I learned about Cruise Critic on the Journey, and this is my first review. I've sailed on 16 cruises previously, including 5 cruise lines Azamara was our 6th.
Let me say first we loved Azamara the people are very friendly, and the crew goes out of the way to rectify any complaints. There are lots of little touches to make the cruise memorable ie hot chocolate, bouillon, and yes, hot wine (chef's personal recipe and WONDERFUL), at the gangway upon return to the ship; an American coffee/expresso machine to avoid nasty shipboard coffee, soft pretzels, a dinner buffet at the pool deck! They even issued a mid-cruise critique specifically for the ship managers so they could identify/resolved problem areas quickly. The itinerary was unique (our reason for the cruise), and we love small ships.
My reason for the review is that I understand Azamara is categorized as a "deluxe" cruise ship. My question is why? I've cruised several of the mass consumer lines (Princess, Celebrity, Royal Carribean) on multiple cruises each, as well as luxury lines Regent and Silverseas. Azamara is positioning itself between these two markets so I expected an "upgrade" in some things, but not to the luxury level. In 12 days I didn't see anything that would put it in that category, except possibly more attention to passenger issues, but frankly, it's more like a return to what cruising "used" to be before all the lines got excited about 2000+ passenger ships, and the overall quality in all lines went down. Is that alone enough to qualify as deluxe? Or is it just claiming it's a small ship with friendly people? Is that enough?
Examples: a. I still had to pay for water, soda, and even some non-alcoholic coffee drinks (at the coffee bar). This I really expected to be included as part of my "deluxe" cruise.
b. The ship automatically charges your bill for tipping (at 18%). So why do they then have another line on every bill for "additional tip?" We questioned that, and they said it's primarily for people who patronize the same bar waiters and want to leave something special. To me it's TACKY. It suggests that passengers "forget" they've already paid for tipping and pay more; however, if I want to give someone a special tip, I don't need a line on a bill to remind me (and we did give a few select people additional tips at the end of the cruise). Worse, we had great service from a restaurant waiter one evening UNTIL we didn't put a tip on the additional tip line after ordering 2 bottles of wine when we paid at the end of dinner. We had liked him and requested his table the next night, but he pointedly ignored us! I believe that proves my point. And we raised the issue with the ship, and at least the bar/restaurant manage seemed to understand. But obviously this is a corporate issue.
c. Each stateroom has a "butler." Really? Seemed like they changed the name, with no difference in service. In fact, I didn't see my "butler" for the first 2 days of the cruise, yet they promote butlers as unpacking for you! (Not that I would want that). He also failed to resupply our inroom refrigerator twice (we only used it 3x). Having said that, our "butler" was generally responsive to our requests, but no more so than the "cabin steward" of old.
d. I've experienced true butler service on both Princess (mass consumer) and Regent (luxury). In BOTH cases we received appetizers every evening before meals whether or not we asked for them, or we were in our stateroom. Azamara publishes these appetizers as part of my "deluxe" cruise and presumably I've paid for them, yet while they were available, they asked you EVERY DAY to fill out a form requesting the appetizer, AND required you to commit to being in your room for at least 30 minutes because you had to be there to receive it!! In short, it's an obvious ploy to claim a service that's rarely rendered because most passengers prefer to be on shore excursions, or playing bingo, trivia, listening to music, losing money in the casino, etc things that the ship should encourage since a passenger in a stateroom is rarely expending money. So, either they need to commit to providing the appetizers, or eliminate them. The current way it's offered, with all the qualifications, makes it more offensive than pleasing. Obviously another corporate issue.
e. The cabin size is outrageous for a "deluxe" cruise. It's the smallest I've had on ANY ship, and the bathroom can barely hold one person at a time. The shower is more triangle-shaped, and unless you're a small person, it can be difficult to maneuver in. But we adapt, and that's the ship.
So in my husband's and my opinion, this is "just" a small Celebrity ship, which has a different name to separate it because of the smaller size. It's fun, friendly, and definitely worth cruising. The special touches make an impression. But just know when you take it that perhaps it's not as "deluxe" as you might expect.