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47 Azamara Hong Kong Cruise Reviews

Recommended by friends. Very disappointed with the wines. I’ve been told how good they were in the past but I know other passengers were disappointed also. I have booked another cruise and giving Azamara another chance to improve ... Read More
Recommended by friends. Very disappointed with the wines. I’ve been told how good they were in the past but I know other passengers were disappointed also. I have booked another cruise and giving Azamara another chance to improve their wines. Good Australian wines are not at all expensive. Apart from that I enjoyed the cruise with Azamara I like more than one day in ports and chose this cruise for that reason as well as the destinations. Eric de Gray is one one of your best assets. Edina in the restaurants was always so friendly and willing to serve us with a smile. Enjoyed Agnes Lee’s Bridge sessions. Our cabin was serviced to our expectations We could dine whenever we liked and sitting with different people in the Discovery Dining was so good. Our Excursion to Hanoi was a big disappointment. Azamazing evening was very good but too much food was offered at the venue. We had eaten on the ship and didn’t know there would be so much food offered. A waste of so much food as we didn’t have any. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
We chose this trip as we wanted to spend Christmas doing something different, and wanted to see a bit of SE Asia. We’ve previously cruised a few times with Celebrity (which we loved) & once with Silversea (ditto). We really ... Read More
We chose this trip as we wanted to spend Christmas doing something different, and wanted to see a bit of SE Asia. We’ve previously cruised a few times with Celebrity (which we loved) & once with Silversea (ditto). We really enjoyed every aspect of the cruise, including some we weren’t sure about when we booked - did we REALLY want to spend 2 nights in Halong Bay, or get up before dawn to see the floating market near Bangkok, etc.? Well, the answer is that we did, and thought the whole thing was fantastic. Almost everyone onboard and on this forum rates the crew very highly, and we agree. It was a revelation to see so much of the Captain, who seemed to be everywhere & keeping an eye on what was happening. Also Eric de Gray did a fantastic job both as a performer and in organising things like the really memorable & highly organised Azamazing evening. Credits too to the band, who seemed to be able to play anything, at any & all times. We had some issues with our stateroom (see below), but all in all, the few downsides of this cruise were more than outweighed by the many great aspects, and we would strongly recommend a cruise on Azamara Journey. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
This was our 3rd Azamara cruise and we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to celebrate Christmas & New Year on board Azamara Journey. Embarkation in Hongkong was one of the easiest we have ever experienced. Our hotel (Marco Polo) ... Read More
This was our 3rd Azamara cruise and we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to celebrate Christmas & New Year on board Azamara Journey. Embarkation in Hongkong was one of the easiest we have ever experienced. Our hotel (Marco Polo) was linked by a new shopping centre walkway to the new cruise terminal but as the immigration hall was not in operation Azamara arranged on board processing. We arrived at midday. Within half an hour we were enjoying a welcome drink and buffet lunch in Windows. Our ocean view stateroom on deck 4 was ready at 1.30pm and our luggage arrived almost immediately. We were welcomed by our steward Danny and his assistant Agostino who gave us excellent service throughout the cruise. We were only a small group (26 people) for The Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle cocktail party but the Captain & senior staff still took the time to attend - we were impressed. A highlight prior to our 8.30pm departure was a grandstand view of the Victoria Harbour Symphony of Lights from the deck of Azamara Journey. Azamara has rigorous hygiene & sanitation protocols which were instituted for the first 4 days of the cruise (no self service of food & beverages) We avoided any outbreak of Norovirus & greatly appreciated the extra work & effort by all the crew. Service and food in Windows, Patio and Discoveries were all of a high standard. Captain Tysse and Cruise Director Eric de Grey were both brilliant always highly visible, friendly & superbly professional. As we expected the ship was tastefully decorated for Christmas. Christmas Eve (a sea day) was very festive. We had an excellent Christmas brunch and Christmas carols with Eric and the entertainment team. On Christmas Day we anchored in Halong Bay (a tender port) for an overnight stay. Anticipating an exciting program of Christmas Day celebrations we had booked a Halong Bay shore excursion for the following day. We did not want to miss out on any of the Christmas Day festivities (we also chose not to take the 3 hour drive to Hanoi). We were sadly disappointed! No special entertainment had been planned during the day - neither the piano or guitar entertainers. Discoveries restaurant was closed and Windows and the Patio only had their usual menu. The ship was like a morgue. A crew member said approximately 100 passengers remained on board expecting Christmas Day with all the trimmings. It was a non event until activities resumed with a Christmas quiz at 4pm. and Christmas dinner and very entertaining pantomime in the evening. I put in a written complaint expressing my dissatisfaction at the lack of a daytime Christmas Day program. I received a call from Hotel Director Heike Berdos. Her explanation was that as we were in port on Christmas Day It was the usual port day program and instead they had organised Christmas brunch & entertainment on Christmas Eve! I pointed out that a lot of passengers had come on this cruise to celebrate Christmas Day and also as we were in a tender port a lot of passengers either did not want to or were unable to go ashore. Some passengers were also disappointed with New Years Eve as a highlight in the marketing promotion was “see the New Years Eve fireworks in Saigon” a bit difficult as we left Saigon at 4pm! As the Captain had predicted the weather got rough once we were in open waters. However there was a great party mood on board and we all donned (courtesy of Azamara) our New Years Eve party hats and the entertainment staff had done a great job with the decorations. Despite the conditions the wait staff in Discoveries did a heroic job - not sure how the folks fared up on deck 10 in Aqualina and Prime C ! Like many others owing to the ships motion we never made it up to the Livingroom to see in the New Year. We enjoyed the Azamazing and White Night evenings which are a usual feature of an Azamara cruise however Christmas & New Years Eve cruises are marketed as premium cruises at premium prices and are regarded as an opportunity for a special celebration. Even on “low key” ships such as Azamara we expected a festive Christmas lunch. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
I did this cruise because I wanted to try a a smaller ship , I did enjoy less guests and found it to be more friendly, plus the extra nites in different ports. Liked the idea of there dress code. Our Cabin was ok although a little ... Read More
I did this cruise because I wanted to try a a smaller ship , I did enjoy less guests and found it to be more friendly, plus the extra nites in different ports. Liked the idea of there dress code. Our Cabin was ok although a little wider at the end of our beds would be nice, storage was adequate, beds and linen comfy. The bathroom like most ships a little small especially the shower.I thought the toiletries were very average. The entertainment was generally good, Eric helped make things more entertaining loved his jokes. Service was very good.. Shire excursions were a little expensive compared to some of the very good local tour Operators whom I found very professional . My biggest dissappointment of the whole trip was the quality of the house wines which we do pay for it is all in the price of the cruise. .The first and second evening at dinner the wines were undrinkable ,we spoke to the Maitre D who sent the bar manager who offered us other choices which were acceptable and they kept the same wines for us each nite. The quality of the house wines were a big hot topic with other guests on the cruise. I have booked another cruise on the Journey and look fordward to my 2 daily glasses of decent wine. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
This was our sixth cruise with Azamara. We have also cruised with Oceania, NCL, HAL, Windstar, Louis, Katarina and several river cruise operators. This cruise was 16 nights, from Hong Kong to Singapore. Embarkation was smooth. In the ... Read More
This was our sixth cruise with Azamara. We have also cruised with Oceania, NCL, HAL, Windstar, Louis, Katarina and several river cruise operators. This cruise was 16 nights, from Hong Kong to Singapore. Embarkation was smooth. In the early afternoon we got a taxi from our hotel to the Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. This terminal is very conveniently placed. We were cornered by a lady from the local tourist board wanting us to do a survey, so that delayed our boarding, otherwise it would have been quick! The Journey was looking in pretty good state. We had an ocean view cabin on deck 4, which we have been on before, and this is a position we are quite happy with. Our room stewards did a good job. We enjoy Windows, the buffet restaurant, for dinner. They have a different theme every night and we enjoy the variety and find the food tasty. Some of the wait staff in Windows acted as if they didn’t want to be there, others were always smiling and helpful. We did eat twice in the MDR, Discoveries. Service was a little slow, and we found the menu a little limited and somewhat repetitive. For the first few days of the cruise we had heightened sanitising procedures in place because of some cases of GI at the end of the previous cruise and at the beginning of our cruise. The crew worked hard to maintain this level of precautions and the captain regularly updated us on how many cases of GI had been reported. There were 2 lecturers. We only went to one of them as the other one’s topics were a bit too specialised and not of interest to us. The one that spoke on the ports we were visiting was okay, but not a particularly exciting speaker and we did not learn much from him. As usual we enjoyed the Q&A sessions. There was one with Heike Berdos, the Hotel Manager; it was a pity it was so poorly attended. She gave us a lot of info and it was interesting to hear from her. The one with Eric De Gray, the Cruise Director, turned into a bit of a music lesson, with not too many questions fitted in, but it was still interesting. The last one was with the captain, Johannes Tysse, which repeated many of the questions asked of Heike, but still worth attending. The Azamazing evening was in Ho Chi Minh City. We were bused from the port to the Binh Quoi Village. The village is a tourist village, but tastefully done. When we arrived there were many people at the eating stalls and some local craftsmen & entertainers. At the back of the village we attended a concert of traditional Vietnamese music and dancing. It was well set up, with large TV screens on each side so that people sitting at the back could see the concert. There were drinks and snacks provided. We had eaten dinner before leaving the ship. The White Night Party was on the first night in Bangkok. This was the usual buffet meal served on deck around the pool, with local dancers performing. We actually ate in the MDR, as we find this more relaxing – we have previously been frustrated with the long queues at the buffet on deck. After dinner in the MDR we go out on deck to watch the local concert, followed by the crew parade. The entertainment included concerts by both the onboard and visiting entertainers which we had seen before. As usual we enjoyed many of the concerts, but some were not to our taste. We like the space which is now called “The Living Room”. This is where we sat in our free time. We did 7 Azamara shore excursions, all of which delivered as expected and we enjoyed. The guides were generally good, though we had trouble understanding one of the guides in Bangkok. Disembarkation was easy. We left the Journey about 8am and were through baggage pickup, immigration and customs in about 10 minutes. Singapore is a good start or end port. It was easy to get to our hotel on the MTR. We enjoyed this cruise. Azamara remains our preferred cruise line, indeed we booked another cruise while on board. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
We had never cruised With Azamara before however the idea of spending Xmas and New Year on a ship, cruising from Hong Kong to Singapore, with overnight stays at several ports was very compelling. We loved every moment of this cruise! ... Read More
We had never cruised With Azamara before however the idea of spending Xmas and New Year on a ship, cruising from Hong Kong to Singapore, with overnight stays at several ports was very compelling. We loved every moment of this cruise! The Captain was the most friendly, engaging captain we had ever encounted and this friendly, outgoing style was mirrored by the Hotel Manager and the Cruise Director. We could not fault the service and professionalism of any crew member. The Captain and Hotel Manager would often wave us off as we went ashore and all staff would echo the greeting, ‘Welcome Home’, on our return, There were many other highlights including: - the sail away from Hong Kong with its dazzling display of Xmas lights - the beautiful Xmas decorations throughout the ship - the shows and entertainment with the Cruise Director leading the way with his prodigious talent - New Years Eve dinner and show that went on to the wee hours and all guests looked resplendent in their Azamara hats and head dresses - New Years Day buffet - the Azamazing evening, a stunning show in Ho Chi Minh, with music, dance, fireworks, fashion parade and three giant screens displaying scenes from across Vietnam - the White Night deck party with great food and entertainment and the parade of staff - being able to cruise up the Saigon River to The heart of Ho Chi Minh City and up the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok - the Q&A sessions with the Captain, Hotel Manager and Cruise Director provided a deeper level of understanding and appreciation of the ship and it’s operations And much more!! We were sad to see this adventure come to an end and look forward to our next cruise with Azamara. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
Two nights in Hong Kong's Marco Polo Hotel and two nights at the end in Singapore's Hotel Jen finished off our first Azamara cruise beautifully. Boarding was a breeze but the roll call for the drill after embarking was a total ... Read More
Two nights in Hong Kong's Marco Polo Hotel and two nights at the end in Singapore's Hotel Jen finished off our first Azamara cruise beautifully. Boarding was a breeze but the roll call for the drill after embarking was a total shambles. Due to this fiasco we did not make it to the cruise critic get together. Liked the two nights in ports, size of the ship, being able to cruise up the rivers in Bangkok and Saigon, the first ever bridge lessons by Agnes, and Trivia. Our cruise travelling friends took over from Agnes and we played with them nearly every day. Loved the entertainment with Eric and Alisha, who has the voice of an angel along with the service and quality of the food. What was not to like? Had a X 4 specialty restaurant package but really could have eaten in the restaurant or buffet any time and been just as happy (I don't eat seafood or lamb and very little beef). The couple we were travelling with and my husband love seafood and quality beef and were not disappointed with the chateau Bryon served in the specialty restaurant. We found the quality of the wines quite reasonable as were the cocktails. Must mention that we found some of the food to be quite salty. Even though we have been to all the ports before except for Ko Samui, which in hindsight I would have happily missed, we loved re-visiting them. Shower curtains are so yesterday!!! Want to do another Azamara cruise but need to know that Eric will be part of it. Read Less
Sail Date December 2017
Azamara Journey – Of Wet bottoms and other Adventures By Glyn May Five minutes after embarkation I'm squeezed into a tight space on the floor of Azamara Journey's stateroom 6052 trying to open the jammed safe which has ... Read More
Azamara Journey – Of Wet bottoms and other Adventures By Glyn May Five minutes after embarkation I'm squeezed into a tight space on the floor of Azamara Journey's stateroom 6052 trying to open the jammed safe which has instructions so small I can’t read them. After five attempts I give up and reach for the adjoining mini bar. I don't need to untangle myself. Inside, there's a lone can of Heineken, but it's warm. I figure the fridge hasn't been turned on. The TV is babbling Spanish, a luggage handler is at the door loudly insisting that a suitcase clearly tagged for two decks below, is mine. The room steward arrives and apologises for being late. A technician in white overalls, summoned to fix a thirsty Australian's potentially catastrophic refrigeration problem, joins the party. He makes a token inspection then, with a big toothy grin, confesses that there are no motors in any of the ship’s mini bars, only cool blowers. He agrees that he wouldn't drink warm beer if he was shipwrecked on a desert island, and kindly offers the use of a " real fridge" in a nearby pantry. The first visit to the bathroom is a culture shock -- a basin, shower and toilet crammed into two square metres. There’s not much room for dancing. Drop the soap in the shower, and I imagine that a wet bottom wrapped in a plastic shower curtain would protrude alarmingly – and I’m only referring to the (increasingly rare) standard variety rear end. Drop a face washer in the shower and you have wall-to-wall carpet. In the afternoon, we are encouraged by Captain Johannes Tysse's announcement over the public address system that the deck 9 evening buffet is …"the best place to eat tonight…..chef tells me he is cooking some of his grandmother's most wonderful recipes ". Captain Tysse didn't show up at dinner which is just as well, as there may have been a gentleman in a big white hat walking the plank next morning. At night, our beds (singles joined together as in most ships) split apart. It doesn’t really matter because a piercing blue light on the air-conditioning control makes sleep impossible. The next day a steward ties the bed together and covers the offending blue light with a piece of scrap paper and lots of sticky tape. The light is hidden, but the control knob is stuck on near freezing. The ship’s advertised “free” liquor (priced into the fare) included rough red wines from Chile, Argentina and California and an appalling O’Doul’s American beer guaranteed to choke a thirsty sheep dog. Welcome to Azamara Journey, trumpeted as “a boutique luxury hotel at sea”, on a 13-night cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore in January/February 2017. In the bright light of our first sea day, we grumble about the size of the balcony and its rusty door track, and note the stained and ripped fabric sun lounges on deck 11. We’re qualified to find fault -- this is our 40th cruise on 10 different ships (our first on Azamara) and we’re paying $1000 a night. However, strolling around the 690-passenger ship, built in 2003 as one of eight world-acclaimed five-star Renaissance ships, we're impressed -- rich wood paneling, fine art work, deep carpets, elegant bars and immaculate public areas. There is a lot to commend the Azamara Journey – world-class entertainers, the multi-talented Cruise Director Eric De Gray (easily the best we have encountered) splendid restaurants (save for pathetic attempts at Asian cooking) a generally friendly crew, and a captain with the salesmanship of Dale Carnegie and eloquence of Bill Clinton. As the days pass and we soak up the ambience and efficiency of a well-run ship, there was reason to ponder why, up there in the ivory towers of Azamara Club Cruises in Miami, they forgot that first impressions count. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
Just back from this cruise, having left early for family reasons. We've done multiple Azamara cruises and this was our third on this itinerary, so we obviously love the line and this itinerary. Halong Bay is a justifiably world ... Read More
Just back from this cruise, having left early for family reasons. We've done multiple Azamara cruises and this was our third on this itinerary, so we obviously love the line and this itinerary. Halong Bay is a justifiably world heritage area; Marble Mountain and Hoi An (from Danang) are wonderful places to visit; Ho Chi Minh City is a unique experience, if only for crossing the roads; and Bangkok always has something new to show us. With the exception of a boat tour of Halong bay, all the other places can be explored privately, aided by taxis, foot and sky train. We cruised Quest in April 16, just after the refit, and now have cruised Journey post re-fit. Several improvements are of note. The Pool Grill is a wonderful night dining addition. The Sunset Bar deck is very popular at night (often difficult to get a seat for a drink or meal) - thanks for listening Azamara. The Living Room (ex Looking Glass) is now a wonderful space, with people gathering together for pre-dinner drinks and chats, with quiet music accompaniment in the background and attentive service staff. Several years ago we enjoyed a cruise in which Eric organised several of the singers to perform solo shows pre-dinner. Didn't happen this time but the cast were on their first cruise. I hope this initiative returns. We did get a Glenn Miller Show from the band one sea afternoon and it was very enjoyable - good band; great drummer. The current DJ, Eddie, is great fun, both in the disco and for various quizzes - he has an effusive personality (other cast members would do well to observe and learn; they unfortunately inject no personality in to the quizzes - I know, they're young and inexperienced but could do better than "the next question is..."). With Eddie and Mario, Azamara have two absolute gems. The food quality, service, ambience were as good as always and we met some delightful, happy people, as we always do on Azamara - it really does have its own atmosphere doesn't it. Not to be overlooked, tenders are easy - no queuing for tickets - just go down when it suits; free shuttle buses of quite short distances - none of this 2 hours from the city in Bangkok and HCM); exceptional docking location in Hong Kong harbour. Although we had to leave the day of White Night, I have no doubt this was again the highlight of the cruise. We didn't do Azamazing to the Ancient City, as we've been twice previously and while it's a very good Azamazing night, we thought we'd pass up the 1hr plus bus trip this time. I'm not suggesting they change it - it really is one of the best Azamazing nights we've attended, given that it is in a delightful setting and gives a good cross-section of Thai cultural activities. However, I was surprised to hear there were no fireworks this time. We stayed on board; were 2 of 4 having dinner in Prime C and were amongst the 7 guests who had a few laughs from "Bridget Jones' Baby" on the pool deck. All in all, a reasonably pleasant but weird night, being aboard with so few people. Now for the areas that IMHO need some improvement. We love Voices and the other production shows. For a small cruise ship they are of excellent standard. From LCV cocktail parties in recent years, it is apparent that the number of returning guests continues to grow. It is well past time to commission Voices 2 and one or more other production shows. Return guests would appreciate a change. We were lucky enough to be offered a LCV upgrade from veranda to suite, which we of course accepted. The shower cubicle is great. However, they've removed the DVD players, leaving suite guests to cope with the measly 2 free movies per day, on a 7 day rotation. Given that there are always very few children aboard and the average age must be somewhere between 55 - 68, I feel just insulted by the deplorable movies they show. It was a succession of movies designed for very young children - e.g. Dory, Jungle Book, BFG, etc. The program was absolutely dominated by these ridiculous movies. I don't have a nanna nap in the afternoon but I often sleep badly on a ship and would appreciate only adult oriented movies. Given the money we pay for an Azamara cruise (which has undoubtedly increased since the re-fit; which no longer includes discounted pre-booked shore excursions; which has also seen 14n cruises scaled back to 13n at a higher cost - yes Azamara, we've all noticed), I would have thought they could at least put on a couple of decent free movies. We attend most of the quizzes/trivia sessions put on. There is far too much repetition. We get new cast members and I don't mind that we break them in but we too often get the same old quizzes. Is it really that difficult to find new quizzes - otherwise the more difficult / obscure questions get swallowed up by those returning guests who have heard the answers so many times they are imprinted to their memory cells. Given our need to leave the cruise early, we found the staff we interacted with very understanding and helpful - still we've always experienced a high level of service on Azamara, so we weren't surprised. For the benefit of future cruisers, we experienced quite a swell for a few days out of Hong Kong, so I think this isn't the best time of the year to cruise this region - maybe look at November if that's feasible. It wasn't too bad but we were in jeans until after we left Danang and to that point had reasonably rolling seas. On the other hand, if you prefer cooler weather, then this is your cruise. We had overnight rain but very little during daytime and none while ashore - just the occasional short shower while aboard Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
I am 25 yr old, traveling alone, and on my first ever cruise. Couldn't have been more impressed with the Azamara Journey. There isn't one single category (crew, amenities, food, security, rooms, atmosphere, activities, land ... Read More
I am 25 yr old, traveling alone, and on my first ever cruise. Couldn't have been more impressed with the Azamara Journey. There isn't one single category (crew, amenities, food, security, rooms, atmosphere, activities, land excursions, etc.) that I can criticize. I was the youngest solo traveler on the ship but was far from forgotten! The crew took time to get to know me and it wasn't long before I was being called by name everywhere I went and they had my food/drink preferences down. There was a large variety of land excursions at each port, and a lot of activities put together by Taylor (activities manager) for those remaining on the ship. Entertainment on the ship was excellent! Eric (cruise director) is VERY GOOD at what he does. The ship's officers, including Captain Johannes, were out and about getting to know the guests which, to me, is very important. The food was outstanding on all levels, from snacks in the cafes, the buffet, and all the way up to fine dining in Prime C and Aqualina. Cleanliness and presentation of the facilities and staterooms was excellent. All in all, Azamara blew me away. I did zero research on the ship before booking this cruise, but from here on out Azamara is the only ship I will choose. Every guest I met on the ship were all experienced cruisers and said Azamara is by far the best. Already booked my next cruise for November on Azamara Journey! Cheers! :) Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
We had a wonderful cruise again. we embarked in Hong Kong jan 19th and were a bit anxious about the weather enroute. We had heard that the previous cruise was hit by lots of bad weather coming up from Singapore to Hong Kong. First we ... Read More
We had a wonderful cruise again. we embarked in Hong Kong jan 19th and were a bit anxious about the weather enroute. We had heard that the previous cruise was hit by lots of bad weather coming up from Singapore to Hong Kong. First we were pleasantly surprised by Hong Kong. A lovely place and we got around a lot during our two days pre-cruise. Weather was at it's best for january and we had temperatures around 20 degrees which is very acceptable. Embarkation at 11.30 was quick, and we got our stateroom (8010 within a few hours First leg to Halong Bay was calm and we even had a fair amount of sun. In Halong Bay we had a private tour to Bai Tu Long Bay with small junk for six people. It was an 8 hour cruise to a very calm and not-so-touristy area of Halong Bay. Next stop in Danang we did a ship's excursion and was very pleased with that. Moving on to Saigon we only had 8 hours in port and we just did a private tour with Zoom in the city itself. No time for anything more. We wish we could have stayed overnight in Saigon, and maybe Azamara should just do this itinerary a 14 days to accomplish that. Bangkok was a nice stay with two nights and almost three days in port. Azamazing evening was on the arrival day and was, as always, a spectacular experience. Sadly we missed the White Night on the next day.- Many people chose not to be on the ship that evening. When in Bangkok we want to see Bangkok, so IMHO this White Night should be moved to another evening. Koh Samui is just a short stop. We did no Land Discoveries and just had a short trip ashore. We tendered to Nathon on the west coast . Just a small town with a few shops. We thought it was obvious to tender into Bophut or Bangrak on the north shore as this is a more touristy area with lot of resorts and plenty of things to do shoreside. This is, however, probably a decision that lies with local port authoroties. Singapore was our last port and we bought a Land discovery with hotel drop-off. Perfect for us this time, as we got a nice sightseeing and got dropped off on the doorstep to the hotel afterwards. On board experience: We love it. The crew is fantastic and the food was fabulous in all venues. We bought the four table tour for Speciality restaurants and was more than content with that. We also had a fantastic Rijstaffel,- all set up un Sunset Bar. We didn't go to all the shows as we tend to dine late and stay long. We did see a few and the cast is really good. Max played in the casino Bar so we had most evenings there. Lectures were intersting and a lot of activities during the day. Being from near the north pole we chose to stay in the pool area when we could, and the weather was very nice,- almost all of time. Some chilly hours in Halong Bay, and a few showers one afternoon. Apart from that we had mostly sun, interupted by some high clouds. We were lucky compared to the previous cruise. We are always happy to come "home" on Azamara. The officers and crew of the Journey are always top notch. I cannot point out anything negative with this ship. Would we choose this cruise again? YES. We would do it tomorrow. We had a fantastic cruise. just give us a night in Saigon as well. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
Asia is about as local as it gets to Australia and we enjoy the region so this cruise provided a good option for us. Had travelled on a smaller ship in the past (Silver Whisper) and enjoyed the experience plus like the idea of all ... Read More
Asia is about as local as it gets to Australia and we enjoy the region so this cruise provided a good option for us. Had travelled on a smaller ship in the past (Silver Whisper) and enjoyed the experience plus like the idea of all inclusive. Ship boarding was painless and quick. Disembarkation for shore excursions was well organised and painless, as was final disembarkation. Journey had a recent refit so all areas were very nicely presented and we enjoyed the ship. Weather was not so kind to us, which puts a bit of a strain on facilities when going on deck is not an option, but no real hassle and meant we got to talk to more people than we probably would have - seemed a very nice group of people onboard. Shame the White Night and Opera under the Stars had to be cancelled due weather as I am sure they would have been great, but can't blame the ship for bad weather. Considering it is a small ship the entertainment was excellent. The small song and dance group were very good, better than some seen on larger ships. We were lucky enough to have Briona Daugherty onboard, a very versatile singer and her night at the opera was outstanding. Comedian/magician a bit average, but our experience is these acts tend to be a bit hit or miss. Eric the cruise director is also a talented entertainer in his own right and his shows are not to be missed - Azamara is lucky to have permanent staff like Eric. As you would expect, the gym is small and can get a bit crowded at times. The menus in the main restaurant (Discoveries) were spectacular but the food did not always live up to the promise, although generally good. Buffet was good. Prime C and Aqualina were outstanding and would rate as 5+, well worth the supplement. Chef's Table also provided a very nice experience. Overall rating is a balance of the main and supplemental options. Wine and alcohol are included but with upgrade options available. These can be purchased any time during the cruise. Included are 2 white, 2 red, a bubbly and Rose on offer each day and changed on a daily basis. Wines are from all around the world. We were going to upgrade to a wine package but enjoyed the daily wines well enough and didn't bother. Stewards were always happy to let you try the wine before selecting. The crew were great with the majority coming over as genuinely friendly and helpful. Shore excursions were by far the most expensive we have seen (and the basis of our rating) but well run and we enjoyed them - the bicycle tour in Ho Chi Minh is not for the feint hearted! Shuttles were provided at all ports and were convenient. A big advantage is the ability of the ship to dock 'downtown' in places like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh. Enjoyed the Hanoi tour but be warned the advertised 3.5 hour transit from Halong Bay is more like 4.5, which reduces time in Hanoi, and the drive back was a bit painful. Hanoi itself was great. I think they would be better having an overnight at Danang, which provides access to Hue and Hoi An, and just a day stop in Halong Bay (where the cave is not to be missed), others might disagree. Azamara seem to sit somewhere between the regular cruise lines and those such as Silver Seas. They are are more expensive than the regular cruise lines but you do have inclusive wine and spirits, no additional charges or tips, the staff were great, the ship seems to attract a nice group of people, and in most ports is conveniently located close to the action. If an attractive itinerary comes up we would travel with them again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
It was my first cruise with Azamara, the first of two cruises booked with them. I didn't enjoy any single part of this cruise and feel "ripped off" as I did the last time we travelled with RCI. There were some points that ... Read More
It was my first cruise with Azamara, the first of two cruises booked with them. I didn't enjoy any single part of this cruise and feel "ripped off" as I did the last time we travelled with RCI. There were some points that were good, these being a nice cabin, nice ship, good service, good organisation at ports. Now for the bad points: The day time activities were beyond poor; a few trivia quizzes on sea days and two uninteresting lecturers, one talking about the past history of the ports being visited and one discussing whether China was defensive or aggressive. Certainly not topics that most women onboard would want to attend and not interesting to me. The entertainment by the visiting entertainers was reasonably good but the shows put on by Eric, the ships entertainment director and the ships singers and dancers was poor. I was fed up of seeing and listening to the narcissic Eric at every end and turn and the singers overall were far too loud and the words of unknown songs could not be distinguished. Overall, other than the visiting entertainers, the routines were amateurish. The guitar player was too monotonous and the ships pianist whilst good on the one night he played in the theatre but for the rest of the time was mundane. Few people attended the Living Room after 9:30 pm so dancing was none existent. It seemed to me that most people went to bed early. The ship in the evening was dead. However, what really upset me most was the poor quality of the food. My wife, daughter and daughter in law are all excellent cooks and we all enjoy quality food. My grandson is a trained chef and his chef uncle on the other side of the family has cooked not just for me but for Margaret Thatcher, The Queen, the late King Hussain of Jordan and Sir James Goldsmith. I know what represents good food and this didn't come anywhere near the mark. I don't believe the chefs are chefs, they are poor cooks. Breakfast was OK in the Windows restaurant although there was no Finnan Haddock and no Kippers. Lunchtime on sea days in Discoveries restaurant was uninspiring so most meals were taken in Windows Cafe. This was also disappointing as no meals were enjoyable. it was just food. Individual bowls of tomatoe, cucumber, onion, peppers and chicken served one day were in my opinion used the following day by turning them into a special salad using all of the same components. On several nights there was a theme, Indian, Morrocan and British. I decided to try the British night, my home country. Fish and chips were on the menu but I have to say that there isn't one British fish and chip shop who would offer the meagre portion of fish served by the server. There is more fish in a half a fish finger and the server then asked "Do you want one or two pieces". It was clear to me that the ships budget is limited in cost. Pasta and chicken dishes in Windows cafe and Discoveries restaurant predominate the menus. On the day of the barbecue it was held indoors. I asked why and they said it was the likelihood of rain but it was a sunny day and as we were only a few days into a long cruise it could have been postponed to another day but wasn't. There was not one single barbecue item, not a single sausage. Inferior chicken was offered wrapped in breadcrumbs to disguise the bone and gristle. A poor representation of a real barbecue. On another occasion in the cafe lamb hock was offered but since when has a lamb hock had a knee joint? After a few days of poor food I confronted the two Head waiters but it didn't make any difference. The menu in Discoveries restaurant is basically 75% the same every evening. So called specials make up the rest. Yet on one evening there was two chicken dishes and two broiled New York Steaks so limiting the choice further. One night I had the seafood soup. On the following night I had a different seafood soup but it was the same one as the day before: one prawn, one mussel and some clams. On the last night I had a lamb hock. I don't however believe it was lamb as the bones were far too big for a lamb and more likely to have been mutton. This was not five star food, I have been served better food in a works canteen. There was no sirloin steaks, no rump steaks, no steak Diane, no Tounedos Rossini, no cod loin, no chateaubriand. I have had those on other ships along with first class enrichment lectures and entertainment at less than half the price paid to Azamara. Since when has skirt from the bottom of a cow been served as a steak? The coffee in the Mosaic cafe was poor and several other people commented about this. Finally why do professional cocktail makers use measuring cups when dispensing the components of a cocktail when on Azamara the components are dispensed without regard to using the correct measures? Every drink served varies from the last one. All in all a thoroughly unenjoyable cruise. Whilst on the ship I contacted my travel agent and cancelled the second paid in full future cruise on Azamara. I will never travel with Azamara or RCI ever again. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We went on this cruise as we had missed calling in Vietnam on an earlier cruise this year, when we were on the Quest. We loved the refurbishment on the Journey and yes the bathrooms are still small etc but you don't spend a lot of ... Read More
We went on this cruise as we had missed calling in Vietnam on an earlier cruise this year, when we were on the Quest. We loved the refurbishment on the Journey and yes the bathrooms are still small etc but you don't spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Embarkation in Hong Kong was very smooth and quick, after a welcome champagne our stateroom was ready and the luggage arrived promptly. Sailing out of Hong Kong harbour at night was a spectacular sight the nightly laser light show was happening as we sailed. We had all our meals in Discoveries restaurant and thought the food was excellent, portion sizes were great and lots of variety each night, drink service was excellent with a choice of 2 red and 2 white wines each day. A couple of highlights for us was the 'White Night' and the Aazmazing Evening in Bangkok, for the Aazmazing evening were bussed from the ship to a beautiful setting in the ancient city. One thing we really like is Azamara's attention to hygiene, each entry to any dining area is staffed at the hand hygiene station and you have to sanitise. Another nice touch is that when you return to the ship, every staff member you meet will give you a warm "welcome home" and it does feel like coming home. All in all a great cruise. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
This was my third curise with Azamara, all on this same ship. I enjoyed both of the cruises I had taken previously (as I have just about all of the nearly 30 cruises I’ve been on over the years) which is why I booked this cruise two ... Read More
This was my third curise with Azamara, all on this same ship. I enjoyed both of the cruises I had taken previously (as I have just about all of the nearly 30 cruises I’ve been on over the years) which is why I booked this cruise two years ago and a major reason for why I looked forward to it ever since booking. I must say that Azamara did not disappoint me and that I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who is looking for an ocean cruise. The realitively small size of the ship allows it to go to ports that larger ships can’t and allows them to stay in those ports for longer periods; for example, the Journey was able to sail all the way into Bangkok, which Princess and other lines with larger ships cannot, and this allowed us to have two half-days and one full day to explore the city and surrounding areas, as compared to having to bus for hours each way and then pay for a hotel if an overnight or two was available. But that is not what makes an Azamara cruise special. It starts with the quality of the staff. From the wait staff to the stateroom attendants, the bar tenders to the casino staff, and all of the entertainment staff, the attention to detail, the respect, the friendliness, and the dedication to the cruisers’ comfort and enjoyment is always evident. These people are intelligent and demonstrate a sense of humor many cruise staffs do not. We only had a couple of bad experiences with the ship’s staff. The first involved the conceierge who was abrupt and rude when we tried to ask about transportation from the ship to our hotels when we hit Singapore; she cut us off before we finished the question and just said “Taxi”…no further information (cost, availability, do they take credit cards or American money, etc.). A dirth of information. The next bad experience is when my wife filled out an early survey and included a complaint about the movies on TV; the free movies were not being shown when scheduled and the “on-demand” movies were only available for a charge (unlike Princes and other cruise lines where on-demand movies are free in the staterooms). They called and, in a condescending voice, said that if we couldn’t work the movies we should ask a steward who could show us how. Really? How about getting someone who can actually read to review the surveys? The final bad experiences both involved Geeta of the Guest Relations department. The first of those experiences came when we had an issue with a charge for a service that was supposed to be complimentary. We brought the proof down to her and she said that we didn’t need it and it would be taken care of. Three days later the charge was still there so we brought the proof down and spoke with another Guest Relations person…the charge was reversed within a few hours. The other Geeta experience involved getting our passports prior to going on a private tour in Bangkok. We went down to get them at the time they were supposed to be ready, but she didn’t have them and told us to come back in 3 hours…didn’t take our names down, didn’t ask for our room numbers, didn’t offer to call us when they would be available. We came back some 6 hours later and she still didn’t have them, but she did have passports for people who had given her peers their room numbers and names. Evidently the port people were taking a long time to process the passports, but those who had a need to retrieve them could be expedited if they knew of the need. Needless to say we had to insist she take down our name and room number and, lo and behold, they were available bright and early the next morning. We had somehow lucked into an inexpensive room upgrade to one of their Continental Suites. The room is larger than the typical stateroom and the bathroom is comparatively luxurious. The suites come with an “English Butler” who brought sweets for tea, canapes for before meal munching, and a relative feast when we wanted a party for some friends. He helped with other items as well. The suite also provided for 235 minutes of free internet for each of us, as well as complimentary use of the specialty restaurants as much as we’d like to use them. I’m not sure the extras are necessarily worth the typical upcharge from a balcony stateroom, but it was worth much more than we paid for it. The food was phenomenal, although there were small areas which could see improvement. Neither I nor my wife eat pork and there was a great deal of it incorporated into the menus. There were always other choices, although not always very many. The ship offered daily wines (2 white, 2 red, and a rose) which cruisers could have anytime for free (and I use the term “free” loosely…its built into the overall price), as well as a number of higher quality wines for additional charges. I have a very narrow taste in wines and found only a few of them compatible with my palette; my wife has a more a broader, yet more discerning taste and typically found the daily choices quite acceptable if not outstanding. There always seemed to be vegetarian, gluten free, and lactose free options at each meal. We generally took dinner in the Discovery Restaurant (the main dining room). The food was exceptional and the staff friendly and efficient, if not always as quick as we’d like. More than once we had problems deciding what to eat there, but this wasn’t a good thing. As often as not I went with the Ceasar salad as none of the appetizer options seemed appetizing and the other salads and soups didn’t thrill, either. It was rarely difficult to choose which entre to have as typically only one or two appealed to me; too many pork dishes, vegetarian options, unknown sauces and ingredients and poor descriptions limited the choices substantially for me. The Windows Cafe (the buffet meal option) generally provided an array of options. We typically took breakfast there and found that only a few items changed from day to day. There were several types of eggs and you could get omelets made to order (with a choice of whole eggs, egg whites, and egg beaters). The remaining egg options were mass produced and laid out in trays, which caused them to be either too runny or too dry (in the case of the scrambled eggs, too tasteless). Pancakes, french toast, and waffles were also pre made and they came at best warm and more often cold. The options also included several types of bacon and sausage, but only twice had sausage options that weren’t pork (the lamb sausage was excellent but they only offered it once). Still, there was always lox and bagels, fruit, cheeses, and bakery goods…all of which were wonderful. The lunch menu changed more from day to day, with different meats at the carving stations, a daily pizza (along with the standard ones), two different soup choices, varying other entrees and salads. The hours sometimes seemed too short for lunch, particularly when morning tours ran a bit late; on those occasions not all of the options would be available and you wouldn’t be able to get back for a second pass; this caused the planners to overload their plates and take deserts with the first pass, wasting food and creating further shortages of options for those who followed. Each night they had a different theme for the dinner buffet. We only went for the White Night program (it was excellent in terms of choices and quality), so I can’t say from personal experience what they were like, but I didn’t hear too many complaints. The specialty restaurants were both elegant and worth the extra cost (if we had to pay it). We went to Aqualina one night and Prime C twice. Aqualina specialized in Italian food. The food was good but the options could have been more varied. Prime C is the steak house and it was awesome. They had steak, lamb, veal, and seafood selections all of which were mouth watering. There were also several themed “Chef Tables” where six-course fixed menu meals were prepared for the dozen or so patrons who signed up (at $95 per head…NOT included in the suite benefits), each with a special pairing of wine. The head chef and the somelier came out and explained each meal and the wine paired with it. We went to the California table and all who attended agreed that it was among the culinary experience of the cruise…by geometric measures. The evenings’ entertainment was typically good. We had seen some of the performances before, but they still entertained; the newer ones were better only in that we hadn’t seen them before. Eric DeGray, the cruise director, is a real talent and performed a solo show and with the 6 person cruise troupe. The band was sharp as was the solo guitarist who played the different venues around the ship. The casino was proportionally small but that didn’t really matter as less than a dozen people (or so it seemed) used it through out the cruise. Wong crowd, I suspect. We went on four of the cruise’s tours, the Azamazing Adventure, and two private tours. The private ones were MUCH better than the cruise tours, both in terms of the guides and the number of participants (a smaller crowd allowed for more flexibility in content and schedule, as well as interaction with the guide). The Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) highlight tours were both cruise tours and both horrid. They were too large, slowed by the least mobile participant, and included a shopping experience at a vendor who split profits with the tour operators. The Hanoi tour was burdened by a 3-4 hour bus ride each way from port to city, with a stop at a shopping location (presumably for a rest break) on each leg. The first real stop on the tour was at a hotel for lunch of mass produced “local” foods, followed by an extended walk around the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and government houses…all of which were closed because it was a Monday. Next came a trip to a Bhudist temple that was overrun with other tourist groups. The last stop was at the Old Quarter where there was a brisk walk among the crowded shops and stalls, an adventure crossing the street to view a couple of sights, and then waiting for the bus to return to the ship. Other than the Old Quarter visit, which was the most interesting stop AND the shortest, the wasn’t much to see and too much time taken seeing it at the stops…with more interesting sights and photo ops pointed out from the moving bus along the way. The Saigon tour was only slightly better, but only because the drive from the port to the city was hours shorter. The water puppet show was entertaining, but the Buhdist temple wasn’t partcularly impressive or important, the visit to the government museum was mostly a waste, I didn’t even both with the history museum, the “photo op” of Notre Dame was less than spectacular, and the shopping opportunity at the laquer shop was a waste of time. The last of the Azamara tours we did was on Ko Samui and it was a bit better…we got to ride elephants in the pouring rain. The Azamara arranged cruises, like many of those arranged by the cruise ships, suffer from several problems that should be able to be overcome with a bit of effort and organization. The first is to reduce the size of the groups; its just not possible for one guide to properly service 30 or 40 people on a tour in any kind of efficient manner. Second, they should have special versions of the tours for those with physical disabilities. I think its great that there are people who don’t let their problems hold them back from living life to its fullest. At the same time, the need to move the group at a speed which they can manage lengthens each stop and prevents others from using their touring time to greatest advantage. Splitting the groups into this fashion would allow everyone to experience as much as possible. Third, they should not hire tour groups who add stops at overpriced “factories” just to try to relieve the tourists from their money. The goods are often inferior and always overpriced. Spending 45 minutes at such a place, and taking 15 minutes due to the need to get there and then back on the tour route robs the cruisers of an hour which could be used for experiencing the culture. Finally, find a way to incorporate more short photo-op stops at important sights rather then pointing them out on the fly. Those are the memories we cruise to make. We have never experienced any of those problems when we’ve been part of a private tour. Needless to say, we’ve decided to just go for private tours, organized with other guests, through Cruise Critic in the future. The Azamazing Adventure was more “Aza” than “amazing”. We had another overly long bus ride, this time to The Ancient City in Bangkok, a park that has been built to show various historical and significant symbols of Bangkok and Thailand. We got there as it was getting dark and boarded trams which sped to the place where the program was to be held. Between the darkness and the speed of the trams there wasn’t much of an opportuniy to take in the sights, much less get pictures of them. When we got to the area where the program was to be held we were rushed to the seats and then had to wait for the rest of the group to be rushed to the seats. The program itself was okay, if somewhat drawn out, but the activity that followed was poorly organized and not really explained all that well. Then we were herded back to the buses for another overly long bus ride back to the ship. This was my third Azamazing Adventure and, since the first two were both stupendous maybe I expected too much, but in the future I’ll ask more questions about what the program is before committing to it. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We arrived in HK 5 days earlier visiting friends and staying in a hotel in Kowloon not far from Harbour City Cruise Terminal. Our 13nt cruise then commenced with a quick embarkation in HK. As we had a late check-out included with our ... Read More
We arrived in HK 5 days earlier visiting friends and staying in a hotel in Kowloon not far from Harbour City Cruise Terminal. Our 13nt cruise then commenced with a quick embarkation in HK. As we had a late check-out included with our hotel room rate, we decided to leave for the port around 2pm, the first taxi driver shrugged his shoulders when I verbally asked him for transport to the port, even the concierge at the hotel tried communicating with the driver. The concierge then ran around the corner from the hotel and within a couple of minutes a replacement taxi was found, by this time I had found directions/address in Chinese that Azamara had supplied. The taxi took us straight to dockside and to the luggage drop point where porters were waiting. We then put our luggage through the scanners and exited this area into the shopping centre! There were port staff with signage and ten minutes later we were boarding the ship and check-in was in the cabaret lounge complete with sparkling wine. Staterooms: We were in V2 (7089). We haven’t sailed with Azamara since the refurbishment. I liked the colour scheme overall throughout the ship. However, on looking more closely at our room, the fascia on the wardrobe doors were peeling away, the seal in the bottom of the shower was discoloured (this was later replaced mid-cruise throughout these rooms) and the veranda appeared in poor condition around the metal work where the balcony divider was, drain area and pipes above. Our room had a solid metal divide between our cabin and 7091. This was great for noise insulation and privacy. I would not hesitate in booking this room again. Further down the corridor toward 7095 the stewards parked their trolley all day and appeared to work from this point. Also in this area, beyond the firedoor on the corridor (left open) there was a loud drone when we were under way. We could not hear it in our room at all. The bathroom is as small as ever but overall the room had good facilities. The interative tv worked well. Improvements? Place soft close shutters on the stateroom doors, why is it other guests allow their doors to slam shut, if they just held the door back from slamming it would make everyone happy! Bedding... well the bottom sheet on our bed (two beds made into a king) drove us crazy. There wasn’t even a mattress protector and the sheet always came untucked and slid over the pillow top section of the mattress. Our cabin was overall clean. My main concern was on disembarkation day when we went up to breakfast at around 6.20am and upon returning just before 7am the steward had changed the bed linen and made up the bed and then placed our wet washbags, and smaller suitcase back on the clean duvet cover. During our stay, I had suffered from swollen ankles and grazed my leg. I had placed my feet up on the bolster and there were speckles of blood which were visible. The steward had not even changed the cover on the bolster cushion just placed it back on the bed, I turned it over and basically left it out for him to change before we left. During the time we were having breakfast he had cleaned the bathroom and removed the towels and also packed up our last minute toiletries for us on the sink surface! He had left the two face cloths which we had not used so we used this to dry our hands etc. I appreciate how tight changeover day is for the staff, however it wasn’t even 7am. Food and Drink: Great choice throughout of food and drink. The complimentary list could do with Baileys and Tia-Maria adding (love liquor coffees!) We bought these a couple of times. Some of the beef was very good indeed as was the lamb and fish. The deserts were mainly very, very good although the pastry on the deserts wasn’t that delicate, very often tough to cut. Great gelato and choice of flavours. Breakfast and lunch in Windows had a great choice and staff were always quick with drinks. We really enjoyed the Jazz Brunch in Discoveries too. We tend to drink sparkling water and for the first few days of the cruise the complimentary one was great (pink and blue bottle) with plenty of small bubbles, however as this was depleted the one supplied (dark blue writing on) was flat and had a poor taste. The helpful staff did try to locate some of the older stock for us to no avail. We ate in Prime C too, the Chateaubriand was superb. Highly recommended. We also ate a couple of evenings on The Patio, the food and service was brilliant and the restaurant has a lovely relaxed atmosphere. Deserts lacked choice but Windows adjacent had plenty. We also ate in Windows one evening, it was Greek night but feel it lacked atmosphere, the lighting was very harsh and wasn’t really what I remember from a previous cruise. Discoveries restaurant is so well run. After perusing the menu on the stateroom TV before we went down to eat were still always undecided what we were having as we found the choices very broad and appealing. Edward is one of the best waiters there! The only thing to improve here would be the choice of breads in the basket and the dips, it never changed during the cruise. The bread in Prime C was a good change though, and we ate too much of it when we ate there! The included wines were fine, some were not to our palates but we are easy drinkers. The included rose however was poor – very sweet and at 5% alcohol a poor choice for Azamara to supply. This rose never changed throughout the cruise. Entertainment: The shows are more cabaret rather than big production shows. We are in our 40’s and most of it did not appeal to us. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to Briona Daugherty singing opera upon the pool deck whilst we were docked in Halong Bay. Our seat for the evening was one of the bird cage seats upon deck 11. We both crammed ourselves into the seat and had a superb view of the concert. Her voice was superb. She was joined by Eric for the finale who also has an amazing voice. This was a very special evening and would have been worthy of a further concert during the cruise. We enjoyed Mel Mellers the magician but Beverley Davison did not appeal to us, she is a great violinist but her rapport with the audience was quite cringe worthy, she appeared to be requesting applause all the time. Other shows were watchable and passed the evening away. The demographics of the guests on board led to a very quiet ship after 10.30pm with barely anyone in the Living Room for dancing after this time. It really lacked atmosphere on an evening. The White Night Party on deck was great, however we ate in Discoveries with Edward being our server and had a great meal and superb service before going upto dance and observe! We did not attend the Azamazing evening as we had booked a private tour that did not return until 8.30pm. Itinerary: We are happy to have now visited this area of Asia, however, Vietnam is somewhere where we would probably not wish to return to. Hong Kong and Sinapore were superb. We had four sea days and we would not choose another cruise with so many, preferring a more port intensive cruise. Staying in HK before the cruise we visited friends in Sai Kung, a stunning area of HK, very scenic with superb walks and lovely small town atmosphere. We did a couple of days in the city itself as wells as visiting Lantau Island. In Vietnam on the first full day, we went on a nine hour cruise around Bai Tu Long Bay and Halong Bay with a great group of 10 we organised privately with CC. We used Indochina Junk, making a booking and payment is very easy. This worked very well and the itinerary worked very well for us. The second half day we took a taxi (negotiate, we paid $10 return) from the tender point up to the market hall where he waited for us. The wet market really is a wet market! The stalls are on rugs on the floor and compared to other markets is quite poor and dirty. My legs were splashed up with goodness knows what, I disinfected by shoes when we returned to ship. We also walked around the residential area by Bay Chai wharf. The houses are very interesting to see and the people friendly. DeNang Port: We booked the Countryside by Bicycle Tour and Hoi An through Azamara. This was a very good tour. Just 14 participated on the tour, so the numbers worked very well. We saw lots when cycling around the traffic free areas overlooking rice fields, residential area etc. Even seeing a water buffalo with her young calf, a couple plucking and washing ducks in the river, children going to school by boat and people working their crops etc. It stayed fine throughout the cycle tour. Hoi An was badly flooded so we did not see that much of the city unfortunately. Our guide was very good though and was very enthusiastic! The downside to ships tours is time spent shopping, this tour we visited the silk factory, although we did see the process of silk manufacturing and we also visited the marble workshop we would have all preferred to spend more time cycling. The included lunch at a riverside restaurant was very good. The venue was very light and airy and quite grand with lots of space and a view of the river in the unfortunate heavy rain we endured later in the day. We really enjoyed the company of the others guests during lunch. Ho Chi Min City: Many months before sailing I booked a private tour with a company again found on the internet called ‘Water Buffalo Tours’ . The guide we had called ‘Tang’ was superb, one of the best we had, he was witty, chatty and very caring. Look them up they are great! We never saw any other tourist for the day we spent with him and his driver. We visited a superb market, buying fruit to have with our lunch. He acted as a translator as the market stallholders were asking questions about us to him and vice versa! The driver had parked the van in a side street and the only way we could drive out was though the set up of a wedding, which had not quite started. It was quite comical! We then went cycling and enjoyed a lunch at a home of a local family. We really saw the real Vietnam. Later we went on a short boat trip of the Mekong Delta area. We even changed boat mid stream! A superb day one that we will never forget. In Bangkok we booked a lady called Pary Happy Tours, who is an independent guide I found on Trip Advisor. Her reviews are superb and I would use her again. The first half-day she met us at the terminal and we travelled in a luxurious van to Ayutthaya. The roads in BKK on a Sunday are relatively quiet and we made good time. We enjoyed a visit to a Buddhist Temple on the way, then visited a couple of archaeological sites, enjoyed a boat trip on the river and watched the sunset over Wat Chaiwattanarm before being taken to a lovely restaurant for the included dinner. She also bought us treats along the way. The driver was very caring with plenty of iced bottled water, cold wipes etc. The second full day in BKK, we used Pary again for tour of the city using public transport, she met us at the port with a taxi and took us around the temples and China Town before having a great lunch at the Thai Royal Navy Club close to the Grand Palace. There was a good mix of Thais and tourists eating here and we waited briefly for our order whilst the staff provided the food for the Buddist Monks who were eating in a section of the restaurant. Following lunch we took a Klong boat tour, seeing a couple of Monitor Lizards too! We also used a water bus, this is not for the faint hearted as the canal we were on was filthy, but Pary the caring person she is made sure we were sat right at the front to avoid getting splashed, she also dragged the canvas sides up around us too! The last half-day in BKK we used the Shuttle bus which took us to the Central World Plaza, they ran every 30mins. We walked and went shopping around the area, and took a tuk tuk (negotiate hard for a good price). Ko Samui: I had originally booked the Island Discovery Tour with Azamara, but we both felt that we had seen more than enough Buddha’s in BKK so 6.30pm the night before we hastily changed it to the 4x4 Eco Safari and elephant ride. I quizzed the LD rep on the desk before booking about the care of the elephants etc and was reassured about it. However, there appeared nothing Eco about the trip only the rainwater harvesting for flushing the toilets at the venue. It was a poor tour and very expensive. The 4X4 vehicles were never even taken off road and were poorly driven. The driver was on his mobile phone quite alot, he used one hand for steering the other permanently being on the gearstick. We also ran over a dog on the way back to port without stopping. The guide appeared quite monotone in her speaking and did not appear happy in her job. The ride to the elephant centre was about 30 mins up the main road from Nathon Pier. The centre is called the Namuang Safari Park (I wish I had had time to research it properly instead of hastily booking it –the reviews are terrible) the centre basically wants to extract as much money from you as possible, with a framed print of you on the elephant for around $10 (we did not to this) or a girl with a fishing net who you hand your camera to with some Baht for her to snap some photos of you on your elephant. They also heavily push for banana sales and then our elephant ‘driver’ upon returning to the debark point said’ Ok you give me good tip, 500 baht!! “ I quickly handed him 200 baht and scarpered, not even a thank you from him. The included lunch at the centre was poorly served, it was buffet and as it was raining there was insufficient seating for everyone, we were all sat amongst other groups, many were smoking too. On the journey back to Nathon Pier for the tender we called at the Coconut Farm and Rubber Farm, which was basically for the benefit of visiting tourists and both did not appear to be fully operational. Singapore: We stayed in Singapore for just one night. Departing on a late flight home on the 24th December which would arrive to the UK in the early hours of Christmas Day. Singapore is a stunning city, very clean and safe. The humidity was very uncomfortable, but we saw so much in the two full days that we were there. Taxis are cheap and efficient. Overall, we would choose to cruise with Azamara again. Mainly due to the fact of what is included for the fare paid, no signing for drinks etc. , With their ships being small the ease at which you can get on and off both when docked and on tender is superb with no queuing. The staff really are superb, how they do their job day in day out is unbelievable. All of them bid you good day when you see them around the ship and provide superb service which is genuine and caring. Loved relaxing in the Living Room. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We chose this cruise for the itinerary - we wanted to see Vietnam and Thailand. The cruise starting in Hong Kong and ending in Singapore was a bonus. If you are looking for a cruise with lots to do onboard or for families with small ... Read More
We chose this cruise for the itinerary - we wanted to see Vietnam and Thailand. The cruise starting in Hong Kong and ending in Singapore was a bonus. If you are looking for a cruise with lots to do onboard or for families with small children - this may not be the ship for you. It's a quiet and classy ship with outstanding service, but not a lot of the activities the mega-ships have. As I said - we chose the cruise for cities it was going to And the ability to get closer to the main cities than larger ships was a big difference. As as example - larger ships are a few hours from Bangkok, where the Journey was maybe a half hour from the city (more with traffic) The entertainment (and cruise director) were first rate - I did not expect a ship with just over 600 passengers to have the quality of shows that they provided. The main dining room was better than any other main dining room we've been on (though Aqua Class on Celebrity may be a bit better), and many passengers chose to go to the dinner buffets - where a different country's food was offered each evening. The specialty restaurants were fine, with good service, but I'm not sure they are better than the main dining room. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
We originally only planned one cruise this year, and chose Azamara for an August cruise from Venice, through Croatia and the Amalfi coast to Rome, because of it's wonderful itinerary. We had never heard of Azamara before that, and ... Read More
We originally only planned one cruise this year, and chose Azamara for an August cruise from Venice, through Croatia and the Amalfi coast to Rome, because of it's wonderful itinerary. We had never heard of Azamara before that, and loved the cruise and everything about it -- ship, room, food, service, ports, etc. One month later, my husband got an email from Azamara highlighting this Asian cruise and said "We have to go. It's the cruise of a lifetime!" I originally thought he was crazy since we already did our "big" vacation in August, but eventually, he talked me into it, and boy am I glad he did! Our August cruise was 7 ports in 7 days, and while wonderful, was tiring not to have time to rest before the next port. This cruise was 13 days, but it had 4 days at sea in between, and more overnight stops, so the pace was easier. We started in Hong Kong (loved it. It also reminded us a lot of NYC, where we live, but it had the best fried rice and bar-b-que pork we ever had.) Day 2 was at sea, which was great. Then we had 2 nights at Halong Bay -- the most beautiful bay area we've ever seen. On day 1 we did the ship's tour to Hanoi (it was a 12 hour tour, with 3+1/2 hours each way and 5 hours in Hanoi itself). We're glad we did it, but wouldn't go through it again -- too much travelling back and forth. On day 2, we did a ship's tour of Halong Bay. Magnificent! I skipped the cave, because it was 200 steps (too much for me), but my husband went and took great pictures. If you're physiclaly able, you should visit the cave. Day 5 - We got a private tour guide to visit Da Nang and Hoi An. Her name was Xuan Tu, and she was amazing. Her contact info is xuantu2111dn@gmail.com and I would highly recommend her. She was adorable and had a very bubbly personality, and was an excellent guide. She took us to a special tea room in Hoi An, run by people who could not speak, and it was an amazing experience. She found other unusual places to take us, like a Vietnamese sandwich place that Anthony Bourdain raved about. It was fantastic! Day 6 was at sea. Day 7 was Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by the locals), and again we hired a private guide. Her name was Diem Kieu (charming_tourism@yahoo.com), and we got her through Bao Loc (privatevietnamtourguide@yahoo.com.vn). We opted to do the Meking Delta boat tour, rather than the Saigon city tour, but Diem Kieu managed to show us both places. She was excellent. Very warm, and friendly and kind, with a true love of her city and her people. Day 8 was at sea again -- a welcome day of relaxation! Days 9, 10, 11 we docked at Bangkok: Day 9 - we did the Azamara free "Azamazing Evening" - a free ship's tour, where we went to the ancient city at night, which was spectactularly lit up, saw a private show of Thai dancers and boxers, and then had a candle-lit ceremony where we lit candles and set them off on the water to "float away" our negative thoughts/experiences. The evening was truly amazing. Day 10 - we did a private tour of Bangkok with "Chob@thaitourguide.com" and chose Ms. Joy from their huge array of tour guides, based on past reviews. We chose well. Ms. Joy was a joy to work with, going above and beyond, when we asked if she could find us something for bug bites, and helping my husband print and scan and email something he needed to do for a client. And she bought us a souvenir "longtail boat", to remember our boat trip with her. Ms. Joy's contact info is enjoy_tick.tock@hotmail.com With Joy's help, we visited the Grand Palace and grounds -- with each building/setting more beautiful than the next, and the flower garden. Day 11 - we did another tour with Ms. Joy and saw the Railroad market, which I would highly recommend. This market existed for a long time. Then the railroad came and insisted that the train needed to go where the market was, and the market people refused to move. So the railroad built the tracks in the middle of the market. So 4x/day when the train comes through, the people get a warning signal, and must move the produce, etc. off the tracks, wait for the train to leave, and put it back. It was amazing to see. In the afternoon, we saw the floating market, which was really neat. Day 12 - was 1/2 day at Ko Samui, Thailand. We just walked around the port a bit and had a relaxing time. Day 13 was at sea -- a welcome, relaxing day (except for having to pack to leave the boat the next day. Day 14 we arrived at Singapore, and left the ship with 1/2 day ship's tour of Singapore, which I would highly recommend. In Singapore, we would recommend the Orchid Gardens in the Botanical Gardens, and the Zoo. We did the "Night Safari" at the zoo, which shows the nocturnal animals all lit up, and included the Asian buffet, which was excellent. So we chose this cruise, again because of the itinerary, but also because we already knew we loved the ship and the crew and everything else about Azamara. They are a first class company! Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
I don't like to write a bad review as I am lucky enough in this world to be able to cruise and find new and exciting places. I had heard a lot of good things about Azamara, were my expectations too high? No. Am I the brands ... Read More
I don't like to write a bad review as I am lucky enough in this world to be able to cruise and find new and exciting places. I had heard a lot of good things about Azamara, were my expectations too high? No. Am I the brands clientèle? Yes. What would have made this cruise better? Lots. Why did this cruise not work for me? It did rain for the first 5 days but that is not the fault of the cruise. I feel it lacked on all accounts. Food was my biggest problem if you can't make eggs properly then its a problem. Coffee was another problem it was not made with fresh milk, if you want fresh milk you must order 2 months in advance. The food in the dinning room only 2 nights out of 10 we said that was a nice dinner. The hash browns like cardboard. To be honest there was too much to criticise so lets say way below expectations. The crew were friendly but no one stood out. The announcements by cruise director though friendly too long and too much. Entertainment ok seemed dated from the guitarist to piano guy no show stoppers. I guess I was just expecting more bang for my dollar. I can't say i will cruise with Azamara again as I can't see the value. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
We just returned from a cruise on the Quest to Viet Nam and were very disappointed. This was our 4th cruise with Azamara and we booked a suite. The room and the staff were excellent and the ship was clean and well maintained. That is where ... Read More
We just returned from a cruise on the Quest to Viet Nam and were very disappointed. This was our 4th cruise with Azamara and we booked a suite. The room and the staff were excellent and the ship was clean and well maintained. That is where the good ends and the disappointing begins. The food was way below what we experienced on previous Azamara cruises. The quality and variety were below par to say the least. There were obvious cutbacks in the selections offered and the quality of what was offered was substandard. The choices in the Main Dining room were greatly reduced and we were forced to eat in the Specialty Dining room all but 2 nights. In the Specialty Dining room the food was still not what we experienced on past cruises with Lobster that was DRY and Tough! Steak that was of lower quality than in the past and reduced selections on the menu. It was a good thing that we had a suite so we were able to eat in the Specialty Dining room as often as we would like as the Main Dining room rarely had anything I would eat. The menu was reduced to a choice of 3 main courses, one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. If you expect to keep your customers coming back, something must be done to reverse these cutbacks. As for us our next cruise is booked on Oceania where the food is far better than what we just experienced. Read Less
Sail Date November 2015
My husband and have traveled on the Azamara cruise ships twice before in 2013 and 2014. We love the itineraries and the size of the ship 600 passengers is usually the max. There are many advantages to the small size as the ship can go up ... Read More
My husband and have traveled on the Azamara cruise ships twice before in 2013 and 2014. We love the itineraries and the size of the ship 600 passengers is usually the max. There are many advantages to the small size as the ship can go up rivers and dock at many ports that the mega liners are unable to do. What surprised me was the downgrade in the food quality. The food, which previously was excellent in the Discoveries Restaurant was very bad. The choices very poor and the food was tasteless. Many fellow cruisers also voiced the opinion that the only really good food to be had was at the specialty restaurant Prime C. We did ear there twice and enjoyed it. They used to serve these delicious small cupcakes in the Mosaic Cafe and they were not to be found-the pastries I ate there were stale. The crew were not as friendly as I remember in the past. I heard that for many crew members it was their last trip before a much needed vacation so maybe they were tired. It was also very difficult to change money at the deck four desk and only small bills were available. Wrong information was given by staff members also. I do like the options of dining at whatever time I wish but I do not like being served inferior food. It was very evident that the line was saving money. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
This is our 4th cruise with Azamara from Rio to Buenos Aires, a Transatlantic from Malaga to Rio, California coast, and this one mostly Vietnam and Thailand. All were outstanding. Our second trip, my wife was greeted by name as we first ... Read More
This is our 4th cruise with Azamara from Rio to Buenos Aires, a Transatlantic from Malaga to Rio, California coast, and this one mostly Vietnam and Thailand. All were outstanding. Our second trip, my wife was greeted by name as we first approached the gangway--A year after our first trip. That speaks wonders of the staff. "Welcome home Miss Dorothy" That cemented our love for small ships and Azamara. The ports were wonderful, especially Halong Bay, Saigon, and Bangkok. We did not take many shore excursions because of reasons listed below. Azamazing evening was far better than any expectations. The food was fine--actually the premium restuarants were not much better. And the full beverage and no tipping policies were far better than other lines that nickel and dollar you to death. Irksome notes: I have noticed not so subtle hidden price hikes in the last few years. Last year, we got a ship board credit and 70 minutes each of internet time. This year, no credit (even though we booked on board on our last voyage--California coast) and the internet time was reduced to 30 minutes each--hardly time to log on at the speed of the ships connection! Also, the internet package advertised in our room was not honored because the policy had changed even though the advertising hadn't! Our first two cruises included a cabin upgrade and $1000 air credit on Choice Air. Our recent cruises included one OR the other. The 50% discount on shore packages booked on line before the sailing that previously existed has been dropped to full price bookings. This meant on this trip, I booked mostly private tours on Tours by Locals, Viatour, etc. They proved to be far cheaper than the Azamara tours with better, more personalized service. And last, do NOT serve pretend lobster and call it LOBSTER! Call it "warm water lobster", "langoustine", "carribean lobster", etc. but it is NOT Homarus Americanus--only a poor imitation of "Maine lobster". I know the product is available as frozen lobster tails from Canada or U.S. I have had it on Norwegian lines, Holland America, etc. I talked to the chef about it and he is well aware of the difference. He says it is a corporate decision. O.K. corporate--decide! Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
The GOOD Service - at every level of interface with the crew responsible for making the guests comfortable and welcome did an outstanding job. From the welcoming crew, to the housekeeping staff, to the bartenders, to the food service ... Read More
The GOOD Service - at every level of interface with the crew responsible for making the guests comfortable and welcome did an outstanding job. From the welcoming crew, to the housekeeping staff, to the bartenders, to the food service staff and the captain's staff, everyone was engaging and helpful. Lots of smiles and upbeat conversations for the entire time we were on-board. Required Safety Muster - Kudos to Azamara for having a sane approach to the required safety training. While too many cruise lines force you to don the life jackets and squeeze on to decks like kindergarten children lining up for class and made to stand unbearable amounts of time to wait for every nit-wit to be checked off and doubled checked by roll call, Azamara conducts the training seated in the main dining room where you can actually hear the instructions over proper PA systems without people snorting down your neck and pushing. Disembarkation at various ports - the tender and docked processes were well orchestrated and performed in a very timely way. There was never a wait and never the stuffing of people into stairwells awaiting the door to open as has been the case on many other cruises we have taken. First time we have not felt like cattle or sheep being prodded to get on and off the ship. Self Service Laundry Room - three full size washers and dryers with standard operating times along with two ironing boards are available between set hours made this ship better equipped than any other ship (except Crystal). Too often, other cruise lines have underpowered or undersized washers and dryers and the cycle times for wash or dry exceed 1 hour each. These units cranked out clothes in less than 30 minutes and allowed for lots of guests to get their laundry done. There were the usual loud buffoons on board who huffed and puffed because they could not leisurely stroll in one afternoon and have an empty washer and dryer dedicated to their immediate need to process a load that consisted of two items for their formal attire for the same evening. The Buffet - Normally used for breakfast and dinner, took place in the Windows Café with comfortable inside and outside seating. The variety of choices were large and changed daily. There was a lightning fast cook at the made-to-order egg station who got the orders perfectly. The dinner buffet was a different country or culinary theme every night and provided a great relief from the buffet boredom that so often happens on cruises. Aqualina specialty restaurant - gourmet Italian food served with perfect attention to detail by an attentive staff. Wine parings across multiple courses were well done. Do not miss this. Lunch Buffet, Dim Sum - a special event was held on one sea day and it was a great dim sum buffet with many Asian cuisine choices beside the delicious dim sum. It was a do not miss event. Public areas are well distributed around the decks with plenty of nooks and crannies available for alone time with a book or for quiet conversation with others. The room was impeccably maintained day and night by the housekeeping staff who faithfully provided the soft drinks and water in the quantities we requested, daily. The Bartenders were knowledgeable and skilled at all the bars. The Pool grill was the best place to eat on sea days with the officer crew frequently wearing the aprons and serving a special theme buffet. Bravo to the captain and the crew. The gym was well equipped and the steam room was a great place to work off the aches from all the walking during the many days of excursions. Entertainment - poolside live music and small public area music were all that we encountered and enjoyed. We stayed away from the nightly entertainment except for the Azamazing Night. It was a spectacular event where a city park in Saigon was converted into a stage and seating area for the whole ship to be provided food and musical/dance entertainment performed by talented Vietnamese. Again Bravo to Azamara. The BADs Embarkation - many of the guests were told by their TA's that the starting time for boarding would not happen before 3 pm. It turned out that boarding started at 11:30 am and a buffet lunch was available. RCCL central operations information people need to get the story straight for the Azamara operations. Misleading guests as to the boarding time by over 3 hours is unacceptable and caused many people inconveniences such as extra cost for storing their luggage rather than turning it over to the ship. The fact that the ship would process all 600+ guest's Vietnam Visas was never made public or part of any advisory prior to departure. The on-board fee of $50 pp was never published as a cost of this cruise. Once again RCCL central operations needs to get the right information published in a timely manner. This type of surprise is unacceptable. Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle meeting - the crew chose a location on the ship to host the party for the 50 people registered. The location was being used by other crew members at the same time and they were chasing people away from the meeting. By the time the captain and his staff arrived to get the situation straight, only 12 people attended the meeting. The only place announcing the event was the daily handout sheet (Pursuits) and most people were scrambling to get their luggage and unpacked rather than reading about a meeting that took place 2 hours after the "3 pm" check in. The staff on-board was advised that the Meet & Mingle would have been more successful if it was done the next day which was a sea day. Poor planning and even poorer execution diluted the Meet & Mingle event. The Main Dining Room - We had breakfast for the first morning at sea. We watched in shock as our orders were delivered to two other couples, both of whom arrived 10-15 minutes after we were seated. Overall, our meals finally came after 30 minutes. Didn't think two omelets should take that long. Total service failure. That same evening we chose to have dinner at the Main Dining Room and prime rib was on the menu. When ordered rare, medium to well was delivered to the table. The meat was COLD and tough to cut. The cut contained gristle and was flavorless. 3/4 of the meal was left uneaten as we left. Total service failure. After two straight failures we gave up on the main dining room for the next 14 days. Prime C - We ate there two times and of the four dishes served three of them involved cuts of beef. The Filet Mignon was incorrectly cooked and was very tough to cut. The Rib Eye was more like the sole of a shoe with gristle running throughout the cut rather than fat. The NY strip steak was incorrectly cooked but it didn't matter as it was tough and flavorless. Someone needs to investigate the purchasing and preparation of beef on-board this ship. It is just plain atrocious, especially when compared to the term of Prime C - the label they choose. Respiratory Illness on-board - over 60% of the guests were experiencing some kind of cold and cough condition after the third day on board. Many guests were discussing their visits to the ship's doctor. More than halfway through the cruise, there were cases of guests leaving the ship for hospitals and some did not resume their cruise. At our final port, we did notice cleaning equipment being used in each cabin to disinfect the surfaces. Our medical bills were over $500 for examination and treatment of sinusitis, post cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
chose choice air w/ azamara so I was delivered smoothly to the ship. the rep was not there to meet me so I had to find info desk and ended up w/ the hk police who tracked down the rep. lots of apologies and I am put in a cab and whisked to ... Read More
chose choice air w/ azamara so I was delivered smoothly to the ship. the rep was not there to meet me so I had to find info desk and ended up w/ the hk police who tracked down the rep. lots of apologies and I am put in a cab and whisked to the ship. boarding ship a breeze. since I cruise annually I have my routine -- ck to see if I can get into cabin. if not, check out the spa and from the moment I entered the spa my cruise went downhill. Holland America(hal) princess, rci,,ncl, oceania all offer an indoor 'sanctuary' in the spa usually for $100-120 per week. I was appalled to see what azamara offered -- an out door Jacuzzi w/ deck chairs. why in anyone's logic would I rent an outdoor Jacuzzi when I can go to the top deck and get one free. all the other lines mentioned offer soothing heated tile beds (except ncl, but they have a thermal pool, Jacuzzi and a lap pool and their lounge chairs overlook the ocean. I became committed to hal when I entered their room tiled in blue and white w/ flowers around the Jacuzzi and the phenomenal turquoise tiled beds headed to perfection. the huge floor length windows let the sun reflect off the ocean creating patterns on the ceiling. there r steam rooms, too. aza says they r a luzury ship - there spa is not only hohum it ls tacky. if u don't care about the spa this won't apply to u, but I go every evening to relax before bed. Disappointed. next the lunch buffet. adequate. nothing spectacular. Luzury ship? not in the spa or the buffet. finally settle into my cabin. I was thrilled to hear - no cutesy towel animals - 2 stewards. hal and oceania give me one steward and that's enuf. these two ran in and out pestering me w/ questions- did I want this, did I want that ,,,,, I finally told then I wanted them to get out from under my feet so I could unpack. 2 stewards created chaos and clutter. another marketing ploy that fell flat. it's only my first day and if I had to sum up my entire trip in one word it would be DISAPPOINTMENT. if u travel solo, like me, aza offers a mingle w/other singles dinner the second night w/ a crew member. very nice. after that u can meet a 6 ea nite and meet singles and join them for dinner at 7. unfortunately, ordering dinner at 7 -- soup/salad arrived at 7;15 and dinner at 7:50. don't plan to see the early theatre performance that starts at 8:15 unless u r a speed-eater and that defeats the purpose of meeting new folk over sustenance. the late show is at 10 or 10:30 -- too late for me .if I wanted to see a show and I only got to two in 2 weeks I had to order room service. good news. u can order from the dining room menu and have it delivered to your cabin, this is also a perk if u have been on a 10 hr. shore excursion and all u want to do is settle into your cabin for the evening. shore excursions marketed as land discoveries r a joke. I piled onto a bus w/ 50 others and drove to the site. disembarked w/many other buses and joined the hoards of tourists from our ship and others all following their tour guide dutifully thru the temple or palace or whatever. trust me renaming a tour does not change it from the hundreds of other tours I've been on w/ other ships. they r all the same. crowded and touristy. nothing special here except they r over priced. an identical tour on hal would cost half as much. I screwed up my courage and asked other tourists from other ships if they had paid what I paid. rip off!!!! not only that if u get a lemon for a guide and demand a refund. I did this twice. I was only given 25% of the overpriced shore excursion refunded. that is aza policy. Disappointed. Food - in the dining room excellent. good service, but slow. and yes, as advertised the maître de will have remembered your name after only one visit, if u care about that sort of thing. more marketing. in the buffet the food is equal to princess, rci and ncl, not hal or orceania. I was in japan and they served frozen tuna. and the seaweed salad came in bulk containers. no fresh food like oceania. food joined the ship when I did. Disappointed. I live in Vancouver and I know where I will get fresh fish and where I will get frozen sushi. Luzury ship? I don't think so. oceania serves fresh food purchased daily like a river cruise. azamazing evenings -- oh so touristy. I felt like I was on a trafalger tour which doesn't pretend to be luxury level. the hi light of the trip for me was pulling into Tokyo at 7 am and being serenaded by taiko drummers sitting on my balcony sipping my morning coffee. again, coming from Vancouver I am well aquainted w/ taiko drumming and thoroughly enjoy it. sooooo when azamazing promised taiko drumming I was thrilled. twice in one day - what a blessing. Disappointed. these drummers were high school students, not professionals. then we had a play again w/ high school students. there was a man who would write your name on a serviette in Japanese letters. oh please. and a man who made candy and distributed it. it was a joke. yakatori was served. it was edible. there was sumo wrestles there, but I am not a fan so I can't review them. I ran to get the first bus out. it was packed, but being petite folk made room for me when I pleaded "pls. don't make me wait here for a half hour." people were kind. i had planned to cruise for another two weeks, but the ship's propeller broke and we were flown to shanghai and home. tks god I had bought choice air. I met folk who were really upset at trying to change reservations on their own to get home 2 weeks early. Now i move out of Disppointment and into Disgust. we were told we would receive a refund for the two days of the tour missed by the ship's staff. a group of yellow-shirted "care" team flew in the next day. I thought they cared about me, but no they cared about their company reputation. that became apparent all too quickly when we were informed - no refund - we had never been promised a refund - we would get 25% off a cruise taken next year if we booked it in 2014. they lied!!!! for those of us booked for 2 more weeks we received a full refund and 75% discount if we cruised in 2015. that was tempting. the insanity continues.. I cruised in feb. I got my 75% off certificate in April. the 25% taxed my ta's patience to the max. it took her a ridiculous number of calls and emails and FINALLY she got an email in OCTOBER for the 25% discount. I had no intention of using it, but it was the principle. I was promised a credit in feb. and I got it after a my t.a. fought for it, in oct. . this is not luxury cruise customer service that they brag about in their marketing. disembarkation was chaotic and insane. letters flew under my door w/ insufficient info or wrong info. the night b4 disembarkation i got 5 letters. the stress caused in the last two days by the 'care team' reduced me to tears. I had to break down before I got any caring. a lovely woman, dianne, and a gentle man, colin listened while I cried out my fear and frustration. I will be forever grateful to them. altho, as I write this I realize aza caused my stress. their hopeless handling made a unfortunate occurance chaotic by their incompetence. we were put up in the shanghai hyatt, a luxury hotel that served a great buffet breakfast and aza covered the hotel and meals. I flew home the next day. in summary, my cabin was a sanctuary for me since I couldn't access the spa. breakfast on the balcony is grand. they had taped british tv series on the tv and I am a big fan of british mysteries. ordering from the dining room menu and curling up w/ a br. mystery was a relaxing experience after a long day of touring. some of the tours were worth while and once I got a tour guide w/ a thorough knowledge of shinto and buddism, the primary religions of japan. I was lucky enough to see a bride donning a traditional Shinto wedding gown. she was lovely. we saw a turn-of the century village in Taiwan and I played w/ some friendly, but frisky monkeys. the ship itself is ho-hum. I will cruise occeania (true luxury) any day and Holland America, altho that is a step down, it's a small step. it's not the broken propeller that ruined my sense of aza. I was disappointed from the first day. it is their false advertising and horrific lack of customer care that solidified my opinion of azamara as dishonest marketers who don't deliver on their promises. Read Less
Sail Date February 2014
This is my first review on Cruise Critic, the style is a little more narrative than a review however there is some good information about the ship, the service and the ports of call as well. I was traveling solo, female, mid-forties and ... Read More
This is my first review on Cruise Critic, the style is a little more narrative than a review however there is some good information about the ship, the service and the ports of call as well. I was traveling solo, female, mid-forties and had booked the trip only four weeks before sail-date but have been a Japanophile since I was a child. The airport in Montreal was a madhouse on Saturday, February the 15th due to a weather event along the entire east-coast. So many flights had been canceled and getting anywhere interesting that day was impossible. At 3:30 am, I discovered that my United Airlines itinerary had been modified from a 1 pm flight to Newark connecting to Hong Kong to some kind of milk run via Cleveland getting me into HKG a full 24 hours late. My call to Choice Air Emergency Help Line was answered by a service rep who acknowledged and confirmed that the change was noted in my file and that the late arrival was expected. Hoping against hope that if I just got to the airport early enough, they could re-route me, I got to the airport within an hour and at 4:30 in the morning found myself waiting in a long line of folks with the same idea. It took about one hour to get to the check-in desk. Security took about 20 minutes and immigration was around thirty minutes. Grabbed a bagel and waited in line for ninety minutes to speak with United Airlines about rerouting me. No go. There was not a single flight to New York that would get me to my Hong Kong flight on time so I had to sleep and have dinner in Cleveland on my own dime, fly back to Newark the next day and then get to Hong Kong. My travel agent was powerless to help either. Cleveland's Airport Radisson Hotel and the Chili's restaurant across the street were not exactly the Hong Kong Butterfly on Morrisson and Din Tai Fung dumplings that I had planned for. At least getting to Newark was easy the next day. The waiting area for the fully booked Hong Kong flight was packed. Got my standard economy seat 37L toward the back of the 777-200 plane. I was at the window and there was a tall man on the aisle. A young man stepped up and asked if either of us wanted to switch with his wife in 20A. The tall man said no so I volunteered! That seat was a premium economy plus and was so much more comfortable that I upgraded for the trip home! Meals were a choice of chicken or vegetable curry with a roll and salad plus a brownie. I was able to sleep and watch in flight entertainment until a few hours later when we got a sandwich and ice cream. Just before landing we got a choice of eggs or noodles. Water and drinks were being offered almost constantly throughout the flight so we arrived hydrated, full and happy even after 15 hours in the air. It was a pleasure to emerge into Hong Kong airport. Sparkling clean, free trolleys (Newark charges $5.00!) and lots of aides to guide you if you miss the totally clear signage. Immigration and baggage took only a few minutes. Customs was just a nod to the guy in the "nothing to declare" lane. I found the taxi stand easily and handed over my instructions to the port in Chinese. No problem to get there for around $300 HKD ($40 USD) but it was after-hours so I had to drag my luggage to the ship terminal through a shopping mall! It was humid and far and annoying that there were no crew at the door to assist. Even when crew members could see me struggling across the gangway they sent no one to help. In all fairness, I had been warned by my travel agent that this would happen if I arrived past the formal embarkation hours. It was just beyond my comprehension that porters were not outsourced if ship staff were unavailable. I would have paid out of pocket but there was no one to help at all. Later in the cruise, Heather from Guest Relations personally called me to discuss my comments about the issue and let me know that she would relay my feedback to the powers that be. I finally crossed onto the deck of the ship and cleared security. A crew member guided me to guest relations where a single person was manning the phones and the desk. She was obviously overwhelmed. I was hot and sweaty and tired but waited patiently for my turn and blissfully, somebody handed me a flute of champagne. Geeta at guest relations was nice but I couldn't believe the amount of paperwork she was expected to process for each guest. She basically went over it quickly, shoved it all into an envelope and told me to read it and bring it back later. Inside was information about the make-up muster drill, immigration and departure forms to complete and instructions for clearing each port. It was really important stuff. There were two older couples from Quebec behind me in line. They were French-speaking and sure enough missed the next day's muster drill and had to be paged to immigration before the ship could depart. Even I had trouble digesting all the information. I was surprised by Azamara's welcome for late arrivals. They seemed to be unprepared for us despite (at least in my case) flight arranged using Choice Air. I finally got to my room which was lovely. It was a category six Oceanview on deck four, starboard forward section with a Queen bed and because it was an adjoining cabin, had an armchair rather than a sofa which suited me just fine. There were fresh fruit, water, soft drinks and chocolate brownies in the room along with fresh flowers. As promised, robes, slippers, a set of binoculars and an umbrella were provided for use during the cruise and we were given a tote bag to take home. The vanity table had dim lights but admittedly, they probably matched the lighting in the dining room for make-up application purposes…they just weren't bright enough to write your thesis at the desk. Storage was more than ample for a solo traveler but probably was adequate for a couple. You really don't need a whole new outfit for every dinner on Azamara! I had brought seven cocktail dresses…totally unnecessary. Suitcases fit under the bed with room to spare. The bathroom was well-organized with cotton buds and amenities but next time, I will bring my own shampoo/conditioner as their brand didn't agree with my curly hair. The shower was just like every other shower on every other cruise ship but the Grohe fixtures were much, much nicer. I actually have the same hand shower in my own guest bath back home! Since I was an early to bed, early to rise kind of gal, there were some nights when I could hear the muted bass and drums coming from the Cabaret lounge on deck five but it was not disruptive. In general, other than some creaking and the sound of the bathroom vacuum system it was quiet. The harbour was extremely foggy but I could practically see into the water taxis from my bay window which was two decks above the water line. I unpacked and read over the bazillion pages of info and decided not to order room service because it was already after midnight. In the morning, I explored the ship. It is so tiny but has everything you could want. There is a casino, two shops, a coffee bar, a pool grill and bar, a buffet area, a main dining room, two speciality restaurants, a lounge up top with a view, a library, computer room and a salon/spa/fitness area. There are also lots of cozy lounge areas with bars and the main entertainment lounge. I really liked the quiet elegance of the ship. Other than the sparkly things in the Swarovski display cabinets, there is not much flash. HONG KONG For breakfast, I disembarked and explored Kowloon. It was only around 7 am so the shops were all closed. I went into the Royal Pacific hotel and asked for advice on a local dim sum shop. They directed me up Haiphong Road to Lock street and I ended up at this place Hing Fat Restaurant G/F, 8-10 Ashley Road, T.S.T., Kowloon, Hong Kong China http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294217-d2373146-Reviews-Hing_Fat_Restaurant-Hong_Kong.html?m=19905 YUM! For $16 CAD I got a selection of steaming hot shaomai, pork buns and tea. Don't tell anyone but it was meant for two...heh. I demolished it and even considered getting an extra oyster pancake but held off. There was a lovely park on the north side of Haiphong road between Canton and Nathan with tropical birds calling and it was a nice touch to have some nature beside all of Hong Kong's haute couture. I returned to the ship to take a look at their ample but not too adventurous breakfast buffet and of course ended up eating more food! I had to try the ginger smoothie shots, some weird black cold cuts and polenta omelettes. The crowd is older than on Celebrity on this itinerary there were mostly Americans, lots of Australians and a few of my fellow Canadians. The crew and staff are demographically similar to the ones on Celebrity but they are able to be much more friendly due to the smaller size of the ship and they really get to know the passengers individually. I went back ashore to see about these "fantastic" discounts in Hong Kong. Um, not so much. Maybe the mall attached to the cruise terminal was priced for tourists. I did find a really cute handbag though. That was my only purchase and I quickly returned to the ship and handed my passport over to the Hong Kong authorities onboard for inspection. We had a late-arrival muster drill that just demonstrated how to wear a life preserver and explained emergency procedures. It took only five minutes plus time to answer people's questions and address any safety concerns. As mentioned earlier...there were some no-shows at the mandatory drill. When it was time to sail, there were many announcements paging people to drop off their passports. No matter how many instances passengers were told, in writing, by public address, on the cruise television it seems that some still didn't get the message. I'm not sure if it was a language issue but again, I strongly believe that this most important information should be conveyed BEFORE embarkation when the brain is too frazzled to process much of anything. Additionally, the information should be available in the language of the guest. This information is available ahead of time, why couldn't general instructions be provided in French, Spanish, German etc? Seasoned cruisers were grumbling about the delayed departure. I didn't grumble...I went to tour the spa. In my opinion, services were too expensive for my taste but were comparable in price to large hotel spas. Compared to the luxurious thalassotherapy pool on Celebrity Summit, the Journey's little cousin is a soda can. I opted to not buy a cruise pass for $99. So with nothing left to do, I visited the buffet for lunch. Unfortunately for my waistline, this became a recurring theme. I got a Sea Breeze cocktail and some food. Everything was tasty but there was nothing too exotic. They know their target market. Older, fussy folks with lots of dietary restrictions don't want seven types of curried lentils for lunch. We finally started backing out of our berth. It was still really foggy in Hong Kong. Looking up to the tallest buildings made me wonder if the people inside could see anything at all! Those apartments are worth millions and they were shrouded in cloud. Hong Kong has huge hills which are so steep that there are hardly any homes on them. That's why the land is so valuable where people can build and there is nowhere to go but up. Finally, it was time to investigate the tiny pool! It is heated sea water so it really makes one float. The motion of the ship makes it really nice and wavy, too! After that, there was a visit to the Owners Suite. The cruise line offers a Bingo game and the grand prize is to win occupancy of the suite for the duration of the cruise. I went to the visit and enjoyed seeing the immense room with a marble vestibule (useful for taking your shoes off without tracking in travel-schmutz) and the powder room in addition to the gigantic bathroom with jetted tub. Other than the beautiful aft-facing verandah with full loungers, there were no features that trumped the comfort of my own category six oceanview stateroom so I did not buy any bingo cards. I got dressed up for dinner and headed over to the Cruise Critic's cocktail meet 'n' greet. There were 62 of us and I finally met many of the very nice folks I had been chatting with online, face-to-face. The senior staff introduced themselves. I met all the top brass like the food & beverage manager, the hotel director and the cruise director. They asked us to make as many requests as we wanted. They reminded us that our feedback is more useful while we are on the ship. I learned that they meant it over the course of the ship. A feedback form was provided in the first week and I received two follow-up calls responding to my comments. The level of customer service on Azamara is unsurpassed in my opinion. After that, Tony the cruise director hosted a singles and solo cruisers dinner in the main dining room. There were at least 25 of us because Azamara offers low single supplements and I must say, it attracted fun and really interesting cruisers. Throughout the voyage, friendly folks were always willing to chat and dining was not a daunting task. If you wanted to be alone, you could but finding new friends was easy. Solo-ers, fear not! Now for the good part: Dinner! The main dining room is about an eighth of the size of a Celebrity MDR. They have cozy booths as well as tables so it feels more like a lounge. Waiters were very attentive. If they needed to get your attention or reach towards you they would say: "please permit me to…" refill your glass or take your plate or clean up your crumbs etc. It was extremely civilized. The food was fantastic. I had a firecracker shrimp starter, pear soup with cinnamon and tandoori lamb for the main. I started with a Riesling but tried the Cabernet too. It was all new to me to have wine with dinner in such abundance. The waiters keep refilling your cup, so if you're a light drinker, be forewarned! The desserts were insane and they also had many choices for digestifs or specialty coffees on offer. Since there are no main/late seatings, no one rushes you. Dinner is easily a three hour affair! If you don't have a quick bite in the buffet, you might want to eat at six in order to make it to the entertainment which begins at around nine pm. Unfortunately, I never did get to the Cabaret lounge or the daily activities so I'll have to leave it to someone else to review. It was more my style to go straight to bed after supper. The seas were wild! The spray churned up into my stateroom window and you could see the enormous waves as the bow ploughed through them. I wondered what the view from the outside cabins on deck three would have been like because I love that kind of excitement. It was too far for me to see from my bed so I gathered up my comforter and fashioned a little bunk on the window ledge. I spent the whole night there sleeping and waking to watch the show. It was around the same size as a business class lie-flat bed so I was pretty comfy. When he came to make up the the room the next day, the steward had a good laugh at my makeshift sleep area and called his buddies over to see what I had done. Heeee! After my full five hours of sleep without a meal...(on a cruise ship that is savage cruelty)...I left my little window bunk and headed up to the Window's Cafe on deck 9 for the early riser's breakfast. On this ship, the forward and aft sections on decks 9 and 10 have inside facilities but you must walk outside to get between fore and aft or, you could comfortably walk to the rear of the ship from the front and use the stairs / elevator on a lower deck. It's windy and raining and 8 degrees Celsius...which option do I take? The outside jogging track on deck 10 of course! Wheeee! Better than Disneyland! The ship was rocking, my jacket and scarf were fluttering like flags on my body and the deck was slippery. Put this sport in the Olympics, please. We could call it the "200 m gotta get some breakfast and struggle with door in windy conditions biathlon" I brought home the gold! My reward was a proper mug of coffee. Not a cup of coffee that you need to refill three times...a proper mug. Best.Azamara.Perk.Ever. There were also muffins, croissant and yogurt with fresh fruit & honey to hold me over until the buffet opened at 7:30 am. Formal dining had kippers for breakfast but that only opens at 8:00. Too late for me! I sat in the Windows Cafe watching the approach to Xiamen. There was a huge amount of boat traffic. Freighters, commercial fishing boats and local fishermen with their coterie of seabirds along side them. The colour of the sea was something completely unnatural. It was basically brown sludge and disabused me of any plans to  snorkel in Chinese waters. However, the little islands with jagged tops were beautiful. There was no question that this was China. The China of the photographer's dreams. Some Australians in their 70s noticed that I was alone and invited me to join them for breakfast. We had lots of good conversations. I apologized for my appearance by saying "I've just had my hair done on deck 10." It took them a minute to get the joke but we were bosom buddies for the rest of the cruise. XIAMEN, CHINA It took a long time to dock but once we disembarked into the ultra-modern Chinese cruise terminal everything ran smoothly. We were whisked through an immigration inspection. Most of the attendants were Chinese women in smart little uniforms including hats. There were security cameras everywhere as well as photographers documenting our arrival with handheld cameras. The English spoken was very good. At the booth, they take your picture and look at your passport, they stamp a paper copy of the passport and you hand the original back to cruise authorities as you exit. A shuttle bus was provided to the ferry terminal serving Gulangyu Island but due to the rain, we couldn't see much through the fogged up windows during the 15 minute trip. The ferry terminal to Gulangyu Island was crowded with fashionably-dressed young couples, wedding parties and holidaying families. While waiting in line for the ferry, vendors tried to sell us cheap toys and souvenirs. At one point an old beggar man approached with the standard issue tin cup. Another man rushed over and slapped the cup out of his hand and chased him away. It was a bit shocking the way he was treated. We paid 15 yuan ($2.50 USD) for the round trip. It only took around 5 minutes to cross. Glad we hadn't opted for the high-speed ferry. Gulangyu Island is an old colonial outpost that has been transformed into something like the Chinese version of Vieux Québec. There are churches and villas behind fortification walls. The villas have been transformed into hotels or restored to their original splendour and you must pay a fee to visit. There are also gardens built around natural stone formations the major one being Sunlight Rock. The brave can climb to the summit of Sunlight Rock. I had done brave at breakfast so instead, my new friend Gill and I just strolled around looking at the gardens and architecture and chatting about our mutual love of travel, whales and animals in general. We got along very well. Suddenly, these two twenty-something Chinese girls approached us and with fairly decent English pronunciation asked if we wouldn't mind taking a picture with them. I assumed that they meant take a picture #of# them. Nope, Gill understood immediately and we posed with one while the other took the snapshot, then switched. Apparently, blonde hair and blue eyes are as deserving a photo opportunity as Sunlight Rock. They were super sweet and thanked us politely. By now we were hungry and we passed kiosk after kiosk of delicious snacks. It was almost impossible to decide what to eat. There were guava fruit with straws pressed into them for drinking, lychees on skewers, lots of live seafood in aquariums or grilled delicacies. Some young vendors called us over to their shop and asked us in their best English what we would like to try. I smiled and answered: Just look at me, I'd like to try EVERYTHING! They were obviously trying to be polite but since I gestured by patting my chubby tummy they took my cue and giggled. I opted for a bowl of grilled squid with fish balls...no, really...I came all the way to China to eat some gefilte. It was really cheap, delicious and filling. There were so many things to try but one can only eat so much. I'll have to go back to try the grilled conch. They empty the meat, chop it up and cook it with vegetables and spices then re-stuff it into the shell and grill the whole thing on a BBQ. I will have to learn what that dish is called. There were many couples in fancy dress posing for wedding pictures with the historical buildings and gardens as a backdrop. We also visited the shops where there were really cute outfits for sale. The Chinese people were extremely fashion-conscious. This island resort also had a sea world-type park and probably much more that we never got to see because we were overwhelmed and returned to the ship for a well-deserved nap. Dinner was a bit disappointing with undercooked grouper and inedible sides. No problem, the waiter switched it out for surf 'n' turf with filet mignon and Caribbean lobster tail. Dessert was tiramisu. The seas were even more churning than the night before. The spray blew past my window like powdered snow drifts and waves occasionally splashed up like a car wash. It's true that on a smaller ship, you can feel the motion a lot more than on a larger ship. It really doesn't bother me though. Because of the lousy conditions, we lost time. The Captain announced this over the PA system and warned that we all needed to take a seat in the next few minutes as we were about to make a 90 degree starboard turn and there would be a discernible list especially on upper decks. I was on deck 5 at the Mosaic Cafe. We made the impressive turn smoothly but yeah, you could feel it. Moments later, the Staff Captain emerged from the bridge and sat down next to me at the coffee bar. I thanked him for the amazing roller coaster ride! I let him know how I nested in the window ledge and that nothing made me happier than to have the spray splash up into my face on deck. He said "so you've got sea legs then..." and I volunteered the story of how my then nine-year-old immigrant grandmother was the only passenger to have an appetite on the crossing from Poland to Canada. That is what being on Azamara Journey is like. You can have intimate chit chat with the ship's second in command and only need two minutes to walk from stem to stern. I already understand why there are so many former Celebrity passengers that have made the switch to Azamara and won't sail with anyone else. KEELUNG CITY, TAIPEI, TAIWAN We pulled into Taiwan and had a smooth disembarkation. We simply had to show the paper copy of our passport which they stamped. Three flashy dancing dragons pranced and posed for the passengers. It was very welcoming and quintessentially Taiwanese. Not so Taiwanese but ubiquitous on this trip were the terminal's duty-free gift shops hawking tobacco products, purses and booze. There is also the phenomenon of the giant yellow rubber ducky mascot. It is EVERYWHERE! You can get your G.Y.R.D. umbrellas, keychains, iPhone cases etc. at every souvenir shop in the land...please Google to learn more because I am afraid that if I say its name three times it will be summoned...rising from the depths like Godzilla. I had planned the Taiwan visit down to the smallest detail. I wanted to visit Ho-ping Island Park also known as Peace Island. It was only 7 kms from the ship and would cost $7 USD each way by taxi plus a few bucks for the entrance fee and snacks. I had even printed out the Google maps with directions in Chinese. My new friend Jayne, a fellow passenger and solo cruiser thought it was an interesting choice and came along. The taxi dispatcher kept pointing to a different destination on his picture chart of tourist spots saying that it would be better. I was firm and insisted that this place was where we wanted to visit. He let us know that there would be no one there (exactly!) and that we would have to pay a standing fee for the cab to wait one hour. No worries. If I had been alone, I might have simply taken the local bus number 101 back but we agreed to split the $900 Taiwan Dollar ($30 USD) roundtrip price. Arriving at the park, it looked just like it had on Google street view. Not a tour bus in sight! We paid the entrance fee and received a bunch of coins as change. There was a hill with what looked to be manicured trees on it because it was so neat and tidy and symmetrical. The wind at this place is strong. It is responsible for all of the interesting land formations and probably is the gardener that created the bonsai on the hill. It was only about eleven degrees Celsius so we bundled up in scarves and sweaters and raincoats then made our way along a stone path towards the sea.  Tables and hibachis were provided for picnickers. We passed a little family made up of Grand-dad, young mother and rosy-cheeked 9 month old baby in a bunting sling tied against mum. Both Jayne and I gestured and spoke in English that they were a beautiful family. The daughter answered us in English asking where we were from and how we had discovered this place. I answered "internet" and she seemed surprised! The Taiwanese people are so friendly and helpful. We heard from many fellow passengers that if they seemed lost or confused, someone would offer assistance without prompting. We approached the rocky beach where waves crashed high into the air like a geyser. I got some video of it. We viewed the rocks shaped into tiny mushrooms by the force of erosion and read about the graffiti cave where ancient Dutch mariners had left their mark. At this time of year, we were not allowed to walk to the cave or among the mushroom rocks but I got some pictures. It was gorgeous and like I had mentioned previously...completely devoid of tourist crowds. It was quiet except for the constant howling wind and extremely clean. Time to hit the sandy beach and see the water up close! The park set up a sea wall to enclose a natural sea-water pool. In this way the waves bash around 50m outside the swimming area so the bathers are protected from being swept out to sea. Fish can and do enter the pool though. I had come prepared with my one piece swimsuit, snorkel, aqua socks, travel towel and wetsuit liner but man...it was windy! There were a few local men and women swimming laps in the 20 degree Celsius water in just their bathing suits. I could have been convinced to join them but Jayne was not keen. I did get in to my knees just to feel the water but I didn't see any critters. We stopped into the gift shop where we were offered tea and samples of local treats! I bought some dried sesame fish candy, you'll have to see it to believe it and yes, it is good! Again, the shop staff wanted to know how we found them and were amazed to know that their park was on the internet to be discovered by anyone in the world. The tourist bureau promotes other parks more aggressively so they don't see many foreigners here. I used the Taiwanese coins to purchase some vending machine drinks as souvenirs and found the cab back to the ship. Jayne was elated to have had such a unique experience and thanked me. It isn't very hard to do the research before leaving home. The resources are out there...you just need to do it! Returning to the ship we were offered hot ginger tea or hot chocolate to warm up. I joked with the crew-member serving, asking what kind of rum was in the chocolate. He was embarrassed and said sorry...there was no rum...BUT...no joke...guests arriving back on board later that day reported that they were offered shots of rum with their chocolate!!!! That is Azamara. I rest my case. ISHIGAKI ISLAND, JAPAN It's a blur. I knew that I was about to realize my life-long dream of visiting Japan so my mind was racing. At breakfast, I warned my companions that it was entirely possible that I would burst into tears as soon as I touched the soil. We pulled into port and had to wait for immigration officials to board. We were called by group to pass inspection which consisted of a thermal reader to check our temperature, fingerprints and the reception of a landing permit to be affixed to a paper copy of the passport. I greeted the thermal camera operator with a happy "Ohaioo gozaimasu!" (Good morning) and responded to the inspection officer's instructions by saying "Hai, wakarimashita!" (Yes, I understand) The officials were very serious so there was no time for chit chat. I had teamed up with some folks from Cruise Critic and booked a snorkel trip using an English-speaking dive shop called UMICOZA based in Kabira Bay. They specialized in trips to see the Manta Rays at a known Manta cleaning station. I had found their website on the internet and they were very professional and friendly in their correspondence. Our group of four snorkelers rendezvoused at the Mosaic Cafe. Then we descended the ramp to the port.  The temperature was mild, the water appeared to be clean but we did not see the UMICOZA van in the tours area. We looked outside the gate, no van. It was getting late so we boarded a shuttle bus to the local ferry terminal thinking they may have been confused about what we meant by cruise ship. No van at the ferry terminal either. Panic. I turned on my cellphone risking expensive roaming rates to see if they had left a message. No signal! Okay...time to use my Japanese for real! I went to the information booth in the terminal and said: "sumimasen...denwa ga arimasu-ka?" It worked! The lady guided me over to the pay phones! Hooray! But...the pay phones only took coins. Oh no! Luckily, at this point my cellphone enabled itself and I was able to call the dive shop. The driver had been waiting for us at the cruise ship but outside the main gate. The van only had a window sign, no logo on the side so we had missed it. All was well but I have learned the importance of locking down the details when making these sort of plans. It is not enough to say pick me up at the ship...you need GPS coordinates to avoid confusion! Toyo-san was our driver and guide. He spoke English very well but I had fun practicing my Japanese with him. Finally, away from the shipping containers and bus loads of tourists we began to see the beauty of Ishigaki Island. Trees are a mix of tropical palms and deciduous. We saw a huge owl sitting calmly on an overhanging branch. There were green fields loaded with grazing cattle on one side and either rice fields or blue water on the other. Conditions were windless and warm. It almost looked like the rolling hills of Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica that I had recently visited. The road itself was smooth and the signs were in English and Japanese. It honestly would not be difficult to drive around in a rented car. At the shop, I zipped into my snorkel & wetsuit in ninety seconds. My companions...not so much. Hee! Wetsuit virgins, they were! They had pre-ordered rental wetsuits by size and it was included in the price. The wetsuits were neatly laid out on the table with a name tag clothes pinned on with the respectful honorific-sama. Mine would have said "Lisa-sama." Lois and Yves from Toronto got into their suits and birthday-girl Gill got into her fabulous pink booties while I just wandered around listening to the birds and breathing in tropical Japan. Gill got a fright with the heated loo-seat at the shop! No chilly buns at this party! Because it had taken a bit long to disembark, find the van and get dressed, we decided to scrap our second snorkel spot with the Manta Rays and just do the coral garden. We hopped back into the van, drove five minutes to the dive boat and waded into the super-clear water. The temperature was actually quite lovely. A two-step ladder into the flat-bottom boat and we were aboard. We were offered hot tea and there was a cooler filled with hot water which the super-skinny guides poured into their wetsuits in order to keep the chill off. The trip to the coral garden took only a few minutes. We were just south of the famous Kabira Bay where snorkelling is not permitted. To save time, I reviewed the guidelines while we were underway. Any current? Nope. Any dangerous creatures? Nope. Are we anchored? Yes. Well, bye bye then! I plopped into the water while the others fussed with their stuff. Wow! It took a few seconds for the water to enter the wetsuit and make a warm layer next to the skin. The visibility was excellent and there was absolutely no current and very little chop on the surface. The first species I identified was a Blue-Head Wrasse…very similar to those in my favourite place, Bonaire. There were also Princess Parrotfish, Butterflyfish and Angelfish. Towards the bottom, were two sea snakes coiled together. I would have thought that they were mating but they appeared to be of different species. Folks were still on the boat getting their snorkels and fins sorted. I asked them to plug their ears while I asked about the sea snakes...nope, not dangerous! So I continued on looking at the beautiful blue coral, anemone and dazzling fish. It was overcast and started to rain a bit so after an hour we headed back to the shop. I presented the guide with a small gift from back home, a little tuque saying Action Scuba on it. He was really appreciative. There were hot showers and tea for us. They dropped us off at a local restaurant. Those cattle we had seen grazing were to be our lunch. Ishigaki Island beef is famous! The restaurant was so Japanese that *this* is where I got all weepy. We doffed our shoes at the door and put them in a little cubby. The wooden floors were so clean and smooth. The table was low and had adorable seat cushions with an owl motif. Owls are big (popular) in Japan! The table had a brazier (shichirin) in the centre of it. We ordered our meals. I tried to practice my Japanese again but the waitress didn't seem to understand me. I was trying to find out if there was a mixed grill with samples of beef, pork and chicken. Unsuccessful in communicating my wish, I opted for the premium steak set which came with 180g of beautifully marbled flank steak, miso soup, salad and vegetables. For dipping, there was BBQ sauce, wasabi, lemon and soy sauce. It was probably a bit pricy at 6,800 yen (almost $70 USD) but I had budgeted for that. The server brought a bowl of already glowing briquettes for the brazier and set them up placing the grill on top. We used long tongs to place the beef on the grill. Since the meat was nice and fat, there were a few grease fires but that's all part of the fun! Who needs eyebrows anyway? With an enthusiastic "Itadakimasu!" addressed directly to the food, I dug into my salad which was dressed with some lovely sesame-ginger. Then, I enjoyed the miso soup which only had broth and a few negi (scallions) cut into it. My meat was nicely done and it curled up onto itself like fatty bacon. For veggies there were cabbage and carrots which I ate raw, some eggplant and local specialties kabocha (squash) and goya (bitter melon) which were better grilled. I mixed the meat and veg into my bowl of rice and tasted the flavour / texture explosion. Oh, yeah. The way that the thin meat tastes so full is a wonder in itself. It was a terrific meal and very filling. I gave the waitress and the shop owner a great big "Gochisoosama deshita!" to thank them for the meal. I would have loved to have included a link to the name of the restaurant but Lois and Yves paid on their credit card and I gave them cash so they have the bill with the address on it! It was only a short waddle back to the ship...yep...Lisa got big - time fat on this trip. I napped and only surfaced to snag a few pieces of sushi from the buffet for dinner. Then I happily retreated to my cabin, dreaming of Japan and of floating in the crystal clear water. It's 2:30 am. The moon is shining into my cabin and I am wide awake. Seas are calm. I need fresh air so I get dressed, gather up my silk sleeping bag, a blanket and a pillow and headed to my secret enclave on deck 5 forward just under the tenders. It is a quiet area even in daytime so I reckoned that I wouldn't be disturbing anyone and might even see some whales as we sailed into their Okinawan breeding grounds. I found a deck chair and replaced the cushion which had been stowed for the night. Then I set myself up with my little cocoon and enjoyed the sound of the waves with the bright moon glittering on the water. It was very comfy and I slept well until the morning sun warmed my face. Soon after the deck hands came by to set up the chairs for the day. Needless to say, they were a little surprised to find me there. I put on my best fake indignant voice, pointed at my imaginary watch and proclaimed: "I have been sitting here since 2:30 am and NO ONE has offered me a drink!" It took them a second...but then they laughed. The crew on this ship are very easy going and mix it up with the passengers at every opportunity. On Celebrity, it sometimes seems like a two-tiered class system but on Azamara, the staff IS the main attraction. Alas, I saw no whales from my position but folks in the Windows Cafe where I normally went for breakfast did. Oh well...we had a whale watching excursion booked for later that day. No worries. NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, JAPAN I got back to my room, showered and changed because I looked like I had spent the night on deck...well, actually, I had spent the night on deck. The whale watching tour only met at 13:15 so I had the morning to explore on my own. The weather was sunny and warm so I packed my snorkel and one piece wetsuit liner into my bag just in case. Leaving the ship, I could hear drums banging. It was local entertainers in bright costumes there to welcome us to Naha, Okinawa. Onboard, the Japanese customs enforcers guarded against cruise ship sandwiches and fruit coming ashore. Descending the gangway, I could see that besides the drummers, there were singers and a little girl handing out photo postcards as a gift. There was also a local beauty pageant winner (She might have been the mayor but she wore a sash) posing for pictures with passengers. I asked a guide in Japanese where the information booth was and she answered me in English. Oh, well. The information booth was chaotic. Only three agents were on hand plus a guy doing currency exchange. As I was politely waiting my turn and was next in line to be served, this gigantic Russian-speaking man pushed in front of me to grab some maps and literature. When he did not immediately step away from the table I got uncharacteristically assertive. "SIR..I have been waiting in line, you can do the same." and he sheepishly walked away. Seriously, I had spent so long waiting in line. I found it disrespectful. I had worked out all the details preparing for this trip in a short amount of time and others were expecting to get a five star hotel concierge to plan their tour for free as soon as they got off the ship! Well, the Japanese guides were happy to do this which is why it took so long for it to be my turn. All that I needed was to be oriented out of the port area, understand which direction was north and see if they knew whether Naminoue beach was open to the public in February. Finally, a nice curly-haired Japanese lady stepped over to assist me. I pointed to my curly hair then politely gestured to her and said "Watashi no imotoo desu ka?" (Are you my little sister?) That got a laugh, I got the information and I was off in a minute or two. The route was over an elevated highway but there was a pedestrian walkway so it was safe. Okinawa looks surprisingly a lot like Miami beach with bridges and causeways as far as the eye can see. After a short walk, Naminoue beach came into view. What a little gem. Sure, it's under a busy overpass and not far from a major port but the sand looked clean and soft, the water was crystal clear blue revealing rocks and coral below the surface. It was also padlocked shut. Waaaah! Trust me, my next visit will not be in February. All was not lost. Using my super-katakana-reading skills...I discovered that the Subway sandwich place in an adjacent hotel lobby offered free internet and massage chairs? Yup, welcome to Japan, people! Hungry because it had been ten minutes since my last meal, I entered the Subway which looks exactly like any Subway in any city anywhere...except for the garbage bins which I will describe later. I selected the chicken and cheese sandwich, was delighted to learn that white bread is called "Wa-i-to" rather than "shiroi no pan" and then came the toppings. There was a picture chart showing onions, olives, lettuce etc. I didn't want any of those things just tomatoes and green pepper (to-ma-to & pi-men-to) so that's what I said. I watched the server slather an unholy amount of mayonnaise on my sandwich...I didn't recall asking for it but mayonnaise is extremely popular in Japan so I didn't complain. I got busy counting out my 100 yen coins to pay for my sandwich and noticed the plastic tray where I should put them. Another successful experience in Japan, I thought proudly to myself...until I unwrapped the paper and found a garden full of lettuce and olives and onions. What the heck? I squinted back at the topping picture chart to see if it said "Hold the XXX..." I didn't see that but I learned that is the subtle difference between Japanese and Canadian Subway restaurants! Now you know, too! I used the free internet but never found the massage chairs. I tidied the lunch tray and carried it over to the trash bin. Uh oh...three separate areas labeled in kanji with rather unhelpful pictograms. I am sure it said something like metal/glass, paper, organic but which was which? I must have stared at the kanji for a whole minute looking for one that I recognized. I would have recognized "metal" or "paper" but I have to study what "glass" would be. I took my best guess and hurried back to the taxi stand near the ship. I had prepared a Google map to the SEASIR MARINE HOUSE dive shop hosting the whale-watching tour with the address as well as directions in Japanese. It was perfectly clear. I even read the address to the driver and offered him a GPS code but he was acting like he had no idea where the place was. I could see a water tower landmark that I knew was close to the place (thanks again, Google street view!) and guided the driver towards there. We found it with no trouble. Japanese drivers will not take a tip so I am the proud owner of some very small denomination coins. Looks like someone is going to get more vending machine goodies! English-speaking guides greeted me at the shop and handled the process of payment and liability release. I got the most adorable admission ticket ever...it is a child's crayon drawing of a humpback whale. Kawaii! Cute!! The whale watching boat was actually a huge scuba diving boat with several showers and changing rooms. It would have to be the nicest dive boat I have ever seen. We did see whales but nothing like in Tonga...that trip spoiled me! I spent most of the trip talking to the friendly guide. Lots of people on the boat got seasick but the staff were prepared for it and took care of everyone. The operation was extremely professional and they even offered a refund if we did not see whales. It was a three hour trip and by the time we were done, I was ready for supper. I chose not to go into Naha city because it was getting dark and instead had dinner on the ship in the dining room. The waiters on Azamara are evil. Not only do you risk getting an infinity glass of wine, if you ask for a recommendation between two main dishes, they will simply bring both. They get to know you and refer to you by name. They size you up and know that you don't really mean it when you say "no French fries, please." They know what your preferred condiments are. By day three, everyone brings me sambal with my eggs and black coffee...no need to ask. So I totally abused my body that night with a samosa starter, oxtail broth and both the vegetable croquette healthy choice option AND the seabass and some kind of obscenity for dessert. What's the number for Jenny Craig when I get home? TOKYO, JAPAN - OVERNIGHT IN GORA, HAKONE-MACHI AT A RYOKAN (TRADITIONAL JAPANESE HOTEL) I'm taking artistic liberties and skipping trip reports for the two days at sea. I can summarize by saying that I slept, swam, ate, walked around on deck then ate again. Sea was gorgeous, sun was bright but it was a bit chilly. I have met many friendly people. It was a very relaxing two days. I packed my bag the night before arriving in Tokyo and set out the clothes I would wear. It was important that I looked put-together but was comfortable for the trip to the hot-spring resort in Gora, at the foot of Mount-Fuji. I must have woken up every hour on the hour that night. Finally, by 5:30 am, I went up to watch us approach the port. Let me just say that it was very emotional for me. For years, I have loved Japanese culture, food and language. Here, was the culmination of all of that passion being realized...underscored by the Japanese drummers welcoming the ship. Tokyo. Edo. The source of it all spread out before me. The skyscrapers twinkled and the seabirds soared around the ship. The port wasn't busy at all. We were the only game in town at Harumi. I cried a lot because it was a bit surreal but soon it was time for me to take a shower and head out on my adventure. With my spiffy new raincoat, my new handbag and my comfy yet fashion forward travel-wear, I disembarked the ship into the REAL Japan. But...I was a bit too early. The shuttle bus into town didn't start for another twenty minutes. I spent the time chatting with a lady from the ship and with a Japanese tour guide. I boarded the bus. And sat. And sat. We are waiting for more passengers. I see the number 5 Toei city bus pull up along side us. I was just about to give up on the shuttle and take public transport but my passage was blocked by folks boarding. Crap. And sat some more. This was stupid. As soon as people stopped getting on, I jumped off just as another city bus pulled up. 200 yen later (two bucks) and bada bing! It was fun to people-watch. I saw a few young mothers wearing anoraks with a built-in baby carrier. It was like a normal coat but instead of zipping closed there was a fabric panel to hold the baby snug and warm. There were little school girls dressed in sailor suits or French Madeleine-style uniforms with straw hats and ribbons trailing behind them. And of course...lots and lots of salarymen. It took just 30 minutes to get me to Tokyo Station. It was not that busy. I was surprised. It was very easy to navigate. Signs are in Japanese kanji, Japanese hiragana and in English. I found the midori mado-guchi (green ticket window) and gave the attendant the number of the Hikari Tokaido Shinkansen Bullet Train I wanted to take to Odawara. Up on the platform, it was like a ballet. Train is approaching, the conductor guys stand ready with their red flags, the recorded voices announce the arrival in English and in Japanese, passengers line up on blue markers inlaid into the floor. These markers optimize traffic flow, enabling those disembarking to exit unencumbered by the people getting onto the train. Twinkly Christmas music chimes and if the conductor guys give the all clear, the doors close and the train pulls away. It was almost time for my train to arrive on the platform. An army of ladies in pink uniforms outfitted with squeegees appeared flanked by helmeted guys in blue onesies. All and sundry wore gloves. The Tokaido Shinkansen Bullet Train originating at Shin-Osaka station pulled in at 11:23 am and needed to be readied before turning around with all aboard 10 minutes later. The ballet went like this: Passengers leave the train. Blue onesies kick the pedals to disengage the seats and spin them to orient them to the new forward-facing direction. One row at a time on each side of the train...kick, spin, kick, spin. Then, the blue onesies rip the paper antimacassars off the seats...rip, rip, rip. The pink ladies follow closely behind with fresh paper for the headrests...stick, stick, stick. The two brigades seamlessly complete the tidy up, dusting, wiping down and mopping all without bumping into each other and then file out in perfect synchronization just as the red flagged conductor guys appear to usher the passengers in. Cue the twinkly Christmas music and we're off! My seat was comfortable and I had a huge picture window from where I could see the high-rises interlaced with train lines morph into residential apartment buildings and then into individual homes all with the prerequisite futon and laundry drying on the balconies and window sills. Tiny cemeteries, golf driving ranges, waterways lined with fishermen and wading birds, Shinto shrines, orange trees, flower boxes, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Odawara...Disembark 35 minutes later. This is the Bullet Train…no time for verbs. Odawara station is much smaller than Tokyo station but it has several connecting lines. Still, the excellent signage made it easy for me to find the right wing in which to purchase a ticket on the Hakone-Tozan electric railway. This time, I used the vending machine. You just look up your destination on the fare chart, insert the coins into the machine and out pops your ticket! Insert your ticket into the platform gate for validation, collect it when it pops back out and keep it safe until you put it into the exit turnstile for fare evaluation at the final destination. If you paid too little, you can make a fare adjustment upon arrival. It is idiot-proof. The little red train from Odawara to Hakone-Yumato is...in a word...adorable! It is the Hello Kitty of rail transportation. Three cars, each with purple velour benches and plenty of standing room shuttle passengers on a 15 minute, 5 stop journey. A uniformed driver at each end manually pilots the train back and forth along this route. At Hakone-Yumato, you transfer to an even cuter mountain train! Because the path is so steep, several methods are used to make the journey easier. Firstly, there are tunnels cut right into the mountain. Secondly, the train makes a few switchback stops where we head down in elevation only to head back up in a zigzag pattern. Thirdly, we coil around the hill like a boa constrictor. I know that this is Japan. Every visual cue within the train belies it but to look at the little station of Gora, a log and stucco structure surrounded by snowy mountains...you think... Switzerland? The cable cars connecting the railway to even higher elevations eventually linking to the Mount Fuji ropeway gondolas simply reinforces the idea. Although it was sunny and mild, the remains of last week's blizzard clogged the village. People were still busily shovelling the pavement clear. There were little shops selling souvenirs and snacks leading up a hill to the local park where the main attraction is...wait for it...Craft House, a Venetian glass blowing atelier and museum! Have a look on the internet. They have some incredibly beautiful things that are at once out of place and right at home in this picturesque town. A station or two before Gora has the open-air museum with original sculpture by Picasso, Rodin and others. The Hakone-machi area is loaded with culture from Japan and abroad. It was such a pleasure to wend the long way around the village to the Gora Tensui ryokan where I had booked a one-night stay using Expedia. Please see my review of the hotel on Trip Advisor for more information about my stay. Back onboard Azamara Journey, I was up top listening to the drummers entertaining the crowd before the push-off. When I got chilly, I came inside to check out the menus for the two specialty restaurants. I must say that the premium vodka and caviar was a little dear! One spoonful of caviar ranged in price from $50 to $175! Just then, the captain made an important announcement and we learned about the propeller damage that would ultimately cut the trip short. Reactions ranged from anger to confusion and concern. For me, it changed nothing. The cruise line handled it professionally and did everything they could to compensate us for the inconvenience. I have no complaints but a certain subset of the passengers took it very badly and became abusive to the staff. We learned more about the damage the next day. As we arrived in Tokyo, the crew had noticed unusual vibrations. The called in a dive team to take photographs which revealed wire leads and fishing netting tangled around the port side propeller. Both the screw and the shaft were damaged and needed to be repaired in dry dock. According to the Captain, the Japanese Coast Guard deemed the Journey seaworthy operating on a single propeller but we had to be tugged out of our berth in Tokyo. We cruised at a slower pace to Osaka, which had two side effects. Unfortunately, we could not out-maneuver some weather. Seas became rough and the ship got tossed around a bit. Except for me and a few experienced sailors in the dining room, that night was pretty quiet at supper. It was difficult to walk around. More than once, we heard the noise of things crashing to the ground from trays and counters. At one point, it felt like the sea had evaporated from beneath us. We just dipped suddenly as though we had gone over the first hill of a roller coaster. Lots of people screamed. I got a major tummy flip! The next day, Captain Jason explained that it was due to a quick turn in order to avoid traffic in the busy passage from Tokyo to Osaka. Needless to say, I had a great sleep rocked on the waves in my luxury cradle. The second result of the slow pace was a big delay. In reality though, there was a benefit. We got to see all the little fishing boats and the gorgeous islands during daylight. We even spotted a submarine cruising along the surface! That was unusual and very cool! OSAKA, JAPAN Arriving in Osaka was a dreary affair compared to Tokyo. Instead of arriving on 27th at 9 pm, we pulled in at around 4 pm on the 28th. The weather was cold and rainy, it was dusk, we were late and some people were still cranky about the propeller issue. The ship was greeted by Azamara's CEO, Larry Pimentel and a bus-load of at least 40 go-team members. This was the cruise-line's damage control. The go-team was made up of Royal Caribbean International employees from around the world. They were responsible for the logistics of moving six hundred bodies from Osaka to Shanghai and making them feel as comfortable along the way as though we had sailed there. They endured jet-lag, a bit of abuse and probably the most adrenaline-charged, stressful assignment ever piled on luxury vacation specialists. But they made it work. We all had to get off the ship to once again clear Japanese immigration but I got right back on the ship because...it was Indian night at the buffet! Hooray! Some kicky, spicy stuff to counteract the safe cruise food and the delicate Japanese flavours. I really overdid it. The Indian guys were cheering me on! I had one spoonful of everything on the buffet except the deep-fried selections. It was so different, I really kind of wished that there were spicy options every day. The next morning, when I woke up, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. In the other ports, there had been clear plans but Osaka was kind of free-form. It's usually my habit to get off the ship too early when the shops and restaurants haven't even opened so this time, I spent the early morning finishing up packing. Should I get on a train to Nara to see the deer? Should I go to the aquarium? Should I go downtown to the Dotonbori district around Namba station? No way. That's where everyone from the ship went. Weather was cold...not sure a whole day outside would be smart with an hour travel each way. I ruled out Nara. It was Saturday. There would be tons of kids at the aquarium. Scrap that idea. The town around the port was quiet except for the throngs of people getting off the subway to go to the aquarium...why don't I just stick around here? Okay! It was only 11 am. Too early for lunch so I just walked and walked and walked some more! What did I find? Only the best stuff that no organized land-excursion will ever show a tourist. For example, I had the opportunity to see how the old and new Japan manages to live alongside one another. Down streets only as wide as a North-American back alley, ten story apartment buildings that look as though they were built in the sixties or seventies stand next to hundred-year-old homes built low to the ground, maybe one and a half stories high. Sometimes, in the narrow spaces between, modern architects have created single family homes on several levels with fully functional use of all the space available. Hearing some shouting, I found some little girls playing tag in a tiny court yard and next door, some rhythmic chanting coming from a local shrine or community centre-type place. In the film "Lost in Translation", Bill Murray's character is an American action film star sent to Japan to shoot advertisements for a Japanese brand of whiskey. No joke, I saw publicity photos of Tommy Lee Jones used to sell Coffee Boss coffee from vending machines! Strange! I took photos of that and other assorted weirdness. Then there was big excitement at the fish shop as the van pulled in with the catch of the day. When you hear the expression "hole in the wall" to describe a small, nondescript place this shop beats that. The store front is maybe eight feet wide. Three feet for fish, three for fruit and if you can squeeze inside past the old ladies battling for the choicest pieces, there is a two foot wide aisle lined with buckets and baskets of all kinds of goodies. I saw whole crabs powdered in sawdust, sea cucumber packed into brine-filled baggies, huge snails and lots and lots of fish. It was crowded in there! On the way up the street from the ship, my kanji skills had scoped out a sushi place with no English writing on the sign so I returned there with a fierce craving. The bad news was that the sushi shop never opened. A basket of freshly washed oshibori napkins that had been delivered by the laundry sat uncollected on the front step. Oh well, maybe the sushi master was still at the fish shop fighting with the grannies. Saddened by my sushilessness, I walked around looking for something else. There were lots of ramen shops and soba shops and places with unappealing-looking plastic food in the window. Many of the places had gangs of salary men in suits chain-smoking. Yuck. I was almost right back at the ship when a tiny shop caught my eye. It had a solid door with no window to see inside but a small banner said "okonomiyaki" in katakana. Okonomiyaki means "oh my goodness…this is better than sushi and you have to come to Osaka to get a piece of me!" This food is like omelettes or pancakes stuffed with any kind of thing you like. Seafood, veggies, meat, cheese, old shoes, anything goes. Daringly, I slid the rolling door open and discovered out a very enticing restaurant. There were tatami tables at the back where you have to put away your shoes before sitting. Instead, I sat down at the bar where one could see the chefs making the orders. Beside me, was Cindy, the future cruise specialist and Le Club Voyage Hostess. We had met earlier in the week. I got my pancake filled with "mix"...basically a combo of squid, octopus, pork and beef. It was suggested to me that beer goes well with it so I got a pint and we both really enjoyed our meals! Cindy went back to work and I continued the unstructured wandering. Here is where the gluttony becomes out of control. Beside the ship is a shopping mall called Tempozan Marketplace. Instead of regular food courts, they have built a little circuit to look like narrow streets with food vendors...something like what I had seen on Gulangyu Island in China. It was totally fake but you somehow feel better buying food from a place with electricity and running water. So even after my okonomiyaki, I sampled some pork buns and some sashimi! I saw a Japanese kids' menu, we don't get those at home. It was so cute that I took pictures. The nigirizushi are cut up small for the kiddies! Finally, I managed to pull myself away from this fantasy land of calories to my stateroom, the most relatively food-free area that I could find. Just to be social and say my goodbyes, I did a quick pass around the public areas after dinner and then went to bed! DISEMBARKATION-FLY TO SHANGHAI The group heading out on a 9:25 am flight to Shanghai disembarked at 5:30 am. Security scanned our keycards as we left the ship before sunrise. We had to find our bags among hundreds of suitcases on the ground between the ship and the terminal building illuminated only by the head lights of a few port authority cars. Luckily, I found a helpful porter to wheel them along while I waited in line to collect my immigration documents and to follow me while I moved to another line to have my picture and fingerprints taken by Japanese officials. Then we had to exit the terminal and stand in line while workers loaded the suitcases into a standard-issue white cube truck and passengers boarded a chartered motor coach to Kansai airport hoping for the best. On the hour-long bus ride to Kansai airport, a chipper British go-team leader joked about how she had really needed a stiff drink the night before but that she had gotten the "waggy finger" from Larry (the CEO.) We could tell that the story itself was all made-up but her comic timing put everyone at ease. She made fun of her Japanese-bus-aisle-walking awkwardness and just made the whole ordeal much more pleasant. She answered questions clearly, professionally and with humour.  Upon arrival, we were happy to find the truck with our bags and we were greeted by another capable go-team who guided us to our respective check-in counters. I was on Air China flight 164 for the two-hour trip to Shanghai and was allowed to check two free bags for the regional flight! Wow! I felt as weightless as a man on the moon with no clunky carry-on to schlep. Free WiFi, cute gift shops, fun Japanese snacks (seaweed crackers & plum-filled, triangular onigiri (rice balls) with a hot canned coffee from a vending machine) all kept me busy until the smooth boarding process began. Most two hour flights in North America don't even offer food for purchase but we got a meal tray! There were three big party sandwiches, cucumber, egg and something else along with a fruit cup, a dish of Japanese pickles and tamago plus a cookie. How civilized is that? The only downside was the number of smokers onboard. Although smoking was not permitted, the stench was unbearable coming off of people's coats and belongings in the overhead bins. I literally had to cover my nose and mouth with my Downy-April-Fresh handkerchief. Anyway, it was certainly not the worst two-hours and fifteen minutes of my life...thank you, Forrest Gump. One other neat aspect of the flight was that we never really got away from civilization. From the air, the ground below us seemed entirely populated unlike short-haul flights back home where it might be fields and trees for miles without a road or a home in sight. The descent from blue sky through white cloud into brown smog layered over brown water and brown land signalled our arrival into the pollution of China. It's a sad reality. At Pudong airport from the gate to immigration, the walls were lined with publicity for expensive designer goods like Prada and Longines…none of which could be seen on the actual people in the terminal. Our Shanghai go-team greeted us and efficiently got people and luggage sorted onto yet another hour-long motor coach ride to The Bund district. SHANGHAI, CHINA The elevated highway from the airport into the city is lined with tall apartment buildings crushed right up against the guardrails. You could honestly imagine shaking hands with the residents if you were stopped in heavy traffic. My mind reeled at the thought of what would happen if Mrs. Fung's clothespins failed and her bedsheet draped over the windshield of somebody's car speeding along the roadway. Luckily, we made it to the Shangai Hyatt on The Bund Hotel without any laundry-related traffic mishaps. Shanghai is a very crowded city…I wish that I could review it for you but honestly, that hotel was such a beautiful oasis that I never left it until the shuttle back to Pudong Airport the next day. Azamara spoiled us. They even ensured that our nightly turndown chocolates were offered to us in our luxurious rooms. We were treated to a complimentary breakfast buffet with both Asian and Western specialties and as part of the compensation package, were offered up to $100 USD for incidentals in Shanghai. I went for dinner in the hotel's Chinese restaurant and enjoyed fabulous Peking Duck which still makes me shed a tear…it was that delicious. Other than meals and sleep, my time was spent in the Hyatt's spa facility where the steam room, sauna, hot tub, cold plunge pool and giant swimming pool gave me the all the comfort and relaxation I needed before the arduous transition to post-cruise reality. Although the land discoveries had been cancelled and charges reversed on my onboard account, the go-team still organized complimentary coach transfers from the hotel to the airport. It was the perfect way to end the voyage. Despite my uncomfortable arrival in Hong Kong, where I was a bit underwhelmed by my reception, I was so happy with my first Azamara experience. The propeller issue only provided evidence that their customer service is actually the best and I will not hesitate to sail with them again and recommend the line to everyone looking for a more intimate, port-intensive cruise. Read Less
Sail Date February 2014
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