Our recent cruise actually started with a flight from Heathrow to Athens via British Airways. We were offered a couple of flights which were not direct but this was not an option we wanted to take. Fortunately there was an option to go from London Heathrow direct, and at very reasonable times. Although this means that we had to drive down to stay overnight at the Comfort Hotel, (where they offer cruise-parking and have a regular shuttle bus service to the airport) this is preferable to flying to Paris or elsewhere to catch a connection. The hotel also offer to print Boarding Cards for anyone checking in online, but if you take advantage of that you perhaps need to check that the whole of the barcode is printed (ours wasn't, but the very nice Bag Drop man just printed us a new ones, with no charge).
It had been a while since we flew with BA, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. We had a surprising good complementary meal, with wine to go with it and other drinks were also available. The seats we had were very comfortable, although we did pay the extra cost to select our seats early. Our flight was delayed by almost an hour, but we seemed to make up most of this and we arrived in Athens only a little later than we expected. We were met very efficiently by the Azamara staff, who accompanied us to our waiting coaches and we were soon on our way.
We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Athens and had dinner on the rooftop garden terrace Galaxy Restaurant, which we booked online before we left home. Even though we felt that the food and drinks were expensive, it did set the holiday mood as we ate our meal looking out over Athens and the Acropolis.
Our cruise package included the option of a free Athens tour, including a visit to the Acropolis, ending at the ship, but we didn't take advantage of this as it would have been too much of a rush for us. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 12.00 noon, and the transfers to Piraeus, which took about 35 minutes were very efficient and punctual with plenty of room on the coach.
Our luggage had been collected after breakfast and the next time we saw our cases was when they arrived at the cabin. We were notified that they would probably be delivered early evening but they were delivered within an hour of us boarding. We were welcomed on board with champagne and plenty of smiles and informed that lunch was being served in the Windows Cafe. The cabins/staterooms were due to be ready for everyone at 13.30 and just before this time it was announced that they were indeed available.
The cabin was plenty big enough with a king-sized bed, a double and single wardrobe, dressing table, corner cupboard containing the safe and fridge as well as shelf space for the ice bucket and glasses, double settee and coffee table. The cases fitted very easily under the bed, and the storage space was perfectly fine. We also had a balcony with a square dining table and two chairs. As has already been mentioned in many other posts, the shower cubicle is quite small, but it is possible to have a shower without being attacked by the dreaded shower curtain.
The Emergency Lifeboat drill was carried out at 17.00, but it did not necessitate carrying or wearing our life jackets, although the correct procedure for putting these on was covered.
At 18.00 we joined our fellow Cruise Critic 'Meet and Greet' guests, which was hosted by Eric, the Cruise Director and attended also by the Captain, Johannesburg Tysse, and some of his crew. There were drinks and nibbles provided and it was very well attended. At Eric's suggestion, we identified ourselves with our 'handles' and introduced ourselves. This was a very good ice-breaker and after this had been done people mingled much more than
we had experienced on other Meet and Greets. What became very noticeable at this time was that there were quite a number of returning guests who had established a great rapport with Eric and this friendly atmosphere continued throughout the week, encompassing new guests along the way.
As this is a small ship, there was usually only one show in the evening, but the Entertainment team were very professional, each one an excellent dancer and singer. The first evening was actually a surprise to me, as the entertainment was an evening with the extremely talented Cellist, Andrew Skrimshire, from England. He played music from Bach to the Beatles, but punctuated his fabulous playing with typical British humour -an excellent start to the cruise. Other guest appearances included Soprana, Italia Fiorentino and Tenor, Mario Todisco (another magical evening) and Siobhan Phillips from England, who gave us 'an evening of song, comedy and general frivolity'.
The dining alternatives were the Discoveries Main Dining Room, the Windows Cafe which provided the buffet option, the Mosaics Cafe which served speciality coffees and the most delicious Danish Pasties and cakes and the two speciality restaurants, which I can't comment on as we didn't visit either of them.
We enjoyed the food in Discoveries in the evening and Windows during the day, including the Pool deck offering of Beefburgers, Hotdogs, Chicken Wings etc, which were delicious. Breakfast in Discoveries was also very special, and I would personally recommend the omelettes cooked with your favourites, as ordered.
The Looking Glass Bar, on deck 10, offered a quiet place to chat and look out over the Bow during the day and early evening. However, at about 10.30 on most evenings it became the hub of the ship, with great music and dancing, and a full dance floor and fantastic atmosphere. I don't know if this is usually the case, but on this cruise the passengers certainly seemed ready to enjoy themselves to the full.
We took advantage of the basic Inclusive drinks offer and didn't ever feel the necessity to partake from the Premium brands also available, but this is obviously our personal choice.
So far I have spoken mostly about the ship itself, so I should perhaps give a summary of the Itinerary. The cruise covered the journey between Athens and Rome, calling in at some of the most beautiful places. The first call after Piraeus was at Santorini, which was a tendered port and the town was accessed mostly via the cable-car, although there are other options as well.
Our next call was Malta, one of my favourite ports as it is accessed by entering the beautiful Grand Harbour. While we were here, we took the Hop On, Hop Off bus, which was a journey of about 2 hours 20 minutes. This trip took in Valletta Waterfront, the Blue Grotto, the auberge de Castille, the War Museum and Fort St Elmo in Valletta, as well as the Knights Hospital before returning to the Port of Valetta and the ship. Also included in the ticket price of €15 was a second trip which we didn't do, but this also visited Mdina, Rabat and Ta Qali, where the bus stops at the Aviation Museum, the Crafts Village and Mdina Glass.
Sicily was our next destination, tendering at Giardini Naxos for Taomini. As we left this port, the Captain decided to give us an extra treat. He took the ship around the Island to the east coast to give us an opportunity to see Mount Etna silhouetted against the night sky and to see how active the volcano was. As we watched, we were treated to some intermittent activity as small eruptions could be seen very clearly - another first for me!
And so we carried on, along the beautiful Amalfi coast to Sorrento, where we anchored overnight, giving us two days to spend time in this lovely city. Our final leg was to Civitiveccia, where we left the Journey for our flight home from Rome Airport.
This review would not be complete without telling you a little about the Azamazing Evening, which took place in the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Malta. This building, constructed in the late 16th Century was for over two centuries the 'Holy Infirmary of the Order of St. John, but had taken on different guises as circumstances dictated at the time.
Just over 600 passengers were coached from the ship to the venue, a journey of about 10-15 minutes only. Each coach arrived at spaced intervals so at the time of arrival there was no crowds outside which meant that everyone had the same experience of being met with trumpets and drummers as they walked indoors on the red carpet.
Without going into any more detail about this evening, I can only say that the evening fully lived up to expectations and in some ways exceeded them.
Overall, this cruise was probably one of our best - the service we had from all the staff was exceptional, the cabin was extremely comfortable, the food was delicious, the evenings were always entertaining and we would take another cruise with Azamara without hesitation.