Our first cruise with Azamara was the 17-night trip from Athens to Dubai on the Journey. The entire experience was perfect from booking through disembarkation. We chose this voyage specifically for the itinerary as there was an overnight stop for both Luxor and Petra. About two months before we were due to leave we received an email titled “Itinerary Change”. My first reaction was ‘OH NO’. However in this case it turned out to be excellent news. Our ship was to exit the Suez Canal earlier than expected giving us two full days in Luxor. This provided the opportunity to change the long one day excursion I had booked to an overnight trip. Since it was a 3.5 drive each way from Safaga to Luxor, spreading it our over two days was considerably better.
We stayed in Athens on our own 2 nights before the cruise then took a taxi from the hotel to the Port about noon. We were on board within 5 minutes and greeted with champagne. Since the staterooms were not ready yet we relaxed, had lunch, and booked some additional excursions for later in the voyage. About 1:30 an announcement was made and we had access to our cabin.
We were in a balcony cabin off the back of the ship which afforded a 180-degree view. The cabin might have been a litter smaller than other ships but the balcony was considerably larger because of its’ location. It had all the standard stuff including a nice size closet and bathroom. The bed was really comfortable, with very nice sheets and a duvet. One really nice thing that Azamara does is keep your room fridge stocked with soda and ice. It’s really convenient and an excellent amenity. However, most cruise lines, including Azamara should take a lesson from Viking and get rid of the shower curtains. It’s much nicer to have glass doors.
One thing I noticed on Azamara compared to other cruises we have taken is that there is not any overt and constant ‘sales’ pressure. Not for photos, jewelry, drinks, or spa treatments. It’s all pretty low key. Since standard drinks and tips are included, the only extra purchases we made were for a couple shore excursions that I had not pre-booked. I have to say, I was really nice to walk up to a bar and get a cocktail or glass of wine without a charge slip. There was never ANY mention of additional tipping but we did choose to give our stateroom stewards a little extra.
The self-service laundry including soap was also free. Since we only travel with carry-on luggage, we made good use of this amenity. As one can imagine, it was a pretty popular place on a 17-day cruise.
Food in the main dining room was outstanding. There were at least 7 or 8 entrée choices in addition to many appetizers, soups, salads, and desserts. Since both my husband and I really like escargot, I was surprised to see it as a permanent menu choice. Whenever I ordered beef or lamb, it came perfectly medium rare, just the way I like it. We did eat at the Italian Specialty restaurant Aqualina one night. It was better than the dining room, but only because of the items available. Most of our group ended up with the Lobster Trifecta: Bisque, Ravioli, and Grilled Tail. It was a great meal to celebrate my huband’s birthday.
Since we normally cruise Princess, I have to say the buffet was not nearly as good as Princess. It closed at 8:30 and was considerably smaller. Also missing was the excellent Pizza and Pasta (especially their Fettuccini Alfredo) that is standard on all Princess ships. But then, the dining room was better and the included drinks were a definite plus.
Entertainment was good. We spent most of our time in the ‘Living Room’ Lounge where they had either a guitarist or pianist playing. We went to a couple of the bigger shows in the theater. They were all enjoyable but not outstanding.
The ‘Azamazing Evening’ was a trip to Wadi Rum to see a Bedouin show. It was NOT amazing. In fact, we didn’t even feel like we saw Wadi Rum. It was basically a small theater set up for tourists out in the middle of nowhere. We got off the bus, got a glass or wine or a beer and sat down on the stone bleachers with big pillows. There were a couple of women making bread on a wood fire which eventually got passed through the crowd so everyone could have a small taste. The music and dancing were boring. We couldn’t really see the sunset due to the position of the theater with the surrounding hills. It was probably the only excursion that was sub-par…but it was free. When we returned to the ship about 8pm there was an excellent buffet set up in the dining room and on deck so everyone could easily and quickly grab dinner.
One thing that was amazing was the ‘White Night Party’ on the pool deck. We didn’t know but everyone is supposed to wear something white. The deck was specially decorated and the food was outstanding! They had charcoal grills set up and were grilling lamb, beef and lobster. They were even making Crepe Suzette for dessert! The music and dancing made for a really perfect evening.
All the other tours we did off the ship were Outstanding – especially the Luxor Overnight, trip to Petra, and Dubai Bedouin Dinner in the Dunes. In Oman, It was just amazing to see bunches of camels just roaming around blocking traffic like sheep in Ireland. In Dubai we went to the 125th floor of the ‘current’ world’s tallest building. The memories we have from each excursion and country are priceless! Of course we all probably have a couple thousand pictures as well.
We did wonder about going through parts of the Middle East as the ship passed between Somalia and Yemen after exiting the Red Sea. Once we left Jordan some heavily armed personnel had boarded as a pirate precaution. It was pretty easy to pick them out as they did not fit the typical cruiser profile. They were all pretty buff plus they had on ‘Protection Vessel’ shirts. This made us all feel perfectly safe. They exited the ship once we reached Oman and probably got on another ship heading north.
Disembarkation was extremely easy. We left the ship and grabbed a taxi to a hotel in Dubai. It was an outstanding trip, mostly because of the itinerary but also because of Azamara. We really look forward to traveling with them again!