This is the first cruise we have taken non any Azamara ship, which was part of the old Reinannance Cruise Lines that numbered their ships R-1, etc . This ship has been renovated in 2007 and is considered an intimate, 694 passenger ship with an elegant and relaxed atmosphere. According to an announcement on board as we sailed there were 531 passengers, thus the cruise was indeed relaxed. This cruise was 14 night transatlantic voyage that left Rome on November 15, 2010 and schddueld to arrive in Miami on 11/29/2010.PS---this is a "no tip" cruise ship with staff tips included in the fare.
BOARDING---The boarding took place at the Civitavecchia terminal located about 40 miles from Rome. The cruise line had all cruise check in counters opened when we arrived about 12:30PM. The process was smooth and orderly. One of the best check ins we have ever experienced for any cruise. We presented our "e-ticket" which we had previously printed and we were walking up the gangplank steps within minutes. We were met at the top of the steps by several Amazara staff members, one which was holding a glass of champagne. They advised our cabin would not be ready until 1:30PM and ask us to join them at a pre-cruise lunch on the 9th deck.
On the first cruise night we were assigned a time for dinner however after the first night all dining was open seating.
CABIN----Perhaps we were a little greedy when we saw the balcony cabins all listed for the same discounted price as we went for a "sunset balcony" on the aft of the ship. After the first night of rough seas we begin to think we had made a mistake by not purchasing a cabin more in the center of the ship. This is a small ship and some tossing is expected however we actually got more than we bargained for. The seas were rough, some rain and wind made using the outside balcony next to impossible. And we call ourselves seasoned cruisers.
The cabin was very nice with decorations in shades of tan, green and brown with dark woods. The bath is small however more than adequate. There is a fully stocked refrigerator with soft drinks and bottled water being complimentary. Fresh flowers and a fruit basket were also in the cabin. A 24 inch flat screen TV offered numerous programs in English. The TV offers several news channels as well as movies. An alarm clock was in the cabin, along with plush robes and outside balcony seat covers. The TV set welcomes you by name. Ice was delivered to the cabin twice daily and more if you request it. The room is not overly large however more than adequate. The beds, as on many cruise ships are actually twin beds and if one ask they can be put together to form one large bed. In our cabin the mattresses were soft and were uncomfortable for us. The door on the left side of the desk rattled all night long for the first three nights. It was not until day four that I found the door was actually warped and did not fit well. By leaving the door open, the rattling noise stopped. On another cruise we found the sliding glass door did not fasten well and it too produced a rattling sound throughout the day and night. Sometimes if one looks for the problem the issue can easily be resolved without having to call engineering. Air conditioning worked great.
Our cabin and balcony was thoroughly cleaned each day with the result being some of the best service we have ever received. There are fresh flowers in the room each day. You can also have your shoes shined for free by leaving them with your cabin steward. And I should not fail to mention that the bathroom amenities are by ELEMIS. Now if you are really in need of additional service the cabin attendant will assist you in unpacking your suitcases as well as packing. Each evening there are d'oeuvres left in the cabin.
TIP---Are you aware you can select your own cabin anywhere on the ship? Well maybe not 100% of the time, however there are several internet sites that will show you where unsold cabins are located. Your travel agent should be able to do that for you however you should be armed with that information ahead of time so you can discuss with him or her. There are dozens of great cabins aboard the new ships so don't settled for an outside obstructed view cabin unless you are getting a great deal.
TIP---Some travel agents and travel companies have additional items they can offer with the cabin you select. Just don't forget to ask for those extras such as ship board credit or a bottle of welcome champagne and frankly anything ease that comes to mind. Just take a look at several travel sites for the cruise you have in mind and see what everyone if offering, then negotiate. Once you are satisfied you have made the best deal for the exact cruise you want then go for it.
DINING-----On deck 9 is the Windows Cafe and outside the Windows Cafe Outside. The serving areas are well spaced and staggered throughout the area thus there were never long longs to get any particular type of food. For example there were areas on two sides where one could get omelets or eggs cooked to order. Service is extra-ordinary as waiters seem to be everywhere and each asking if they can help you. This is the most helpful and friendliest ship crew we have ever met. If you coffee cup was a little low they seemed to know and would offer to go get a refill for you. Ask for an English muffin and away they went. The food was as good as the service. Lunch time was the same. During the evening there was a theme such as Italian on the first night. What a great change from the crowded long lines on some other cruise ships we have been on. Lunch is served as is dinner. Dinner will include white table clothes and excellent choices for entrees. Once again service is outstanding. Fret wine is served.
There is the main dining room, Discoveries, with open seating, where you can also take your meals. The service is outstanding and the food is excellent. Some, if not the best we have had on any cruise and we just came off a Cunard cruise ship a few days before boarding this ship.
TIP—we noticed several guest would arrive at 6PM and wait for the restaurant to open. Then there would be a lull in activity with 6:15PM and 6:45PM being the times for almost instant seating. The line then would build up again for those desiring seating around 8PM. Remember this is open seating restaurant with no predetermined time for guest.
For a small cover charge of $15 you can make reservations and dine in the steak house named Prime C on deck 10 or Aqualina (also Deck 10) which serves Contemporary American Cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. If you participate in the dinner with a variety of wines for each course there will be an additional charge. Reservations are needed for each of these restaurants. The food is excellent and there is a more intimate setting for each when compared with the main dining room. Friendly and helpful waiters all over the place.
The wine list contains reasonable prices and the ship serves complimentary wines with meals. However if you would prefer a more expensive wine we were surprised when on the first night the wine steward brought us a list of wines that could be purchased for 50% off the regular prices (three bottle minimum). The prices were great and the quoted prices included gratuity. They keep track of your wines purchased by your cabin number and you can dine in any restaurant and still receive your wine..
There is a pool grill located on deck 9 however due to inclement weather the area had limited openings. On good weather days the area will be crowded. Several theme food items were alternated with eon day being a pool side bar-b-q served by the ship's officers. It was excellent. There is always available hamburger, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. Complimentary wine along with complimentary soft drinks are available in this area for lunch. There is soft ice cream on this deck close to the grill. In good weather this would be a great place to grab a quick snack.
COFFEE BAR---They call it the Mosaic Cafe and it's one of the nicest little coffee bars you can find and the coffee is complimentary. There is a charge for specialty coffees containing liquors. There were always lots of cookies, sweets and snacks which are kept fresh throughout the day. This is a great place to enjoy a cappuccino at the bar of in the small intimate location. Very nice place to meet and talk. Remember I wrote, it's complimentary for lattes, cappuccino or you name the coffee. We found this location open at 8AM and closing late. This was a good location to listen to gossip for the day before and to witness unusual request. The opposite side the area is used for "trivia" games often in the day thus sit there only if you want to play trivial.
Many of these passengers apparently felt they could treat thee staff people almost as servants. One man asked that the water be removed from his water bottle, heated and return so he could add a "solution" to the bottle. He proceeded to drink a few ounces from the bottle so the remainder could be heated. Eventually the bar tender did provide some warm water to the passenger however not in his bottle. The bar tender explained he could not do that. It was obvious such an act could contaminate the on board equipment.
ELEGANT TEA---Found at the Looking Glass on Deck 10 each day form 3:30 to 4:30. Don't miss it. Would set you back $35 to $40 at Neimans in Dallas. Tea can also be served in your cabin if you give advance notice.
BARS----Although this is a small ship there are no less than 9 locations aboard the ship where one can obtain a drink. The Aqualina Bar Deck 10, Casino Luxe Bar Deck 5 are just two expels. Expect great service and reasonably priced drinks. The staff just seems to love to have you visit with them.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO ABOARD A SMALL SHIP?------First don't let the smallness of this ship be a negative. After being on some of the mega ships this was a most refreshing experience. There are plenty of activities. Bingo, ping pong, lectures, poker tournaments, etc. Then on a repositioning cruise such as this one there is plenty of time to take it easy, relax and read a book.
LIBRARY----You won't believe this. There is a complimentary library. Just take the book of your choice, read it and return the book. No cards, no fingerprinting just plain honesty. On top of this there is a good collection of books available and the area itself is very nice. We found this location to be a nice quite area in which to read your book.
WEATHER----I write this on day 2 as we continue on course for Cartagena, Spain. The seas were rough last night and they continue as such for today. The Captain has advised he hopes the weather will change by nightfall. There have been gale force winds up to 60 miles per hours and choppy seas up to nine feet. Dishes and glasses have slipped from the table sin the dining rooms and staff is assisting passengers with their food. Thus far we have not encountered any falls. The forward elevators have been closed as a softy measure thus only two elevators are currently available. This does not appear to be a problem as many passengers remain in their cabins as we note on our deck as about a third of the cabins have a "do not disturb" sign posted on their doors.
PASSENGERS---We have not received a listing of countries where the passengers originate however we were advised there are 531 passengers and this ship has a capacity of almost 700 thus we are about 75% of capacity. This certainly tends to make public areas less crowded. There are several from the United Sates as well as Great Britain with a scattering of several other countries. We note the passengers tend to me primarily seniors and we have yet to see any children. Some of the passengers we have met advise they are repeat passengers aboard an Azamara Cruise.
One common thread we have noticed in talking with those people is their belief this is a no tipping cruise with tips built into the fare. While that is basically true, tips are still expected for many services aboard the ship such as the spa, hair dressers, nail salon, bar service, etc. In addition the crew is like most other cruise lines as they certainly will not refuse extra tipping on the part of the passengers.
CASINO----Very small with one roulette table, three or four card tables and a limited number of slot machines. There is an electronic Texas Holdum Poker table. The staff is courteous and congenial, some of the best we have seen on the seas. You still lose though however this is entertainment. There are a couple of ATM machines at the back of the casino in the event you run out of ready cash. We never found the casino over run with passengers. Slots start at one cent. There are a limited number of Texas Holdum, slot , blackjack and roulette tournaments held throughout the cruise. Just check the daily newspaper for time.
BINGO----We witnesses one of the best prizes ever given away on a cruise bingo. The cover all winner received an immediate upgraded to the Captain's Penthouse, a prize worth several thousand dollars. The couple who won was amazed. To top this off only about 30 couples showed up for the bingo session. Thus one's odds were rather good.
LAUNDRY & DRY CLEANING----There is a self service laundry on deck 7. It is complimentary. There are 4 washers and dryers, an iron and free soap. TIP---The laundry has limited hours it is open so get there early and don't wait until the last days of your cruise otherwise you will not have access to a machine. The ship also has laundry and dry cleaning service available trough pick up in your cabin by your cabin steward. The prices are high but not out of sight. Clothes are returned the flowing day after pickup or you can pay 50% extra and get same day service. The cleaning and washing were both very good.
INTERNET----One of my favorite complaints about cruise internet service is the high price and the poor service. The prices for package plans about this ship were less than any ship we have sailed in the past five years and the service was very good. The internet room is located on deck 9 however your laptop will work wireless in your cabin. Before using your laptop you must go to the internet room to establish an account. This is the first on board internet service I have used where once you click on the "log off" button; the system actually immediately logs you off, saving you untold minutes of usage time. This is great.
There was some free computer classes held in the computer room however I found them extremely basic and they not be worthwhile if you have been using the computer for some time. They also offered for a fee classes of one hour on Adobe Photo however there were no take home handouts as we have received on other cruises. I frankly forget more than half of what I learned and find the hand out a necessity. You can get a bigger bang for your dollar if you will check with a local community college upon return home and learn more about Adobe Photo more in depth.
TIP-- Internet usage -----If you have your own laptop and it is loaded with some type of "word" software, try tying you e-mails using that software, copy and send on the ship's internet service e. You will save a bundle of time by not hooking up to the ship's internet system and doing all your typing on the web.
SHOPPING & SHIP'S STORES------If you have gotten on board to shop you are going to be in bad shape. There are three small shops with a very limited number of items for sale. If you need basis such as toothpaste or sea sickness pills, buy them on shore at your first port. Jewelry was high priced as was clothing. We either bring from home or purchase on shore. People in the shops are very nice. We noticed that many watches reflected only a 10% discount off suggested retail prices. You can more than likely do a lot better back home.
BEAUTY SHOP & SPA-----Located on deck 9 in the forward section. Prices are basically in line with other cruise ships offering such services. Acupuncture is available and a gym is located in the area for those looking for a physical workout center. Expect to tip in this area.
PHOTOS----OK you have been on enough cruises to know that photos are big business for cruise chips as each always has several photographers. I only caution that such photos are actually snap shots and not portrait quality prints. This cruise had a special of $195.00 for all the photos taken. Except for day one when we boarded the ship we have not seen a picture taken anywhere on the ship. One must remember there are no formal nights thus the taking of formal photos on this ship just does take place. Photos can be viewed on deck 5 close to the casino.
While we are writing about photos there is a common practice developing at numerous tour stops. Photos are being taken by someone at the tour stops in hopes that the passenger will purchase at an inflated price. At one restaurant/mansion stop in the Canary Island a 5 X 7 was priced at 6 Euros which is almost $8 US. Only one person in our group made a purchase. At Ephesus there were dozens of photos taken of our group and we saw a great many photos being sold to the passengers. The cost was much more reasonable at $2.50 to $3.00 US dollar. Take your own photos with you digital camera and make prints back home at a fraction of the cost.
PHOTO TIP---Can't remember all your stops when you get back home? Take a photo of the port, town or city name the minute you go on that tour. Digital cameras will even pick up the article in your daily news about the port you are visiting. Also take names of buildings, churches, street signs, etc.---anything that will help jog your memory on where you have been.
PHOTO TIP—While it may be tempting to listen to the sales clerk telling you to carry only one large memory chip when you travel, I personally find it's a lot better to carry several small memory chips. Having half dozen 2G memory chips I find is much better than a single 16G chip. First the pictures are easier to find and if I lose one small chip it's not losing everything I shot on vacation. Also the cost of smaller chips is very inexpensive when compared with very large chips.
PHOTO TIP---Did a mistake of some sort cause many of your photos to "disappear". That happened to me when on a cruise to Greenland. There are many services available on the internet (some free) where you can download software that may possibly recover those lost photos. It's worth giving a try.
ENTERTAINMENT---Not a lot to write about as the word "entertainment" is somewhat limited on this small ship. The signer act singer we say the other night saw many passengers leaving during his performance.
SHORE TOURS------The cost of shore tours is among the most reasonable we have seen on cruise ships; however the selection of tours available is somewhat limited and that is most likely due to the fact this is a repositioning or transatlantic crossing. There is a tour desk located on deck 4. Also on that deck is a small medical center and an office where future cruises can be reserved. TIP---if you have already booked your cruise make your tour reservations on the internet and your tickets will be delivered to you cabin upon arrival. The tour into Gibraltar included several stops with the most notable ones being the Barbary Apes, the cave, the airport and the sea coast area. These were all worth the small price paid for this tour. The tour at Cartagena was not as good except for the church we saw at Murcia. The inside is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.
In the Canary Islands we had a nice tour until the tour group let us off at a place loaded with souvenirs and of all things a ½ Euro pay toilet. That's 65 bents US and everyone refused to pay, It's bad enough when you get "dumped" at a souvenir stand and really bad when you have to pay to use their rest room. If anyone purchases anything we did not see them do so. Such tour companies need to be taken off the ship's tour contract. We will be writing them asking that action be taken.
PURSERS OFFICE (Called Guest Relations on this cruise) ----Always open and staffed with courteous and professional staff. A pleasure to deal with. TIP---although we were advised postage stamps were available at the Purser's Desk that was found not to be the case. In Gibraltar we were told be could purchase at the cruise terminal office and the ship's crew would mail the cards for us. We proceeded off the ship and made stamp purchase at the cruise terminal and they directed us to a close by box where we mailed the cards ourselves. The Purser's Office made available a copy of our charges during the first part of the cruise and the listing was 100% accurate.
MOVIE THEATER-----Actually there is no formal movie theater however movies are shown at set times on a large screen TV set adjacent to the casino. There is a movie channel on your cabin TV with shows and times listed in your daily guide.
DAILY PURSUITS-----The "Pursuit" Is the daily guide for the ship. It is nicely printed and is delivered to your cabin each day plus copies can also be obtained in the dining rooms. The publication is printed nicely and properly laid out while being filled with information about the day's events. In addition a copy of USA Times plus other country "Times"were made available each day. The USA Times carried latest information including sports and stock info from the United Sates. The print was easy to read and the newspaper properly laid out. We just left a cruise on another cruise line that no doubt had some of the worst copy we. had ever tried to read. Not only was the documents poorly laid out they were equally as poorly printed.
SWIMMING POOLS----A pool and Jacuzzi can be found on deck 9 however due to the weather it may be a challenge to use the pool at least that's what we experienced on this particular cruise. On really "choppy" days the pool was closed. A ping pong table at just forward of the pool on deck 9.
LIFEBOAT DRILLS-----The drills were held inside on deck 5. They safety instructions were given by both the staff and the Captain however life preservers remained in the cabin. The drill was well planned and orderly.
OBSERVATION DECK---The front of the ship on Deck 10 is the Looking Glass which is the location for numerous functions throughout the day. We never found a time though when it was so crowded that one could not find a seat and relax while reading a book except for trivia game time or an occasional lecture. Just check the daily newspaper to see if anything is happening in the Looking Glass. There is a bar where drinks can be purchased plus music during parts of the day. Very nice viewing area. If you would like to view the areas in front of the ship, there is provided at no cost in your stateroom a pair of binoculars. Be sure and return them, otherwise the cost will end up on your bill.
TIP-----Cruising on a small ship can present a much difference experience than on many of the larger mega ships. You can explore this small ship in a very short period of time. There are no large theaters, no giant casinos and no long lines. Cruising on a small ship is not for everyone and one should give considerable thought before making such a reservation. There is virtually nothing that would be attractive for children or even teen agers. If you like unusual ports, loess tendering use, meeting new people and enjoying a few drinks, then the small ships might be your choice.
PASSPORTS-----Many cruise ship retaining your passports at the time you first check in. It was a delight to learn that one's passport was not retained, thus you have in your passport in your procession enabling you to exchange money at any of the ports where you stop. Try exchanging money bat some locations without your passport. One such port money exchange offered to exchange if I would pay an extra fee since I did not have a passport.
CAMERAS----You cannot imagine how many passengers we saw that were wishing they had a camera in order to capture some of the sites visited on the cruise. TIP----there are many nice small digital cameras available and some sellers will encourage you to purchase a camera with a screen on the back and lots of pixies. Don't fall for this type sale. Purchasing a camera with a reasonable number of pixies (for discussion let's say ten) will far more pixies than many of us will need. Are you really going back home and printing 500 photos on 16 X 20 inch sheets of photo paper? No you are not. More than likely you will include some as attachment to your e-mails sent to family and friends and you might print a few 4 X 6 inch prints. Second, forget the use of that screen on the back of the camera when you are in bright sunlight. You just can't see the image and many cameras of this type you may see almost nothing except gray. A better suggestion is to purchase a small camera with a view finder that you can look through and actually see what you are photographing. More expensive cameras such as Canon and Nikon will have viewfinders; however there are small pocket digital cameras that also have viewfinders.
PORTS VISITED------This cruise is actually a repositioning cruise thus ports are not primarily a part of this cruise, but we did have four stops along the way as a means of getting to the "other side". The stop at Cartagena was very short and it was raining which we understand was rather unusual. We could have spent time in the city especially around the old town section. There just was no enough time to take in all the treasures one could find in an old port like this one. In Gibraltar we once again had only a few hours in the city and decided to take in one of the ship's tours in order to get the most out of the port stop. Gibraltar is a very small place and one could cover almost the entire city on foot and with short taxi rides. It is interesting though that one could also visit Spain which sits on the border. We just did not have time. The stop was too short to do a lot and way too short to try to get a rental car.
I hear people all the time telling me they cannot visit this particular port because they are concerned for their safety. If one becomes so concerned about very port then more than likely you will spend your holiday at home. We have traveled the entire world and there are certainly spots I do not go, however that is true for certain places in my home town. Go and have a great cruise.
WHERE IS THE BEST CABIN ON THE SHIP---Frankly I don't know since it's for you. I know the ones I think are best for my particular cruise and that may not match your choice. If I had lots of money I would opt for the Captain's Suite every time. Since that is not going to happen I look at price, location, and sometimes amenities promised me.
PARKING FEES KILLING ME----Parking fees can run the prices of your cruise up by many dollars. One way we beat the high cost for close by departures is to rent a car for one way and drop it off with the rental car company taking up to the cruise terminal. Since we live in Dallas and have traveled out of Houston/Galveston this is always our mode of travel. In New Orleans we have used a hotel for pre cruise stays that will permit us to leave our car for a reasonable daily rate and we may stay there a night or two after the cruise. If hotel occupancy is low management will work with you and both you and the hotel come out winners.
ENRICHMENT SERIES OF LECTURES----Some of these lectures well presented with knowledgeable lecturers. You can tell after the first five minutes if a particular lecture is for you. Held on the Cabaret Lounge.
SUMMARY----This was an excellent cruise and we very much enjoyed the repositioning cruise and the ship. This is a very small ship and there is not nearly the activity one finds on the new larger ships, thus we think your preference should be the controlling factor. For us we really enjoyed the smallness, meeting the people and having limited distances to walk whether it was to the dining room of fitness center. If one is looking for all the glitz, Broadway lights, swimming pool slides and wall climbing events, then this ship will not fit for you. If you are looking for an upgraded slower pace with outstanding food and service then the Azamara Club should be tried.