Upon my return home I had received an email from a writer at Conde Nast magazine asking for my opinion on Azamara cruises for a story she was writing in the Cruise edition this summer. Her timing was impeccable since I had just returned from my Southeast Asia adventure. I have been so busy, that I have not had time to write my review but I am going to attach the response I sent to Conde Nast - killing two birds with ONE stone ....how convenient! :-)
I travelled with a group of friends that I met through Cruise Critic. 4 I had met on previous cruises and 4 just before this cruise on the boards. They are from all over the world. I think that you will find that all of us really loved our experience on board.
Just to provide some details on me - I am a very experienced traveler. This was my 80th cruise. I used to be in the travel business for 15 years in many capacities. I planned and escorted the first commercial tour group from North America to China in 1976 for Thomas Cook and all subsequent trips for 2 years. I was also Director of Quality Control for a large Canadian tour operator so I am very realistic in my expectations when I travel. I usually travel solo. I understand that things don't always go perfectly and I do not harp on minutiae. I don’t wear white gloves, but I expect a certain level of cleanliness. If there is an issue that needs fixing, I report it - I understand that how well a company handles "issues" clearly shows their mettle. I appreciate how they respond and once the issue is fixed, it is forgotten. I am a very positive, upbeat person and I so love my vacation adventures that I refuse to spend a moment of them being miserable. No point in that, right?
On this trip I took and "around the world" air ticket in first class and it was phenomenal! I had a blast everywhere....tried all the lounges and drank pretty much most of their champagne... :-) hic! I also stayed at Hullett House in Hong Kong...a converted police station by the Star Ferry ...so cool!!!
So now you know who I am - I will provide the answers to your questions below:
1. The food. How were the selection and dining areas? If they were outstanding, what made it so? If they were mediocre, why?
Discoveries: The food was very good. I was particularly impressed with the fact that on the first night(which was an in port night in Hong Kong), the main dining room served a truly excellent meal to all 9 of us. Service was excellent, food was hot and very fresh. Very generous portions. We also arrived late and had no issues whatsoever. Great selection .... lots of vegetarian selections too. One complaint - the pasta was not good all three times I tried it. The first time - they tried twice to make it right and fell short. I tried a couple of dishes as an appetizer but they were never good. I did comment on it. I avoided them after that - plenty of other great things to try. Breads were good. Food was on the salty side - it surprises me to say that because I used to be a salt monster but I have been cutting out salt over the past few months. I think I am just a little overly sensitive now. I am not a dessert person but the few I tried were fabulous.
Breakfast in Windows was great. Omelet's were well done and had plenty of choices. I usually eat oatmeal and there were fresh berries and cinnamon and dried fruit along with flax seed to bulk it up. It was great. There was a nice variety of other items and a lovely area that served a selection of several smoked fishes....very nice. The waffles and pancakes and French toast station was great and quick. Fresh juice was no being served from the juicer - I think it was diluted with frozen...it was good but not what I had last time. They did make fresh smoothies on request. The service in Windows was good .... Captain ate there quite often but the staff did not carry your plates to your table like they have done on Celebrity and in the past on Azamara .... I don't really mind dragging my own food around though! The tables were full outside all the time. It was a little more crowded since the ship was full.
Breakfast in Discoveries was terrific...ate there only once but it was fine. Lots of choice. I had eggs Benedict (big treat) and the first order was overcooked. I sent it back and they got it perfect on the second try! Nice service. I am not fancy breakfast kind of gal.
Breakfast in my cabin: I had a suite so I could order from the menu in the dining room. My butler always prepared my table with a formal setting on my balcony - very decadent. The food was always hot and very generous portions.
Lunch - When it was a sea day we ate at the pool. Always. The grill was fine - great French fries (unfortunately). The burgers were apparently overdone but I don’t eat beef so I had the turkey or veggie ones. They were great. Chicken wings were wonderful! I also had the salad inside at Windows...chicken, tuna, salmon, egg without the breads were fine. Lot's of fresh veggies. The ice cream was always a big hit but I don’t eat it so I don’t know for sure. My friends ate it everyday.
High Tea...heard it was lovely. The Brits had some complaints but - well - you know! ;-) LOL
Specialty Restaurants. I loved them both - I could eat there every night but my friends were not in suites so I only ate twice in Prime C and once in Aqualina. The Hotel Director, Philip Herbert (amazing, truly amazing manager) had hosted a party there for me and my friends on the last night which was my birthday! I had the lamb chops both times and the mushroom soup and the lava cake!!! YUM YUM YUM Aqualina had great service but not as good as Prime C. Food fabulous too....seafood platter and lobster tail dinner for me....Crème Brule for dessert!
Love the addition of free wines with dinner and lunch. Great perk. Kept the bar bill down for sure!!
2. What was your cabin like? Upon seeing, what was your reaction?
I had the Club Continent Suite but I had it before on the Journey. Very spacious for myself. Tons of closet space. I love the bathroom in the suite. I have had much larger cabins on other cruise lines. This ship has smaller ones but I still love them. Large tv. Could have used an iPod connection. Bedding great. Amenities in bathroom terrific. Balcony is fine but extremely small in comparison to other ships.
The regular balcony staterooms are very small. The bathrooms are miniscule.
The furnishings are fine, getting a little dated. The bathroom was not spic and span but I did not complain about it so I shouldn’t say anything bad. There was mould in the tiles. I am sure if I did say anything it would have been taken care of but I was FAR too busy enjoying my cruise to remember to say anything.
3. How was the crew/service? Did you have a specific issue that they fixed for you?
[CM] The staff and crew are the best of the best in my opinion. Nobody beats Azamara for their service. I had no real issues. I asked for priority tenders for my little group and was always accommodated TOTALLY! Always had an escort. Amazing. One night one of the couples ate in Prime C and it was not up to snuff. They did not want to say anything as they are shy. I mentioned it to Philip and they invited them back for a "re-do" --- ALL the members of the table!!! IMMEDIATELY Such is the way they operate. Don’t have to ask twice. The guys loved to play shuffleboard and darts, the dart board was broken and when we were next in port VOILA - there was a new dart board.
4. The itinerary. Did you enjoy the destinations on the trip? Was it a good combination of sea days and ports?
[CM] I took this itinerary because of the combination. Staying overnight in many ports was fabulous. We needed the sea days and they were fun too.
5. What was the design of the ship like? Was it hard to get around? Was it modern-looking?
[CM] Beautiful small lovely ship. Not modern but timeless. So easy to get around. I never got lost. Everything was great. Windows in the dining rooms. Casual elegance. Ship needs a dry-dock though. Saw her sister ship - the Nautica - and she looked more "spruced up". Needs a good full coat of white paint.
6. Were there many activities/facilities? If it was available, did you/your family make use of the children's club?
[CM] NO KIDS! :-) Ship is not meant for them. We played shuffleboard ....that's it. Pool adequate. Thalassotherapy pool was disappointing. Nothing special like the Galaxy's! There were many lectures and we took part in NONE of them. My friends that did go said they were great. Some concerts were excellent. I used the gym a lot and took all the classes. They were really good.
7. Did you take part in any shore excursions? How were they?
[CM] Always plan my own excursions and sign folks up on Cruise Critic. We had a group in every port of between 8 and 25. We had a blast as we did what we wanted and were not herded around like cattle! The people that went on the ships tours seemed happy.
8. Overall, what was your impression of the cruise line? Strongest/weakest points?
They are so strong on customer focus. Everyone on board is attentive and they aim to exceed expectations. It's hard not to have a wonderful time when there is that kind of attention to detail. It feels like they want you there. Like you are family. Corporate is really good to their people and it shows. Everyone is respectful and kind. Happy too. Always willing to go the extra mile to ensure your pleasure.
Customer service is the most important aspect of any organization. I have been customer facing for most of my career and I have experienced great successes by providing exceptional service that delights customers. Azamara does that. Yeah, the pasta sucked but, like, who cares? My needs were more than met. Someone brought me all my meals, someone made my bed, someone paid me attention and brought me drinks while I lazed around like a beached whale. My bill at the end of a 2 week cruise was $180.... :-) and I was treated like a Queen.
Reality sucks. I WANT BACK ON AZAMARA!!! Now, where's my crown and my suitcase? LOL ;-)
PS - SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO PHILIP HERBERT - WORLD'S BEST HOTEL DIRECTOR, RUSS AND HIS STAFF OF CRUISE DIRECTORS - WAY TOO MUCH FUN WAS HAD BY ALL, STEPHANIA - RESTAURANT MANAGER FORMER SOMMELIER - YOU ROCK! NIKOLAI (AKA...ALEC BALDWIN)- DINING ROOM LEADER EXTRODINAIRE - THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP IN ARRANGING THE BEST DINNER PARTIES AND FOR MAKING US LAUGH! EYUD AND HIS EXCELLENCE IN SAILAWAY PARTY DECORATIONS AND BIRTHDAY ARRANGEMENTS! AND TO LALANI IN THE DINING ROOM ....YOUR SERVICE AND SWEETNESS AND THE BIRTHDAY SERENADE WAS SO PERFECT .... MMMMWWWAAAHHH!
EVERYONE WHO MADE THIS TRIP SO MEMORABLE.
AS YOU READ THIS - PLEASE REMEMBER THAT LIFE EXPERIENCES ARE WHAT YOU MAKE THEM. SPENDING TIME LOOKING FOR NEGATIVES ALMOST ASSUREDLY GUARANTEES THAT YOU WILL FIND THEM. LOOK FOR JOY INSTEAD!!!
HAPPY SAILINGS.....ALWAYS!!!! :-)