We are experienced cruisers and have tried a number of different cruise lines over many years. Overall, we enjoyed this cruise despite the disappointment of missing Raratonga due to the poor weather and conditions too dangerous to permit safe tendering. But the food was a huge disappointment and on the basis of that alone I do not expect we will ever choose Azamara again.
At the outset we should praise all the crew with whom we came into contact for their friendliness, helpfulness and evident wish to please. This almost certainly derives from the lead given by the Captain who was very much in evidence around the ship interacting with passengers and staff. There were no cases this time of averted eyes when one came across maintenance and other “back-room” staff: all confidently said hello, or more, with a smile.
The Cruise Director and his assistant - Danny Turner and Emily Love - were both excellent, particularly as we understand they are both relatively new to their roles; and the entertainment overall was good given the size of the ship and its limitations.
Cruise lines are as much logistics companies as they are tour operators and by and large they excel at it. But at their best logistics should be invisible to passengers. Rightly or wrongly, on this cruise we got the impression that the demands of logistics at times trumped the good experience of the passengers. One example was the Azamazing Evening which was overall an excellent musical event. The programme we were given was cut short by one significant piece for no good reason other than, we suspect, the need to work rigidly to the timings agreed in advance with the coach company or the theatre.
A second example was the White Night Party. This was the best we have experienced, not least because of the enthusiasm engendered by Danny any Emily, but it was abruptly cut off short at 10pm, we suspected because there was an agreement to end it before leaving the port which was timed for 10pm.
And now for the very disappointing food. We did not use the speciality restaurants, partly because we resent being expected to pay extra but also because when we tried them on our last Azamara cruise we did not think them sufficiently better than the main dining room. Overall the food on this cruise was marked by poorly devised menus, too much reliance on cheap produce, and poor execution and standard of presentation. This was apparent in both the main dining room and the Windows Café.
The main dining room menus appeared to offer more choice than they really did. For example, snails and prawns appeared every day on the supposedly changing list of appetisers meaning there were really only three items to choose from. On more than one occasion we simply could not find a single main course that appealed to us and we are used to enjoying a very wide range of dishes both at home and on cruises. The daily specials were almost always deeply underwhelming and really not any different to the rest of the rotating menu. There was a lot of reliance on cheap ingredients - I had to return a simply inedible dish made of chicken livers. Salmon seemed to appear a lot - surely among the cheapest fish available. The food, when served was not really up to scratch. The soups were lukewarm and two pasta dishes we tried (in desperation at finding something appealing on the menu) were both poor, having clearly spent too long under a heat lamp. There was also a dearth of vegetables with the main course dishes and no side dishes offered. The waiters have so much to do that the whole atmosphere is one of rush and controlled panic - certainly not conducive to a relaxing meal. There appear to be no supervisors or Maître D’ anymore, so nobody is responsible for ensuring overall satisfaction for diners or picking up on mistakes.
The Window’s Café was a curate’s egg. By and large breakfasts were good but it beggars belief that there is nobody in Azamara that knows how to cook and serve English bacon or what constitutes an English ‘Banger”. Similarly, there must be an Azamara pastry chef that has experienced a proper French croissant and therefore realises how poor are the ones served on the Journey. Croissants are very fattening and are only worth eating if the pleasure they give outweighs the guilt! More generally, the quality of the bread on offer was variable.
We cannot comment on lunch because we only ever had a snack, but we did miss the pasta and pizza stations available on other cruise lines. It would be good if these could be added to the offering in the Patio.
The dinner offering in Windows was very poor. The themed evenings were particularly disappointing with a bizarre assortment of dishes, some only distantly related to the theme of the evening, making it very difficult to put together a satisfactory meal. Once again, the emphasis seemed to be on cheap ingredients, cheaply prepared. Too often the food itself was lukewarm or cold, and we never saw anybody check the temperature of the food sitting under the hot lamps. Perversely, whilst the food was lukewarm the serving spoons were often very hot indeed. When we twice pointed this out all that happened was that a member of staff used the spoon to serve us and promptly put it back again for somebody else to burn themselves!
And now the cheese. Never before have we experienced such poor cheese as in the Café and main dining room. Both the range and quality were dreadful. The example labelled English Cheddar bore no relationship to anything like proper Cheddar cheese, even being the wrong colour. Edam is not made in California! It was a very poor imitation of the Dutch cheese. The only blue cheese on offer seemed to be Danish Blue, or something like it, which must be the cheapest blue cheese available. The cheese biscuits also lacked variety and quantity. What makes this all the more galling is that at the White Night Party some really excellent local New Zealand cheeses were served, never to be seen again. So, you must know full well that the regular offering is incredibly poor and feel you can get away with it.
The free drinks included in the cruise were all of a perfectly acceptable standard and variety; and particular thanks go to Benjamin, the Barman in the Spirits Bar.
Overall, a good cruise badly let down by the food.
The ship is looking a little tired and showing its age, particularly the furnishings, but it was very clean and the staff made the very best of what they have to work with. Our cabin was fine and our Stateroom Attendant and his assistant - Dustin and Bernie – looked after us very well.