After a beautiful 2 days in Buenos Aires, we were taken to the ship by our guide and translator Lydia. Check in was very smooth and we were invited to dine in Aqualina at 7:30pm. Apparently they no longer charge to dine in the alternative restaurants. Guests are only expected to tip $5.00 per person, which is very reasonable. Upon having our picture taken for the cabin card, we were given a glass of pink Champagne. We had to find our way to our suite, since there wasn't anybody to take us.
The Penthouse suite is very nice and spacious, although not as large as I expected. The bathroom is comfortably sized. The counter however had spots of soap residue or something on them. We told the butler to please have the cabin steward clean it up. That was disturbing to me. Dick liked the 2nd bathroom. I loved the Jacuzzi tub. There is lots of closet space, with plenty of hangers, many shelves, but not enough drawers in my opinion.
Finally we did a ship inspection and noticed several areas that were not really up to par. The teak on the chairs was in bad need of refinishing, as were most of the handrails. Then it was time for lunch, which was buffet style and everything we had was very good. No complaints there. Luggage arrived fairly timely, just in time for the lifeboat drill. The actual explanations of what to do in case of an emergency took place in the dining room. The tables were set and I felt it may be unsanitary to have all the passengers sit there fiddling with their vests etc. Maybe the theater would have been a better venue. Then we all went to our actual life boat stations. When that was over, it was time for a cocktail and we realized there were no coasters. The suite is furnished in fine Cherry woods and it's a shame to set iced glasses on that. We used Kleenex. The small paper coasters would be great.
Capt. Carl Smith is young, funny and very personable. He makes a lot of informative announcements, which Dick and I enjoyed, but others think are too much. Different people have different tastes. In the evening we had dinner in the Discoveries dining room with 2 other couples. The plates are basic white, not in any way decorative. Flatware is basic stainless steel. The service was adequate at best. It took a long time for somebody to take our drink order and we finally hijacked Yuli.... our favorite cocktail waitress. She took care of us from then on, although I don't think we were actually in her section. It took even longer to have our food order taken. None of the food items were delivered to the correct person. In other words, I ordered Prime Rib and Ed ordered Shrimp, the waiter tried to deliver Ed's Shrimp to me and my Prime rib to Ed. That happened with every course. I had to request and wait for horseradish and although Yorkshire pudding was supposed to be part of my dinner, I never received it. Hellena refused to eat her appetizer because there were so many finger/thumb prints on the plate she got disgusted. Dinner took an easy 2 ½ hrs. so we missed the show. We tried Discoveries again later and the service was fine. So it depends on which section you're in.
TV programming is ok at best, and any good movies are Pay per view. Thank goodness for the DVDs we brought. One afternoon was a Cruise Critic discussion group get together with the Hotel Director, Food & Beverage Mgr., Front Desk Mgr. and Mahalia. They were eager to hear our suggestions for improvement and there were quite a few. Dick and I decided to "dine in suite". The dining room menu was delivered around 4pm and we placed our order with Raj, our Butler. At 7pm he prepared our table and served us dinner, brought up in courses from the dining room. Raj has worked in a Relaix & Chateau hotel and is very well trained. During the evening Xavier, the Asst. Chief Housekeeper came to check and make sure everything went well. We found out that nobody had ever requested this! We had a couple of cocktail parties and ordered appetizers etc. from Raj and it worked out very well. A good time was had by all Things on the ship got better every day. We spoke to the F & B Manager and Hotel Director practically daily and they kept asking for suggestions, which we were happy to make, and whenever they could, they would implement them. We had no major complaints. The crew can't do enough, the food is good and anything that needs fixing gets done when you ask them. We ate in Prime C and Aqualina several times. The food and service there is great. I don't recommend the NY Strip. It seems to be overdone most of the time. Everybody loves the Lobster. For breakfast and lunch the Windows Café is very good. The Pool Grill has Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Nachos, all kinds of "comfort food" and wonderful fresh fries. A few times we tried Breeza, which is the buffet at night. They have Sushi, Sashimi, and stir fry to order, a pasta bar and all kinds of food. When you're not real hungry, that's the place to go. We tried the Elemis Spa. The services are very expensive and when I questioned the receptionist, telling her that it's much cheaper on other ships, I was told that South America adds a tax to all services. That would explain the high pricing for shore excursions also. The spa facilities are adequate at best - nothing fancy. Near the front desk is a co-ed waiting area. Men's and women's locker rooms, steam room, showers and bathrooms can be accessed from there. From the locker room one can access the private outdoor Jacuzzi and lounge area. Unlimited access to that area is $113.00 for the duration of the cruise. New Years Eve was handled perfectly and everybody enjoyed the toast on the pool deck and entertainment put on by the entertainment staff in the Looking Glass Lounge. Management was really good about keeping the buffet open longer, so returning guests can eat there or at the pool grill.
Finally we arrived in Valparaiso, where we had to disembark. We decided 18 days is not enough. Disembarkation was pretty organized. Our guide and driver met us at the terminal and we went off on our tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Overall, I would say Azamara has a "journey" ahead of them, but if the staff continues to try as hard as they are, they'll make it. We will try it again. If anybody has questions, I'll be happy to answer them. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.