Sailed a for the Christmas cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires and for the first time on Azamara. This was our first "upscale" cruise (or luxe-light as I've heard it called). We had a great time. Keep in mind this is before this line went "all-inclusive."
We checked into the Sheraton in the extreme western part of Leblon (Leblon is the very west part of Rio beach area) after an overnight flight. Had already met some people through our Roll Call who were staying in that hotel and met up with them and became good friends and spent a lot of time with them over the next 4 days having dinners and doing the activities. The hotel was good, reasonably priced, but a bit out of the way. Not bad if you are going to do guided tours as they pick you up (we did a 2 day private tour with Manu Picalat - highly recommended and book early as he's busy), but getting back into town on your own will require a taxi or a long walk (and I wouldn't do that walk at night though I personally didn't feel worried at all - but I have lived in very large cities most of my life). We did it a few times by foot, but it's a good 20 minute walk to the beginning of the action. Forget about driving yourself. It's certifiably insane! Overall, LOVED Rio and never felt all the danger people talk of. Very nice place and comes recommended. One tip is to see the Redeemer statue AS SOON AS IT OPENS. No crowds, and great views. I think that was about 7:30am. Also, they had a beach which was nice, but keep in mind it's not private as locals use it too. Not a problem, and never crowded, but the surf was pretty intense so I wouldn't go swimming unless you are a VERY good swimmer! Best part was leaving the sliding door to our balcony open and hearing the crashing surf every night as we drifted off to sleep. LOVED THAT!
Embarkation was super easy and fast (maybe 15 mins?). We REALLY loved the smaller format R-Class ships. We had about 520 people out of the possible 680-ish capacity on board so it was incredibly UN-crowded. This was very appreciated as the big ships drive us bonkers with the lines and crowds. Living in a crowded metro area, we like to get away from crowds. The ship didn't disappoint and we enjoyed the size. It was quite nicely appointed (it had just come out of dry dock and you could tell). Can't fault anything and was quite impressed at the level of detail and refinement. It was much like being in a 4 or 5 star NYC hotel. The public spaces were well laid out and never crowded. I didn't use the casino except to have a cocktail but on sea days or early port departures it got pretty busy in the evenings (it's also tiny so that's why I suspect it felt so busy). The lounges were very nice, and the MDR was fantastic and we appreciated the open seating. We ate many dinners with different friends we met or sometimes just the two of us. The fitness center was surprisingly good, as was the Library. We didn't use the spa.
VERY good. I wouldn't say the best I've ever had, but clearly they put a lot of effort into the food and it is more or less fired as you order which helps (take the galley tour - fun stuff and makes you feel good about where your food is coming from). Presentations were appealing and the variety was very good for a ship this size. We enjoyed each meal onboard. We ate at both speciality restaurants (twice at Prime C). Both were VERY VERY good. Very accommodating (when in Aqualina we wanted the lobster salad we had had from Prime C as it was really that good - no problem whatsoever). Also, the unlimited wine was free flowing with lunch and dinner and honestly, very good and varied... (and I mean this was truly a "please stop filling my glass after every 3 sips or I'm going to pass out" unlimited). The Lido buffets were really good and had a really great selection including sushi, several hot stations, etc. Left absolutely nothing to be desired! I will add that we had purchased the top-shelf beverage package which used to be $39.95 pp per day as we like our top shelf spirits and it was super convenient to be able to order whatever, whenever from wherever. For us this was worth it, however now that they have gone all-inclusive, this probably is a moot point. Also, the Mosaic coffee bar was tops - and included (even without the beverage package). Delish coffee-house drinks and nice littler finger sandwiches, etc. You won't go hungry or be disappointed, this I can promise. We used room service one morning and it was nice, but we get up early so we just headed to the lido for the most part...
Here's where I think you can REALLY see the difference between the mass-market ships an a more boutique line. Everyone who worked on that ship was engaged, friendly, and basically three steps ahead of any need/desire you had. I'd walk into the MDR bar before dinner, and of course our "pack of new friends" would be there and the amazing bartender (who I sadly cannot remember his name) would have the drinks poured and ready to go. Everyone was super engaging and would just chat, chat, chat with you. Some were quite busy (such as the cabin stewards) but they still made time to talk to you and make sure everything was just how you wanted it. We had brought on some spirits we bought in Rio before embarking and our steward saw this and made sure we had fresh glasses, mixers in the mini fridge, and ice at least 3 times per day. Nice touch! The CD was fun and engaged, and there were some fun activities. They also had a very good DJ for the Looking Glass lounge at night and he would go until pretty late, even though not many were there.... We ate it up being night owls. Honestly, can't say enough good things about the staff on this ship!!!
We were in the lowest class of Verandah room pretty mid ship on the 6th deck. It was fine, but not very large at around 170 sq ft. We expected this so we weren't disappointed per se, but you will want to maintain organization! The bathroom, on most any cruise ship, is insanely small, but it works. Plenty of storage. The entertainment system was fine with the typical... a few channels of TV, some movies, the bridge cam and room service ordering/folio review. What was pretty nice is each day they put the various menus for the restaurants on there so you could start your salivating early. :) The balcony was fine and as expected with two chairs and a table big enough to eat on. Also, it was quiet. No noise at all and we slept like babies on the very comfortable beds. One thing to note that we loved is announcements (which are rare anyways) are NOT piped into the rooms. Such a nice change. Several times we'd have to crack the door open to hear what the Captain was saying. Overall, my advice is don't overpack (and keep in mind they have free laundry facilities... more on that in a bit).
Each day we received our "Pursuits" guide, and it was pretty typical of your daily guide. Not a whole heck of a lot going on like a 3000 person ship, but again expected. Slots tournaments, enrichment lectures, some tours (do the tours of the bridge and the galley if you can) and the like. We really didn't participate as we had a fairly intensive port schedule and were quite worn out from many late nights in Rio. I will say it was perfectly acceptable for the size of the ship, however.
We used all ship sponsored excursions, though some ports we just struck out on our own. This is where your research will help you out. The prices were high, but not extreme, and for the most part we enjoyed each. Some were just "OK" but nothing was bad and everything went smoothly.
Almost exclusively older, well traveled (mid 40's to ....?). A handful of maybe 10 kids with their parents. Very few 20 and 30 somethings. Most were from the US or Canada and a few from Brazil. Very well heeled group and there was little to know "drama" or anything of the kind. The ship goes to bed fairly early (11pm) and rises early (7am). We are a gay couple and never had any trouble fitting in, and in fact met 6 other gay couples on board... Everyone was very gracious and we made some great friends straight or gay!
The free Laundry on deck 7 was great - EXCEPT it gets incredibly busy. The facility consists of three washers and three dryers. The detergent is automatically added to the machine (marine friendly) so you only need to bring dryer sheets if you are so inclined. There is also two ironing boards. My advice is do laundry on off hours like dinner or while in port. Embarkation day I made a bee-line to the facility even before really unpacking since we had already been in Rio for 4 days and we packed light (and changed 2x a day due to the heat/humidity). I lucked out. When I went back 40 mins later to move my clothes from the washer to the dryer, there was a line of about 7 people. And it mostly stayed that way for the duration of the cruise... Also, I'd like to suggest you set a reminder on your phone/watch so you know when the clothes are ready to be moved or removed, mostly as a courtesy to others... Trust me, when it gets busy people will do this for you and then you have wrinkles or wet clothes sitting on a dryer. Smoking (which I thankfully kicked) is allowed ONLY in one small section of the pool deck, but this should be a consideration if you smoke. Finally, if the weather is inclement (or in our case, our boat took on a bunch of weird non-biting mosquitos overnight one day in the middle of the ocean - which was promptly taken care of) the lido can be hard to find a seat in for breakfast. My advice here is head to the MDR. They have plenty of capacity and breakfast service is rather quick.
YES I would said with Azamara again, in a heartbeat. I'm curious of the new all-inclusive offerings. I am still in the "exploring the lines" phase, so it will have to wait a few years as I have sailings on other luxe lines and a river cruise set up, but I think when the dust settles, you'll see me back on an Azamara ship!