My wife and I took our first Azamara cruise on May 29th from Civitavecchia, Italy, to the Holy Land. I normally don't do postings, but I had a lot of questions before our cruise so I thought our experiences might be of benefit to others.
We flew to Rome three days prior to the cruise and arranged our own transportation to the port. Through no fault of Azamara, the port is not close to Rome. If making your own arrangements, make sure in advance that the company you are using takes credit cards. To be on the safe side, make sure you have enough Euros to cover the fare in case the machine isn't working, which is what happened to us.
The check-in process went very smoothly and only took a few minutes. We were greeted on the ship by crew members and offered champagne. We boarded at 2 p.m. and were told a buffet lunch was ready in the Windows Cafe.
When you check-in, your passport is taken. It's given back to you prior to docking in Egypt. It's done this way so you don't have to deal with Egyptian customs but you need to carry your passport with you at all times in Egypt and Israel. Your Egyptian visa stamp is already in your passport when it's returned. It saves a lot of time when leaving the ship. In Israel, everyone has to do a face-to-face meeting with customs. When you get back on the ship at your last port in Israel, your passport is taken again for Greek customs in order to save you time during the disembarkation process.
We booked a veranda stateroom. We found the stateroom to be very nice. While not spacious, it was a nice size and very comfortable. More importantly, we found it very quiet. We had plenty of closet and drawer space for our twelve night cruise. The closet accommodated our two large suitcases and the double bed had enough space underneath it to store our two carry-on suitcases. Our butler was great. He was available when needed but not intrusive.
Each stateroom has a safe, which we used. There was plenty of bottled water and soda. I liked being able to review our onboard account each day. The postings were relatively fast and always accurate, though the onboard credit you get when you make your reservation takes a day or so to appear. It's also nice that the ship uses U.S. electrical current.
The size and layout of the ship was exactly what we were looking for. We did not want to be on a large ship with thousands of other passengers. With a maximum of approximately 700 passengers, the ship is large enough so you're not constantly bumping into people, but small enough to easily get around. It was even nicer on our cruise because I don't believe the ship was booked to capacity. The only negative was the limited number of souvenirs for sale in the small gift shop. I was expecting a sale towards the end of the cruise, but it never happened except for one exception. Jewelry went on sale at Indulgences, though. They sold bracelets and other jewelry by the inch that I was told was very reasonable priced.
The itinerary was jam packed as this isn't a cruise for those who just want to sit back on relax. There were only three sea days out of twelve. Two days each were spent in Italy, Egypt, Israel and Greece. We were either exhausted or we just wanted to relax each evening, and we're not close to being senior citizens. Because of that we never made it to any of the lounges or shows in the evenings so I'm not able to comment on them.
Our fellow passengers were mostly nice and well mannered. I'm guessing the majority were American with some European, Canadian, Australian and Indians. The ages were mostly between 40 to early 60s. Mostly couples, a few singles, and some families or single parents had their teenage or young adult children with them.
The dress on the ship is country club casual. I liked it because I didn't have to pack a coat and tie. My wife didn't like it as much because she likes to dress up. A few passengers did dress up, but the majority didn't. It's really up to you. As long as men were nice slacks to dinner and a golf shirt, you'll be fine.
The food on the ship was good. The wait staff was very good.
I ate breakfast mostly at the buffet in the Windows Cafe and only a few times in the Discoveries Restaurant. I really enjoyed the Discoveries for breakfast, but the shore excursions we took required us to get up early so I tried to get as much sleep as I could so I usually went with the buffet. My wife ordered room service each day for breakfast.
The few lunches we had on the ship were once again at the Windows Cafe or at the pool grill. I liked eating at the grill because the food was nice and hot and it had a nice selection. As with most buffets, it's very hard to keep all of the food hot. I might add the ice cream is very good, and it's made on the ship. I learned this by taking the galley tour, which I recommend.
Dinners in Discoveries were very nice. The house wine was very good. Only twice did we not like the food. One time, we didn't care for the menu so excused ourselves and we went to the buffet. The other time was the way the lobster was prepared. We weren't the only ones who felt this way, but it didn't really matter because of all of the other selections that are available to you. I especially liked the appetizers.
We never had a problem getting a table for two either next to a window or close to a window. It depends, of course, on the time you arrive. If I recall correctly, during the galley tour they mentioned the busiest time is between 8 and 9 for both breakfast and dinner.
We ate in the Aqualina and the Prime C. The service was very good in both, but we liked the Prime C menu much better. We were expecting more seafood selections in Aqualina, but that wasn't the case.
We took four shore excursions through the ship. We also arranged our own tours for Cairo and Israel (I would recommend having some local currency with you before leaving home) so I won't comment on them. Either way, be prepared to spend a lot of money on shore excursions. Mykinos was the only port where we did not do any excursions.
The tours in Italy were nice. The Valley of the Kings tour from Alexandra was also nice, though I didn't realize it until I was doing this write-up that we didn't get to see the Temple of Queen Hathshepsut. I want to comment on the guide. She spent most of her time on the bus selling things from T shirts to jewelry. She "suggested" that we not buy items at the Valley of the Kings from the local vendors, saying we can buy in an air conditioned comfort at the Papyrus Institute. The institute is nothing more than a souvenir store where I'm sure she gets a nice commission. In Santorini, we took the island tour with the wine tasting. The snacks were a few chunks of cheese and tomato. They did not provide plates, just toothpicks so you wouldn't take too much. The tour would be better if they left off the "wine tasting" and allow more time for shopping in Oia which is a very nice town. Except for the guide in Luxor, all of the guides did a great job.
The crew was very nice and professional. The cruise director is perfect for the job. Guest Relations was very accommodating. Two thirds through the cruise, I learned that my father passed away. All three members at the desk offered to assist us in any way they could. After numerous phones calls and emails, we eventually decided to finish the final four days of the cruise and fly home from Athens as originally planned. My wife and I will always be grateful to them for their concern and assistance during a very difficult time.
Disembarking was a breeze. It went like clockwork. As I mentioned earlier, you do not have to deal with Greek customs when getting off the ship because it's already been taken care of. The Captain personally thanked every passenger as they left the ship, and in a few minutes we were on the bus and heading to the airport (we decided to head straight home after the cruise versus spending some time in Athens). There are very souvenirs and no post cards to be seen at the Athens airport. Also, keep a few Euro coins for the Coke machine at the Delta gate as there are no restaurants once you go through the final security area of the airport.
In summary, we would definitely recommend Azamara, and we hope to sail with them again in the near future.