I had some minor concerns before we left, as some recent reviews expressed concerns with the quality of the dining experience on board - we also have had some issues in the past with our meals in the Main Dining Room.
This particular cruise however, was stellar. If I thought hard, I could gripe about the size of the shower stall and the flapping curtain in the bathroom and maybe the Diamond Heart Duo that entertained poolside (they struggled sometimes) and the Bee Gees who seemed to be on the same CD at the same time in the breakfast buffet........ and that's about it. As you can see, this is scraping the complaints barrel here.
There are inherent advantages and disadvantages on a smaller compact ship - but for us the positives are huge. Check-in is unbelievably quick - we were on board with our glass of wine, specialty dinner reservations made and photo taken in under 20 minutes. Tendering in ports is a breeze - we have waited over two hours to disembark from a larger ship with a tendering operation. On the two occasions that we were tendering on this cruise, we walked up to the exit and stepped straight on to the waiting tender. The smaller size makes it so easy to navigate the vessel - and the biggest plus is that you get to know both the staff and fellow cruisers in a way that is impossible on larger ships.
Our dining experiences were uniformly positive this time and ranged from good to excellent. We always found an option on the Main Dining Room menu that was enjoyable, the specialty dining was the same high standard and the buffet food again, was imaginative and varied. The excellent service from just about every member of staff that we encountered in all dining facilities only enhanced our experience.
Although our cabin steward was pleasant and VERY efficient, we didn't get to know him, unlike out last wonderful steward. This might be because our cabin was at the start of his run of cabins, so we hardly ever got to chat. The new semi-inclusive format is a real bonus, and we thoroughly enjoyed trying the house wines, the excellent specialty coffees and the bottled water on our excursions.
The biggest standout on these two ships continues to be the incredible complement of officers and crew. Senior officers are everywhere, checking up and keeping an eye on things. I don't recall any other cruise line where the Hotel Director and the other senior officers are so visible to the passengers - all of them are willing to engage and converse, from the Captain down. Kudos to Azamara for their excellent training programmes for all crew members, as they are not only attentive, but seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about the cruise line and the ports of call. Our Cruise Director on this trip was Eric DeGray who is quite unique, and also made the cruise a very special experience.
Our itinerary took us from Civitavecchia over to Greece, Turkey and then finally to Athens. We enjoyed all the ports of call, a highlight being the Independence Day fireworks that took place around us in the Istanbul harbour and on the Bosphorus Bridge. I'm not wholly convinced about overnighting - although we did enjoy our extended stays in both Istanbul and Athens, I would prefer a more port intensive experience with different ports of call.
We are already eyeing up itineraries for our next cruise, and Azamara is going to be at the top of our list of cruise lines to consider.