We chose to return to the Journey after a wonderful cruise in South America last Christmas, and selected this itinerary as a way of visiting India without dealing with luggage or other intra-country transportation issues. We thoroughly enjoyed the places we visited, and had a very relaxing time on board despite the full ship. It was fantastic to meet again some of the staff who made our first Azamara trip -- my mother's third -- so memorable. However, the ship needs to be refurbished -- both public and private quarters -- and we're not certain eight days in dry-dock will suffice.
Before I comment on our visits to other ports of call, let me address Male in the Maldives. Over the summer, I asked fellow Cruise Critic board members about onshore excursions in Male since none were offered by Azamara. Regent, which was in Male the same day as our ship, was offering several onshore excursions (private beaches, submarine). One of the board members replied that the Azamara video for this cruise noted that there would be a "surprise" for guests as the Journey would stop at a "private" island, and that he hoped the ship would perhaps provide a barbecue on the beach. I had not watched the video of Claudius and Eddie sitting on an uncomfortable-looking couch because the videos for other itineraries were (and are) visually unappealing and not very informative (i.e., I love shopping). But hearing about the "surprise" at a "private" island made me dream about a barbecue on a pristine beach -- a precursor, perhaps, of the Azamazing special excursions for 2013. Alas, the surprise at the private island turned out to be merely a marketing ploy. The staff on-board did not know about the video -- they found out at the shore excursion presentation -- and Captain Idiakidis wisely decided against dropping off hundreds of passengers on an island without electricity or restroom facilities, and only 20 lounge chairs, from which the last passengers would board the tenders in the dark (after 5pm). Azamara Miami had not done their homework, so passengers were notified a day before we arrived to Male that there was no local outfitter up to Azamara's standards -- yet Regent had made arrangements for its passengers months in advance -- but there would be a tent at the dock where passengers could make private arrangements. We were further notified about the beach on Male Island -- one of the world's most densely populated places -- where women would have to bathe in t-shirts and shorts given that it was a Muslim beach. Sounded like fun!?! We ended up joining 20+ passengers on a beach day at Faru Club, an island resort 45 minutes from Male by boat. Beautiful white sandy beach that stretched forever, lots of fishes and even some baby sharks, regular bathing suits. No barbecue, however.
Mumbai - we arrived a day early and took two private day tours with Mumbai Magic. Fabulous, and we saw more than we expected during our limited time at this city. Our second day's tour included the transfer to the ship; did not have to wait or walk in the heat. Would recommend this company to others.
Goa - we took the churches of Goa shore excursion; it was very good. Well organized and run. On our second day, we took an excellent private tour with Goa Magic visiting old colonial houses, the Rachol Seminary and a market. The overnight stay definitely allowed us to do a lot.
Cochi - we arranged an overnight houseboat backwaters tour with Wilson Tours, which included a quick visit to Fort Cochi and a cooking class on the second day. The visit to the backwaters was the highlight of our trip, so peaceful.
Male - see above
Colombo, Sri Lanka - we took one of the city tours, which was very good. During our visit to the Galle Face Hotel, we saw the wedding party and guests of a very fancy wedding. With the wedding party were the members of a dance troupe in beautiful local costumes. That evening, the ship offered a local dance show with a similar troupe on the pool deck, so it was great to unexpectedly get a preview of the costumes. As in Goa and Cochi, the ship docked in the middle of a huge industrial pier, so there were no shuttle buses or quick access to town. This was not Azamara's fault, but it was a challenge. Upon our return to the ship around noon, I asked a taxi driver who was standing next to the ship how much it would cost to go back in town. The price that he quoted went down considerably when I returned with a similar request two hours later, and we were able to "escape" the pier to visit a couple of places not included in the morning's tour.
Galle, Sri Lanka - we took the tender to the ship's shuttle to this fort town and walked around. We also got on a tuk-tuk -- cleaner and in better shape than many we saw in India -- and had a blast. While Colombo is a large city, Galle is an easy stroll, with plenty of small shops. A relaxing day ashore.
Chennai - we took the Mamalapuram tour with the ship; a magical, must-see place. The Mamalapuram complex has the most persistent trinket/postcard sellers we encountered during our trip. To say "no thank you" four times was often not enough. But since they could not enter the temple site areas, we got a respite. But you have been warned.
Our transfer to the Chennai airport for our 430am flight was well coordinated by the ship's concierge staff. Regarding meals, I had never seen that many people at the main dining room. Wow! Meals were very good, and if few were memorable, it's more important to note that our special requests were honored with a smile despite the bi-zillion other diners. We ended up going to the buffet upstairs more than in previous trips, especially on special dining nights (Greek, Indian, etc.) and there was hardly anyone there. We found the pool grill improved from last year, and had plenty of meals at that venue.
Regarding the pool area, we were all warned against hoarding beach chairs, but that was never an issue -- and we were in the pool every single day. We always found a pair of lounge chairs near the pool readily available.
Regarding entertainment, the highlight for us was the Sri Lankan dance troupe. Slava and Alina were amazing, as was the rest of the dance crew. The guest performers did not appeal to us, but might have to others.
I cannot count how many yummy skim lattes and cappuccinos I had at Mosaic Cafe -- fantastic service too. We participated in several ship activities, but these left us wondering where was everyone since the only place were one ever realized there were 700 passengers was early in the evenings in the main dining room. I lucked out during my two visits to the laundry room -- hardly a wait.
In sum, the staff is the reason why many Azamara passengers return time and again. From the consummate professional Captain Idiakidis to the employees who cleaned the pool area each morning, the Journey's staff is positively wonderful. But the Miami staff has to perform as well as the on-board staff, and it definitely did not.