As previous Azamara Club Cruises guests we knew what we hoped to expect on this cruise and we were not disappointed. The cruiseline delivered an excellent experience overall, both in terms of the on board and off board experiences.
Departing from our usual approach, we opted to have our flights through the cruiseline due to a free flights and night pre cruise offer from Azamara. On these boards, we were warned by several that this was a mistake, we would be booked on terrible flights, with impossible connections and would sleep in a remote lower standard hotel. How wrong this was, excellent flights with exactly the connection times we like through Heathrow, with our favourite airline and a night in the Hilton Athens with significant breakfast included. Absolutely no complaints at all, even though we missed our connection on the way home, 90% travellers arriving in Heathrow last Friday missed theirs and like them, we were automatically rebooked to the next flight.
It was good that our luggage was taken direct from our rooms at the hotel to our room onboard the ship by a separate van, meaning we did not have any handling issues at the port and embarkation was so easy as a result.
This is where Azamara wins hands down and yet again, the onboard service was exceptional, you could not fault it. It was lovely how many crew recognised us from previous cruises and to see how happy they still are in the work they do. Everyone from Captain Jason to the deckhands play their part in making the whole experience just right for each guest.
One area where we saw a huge improvement in service was the onboard spa where the Manageress has set a lovely ambience and you do not feel like you have stepped into a high pressure sales tunnel. As a result, I spent more there than I have done on my last four Azamara cruises combined
Food and Wine
Again this was another area we could not fault, every meal was perfectly served and we had no complaints about any dishes offered. Chefs are experimenting with some of the menus and whilst I did hear some say they had issue with old favourites that had been removed from the menu, we are open to personal experimentation which resulted in some new favourites, particularly the fish dishes. We were in a suite, so could dine in the Speciality Restaurants (Prime C and Aqualina) every night free of charge and on previous cruises our balance of eating has been in these two venues. This cruise, given how positive our dining experience was in Discoveries, and the fact that our shore plans meant we needed more flexibility to make late choices as to when we dined each night, Discoveries became our venue of choice, though we did really enjoy our three visits to the Deck 10 venues.
A new innovation to look out for on Journey included the wicked addictive cupcakes of the day in Mosaic and if you have not yet ventured to try the Azamara gelato, you have to. Fabulous flavours (apple and honey and cinnamon still stay my favourites) and do try the low fat ones, I defy you to tell the difference and maybe your conscience will feel so much better!
We love the included wines and were very happy to see rose had been added to the list though you did have to ask some staff for it - of course as is the service once they know you like the rose they remember and always ask you would you like that. They are also very tuned in at dinner to guests who want to start with the white then switch to the red. Pours continue to be very generous indeed, however we did not see anyone abuse the offerings and the waiters were also very alert to when you said "no more" they did not come back to try and persuade you otherwise
The ship is showing some signs of needing dry dock, but routine maintenance and painting were evident as ongoing activities most days. Biggest issue was the airconditioning on Deck 8 which was not functioning as it should - after one evening watching the maintenance engineer remove our ceiling and try some interesting origami with masking tape and two more uncomfortable nights in a very hot room, we were moved room mid cruise, not an ideal event but the cooler room was very very welcome indeed, even if now it had a habit of pulling in cooking smells through the aircon at some points in the day (we decided for us this was the much lesser of the two evils).
The other issue that is not quite right is the ships wifi. Our second cabin in particular was a huge blackspot, connections were intermittent and frequently lost. The IT assistant's view was it was because too many are now using the ships wifi - if that is valid, they need to upgrade to the basis of 100% usage by all guests. We need to keep intouch with business when on cruises and I think many of Azamara's customer base do likewise so expectations/needs are high and they need to recognise that.
What a difference from our previous Azamara cruises! Old favourites like Bob Trunell the magician was still there, plus new acts - Cheryl Sinclair and Yorba (pan pipe multi instrumentalists), all made for a pleasant evening, but the stars have to be the new production cast and the shows they put on. Its no longer a simple song and dance show like your local cabaret might put on and whilst space and facilities mean it is not a big mainline theatre event, the staging and content is several notches above what was previously there, with some very talented singers. As every the Journey Orchestra were superb and Tony Markey as Cruise Director brings it all together so well. Like all the ships officers, he is a very visible CD who never stops interacting with guests.
General activities were the usual again a great activities team in place and some nice changes, the dancers who are giving classes are World Champions and really talented people who want to help others learn.
The enrichment lecturer (Warren Wiltsie) was outstanding and a nice change is they now advertise the time on the TV you can watch the replays of his talks if you miss them which is an improvement that was much needed (no longer scrolling through programmes just in case)
Again an area where we have been critical in the past, but for a number of reasons, we opted to put our faith in Azamara in four ports, with a massive leap of faith in Haifa where we opted for the overnight/2 day shore excursion. The Haifa experience was our first port of call and our faith was well rewarded with a small group and an absolutely top notch guide who tailored time to the groups needs. We met some who had gone independently with groups much praised on these boards and had been less than happy.
Lulled into a false sense of security we ventured out on our next shore excursion (Jaffa) straight into the worst guide we have ever had. However, with a relatively small group and (as you get on Azamara) a group of savvy travellers, we made the most of that half day trip, and were very impressed by the swift and proportionate response to the feedback given when we got back on board - all in all no harm done and our remaining two shore excursions (Cleopatras Island Marmaris and the Terraced Houses Ephesus) were both very good, again sensible group size and well run.
Ports of call
We had a variety of ports here, the original cruise had been due to include time in Egypt but this was changed a year ago and three smaller ports (Paphos, Antalya and Marmaris) were substituted in addition to Rhodes and the original ports of Haifa, Ashdod, Kusidasi and Mykanos. As usual, Azamara has there long days in port, free shuttles wherever needed (Haifa, Ashdod, Antalya and Mykonos on this trip) and the great benefit of bringing the local tourist information people onboard at each new port making it so easy for the independent traveller to make last minute plans and/or sense check their pre cruise plans.
Azamara did on this cruise what Azamara does best for us - gave us a home away from home, comforts, good food and service from our onboard family, whilst maximising our opportunities to explore a number of ports of call, some of which are only accessible to smaller ships.
Keep it up guys, you are doing a great job!!