P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 5: Sea Day

Day 5 and another sea day. After our usual routine of the gym followed by a buffet breakfast, we went up to the sun deck near to the ‘adults only’ pool for a spot of sunbathing and reading. A dip in the pool was very refreshing as they haven’t quite warmed up yet but, with plenty of sunny weather forecast, we’re hoping they’re going to get more and more pleasant.

Today we actually skipped lunch – although this was because I had booked the Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea for us all in the Epicurian specialty restaurant. This is only served on sea days and there is only one sitting at 3:30pm. The cost is £15pp and it was well worth it as an indulgent treat. We each enjoyed a selection of 3 different types of savoury bites followed by 4 sweet options and 2 scones each. This was accompanied by a choice of a range of Teapigs teas. I went for ‘Chocolate Flake’ and ‘Up Beet’. Both were very flavoursome and enjoyable but the chocolate flake was my favourite and I’ll be looking out for it when I go shopping at home. All of the food was delicious but if I absolutely had to choose a favourite, the savoury would be the Pancetta & Porcini Éclair which was rich yet light, and the sweet would be the West Indies Dark Chocolate Tart because, y’know, chocolate!

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P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 4: Cadiz, Spain

Day 4 of the cruise brought us to our first port stop  – the Spanish city of Cadiz. From here, it is possible to visit Seville but we had decided to just get off the ship and have a wander around.

As we were in no rush to disembark, we had breakfast in the MDR. We were seated immediately and the service was fast. Mr FFF and MIL both went for the full English option which was huge and looked much more appealing than when Mr FFF slaps all of the component parts onto a plate in the buffet! I opted for a ham and cheese omelette and a fruit salad, both of which were very nice.

We then headed down to the gangway and onto dry land. I had found a walking tour map from Cadiz tourist information online which I had downloaded onto my phone but as we left the terminal building, paper copies were being given out for free. There were 4 different coloured routes to choose from ranging from 1.8km to 7km. We decided to combine a couple of the shorter routes which would take us through a good portion of the city.

We hadn’t really known what to expect from Cadiz but we were impressed with it. Being 3000 years old, there were lots of historical buildings to view and it was lovely to wander around the streets of the old town. It also had a very ‘typical Spanish’ feel to it with lots of beautiful, shady parks and open plazas.

Our walking route took us to the central market which was a real spectacle. It was fascinating to see fishmongers cutting up whole tuna and swordfish and seeing the size of these; they looked very different to what comes out of a tin at home! Outside was a stall selling fresh churros with chocolate caliente which, of course, we had to sample and at €3 I felt it was a bargain.

We continued our walk stopping to buy some locally made crafts along the way before reaching Plaza de San Juan de Dios where we decided to take some refreshment whilst watching the world go by. It was surrounded by some fabulous architecture and we managed to grab seats outside a bar right next to some fountains. As the place we were at was a shop/bar which specialised in Iberico ham and local wines, I thought it would be rude not to try them and I can confirm they were delicious! Mr FFF had a small beer and MIL had a diet coke. The bill came to €15 and as the ham accounted for €9 of this, I thought it was pretty reasonable.

Rested and refreshed, we headed back to the ship and went to the buffet for lunch. I again managed to go for the healthy option by loading up on a variety of different salads including mixed seafood and a delicious shrimp, chilli and sugar snap pea combo (I’m definitely going to try making that at home). I also resisted the desserts opting instead for fruit salad which was the same as the one served at breakfast but was still very nice and refreshing.

Tired from all the walking and eating, we retreated to the cabin to relax, read and blog for a couple of hours before sail away. As we had missed the sail away party in Southampton due to the weather, we decided to go up onto the top deck to where they were celebrating once more. It was still really hot but we kept cool with cocktails as we waved goodbye to an excellent first port.

A quick change and it was time to eat again. We chose the MDR again and once again were impressed with our options. My dessert was the best I’ve had so far – Chocolate Mousse with a Pretzel & Chocolate Ganache served with Salt & Vinegar Ice-cream. I must admit, I tried it mainly because of the ice-cream as I was intrigued by the flavour and I’m pleased to report that it was delicious. It wasn’t as vinegary as a packet of S&V crisps, it was subtle but you could definitely taste it and it really complemented the rich chocolate. MIL chose an Oreo & Dulce de Leche Sundae. There seems always to be a sundae option on the menu and they always look gorgeous so I think I’m going to have to try one soon.

For the evening’s entertainment, there was an Olly Murs tribute act in the Manhattan lounge and he was pretty good. Bed was calling then after the day’s activities but Mr FFF and I did manage to catch a glimpse of the lights on the coast of Morocco from our balcony as we headed through the straights of Gibraltar. We have another sea day to relax tomorrow as we sail to our second port.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 3: Sea Day

Day 3 and another sea day as we sail south off the coast of Portugal. The weather was nice and warm this morning so after another gym session and a reasonably healthy breakfast (if you ignore the cheese and ham croissant) we headed to the Terrace Pool at the aft of the ship for a spot of sunbathing. The sun loungers right next to the pool were already taken (this was about 9:30ish) but there were plenty available on the higher terraces overlooking the pool.

Post-gym sunrise selfie

By about 12:45, my pasty, white Celtic skin was beginning to cook so we retreated to the MDR to try lunch in there. Lunch is available in two of the dining rooms and I’m not sure whether or not they have different menus but we tried the Oriental restaurant as it was the only MDR we hadn’t been in yet. I decided to go for a light option of Butternut Squash Soup and a Jerusalem Artichoke Salad followed by Peach Melba for dessert.

Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with orange & truffle

Following lunch, we had a stroll around the ship to get our step count up before managing to find chairs and a table and eventually loungers right by the Terrace pool. By 4pm, we were again feeling the heat so we decided to cool off with our first dip in the pool. It was very cold as they’d had to drain them (although I think they’d pretty much drained themselves!) during the choppy weather on the first 2 days. It was nice and refreshing though.

After drying off, we headed back to the cabins to get changed for an early dinner. Again we ate in the MDR, arriving at about 6:30 and managing to get a table for 3 with no waiting. Dinner was again very tasty – I enjoyed a Duck Rillette with orange and walnut salad and beetroot ketchup followed by Miso Glazed Tuna with stir fried vegetables, pickled ginger and jasmine rice. For dessert I chose Blueberry Cheesecake which, unfortunately was disappointing and I didn’t finish it (I am a bit of a cheesecake connoisseur though) so I’m pleased that I’d had the foresight to ask to try the coconut ice-cream too which I’m happy to report was delicious!

Duck Rillette
Miso Glazed Tuna

We went to post-dinner drinks at the Blue Bar at the top of the atrium and were pleasantly surprised to be served with some tasty Thai Chicken canapes. I was still full from dinner but I tried them in the name of research and I’m pleased to report they were very tasty.

Our choice for the evening’s entertainment was a comedian by the name of Rudi Lickwood in the Manhattan Lounge. His set was short at only about 45 minutes but he was pretty funny and apparently is doing another couple of shows later on in the cruise including an adult only show so we’ll probably go to see him again.

We finished the night in the Glass House wine bar where I enjoyed one of my favourite wines – Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc – before heading to bed early-ish ready for our first port day tomorrow when we will visit the Spanish city of Cadiz.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

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