Azamara Journey - Southeastern Mediterranean (October 11, 2009 - October 25, 2009)
"The Pursuit of Excellence" Reflecting on the voyage, I would characterize the ethos of the ship's officers, staff, and crew as having a focus on this motivation by demonstrated behavior and actions. For the record, we are in no way connected to the cruise company or any travel business - we are experienced cruisers - on the Azamara Journey and mostly on Celebrity ships but also with Royal Caribbean and Holland America.
Now, on to some specific observations and reflections:
Azamara - The Product is Cruise Experiences - the Strength is its People After completing our second voyage on the Azamara Journey, our conclusion is that we had two outstanding cruise experiences due to the wonderful people who serve on this ship. This time, the top leadership setting a tone of excellence were Captain Georgios Theodorou, Staff Captain Manos Aposkitis, Hotel Director Heike Cramer, and Food and Beverage Manager Ryszard Gusmann, It can be said that all the crew and staff 'have got it' - they consistently provide great customer service with a smile and go out of their way to please and 'do what needs to be done and do it well'. It was especially heartwarming to renew the friendships with many of the staff whom we had met on previous voyages.
Embarkation and Sailing The embarkation process at the port of Piraeus was terribly delayed by the Port's Government officer responsible for passport control. He took 'his sweet time' to get into his station, simply to demonstrate that 'all were beholden to him' - how frustrating for the ship's management who were ready to receive passengers on board but couldn't proceed with the embarkation.
The Onboard Experience Eating/Dining Having dined at Three-Star Michelin restaurants in Europe and at other fine dining establishments, leads one to have certain perspectives and expectations with respect to dining out. On the other hand, it is important to keep situations and circumstances in perspective, when it comes to eating and dining at sea. Based on our experience on the Azamara Journey, execution in everyday details is guided and exemplified by great leadership - service with excellence is provided under the direction of Heike Cramer (Hotel Director), assisted by Food and Beverage Manager, Ryszard and his team. The leadership is constantly practicing MBWA—Management By Walking Around, checking and correcting and perfecting. It is indeed a great pleasure to eat and dine great food selections beautifully presented, in a variety of settings: 'Open Seating' main dining in Discoveries Dining Room, various daily buffet selections in Windows Cafe, and the upscale Specialty Dining Restaurants (Aqualina and Prime C). Some special features to be highlighted are the Sushi Bar, the fresh juice and smoothie bar, very good selections of appetizers, main course dishes, and a fabulous baking and dessert presentation. Evening dinners in the Dining Room were always a wonderful experience - being welcomed with a friendly greeting by Maitre'd Moustafa - having great food with great presentation served by several outstanding waiters, Mario, Darren, Philbert. Everyone, at every level, is tuned to providing excellent service with attention to details - the prevailing attitude is 'listening and following up' on any suggestions that are provided.
Serving staff and all ship service personnel always greet cruisers in friendly ways and offer assistance at every turn. Stateroom and Service On the R-8 Class of ships, a long voyage is much more comfortable in one of the Sky Suites - more space in every sense - a large amount of storage space, a larger bathroom with a bathtub/shower, excellent products (Elemis) - really a nice way to 'clean up' and perform the 'beautification routines'. The towels are nice and thick and very absorbent and the bedding is great. How were we looked after by our stateroom attendants (butler and assistant)? Let's say it straight - "the team of Arvind, Alvin, and Kevin were terrific". We don't look to a butler to unpack or pack but we expect service with excellence and that is what it has been. These guys aimed to please in every way: extra champagne glasses and a cheese tray and a plate of prawns to host some guests were delivered; soiled shoes after visiting Egyptian cities were cleaned in short order; any small requests were looked after expeditiously - all in all, the stateroom service team performed very well and showed great disposition.
Entertainment and Programming The efforts of Cruise Director Tony Markey are recognized. Although the stage entertainment was not always to our liking (obviously, a subjective assessment), we appreciated the high quality of classical and vocal talent being featured. Some of the social gathering areas like the Cova Cafe and the entrance area to the Main Dining Room, became very popular whenever the pianist and harpist performed. Other Amenities Thalassotherapy Pool at the front of the ship, accessed from the Spa area, is overpriced. The T-Pool is fine but not nearly as wonderful as in other Celebrity ships (disregarding the size aspect) - the seating rails are not a comfortable configuration. The Steam rooms (male and female rooms) are really good - marble benches and good space for six people of so.
The ship's Internet Communication Service needs to be significantly improved - it works with one of the worst Login and Time-tracking scripts I have experienced on ships.
Guest Relations is blessed with some wonderful people with great disposition and patience - Yasemin deserves special mention.
Ports and Tours This southeastern Mediterranean cruise was a very port-intensive voyage with extensive tour packages offered. Orientations to ports and tours were provided by the Shore Excursions Director and the outstanding and highly stimulating onboard Destination Lecturer, Jon Fleming.
Overall - this was an outstanding cruise experience - reassuring us, that Azamara is continuing its 'pursuit of perfection'.