Here goes with my stream of consciousness review, and it may be ridiculously long and chock-full of positives and negatives. I call 'em like I see 'em. Agree or disagree at your leisure. When I read reviews of a ship, before I sail her, I always prefer the cheerleading mega-positive reviews. But this isn't that. And, obviously, these are just my experiences. Your experiences may/will be completely different.
Embarkation stress (this obviously isn't the norm, but it happened to us). Had air with Azamara and arrived in Newark at 1:20 - granted, a bit later than ideal, but Azamara had approved the flight so we didn't think there'd be any problem. As soon as we arrived, on time, and were waiting for luggage, the guy shows up with the "Celebrity" card (they might want to put Azamara on the card too, as I'm not sure everyone knows Azamara is owned by Celebrity). So it's like quarter til two, got the luggage, good to go. The guy says they're waiting for two more people. Fine. We wait, and wait and wait. Now it's 3:15. Uhm, excuse me, I believe the ship sails at 4:00. He says not to worry. Finally, after all this time, he figures out that the two people had taken an earlier flight and were already on the ship. So, we finally get on the shuttle and make our way to the terminal (yes we have to carry our bags to the ship, because the porters are long gone). They're about to close the doors at the terminal. There was a bit of an attitude from the check-in people, as if it was our fault we were woefully late. We get shuttled to the ship. We look up to see all the other passengers in the middle of muster drill. Well, at least we missed that. We finally get on the ship.
I was only mildly annoyed. I was on vacation and I was on the ship. I thought about saying something to the front desk people, but decided it wouldn't really serve any purpose.
First impressions of the ship. Beautiful. Dark and elegant woods and fine fabrics. Clearly much nicer, and warmer, than some of the newer, overwrought plasticy ships I've sailed. There are some really beat-up areas though, where big chunks of the veneered wood missing and not replaced. Some newly-done upholstery that wasn't finished (staples sticking out and untrimmed fabric), guess they ran out of time. As someone on an earlier post mentioned, they replaced pictures on the walls with smaller pictures in the main dining room, so there are these unsightly holes and scarring where the larger pictures were. Okay, I know what you're thinking, his glass if half empty! But I'm really not the kind of person to sit around and look for imperfections, I know every ship will have some issues, but some of these were really obvious and should have been addressed during the refurbishment. And about the pictures/art. Again, I know this was mentioned before, but they've used all of these modern prints everywhere. Kinda corporate generic stuff. Mostly, they don't work and are in complete conflict with the style of the ship. Just some really odd choices, it seems to me. It's not that modern, per se, wouldn't work. In fact, I think the big glass necklace sculpture on the main staircase is very cool. But, to sum up, despite these issues, the ship is beautiful. Pretty much gorgeous, I'd say.
And the size of the ship, for me, is perfect. Also the layout. This was my tenth cruise and by far the smallest ship. I would prefer to be on this size of ship, or smaller, from now on. Just really easy to get around.
We had a verandah stateroom on 6. The décor was lovely. There was plenty of storage, I thought. The bathroom was tiny but quite useable. The "butler" did his job well, but please please please Azamara, stop calling them butlers, simply using the term "butler" isn't fooling anyone. I really loved the room, despite its relative smallness. Except the television. Okay, complain, complain. But they put the tv about eye level when standing. And plasma, or LCD tv's (I don't know which it was), need a direct line of sight to see the picture clearly. It was impossible, when sitting on the bed or the couch, to see the tv clearly without craning your neck. To really see the picture, you have to stand up and watch, not ideal. And I do think a television is important on a cruise, for me anyway. Sometimes I want to relax in the stateroom and watch a movie.
I thought the food ran the gamut from decent to outstanding. Too wide a range, I believe. We ate at Prime C the first night and it was fantastic. About as good as anywhere. Service was serviceable. We ate in the main dining room the second night, and it was probably the worst dining experience of any of my ten cruises. First of all, there are simply too many tables in the main dining room. They have lots of tables for two lined up, so it's not like eating alone at all. But I think we were in the worst table for two, which was right in an aisle. So it was a bombardment of waiters rushing madly back and forth. It was very loud and stressful in there. The engine noise/vibration doesn't help, though that's clearly something that can't be fixed. The service was honestly about what you'd expect in a Chili's. But I can't blame the servers for this. They obviously do not have time to give good service, like, you know, getting you something to drink. Azamara has simply not figured out how to do this open seating concept. They can't handle the glut of people that show up from seven to eight-thirty. They must fix this. The food was okay, although my fillet, which I wanted medium-rare, was completely overcooked, uniformly brown. I might have sent it back but the waiter, and his assistant, were nowhere to be found. Other courses were typical cruiseline fare, nothing special. Should I expect better than typical cruiseline fare? I think so, at least with how this new cruiseline seems to be positioning itself.
Ate at Aqualina the third night, and again, wonderful food, nice service. But if you sit in the back area of the restaurant, you may wonder why it's so bright. Our waiter said they knew this but couldn't fix this problem(?), so I'd request a table in the front for more atmospheric (darker) dining. Actually, we ended up eating at the specialty restaurants on four nights. It was definitely worth the cost to have a nice, relaxing, excellent meal.
The other nights in the main dining room we ended up going really early, around six-fifteen, to avoid the chaos. It was much better, in terms of service. Food was fine, though again nothing really memorable.
We ate in the buffet thing several times, which we usually do not do. They actually close the dining room, much to my chagrin, at lunch during the two Hamilton days, so we had to eat the buffet. Full disclosure: I hate the buffet thing. Though granted, I think this was better than most. But the food was never hot. Don't know why, it was just always lukewarm. And the food was just okay. But the sushi at night was much better than I've had on any other line. The dining room lunches were much better. The service was much better than at night, as well, simply because there are so many fewer guests to serve. But why do they have the same lunch desert menu every day? The bananas foster and the apple tart were both excellent, but couldn't they try something else? Just askin'.
I think I'm being, perhaps, pickier here than I would be on, say, Royal Caribbean, or Holland America, or Princess, because I have the sense that Azamara is trying to be, at least, a little step above these lines. I'm not sure they are, yet. I'll just interject here that the best cruise food I've ever had was on the Celebrity Mercury, ten years ago, before Celebrity was acquired by RCCL. I wish that cruise line still existed...
Another whining complaint: I was hoping beyond hope that I wouldn't have to see the "sale" tables of goods every night at the shops. It's just so dang tacky, and, if I remember, every line I've been on does it. Purses and close out perfume and costume jewelry lined up on a folding table. Do all the more upscale lines (Crystal, Seabourne, Oceania, etc.) do this? And the ubiquitous art auctions. I've seen the same "art" being sold on every cruise I've ever been on. But clearly they make money for everyone involved (except the purchaser), so they're not going away.
Yikes, I'm getting too negative here, I know, but here's some more good stuff: the gym, terrific, especially for the size of the ship. It was never crowded and they had excellent equipment. The martinis were well-made and HUGE (maybe a bit too huge). The beds and pillows and sheets and towels and robes, all very good. The bed-time treats in the room, a lovely touch. The cruise director seemed very good, I mean, he was actually around and talking to people all the time. He seemed very friendly and helpful. The poolside loungers were the best, amazingly comfortable, and usually easy to get. The pool, though small, was nice, though I think some of the tiling surrounding it looked kind of sad, and probably should have been replaced.
Oh, and Bermuda is a fantastic island. Lots to do, easy to get around, amazingly friendly people, not in your face trying to sell you junk you don't want (St. Thomas, anyone?) I'd love to go to Bermuda again.
Entertainment: Hmmm. I don't know, nothing really appealed to me (and here I'm referring only to the musicians around the ship, not to the main shows). I wish more lines would start employing some quality jazz ensembles, or classical musicians, or interesting singers. I suppose the entertainment on Holland America is more to my personal liking. But whenever I see a musician, like the guitarist on this ship, with a laptop computer in front of them churning out some electronic drumbeat, I want to run the other way. And he seemed to be pretty good too, despite the computer generated music. As far as the bigger shows, I only watched a few minutes of the five singers cabaret thing, so I can't judge the other shows.
So, to sum up: overall I enjoyed the cruise, lots of the food, size and beauty of the ship, Bermuda, the special little amenities, like fruit, and flowers, and goodies. What didn't work so well for me? Mainly the service. Overall, it was no better or worse than any other line. There were excellent employees, and others who didn't seem interested. I believe this is the most important element for this new cruiseline to address. That and the main dining room. Though I've gotten used to the eat-when-you-want concept on Princess, etc., I think maybe this ship would run much better with old-fashioned assigned dining times and tables. Would I sail them again? Sure. But if I found an Oceania cruise with similar pricing, I would definitely do that. And no, I've never been on Oceania. But if I had to rank this cruise, it would be below all of my Celebrity cruises, and above everything else. So a solid second. But I think Azamara is pointed in the right direction, though, and I'm glad I went.