We are a professional couple, ages 52 and 61, and well traveled internationally.
We have been 1000% anti-cruising, thinking that cruise boats were floating nursing homes, or floating buffets for drunken rednecks.
We have been converted! The same week we returned home, I booked the Paul Gauguin Society Islands for February, and The Baltics on Oceania for next July.
We agreed to this cruise on impulse, because a professional friend asked us to join him. His wife is a travel agent and booked the cruise. I would guess that the Black Sea would not be a first cruiser's preferred destination, but the dates worked out for us.
We flew into Istanbul a few days early to enjoy that fabulous city. Being terrified of Istanbul's dishonest cabbies, we were pleased that the Intercontinental Ceylan had a cadre of honest cab drivers at their disposal. The cruise port was very close to the hotel, and it cost less than $10 to get us to the terminal. We arrived at 3pm, and there was no line. We were serviced immediately, and quickly sent up the gang plank to the reception lobby, where our pictures were taken and we were given a glass of champagne.
We were in 8047, S1 Sky Suite with butler service. The room was attractively decorated in red and beige. There was a large bottle of vodka and scotch (which we don't drink and gave away), a bottle of champagne (which we also gave away) and a bowl of fruit. We were later given a bottle of wine, which suffered a similar fate. The mini bar was stocked with a variety of beer and soft drinks and water. We had the butler replace everything with Diet Coke. I booked this category because my husband is 6'3", and I wanted him to not feel claustrophobic. The only problem he had was in the shower. He had to step in the bathtub, and his head hit the ceiling, so he had to shower with his head to one side. The amenities were large size Elemis. Our cabin steward kept the room in immaculate condition, but annoyed us by knocking on our door several mornings to see if we had left the room. We promised to put the 'make up room now' card on the door when we were ready for him!
I thought the food was wonderful! We ate in Prime C three times, in Aqualina once, and in the main dining room twice. One night we just had a club sandwich in the room because we were stuffed! We never tried the buffet.
We had room service breakfast once, then skipped breakfast the other days (again, because there was too much food!). The delivery person set up by bringing the table in from the veranda, but the coffee table could just as easily have been used.
My favorite meal was.....the lunch time hamburger and french fries I had on the pool deck! That cook made the best french fries I have ever had in my entire life! Hot, light, thick and crispy; the perfect fry!
Of the fancier places, Prime C was leagues above the other venues, at least to our taste. The little donuts with dipping fondues were to die for. I always had fish, and was very happy with the sea bass and salmon. It was all delicious. The best appetizer, however, was Aqualina's lobster salad with citrus. Perfect blend of citrus with light, non chewy lobster chunks. I could not taste the Cointreau in Aqualina's souffle.
If you love to eat, there are plenty of opportunities: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea with sweets, afternoon savories, dinner, and evening savories!
One night we asked our butler if it was possible to order from the specialty restaurants for room service, as we were not able to get (another) reservation for Prime C and loved the little donuts. He said, no, but we later found a tray with the little donuts in our room! That's service that leaves one feeling pampered.
We didn't go to any shows. We did play bingo once, to use up some of our on board ship credit from AMEX.
We both are intellectually curious, and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Richard Farkus's lectures on the area. He was an excellent speaker. His lectures were replayed on the TV system, and we listened to each at least twice.
We did not do any of the ship's tours, rather hired a private guide with two other couples for Ukraine.
Nessebar Bulgaria is a quaint town with souvenir vendor lined streets.
Constanta Romania should be eliminated as a port. It is desolate and depressing. There is no economic activity, and skinny stray dogs roam the streets. Many buildings are rubble. When we were exploring, we ran into a group of Brits.
I asked if it got any better where they had been, and he answered "no, in fact we have seen four suicides since we started our walk." So much for British humor, but he accurately described the area.
Perhaps we should have gone on the bus trip to Budapest, but we didn't want to travel 3 hours each way to tour for 3 hours. The boat had to delay leaving for the next port because these buses were late.
Ukraine- Odessa, Sevastopol, and Yalta was absolutely fascinating. Our private guide was well connected and we got into areas normal tourists aren't allowed, like the private areas of the Livadia Palace, where Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill divided up Europe in 1945. Bribe money is left under telephones.
We came to realize that cruising is an efficient way of seeing locations we would not want to spend a significant amount of time. No risk of encountering dreadful accommodations and even worse food.
If Azamara had an itinerary we liked, we would not hesitate to travel with them again.