We are grreat fans of TA cruises and, having attained Captain's Club top level on Celebrity, this was a natural for us. Check-in in N.Y.C. was an absolute breeze, we arrived at the pier, extremely conveniently located in mid-town Manhattan around 3:30, found noone ahead of us in line, and were aboard within ten minutes and were directed to the Windows Cafe, glass of Champagne in hand, for a late lunch. By the time we went to our cabin our luggage was waiting for us. Our cabin, 8040, although designated a suite, was not really that, as sleeping and living areas were not separated. But it was wider, by three feet or so, than a standard cabin, and the extra room made it much eas ier for the two of us to move around simultaneously. The balcony was also that much longer, which provided room for a lounger, two chairs and a table; unfortunately the weather was never quite mild enough for us to sit outside. The bathroom was of adequate size, had both a tub and a shower, and more than sufficiennt storage space. Storage space in the cabin was ample, our three suitcases all fitted under the bed. Our two cabin attendants were oustanding, giving the room thorough cleanings twice a day. After the first day they had learned our movements so that they were never in the way when we wanted to use the room. Our butler, Sanjiv, was absolutely first rate. He made our reservations in the specialty restaurants for us, brought us breakfast in the cabin on the minute on the days we had it there, and served it with considerable grace, kept our refrigerator stocked with the items we requested on the first day, and always had a snack waiting for us in the late afternoon when we'd return to the cabin.
The food: We ate dinner in the Main Dining Room twice, found the choice of dished adequate, the food quite good but certainly nothing to rave about. The breakfasts there offered a wide choice but took rather too long to serve, so that we mostly breakfasted in the Windows cafe which offered a similar choice of dishes along with waiters to carry older passengers' (a category that included me) plates to their tables. The only problem was that, at peak hours (at lunch as well), there weren't enough tables to go around. Not really a problem as, without exception, seated guests were only too happy to share their tables when we asked if we might join them. The lunch buffet at Windows was hit and misss. The cold cuts were always inadequate, the hot dishes were mostly good, but not always, the offerings of the carvery varied in quality, the ice cream was very good indeed. We had the themed dinners at windows on two evenings, when the tables are covered with white linen. The Indian evevning was a big success, the French not so much. The pool lunches, on the occasions when we craved a simpler fare, were very good, with excellent hamburgers, fries and a choice of beef, lamb and chicken kebabs and nice, crisp fries. But by far the best food was to be had in the specialty restaurants where, as suite pessengers, we could eat as often as we liked at no additional charge. Prime C was excellent, with a superb fillet of beef, a lovely saddle of lamb and, since perfection is hard to achieve, a beautiful veal chop which was, however, a bit stringy and certainly badly oversalted. I can offer nothing but raves about Aqualina. Particularly memorable were two different pate de foie gras versions as starters, a splendid osso bucco and a marvelously tender broiled lobster. As for the free house wines (one had a choice of a different red or white each day both at lunch and at dinner at all the venues) they went from barely acceptable to pretty good. (Why, by the way, free wine and not free beer? And I would add that the same wines served in the bars at non-meal times were going for truly ridiculous prices, $11 for a glass of garden variety Pinot Grigio?)) In the specialty restaurants we chose to order from the wine list, it was possible to find good reds and whites for around $30, although only a few. I should mention that we were presented with four half bottles of assorted spirits (which we chose to exchange for four half bottles of a very good Scotch) in our suite, along with two bottles of bubbly and a bottle of wine. We were never in imminent danger of dying of thirst. The free specialty coffees and pastries, available at Mosaics Cafe at all hours, were excellent as well.
As our Celebrity Elite Status translated into Le Club Voyage membership we enjoyed a number of additional percs. These included a more than generous free internet allotment a bag of laundry done free and one garment dry cleaned free. Additionally, there were four cocktail hours fo club members, with any drinks you wanted offered free a volonte, and two evenings of "happy hours" with drinks available at half price.
The quality of the service throughout was extremely friendly and genuinely helpful. The one exception was a server who refused to honor our Club status at one of the happy hours and was overbearing and deliberately unhelpful in addition. After I reported the incident to the Customer Relations desk I was sought out by no less than three ship's officers who offered their profuse apologies and assured me that they would make it their personal responsibility to see to it that such an incident would not happen again. Apart from this very minor occurrence we had only the most pleasant of interchanges with the personnel aboard and found all the ship's officers, from the Captain on down, to be most friendly and approachable. On the one day that there were rough seas the captain changed course and reduced speed to minimize the discomfort caused to his passengers. The down side of this was that this cost him several hours and that he consequently missed the tide at Honfleur, causing the excursions from Rouen to be scrubbed, but from all I heard, most people were quite happy having been spared a day of utter misery, and from our perspective, it was a real bonus to be able to make the beautiful passage up the Seine in daylight rather than in the night.
The quality of the entertainment, especially considering the size of the vessel, was excellent throughout. On the first evening a string quartet from the Julliard Music School, performed and this proved to be a special treat. Eliot Finkel was marvelous, both in his incarnation as presiding musician of the ship's orchestra and in his two classical piano recitals, both of which were truly delightful. How heartening that a cruise line can make the assumption that its guests are not necessarily musical illiterates, to be fobbed off with only the most glaring of schmaltz.The dance company proved to be very good indeed, we much enjoyed that evening. Nancy greatly enjoyed the dance lessons offered most days. Several passengers put together a series of question and answer sessions for the benefit of passengers not feeling entirely comfortable in the use of the French language once ashore and I had the impression that these were well received--they were certainly well attended. Azamara graciously not merely assigned a daily time in the observation lounge for this purpose but also publicized the sessions in the daily newspaper.
Even though there were no port stops and that consequently this was not cruising in the generally understood meaning of the word, we were both delighted with our experience and enjoyed it as an extremely pleasant Atlantic crossing. In our opinion Azamara has come up with a most useful and pleasing formula.