Introduction and Background of Newbie Passengers. I am almost retires; we have traveled extensively throughout most of the world (as top elite member of many hotel and airline frequent flyer programs). I would think this is the profile of potential cruisers that may be attractive to a cruise company. This was out first significant cruise. We researched many cruise lines and options using Cruise Critic and other web sites. We selected Azamara and Oceania as the best fit of us based on 1) limited onboard smoking policies and 2) not formal dress requirements (and for Oceania only, advertised luxury hotel quality beds). After this research and studying both the positive and negative comments of Both Azamara and Oceania, we decided to book one cruise on each line on our personal journey [pun intended] to make this comparison for ourselves. We were looking to see if either or both cruise lines could meet or exceed our cruise expectations. We will post our own comparison results (your mileage may vary) after completing both cruises. We had cancelled a previously booked Celebrity cuisse.
Booked Own Air to BCN. Would book own air in an instant, but I have booked my own international air for many years. AMERICAN Airlines coach (ugh) Las Vegas to JFK, then JFK to Barcelona. The seat gods were with us (with a little help from Seat Guru and AA online. We had an empty middle seat between us on both flights. At $5 and 30,000 AA miles per person total cost one way Las Vegas to Barcelona this was a great deal! Frequent flyer one way awards are available on AA for half the mileage of a round trip award (maybe some day United will catch up).
Pre-Cruise BCN Hotel. BCN free shuttle to the Airport Renaissance Hotel. This hotel was fine for one night airport location (both positive and negative comments on CC for this hotel). The 10 Euro per person ship transfers were very convenient and easy (but convenient and easy ended once you get to the pier). As a Marriott Platinum, class greeting and free lounge access for breakfast (typical, OK) and evening tapas (poor). For a one night airport stay, we would return. N Having been to Barcelona many times, we did not need to spend extra days in the city.
Ugly 1 - The Smoking Cabin. Azamara does not enforce their advertised policy of not smoking in the cabins! After we boarded in Barcelona and cabins were announced as available, we encountered a smoke filled cabin. After reporting this to three people and after way too much elapsed time, we were moved to another cabin (same category, less desirable location). I have uncounted this situation a few times with hotels around the world, but they usually have us moved within five minutes. As we were waiting for any action by Azamara, we were already planning our immediate cruise cancellation, departure from the ship and our Barcelona hotel before returning home. When a new cabin was finally offered, I asked what if the replacement cabin had also been smoked in on the previous cruise. This question was just brushed aside as they did not understand how this could even be remotely possible. This has also happened to me in a hotel (but again, promptly corrected), so I considered it a very valid question. Way too much time was wastedoffer9ing to deep clean the assigned cabin and convert it back a non-smoking cabin (this was not an acceptable solution to us, Azamara said they had done it before and it would work). In retrospect, housekeeping had to know that the previous occupants were smoking in this cabin. We later ran into another couple on the journey that had encountered the same problem and had also changed cabins. How did this happen? The excuse was that the butler in this area smoked and did not know that the previous occupants were smoking in the cabin. I find this totally unacceptable; Azamara advertises that it does not allow smoking in the cabins. If they choose to not enforce this, then this is false advertising. If they choose to not enforce this, then we choose to cruise elsewhere. Big deal? To us, yes! This incident was handled on board to our satisfaction, but just barely.
Ugly 2 - The Aquilina Restaurant; From Great to Ugly on the Third Try. After less than expectation meeting experiences in the MDR and the buffet, we enjoyed a truly great dinner in the Aquilina. Great service, great food and greeted by same (as should be). We enjoyed the experie4nce so much, that we booked a second time (after a negative attempted booking experience with Prime C), and enjoyed another great dinner. On our third (should have quit while we were ahead, but the other choices weren't that good) dining experience in Aquilina, my wife chewed on and swallowed glass that was present in the Raspberry sorbet. We immediately reported this to the table side staff and provided them piece of the glass. The glass actually cut my wife's tongue. My wife reported this to the medical office, but she was promptly brushed aside in a very condescending manner that if she swallowed glass it would pass naturally. We did not return to the Aquilina after this experience. Digression - I left an above minimum suggested tip on all three Aquilina dining occasions. Only a couple of other times on the cruise from specific bar servers was I inclined to do so. Azamara - look as the additional tips by server - these are your stars. This incident was not handled to our satisfaction either on board or after the cruise.
Bad 1 - The Barcelona Boarding Process Not Very Friendly. We checked in reasonably early, around 11:30am. We asked for a second holder for the Sea Pass cards, two cards issued, one holder issued. The curt response was that this must be obtained from Guest Relations when onboard. OK, but why? How simple is this? How tacky? We were later informed that additional holders had been supplied to the pier prior to boarding. We were also "required" to present a valid credit card on the pier prior to boarding. This even though we had a $500 on board credit balance. I was not prepared to do this. I think that this is an unreasonable request. Next time (if there is a next time) I will just say I am a cash customer (I wonder how much cash they will then want to collect on the pier).
Bad 2 - The MDR First Night. The first night MDR service was not very good; food OK, service OK, order not correct. Bad first impression. Not acceptable for a land restaurant, such that we would have never returned if this were a land restaurant. The French Onion soup had an "off" taste to it - would never order again. The New York Steak did not come with the ordered sauce (it was on the menu). As it was, it took many days for us to again retry the MDR (thank goodness for the buffet). This was our first example of many of lack of attention to detail by the staff throughout the voyage.
Bad 3 - The Beds. Very well used mattresses provided little or no support. Fortunately, our butler was able to make this satisfactory with additional foam padding for my wife and a board to make mine firmer.
Bad 4 - Bingo. How can you mess up bingo? The bingo buy in included a "free "bingo card to be used at any future bingo game. The only other bingo game was cancelled for lack of cash customers, so there was no opportunity to use the free bingo card. Maybe if the cash buy in was not so high it would attract more players. We were very surprised by the lack of bingo on a trans-Atlantic crossing.
Bad 5 - Outrageous Internet Access Prices. Knowing this in advance, I did not bring a laptop. At a more reasonable price, I would have been willing to purchase the service. I choose to not even check email at these prices (and I am a computer guy who lives online).
Bad 6 - On Board Future Cruise Sales. A real lost opportunity. A totally non-responsive, non-customer oriented person staffed the future cruise sales desk. I could not believe this. This person was not sales or customer relations oriented. Criminal for a company that wants to sell cruises (my assumption, I may be wrong). A thirty second conservation with this person has cost Azamara the cancellation on one of two future cruises we had already booked before this cruise. She just quoted the Azamara rule book - end of conversation. Before sailing, we had booked two additional Azamara Cruises due to the pending Azamara Club announcement with the knowledge that we could cancel if we were not satisfied with our first Azamara cruise or the new Azamara Club announcement. This person declined the opportunity to offer (or request Miami to offer) us any onboard booking incentives to further confirm or even save these bookings. I was totally taken aback by the total lack of responsiveness. Now after the cruise with Azamara Club pricing announced, Azamara should just eliminate this onboard function.
Bad 7 - Clean the Chairs. The tops of the chairs in the buffet were all sticky, probably from various foods. These chair tops need cleaning.
Bad - Buffet Organization. No attention to detail here. The pitchers of milk and skim milk are placed in trays with cartons of milk and skim milk. The cartons are easy to read to see which is which, the small labels on top of the pitchers are not - one would think that the pitcher in the tray of skim milk cartons would also be the pitcher of skim milk - not always. Not consistent, you have to get your glasses out to read the small label on top of the pitchers (or just use/waste the more expensive milk cartons). One pass through the toaster oven does not toast an English muffin. After first experience of being offered a one pass toasted English muffin, I had to ask most of the time for a second pass through the toaster. Ask?
Bad 9 - Computer Clocks. Have the computers in the lab pick up the current date/time from a time server? How hard is this?
Bad 10 - Hosted Cruise Critic Meeting. Thank you for the opportunity to meet some of the Azamara staff. This was in fact how we got invited to the bridge, engine control room and galley tours. At the CC reception, I declined the offered wine/sparkling wine and went to the bar and ordered a drink and presented my Sea Pass. The nearby waitress comped the drink. Later, my wife asked a different waitress for a drink, only to be abruptly told that it would be billable. I was perfectly willing to pay for both drinks; the attitude and inconsistency were not desired and turned me off.
Bad 11 - Additional Specialty Restaurant Reservations. Another bas experience here. On boarding, we booked one evening each in Aquilina and Prime C. We had to cancel the Prime C on the day of the reservation due to my wife's illness. When cancelling, I asked for an alternate date - only to be curtly told that only 9pm was available on all the remaining days. There was absolutely no effort made to offer a standby list if others cancelled or any other option. Needless to say, we never went to the Prime C (but our butler had no problem booking us in the Aquilina for another night, I bet he could have even booked the Prime C).
Bad 12 - Interactive TV Menus Do Not Match MDR Menus. On two occasions we noticed that the in room interactive TV menus displayed did not match what was actually on the MDR menu and being served that night. The first time was just the type of pasta used in the nightly pasta dish. By the way, never order pasta in the MDR - it was always starchy. A later night (lobster night) the complete wrong menu was posted. So you look at the TV menu during the day and decide if you want to go to the MDR that night, but then you get there and it's not the right menu and no lobsters. So you leave, go to the buffet, and try again another night. No attention to detail. There are people that would love to be employed to update the TV menus - this could be done from an where in the world.
OK 1 - Bar Costs. After other CC reviews, we were concerned about the hi9gh cost of drinks on board. From experience, one can of Coke $2. Glass of Wente Sauvignon Blanc $6. Glass of Benedictine $6. Specialty martini $10. All plus 18%. Tom us, this was on the high end of reasonable, but not unreasonable. We were OK with these prices only because we do not drink many soft drinks.
OK 2 - Room Numbers. Almost the entire crew referred to cabins or staterooms by room number. I thought on a ship rooms were called cabins or staterooms. Hotels offer rooms.
Good 1 - New Friends. We met many passengers and made friends from people from several countries. Most of the passengers we met were not aware of Cruise Critic.
Good2 - Calling on Gibraltar on Sunday. On Sunday, the UK high street shops were all closed. This saved me a lot of money! Although I was looking forward to some British shopping. Good 2A - Calling on Funchal on a local holiday when most shops were closed. Again, saved me some more money.
Good 3 - Minimal Public Address Announcements. The daily captain update was good. Also better was the absence of PA announcements selling the ships offerings. This was appreciated.
Good 4 - Shipboard Medical Service. Unfortunately, both my wife and I has to use this service. We both found the medical care highly professional.
Good 5 - Virtual Games. These were fun.
Great 1 - Butler Experience. Although we did not know our butler's name for the first three days (due to the stress and trauma of boarding, not his fault), Apostolos and Jose provided outstanding cabin services. I( had very low expectations of this from reading CC, but I can say that this is the only one area that our expectations wet met on the entire cruise.
Great 2 - The Ship Size. We loved the size of the ship, and meeting new friends from around the world.
Suggestions to Azamara (and other lines) to improve the Cruise Experience. Here is our list from this cruise experience.
1. Add a more extensive list of liqueurs to the bars (Chartreuse si vous plait).
2. Add a flexible mirror in the cabin bathrooms. Ladies like top be able to see the back of their hair in a mirror without having to hand hold a mirror (deluxe hotel room configuration 101).
3. Configure all of the computers in the computer lab for guests the same. Only one or two had MS Word, where I was able to compose the original version of this document long ago sent to Azamara. Even an old copy of MS Office. Or even Open Office would be fine. Seems they would be easier to maintain if they were all the same. I have since the cruise purchased a netbook for leisure travel cruising (I have not needed this for leisure travel in hotels as most provide free internet and computer usage to their elite customers). For business travel, I have lugged laptops around the world.
4. Please dump the photographers overboard. He had just enough pressure to be annoying.
5. Please dump the art auction overboard - what a waste of precious ship space.
6. Please dump, Alicante as a port of call (with apologies to those we me that lived there). I suggest Malaga, Valencia, Seville, Palma d Majorca or even Marseille (I know, wrong direction) as better/more interesting/places-we would-like-to-see ports of call.
7. Pleas dump Coco Cay as a port of call. We will NOT sail on another cruise that wastes a day at this "port". A total waste.
8. Have your own mystery shopper dine in the MDR and the buffet and listen to the cruisers conversations about the ship - we heard many. If you really want to get the pulse of the ship, have someone do laundry and listen to the conservations in the laundry room. You get more information (or misinformation) there than from any of the crew.
9. Open the specialty restaurants earlier at 5pm or 5:320pm nightly. This is an early crowd on this ship - evidence by th3e fact that 9pm reservations always seemed to be available. Close earlier.
After the Cruise. We have cancelled one of our two future Azamara cruise bookings (at pre-Azamara Club prices). We are looking forward to cruising Oceania and will report here on CC that experience.