We’re onboard Azamara Club Cruises’ ship Azamara Journey, sailing the Greek Isles and Turkish coast between Istanbul and Athens. The premium line, part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s stable of companies, prides itself on its destination-immersion programs as well as its friendly and efficient service.
We’re pleased to report that so far Azamara has lived up to its billing — and then some. Some of the experiences, such as an “AzAmazing Evening,” a complimentary event open to all passengers on the 686-passenger ship, were truly outstanding; ours was a classical music concert at the Odeon in Ephesus that we’ll remember for years. We also found that the smaller ship’s staff delivered the personalized service that you’d expect from a line at this price point, along with some genuine surprises.
Here are some of the hits and misses from our Azamara Journey cruise:
Longer Time in Port. In an interview earlier this year about the line’s massive refurbishment, scheduled for 2016, Azamara Club Cruises President Larry Pimentel emphatically noted that while other cruise lines have added overnights and extended their hours in port, no one does it like Azamara. And he’s right: We stayed over eight hours in the majority of our ports of call.
How does this affect the average cruise passenger? It means that you can schedule a daylong excursion on a Turkish gulet (a traditional sailing ship) without rushing back to the cruise ship. It means that you can have dinner in Mykonos at a favorite restaurant. And it means that you can enjoy sunset in Santorini, watching the colors of the caldera change as the other cruise ships leave port. If you’re a person who loves the destination aspect of cruising, this alone could convince you to give Azamara a try.
Tip: Getting ready for a long cruise can be stressful; you might need to run errands to fulfill your packing checklist, catch up on work emails or find a pet sitter. But you’ll always have to prepare your home.
If you plan to be away for at least a few weeks, you should start preparing your home several weeks before you leave. Empty your fridge and leave it unplugged with the door open. You should also unplug other appliances, such as your TV. Doing so will save energy and cut your electrical costs.
Full Article: Read the full checklist for tips on preparing your home.
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Cruise Ship: Norwegian Getaway
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Background: Curious what a luxury small-ship cruiser thought about the 4,028-passenger Norwegian Getaway? Cruise Critic member jeria and her husband, both active 50- and 60-somethings who favor Windstar, couldn’t pass up a deal to experience something new. Between the variety of dining and evening entertainment, the two were pleasantly surprised. Read on for their highlights.
Onboard Highlight: The endless dining options — especially Getaway’s Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, and dining outside on cool nights.
Port Highlight: A tie between the zip-lining tour in St. Thomas and trip to Jost Van Dyke beach from Tortola.
Don’t Miss: The little dining area outside Flamingo Cafe, next to the rock-climbing wall. It’s quiet, shaded, and never crowded.
Watch Out For: Smoke in the casino and surrounding area, if you’re sensitive to the smell.
Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week.
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With the My First Cruise series, Cruise Critic speaks with first time cruisers who recently returned from their very first cruise to find out about their expectations and how they liked it.
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Name: Alison Rubin
Cruised with: Husband
Ship & itinerary: Seven-day Alaska Inside Passage on Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess
Q: Why did you decide to take a cruise?
A. My husband and I are in our mid-sixties. We had not traveled in decades, so I figured now was the time to do it while we are still quite active and healthy. I wanted to go on a cruise because I wanted to experience a vacation that was different for us. I wanted the glamour and the glitz that these “floating hotels” say they offer. I wanted to be pampered and entertained, and I wanted all of that experience while traveling at sea.
Q: Did you have any preconceptions of what to expect from a cruise?
A. I fully expected to eat from morning through night. We didn’t. While food was good, plentiful and always available, we were so busy that food was the last thing on our minds.
The caravan of cruise line coaches, chartered by Azamara Club Cruises and Silversea, snaked its way up the Greek mountains to the famed monasteries of Meteora. Here, certainly, tourism seemed as healthy as ever.
Penny Gripeou, a licensed guide who drove five hours from Athens to Volos to lead our tour with Azamara, nodded. “The cruise ships keep coming, so I keep working,” she said.
The hotel and services that deal mostly with local people are most affected within the Greek tourism industry, she said. August is Greece’s main vacation month, but most folks are staying home this year. “It is tough to plan a holiday when you don’t know what is going to happen.”
Volos is only the first Greek stop on my cruise with Azamara Journey; we’ll also be stopping at the islands of Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini and Hydra before debarking in Athens. Scenes of the riots in Athens seem far away from these much smaller towns; tavernas are full of visitors and shopkeepers are busy ringing up purchases.
But the current financial crisis, part of a recession that has been ongoing in Greece for years, lies beneath the surface. Just a week ago, when Greeks were limited to a daily 60 euro bank withdrawal, shops along the road to Meteora were loathe to take credit cards, Penny said. Cash is king — and still preferred (although plenty of merchants were accepting plastic).
Mention the words costume party, and you’re guaranteed to get one of two reactions — each at one of the furthest ends of the barometer.
Now, I’ve been known to dabble in a bit of light sartorial swashbuckling on pirate night, but for other cruisers, even formal night is perceived as going too far. The love/hate reaction people have to costume parties has been highlighted in two threads on the Cruise Critic forums.
First up is young-at-heart granny WanderLit, who has booked her first Disney cruise for herself, her daughter and her granddaughter. She took to the forums to find out if it’s only the youngsters who get to unleash their inner princess or cartoon character.
“While I’m sure there are little girls going around in princess attire all day long, what about the adults?” she asks. “We would like to all three wear Minnie Mouse dresses to board. Me, like a 1928 black and white polka dot skirt. My daughter in a 1965 red and white polka dot dress and my granddaughter in the pink and white polka dots of today’s Mickey’s Club House style Minnie.”
It doesn’t stop there, as she continues: “For formal night, I’d like to wear my long flowing black dress and maleficent horns, my daughter, a flaming red-head, wants to wear her best Merida green gown. So how often, if at all, do adults play princess and villain dress up on a Disney cruise?”