My first cruise on a ship with more than 40 passengers was a 16-day affair on Azamara Journey from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. We had stops in Aruba; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua; and in Huatulco, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas , all in Mexico.
We arranged our own airfares and hotel in Miami in order to use air miles points. Aeroplan hammered us for 200,000 points for the flights alone and we reserved weeks in advance. Aeroplan loves to rob its customers.
I was told that Azamara was a small, luxury ship with great service—a 2:1 ratio passengers to staff—-fine food and excellent entertainment. One out of three isn't bad, I suppose, it is a small ship.
And speaking of small, the sole swimming pool in minuscule, but that's OK I guess. I did expect more.
We arrived at the docks on time and the boarding process was relatively smooth although I got in to Russia without showing my passport as many times as I did boarding Azamara Journey in Miami.
Once aboard, we found our stateroom (#6077) with a private balcony to be cozy and well appointed. The toiletries supplied by Azamara were very good. The bed linens were excellent as was the mattress. The towels were over-sized, thick and absorbent and the robes splendid but heavy. No slippers were to be found, nor binoculars!
Our stateroom attendant, Alexis, was the best; hardworking, pleasant and courteous. He often ran ahead of my wife just to open the door for her.
Other staff was largely attentive and smiled a lot, but too many of them were hopeless at their jobs. Their English was often lacking and many were untrained in the service industry. It must be said, though, that some were excellent, Roxanna in the Discoveries dining room, Maria a wine server with a constant smile who never stopped moving, and a couple of young women in the Aqualina dining room were exceptional including Ludmillia (spelled somewhat differently)and her wine steward.
The entertainment crew, Eric Brouman, Ron Hollywood,and Geny Alie, were worth the price of admission both while working and while just mingling with the passengers. The harpist, Mary Amanda, was wonderful to listen to and charismatic to boot. The male piano player, Dan, in the Cova Cafe was a great entertainer.
Otherwise, the entertainment was sub-standard. One performer, a woman with a ventriloquist's dummy whose mouth moved less than hers, was beyond description, I fear. A female piano player and a violinist were hardly from the entertainment A list
The food was OK, but not up to the descriptions by Azamara. If salt is what you like in huge doses, you'd love this stuff. My biggest complaint, however, was that the kitchen had no idea how to do a steak. While my rib eye was done properly, four filet mignons were unbelievably under- or over-cooked.
Christmas dinner was dreadful. It was advertised as mid-western turkey with seasonal vegetables. I'll bet the meat had never seen the mid-west, or even a turkey, for that matter. It was, I'm sure, processed meat. The main seasonal vegetable was asparagus—a spring veggie where I come from. Over-all it was hopeless.
But New Year's Eve dinner topped it.
We had a table for 10 and were led to the captain's table—minus the captain, which is fine with me—by the head man in the food section. A fine young fellow named Scott.
That was the end of the good stuff. We waited 20 minutes without so much as a glass of water and nary a suggestion that a server was assigned to our table. I was able to locate an assistant manager of Discoveries to ask what was going on. Unbelievably, he said the waiter who looked after our table was off sick. That was it. I asked him whether we should wait until the waiter recovered or would someone be assigned to us. He said he'd serve us. About five minutes later the menus were distributed and the waiter vanished for a further five minutes.
When he came back, we got some water and one of our fellow diners ordered wine that was available in an upstairs dining room, but not in Discoveries. No problem, said the waiter, I will see to it—perhaps the $65 price tag, plus the 18 per cent gratuity helped.
Alas, 10 minutes later, Maria, the wine lady, showed up and asked for our wine order. Told that the waiter had said he'd look after the special order, she said he had just passed it on to her. I then ordered a bottle that was on Discoveries' list—also $65 plus the ubiquitous 18 per cent. They arrived together another 10 minutes hence, although the bottle from upstairs was the wrong one. We kept it because by now the hour was getting late and we were thirsty and hungry.
Then the ordering started. When asked what came with the veal, the waiter said he didn't know. And he didn't offer to find out. And so it went. No apologies. Nothing. Had that happened in a good dining room there would have been hell to pay. However, despite reporting our displeasure to a higher-up, we heard nothing.
The fitness and recreation facilities were fine. My wife enjoyed the stretching classes, the yoga sessions, especially when they gathered on deck, and occasionally pilates. She thought the instructor Dicky, a Dutch girl, was very good. The fitness facilities, too were adequate and well maintained.
We didn't go on any organized excursions, which we thought were a little pricey and we didn't travel all that way to spend hours on a bus. We did manage to travel around in hired vehicles with local guides.
So what did we think of the cruise over-all? We had a great time because of the people we met on board. Thanks to the ship's small size, we met a good number of people, 90 per cent of them terrific company.
The other 10 per cent? They probably didn't like me any more than I liked them. It was Hanukkah and some Jewish people invited us to the candle-lighting ceremony. We had a brilliant time. We socialized with Brits, Americans, South Africans and Canadians. Would I cruise again? I'm not sure because I can't imagine meeting such a great group of people again. If we did go on another cruiseand I suppose it's likelyit would be on a small ship.