My wife and I loved Renaissance Cruise Line ships - 678 passengers, no children under 16, no formal dining, open dining hours, 24 hour full menu access, small out of the way ports and super friendly crew. They traveled the Mediterranean and, after 9/11 went bankrupt - no one was traveling to that area of the world. They had 7 ships and 2 (the oldest two)were purchased by Celebrity and put into service. We knew the layout of the ship, having sailed on them 4 previous cruises under Renaissance. Since Azamara was a new startup, we used a travel agent to set up the trip. I glad we did, because booking the cruise took some time and some restarts. I booked 7 shore excursions by internet 6 months before the cruise and signed up for a one day post stay in Copenhagen to give us an opportunity to tour the city. I also upgraded to business class since the flight over was a red eye. I purchased trip interruption insurance through the agency in case Azamara didn't make it. Always a good idea. If a cruise line goes bankrupt and you have insurance through them, it is invalid and you are stuck!
I requested room 7000 or 7001 which are directly under the bridge (little noise) and over other cabins. They face forward so you can see both sides of the vessel as you cruise! I thought I was set! The company billed my credit card and I looked periodically on the internet to arrange for specialty dining room reservations. Not allowed! But I did find a post that ALL previously confirmed shore excursions were cancelled!!! No reason, no proposed resolution, just CANCELLED! The travel agency could get no information either. No one at Azamara customer service knew ANYTHING about it! This would set a tone for customer service. Weeks later, I received notice that my shore excursions were rebooked with an alternate subcontractor. This proved to be an omen, since, with one exception, the tours were singularly POOR. (on our first tour, we boarded buses that took us exactly 4 blocks and discharged us for 3 hours while we walked the town and then transported us 4 blocks back to the ship! I was sent the typical pre-cruise packet where I filled in multitudes of information and set up a payment method for my onboard account. Now, I thought I was really ready to go! In December, I called the travel agent to get flight information and make sure my wife and I were seated in business class and together. She called Azamara and found that we were business class, but sitting together on only 2 of the 4 flights. Azamara said they could do nothing (customer service). I asked the travel agent to get me the flight numbers and times and confirmations numbers and I called Delta and within 5 minutes had adjacent seating. Apparently Azamara just didn't want to take the time to call!
Well May 16th 2008 came and we started our Journey. The flight went well and we were glad we spent the additional money to upgrade to business. The seats folded flat and I actually slept comfortably! Kudos to Delta! We arrived to Barcelona, quickly cleared customs and met the Azamara reps at the airport. We gave them our bags and boarded a bus to the pier where we used our preboarding information to quickly go aboard. We had packed sever bottles of wine in our checkins and, although the ship's policy was to confiscate them, they made it to our room. In every 2 or three ports we would restock some of the local wine. As long as you keep it IN your cabin, there are no repercussions. We recognized the ship from our Renaissance days. Other than a change of artwork and renaming of the bars and restaurants, the ships were the very same, and I mean the very same! The ship looked a lot worn. We had problems with plumbing malfunctions 3 separate days, and our "Butler" service - Danhoo and Jose'- proved much less than qualified or personable. Three evenings, I had to go in search of hand cloths for the shower that were not included in the room cleanup. I want to "customer service" and requested a new set of room attendants and was refused, but was told that their manager would have a "talk with them!" Needless to say, we were persona non grata thereafter. We visited 11 ports in 7 countries including Valencia, Almeria, and Bilbao Spain, Lisbon Portugal, Bordeaux and Sr. Malo France, the Isle of Gurnsey, Amsterdam Holland, London England (A highlight where we moored in the middle of the Thames about 100 yards downstream from the "Tower Bridge"), the Kiel Canal, and Copenhagen Denmark. Our slated stop at La Rochelle France was cancelled due to the threat of a strike (never happened). Only the ship excursion at St Malo France that took us to the extraordinary Saint Mont Michael was worth the trip. All other ports were fully walkable and had tourist information facilities with coupons, maps and approved personal guides at the port. The food in the specialty restaurants were incredible and presentation made them almost too beautiful to eat. Food in the main dining room was just average, offerings at the buffet were to be expected, however, a poolside grill had Kababs, excellent burgers, various wursts fries and baked potatoes. It was open from 11 AM to 6 PM. Ship policy forbid "reservation" of seating anywhere from the theaters to restaurants to pool chairs. This was NEVER enforced and, despite requests from staff to open seats, we were ignored. Therefore I moved the "paperback" on the pool lounge chair that had been there 20 minutes and occupied the seat myself, only to be confronted 40 minutes later by a person who had just finished a leisurely breakfast and came to claim her seat. Many a huff was heard.
The customer service counter was undermanned and usually had long lines, especially when going from one country to the next, when currency exchange took place. Be forewarned that, although several countries have large denominations in coin form, and despite the fact there is no signage saying so, the customer service folks will NOT exchange coinage. They have a convenient box on the counter where you can donate to their chosen charity. The Captain made a very poor decision. He had announced that the Kiel canal had one of its two locks down for service and that the trip through may be longer than our itinerary indicated. We were leaving from London at 7 AM for the canal. We could have left during the night. The extra time would have gotten us at the canal hours ahead and allowed us to get in line. NO! We left 1/2 hour early because there was a bus trip to Hamburg that would depart from the entrance to the canal and meet the ship at the end. We were hours behind and the bus trip hit traffic and was late getting to the ship, so the ship slowed down through the canal allowing other ships to pass. We picked up the 32 sightseers at 1:30 AM which made us later still. The next morning, pandemonium took over while the customer service tried to determine who would and who would not miss their flights, while they rebooked people (some two days later) and booked the stranded in hotels. We weren't worried, because we had booked the additional room. We got to the port and the color and number coded bag tags were abandoned. We tried to get a cab to our hotel so we could use the little remainder of the day to do some sightseeing, but we were not permitted off! Finally, I argued with an officer and was permitted to disembark, find my luggage, fight for a cab and get to the Marriott. Yep, the troubles weren't over yet! The hotel had no record of reservations for the 7 couples who had prebooked post cruise rooms. The Azamara local representative had no authority to guarantee the room payment and Celebrity/Azamara customer service in Miami was closed (no 24 hour coverage. I am a Marriott gold member, so at 4:30 PM they gave me a room. We had 3 hours to sightsee on a Sunday evening - Everything closes at 4. When I got home, I called Azamara and said that the reason I booked an extra day was to get an entire day in Copenhagen, The Captain's decision to accommodate the Hamburg bus trip caused the arrival delay. All stranded travelers had their room comped and we 7 who had paid $350 for a room in order to see the city couldn't do so. I then asked for a refund of the room cost but was curtly told that the problem was with Marriott(???) and that I got what I paid for - a room for the night. I love the Renaissance ships and IOceania has 4 of them which they totally upgraded before they put them in service. I'll not get on a Celebrity brand, especially Azamara, soon. Oceania will be my well deserved pick.