We arrived at a busy cruise terminal courtesy of Fred at Silverstar Cars (highly recommended) having done our own per cruise arrangements to visit the Iguazu Falls and see Buenos Aires staying at the Hilton (again highly recommended, great safe location).
Six ships were embarking -it was a zoo but out of the crowds came a lady with an Azamara lollipop sign. From that moment we were shown/ escorted through the crowds in what was excellent organisation by Azamara.
On board rooms became ready earlier than expected and we were delighted to see Pravin who had been our butler on a previous cruise would again be caring for us this time ably assisted by Hilda and Andrei. A first class team, our room was kept immaculate, sodas topped up, ice always there and every time we met them lovely smiles and conversation.
This was a New Year cruise, the ship was full including 130+ Brazillian guests which gave a more lively ship than before which had its positives and negatives. The biggest minus was the number of children, most were well behaved but there were crying babies in the restaurant and parents who did not see the need even after tactful comments from staff, to remove them. You cannot blame Azamara for this and it did not happen all the time so did not impact significantly, but we mention it so future bookers understand there can be children on Azamara ships.
We have cruised 3 times before with Azamara and have tended to use the Speciality Restaurants Prime C and Aqualina. These are both still of a high standard, though the recent menu changed has removed a couple of favourites in Prime C so we felt a little more limited in choice there. The biggest difference is in Discoveries. There has been a significant increase in quality there such that on food quality and preparation the difference with the Specialities is so minor as to be insignificant. In all restaurants lunch and dinner very enjoyable wines are included with generous pours and regular top ups. Sodas are off course free all day.
Cruising at New Year allowed the ship to pull out all the stops for the New Years Eve dinner and they did- they asked everyone to select the restaurant and a time slot so they could manage the experience - an excellent move!!
Mother Nature threw a few curved balls on this trip and what was so impressive was the way that plans were jiggled and rejigled the Food team were moving buffets inside and out, entertainment particularly during the Rio fireworks reset thanks to the rain. That said, midnight was a wonderful happy experience with crew and guests mixing on the decks in the rain enjoying free champagne and marvelling at the fireworks. We felt sorry for some who had put so much effort into the party plans to have their parade rained on but it did not stop this being a new year to remember.
That brings us to the team onboard. It is hard to put into words how good they are, everyone greets you by name and tries to do all they can to anticipate what you want and make your trip happy. Plates are always carried for you from the excellent buffet to your table, chairs pulled out for ladies, drinks brought without asking, cheery smiles and conversation always initiated by them. They obviously love their jobs, are so proud of their brand and are well lead- on this cruise Captain Jason was in charge just ahead of going on vacation and the ever attentive Heike as hotel director. Two people who on other ships come in for flack or are seen as invisible have to get a mention -liesl, the guest relations manager who has a charming team at the desk, and Martina the Chief Housekeeper, friendly and so caring of her staff. A final comment about the staff, at the end if the cruise no one hangs around looking for a tip, no one says make sure you rate our service as excellent or please remember to mention me, my name is ...... - I think that says it all, they all know they have one all they can for you and their managers do as well (that said, extra tips were given and most graciously received and mentions were made on feedback forms)
Finally before we come to the ports entertainment. Up to now a weak link, not so on this trip. We had heard before about Eric de Gray but had never met him. All we can say now is wow, what a delightful talented person, he hits the right level for the audiences. Entertainment was also provided by Eliot Finkel ( pianist), Bob Trunell (magician- how did he do that dollar bill trick?) and Bruce Parker an excellent singer who had everyone up dancing as he did soul and Motown. The production shows were good and Eric's role in two shows was outstanding ( where does he get his energy from)
Ports of call
We were able to take advantage of the 50% off early bookers offer so made most arrangements through the ship. It would have been difficult to choose between some trips but luckily we were back to back guests so could do second choices in the next trip.
Punta del Este, an easy tender and we went on the drive round, trip to the Rali museum and Casa Pueblo. I think this was the best value and best organised tour of all we did
Rio (first stop, the ship came twice here) we did Sugar loaf - being holiday season it was crowded and long lines but a private guide would have been no better than our great guide
Buzios in New Years Day, a port where mother nature had other ideas, tendering was delayed for 3 hours and trips cancelled, we just relaxed on board
Parati - a cloudy day but excellent 4x4 trip to the waterfalls and gold trail, safe, informative would thoroughly recommend. Others reported difficulties trying to get a4x4 trip with an English speaking guide on the pier and lost out as a result
Rio 2 Corcovada, again very good, first class guide who got us all on the train in the crowds without a wait. In the evening we went on the Dinner and Plataforma tour, dinner was poor, the show good. Maybe if you want to do this and are confident with local taxis ( though some did have issues with dodgy meters) do it yourself or skip it as they had brought a small samba group in ship in any event.
As back to back guests cannot say a lot other than it was perfect for us, did not even have to get off the ship if we did not want to. Had planned a tour but it was cancelled due to low numbers so we enjoyed a lazy day instead. We did hear from friend we made onboard that the disembarkation was good and well organised
A first class cruise the best way to see the Rio fireworks ( by the way 12 ships were watching but Azamara was front row!) and now let's see in our next review could they keep these standards up