This was our first Azamara club cruise and we really liked it, I'm mean a lot.
Embarkation was a breeze and the attendants were helpful and kind in Stockholm. Met on the ship with a glass of champagne and knowing the cruise wasn't sold out (by my constant searching on the web) I asked about upgrades. We upgraded from an ocean view standard cabin to a continental suite for an additional cost. Sure, no sea days and only 7 days on the ship but the bathroom was full size including a real tub and nice balcony. Heaven!
We used the typical pool and hot spas which were clean and not over crowded.
The ship seemed to flow with people not in a hurry and enjoying each port and port scenery.
White and red wines were served with lunch and dinner as well as sodas included in the cost. No problem asking for one and the wait staff cheerfully brought whatever requested. Bar prices were reasonable and even happy hour was a great deal at the pool bar. Pool barbq open until 4PM.
I felt like I wasn't nickeled and dimed as I have on other ships,there were cold bottles of water ready for each days departing into ports and drinks ready for us upon our return to the ship. Our Butler had coffee delivered each morning and brought the tea service cart by each afternoon.
Since there are less people than other ships getting on and off the ship was no problem.
The french toast, caramelized pears and bananas in Windows cafe was outstanding. Prime C steak house had an amazing black angus steak and exceptional service. Overall service on ship was excellent and welcoming.
Suite had big bathroom compared to typical cabins and regular sized tub and shower with Elemis products. Plenty of room to walk around in the room with bed, sofa and large counter space for laptops, cameras, wine, etc. Ample closets to hang clothes and drawers for other clothes. The beds were comfy and side lights for reading.
Rooms were quiet and balcony had table with two chairs and a lounge chair with ottoman. Flat screen TV with some good stations. Plugs for 110 V were somewhat difficult to find but once we did, used them all week. Safe easy to use.
We arrived two days before the cruise on our own and stayed at the Hilton Slussen. Walked around Old Town and took a taxi to other areas nearby. The places we visited had fresh seafood, high standards in Stockholm and pricey. The US dollar doesn't go too far there so be prepared but a good experience to see how other countries live. Don't forget to get the VAT forms when making purchases because you can't get the VAT refund at the airport without that form from the purchase. Ahh, $50 to learn my lesson about VAT!
St Petersburg, its true, so much to see in so little time. We used TJ's travel for the shore excursions and they were well organized, on time and flexible. We had 7 people in our mini van and whipped past long lines and our tour guide had each place to visit down to a science so we didn't stand in hot long lines and crowds. She spoke very good English and gave us options for routes and dining. The small group was the way to go for all the tourists visiting the usual places and reasonably priced. Getting through Russian immigration and passport control at the port was easy just have all the correct paperwork ready and know they don't laugh or make jokes. Our tour guide had Russian money with her and she paid for the subway ride and a few other costs and then we paid her in US dollars. We did not use an ATM at all. We did use credit cards at gift stores and restaurants while on the tour. That arrangement made it so much easier for us.
The ship had a Russian dance and singing group on board one evening and that was enjoyable.
Walked right off of ship and into town center with the market going on a Saturday morning. Explored little booths and were warned about pick pockets. Wool knitted socks and hats, painted Russian boxes and painted dolls. Too pricey in Euros. Tram #3 was recommended for an hour overview of the city for 2.50 Euro. I asked the tram driver and she told me during the summer the route is split differently and takes about 2 hours. We took tram #5 back to the ship. We didn't see a lot in Helsinki but got a feel for the area near the port.
A very cute medieval town and our ship had two reps from town who individually showed where to go and handed out maps of the town. It was explained since Jan 2011 they use the Euro but some literature incorrectly states the country uses their old money. ATMS in town for Euros. The ship had shuttle buses to town which takes about 10 minutes to get there and close by are many stalls with woman who hand make shawls, sweaters, hats and socks. After exploring some of the booths, I walked around the corner and into town seeing stores with the most beautiful fabrics of linen, wool and yarns. I was told it all comes from Estonia and simply gorgeous. I bought a robe, fabric and shower mitt all made locally and used credit card without a European chip. Center of town had more booths and lots of things to buy. Many amber stores.
Kalev chocolate store has not only chocolates but hand painted marzipan pieces. Next door is their pastry shop with a nice selection of pastries, coffees and tea. The old ceiling, wooden cabinets and tables and chairs are a nice break from the many tourists.
Lunch at Old Hansa is a medieval restaurant serving no modern foods and has brown bear on the menu almost daily. Wine in crocks and a gift store with hand made candles and other items from the medieval era.
By mid afternoon the town center was full of tourists from other ships and the shuttle buses lined up to take everyone back periodically to the ship.