Report on 17-night (April 15 to May 2, 2014) Azamara Journey transit from Mumbai to Athens with stops in Fujairah, UAE (Dubai), Eilat, Israel (overnight), Aqaba, Jordon (overnight), transit to the Suez Canal and Paphos Cyprus.
Independently my husband and I arranged a six-night land tour in India through "Magic Tours". I cannot say enough nice things about this group. We were picked up at the Delhi airport driven to the hotel, and an additional four days of tours (to Agra and Jaipur) with the same driver, and three different local guides in each city. Then we flew Indigo Airline to Mumbai, and were again met with the Magic Tours driver and a guide who looked after us until they dropped us at the ship.
The entrance into the ship terminal in Mumbai was CRAZY. Our driver and guide helped us navigate the madness of getting port passes and taking our luggage through the required security screen. Interesting the ONLY thing I was questioned about by the "security" force was my jewelry in a small suitcase that I intended to carry on board the ship. They made me open my small jewelry bag and describe where each piece was from (Italy, my mother, my husband etc.). I had three pairs of gold earrings, a bracelet, two necklaces and a bracelet I bought in India. There is some new customs limit on gold being brought into the country by residents especially from the Gulf States, but tourists are allowed their personal jewelry. I guess I gave the correct answers, but the interrogation was rather scary.
Once we boarded the ship things calmed down. Our luggage arrived promptly. Because this was a long trip (17 nights) we upgraded to a Continental Suite (which is about 1.5 times larger than the regular veranda cabins). I am very happy with our decision. We would have been trampling all over each other for the 17 nights. The other amenities: dinner in the premium restaurants (we ate 7 times), Thalassotherapy pool (multiple times), extra room service menu (one time), afternoon tea (multiple times) and the nicer pre-dinner savories were nice, but the extra space is the primary advantage.
Fujairah, UAE. We took the ship tour to "At the top". I general I avoid ship tours but booked this one due to the logistics and cost of getting tickets. The lines getting into the elevators to go up and then to go down were too much; we were in line for almost two hours. The views were amazing, although it was an overcast day. I am glad I did it, but do not need to repeat the experience. The rest of the tour was lunch and a drive around the city. No need to see Dubai again. That night there was a Bar-B-Q and a belly dancer for entertainment on the pool deck.
Overnight in Eilat, Israel: After six sea days we arrived in Eilat, unfortunately an hour late due to port traffic. About three weeks prior to departure, Safaga, Egypt (Luxor) was dropped from the itinerary and Eilat Israel (with tours to Jerusalem and Masada/Dead Sea) was added. This itinerary change was handled poorly. I believe that Azamara should have emailed the passengers, but instead relied upon travel agents, who in my case had moved to another agency and the message was never conveyed. Thank goodness for "Cruise Critic"! I quickly arranged for a private tour (Ron Harari) for 6 persons and enlisted two other couples and we had a much better experience than the ship tour. Not only did we see much more of Jerusalem, have a nice local lunch, and got a swim in the Dead Sea (amazing), we arrived back at the ship over an hour ahead of the ship tours. It was a very long day with a delayed start.
Overnight in Aqaba Jordan: The next day we did the 2-mile transit to Jordan! We arrived around noon. I had arranged for another private tour with "Red Rock Tours" to Wadi Rum on the first day in Aqaba. I like to believe we had a more "authentic" experience. I never did see the tour busses, so I don't know exactly where the tour groups went, but our little group drove into Rum Village and boarded a jeep with benches and pads and drove off into the desert. It was very fun! We saw Lawrence Spring and Khazali Canyon with really cool rock carvings. We also visited a large dune area, where you could climb to the top for a nice view if you wished. That overnight in Jordan was the "White Night Party".
Originally we had been scheduled to depart Aqaba at 5 PM on the second day, so I had again opted for a ship tour and kept with that even after the departure was moved to 9PM. MISTAKE. We boarded the first excursion bus for Petra, but waited an hour until all the buses were loaded, so we could all leave together and then all pile up at the souvenir/ rest stop together where we wasted another hour, so we arrived at Petra at 11:30 and it was HOT. Also there is a lot of walking, down hill in the morning and all up hill in the afternoon, and did I mention it was HOT. It is over a mile from where the bus drops you off to the entrance to the Siq, another 1.2 miles through the Siq to the treasury, and then you could walk another 2 to 4 miles to fully explore the ruins. I figured I walked over 8 miles and I was wiped, as were most people. If you want to see Petra and you cannot walk -take the buggy. Don't bother with the "free horse rides" they don't go very far (only 700 m) and end up costing at least $15 in tips each way. Better take the buggy and negotiate the price and pick up time. People who took the buggy said it was very bumpy, but it saves almost 4 miles of walking! When you are at the Treasury you could take donkeys or camels to see more of Petra. I arrived back at the hotel for lunch at 3:00PM and it took about 20 minutes to cool down enough to eat. Everyone was tired. I ordered room service dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day!
Paphos Cyprus: After two more sea days and the transit of the Suez Canal, we arrived in Cyprus. We were on a early tender and took a taxi (15 euro) to the old market in the upper town, did some shopping had a delicious grilled squid lunch and then took the public bus back to the beach (1.5 Euro). From there I went to visit the archeological park (4.5 Euro). I highly recommend this. The mosaics were the best I had ever seen.
I love the size of the ship and the friendliness of the staff. The only negative about the cruise was the presence of Noro virus. Strict sanitation procedures were in place to combat the spread, but it was hard to beat after the large number of passengers had just toured India. Each time I put on my shoes, I made sure to wash my hands, just remembering some of the stuff I must have walked through. After a few days my hands were so dry from the continued washing. After the increased sanitation order was removed, about three days before the end of the cruise, I realized how much I missed all the little things, like silver ware and water glasses on the tables at the Window Cafe, the bread basket, salt and pepper shakers, meals with the officers etc. etc.