This review was long in coming since I have been massively busy and unable to find the time to do a thorough job in reviewing the ship.
The beginning of the trip was to say the least, hideous! This was possible because my expectations were so high having cruised with Azamara twice before and was blown away by both embarkation procedures. Sadly, the Port in Rio was a disaster for all who happened to be embarking that day. 6 ships were in port. We arrived late to avoid the crowds and see just a little more of Rio - too long at the Hippie Market I think!! I will not go into minutiae but will say that it was out of the control of the Azamara team for the most part, however, there was no Azamara team presence when we arrived but the ever lovely Leisl came just as we boarded the bus from hell. LOL Suffice it to say it is my understanding that things have improved and the same hoary situation was diffused before we got to Buenos Aires. As usual, Azamara's recovery from the issue was very good. Enough said.
The embarkation debacle ended, I was glad to be welcomed home with the usual champagne - even though the lifeboat drill was in progress. Luggage and drink in hand (I travel with ONLY a carry-on) - I made my way to my lovely cabin and proceeded to unpack and calm down. 4 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black sitting on my counter beckoned to me ---- "Come, sit, take a load off and feel the warmth of the evening South American sun!!" I did as I was told. :-)
My Butler peeks in to check on me - don't you JUST LOVE IT! MY Butler :-)
Yes I share him with a few others but it doesn't feel like there is anyone but me in his life. A sentiment I NEVER felt with either of my TWO ex-husbands. Which is why I love to spoil myself in CC Suite!! LOL I make arrangements with him for sailaway parties every evening - and inform him that a few folks will be coming down after lifeboat drill that evening! He is unfazed and within moments I have bar set-up, wine, champagne and lovely canapes set up. He is a dream come true. I am a Princess and I am able to simply enjoy meeting all my new Cruise Critic friends. The embarkation fiasco is forgotten.
I made arrangements to have dinner with my friends in Aqualina that night. Picture perfect. It always blows me away on the first night that everything is completely as it should be when cruising with Azamara! Usually the first night you can expect a few hiccups....I expect them, but none come. The mark of excellence.
The adventure begins......
Each port was lovely. Different than my past few cruises in Europe and Asia. More laid back. A leisurely breakfast on the balcony each morning and a meeting in the lobby for tender to each port. There was never a wait for the tenders. No long lines. No need for my priority status. I planned the excursions on Cruise Critic and we had fabulous adventures each day. Small intimate groups - freestyle tours -- less than half the cost of the cruise line excursions. The weather was not co-operative in Buzios but we boarded the Trolley (turned into a small van because of the weather) and toured the lovely island and saw some amazing things in the fog and mist. Different. The cachaca factory was a "heartwarming" experience...LOL After that we all had a very good time regardless of anything!!! :-) Paraty and the Gold Trail hike was magnificent. Tiring. I was too worn out to EVEN SHOP!!!! Dinner in my room for the first time EVER --- each course served separately on the balcony, each course as good as it was in the dining room...hot, delicious. Love the roast lamb on Azamara. Punta del Este a standout - lovely island - did the self walk that you get a brochure for on the pier. Fabulous. Must go to the Gottex bathing suit factory - $300 suits for $100 and 2 floors packed full of the Israeli treasures. Fireworks display at midnight fantastic. Ship stayed in port to see it. Amazing!!! A little breezy and a hot drink outside would have been most welcome. Oh well. Next time perhaps. Montevideo is a treat.....did a walking tour with a British expat. She was great. Don't miss the market by the pier for lunch - MEAT MEAT AND MORE MEAT! Traditional bbq!
The entertainment is so-so. Not a big draw for me. Love the late dinners with friends. We became a little rowdy a few times. Nothing we had to walk the plank over though!!! ;-) Shops are nicely stocked - small but interesting selection.
Highlights were Christmas Day Brunch in the MDR. Lovely music, great choice of food. Christmas carolling. Hannukah parties every night with all the traditional food. I don't discriminate....I enjoy taking advantage of any celebration offered. I am all inclusive Atheist - I believe in anything that is FUN and celebrates life! No blessing refused....equal opportunity enjoyer.
Now for the good stuff! The food. Great in all venues for sure. I ate mostly in the Specialty dining rooms. Loved the Aqualina menu. The seafood platter and the lobster is to die for. Every night favourite dessert - Souffle...but the waiters always insisted that we try one of everything. We did not refuse. Every desire we verbalized was met without question. Two tails and a steak - no problem. I do not eat red meat but will treat myself to lamb on occasion. Yummy - No food was ever sent back, no food not to taste. I have, however, cut way back on my salt intake and I found some things a little salty. Not a huge issue.
The soups were a standout. In Aqualina they are all unbelievably good. I wanted to make a meal of all soup and bread one night!!!
The food onboard is very consistent. It is good across all venues. This sailing was the best of my three. Deck parties were exceptionally good.
The Pool Grill was an issue at the beginning. It is always a long proposition there. At first, they tried to expedite the service by putting on a waiter and an assistant, however there was a large South American family that made them an offer they couldn't refuse (so to speak) - needless to say, no one else in the area got any service. It was very interesting how this ended up being handled. I blogged about it when I was on board. We did complain because the service level was so abysmal. For US, that is!! It took over an hour for me to get a turkey burger .... Heike had asked me about the embarkation and the pool bar and she actually was able to review the video tapes from security to verify my story. The next day the process was cleaned up, service was changed and a team went to work making sure that everyone had wonderful poolside service. Another save for Azamara. Mark of excellence.
In an overview, the attention to detail and the overall graciousness of the staff and crew make Azamara a unique experience. You feel welcomed and honoured by the sincerity of all the employees. It feels like coming home to good friends. The ambiance of the ship is truly exceptional. You want to relax, enjoy, smile and be yourself when you are on board. No judgement, no worries - you feel like you belong there. I do anyway!!! Thanks you to all on board....Lisle, Heike, OMG - everyone!!!!
I have just booked for June 2013 - a Baltic journey on the Quest and I plan on taking along a few friends.....I will make a few new ones on CC and I will take them from past CC friends. What a joy - how truly blessed are we all to be able to enjoy such adventures with folks from all over the world. Azamara is conducive to such joyous celebrations of life. As much as I adore my children and grandkids (especially the grandkids)- the inheritance is being drained.....you will have to fend for yourselves. My next adventure is taking my grandson to Disneyland in June. After that -
MAYBE SEE YOU ON THE QUEST IN JUNE 2013?????? :-)