Amsterdam, Vlissingen, Bruges, London, Rouen
Baltic & Northern Europe
This is one of my only ship reviews I have posted, I am very active on the roll call boards, but never felt the need to comment on a cruise ship before now. We sailed on the Journey for a 12 night sailing. The itinerary and the price was the main reason for doing this trip. The Ports were Amsterdam, Vlissingen, Antwerp (3 nights), Bruges, London (docked off of Greenwich, 6 miles from London City) and Rouen, France (one hour train ride from Paris), disembarked at Southampton, England. This was our second time on Azamara, we had sailed on the Quest about 4 years ago doing the Best of Italy for 14 nights, wonderful is all I can say. We have sailed on Celebrity, Royal, Princess, NCL and Carnival before and we have enjoyed each cruise and each line as they are all different in their own ways. As you can see we haven't been loyal to anyone Cruise Line, we go for the itinerary and time of year. I keep looking into land tours but keep coming back to cruising as you don't have all that packing More
and unpacking. I must admit I now feel that Azamara is the best Cruise Line we have done to date. I have always said I don't care which cruise line we go on, but now I have to admit that Azamara is far and away the best of the best. I will now go out of my way to look for where they are going to see if it meets with our needs to travel with them again. We are in our early to mid-fifties at time of writing. So that all being said I'll go ahead and put down some of the things we enjoyed:
1. They serve a red and white wine at lunch and dinner, complimentary. Now you'll say it's included in the price of the cruise, well at the deal we got I'd have to say no.
2. Mosaics is the specialty coffee house on deck 5, also complimentary. They had cookies, finger sandwiches etc. to munch on. Great place to meet before exiting the ship, if you're not tendering you disembark on Deck 5. Tenders exit on Deck 4.
3. The ship itself is kept in GREAT shape, while on an "R" ship with Princess they started to let it get a little run down because they were transferring the ship to one of their other cruise lines. Everything is cleaned daily. They even re-varnished our railing on our Balcony while we were out.
4. The toiletries in the cabin included shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, body gel and a small bottle of air freshener (that's a great idea).
5. While in port they hang a banner across deck 5 that says "Welcome Home" another great touch.
6. Crew very, very friendly. Always willing to go out of their way to say good morning, good evening etc. Excellent staff and training, they have to work on it and it shows.
7. Cabin, we had a Balcony, Cabin 6068. Great shape a little small by some ship's standards but had a good amount of closet storage and shelves in both room and bathroom. Shower only had a curtain, but I'm okay with that.
8. Balcony, is about 4' wide by width of cabin, it had 2 plastic chairs and a small glass topped table, very clean and in very good shape.
9. The curtains in room are in good shape and had a blackout curtain and sheer.
10. The lounge chairs around the pool have soft pads and are covered each day with clean towels and they place a rolled up pool towel so you don't have to go anywhere to get one, it's right there on the lounge chair.
11. In one corner of the pool deck they have over-stuffed sofas , love seats and coffee tables instead of just the standard hard back patio chairs and eating tables.
12. They have a coffee service set up on the pool deck by the Pool Bar so you don't have to walk to the restaurant.
13. For breakfast you can order your omelet and they bring it to your table so you don't have to stand there and wait.
14. Enjoyed all the food. The Pool Grill makes great hamburgers and fries.
15. I really enjoyed the idea that they don't nickel and dime you every time you turn around, they just can't go too far out of their way to help, the best crew ever on both ships.
16. Azamara took care of our airfare and I thought the air fights were very good. One stop in Chicago for an hour and a half then direct to Amsterdam on Delta. The return was non-stop from Southampton to Los Angeles on Virgin Atlantic.
I could go on and on. Let me just say I love Azamara and the way they take of care you. I guess it's the way cruising used to be before the bean counters took over and started Revenue Enhancement.
I won't get into the ports as we enjoyed them all and our private guides. The ship tours sounded like a great deal being half off (within 4 days of cruising) but we like small groups with private guides. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Rebecca De Rooy gave our tour of Amsterdam and did a wonderful job. We toured the city by Canal Cruise, then did a driving/walking tour. She provided a lot of information and was very warm and engaging. We did not stop at Anne Frank's house as the lines were long and she said the tour was of just the small attic were she hid and wasn't worth the long wait to get in. We did a tour of the Rembrandt's house which was nice. The city is very clean and very pretty. The Red Light District we did the first night on our own was really cool and fun, we also felt pretty safe for a seedy area.
Brussels Walking Tour
Our ship was still docked in Antwerp. This tour was a Gourmet Walking and Tasting tour of Brussels. Our guide was Joyce Mousny, head guide for QualiGuides. She was really fun and great, also a very good driver. She was able to park that van into the smallest car space ever. We drove into the city from Antwerp. We had a very good tour and again learned a lot and saw all the major sites. Very, very pretty city, again with lots of history. This was one of my wife's favorite cities. We really enjoyed the beer tasting, the mussels were the best at Chez Leon. The chocolates were also wonderful. Joyce explained all the different beers, mussels and how to care for the Chocolates. The tour was very well laid out and moved at just the right pace. Great day and wonderful weather. I can't help repeating how good our guides were, but they were all excellent. The weather was also very good during of trip in May. It rained for about 20 minutes in Amsterdam, other then that we had no rain at all. The weather was a little cool by Los Angeles standards, maybe 60's during the day, which was better then we thought it would be. Then about half way into the trip the weather turned warm and was clear, we were very lucky I guess.
Our ship docked in Vlissingen from 9:00am to 2:00pm. We left the ship for the day and toured the countryside and then Antwerp, we re-met the ship when it docked the same day in Antwerp @ 7:00PM. Our guide was George Depoorter, which was our favorite guide of the entire trip. Fun,informative,well prepared,simply the best. Would HIGHLY recommend George. E-mail email@example.com. We toured the countryside which was very nice although we had just missed the Tulips. Visited Middleburg a pretty older city. Toured Antwerp which was pretty cool in and of itself. Did all the highlights and learned a lot. Great day and Guide.
Our tour of Brugges was given again by our Buddy George, which by this time was getting the hang of us. Let his hair down a little and we had the best time. We did a canal cruise of the city and a walking tour. Beautiful city. George even set up a private tour of a working Windmill given by the owner, a great tour and very interesting. Again visited all the major sites. George even took us to an inexpensive liquor store so we could restock our cabin. Enjoyed the hell out of Brugges. Can't say enough about our tours to this point, enjoyed them all. We got to see and do so much more then the ship tours as people on board told us when we compared tours at the end of the day.
This tour we were still docked in Antwerp, which is centrally located for day tours to other cities. Our tour to Ghent and the Flemish countryside was again provided by our favorite George Depoorter. We drove into Ghent then walked around the city which is the best way to see Ghent. Visited the castle, the Cathedral and saw the Mystic Lamp painting. George again explained all the sites and showed us wonderful pictures and maps on his I-Pad, very great idea he had using the I-pad. Loved this city and all the sites again. It really helps to have a private guide, there was only six of us. We were able to ask questions about the sites and best of all how people live, their politics, their thoughts about the USA etc. George of course always knew where to eat and what beer to order. Loved everything about Belgium. Would love to return sometime.
Our ship docked off Greenwich, just six miles from downtown London. We tendered in to the Greenwich pier where the Thames River boats dock. Good location right by the Cutty Sark and a train station about 200 yards away.
This was out least favorite tour. Although our guide Brain Cookson was wonderful, informative, knowledgeable and engaging. I messed this one up as I wanted to see too much and the city of London is to spread out. We saw everything, except we could only run by the sites. We had no time to linger and get any in depth knowledge or see the inside of any site. Looking back I would cut back and stick to the major sites like the Tower of London, Parliament, Westminster Abby and Buckingham Palace. I can say we saw everything, bridges, churches, the Abby Road studios, Buckingham, Big Ben etc. But had no real feel for any of the sites as we had to keep moving.
On our second day in London we had as our guide Chris of Chris's Black Cab Tours. A very good guide. Today was the tour my wife wanted. We went to Stonehenge. This was our longest tour as Stonehenge is about 2 hours outside of London. It took us about an hour and a half just to get out of the city proper, boy, I thought we had traffic in LA, but this was crazy with the road closures etc. getting ready for the Olympics. We did a nice tour of Stonehenge which is still just a pile of Rocks in my opinion, glad to check it off the bucket list. The best part was our tour of Windsor Castle, saw the changing of the guard, which we missed at Buckingham. Great site the Castle, spent about an hour and a half and saw the majors. Could have spent all day there without a problem. Can't wait to go back some day and spend more time at both London and Windsor. We saw different sites on the ride back to London and Chris made the long trip back to the ship as interesting as possible. He even let the girls go to Herrods to look around. The tour started at 8:00am and he dropped us off at the ship at about 7:00pm. A very long day.
Our ship docked outside the city of Rouen, the ship provided bus service into the town as it was way to far to walk to Rouen. The weather was getting very warm now, in London it got as high as 90 degrees. Today we toured the Normandy Beaches. Normandy is about a 2 hour drive from Rouen and is not really possible to get there by train so you must drive. Our guide for the day was Dominique Eu Dier (www.guide-normandy-tours.com. A wonderful lady. She explained the invasion and the battles that took place. We toured a small museum that she hadn't toured before as the large tour buses can't get in there and park. A great display at the museum of armaments, uniforms, tanks, jeeps, pictures etc.. She said she will now include this museum in her private tours. Toured the cemetery which was very moving. On the way back we stopped to see the Bayeux Tapestry which was very interesting. When we returned, Dominique offered to show us Rouen as we hadn't had a chance to see the city yet. Very nice and interesting city with a lot of history and beautiful sites and buildings which Dominique explained very well.
On our second day we rode the train to Paris, which is about 1 hour and ten minutes by direct rain. We purchased our train tickets on line in advance. We had arranged for two taxis to pick us up at the ship for the six of us. The cab company screwed up and no one showed on time. So I had to run back to the ship and have them call the cab company, they said their cabs can't hold 6 people (which we knew and that's why we ordered 2 cabs)and because of that they just weren't going to show up. The ship concierge explained it to them and they showed up in about 10 minutes later in time to make our train. We met our Guide as we got off the train. Genevieve Beauchard was again great. Such a bright,lively and wonderful person. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Paris is just a wonderful city and has so much to see and we will definitely go back some day and spend several days there. Of course we saw all the major sites. Genevieve was even able to get us into a Holiday Inn hotel to their six floor bar (reserved for guests of the hotel only)which offered terrific views of the city as it's the tallest building in that area, not to be missed. Out tour involved walking and using pubic transportation. We ordered our public transport tickets on line in advance. We rode buses, the trains and every worked out very well, great way to get around the city. We ended our tour at the Eiffel Tower (we again purchased tickets on line in advance), having tickets in advance was the best way to go as the line for tickets was over 2 hours long. Genevieve told us we were very lucky to get these tickets as they stopped selling them in advance. Loved Paris and Genevieve was the right person to show us this beautiful city. The sites, the food, just the Vibe of the city was a great experience. After the Eiffel tower we walked around a little and then took the underground back to the train station for the train back to Rouen. When we arrived in Rouen we did have to wait quite a while for a cab back to the ship. Other then that it is a great day.
Our ship docked here at 6:00am and we got off the ship at about 9:00am. Azamara arranged the bus back to Heathrow airport which took about 90 minutes. Everything went off like clock work. What did catch us off guard was that Virgin Atlantic no only had us weigh our check in baggage but also our carry-on bags, we were limited to 14 pounds in our carry-on bags and 50 pounds for our check in baggage. So we had to rearrange our thinks and even had to leave a few unimportant items behind. The flight back was long but Okay.