Contrasts between getting there and getting back via the Airline Industry and the cruise experience on Azamara were marked. British Airways from Toronto to Barcelona via Heathrow were their abysmal worst. Aged 767 with non operative Audio/Video and funny food (We were in World Traveller Plus- an upgrade) Once again we were not treated to a visit to the fabled Terminal 5 in Heathrow but, after 7 hours, bundled like upright cattle into a bumpy bus that took us from the plane to the vicinity of Terminal 5. We were then switched to another similar packed bus that drove us back , past our aircraft, to terminal 3. After cooling our heels in Terminal 3 and buying Tea and Scrambled Eggs for $30, we were taken by bus to our Barcelona Flight where we stood in the rain and boarded our plane up steep stairs.
Once in Barcelona it improved, new Terminal, clean, modern,.efficient. Taxi to the Hotel Onix Ramblas through heavy heavy traffic, arrived at about 2 pm. Woke up at 9.30 pm with a need for food. Fortunately Barcelonians are night owls so that was no problem. Next day we took the hop-on/Hop off bus from Placa Catalonia round the city, time for 2 routes and then a visit for a coffee at the rooftop of Corte Ingles, wonderful. People so polite and civilized! Then a taxi to the Journey.
I wrote last year that 'Azamara is great but its not Oceania', well I now eat my words. It was the most fabulous, relaxing experience ever, and we have done some cruising! The ubiquitous Philip Herbert, Hotel Director has improved the experience so much it ran flawlessly. The cabins were the same size, but towels were bigger, Fresh Fruit (spotty last year) was lovely, Fresh Flowers. The cabin staff helpful, pleasant and hard working, as were all the shipboard staff. Special mention to Bar Waitress 'Maria' from Columbia who instantly recognised us from last years cruise and was omnipresent day and night with her friendly, happy demeanour. What a lovely employee, so typical of the HR policy of Azamara!! The fo0od was exemplary whether in The Discoveries Dining Room, no fixed dining times, tables for 2 through 10 so you could sit as 2 for Breakfast and enjoy the company of others for Dinner. Absolutely no complaints about the waiters, Maitre D's and Sommelier, we never had anything but friendly respect and wonderful tasting, presented and timely meals. We dined at Windows on occasion also at the Prime C Steak House, service and cuisine extraordinaire, as good as the best on shore restaurants. We4 did not try Aquilina but hearsay said it was excellent. The ship was lovely, in good shape and kept in great order by the staff constantly cleaning.
Our Ports of call were interesting. Alicante, we had visited before so stayed aboard and stay in the sun and read. Gibraltar, an odd mix of Spanish and the UK of 25 years ago, Marks and Spencer, British Home Stores and Fish and Chips plus some excellent Draught Guinness and Murphy's Stout. Madeira was wonderful as was a revisit to La Palma , Canaries. We did our own tours at all spots as the Azamara Tours are just not value for money in any way shape or form. I think that was the view of most passengers judging by the turnout for the tour buses. We did visit Coco Cay Bahamas. It looked lovely but as a company owned Island with catering from the ship and 'Made in China' artifacts on sale was not enticing enough for us. We stayed aboard. Fortuitous as a storm came over and the tenders returning to the ship emulated the most vomit inducing rides at an amusement park. The tender returning the catering supplies finally gave up trying to return supplies to the ship after some jettisoning of tomatoes and cutlery. I was astonished to see all the waiters etc leaping in very large swells, without lifejackets of any sort.
The entertainment was, in my opinion, for a ship of Journeys size good. A wonderful Orchestra, Max on the Piano in the Cova,a talented Harpist and a solo guitarist gave you music 'wherever you went'. a special word has to go to the Entertainment Staff, Kevin Coyne, Oleg from the Ukraine,Craig from 'Yorkshire' and a lovely newcomer to Azamara Katie Foster who was dropped into her first cruise at the deep end putting up with us at our constant trivias and similar games. She was beautiful, talented and read 'The night before Christmas' at the Christmas concert in a manner reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews.
We had 2 Cruise Critic Receptions, a Greek Dancing Lesson from the Captain, a Passenger Choir, A Crew talent night (They are very talented especially Shirley, a lovely singer from HR) a Passenger talent night, 2 magicians, a resident crew of singers/dancers. Great, great ,great. Disappointing was a female fiddler (Violinist would be a bit pretentious) she lacked stage presence or real personality and the programme was a bit awful. We weer warned by others after the first show, we went to the second and left as it was a bit painful. The cruise director, John Howell, was a bit insincere, forever praising the Captain and the Orchestra and droning on and on and on oozing insincerity. He liked the sound of his own voice and was obviously reading scripts of the company 'line' However he didn't interact too often with the passengers unless standing with a microphone telling us of how he was a star on Broadway incessantly.
One complaint only- Azamara, your coffee is awful, often undrinkable. The rest was fab, fab fab. We will return, most, if not all I spoke to were of similar opinion.
They did 'Launch' Azamara Club Cruises' on board- main opinion was "Why spoil a good thing' nothing is free, local wines complimentary etc makes prices go up. The suites get one thing, the rest get less, starts a class system that would shutdown the 'extended family atmosphere' . However it must be good as John Howell was extolling it to the rooftops every chance he had to lay his hand on a mike.
We arrived in Miami in a rainstorm, debarkation was best organised9sed ever, however the storm was so bad Air Canadas incoming flight to Miami got diverted to Nassau, it finally arrived 8 hours late at 6 pm. The captain had exceeded his hours so they had to fly another crew down from Toronto. We finally got to Toronto at Midnight 15 hours after leaving the ship. Air Canada gave us a bag Of Potato Chips and 'Free' coffee. The bags all arrived however.
What a wonderful cruise, if they don't increase their prices I may not return to Oceania!!!