relax and explore the ship as we sail towards our first port of call.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Med Cruise – C -1

After a morning’s work for Mr FFF and nails and facial appointments for me (I needed to relax after 2 days of packing!), we set off from the midlands to drive down to Southampton at about 1pm.

The journey was largely uneventful, although I did feel some strong gusts of wind pulling at the car and we drove through a few downpours. We made pretty good time though and arrived in Southampton to sunny weather at about 3:45pm.

We’re staying for one night at the Premier Inn West Quay as unfortunately my first choice of hotel, the Holiday Inn, was fully booked. The hotel seems pretty comfortable although it doesn’t have its own car park which is a slight headache due to all the luggage we have (you’d think we were going on a grand tour with the amount we’ve got. And I was thinking we’d packed light this time!). However, there is a reasonably priced public car park at the back of the hotel so I’m sure we’ll be fine.

The location of the hotel is good – right next to the docks and the West Quay shopping centre. After a quick coffee, we went for a wander around the shopping centre so that MIL could buy a necklace for one of her formal night outfits and Mr FFF could buy a pair of black trousers for black and white night as someone forgot to pack his (who is to blame for this is still in dispute).

Next we wandered down to the Dancing Man Brewery for food. Mr FFF and I found this place before our last cruise but the restaurant was closed due to a wedding. They serve their own and other craft beers and ciders as well as some commercial stuff. Mr FFF had an IPA and a couple of San Miguels whilst I tried their saison and lager. MIL stuck to diet cokes. All of their food is home cooked and they have a wide variety of options for meat eaters and vegans. MIL & I both had pies – her chicken, bacon and cheddar, me beef & stilton (I was going to go for the healthier fish option but I was far too hungry for that), whilst MR FFF had the smoky short rib and brisket. Everything was delicious and the service was good.

We had intended to stroll back to the hotel via Mayflower Park but the wind whipped up and the rain started pouring so we went via the sheltered back streets instead but got to see parts of the old city walls and other historic buildings. We’re going to spend the rest of the night relaxing in front of the TV in the hotel room and trying not to be too excited to sleep!

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Getting Ready to Board

For the first in my new ‘Fat Fighting Foodie Goes Travelling’ series, I’m very excited to be embarking on a Mediterranean cruise. I fell in love with cruising during my first cruise in 2016 on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. Since then, I’ve been on 2 others (Crown Princess and Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas) and have another cruise coming up later this year.

My Shipmates

On this cruise, I’ll be sailing with my husband and mother-in-law. The main reason for the sailing is to celebrate my MIL’s 60th birthday which occurred earlier this year (as well as Mr FFF’s 40th I suppose).

The Ship

This time around, we’re trying P&O’s Azura. We chose this ship primarily because it has solo cabins for my MIL. However, on booking, it actually worked out cheaper for her to be in a standard interior cabin. This is much better for several reasons: location of solo cabins in right next to the casino so there’s some potential for noise; standard interior cabin will be slightly more spacious; we managed to get our cabins nearby on the same deck which would not have been possible if she was in a solo cabin.

Our cabin is a balcony cabin, starboard side on deck 10. We chose a cabin on this deck because there are cabins above and below and the balconies are larger than on other decks which we thought would be useful as MIL has the option of enjoying it with us without us all being squashed.

The layout of the ship is practically identical to the layout of the Crown Princess that we sailed on in 2017 so I’ll be interested to see how the two ships compare. We found the layout of that ship quite confusing to navigate compared to the RC ships we’ve sailed on (and I’m renowned for my excellent sense of direction) so again it will be interesting to see how the two ships compare in that regard. I envision that I will spend most of the cruise employing my teacher skills to ensure that Mr FFF & MIL don’t wander off and get lost!

The Itinerary

We are doing a roundtrip from Southampton calling at the following ports:

  • Cadiz, Spain
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Livorno, Italy
  • Civitavecchia, Italy
  • Cartagena, Spain,
  • Gibraltar, UK

I am very much looking forward to the fact that we have 7 sea days which means plenty of time to relax and enjoy the ship.

We only have one excursion booked: we’re going to Rome. Mr FFF and I have visited Civitavecchia twice on previous cruises but have not been to Rome as yet. We’d decided not to go because of the long transfer times and the heat and crowds in August. However, this was the only place that MIL said she definitely wanted to visit so we’re going to give it a go. We’ve booked the ‘Rome Tiber Cruise and Walk’ tour through P&O. It involves a panoramic tour of several landmarks, a short walking tour with the opportunity to sample some local produce, a river cruise, a walking tour through baroque Rome and a further river cruise. My main reason for booking through P&O was the peace of mind knowing that we’ll be looked after in case of any travel delays which are common in this area of Italy. I also thought the boat tours would help to break-up the walking.

In all of the other ports, we’re just going to get off and have a wander around. This will be mine and Mr FFF’s second cruise call to Barcelona (he’s been one other time and I’ve been twice) and our third cruise call to Gibraltar (Mr FFF has also been when serving in the Royal Navy). Both ports we really enjoy visiting and are looking forward to going back to. It will also be our third time to Livorno. MIL is a first time visitor to all of the ports and a first time cruiser – she is just a tad excited!

We’re heading down to Southampton a day early to avoid the stress of driving down on the day of the cruise and to get our holiday started a day early. My preferred hotel choice, Holiday Inn right next to the port, was unfortunately fully booked so we’re staying nearby at a Premier Inn and parking at the port.

Dining

As my mother rightly points out, for me it’s all about the food! We’ve gone for ‘Freedom Dining’ meaning that we can turn up for dinner at a time to suit us each evening and choose either to sit with others or have a table to ourselves.

I am particularly looking forward to trying some food and wine pairings at ‘The Glass House’ that has wines curated by Olly Smith.

I have a couple of other things booked as a surprise for Mr FFF and MIL but I won’t say anything else about those yet in case they read this…

The Blog

I aim to blog about this cruise as I sail, although I probably won’t be getting an internet package so will only be able to post on port days. I also plan to Periscope during the cruise so feel free to check out those – my username is @hayley_bopp

That’s about it for now, I’m off to finish off the last bits of packing before heading down to Southampton. If you’ve got any questions about the ship, ports or cruising in general, please ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

I’m looking forward to sailing with you!

FFF

Fat Fighting Foodie Goes Travelling

Anyone who knows me IRL knows that another of my big loves, besides food, is travelling. Being a teacher, I’m lucky enough to get several weeks of holiday off from work each year. Although I don’t manage to go away every time, I try to get away as often as possible and when I do, sampling the local cuisine and restaurants is always a priority; “I suppose it’ll be based around food,” remarked my mother of some recent travel plans!

I thought that blogging on here about my travels would

  • be as good a place as any to do it, and
  • help to nudge me towards (sometimes) choosing the healthier options when travelling
  • hopefully be interesting to all of you!

So I’m launching a new section of the blog – Fat Fighting Foodie Goes Travelling – where I’ll share my adventures with you. Look out for my first trip coming up very soon…

I’m still here! (Although I’ll soon be off…)

…on my travels that is! 

Hi everyone! It has been such a long time since I posted on here. I’ve frequently thought about posting but never quite gotten round to it. But, I’m still on my journey (although I seem to have taken quite a detour – oops!). I have recently set myself off once again in the right direction so I thought I’d start up the blog again.

I’ve got myself a nice new blog layout and ideas for some new content that I’m pretty excited about. More of that to come over the next few days.

But enough about me. So how’ve you been?

FFF

Drink of The Week: Hendrick’s Gin with Cucumber

hendricks-cucumberMy previously reported education in the delights of gin continues to go well.

This week’s lesson comes courtesy of a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin from one lovely friend, and the suggestion to serve that particular gin with cucumber from the equally lovely friend who got me in to gin in the first place.

Delicious, smooth and refreshing, I poured the gin over the ice and cucumber before topping with Fever Tree Indian Tonic and muddling gently for 3sp per serving for a single, or 5sp for a double.

Mr FFF and my mum have also confirmed that this is indeed delicious.