My brother-in-law found this great 14 day cruise package that included return airfare, 3 Hong Kong room nights and 2 tours of Hong Kong and Macau. This was our first “all inclusive” cruise – open bar (including hard liquors, beers ... Read More
My brother-in-law found this great 14 day cruise package that included return airfare, 3 Hong Kong room nights and 2 tours of Hong Kong and Macau. This was our first “all inclusive” cruise – open bar (including hard liquors, beers and wines), specialty coffees and gratuities.
For the pre-cruise we stayed at the Panorama by Rhombus in the Tsim Sha Tsui district close to the ship terminal. A really nice hotel that is close to all the action on Nathan Road.
I originally thought about walking from the hotel to Ocean Terminal as the map indicated it was approximately ¾ of a mile. However, in the end, we took a taxi that cost us less than US $10. Please note that there was a charge for each piece of luggage as well as a mileage charge.
As far as cruising goes, this was only our 3rd cruise, 4th if you count back-to-back Alaska cruises as 2 separate ones.
Based on information received in our Azamara package, we could embark anytime between 1:00 and 5:30 PM. We did not board until 2:45 PM hoping to avoid the 1:00 PM rush. However, once on board I read the Daily Program paper – “Pursuits” and found out the embarkation process started at 11:30 AM resulting in us missing the early festivities and the luncheon.
Originally, we decided that we would find our own transportation to get us to the Singapore airport. The night before we decided that we would book the cruise line arranged charter. For whatever reason, we were not on the list when we arrived at the bus pick up point. After a few minutes the issue was resolved.
This deck contains the Mosaic Café, bar lounge, Discoveries Restaurant, casino and the cabaret entertainment lounge.
We made use of the Mosaic Café quite a bit – specialty coffees and finger foods available in between meals included prawn cocktail, mini-desserts and sandwiches (tuna, chicken, etc.).
It was nice to have a drink in the bar lounge before dinner. However, around dinner time, seating was at a premium.
The free self-service laundry room is on deck 7 across from cabin 7076 (port / left side) with 4 dryers and 4 washers. One of the washers broke during the latter part of the cruise. Another plus is the fact that the laundry detergent is also free. There is also an iron and ironing board.
It can get quite crowded with people waiting to use the washers and dryers. The laundry room shuts down around 10:00 PM.
Hint: Do laundry on shore days, first thing in the morning, or around / during dinner time.
Deck 9 has the spa, pool, pool bar, outdoor grill, Windows Café, internet and the gym.
Note: There is also an outdoor bar at the ship’s aft in Windows Café.
We are both fairly active and made use of the gym facilities including the free classes everyday when we weren’t busy. The gym is open from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM.
Here’s a run down on the equipment in the gym:
• 8 bicycles – 6 modern exercise bicycles with digital displays and 2 older bicycles without digital displays.
• 3 regular stationary bicycles
• 3 elliptical machines
• 5 treadmills
• 8 to10 different types of weight machines
• 1 Concept rower
• 1 “torture rack” for Pilates
• Free weights
• Lots of yoga / Pilates mats
The free classes included – spin (bicycle), stretch, ab and yoga classes. However, more often than not, it was crowded as the floor space is limited. Get there early!
There is free bottled water in the fridge at the gym but sometimes it is not cold because of the demand (high turnover).
Deck 10 has the lounge / night club, library, Aqualina and Prime C specialty restaurants.
This deck has the jogging track: 13 times = 1 mile.
If you are registered with a Roll Call, you will meet with other cruisers in the lounge on deck 10.
Deck 11 is the sundeck and has the shuffleboard. If you want to get away to relax, work on your tan or read a book this is the place to go as on the few occasions I was up there it was deserted with only a handful of people and sometimes not any.
Hearing Impairment Issue
We had requested our cabin to be installed with tactile hearing devices. My original request was made on-line and I also made a phone call with the Azamara agent to confirm they had our request.
When we arrived at our cabin 3025, the cabin did not have the tactile devices installed. The system consists of a device near the front door (outside), one attached to the phone and one underneath the pillow. Basically, these devices were activated by sounds or vibrations.
I went to the deck 4 concierge / lobby to get the issue rectified. The concierge / lobby did not have a record of my request. It took one of the “hotel” managers / supervisors plus a maintenance employee a few hours over the first and second days to have the devices set up correctly since they did not have any experience installing them!
Note: We had the same issue of no tactile hearing devices installed in our cabin with Royal Caribbean. Just a coincidence since Royal Caribbean and Azamara are in the same corporate group?
Smart casual dress attire at the Discoveries Restaurant has my vote; no suit, dress shirts and ties to pack!
Food on a daily basis, was better than average - good. We ate mostly at the Discoveries Restaurant on Deck 5. We also had dinner at Windows Café (deck 9) on a handful of occasions.
Sushi was a daily buffet item at the Windows Café. Because Japanese rice used in sushi is quite high in sugar content (carbohydrates), we had requested just the raw fish – salmon and tuna. The sushi chef happily obliged and remembered every time we were at the sushi station.
My spouse and I also made use of the smoothie station on the port side entrance to the Windows Café. My spouse, almost on a daily basis, drank a “shot” of the energizer drink with one of the main ingredients being ginger juice / pulp plus a blend of other juices.
Hint: ginger and green apples are supposed to alleviate and / or prevent motion sickness. My spouse did not get sick but neither were there any rough seas.
The ship had the following ethnic themed food nights:
• Asian outdoor buffet
• A taste of India
• Thai, etc.
Miscellaneous thoughts on the food:
• Windows Café has an ice cream station with different ice cream flavours. That was a bonus for dessert.
• Custom order cook / stir fry stations on specific theme nights were a treat as you could order what you wanted and how much you wanted.
• The Discoveries Restaurant menu on the final night of the cruise was disappointing.
• The pool grill on deck 9 has pub style foods made to order including fries, chicken wings, hot dogs and burgers with a self service salad bar and condiments. Great place to have a snack and a drink right next to the pool!
• We had a group dinner (10 persons) at the Aqualina restaurant – food was very good. I had the cobb salad, cold seafood appetizer (mussels, scallops, prawns, crab claw), lobster thermidor with risotto and a grand marnier soufflé. I would rate the dinner 4.5 out of 5.5 stars.
• We had fresh fruits and / or chocolates in the cabin every day– never ate them because we weren’t really that hungry; believe it or not!
• On the second last night of the cruise, the ship put on a Christmas themed buffet brunch hosted and served by the senior personnel. The Discoveries Restaurant was decorated with lots of Christmas decorations and while we were eating there was live music.
• Overall, the food we had on a daily basis was better than average; good but not spectacular. The service on the whole was very good.
• For dinner at the Discoveries Restaurant, there is a regular daily menu that is always served plus a menu that changes every day.
• You can also order specialty coffees at the Windows Café.
It was my spouse’s birthday and I indicated that on my on-line registration. In addition, my brother-in-law had ordered my spouse some chocolate covered strawberries. Without our knowledge, our cabin attendants decorated the cabin with helium filled balloons and left a birthday card. For dinner at the Discoveries Restaurant, the restaurant staff sang Happy Birthday and after that we had birthday cake for dessert.
Another couple that we met on the Ship also had a birthday but for some reason it was missed. As “compensation”, the couple received a complimentary dinner at one of the specialty restaurants.
Azamazing Evening at Binh Quoi Village (Ho Chi Minh City)
From what I know, these Azamazing evening events were quite new when we cruised. Kudos to the cruise line for organizing something out of the ordinary. In addition, every cabin received a Binh Quoi souvenir plate as a memento; a nice touch! I also heard that the passengers with higher cabin categories and or had travelled with Azamara before took a boat to reach the Village.
Binh Quoi Village is a resort style entertainment area that includes open air restaurants / eating areas. When we were there, there were a lot of local residents enjoying themselves at different areas of the Village.
We left the ship on one of the last buses to Binh Quoi Village at 5:00 PM. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact that we were on deck 3. As a consequence, we were seated at the back of the venue - open grass field with banquet style seating and a stage at the front.
There were cold drinks handed out as well as musical entertainment before the dinner. In addition, there were arts and handicrafts stalls that allowed the passengers to take home the artisans’ handicrafts. These included Chinese characters written on scrolls and paper cut-out silhouettes of a person’s profile. During the meal, there was musical entertainment on the stage which we could barely see because we were seated at the back.
The menu included the following:
1. lotus root salad
2. spring rolls
3. deep fried sticky rice
4. grilled red tilapia fish in lotus leaves
5. sautéed beef with lotus seed
6. beef soup with lotus in squash bowl
7. steamed rice with lotus leaves
8. sweet lotus seed
9. fruit, lotus jam
10. tea or coffee
There was nothing really memorable about the meal that evening other than the fact it was in a nice setting and it was very humid. The food was just okay but not great.
Due to the humidity on this mid-December evening, we left on the first bus before dessert.
I would rate the overall Binh Quoi Village experience at 3 out of 5.5 – just okay.
Since we were one of the first buses back to the ship, we had Cherries jubilee for dessert and as well there were other snacks available. This was a pre-arranged function for all the passengers after the return from Binh Quoi Village.
Although the ship is small, the entertainment was okay and included a tribute to Broadway and a Christmas themed show.
Eric De Gray – who is the cruise director / MC and is also a multi-talented entertainer, was involved in the evening shows. Even the Captain became involved in some of the shows.
We booked our own tours. I arranged the Vietnam tours and someone else we met on the Roll Call arranged the Bangkok tours.
From the date we booked our cruise in August, my brother-in-law and I spent numerous hours each week and 100s of emails with the tour agencies and roll call passengers until mid-November before all the details were confirmed. In the end, we had arranged tours for Halong Bay, Da Nang, Hoi An, 2 days in Ho Chi Minh City.
Pros for ship booked tours:
• approved tours and guides
• guaranteed not to be left behind if tour bus is late
• save time as you don’t have to spend it researching
• no stress involved as everything is prearranged; just pay your fees and go
Cons for booking ship tours:
• more structured itinerary; can’t customize itinerary
• more people
Your option, if you’re lucky enough, is to find a passenger or passengers on the Cruise Critic Roll Call that have done all the research, arranged their own tours and are looking for people to fill the tours. There a couple of drawbacks. You may not like the itinerary and secondly, the other passengers may not be compatible with your personality. The major negatives are if you tour bus is late getting back you may miss your boat and the tour company / guide may not be good.
The positives are, it will be cheaper and there will be smaller numbers in your tour.
You can read my port reviews for each attraction in TripAdvisor under my name “Traveller55555_8”. I have reviewed attractions in Hong Kong / Macau, Halong Bay, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hoi Chi Minh City and Bangkok.
Vietnam Shore Excursions – Port Charges
I get the feeling because tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam, there are a lot of questionable tactics that may cause the tourists grief or at least cause more confusion in the decision making process.
An example is port charges in Vietnam. I had read on Cruise Critic forums that each port authority charges a fee in order to allow the tour companies access inside the terminal gates to pick up the passengers for excursions. Furthermore, if the passengers were to walk outside the terminal gate for pick up, the port fees could be waived. The information researched in Cruise Critic was inconsistent to the point where I contacted the Azamara Chief Blogging Officer/ liaison – Bill Leiber regarding the port fees. In fact, I had contacted him regarding dock locations, shuttle bus transfers, port fees etc. Mr. Leiber would not divulge what port fees were charged to Azamara. It’s understandable, but my question was more directed at finding out what the port authority was charging these tour companies.
See link here:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1916965, post #11
I tried to pin the exact fee charged to each person for these port fees. No such luck as the fee varied from port to port and even from tour company to tour company. The tour company that we used for Halong Bay and Da Nang refused to negotiate and insisted that we were to be picked up dockside inside the terminal gates.
Another well known travel agent with whom I was dealing with refused to reduce the per person quote for pick up outside the cruise ship terminal gate because she did not want to anger the authorities and jeopardize future pick ups inside the terminal.
This is what she said from 2 separate emails regarding terminal pickup:
“Yes, I heard about that, but I am sorry that I dare not to arrange the guide meeting my clients outside the port. For 6 years now, I never do that.
I know some of clients want to save money, and I am glad to do something to help them make the trip possible.
however, in serving cruise passengers, if I pick clients up outside the port, if the agent approving the letter happens to know, next time they will not approve the pickup permit for my company, I don't wish to experience any problem.”
In Saigon, we docked at Nha Rong (downtown Saigon). I was able to negotiate a reduced rate for pickup outside the terminal gate. The reduction was $15 per person per day and in my opinion $30 is well worth saving to spend on other pleasures.
As to whether, the $15 per person per day reduction represents the full port authority charge or just a portion is anyone’s guess because I have heard the port fee charge could be $20 or $25 per person.
In summary, the port access fees are shrouded in secret as far as I can tell. Even long time veteran Cruise Critic members which I have talked to in the Vietnam forum do not have a handle on what these fees are and how much.
The distance from the Saigon - Nha Rong terminal to the terminal gate was less than 300 meters (approximately 325 yards) which is not a long distance. However, if there are mobility issues for individuals in your tour group, you may wish to have the tour operator pick you at inside the terminal. As for distances between the dock and terminal gate at other ports, the distances may be farther. Do your research!
If you have the option of waiving the port fees you should also consider whether it is allowable to walk to terminal gate and the distance from disembarkation to the terminal gate. Again, do your research.
For other ports like Halong Bay and Da Nang, walking to the terminal gates may not be advisable.
In Da Nang, for example, a group of passengers walked from the dock to outside the terminal gates to catch their tour bus in order to save on the port fees. Unfortunately, they were met by the “police” and they demanded a fee to get past them to the tour bus. In the end, no one was harmed when the tour bus guide intervened. This is a true story since we were heard the story from a passenger that was on that particular tour and corroborated by the organizer of that private Da Nang tour.
Here’s the response from “jollyjoyce” on a CruiseCritic forum who actually organized the Da Nang tour and was directly involved in the incident.
“…It was agreed to meet the guide outside the gates. He was waiting outside the gates and told me to just keep walking as the bus was a little further along the road. It was as we were walking that the police arrived! It was certainly not what I expected. We refused to pay them and were prepared to go back to the ship. The guide talked to the police and agreed to see them when we got back in the afternoon. I do not know what transpired but that was their problem. …In case you are wondering, I got the name of the guide from a previous review on Tripadvisor...highly rated, and I spoke to him on Skype several times before arrival. I have had emails from him since sincerely apologising and promising it will not happen to visitors again. Personally I think in retrospect I should have agreed to pay the $20 port fees and be collected from the ship....we were dropped off at the ship on return. I did actually report the incident when back onboard and they were going to send a report to their port agents.”
See link here:
Since you are reading this review, you are familiar with www.CruiseCritic.com.
Make sure you join CruiseCritic.com and the Roll Call for your particular itinerary.
The reasons are threefold:
• Communications with fellow cruisers. For example, if you have a question on excursions and questions and answers posted by others in the forum.
• Join a roll call for your particular cruise itinerary to stay informed
• Information on potentially joining other cruisers on privately arranged tours
Overall, Cruise Critic is a very good resource for information, tips and questions.
• My spouse commented that the ship looked a bit dated
• On average, it appeared that the passengers were slightly older
• Friendly staff
• Captain was highly visible – saw him almost daily
• Since the Journey is a small ship, the size allowed it to dock closer to the downtown areas. Docking closer to the downtown area cuts down on the transportation time.
• The free tour of the ship’s galley (by invitation) was a nice surprise and was also good.
• We were prepared to pay the as advertised Vietnam visa fee ($25?) but were surprised it was only US $10 per person. The ship was responsible for the payment that eventually showed up on our invoice statement; easy, painless and cheap!
• There were enrichment seminars but we only attended one on making candy decorations. Others included historical / political seminars on the ports where the ship was docked. Another one I noticed was one on the use of your iPad on deck 5 by the casino.
The outside cabin is located on the starboard (right) side with a port hole for a window.
The cabin size was as expected - small but functional. However, I don’t remember the bathrooms being that small like on other ships’ cabins. The shower stall was at most 30 x 30 inches (2.5 feet x 2.5 feet) – very tight and I’m not a big person! It would be very difficult to have two people standing in the bathroom.
There were no electrical outlets in the bathroom. If you wanted to dry your hair or shave you had to do that in the “living room”.
There is free bottled water in the room. Make sure you don’t take the premium bottled water or you will be charged. There is also a bar fridge stocked with liquor. This is also not free! Another plus was the bathrobes.
In my opinion, the cabin’s location was ideal as it was quiet and close to the deck 4 staircase and the elevator. In addition, the cabin was located near the middle of the ship and on the last deck; ideal location in the event of rough seas as there would be less rocking motion. There are 2 wheelchair accessible cabins next to our cabin; close to the elevator.
The port side of deck 3 is the crew quarters.
The overall cruise experience was enhanced by the following factors:
• Good itinerary but wished we could have stayed extra days in the ports
• Great company and also meeting new people
• Good privately arranged tours with good tour companies
• Above average food and service
• No charge for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees
• Inclusion of gratuities
• Good weather
• Great value for price paid that also included the above, return airfare, 3 day pre-cruise accommodations in Hong Kong and the 14 day cruise
The only 3 issues were the installation of the tactile hearing devices, the embarkation and debarkation process.
The overall rating for the cruise experience 4.5 out 5.5 stars.