Astoria Cruise Review by n.cartwright
- Sail Date: June 2015
- Destination: Norwegian Fjords
Excellent cruise totally exceeded my expectations.
The MV Azores is small, 16,144 tons, 7 decks, 550 passengers but it has all of the facilities that you need. I won’t go into the ship’s specifications as they can be found on the company website ,suffice to say that cabins, food, bars, entertainment, lectures and service are all of a very high standard.
We booked in September 2014 so we had time to research the ship and the itinerary. We originally booked a basic inner cabin on the lowest deck. Without asking, we got upgraded 11 cabin levels to a Premium Twin Ocean View on deck 6 with 2 full windows (thankyou Cruise and Maritime) which worked out well as the stunning fjord views could be enjoyed from inside our cabin as well as from the public rooms and decks. We also took advantage of the all-inclusive drinks package which was good value and £17 per person per day.
The ship is 67 years old but has been superbly re-fitted with all public areas pristine and there are no parts of the ship that look “tired” or are in any need of a face lift (as has been the case with some of the other ships we have been on).
There are many smaller rooms you can use as well as the larger bars and lounges, again, all offering comfortable and well upholstered seating, tables, plush carpets and a good standard of decoration.
Three bars, serving a variety of drinks, including many cocktails, the majority of which were included in the drinks package. The house wine was good and there were other, premium varieties on offer which attracted an extra charge.
Two restaurants, the Lotus buffet and the Olissipo restaurant, both having broadly the same menu for breakfast and lunch, varying a bit more for dinner. Open seating apart from dinner in the Olissipo restaurant which was held in two sittings at specific tables. We dined in the buffet for breakfast and lunch, then in the restaurant for dinner. All of the food was very good, but I would describe the restaurant dinner as being superb, 5 courses, varied menu, something for everyone and beautifully prepared and presented.
I did like the service in the buffet as well, which was self service but with a waiter/waitress serving you from behind the counter. You could ask for as much as you wanted and you could return for more if necessary but I think this method did cut down on the disgraceful amount of waste that occurs when greed takes over from common sense and fully loaded plates end up with half eaten food on them. Also in the buffet, there is unlimited tea and coffee from 06:00 to midnight.
Entertainment was good, aimed at the older, all adult clientele, based mainly in the Calypso show lounge. Abba and Queen plus 60’s rock and roll for example. The comedian, Andy Leach went down well, a combination of comedy, magic and Derrick the exploding ferret (he’s only a puppet). There was live music in the bar and the shows were supported by a 5 piece live band. I also attended the lectures in the auditorium, presented by Geoffrey Farrell, history of the Vikings, nature of Norway, early shipbuilding, the Hanseatic League and the northern sky, all of which were interesting and informative. The auditorium was also used as a cinema a certain times of the day.
Also on the entertainment front, every room had a flat screen TV with channels that varied dependant on the reception but with a forward looking camera on the bridge, a GPS based map, film channels and a preview of the DVD that was being filmed as the cruise went on. Although we would not normally buy a DVD such as this, the fjords were so stunning that we thought still pictures may not do justice to the holiday, so we bought the DVD on this occasion, finding the standard of production to be exceptionally good, with narration and other information added regarding the places visited. At £24.99, again, good value.
Excursions could be pre-booked and I would recommend this when wishing to visit popular places such as the Flam railway, as I was later aware that some independent travellers failed to get on the train as it was full. Excursion prices were a bit expensive, but, Norway is an expensive country so it’s difficult to judge.
As Norway uses the Krone, the ships reception was able to change small amounts of Sterling for passengers (cash to cash, not using the on-board spend system) and we found this to be at a slightly better rate than the Norwegian Tourist Information offices, where Krone can also be obtained. We did find that, contrary to information we got from the Internet, some popular places will take Euro’s (and even Sterling) but this cannot be guaranteed and certainly the attractions such as the Bergen funicular railway was Krone only. You can use your debit card of course but it’s worth having a small amount of local currency.
As mentioned, our cabin was on deck 6 (cabin 643), well appointed with twin beds, plenty of storage space, bathroom with bath, shower, WC, bidet, shaver socket and hair dryer, electronic safe, all nicely decorated and with two large windows, offering great views of the fjord waterfalls and scenery. The cabin steward was never far away and made sure it was clean, tidy and well stocked on a regular basis.
There were other facilities we didn’t try, the spa, deck games, quizzes for example and the pool was closed, due to the Norwegian temperatures. There was also a night club. I did pay a short visit to the gym which was small but adequate, which also offered free classes for work outs to repair the damage to the various parts of the body that the restaurants had inflicted!!
I haven’t said too much about the itinerary as the Norwegian fjords speak for themselves. Huge snow covered mountains, massive waterfalls, stunning scenery and you do spend a fair bit of time cruising through the fjords during the daylight hours which is both pleasant and relaxing. We were slightly fortunate as the snow had not yet melted on the mountain tops so the waterfalls were in full flow. Also, at the time of year we went it was light for about 22 hours of the day.
I should mention that, throughout the whole 9 days, I, personally, didn’t hear one person moaning about anything, and with 550 Brits aboard, that’s quite an achievement. I did hear (second hand) that there were a couple of moans somewhere but I suppose there will always be those who refuse to make happiness last a whole week.
Just a few tips:
Buy the drinks package.
Pre-book excursions that you really want to do.
Take a small amount of local currency.
Make use of the events, demonstrations and lectures that are offered, particularly during the days at sea.
In summary, although Cruise and Maritime are a relatively new company, I was very very impressed. They nailed it for me. The cruise ship, crew services and itinerary all exceeded my expectations by a considerable margin and would wholeheartedly recommend this Cruise and Maritime Voyages to any potential cruiser.
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