We booked this repositioning cruise because we are both due to have knee operations in November, so we wanted a destination-light cruise. We have cruised before on HAL, but never on Azamara.
We had a good flight with EasyJet and loved our Hotel,The Herodion, which is located just below the Acropolis.
Although embarkation was not officially until 1:00, our agent had booked the transfer for 10:30 so we were at Pireus by 11:00. However this proved not to be a problem as embarkation started at 11:30 and by 11:45 we were on-board enjoying our glasses of bubbly. We left one of our cabin bags in the secure area near guest relations and had a wander around the ship, before going for lunch at the Pool Grill. Our first impressions were very favourable. Although there is a lot of wood panelling, the overall look of the interior rooms is much lighter than we had expected from the photos we had seen. Lunch was excellent, with beautifully cooked burgers and brochettes and free flowing wine. At 1:30 the staterooms were ready and we found our cases already there.
The cabin was pleasant, with lots of storage space and plenty of hangers. There are two available electric plugs, one European 2/3 round pin and one digital style square pin(NOT UK square pin). There was also a safe and a fridge. The soft drinks in the fridge and the water that was provided every day were included, but the wine, beer and spirits were not. There were fresh flowers and a bowl of fruit that was replenished as required. The bathroom was small, especially the shower, but there was always plenty of hot water, the towels were thick and fluffy and the shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap and moisturiser were lovely. The stateroom steward Ahmed and his assistant Erlinda worked hard to keep the stateroom immaculate.
Every night there were lovely chocolate based petit-fours left in the cabin at bedtime.
We ate breakfast in the Windows buffet restaurant. I especially loved the smoothie bar - particularly the ginger based energiser which was a great start to the day. There is a terrific choice, the usual bacon, sausage, eggs cooked however you like, a roast and cold choices such as smoked salmon, herring, cold meats, cheese.
We had a coffee 'to go' from the Mosaic cafe most days. For lunch we mostly ate in the Pool Grill.
Our favourite part of the day was having dinner in the Discovery MDR. We shared tables every night, at tables of 4, 6 or 8. We met some great people that way. The food was exceptional - much better than on our previous cruises. We loved the way you can swap courses around, for example asking for a small portion of a main course salad or pasta dish as an appetiser. The service was generally very good, but on one night it was very slow, however a complaint was made to the Maître D which resulted in a glass of vintage port for the whole table as compensation. We also ate in both the speciality restaurants. The food and service in both was terrific, but we really struggled to eat all the food.
Although you could pay to upgrade from the basic all inclusive drinks package, we were happy with the choice available in the basic included package. There was a different pair of wines every day, but you could always ask for a previous days wine if you preferred it. The bar staff were very good, especially Dale who ran the pool bar during the day and the Discovery lounge bar in the evening.
The evening shows were generally very good. In the past we have spent very little time watching shows, but this time we watched quite a few of the shows all the way through. The Cruise Director, Eric, is amazing. His energy has to be seen to be believed. His voice is good too. We enjoyed all the song and dance shows, especially the Broadway and ABBA show. Kaitlin, who played the Celtic flute, penny whistle and violin and sang beautifully was tremendous too.
We spent most days on the sun deck, where the breeze tempered the hot sun. Crew members regularly brought round cooling drinks and cold mist sprays to cool us off.
There were only four ports in the whole of the 2 weeks. In Rhodes we had a walk around the old town, which was lovely. We didn't go ashore in Limassol, Cyprus, except for the Azamazing evening, of which more later. In Oman we went on a tour outside Muscat, to a fishing village, a fort, some hot springs and a resort for lunch. We had booked it before we went and found it very good value for money. In Dubai we booked the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off bus through the ship. This was the same price as booking it online and had the advantage that the bus came to the terminal to pick us up. We found it an excellent way to see a lot in a day. We did both routes, but only got off to do the 1hour included Dhow cruise, to see the gold and spice souks and to see the Dubai Mall and Burg Khalifa.
The Azamazing evening was in Limassol. It was in Omoodos, a small village in the Troodos mountains, which took about an hour by coach. It was a lovely village with a beautiful monastery church. Lovely snacks,wine and liqueurs were provided and there was a local dancing display. Unfortunately there were far too many of us (500+) for it to work. It was impossible to see the church properly in our guided groups (1 guide per coach). Also being up in the mountains it soon became very cold and as a result the evening was curtailed.
On the other hand the White Night,which was whilst we were docked in Muscat, was terrific. The barbecue and buffet was great, the song and dance show was marvellous and there was the biggest conga line I have ever seen - right round the pool and the jogging track.
The Suez Canal was not too interesting - mostly just sand, although we did provide entertainment to the Egyptian soldiers on watch along the canal. They seemed to enjoy waving to us and us waving to them.
The blackout was no problem at all. We had to remember to close our stateroom curtains at 6 if we had the light on. The whole pool area was in darkness, but you could walk across it and it was great to lie down on a sun-bed and see the stars without any light pollution.
So far I've described the physical parts of the cruise, but what makes Azamara so special is the people - crew and passengers alike. The tone is set by the captain and senior staff such as the cruise director, hotel director and food and beverages manager. Nothing is too much trouble for anyone at whatever level. Ask and it is done! The daily announcements by the captain (Johannes) and the cruise director (Eric) were a joy to listen to. They have a terrific relationship and are both very funny. The whole atmosphere on board was just so happy - very different from any ship I have been on before.
Would we go on Azamara again - you bet your life we would, tomorrow if we could.