Exploring without the fuss on P&O Cruises Azura around the Canaries, Scotland on Sunday Travel

Stepping onto P&O Cruises’ Azura in Tenerife, my first reaction was one of surprise at the scale.

The Azura sails around the Canary Islands, and can hold around 3,100 passengers. Pic: P&0 Cruises
The Azura sails around the Canary Islands, and can hold around 3,100 passengers. Pic: P&0 Cruises

It was massive, absurd, a shining white behemoth that can hold around 3,100 passengers and still never feel crowded.

My second was of concern, worried that stepping out of Spain’s gorgeous October sun I would find myself locked up on a boat, a captive with hordes of other tourists stuck in a floating tin filled with English sardines.

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But what I actually found was a holiday free from the faff of admin, with instead a focus on making sure you have the best time doing whatever you want, with staff focused on making sure you feel like the most important person in the world at all times.

Some cabins have a balcony to enjoy a sea view. Pic: Mark Bolton Photography

Fancy just lounging around by the pool with a book? You can do that. Want to go on a guided tour or be driven up a mountain? Both work. Fancy exploring on your own without other tourists? You can, and you absolutely should.

Our ship sailed around the Canaries, stopping in Tenerife, Madeira, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote across one week.

Flying direct from Gatwick to Tenerife, the first thing that hits you is the heat, a thickness in the air that frankly I could not believe I was feeling in October. From here it was a short taxi ride across the seafront to the ship, which you can’t miss because it’s bigger than anything you’ve ever seen.

Despite this, much like the Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside, and can feel a bit like you’re going between planets just due to the massive range of facilities on board.

This arch bridge built over the Los Tilos ravine located on the Canary Island of La Palma is the longest and highest arch bridge ever built in Spain. Pic: Shutterstock / KevinN

The Azura has four swimming pools complete with sunbathing areas, a spa, hot tubs, and even a sports court where I managed to throw the basketball in with a backwards shot, because the facilities are not only lovely but helpful for bragging.

One of these naturally comes with an open air cinema, or if that’s too outside for you, there’s the Playhouse theatre for cabaret, magic, comedy and even interactive game shows.

It is overwhelming in the best way, and that’s before we’ve even got to the restaurants, some of which are so good it's a shame you have to book a cruise to go to them.

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Top of the list would be Sindhu, one of the few venues where you have to pay a little extra, offering Indian food and incredible service. We had the chickpea curry and paneer dumplings, followed by a chocolate truffle mousse I was too full to eat, so instead essentially inhaled it. It was brilliant, and along with the fine dining restaurant The Epicurean, represented some of the best food available on the ship.

Guests can take a ferry to the beach for swims and kayaking. La Graciosa beach Lanzarote. Pic: P&O

On top of this there are more traditional restaurants and a buffet included, albeit with food that is more about sustenance. But when you can have as much as you want, there is something comforting about piling a plate up after a long hard day of lounging.

Not that you’re stuck on the boat, with off-shore activities available at every location, ranging from jet skis to wine tasting, beach days to hikes, to bike tours and cruises.

In Tenerife, we elected to travel to Mount Teide, a volcano representing the highest point in Spain at 3,715m. Stopping off for pictures at view spots or at quaint cafes for pastries, it offered incredible sights and a complete change of scenery from the lush greenery you see elsewhere on the island.

While piling into the bus can seem a bit too much like organised fun, travelling like this was the only way we could have reached it, beyond hiring a car, and was a real treat.

Madeira is full of cobbled streets, small squares and little restaurants packed with locals. Pic: P&O

The real highlight though was in Lanzarote, where we signed up for a cruise which took us to a remote beach where we could swim, kayak and sunbathe to our hearts content.

Our generous hosts then let us swim out to the boat, though a water taxi was available, for a paella lunch at sea with some beers. Jumping into the sea straight from the ship, one guest told me it was “what holidays are all about”, and she’d already booked to come back next year.

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It was striking how many people felt this way and many they do these regularly so there is a community around them, and it’s a great way to socialise and make friends.

If you’re less inclined to do that, going off on your own is also an option, which is what we did in Madeira, best known for hosting the Christiano Ronaldo museum. More excitingly however, it just feels like a vibrant European city, with cobbled streets, small squares where a beer is a euro, and little restaurants packed with locals. It was at one of these where I tried the local delicacy, a black scabbard fish sandwich which was so utterly brilliant I will think about it for the rest of my life.

We also ventured out in Gran Canaria, enjoying cocktails by the sea, in-between swimming in it. Being able to live like that at any time is a joy, let alone during winter.

None of this would matter of course if our base was not nice, but our balcony room was a delight. Finding a bottle of champagne and chocolates on arriving, we spent days sitting on the balcony reading next to the endless sea, or playing chess until we were too drunk to cope with losing.

Photo Taken In Las Palmas De Gran Canaria, Spain. Pic: P&O/Getty Images/EyeEm

It was special, truly special, with lots of wonderful moments packed into one holiday purely because they make it so easy. I have always put a lot of effort into my holidays, spending hours scouring articles about where to go, trawling flight comparison sites, and looking up places to stay on a map so I don’t accidentally end up in the wrong place. Did you know there was a Bruges in France? Because I did only after falling in love with an airbnb not in Belgium. I’d do the same with restaurants and sites, making a google maps list of all the places I wanted to visit, knowing inevitably I would fail. With P&O Cruises, you get all this time back, the concerns over what to see and what to do dissipate. Instead of picking one country for a long time, like tapas you get smaller samples of a lot of them, and it’s all the more filling because of it.

Prices at P&O Cruises aboard the Azura, Canarie, starting from £499 for seven nights with food included.

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