We just completed two back-to-back cruises, the Chilean Fjords and Carnival in Rio, from San Antonio to Buenos Aires. We are an aged couple, in our seventies (and lots of similar cruisers on both journeys) and my wife has a mobility ... Read More
We just completed two back-to-back cruises, the Chilean Fjords and Carnival in Rio, from San Antonio to Buenos Aires. We are an aged couple, in our seventies (and lots of similar cruisers on both journeys) and my wife has a mobility problem (not many similar couples on the second journey). We’re veteran cruisers and we’ve been on the Azamara Quest six times. But this was the first time on the Pursuit.
First some words on the itinerary. The Chilean fjords are spectacular, and especially El Brujo glacier – better, I find, than equivalent sights in New Zealand or Alaska but we’ve not done Norway yet. The Carnival in Rio (where the ship had a double overnight during the carnival season) is a singular event: the Sambadrome parade experience fantastic, so full of colour, unique sights, amazing floats and costumes, interesting bodies, much excitement and pleasure. Both journeys were troubled by bad weather – wind, rain, storms – that even led to port cancellations but the captain Carl Smith and Azamara compensated with other ports (unlike our recent experience on Oceania which cancelled two ports and offered nothing else). This is a crucial difference between the two similar cruise brands.
The Pursuit is much like the Quest, not surprising of course because they both originated as “R” ships, commissioned for Renaissance, a line that went bankrupt after 9/11. (In fact we were on an “R” ship a week before the company’s demise.) The Pursuit is stylish and tasteful – I relish the marvelous ceiling (an original from Renaissance days) in the Drawing Room (really the library) and the Dali replicas and art work scattered about. The ship is well-maintained, clean and the staff work hard to keep public areas organized and pleasing.
The Pursuit is small, under 800 passengers (and it wasn’t full for the second journey). We used a mobile wheelchair to navigate the ship. Distances are short. Elevators (two banks) work well, rarely delayed or overcrowded as on the bigger ships. But people in a similar situation ought to realize there are difficulties. Corridors are narrow and can occasionally be blocked by cleaning equipment. The joints between segments of the ship result in a number of raised metal ridges in the corridors that don’t like a transport chair. The doors to the outside are not automatic (unlike on say the newer Oceania Riviera) and the surface is raised – getting in and out requires effort and produces bumps. Likewise getting off or on the ship is a chore: the gangway is never an easy travel and can be steep or long. That said, staff are very helpful and always assisted when available and necessary. I should add that other passengers were also ready to help, and understanding.
We had two different staterooms on the trip. On the first leg, that was a restricted ocean-view cabin – we looked out on a lifeboat. The cabin was small, dark, well-organized, with a tiny but adequate bathroom. Space was tight, in the room, on the toilet, in the shower – bed was big though. The second journey we had an accessible ocean-view: much larger, spacious bathroom, more light, a full view, nicely furnished, the same comfortable bed. Clearly the second room was far superior, and especially for anyone with mobility difficulties.
Wi-Fi in both rooms was excellent. We had unlimited packages. I found the service much better than on Oceania Riviera or various Princess ships. Indeed the Pursuit had the best and fastest internet I’ve enjoyed on any cruise (including my previous trips on the Quest).
One of the cardinal virtues of the Azamara experience is the ambience of their cruise ships, the Quest and for us now the Pursuit. Staff are polite, pleasant, helpful, and efficient. There's very little upselling, little promotion, the bane of the mega-ships, and what there is generally tasteful and avoidable. Captain Smith was always engaging in his assorted announcements. Ryszard Gusmann (hotel director) and German Castro (guest relations manager) were especially helpful – both of these individuals we knew from the Quest. Tony Markey (cruise director) was congenial in person and on the tv, though I did tire of his daily update of events already listed in the newsletter. (In fact if you stay in your stateroom announcements are usually not intrusive, unless you tune in to the local tv channel). Housekeeping staff were conscientious and efficient and obliging. One shore excursion individual, rushing to do her job, nonetheless took the time to explain patiently and carefully how we could find the transport we needed to reach the Sambadrome. Waiters in the restaurant were attentive (by contrast on Oceania Riviera you could go dry – no wine – waiting for the wine tyrant to resolve your plight). In fact service in all of the restaurants was superb. Only once did I come across an angry soul, and he was unhappy with Azamara, not its passengers: even he served me well. In short the Pursuit, like the Quest, is a friendly and gracious place where the staff at all levels seek to make the passengers comfortable and happy. Personally I find Azamara excels here, better than Crystal Symphony where service is also superb.
Enrichment and entertainment (with a few significant exceptions) is not impressive however, and certainly not by comparison with Holland America (great lecturers) and Princess (usually quality production shows). I attended a first few lectures of the speakers but found the topics uninteresting and so too their presentations. I was particularly struck by the absence of a series of lectures on the past and present of carnival (though one was announced in the newsletter but never delivered!), since that was the theme of the second journey. We missed the various singers because, well, we’ve been too often bored by second-rate talent before. There was an excellent performance by a troupe of folkloric dancers of Chilean styles on the first journey: I’ve always found Azamara does bring first-rate local talent, authentic and engaging, on its voyages. We made the mistake of going to one comedy-magician show, Phil and Philippa Cass: found it awful, banal and vulgar - though, to be fair, the audience appeared to enjoy the performance. Standout acts we did enjoy were Nestor Santurino, guitar master, and dancers Dima & Sasha on the first journey, and the superb Tango Cervila on the second, as good tango as I’ve seen on the streets, cafes, and stages of Buenos Aires. The AzAmazing evenings, both in Montevideo, both the same carnival theme and the same performers but different venues, these were as usual amazing indeed, a captivating display of talent, full of imagination and colour and song, drums, and dance – plus the whole exercise of transferring and organizing the mass excursion of passengers was so well-done. We missed the white night parties (always lively), however, because these are no longer suitable for a couple like us – we can’t dance any more so why bother? – but we did secure some of the justly famous crepes offered at that event.
Which brings me to the question of food. The cuisine on the Pursuit was as varied and excellent (with a few exceptions) as on the Quest. Only the Windows café, the evening themed buffets, I thought less appealing: the Quest offered fabulous seafood dishes, prepared as requested, and such didn’t exist on the Pursuit. Nor did I find the buffet offerings very enticing, though certainly varied and popular with other guests. I was especially struck by the extent of the menu and the quality of the offerings of the main dining room: tasty escargot and most appetizers, delicious soups (seafood, pea, gaspacho, etc.), a fine caesar salad, tasty steaks and seafood, a very good cheesecake (unusual in cruise fare). Fish dishes were not always so great, taste too mild, but still decent. I did miss the lack of pasta on the menu though. The Patio had fine burgers and dogs for lunch and good steaks for supper. Prime C, the specialty steakhouse, offered a superb ribeye (indeed all the steak dishes were very good) and a super swordfish steak. Aqualina, the other speciality restaurant, I found less compelling – the dover sole on offer was no match to that available on Oceania Riviera's French restaurant. And there’s no equivalent to Oceania's or Crystal's fabulous speciality Asian restaurants. But there was so much good food available (including through room service which was especially appealing for breakfast) that any gourmet – or glutton – could find the requisite quality and abundance. Always we were served wine we liked, either sparkling or Chilean, as part of the standard package: indeed the Chilean cabernet sauvignon on offer was exceptionally fine.
Finally as to shore excursions. They are much too expensive, compared to Princess or Holland America, and lack the variety of those cruise lines. One scheduled excursion we booked on the Falklands was cancelled because weather cancelled the port. Another, viewing sea lions off Punta del Este, was too short and the playful beasts too far away. By contrast the excursion to the Sambadrome, if super-expensive (we booked the box seats), was worthwhile. First of all, it was very well-organized, and under chaotic conditions. The tour staff Azamara used were especially solicitous to the needs of clients, and in particular looked after my wife and I – they ensured she had an excellent view of that extraordinary parade of colour and excitement. So the price was exorbitant but the experience was one of those life memorable events cruise lines like to hype. Still, overall, Azamara needs to look again at its offers and pricing which can’t compare to what, say, other cruise lines supply, never mind non-cruise commercial tour vendors.
Still, altogether another wonderful experience. Read Less