We've had the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) islands on our radar for quite some time but just never found the right cruise to take. Azamara altered their Fall 2019 itineraries earlier this year after cruises were banned from Cuba, and one of those new itineraries visited the ABCs. The cruise was a late addition to the schedule and I presume wasn't very popular as prices kept dropping. In mid September we found a pricing oddity where it was the same price for a Club Continent Suite as for a Balcony Cabin. We asked friends and family who wanted to join and one nephew and his wife were in. So we booked two adjacent Suites for a bargain fare. We used American Express Platinum card benefits, with each cabin getting $300 in onboard credit; a premium bottle of champagne; and tours of the Bridge, Engine Control Room, and the Galley. So our good deal got even better.
The cruise departed and returned to San Juan with stops on St. Maarten, Curacao, Bonair, and Aruba. There were two days at sea on this seven day voyage. We found nice things to do at all of the ports.
We've sailed on Azamara once before, visiting the Black Sea and the Crimea peninsula before Russia annexed the Crimea. So we sort of knew what to expect, though we'd never had suite privileges. Our expectations are fairly high. This cruise was good but not great.
Cabin -- GOOD
Service -- GOOD
Specialty Dining -- GREAT
Regular Dining -- GOOD
Entertainment -- OKAY
Shipboard Activities -- GOOD
Itinerary -- GREAT
Cabins -- We had cabins 8064 and 8066. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom large enough, and there was enough storage for our week's worth of clothes. The room was quiet, and we did spend some time on the respective balconies. The temperature of the room was good, though one cabin was much warmer than the other and maintenance was called to chill down the warmer room. As this was a suite, we had a chilled bottle of Sparkling Wine to welcome us and we were given 4 0.5 liter bottles of Alcohol -- Rum, Vodka, Gin, and Scotch. We were able to trade in 2 0.5 liter bottles for a 1 liter bottle of something else. Suites also include on bag of laundry for each 7 days of cruising. The bags are quite small. We we were able to roll up all of our dirty clothes and fill the bag mid-way through the cruise.
Service -- Cabin service was good. We actually had 3 different people serving us in our cabin. First there was the Butler. Apparently 3 butlers are shared between all Azamara suites. The Butler is who we met first, and he offered to help us with anything we might need, like switching out the bottles of alcohol, planning a party in the room, or booking you into a specialty restaurant. He briefed us on our suite privileges, including ability to dine at no charge in specialty restaurants, to have high tea in you suite any afternoon, and to use the Sanctum Spa Terrace -- a quite place to sun and lounge. He was assisted by two cabin stewards. While the service was fine, I didn't get to really know any of the three folks who serviced our room. We did have tea and scones on the first full day of the cruise, and again on the last full day. It's quite a spread they give you, complete with finger sandwiches and a choice of teas; I only wish they had some proper clotted cream to go along with those scones.
Specialty Dining -- Both specialty dining restaurants were fantastic. We dined in the steak restaurant twice and in the Italian restaurant once. All of the meats were cooked perfectly in the Steak restaurant. The Italian restaurant had a great succession of starter, pasta course, and meat course. We'd gladly pay to visit these same restaurants where we live. The service in the restaurants matched the food.
Regular Dining -- We had a range of experiences, from Fantastic food in the Main Dining Room for dinner to okay lunches in Windows Cafe or The Patio outdoor grill. Breakfast is often my favorite meals, and the food was okay but not great. At breakfast even the made to order items, like sunny-side up eggs, were just okay as the oil the eggs were cooked in just seemed a bit off. Sadly, the sushi was one of my favorite items on the lunch buffet, and the sushi was not nearly as good as I get in my at-home sushi restaurant. The White Nights party/deck buffet was fine....I had hoped for some grilled lobster other cruise lines I've take in the Caribbean (Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, and Windstar) seem to feature grilled lobster tails; none was served on the Azamara Deck party. One day at sea there was a German Buffet in the Dining Room, complete with a band playing om-pah music; even then the food was just okay.
Entertainment -- The entertainment seemed aimed at a different demographic than us. The individual performers were all talented. Other passengers raved about the entertainment. We went to two shows, one of which we left after about 10 minutes. Hopefully those of you reading this will enjoy the entertainment more than we did.
Shipboard Activities -- There was enough to do on days at sea, with different activities scheduled just about every hour. We were happy to have our AMEX tours to attend. The galley tour was particularly interesting to me as on this ship the galley is one floor down from the restaurant. Waiters carry trays of food from the galley to the dining room via an escalator. I'm sure it's quite a sight every night when the dining room is full. We did attend the Dollar Origami session and converted Dollar Bills into Peacocks.
Itinerary -- the itinerary was great, with long visits to each port. We made the best of each stop.
St. Maarten -- we booked a "Cross the Boarder" bike ride with TriSport. It was a 21 mile journey from the Dutch side to the French Side and back. There were several hard climbs with 1,900 ft. elevation change over the journey. We had standard bikes, though were we to do this again, we'd pay for the "assist" bikes to give you some power as you go uphill. All of us walked up one or more of the steepest hills. The guide was on time with nice well maintained equipment. We even stopped by Maho Beach to watch the jets take off and land. Yes, crazy people did hold onto the fence and get sand blasted by those big jet engines. We'd considered visiting Sunset Grill and Bar in the afternoon when the large European flights arrive/depart but we got a taste with the regional jets and there were so many people at the bar and beach we just knew it would be packed when the big planes were arriving/departing.
Curacao -- in the morning we'd booked a "free walking tour" with Kevin. It was interesting, insightful, and useful to hear the stores and learn about the island through a local guide. Kevin was there on time, and we had a private tour for 4. He even took us to a local food court and got us samples of two dishes -- one featuring Goat and one featuring Okra. We also hung out on the floating bridge that connects the sides of Curacao. We stayed on the bridge for one of the short openings, when a small boat needs to enter the harbor. and the bridge closes to foot traffic for about 10 minutes. In the afternoon we took a tour with Azamara to see items Made in Curacao. There were 3 stops -- an Aloe Farm, a Brewery, and a Blue Curacao Liquor Distillery. Each were interesting, though three in our group really like beer, so we enjoyed the brewery the most. There were four ships in Curacao this day (apparently there are NEVER four ships in port at the same time), and the downtown area was quite busy. We were the last ship to leave the port that night, after 10pm.
Bonaire -- Bonaire is known for its diving. It's one of the few places where you can dive great sites directly off the beach; no need for a boat. We hired two dive masters and equipment so that we could dive Bonaire. We used BonScuba. Two of us are certified divers and two had never taken a dive. BonScuba provided all the equipment and they transported us to the selected dive site. Two of us went with one Dive Master for an hour tour of the local reef, and two had some lessons then did an introductory dive on the same reef. The equipment was well maintained but not new. The diving was good. We found a walking tour online before we traveled to Bonaire and did a short walk around the town in the afternoon. Other passengers on the ship commented that there was nothing to do in Bonaire. We found it small and very laid back. We would have been board without the diving.
Aruba -- We booked a half day Landrover Adventure with Azamara. 13 people were seated in something that resembled a safari jeep, but enlarged to seat up to 16 folks. We stopped at several sights, including a (fallen) sea arch, a lighthouse, and a beautiful chapel. The undeveloped part of Aruba is quite beautiful. We were surprised as how many people we saw in that undeveloped part on horses, dune buggies, 4 wheelers, motorcycles, and all sorts of other vehicles. The tour stopped at a beach for about 30 minutes of sun/sand. In the afternoon, we took a 30 minute walk down to the Reflections Beach Bar for some cocktails/beer and free wifi. Reflections is on a quite beach and they provide chairs, umbrellas, food, and drink for a reasonable price. This evening in Aruba, we had our Azamazing Event. On our previous Azamara cruise, the Azamazaing Evening transported us to a Winery in Ukraine, where we dined and tasted their wines while watching local dancers including the awarding winning Russian Sailor Dance; that was amazing. The one in Aruba was not so. The event was held on the ship. There were two shifts -- Eat then see the entertainment, or vice versa. We chose to Eat later. The steel pan band was okay and the dancers were good. But the show just went on too long. When we were finally released, the next shift was lined up all through the ship waiting to get into the theater. I understand the show was shortened for the 2nd shift. The Azamazing Evening Dinner was Caribbean style food, served buffet style in both the Dining Room and in Windows Cafe. The food was unremarkable.
San Juan -- we stayed in San Juan the night before the cruise. We also had a full day in San Juan after we disembarked, so we spent some time about town. For dinner the night before the cruise, we visited Lote23. It's sort of like a permanent food truck roundup. We had some great local food there along with nice craft cocktails that feature local ingredients. I'd highly recommend it if you're looking for someplace different to eat. On disembarkation day, we did a self guided walking tour and had lunch at Barrachia -- the supposed birthplace of the Pina Colada. Barrachia is also the place where, for the cost of a tip, you can check your bags for the day.
So that's our week trip. We particularly liked the ports, the food in the specialty restaurants, and the suite privileges. The ship was in good shape. We'll travel with Azamara again, but only on for a unique itinerary.