At this point I'd like to say that we used Rick Steves' Italy book and much online research for advice, time- and money-saving tips. For a trip of a lifetime like this, you need to do some homework in order to maximize your time and pleasure. We planned and did all our excursions on our own, at our own pace. We did book a guided tour at the Vatican museums. We were able to see most everything we wanted to and did it fairly economically. We met other cruise passengers who did not even know what there was to see in some of the scheduled ports. Okay, 'nuff said.
GENERAL CRUISE/SHIP INFO:
The boarding process was quick and went smoothly. We found we had been upgraded to a veranda cabin, which made us happy. Azamara gives many little perks and the champagne offered on sailaway was very nice.
We dined in just about every venue except Aqualina. All were wonderful, the house wine was generously poured, service friendly and food was very good. We dined in Prime C as we departed Florence (Livorno) at sunset. The view, the atmosphere, and the dinner were all beautiful.
The pool area was very nice and we never had trouble finding a lounge chair. The first part of the cruise was warm and sunny; our day at sea on Oct. 6 was a delightful day of lounging. No plastic lounge furniture on this ship-everything was teak wood.
The crew was top-notch, very visible and personable. We had two meetings of our Cruise Critic group and they were very interested in hearing what we liked and disliked.
One hilight was getting to see an eruption of Mt. Stromboli on the way back to Rome. The Captain was able to get us 1/2 mile from the volcano due to favorable wind conditions. Very exciting! One morning we had 2 rainbows and a pod of dolphins swam alongside the ship.
The ship provides a free self-serve laundry area, which got quite crowded. We used it at off-times and did fairly well. The Cruise Critic members asked whether this area could be enlarged but the Captain explained that there are many safety precautions involved and that it would be difficult to provide more machines. There is a TV to watch if you wait, and there are 2 irons and ironing boards to use. Laundry soap is provided at no charge.
PORTS NOT LISTED BELOW:
Ravenna-The ship provided a shuttle bus to Viale Farini. We went to see the mosaics in the churches and Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Per Rick Steves' advice we borrowed bikes for free from the tourist office and rode to another church included in our ticket, and also went to Dante's tomb (free). Yet another lunch at a sidewalk type cafe!
Trieste-It was very windy here and I was afraid it would be cold but it was not. A major sailing regatta was getting ready to start in a day or so and many sailing-related vendors had tents set up. We went to the small Roman theater and Castello di San Giusto in the town. The restaurants here did not look exceptional but were pricier than in other ports. We went to the ship to eat and change shoes, then went to Caffe degli Specchi which dates back to 1839 for coffee, Sacher torte, and some people-watching.
Sea Days-We took dance lessons, tai chi, Italian conversation lessons (refresher for us), relaxed and read. We are not much for gambling but played the slots a little.
Entertainment-we really enjoyed pianist Brooks Aehron, comedian/magician Chris Blackmore, and singer Jack Walker and his lovely lady Laurie. One evening there was an operatic singer, not our cup of tea. Guitarist German Vilchez and duo "Looking Glass" performed at different spots on the ship and we thoroughly enjoyed them. Jim Badger played piano, Katherine Fitch, harpist played, and DJ Marcio entertained late at night. One evening we had karaoke which was fun. Tuesday evening Oct. 5, Cruise Director Tony Markey sang-very well too! Tony was a fun and personable presence throughout the cruise. His wardrobe choices were sometimes entertaining too!
Two times we had parties out on the deck, with fish and steaks grilled out in the open, and beautifully presented food buffets.
Safety/Currency/Logistics-We used PacSafe bags and felt that we were not easy pickings for thieves. In Termini station on first day, we saw a large group of 20-ish gypsy women who seemed to be trying to create a diversion but the police came by and they made a speedy exit. In many of the areas where tourist scams were reported to be commonplace, we saw a good police presence. We found most people to be pleasant and helpful. Don't believe people who tell you that you don't need to learn any Italian. We took some lessons and they came in handy a few times. Plus it's fun to make the effort (even though the guys at the gelato place in Rome, Effigi Uno, made fun of me!! They were a riot, and I now know the proper Italian pronunciation of "pistachio".
We took money out of the ATM's ("Bancomats") and our bank charged a transaction fee but nothing horrendous. In Croatia they have their own currency so we just took out what we needed. We used an internet cafe there to check on our e-mails, that was the only time we checked it until we got back to Rome.
Restaurants-We had few problems ordering, most of the restaurant personnel knew enough English to assist us when necessary. If you go a block or two away from the tourist areas, we found that we were rewarded with good food at lower prices. At the Caffe degli Specchi the lady at the counter did not speak English but we were able to understand what she was saying, thanks to the lessons we took. At some places we were able to point at what we wanted-they have counters with sandwiches and pizzas displayed. You can tell them "caldo" and they will heat them up for you. You usually will pay more to sit at a table and eat vs. eating while standing at the counter or taking the food with you. In Rome when we were in a hurry the guy ingeniously wrapped our pizza for eating on the run.
In summary, a wonderful cruise experience, we would whole-heartedly recommend Azamara Club Cruises. Italy was everything we hoped it would be, and we hope to be blessed enough to return someday and see more of it.