Several priorities led us to select this particular cruise: 1. TIMING was to coincide with our 40th anniversary. 2. DURATION since we prefer cruises of ten or more days. 3. COST, or perhaps I should say value. 4. ITINERARY, which proved to be the bonus element for this cruise. 5. CLIMATE, we would be escaping summer heat and wanted moderate to cool weather.This particular sailing of AZAMARA Journey fulfilled all of our requirements in a spectacular fashion. The only thing I would change about this entire trip would be to allow another day in Barcelona. Flying in from California only one day ahead was not really sufficient. We had to choose to either see Barcelona or catch up on sleep. Sadly, sleep won. After nearly falling off the top level of the hop on hop off bus, we gave in and returned to Hotel Colon for a "nap" that lasted until the next morning. If you want a hotel that puts you in the middle of the Cathedral square, adjacent to shopping and at the hub of the city, Hotel Colon will fit your criteria. Their strength is the premier location and the very nice breakfast that is included with your room. If you need the comfort of a plush room with high end bedding, you might want to look elsewhere, but we would choose this hotel again based entirely on location. Embarkation was a complete breeze. We waltzed through the whole process without lines or delay. The ship is lovely. Public rooms are comfortable and the veranda suite seemed very similar to the same category suite on the Celebrity ships we've used in the past. ***AFTER THE ROOM SWITCH... More storage than we could possibly fill. We started the cruise in a standard veranda suite, and moved on the second day to the sky suite. I would estimate that the sky suite provides approximately triple the closet space, drawers and cupboards, and there is no comparison of the counter space, both in the suite and in the bathroom. The shower over the bathtub provides a generous amount of space compared to the tiny stall shower (with its clinging shower curtain) of our original suite. Simply cannot say enough about the luxury of having such a large suite, especially for a cruise as long as this one. The Sky Suite provided space and storage comparable to the Marriott Hotel we used in Copenhagen and it was larger than the Hotel Colon, which we used in Barcelona for the night before embarkation. In the dining room on the first evening, we ordered a couple of bottles of wine; a white and a red. I'd read from previous reviews that the bottles would be stored and returned to our table on the following night. Since we had demonstrated an interest in the wine list, we were immediately introduced to Boris, the very capable sommelier. He mentioned a wine tasting event being planned on board the ship and inquired about our interest. We were enthusiastic about adding that to our agenda and Boris promised to let us know about the details. I have to tell you, attending that first wine tasting was to be one of our best, all time decisions! Subsequent to that first event, we were privileged to enjoy two entire wine dinners, with specialty dishes and individually paired wines served in an intimate setting for eight to ten guests and attended by ship's officers, Ryszard Gusmann, and Philip Herbert. These proved to be a highlight of the cruise. During the second dinner, which was held in a beautifully adorned Michaels Club, each course was prepared and presented with table side comments from Chef Kyle. We were absolutely treated like royalty at these dinners, and the friendships forged, plus the wonderful company of Ryszard and Philip, all enriched our whole experience. Specialty dining experiences were, as intended, superior to the dining room, though the dining room was quite good. We generally had excellent service and, as promised, any left over wine was promptly delivered to our table each night, regardless where we dined. We did notice that the main dining room seemed to consistently cook a little "to the done" so for you who prefer your beef or lamb on the rare side, don't hesitate to ask for RARE.Another note about the wine and corkage issue, we did take a couple of special birthday and anniversary bottles on board. We knew we would be charged $25. corkage but what we didn't know was how it would be received... The wine staff could not have been more accomodating. They were gracious about accepting our private bottles and even complimentary of our choices. No hint of a negative attitude from anyone. If you have special bottles you really want to take with you, something you care enough about to drag it half way around the world in your luggage, don't worry about being given the cold shoulder from the wine staff. Ports of call and stateroom details are covered separately, but if you are "big people" like we are, and you can afford the extra money, pay for the upgrade to the sky suite. Overall, this was a wonderful itinerary. We were blessed with fabulous weather at each port. Paris and London were both enjoying extraordinarily fine, sunny days during our visit. The alternating sea days and exhausting port excursions proved a perfect balance. The cities like La Coruna, or St Malo, which were meaningless to us before this trip, are now cherished memories with fun stories to accompany our photos. You are reading this review to make a determination of whether you would like to travel on this ship or this itinerary. If you have children traveling with you, you should probably select a different ship. The AZAMARA line does not pretend to cater to children, though there was one family with teenage children on our ship and they seemed to have a great time. If you are a fan of the great big stage shows, you should probably select a different ship. If you need a golf simulator or a climbing wall, this is obviously not your ship. But if you enjoy exceptional service, fine dining, comfortable accomodations and not being faced with standing in line for everything you want to do, by all means, book AZAMARA as soon as you can.As for itinerary, this trip served as a great introduction to Western Europe. We saw places we'd always dreamed of visiting and we also discovered places we'd never heard of before. Sort of a "box of assorted chocolates" approach to visiting Europe.We can't say enough good things about the staff on this ship. As mentioned before, the wait staff, Boris and the entire wine staff, and the chefs were all first rate. We were impressed with a tour of the kitchens and recognize the "unsung heros" who do all the prep work to keep those meals coming endlessly throughout the days and nights. Butler, Soobash, kept our ice bucket filled and learned our preferences. He also decorated for my birthday (without being tipped off by anyone). The tone of hospitality is set by Philip Herbert, Ryszard Gusmann and Boris. They went to great lengths to do anything and everything possible to enhance our experience. We will look forward to sailing with this ship again, partially to renew friendships with these wonderful men.
***AFTER THE ROOM SWITCH... More storage than we could possibly fill. We started the cruise in a standard veranda suite, and moved on the second day to the sky suite. I would estimate that the sky suite provides approximately triple the closet space, drawers and cupboards, and there is no comparison of the counter space, both in the suite and in the bathroom. The shower over the bathtub provides a generous amount of space compared to the tiny stall shower (with its clinging shower curtain) of our original suite. Simply cannot say enough about the luxury of having such a large suite, especially for a cruise as long as this one. The Sky Suite provided space and storage comparable to the Marriott Hotel we used in Copenhagen and it was larger than the Hotel Colon, which we used in Barcelona for the night before embarkation.
We chose the cable car and walking tour. Interesting history. Tour guide could have improved the experience if she had spoken with more volume. Also these tours are in caves and tunnels and it becomes too crowded when several groups converge at the same time.
We chose the introduction to Paris excursion offered by the ship. It was a weekend and we were fortunate to have great weather. Thousands and thousands of people out enjoying the public parks of Paris. This tour hit the highlights and gave us some time on our own to shop and enjoy a sidewalk cafe. Pricey tour, but probably the best choice for someone who had never been to Paris.
The tendering issue at the Greenwich dock was a bit of a nuisance, but we assume it was a requirement of the local authorities. This is one port where we did not book a ship excursion. Feeling brave and undetered by a language barrier, we planned a full day on our own. We'd made reservations several months ahead, for a matinee performance at The Globe. That 2:00 was our only set time, so we disembarked as early as possible, took the Thames Clipper to the Tower of London, grabbed the headphones and toured The Tower efficiently. Wish we'd had more time there, but we did happen to be present for the 62 gun salute, blasted by three cannons in front of the tower, to celebrate the corronation of the Queen. Then back on the Clipper to The Globe for "As You Like It". After the play, we grabbed the Clipper again to The Eye. Philip Herbert had graciously assisted us with "fast track" reservations the previous evening, so we were able to enjoy the flight without waiting in the queue. If I could suggest one thing, I'd say avoid the hours of setting sun if you are going to fly on The Eye. It makes views to the west very difficult. We closed the afternoon with a brisk hike to photograph Big Ben. The Thames Clipper is a comfortable and reliable transport to get you up and down the river. We were advised to use this service instead of the slower tour boats if we wanted to make the most of our time in London. Probably very good advise.
In Antwerp we booked the walking tour through the ship. Had a delightful guide, beautiful weather, and happened to be there on a holiday Monday. We were given private access to the interior of City Hall, which was much more of a special treat than it sounds as I write it now. Lots of treasured art and interesting history. As Americans, we tend to underestimate the vital history of these ancient cities. We also happened to be there during a special event which caused several originals by Reuben and other masters to be on display inside the cathedral. The people of Antwerp were the biggest treat, as they came to the dock in droves to stare at the ship and wave. We were treated to a delightful band which played a concert until the ship sailed away.
Took the ships excursion on this one too. This one was a walking tour and canal boat ride. Our guide for this particular trip seemed to share quite a bit about the history and the architecture of this city. This tour provided some time for shopping and after the orientation of the morning, we ventured out and found the city metro quite an easy and friendly source of transportation. I actually had a good time with one of the bus drivers who seemed to enjoy showing off his prowess with the english language and American pop music. Visited the flower mart and placed an order for tulip bulbs to be shipped home in October when it is time to plant them. Probably no different that the bulbs you'd get anywhere else, but it seemed like a good idea at the time...
Bring money! Or at least have lots of credit left on your credit card. This was the most expensive port we found on the whole trip. This is a great city to walk and explore on your own. You can plan to catch the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace at noon each day. The palace to tour is the Rosenborg Castle, which has all the crown jewels and provides a terrific insight to the life of Royalty. The Marriott was very nice, but dinner in the hotel the first night was a bad experience, especially after being spoiled on the ship. Very pricey and nothing special. The city tour we took here combined a bus tour and canal boat tour. The canal boat was infuriating because we could not hear anything the girl said over the microphone. When we indicated our inability to hear, she suddenly became deaf herself! Again, harsh re-entry to rudeness after two weeks of being pampered!You can walk to everything in Copenhagen. Even the Little Mermaid is just a short walk down the waterfront. Good dining experiences in Copenhagen at CUSTOM HOUSE and a great place, whose name I regret I can't remember, with tables outside on the canal bank of the area they told us used to be the "rough district". What I can tell you is that this place was one that had part of their menu in English and offered Steak and Salad or Steak, Salad and Dessert for a fixed price. Look for umbrellas over the outside tables and wine on ice in the outside bar. Check the menus and if you can find this place, you'll score! Our servers in both places were delightful and the food was quite good.