I consider myself an experienced cruiser, at the age of 44. This may have been my 12'th cruise or so (it becomes hard to keep count). It was my third cruise of 2009 and my first with Azamara. I have sailed with Celebrity many times including my first two of 2009 on the Infinity and the Solstice, so I knew what the minimum standard would be when I booked with Azamara. I was not disappointed.
This was my first cruise on a smaller ship. I'm more used to the flashy behemoths like the Solstice where walking from one end of the ship to the other is like a shore excursion in itself. I wondered, would I be happy on a smaller boat. Would I be happy on what I consider an older refurb? Would there be enough to do? Would there be enough to eat? The answer is yes. My scale confirms that.
In a nutshell, the staff really were excellent all around. They do go out of their way for you. Executive chef Lisa...what a dedicated genius. She is clearly an inspiration to her staff and it is reflected in the quality of the cuisine all around the ship....in the main dining room, in the buffet and at Aqualina and Prime C specialty restaurants. Her multiple cooking demonstrations involving her staff who are usually behind the scenes is commendable. I love fine cuisine, and quite frankly I usually lower my expectations on a cruise ship compared to my at home dining experiences. However the food exceeded my expectations. Even the afternoon tasty savories delivered to your stateroom are miles ahead of the non-descript canapes that Celebrity serves to Concierge class and above guests. For 13 out of 14 nights, we had breakfast room service usually on the balcony. Always delivered when requested. My only complaint on food and beverage: as expected, the standard coffee throughout the ship is DREADFUL. It essentially forces you to stop by Cova Cafe to pay for your. Personally as a deluxe cruise company, they really should provide better standard coffee.
Our stateroom service was excellent. Never in the way. Always impeccably cleaned. The rooms are well appointed. The beds are comfortable. Showers small and water pressure could be a little better. Fluffy big towels and Frette bathrobes. Good interactive (but small) flat screen TV, with minimal loss of satellite signal on this sailing.
The gym had everything I needed (except liposuction treatments). The Azamara crowd tends to be older than us on average so don't expect the youthful craziness of a Carnival cruise. It seems most Azamara guests are frequent cruisers.
If you live in North America, I recommend purchasing an Azamara or Celebrity Passages $100 deposit for an unspecified future cruise if you like the brand, while on board. You will get $300 on board credit on a 14 day cruise (less for shorter). Unfortunately previously the deposit was applicable for both Azamara and Celebrity. Now your purchase has to be for Celebrity OR Azamara (or as I did, one for both).
In short, it was a terrific cruise vacation and was a great way to spend two weeks in Europe.
Other ports of call: Rouen: city itself is rather boring. I did not go to Paris as the drive is not worth it for the few hours there. La Rochelle: Lovely little city but terrible port far from the city. Shuttle service was a disaster getting to town so Azamara politely waived the $15 shuttle fee. Bordeaux: Totally awesome with the ship docking literally on the downtown waterfront. No terminal building. Beautiful city to visit and a drive to St. Emilion must be done. Car rentals are at the train station which is about a half hour walk or a tram ride. They have a beautiful modern tram system there.