"It's your first cruise and you're going on one that's 18 nights long?' was the common refrain from friends. We had long resisted the idea of a cruise, we tended to make our own travel arrangements, often meandering through Europe by car, or finding out of the way Caribbean locations off the beaten track. But then my wife found this trip by a new cruise line that seemed to fit. Free style seating, no formal nights, a relatively small number of passengers and an itinerary that sounded perfect; Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, rounding the Horn on New Year's Eve. So for the first time in our lives we put all our travel arrangements in the hands of someone else (the cruise line) and hoped for the best. The flight to Buenos Aires meant a connection in Chicago, but once we got there, Azamara took over and we began to experience the Azamara "touch". We had booked an extra night in BA to experience some of the delights of that wonderful city. We stayed at the Sheraton, located near the famous Florida shopping street, and not far from El Temo and the docks. As expected all luggage was handled efficiently by the line and their representative at the hotel gave us several wonderful tips on enjoying the city. We even decided to eschew the free transfer to the ship in favor of spending more time at the famous El Temo flea market. A quick cab ride from the hotel brought us to the embarkation shed at the port of Buenos Aires. The embarkation procedure went very smoothly, and soon we were on the ship, handed a glass of champagne, and escorted to our stateroom.
Thanks to Cruise Critic and its message boards, we had a pretty accurate idea or what to expect, our Veranda stateroom was snug, but well laid out. It was larger than some of the European "boutique" hotel rooms we've stayed in recently. The R-ship's newly renovated cabin had a flat screen, a comfortable bed and enough storage space to accommodate our three weeks worth of clothing. We were greeted by our butler, Natasha, who turned out to be absolutely wonderful, anticipating most of our needs and remembering all of our preferences. The television provided much of the onboard information we needed. We went up to the specialty restaurants to make our one free reservation, only to be told that the policy was changed beginning with our cruise. No surcharge would be assessed, so we happily made reservations for the entire cruise, alternating locations. Our dining experience was therefore somewhat different that most, and it was fantastic. The waitstaff was utterly professional and beyond friendly. The maitre d', Zoltan, made every evening a truly luxurious dining adventure. The food was truly to die for. Every dinner we ate was the equal of some of the best restaurants in NYC. A special thanks to Domenique, the head of food services, who spent time with us and gave us a real appreciation for the way in which the ship was provisioned. So we began to really enjoy and appreciate the "Azamara experience".
As the cruise settled into its first week, we could not get over how genuinely friendly the entire crew was. They created such a nice atmosphere, that as we meet other passengers, one of the first topics of discussion was the crew and the atmosphere they were creating for the passengers. As we traveled down the coast of Argentina, moving into Patagonia, the "culture" of the ship became more apparent. They might not have the largest shows, but the jazz combo playing at cocktail time was just right. The activities on board were designed for those who absolutely needed them, but most of the cosmopolitan mix of passengers did their own "thing". The gym was well utilized, and the activities there were excellent. Tanning on pool deck was a favorite activity while the weather held. But for most, the scenery and ports were the major activity. (Personal disclaimer: We did not take any of the excursions offered by the ship. We made our own arrangements in each port, either renting a car and driving ourselves, or renting a car and driver for the day). The captain and crew kept us informed of any changes in our itinerary. When high winds prevented us from docking at Comodoro Riverdivia, resulting in an unexpected day at sea, the crew quickly set up new activities to take up the slack. When high seas threatened mass sea sickness, the captain took us through the Beagle Passage for an unbelievable morning wakeup at the Garibaldi Glacier, which was absolutely stunning. All during the voyage, crew members showed real interest in our daily excursions. And at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, we rounded Cape Horn Island, and headed into the Pacific. When we finally reached Valparaiso, we had had the trip of our lives. We had made new friends, both among the passengers and the crew. Perhaps the voyage was best summed up by a crew member, who, when asked by my wife if it was possible to get something after the lunch buffet had closed, replied, "Madam, on Azamara everything is possible". And it was.