Although CDG did a good job subverting my excellent mental state on our return to the States, I am still having trouble adjusting to life off of the Quest. We are a couple, 50 and 62, who have sailed 8 times on Princess, RCL and Seabourn. The last two years we have been seeking a cruise line with better food and less herding than the larger ships. This was our first Azamara cruise and it was as close to a perfect experience as one can obtain. The on-board population was a nice mix of nationalities mostly grouped as couples. Overall, passengers were friendly and interesting, very well-traveled and enthusiastic about each port's history and culture. We were in a suite which provided a wonderful experience in itself.
I just wanted to list some of our specific highlights as others have written recent accurate reviews.
•The officers and staff - I have never experienced a more genuine staff and it comes from the top down. I would particularly like to recognize Phillip Herbert, Guy Brundrett and Ryszard Gusmann as well as the Captain, Carl Smith. These people work hard, always with a smile and the heartfelt desire to make certain the passengers are enjoying their experience. I have never thought much about the staff on any past cruise and now I realize it is because I have never experienced exceptional.
•Overall services -I never had to wait for a coke, mixed drink, water, etc. or food in the dining room. Courses were served as expected. All personnel took the time to make you feel like a friend and were never distant or just going through the motions. The cabin was always clean and ready for us without the ever present service cart in the hall.
•The sommelier's wine pairing dinner. The sommelier makes the grade. Make certain you sign up for the wine pairing dinner at Prime C early in the week. In addition, the included wine choices with lunch and dinner were varied and all extremely good. They poured the wine freely at lunch and dinner.
•Prime C and Aqualina - wonderful service and food. Some standout dishes include the Stilton Cheese soufflE, the chocolate and Grand Marnier soufflEs and the filet. We give Prime C a slight edge due to Harry, our waiter. Make your reservations early. It is difficult to get in later in the week.
•Deck parties. The deck parties were a great addition to the cruise experience. I particularly liked the local folk dancers and audience participation. We had both a Turkish and Greek night that included regional food on one night.
•Suite perks - I realize not everyone is able to enjoy a suite, but if you can swing it, by all means do not think twice. Some of the extras include - bridge tour at sail away, Captain's dinner (unbelievable food and company), butler service, evening savories, chilled champagne at sail away, breakfast on the balcony and a wonderful room with large balcony. The butler works very hard for you. We have had butler service during other vacations, but it usually turned out to be more marketing hype than reality. Not so on Azamara. Thank you Euyd for your hard work.
•Cruise Critic Reception - Azamara did an outstanding job hosting the Cruise Critic reception. They served sparkling wine/champagne and hors d'oeuvres. it is a great way to meet fellow passengers and new friends - hi Jim and Ann.
•Shore Excursions - Very well organized and handled. Loved the dead pan humor of the excursions representative each morning. All the guides were very good and I felt well taken care of. It was nice not to have to worry about water which is handed out as you leave the boat, often by Phillip and Ryszard. Also, RCL provided clean restrooms for their ships in a renovated bus at Ephesus which was a nice touch. I liked the excursions so much, I would like to see more available, particularly some evening tours when we have late port departures.
•Outside on Deck 5 - If you miss the feel of a big ship, go outside on Deck 5 and relax on one of the loungers - immediate relaxation on padded loungers with a promenade deck feel.
•Santorini Sail Away - Sailed out of the caldera at sunset. I enjoyed watching all the flashes going off on the crater rim (they were taking pictures of the sunset) while we sailed away in the middle with the Club Med ship raising its sails behind us. The only word needed is spectacular.
If you tend to go all out, this ship will wear you out. Next time, we will dial it back just a little. The cruise hit all our major checkboxes: we were never bored (trivia to entertainment), the food and wine were outstanding and the ports well chosen with plenty of time for exploration. It had a big ship feel without the queues and impersonality of the mass market cruises. The passengers were interesting and knowledgeable travelers which I found to be a big plus. Azamara recognized that aspect with port lectures geared toward the archeological sites and deck parties reflecting local food and culture.
Although some aspects of Seabourn are more upscale such as food presentation and we give Seabourn a slight edge in the areas of chef demonstrations and music selection(not a Motown fan and couldn't get my husband to dance at the deck party on Azamara), I prefer Azamara for the passenger mix(their interest in the ports, history and culture), crew (approachable instead of somewhat subservient), food and food venues, the wine selection and convenient and appropriately priced ship to airport transportation.
We will be back. We hope Azamara keeps the shorter cruises coming, 7-9 days, because we cannot get away for longer periods of time and want to return soon.