In a nutshell: Consistently best food we’ve had on a cruise ship. Special events were well above most other cruise lines. Service was good, but lacked the “sparkle” of other high end (and more expensive) cruise lines that try harder to exceed your expectations.
We took this cruise because it was my mother-in-law’s 82nd birthday and Tahiti has been on her bucket list since she was a child. We’ve been looking for a good itinerary to visit Tahiti and this cruise through Hawaii fit the bill.
----- Ship Review -----
Embarkation. Standard and quick. The only delay was waiting for a wheelchair for my mother-in-law to board the ship. We waited over 20 minutes and another couple tried to walk in after waiting 30 minutes. It really took much longer than it should have and was not a good first impression of ship services. As we were boarding the ship about 1230 the announcement was made that the cabins were available, so that allowed us to drop luggage in our cabin and go to lunch. There was a table at the entrance to the buffet to buy multi-night packages and make reservations at Prime C or Aqualina.
Service. Not quite as impressive as our last cruise on Azamara 12 years ago, it was a bit of a mixed bag this time. Some waiters seemed particularly eager to serve. Others were less enthusiastic. We were surprised by the lack of a “can do” attitude from room service and also surprised (as in woken up from a deep sleep) when they showed up 30 minutes early for breakfast (EVERY TIME). All room service waiters just dropped the trays on our table and ran. No attempt was ever made to set the table or inventory the food. Perhaps they were just extremely busy, but it was a shocking lack of service compared with the apparent standard for this ship. Our room steward was adequate, but not impressive. (As we were packing at the end of the cruise and checking to make sure we didn’t leave anything, we found an old pair of somebody else’s underwear behind the nightstand.)
Clientele. 80% have cruised Azamara before. 200 of the almost 686 passengers were continuing on the next leg (apparently a record). Over 90 Cruise Critic members aboard. Azamara prides itself on listening to customer feedback and that breeds high loyalty. The length of this cruise was not well suited for those still working, so the crowd was quite senior. I think we only saw two children onboard.
Captain. It is clear that Azamara is hiring captains for their personalities and technical expertise. Most have been with Azamara for years. He went out of his way to be involved with guests and anything important happening on the ship. The two most outstanding captains we’ve ever experienced were both masters of the Azamara Journey.
Cruise Director. We started with Eric and he was fantastic—in a league of his own. His show was spectacular and filled the theater to maximum capacity. He’s a hard act to follow, but he left mid-cruise for vacation. Danny took over and while he did a fine job, the cruise just wasn’t quite the same after that.
Hotel Director. Heike was very involved, especially with serving during special events. I enjoyed her presentation during a sea day. While I believe she is doing a good job, her enthusiasm isn’t filtering down like it should. The service doesn’t quite have the sparkle I thought it would.
Entertainment. The show lounge is quite small, so that limits the entertainment options. However, it was very good for small ship entertainment fare—guest singers, comedians, small production cast, etc. The tango show was outstanding.
Food. This is the category where Azamara really excelled this cruise. They said their food budget was higher than anything else in the RCCL fleet and it shows. We were very impressed with the overall food quality. The main dining room has local and chef specials every night that adds variety to the otherwise standard rotation of menu items. We have critiqued many ships for not having local specialties. Azamara is the only line we’ve sailed that has been responsive to that customer request. Our four experiences at the specialty restaurants were excellent, but we had friends who were less impressed with their steaks in Prime C. I have mixed feelings about charging a premium to eat in the restaurants and then providing a bill with a place to add a tip at the end of the meal. Seems like a mixed message to the guests. Here’s a tip I learned the hard way. They will give you a wine list with bottles you can buy for an extra cost, but all the house wines are also available for free if you ask. I still love the panini and smoothie bars at the buffet! The Windows evening buffet changes themes every night which provides a lot of variety. They frequently have specialty buffets with crew officers serving and they were outstanding. The Polynesian dinner buffet and German lunch buffet were especially well done. They also had a late night chocolate buffet in the midship lounge area that was quite impressive and very well attended!
Dress code. Every night was “country club casual.” Wear what you would wear to a nice restaurant and you’ll be fine. My wife actually saw the dress code being enforced on a few occasions, which makes it nicer for everybody. You might want to dress up slightly for the specialty restaurants—many people do.
Internet. Like most ship-based internet, it was slow and expensive. I usually burned up more than 10 minutes every time I wanted to sync just two email accounts. Unlimited package pricing was outrageous. I had some free minutes because of our status and used cell phone connectivity while at the ports in Hawaii. Here’s another tip. The price of the unlimited package is per day, so wait until the last possible day to sign up. Expend all your free minutes first. With 50% off (due to our status), I got the unlimited package for only $69 for the last 9 days of the cruise.
Photographic services. Available, but not in your face—except at the premium restaurants, where they really want to “capture that special moment” for you. I bought a USB with the destination photos and a video of the AzAmazing evening. The photos were not that professional and they never had a chance to produce the White Night video.
Ship Décor. We love the classic R-class styling. We’ve been on many R-class ships by now, so this feels like home. It could really use some updating and time in dry dock that it will get this fall.
Fitness Center. Pretty good for a small ship.
Gift Shop selection. Why does everybody think a ship is the place to buy jewelry? I don’t get it. I’d rather have a much better selection of branded merchandise that can only be purchased aboard to remember my cruise.
Special Events. This review would not be complete if I didn’t take time to mention some of the special events that set Azamara above their competition. We saw something like an AzAmazing Evening with Regent, but the 40’s themed night at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum was much better executed than anything we’ve seen before. Azamara’s signature deck party “white nights” was in Bora Bora. Unfortunately, we missed all but the show because we had reservations in Prime C. The Polynesian cultural show was fantastic and it was a wonderful event until the skies opened up and soaked almost everybody. Crossing the equator celebration was fun and well done.
All inclusive? I need to spend a few lines to discuss this issue because it is a source of great confusion among guests. “No tipping?” What were people doing tipping their waiters at dinner last night? Sometimes drinks are included, but the beer at the German buffet was an extra charge. How much? Don’t know. Didn’t see a price posted or on the ticket I signed. There are two levels of wine packages and two levels of spirits packages, but some of both are included, particularly at some events. There is a priced menu of drinks at the shows. Two thirds through the cruise I was told by a friend that there is a back page of the menu that has all the complementary drinks listed. It’s a fairly comprehensive list—I just wish I had known about it sooner. Thank goodness all sodas and sparkling water are included. Well, to be more precise, Costco brand and Mexican sparkling water were included. Perrier and Pellegrino are both extra. While we enjoy wine with dinner, we are not big drinkers. When I heard Azamara made a change to their “all-inclusive” policy to include tips and wine with dinner, I liked the concept. It appeared to match our needs to have wine included with dinner (even if it is a limited selection), while charging for other alcohol, but the implementation seems very schizophrenic. How do you keep track of what is or is not included?
Critiques. We got an early cruise feedback form for us to identify any issues we saw so they could be fixed immediately, instead of waiting for the end-of-cruise feedback. About midway through the cruise we filled out the form to identify service issues in the observation lounge. We got a phone call and personal visit about the issues we observed and they were fixed the very next day. Azamara is trying to be resource conscious, so they send a link to an online critique rating form instead of giving you the traditional paper survey. Head’s up. That link expires in one week! When we finally got time to sit down and do the survey after we got home, the link had already expired by a few days. That’s unfortunate because we really wanted to recognize a couple of waiters that were going above and beyond. I completely understand what they are trying to do by keeping everything electronic. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to provide our feedback.
In summary, we enjoyed this cruise. We always enjoy the ambiance of R-Class ships. Based on our previous experience with Azamara, we had very high expectations. I think the cruise leadership was doing everything they could to meet those expectations and were very responsive to guest input. However, not everyone on the crew was as enthusiastic about their job so we were not as AzAmazed as we expected we would be.
----- Port Calls -----
Azamara prides itself on being port intensive, but that wasn’t exactly true for this cruise because it was more about repositioning toward Australia. We spent 11 of our 18 days at sea crossing the Pacific.
I’m not going to try to review the individual ports or offerings. I’ll try to keep my comments more generic.
Azamara has two critical things I look for from high end cruise lines during port calls--shuttle busses to downtown areas of interest and local experts onboard in port who provide maps and ideas about what to see if you want to explore on your own. Sometimes you don’t want to spend a fortune on shore excursions to see a port. I like having the low cost option and flexibility to come and go as you please. I also like to see water, juice, and cold towel stations on the dock (tender or port). We may have missed them, but those services were available at some, but not all, port calls.
Some of the shore excursions were expensive and others were just outrageous! Arrangements for private vehicles at over a thousand dollars for a few hours just seems absurd to me.
A little larger than our last cruise 12 years ago on Azamara. We were glad to have a balcony this time. The bathroom is still one of the smallest at sea, but this time we knew to bring magnetic hooks to keep the shower curtain from getting “fresh” with us. Fresh flowers arrived with the first daily service and refreshed as necessary. Fresh fruit and afternoon snacks are now available only on request, which I think is a good compromise solution to avoid wasting food. New bedside wall-mounted light fixtures with directional reading lights and USB chargers were a nice improvement—another example of how Azamara is listening to its guests to improve the product.
Shuttle bus into town. Heavy rain had flooded streets. Went to Farmer's Market on Saturday. Buy bucket of flowers for $6 for your cabin! Lots of things to do in town.
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Ocean wall dive. Lagoon wreck dive.