Embarkation & Departure We arrived at the terminal at 11:45 and were surprised to see only one other taxi dropping off passengers. This was our first clue that this was to be a very "different" cruise from what we had previously experienced. Check in was a breeze. We were welcomed on board in less than 10 minutes and were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine.
We were not able to drop off our carry-on bags in our room as all the passageway doors were closed so we had to take them with us for lunch. The buffet at Windows Cafe was especially good for a departure day. It was not long before we were given the word that the cabins were ready for occupancy.
As we departed Miami the seas became very rough & uncomfortable. Captain "Theo" (Theodoros Mitropoulos) announced that we would have "lumpy" seas for about 3 hours and then it would smooth out. Ten minutes later he changed course which really calmed things down and then came back on the P/A system to say he had notified the home office about his decision to change course even though it added 130 miles to the first port. He said the comfort of the passengers was more important than extra fuel. From that point on all of us really appreciated Captain Theo and his crew.
Stateroom & Cabin Service We were in cabin 6060, a category 2A room which has a veranda with 2 chairs and a small table. While it is a tiny bit smaller than similar rooms on the M class ships, we found the room to be quite satisfactory. Replacing the old TV with a flat screen added a significant amount of storage space in the corner locker.
Our butler, Luis, greeted us promptly and provided excellent service. He was attentive to all of our needs including ensuring we had a full ice bucket at all times. My wife "caught" our room steward (Derick) on his knees cleaning the bathroom tile floor with a toothbrush. We absolutely have no complaints with stateroom service.
We had breakfast on our veranda 3 times which was wonderful. Room service was on time and the food was warm, the servings generous and most appetizing. Do not miss the "savories" which must be ordered every day; they are different every day and quite nice.
Dining We found the open seating in Discoveries to be an absolute delight and the wait for a table was never very long. Our Cruise Critic group met in the Martini Bar every night at 6:30 for a bit of cheer. We were accommodated at one of our two desired stations whether we had 6 or 14 people. Other than the popular 7:30 dinner time there was no waiting for a table of any size for anyone.
The food in Discoveries was excellent and certainly met our expectations. There was a wide variety of choices and very few items disappointed us. On the left side of the Discoveries menu is a list of dining options available every night. This is a big plus if the daily offerings were not exactly to your liking. My only negative was that escargot was not on the menu until day 9 of our 12 night cruise!
We ate in the specialty dining rooms three times: Aqualina twice and Prime C once. Prime C was very good with huge portions but to us it was just another steak house and nothing really special. Aqualina is quite another story as the food options were far more varied, interesting and everything was delicious. Of course the goat cheese soufflE is not to be missed but the fois gras was absolutely wonderful. We could have eaten there every night.
We found the Windows Cafe to be a perfect spot for breakfast & lunch. For breakfast the choices were varied whether you wanted waffles, omelets, lox & bagels or oatmeal. One thing we noticed was the bacon was crispy and there was plenty of it. At lunch the variety of options was very good and it changed a little each day. It seemed that they were carving prime rib every other day and all the carved meat was excellent. There was a wide variety of main dish and side dish offerings each day. I know it is a small point but the 8 ice cream options varied every day with lots of toppings from which to choose.
We ate at the pool grill a couple of times and suffice it to say it was much better than we have experienced previously. There were more options and everything was cooked to order.
Entertainment We did not go to a lot of shows but the ones we did see were good. The theater is on one level and the entertainers performed on a dance floor in front of the band. This is not a large ship so don't expect a lot of glitzy shows or costume changes.
The enrichment series of presentations was excellent and well attended.
Bar Service We never felt pressured to buy "the drink of the day" even though the servers were always circulating. Everything is low key and most professional.
Ben, our waiter in the Martini Bar, made a special effort to recreate a "Sakatini" which was, at one time, on the Millennium ships' bar menus. It was perfected after 3 tries and I had one every night thereafter and never had to order it. Service counts!
We purchased some bottles of wine from Azamara prior to departure. We carried it to the dining room where it was opened for us with no corkage fee and no 18% service charge.
Ports and Shore Excursions This cruise had a mixture of "heavily visited" and "lightly visited" ports of call. One thing we really liked is Azamara's attitude about shore excursions. They openly talked about passengers' options of going ashore and hiring someone local and told us how to do it. Every other ship we have been on has really discouraged non-ship tours so this was a breath of fresh air and a very pragmatic approach. Passengers are going to book their own shore tours so why not help them out by giving appropriate information.
We tendered at four ports and were at the dock for the other three. There was never a wait for a tender whether you were on a tour or not, a nice benefit of being on a smaller vessel. In line with Celebrity's practice, there were always cold towels and cool drinks at dockside upon our return to the ship - a very nice "extra".
• Virgin Gorda - I took the ship sponsored "3 Island Power Boat" tour and it was excellent but only for those who want to snorkel. • St. Barts - We tendered ashore, checked out the huge yachts and very expensive shops and returned to the ship. • St. Martin - We took the ship sponsored "Art Tour" which was excellent and then had lunch at the marina in Marigot. A very nice day. • Dominica - We hired a taxi for $25 pp versus $62 pp from the ship. We went to the same spots and heard the same history. This is a beautiful and almost "untouched" island. • St. Kitts - We joined a group who hired a private van for a tour. Again, about ½ price versus the ship for the same tour. These islands only have so much to see. • St. Croix - I did the "Mini Boat" tour through the ship and it was pretty good but the weather did not cooperate. My wife took a tour of the island which was a disaster; the "tour guide" was a high school senior with no training or experience. This stop should be eliminated. • St. John - We took no tours as we had been there a couple of times previously. We went ashore but unless you are taking a tour or going to the beach you might as well stay aboard the ship.
As a side note, several of us wrote up shore excursion evaluations which were less than positive. The shore excursion manager, Kelsey, called our cabin and expressed great appreciation for the input. To me this is great customer service.
Debarkation • This was not a "well done" but not a disaster either. We were given specific times to get off the ship but there were no announcements made in our state room as to what colors were free to go or when we had cleared customs. Being such a small ship everyone's time to depart was within 40 minutes or so. We finally just lined up and got off, easily found our bags, got a taxi and went to the airport.
Overall Impressions - Negative • One did get the feeling that because all the gratuities were automatically added to your statement, extra service was not extended. We felt this more prevalent in Discoveries dining room than other venues. • I visited the Spa three times to inquire about access to the pool & lounge area. In spite of written notes, I never received the information I requested. • The service level in the specialty restaurants, though good, does not compare with Celebrity's Millennium class ships. There is no preparation done at the table and the waiters wear the same uniforms as in the main dining room. They do a good job but nothing really special. • The 18% service charge seems a bit excessive as it is charged regardless of the service rendered. The Hotel Manager told us the money is "pooled" at the end of each cruise which in some ways keeps the high pressure selling at a minimum, a good thing. • Debarkation was not good but, in fact, a lot easier than on the big ships Overall Impressions - Positive • We sailed on R4 in 2001 but RCL/Celebrity/Azamara has really made this ship something to be very proud of. We will sail Azamara again. • The Captain and his officers were constantly visible and very accessible. They spent a lot time with us at the Connections get together which was unusual as officers rarely attend. • The size of the ship allows you to recognize and acknowledge fellow passengers. • The food was uniformly excellent, regardless of the venue. Aqualina was very special. • We loved the informality of dress; I brought a tie and never wore it. No one abused the dress code on any evening or in any venue. • The Captain changed course on the way South and on the way North in order to have smoother seas. I doubt Captains on other larger ships would have gone the extra miles (literally) for his passengers.
This was a wonderful cruise, on a wonderful ship with an even more wonderful set of officers and crew. If you are tired of waiting for your tender ticket number to come up you should give Azamara a try!