We did 2 back to back cruises from Mumbai to Athens (24 days) for an excellent price including air from Australia. It was ages since we had been on a smaller ship and we rediscovered the benefits in terms of making friendships etc that the anonymity of larger ships can make more difficult. Good for sole travellers. The itinerary was exciting as it included most places of interest to us in the Middle East area.
It was our first time with Azamara who promised a special experience and really delivered. This was by far the friendliest, most welcoming and helpful ship's company that we have ever sailed with in our 349 cruising days.
Our introduction to the company was not good as we were very concerned to know if our cruise was going ahead after we heard of the fire on TV. We never at any stage had any official communication from the company as to the happening of the fire, the state of the ship, the progress of the repairs etc and were reliant on this website for the best information. We didn't really even know if we'd be going or not until quite late in the week before we left, and even then we weren't sure.
A word of caution: We did not use a travel agent and thus booked directly. Bookings etc are handled by RCCL staff and there was one major hitch. On booking we were told the package contained free flights and transfers but we were not told that there were no free transfers at all if we had to overnight because of flights, or if we were not flying out, again because of flight schedules, on the day of disembarkation, even if we just wanted to go to the airport, having booked an airport hotel. However, they would provide transfers if we booked their chosen hotel and booked it through RCCL. The cost of this was twice the price I could book the same hotel for online. After much argument, they agreed to let us book the said hotel ourselves and obtain the transfers, and also gave us the airport transfers in Greece. I would have preferred not to have had to argue.
However the ship's company are not responsible for the administration.
Embarkation, once past Indian officials, was very quick. The cruise director was even on shore to greet us. Our balcony cabin was always clean and tidy and the stewards always very pleasant, efficient and eager to help.
Food in the main restaurant and the buffet was very good, though probably not excellent, but the atmosphere was lovely, and the waiters did their utmost to make us feel special by remembering us and our food and wine preferences. Not bad when it is always open sitting! Not having to pack a suit or formal clothes made it easier to meet flight weight limits and not having to dress up made the whole experience more relaxing.
Even the buffet restaurant had white table cloths and candle type lighting at night, and there was a guitarist playing. We went to one of the two speciality restaurants for a special occasion celebration and found the food, service, attention to detail, and decor to be really excellent. Azamara also provide several barbeque evening functions which were a lot of fun with tables around the pool and on the upper running track. Blankets were provided if it became cool. The food was buffet style and quite interesting, and on several occasions we were entertained by an ethnic dance troupe from the local area, plus there was music for dancing from one of the ship's bands. At meal times you could order from the restaurant menus for room service (including the free wine). Otherwise the room service menu is adequate. Breakfast options are yummy and we enjoyed many of these on our balcony.
Free bottled wine (a different red and white each day) was offered in all venues at lunch and dinner, was of good quality and flowed freely. All soft drinks, speciality coffees and bottled water were also included which really reduced the end of cruise bill. As we left on excursions, we were offered a bottle of cold water, which was really welcome.
The Captain would often take his morning coffee in the foyer area and was very approachable.
Entertainment was mostly of a high standard, though a couple of comedians were a bit disappointing. The production group was small with only 4 dancers and about 4 singers but the standard was really excellent and we found the shows more enjoyable than some of the mega productions on larger ships which have a sameness. Also the cruise director, Russ, was very talented having been on Broadway, and he took part in some shows. The piano-bar type entertainer in the foyer was very funny and had a large following most nights. In the day, there was plenty on including a lecture program on the ports which was informative and several fun things such as an iron chef competition, plus the usual bingo, trivia, etc. Our only complaint was that there was little opportunity for ballroom dancing.
Having a free, guests laundry on board was excellent and welcomed by most guests.
Excursions were well organised and each bus was accompanied by a member of the crew. We purchased all our excursions before sailing and therefore paid only half price which was often $90 each for a long day tour with lunch. Good Value! It was amazing to arrive back after a long hot day in the desert, eg. Egypt, to find waiters at the bus door with cocktails and cold washers, the ship's orchestra playing on the pier and several officers there to welcome us back. Even the security officers welcomed us 'home'. It just felt so good. One day in Jordon after walking for hours in Petra we were welcomed back by the Captain, cruise director (dressed as an Arab) and another officer all on camels! Of course the cocktails etc were again on offer.
The onboard shops were a bit disappointing in range in that they had mainly middle and upmarket offerings, especially in the jewellery store where there was very little for under $500 which made small gift buying difficult. Fortunately there was a good range of Swarovski items which we resorted to to spend our onboard credit. More souvenir material needed. One of the jewellery shop's staff could benefit from a little of the 'Azamara attitude'.
We were well prepared for the pirate incident. The Captain had explained the situation and the precautions the Quest was to take when in the pirate area, at a meeting early in the cruise and we had a drill so that when the pirates surrounded us, there was no panic. I think we all felt confident that the situation was in good hands and it was. Probably because that was obvious, the pirates did not attack.
For the second cruise we were past passengers and got invited to more cocktail hours and events than we had time to attend! After getting home, we each received a gift of a passport folder and bag name tag which was a pleasant surprise.
In summary, we were delighted with this ship, her company, value for money, and the ports we visited and look forward to sailing with Azamara again.