This cruise was the first of B2B cruises which took my wife and I from Dublin to Lisbon and then onto Nice. We cruised on the Quest in 2009 (Best of Italy) and last year from Singapore to Athens and then B2B to Rome so it was hard not to draw comparisons. Close your eyes for a minute and you could be either ship but there were differences. The excellent standard of service that we expected of Azamara was there, the shore excursions were outstanding but a couple of aspects I found were disappointing. Let me start with the check-in in Dublin. Why on earth does Azamara promote on line check-in (which I dutifully completed) when the port staff at Dublin have to repeat the process... and made a hash of it. Finally had to sort out the account billing arrangements at Guest Relations in the days after we embarked. My comment about the redundancy of the check-in arrangements were met with furious nods of agreement.
Despite having Azamara's President, Larry Pimental and his wife Sandie on board, I found the food was below par. Aqualina was a joy but the one and only time I visited Prime C, I was served a fatty and grisly piece rib eye steak. I could have returned it but wanted to keep pace with my table companions. I know that the menu catering is designed around the North American taste buds but with a number of Brits and Aussies on board I asked the Hotel Director is she could put out English bacon at breakfast in Windows. Bingo!... there it was the next day than after that on just the odd occasion. I dared not ask for Vegemite like I did on the Quest last year. On that occasion, the quite extraordinary Phillip Herbert, the Hotel Director went out his way to meet this request. The cappuccinos dispensed from the Expresso machines in Windows were undrinkable - best described as a strong flavoured sludge. On the other hand the food and coffee served elsewhere on the ship was very good. Mosaic's coffee and snacks were great. Discovery was excellent.
The highlight of the cruise was the wine tasting and dinner in Bordeaux hosted by Larry Pimental. The food and entertainment at Chateau Kirwan was memorable although I thought the wines were a little overrated. The experience reinforced my view that value for money, there are many wines around the globe which would give the French wines a run for their money. The only real issue I had with this excursion was the long periods we were confined to buses in 30 deg C heat with little AIRCON while we waited for stragglers to turn up.
The real downer for my wife and I came right at the end of the cruise. We were struck down with severe food poisoning early in the morning of our second day in Lisbon. That was the morning that guests were disembarking from the cruise. Because we were travelling B2B there was no compulsion to disembark - only swipe our "old" card out and our new one back in. With the onset of severe gastro, we couldn't even do that... we couldn't move more than a few metres away from the toilet. Our plans to see Lisbon evaporated. The only food we had eaten the day before came from Windows Cafe so we figured that this must have been the source of the food poisoning. A travelling companion who sat at our dinner table at Windows the evening before also suffered severe food poisoning. A common dish consumed by the three of us was the leek and mussel soup although investigations by the Food and Beverage Manager failed to trace the source. It did make me wonder whether any of the hundreds of cruise passengers who disembarked that morning in Lisbon left feeling unwell! As the morning went on and all the passengers disembarked our condition improved but one of the ship's crew urged us to see the ship's doctor. The worst fears on any cruise ship is Novovirus but I contend that this was classic food poisoning and by waiting 24 hours the symptoms would ease... which they did. In retrospect we probably should not have bothered visiting the doctor (in fact we saw the nurse) because we both ended up both being confined to the cabin for the next 24 hours. With the prospect of missing yet another port, I tried to get off the ship and and go sightseeing in Cadiz but merely ended up triggering alarms while trying to exit through security. Ended up having to plead with the ship's nurse to release us and even then when we both tried to leave, the alarms went off. Finally all was resolved and we got to see Cadiz. Throughout this unfortunate epsisode, the ship's crew looked after us well with free paid movies (which we were too ill to watch) while confined, use of the Thalassotherapy Spa to assist our recovery and an offer of compensation by Azamara in the way of credit towards our next Azamara cruise equivalent to the pro-rata the time we were confined.
All of this hasn't deterred us from cruising with Azamara and while on board we booked another cruise - this time on the Quest from Hong Kong to Singapore departing 26 March 2012.