I had high hopes of the cruise on the Azamara Journey from Mumbai to Athens, and my overnight British Airways flight from Heathrow, and stay the following night in the Vivanta by Taj President hotel in Mumbai, were excellent. Unfortunately it went rapidly downhill from there.
The boarding at the passenger terminal was shambolic, and when I finally got to my Balcony Stateroom I found a letter from the Captain, Johannes Thysse, informing me that I would be unable to use my balcony or the open decks after sundown for the majority of the cruise. This was part of the security arrangements, and it was clear that Azamara had made these arrangements months previously but had not told any of the passengers before boarding. Since many cruisers, like myself, enjoy being at sea because it gives us a chance to watch the stars, free from the light and noise pollution of cities, I can only conclude that Azamara deliberately did not inform us because they knew we would not book the cruise if they did. I paid a considerable sum for the cruise and I expected full disclosure on the part of the cruise company; there was no disclosure of any kind.
The cabin was pleasant, with a decent sized balcony, but the bathroom, and the shower in particular, was very cramped; it was impossible to take a shower without ending up with the shower curtain sticking to me and water all over the floor.
There was a ceiling to floor mirror opposite the bed which made the room look rather tacky; it's probably just as well that I didn't know about the 'Swingers Cruise' until I read about it today on Cruise Critic!
The first port was Fujairah, and I took the half day excursion up the East Coast to Dibba where three of the Emirates meet; Fujairah itself is the only mountainous part of the region with spectacular ranges of grey black rocks broiling under the sun. Some passengers took the very expensive trip to Dubai but I was uninterested; there are so many cheap holidays available in Dubai nowadays that it's certainly not worth a long coach drive. If I were going to buy an expensive land excursion I would have preferred a day wadi bashing but Azamara did not offer it.
There followed the bulk of our sea days, and our claustrophobic sea nights; as we moved up the Red Sea the weather forecast worsened so the once-a-voyage White Night deck party was rescheduled from the Med to before the Canal transit. This was a great success for all the people I spoke to.
My primary reason for booking the cruise was the Suez Canal transit; Azamara claims that it gives passengers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture of the places it cruises to and through. Unfortunately the information provided about the Suez Canal transit was rather less than could be gleaned from 5 minutes on Wikipedia, and although the 'destination specialist' promised he would be providing detailed commentary from the bridge, this turned out to be intermittent and inaudible. And just as we moved into the Great Bitter Lake he disappeared entirely to give a talk on Santorini, notwithstanding the fact that there was another sea day before we reached the island when he could have done so.
It is difficult to see any reason for doing this other than Azamara hoping to sell excursions on the island, whilst failing to provide the service it had promised. It was particularly disappointing for me because I was born at one of the many RAF bases which lined the Suez Canal, in my case Abyad which lay to the west of the Great Bitter Lake near to Mount Shubra. We were left with no information at all about the Great Bitter Lake, nor were we provided with any maps of the Canal until, following my complaints, some were downloaded from the Web and distributed after the transit was completed, along with our Certificates of Transit signed by the Captain.
By the time we moved out into the Med the weather had noticeably worsened and by the time we reached Santorini there was even some rain. The excursion I had pre booked with Azamara was cancelled and I was not prepared to pay for the very expensive day tour they were pushing; instead I went in on the tender and took the cable car up to Fira, where I managed to get lost several times in the narrow winding streets looking for the various museums I was interested in. I was rescued each time by fellow passengers, and finally threw in the towel, returned to the ship and spent the rest of the day taking photographs from the ship!
The transfer from the Port in Piraeus to Athens airport went well, and my flight back to Heathrow was well timed so I did not have to hang around waiting.
In general the crew were exceedingly pleasant and hardworking, though somewhat unsophisticated; for example, the restaurant service was noticeably slower for tables which were mostly women than mostly men. That doesn't happen in central London, where I live. The food was mostly good, but not exceptional; I didn't try either of the special restaurants so I cannot comment on them. I would advise against ordering scrambled eggs or omelets since the chefs didn't know the difference between them.
The spa staff who provided massages etc were pleasant and competent, but the prices were more expensive than in central London, which has some of the most expensive real estate prices in the world. The compulsory 18% service charge on spa services was ludicrous, given that the duty free prices were already more expensive than the non-duty free prices in central London.
My fellow passengers were a delight; I met some wonderful people from quite a wide variety of backgrounds, which certainly made for interesting conversations.
It seems to me that the problem lies with Azamara in that it is trying to position itself in the market without being prepared to do the things which will justify the hype; cultural immersion requires people who both understand and respect the cultures you are interacting with. For example, the monument built by the French commemorating the defence of the Canal during the Great War was simply ignored by the person who was supposed to be informing us of its history, yet without it Britain and it's allies would probably have lost the war. Egypt was defended primarily by Muslims in the Indian Infantry; the Turks had declared Jihad, hoping that both the Indian soldiers and the Muslim Egyptians would join them when they attacked. Instead they were thrown back with great gallantry and the course of history was changed.
Instead of cultural immersion we had the ship's officers handing out ice-creams to passengers; not even the undoubted charisma of the cruise director, Eric de Grey, who did a magnificent job of leading from the front, can make up for all the other failures, which included failing to provide an itemised account of my on board spending. I waited for my credit card statement to arrive, and it looks vaguely right.
I can't envisage sailing with Azamara again, and I would not recommend it to a friend.