We are a retired couple who cruise every couple of years or so. We enjoy good food, good service, and the company of other like-minded people, and we won't put up with second-best.
We chose Azamara after I'd by chance seen Journey at Greenwich in the summer. Subsequent reads of Cruise Critic reviews persuaded me that Azamara would be a good choice for us; we particularly liked the no-tipping policy, open dining and dress code.
We chose this positioning cruise as my wife isn't very good at walking any distance, and a cruise with lots of sea days suited us down to the ground, with the potential of plenty of winter sun.
We booked through Iglu rather than directly with Azamara, and it was Iglu who arranged all the flights, transfers and hotels. In view of the long return flight from Mumbai, I enquired about upgrades and learned that if we chose to leave the ship a bit earlier [23.00 the night before, instead of 8.30] we could fly overnight Premium Economy with Virgin for Â£100 each. As this meant we arrived back at Heathrow at 7.30 in the morning, giving us a clear day for onward travel, I chose this option. I later upgraded the BA scheduled flight to Athens on the BA website to Club Europe for Â£90 each.
Before the cruise I completed Azamara's on-line check in and booked a tour in Mumbai at half price.
On arriving at Terminal 5, having checked in on-line, it was a simple matter to drop our bags at the dedicated Club World check-in, and taking advantage of the increased baggage allowance I just retained a small bag with travel documents and valuables. We were advised of a 50 minute flight delay, and having swiftly passed through security we were directed to the Club World lounge - Well I wouldn't have cared if the flight had been delayed by 50 hours! There was a superb array of complimentary food, drinks and papers, and plenty of seating.
Once the flight was called, my wife was speedily wheeled to the aircraft and we were soon installed in comfortable seats. Once we had taken off the champagne arrived, and continued throughout the flight, while the in-flight meal was excellent.
On arrival in Athens [nearly on time due to following winds] we were swiftly off the plane and the baggage arrived in the baggage hall within 10 minutes. Customs/Immigration seemed virtually non-existent and once in the arrivals hall we soon spotted a driver with our name on a board. Seizing our trolley he led us to his gleaming yellow Mercedes taxi, and in half an hour or so we were at the Athens Gate Hotel. He told us that our 11.00 pick up in the morning would now be an hour earlier as the centre of Athens was to affected by a demonstration at midday. That put paid to my plans of doing a tour of Athens in an open top bus.
I'd packed an overnight bag so our other three cases stayed in the hotel luggage room overnight. Our hotel room was very good; quite large with a good bathroom, and it was quiet with a very comfortable bed. We had dinner in the rooftop restaurant with views across to the Acropolis.
We were in reception by 9.45 on embarkation morning; A driver arrived shortly after and after conferring with the receptionist came to us and said he'd got us down for 11.00, and he'd already got someone else for 10.00.
Half an hour later he was still there, and I saw him talking on his mobile, and shortly after he told us that as his 10.00 pick-up still hadn't shown up, he'd take us instead, so off we went in another lovely shiny Merc.
We arrived at Piraeus abot 10 minutes before embarkation was due to commence. Our luggage soon was taken and we found ourselves with about 40 others. I noted a dedicated Suite desk, and about 12 other check-in points. Once embarkation procedures commenced, we were through check-in very swiftly where we were given a letter to say that staterooms would be available at 2.00, and having confirmed a dining time for Discoveries, we proceeded aboard where we were given a welcoming glass of bubbles. I think we had glass in hand within 15 minutes of the check-ins opening.
First impressions count, so we give Azamara full marks for the efficiency of embarkation and the welcome on board.
We did a quick tour of the ship; very easy as it's compact and well laid out, and we liked what we saw. We lunched in the Windows Cafe where we were impressed by the food, the service and the inclusive wine. Our fellow passengers seemed to be mainly Brits, and we soon got talking; we were amused to note the calm on Journey, compared to the continual Tannoy announcements on the adjacent Costa ship!
I had time to consider the drinks packages on offer, and selected the Classic package at about Â£18.75/head/day, on the basis that a couple of pre-lunch Pimms, a couple of pre-dinner Martini's a couple of nightcaps plus the odd beer during the day should bring us out on the right side - However, it's difficult to work out as none of the bars list the prices of standard drinks and spirits. Now that Azamara are going all-inclusive it won't be a problem in the future.
Staterooms were actually ready soon after 1.00 so we quickly unpacked, finding plenty of hanging and drawer space. Others have commented on the smallness of the bathroom and shower - Well I'm 6'3" and 16st, but had no problems with the shower at all while the bathroom and shower is probably the same size as a good sized caravan wash-room. We had a balcony with a nice table and couple of chairs. The bed was made up as a double and was large and very comfortable.
Safety drill was held that afternoon; no faffing about with life belts, but following the post-Concordia amendments to SOLAS, was much more directed to getting passengers to their muster stations and explaining what would happen in the event of an evacuation.
Soon it was time for a pre-dinner aperitif so we headed up to the Looking Glass for the first Dry Martini. I remarked to my wife, "That's a big Martini", but it was very nice so we had another, which leads to me to a confession; after the second one we were so squiffy that we skipped dinner & went straight to bed! [I found out the following day that not only is it export strength gin, but each Martini contains at least 3 measures!] So thanks Victor for getting me p****d on day one!
Day two was a port call at Rhodes where I got off on my own and did a Red Bus tour [I found out a while ago that this is the best & cheapest way of having a look at a port of call.] It was easy to get off and on the ship, and the ship was within very easy reach of the town.
Thereafter we were into long spell of sea days, relaxing in the sun and being pampered.
We had a quick walk round the souk in Muscat, but stayed on board in Fujairah.
As we had taken this cruise to benefit from sea days we soon got into the daily rhythm of ship board life, so I'll comment in detail on the ship itself:
Azamara treat you as responsible adults who want to enjoy a good holiday. They pamper you, but leave you alone. So one announcement from the Captain and Cruise Director at midday, otherwise no Tannoy, except in case of incidents. No in-your face selling as on some ships.
We had a verandah cabin on the port side of deck 7 [on the old POSH principle, but with modern air conditioning I'd choose starboard in future when east-bound to get more sun]. The room itself was a few yards away from the forward lifts and stairs, and was beautifully quiet, and we felt no motion whatever, but the seas were flat calm. The cabin steward,Ronald, looked after us beautifully - He was unobtrusive, but the room was always immaculate. TV we found to be uninteresting.
We used to order early morning tea every day, but found that one got a jug of hot water with teabags, but the jugs were the same ones that were used in the dining room for coffee, so the tea always tasted of coffee. On day three we had a comment card in the cabin so I noted this problem, and much to my surprise at dinner that night we were approached by a young lady who said she had noted my comment and in future we would get china teapots. The following morning we got the coffee pots again, and the dear girl happened to be in Discoveries again that night, so I told her what had happened. Immediate action was taken! - Not only that, but instead of having to order each evening she set up a standing order for tea in pots, croissants and orange juice for 8.00 every morning. This would be a typical Azamara reaction to problems - someone would do something about it! Well done Azamara. Another good thing was that Room service would ring you a few minutes in advance to say that service was on it's way - no embarrassing moments!
Pool area and Pool Grill, Deck 9:
We only had 500 or so passengers so finding a sun bed wasn't a problem, and oh boy, weren't those sunbed's comfortable! There were also lots of sunbeds on the Sun Deck on deck 10. Service at or from the pool bar was first class. The pool itself isn't that big, but when it's hot and sunny it's ideal as a place to cool down, and there are 2 nice hot tubs as well. There was an endless supply of towels.On hot afternoons the stewards would come round with face towels, cold drinks,cooling sprays and even little slices of cucumber to put on your eyes!
The Pool grill served mainly burgers. Now I'm not keen on burgers, and I won't touch a Big Mac with a barge pole.........But an Azamara Burger; oh wow! Proper minced steak - absolutely delicious, and brought to your table by an attentive steward.
Windows Cafe Deck 9:
A good selection of food all day long. The lovely thing about it is that the tables are laid, and the waiters will take your tray and take it to your table for you. They also get your tea and coffee for you. [A very favourable comparison with Cunard's Queen Elizabeth, where the Lido is definitely 'Self Service']. Then of course there's the inclusive wine at lunch and dinner which just keeps appearing, so has to be drunk. We had breakfast in there most mornings, lunch every day and the odd evening meal if we liked the look of the speciality of the day. The food was always very good and well presented. Good ice creams too, especially the cherry brandy flavour! The open deck area at the back is a lovely place to eat, and was superb at sundown with a drink or cup of tea to hand.
Discoveries Restaurant Deck 5:
What a delightful room. We loved the open dining, which meant that you met someone different every evening. There was an excellent choice on the menus, and when the food arrived it always looked as though it had been freshly cooked just for one-self. They would happily take orders for additional or alternative vegetables. There were some lovely menu ideas, such as a delightful chilled mango gazpacho. The fish dishes were particularly good. The only disappointment was a Porterhouse steak ordered medium rare which arrive very well cooked, which I reluctantly sent back very soon to be replaced by the most enormous Tee Bone, straight off the grill [I suspect destined for Prime C]. A good butcher in England would have charged Â£15 for it! The level of service was impeccable - [Bear in mind that there's a no tipping policy, and anyway you are on a different table every night, so these guys haven't got their eye on the last night.] We never had to wait for a table - may be one would on a full ship. Equally we never felt the need to use Aqualina or Prime C. And another lovely feature - No Basked Alaska parade!
Mosaic Cafe Deck 5:
A nice relaxing place for a late night coffee after the show, or a spot of afternoon tea. However we had 15 days of glorious weather so tended not to use the 'inside' facilities during the day.
I have already mentioned the Pool and Windows bars.
Discoveries, Deck 5:
A good bar in which to convene before dinner. Superb service. One of the stewards, Ernesto, within 3 days knew who we were, what we drank, and even remembered all the details of our charge card so we didn't have to use it to get a drink. That's an example of typical Azamara service. During the day I might say to Dale the Jamaican barman who worked the Pool bar by day and Discoveries in the evening, "Dale, I'd like a Jamaican Rum Punch tonight - your choice; make what you like" and as I arrived in the bar the drink would appear!
Looking Glass Deck 9:
In the eyes of the ship. A good late night place where the DJ would set up after the evening show with variable results - It seems he was told what themes were to be used on each night, so the 80's night didn't go down well, but Abba night and 50's and 60's night went down a storm - couples in there sixties on the dance floor who in their heads were teenagers again. Perhaps Azamara need to give their DJ more flexibility?
Casino bar Deck 5:
We have absolutely no interest in casinos or gambling, so this was just a place we walked past on the way to dinner. It wasn't very busy - Could this space be better used?
Library Deck 10:
A good selection of books which I made good use of, and it works on the honesty principle - help yourself and return it when finished.
Cabaret Lounge and Entertainment:
The ship's troupe of singers and dancers and musicians were first class and put on some excellent shows.
Other entertainers were variable, but that of course depends on individual taste. We particularly enjoyed the magician, and wouldn't of been the only ones who thought, "How the **** did he do that?"
The pianist in the Mosaic Cafe and harpist in Discoveries Bar were both extremely good - I understand that Jaqueline Dolan, the harpist has been on board since 2005! There was also a very good duo who performed in various parts of the ship.
The passenger talent show was surprisingly good!
However, If you are expecting ballroom dancing and gentlemen hosts, forget it!
Things we didn't do:
Gym and Spa not used save for a couple of hair-dos for madame.
Lectures - I'm afraid we were too lazy to go.
Computer room - only used once to check-in for return flight. I don't go on holiday to sit in front of a PC!
However, there was a full programme of things to do ranging from quizes to chef's demonstrations.
We were in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia - known piracy areas. Additional Security Guards boarded at Port Said, and we had an external blackout at night for a week. We were approached by 3 suspicious skiffs, so all passengers moved to the inside of the ship in a pre-rehearsed drill for 30 minutes or so. We always felt safe and not inconvenienced.
On Thanksgiving Day [for the non-American readers, that's a quaint Colonial Festival] there was a Jazz Brunch in Discoveries Restaurant, which consisted of the most amazing buffet with all manner of delights from sea food to an enormous joint of beef.
On the last night, in Mumbai, all the tables and chairs were put out on the pool deck for an Asian buffet, which was superbly done. The musicians played during a most wonderful evening.
We left the ship late that evening when a prearranged car took us to the airport. Having loaded the luggage into the car we then had to unload it 100 yard later for a Customs check - The single Customs officer in the Customs Hall by the ship was asleep! I was assured that the Indians would do the same in the morning with those on transfer coaches. Mumbai at night is well,'interesting'. Half the taxis have no lights at all, traffic lights are totally ignored, and everybody just races about blowing their horns like mad. Fortunately at the airport we had an Iglu representative who met us and got us through to the departure lounge. Nevertheless we had to queue in the heat for half an hour to get past a single security man just to get into the terminal building. Then they changed the departure gate without telling anyone.........But we made the flight and had Premium Economy virtually to ourselves. But no Virgin lounge, and the food and drink isn't a patch on BA.
So our final thoughts on Azamara:
A lovely compact ship.
Superb crew from Captain down. Everybody seems to be happy in their work and take a pride in what they are doing.
Always a welcome from the crew, and they make a point of remembering who you are.
Very good food.
Azamara react to problems and deal with them.
Would we go again? You bet, probably Piraeus-Dubai 2013. See you on board!