Cruise to the Holy Land 2009
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the ... Read More
Cruise to the Holy Land 2009
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can." We decided to fly from our home in Greece, via Athens airport, the night before our cruise and stayed at Hotel Bramante. This had been recommended by a range of cruisers, mostly because they offered a taxi transfer from Fiumicino at a better rate than cab and limo companies I'd researched and they also provided free transfers to the ship the next morning. It was a very pleasant hotel indeed and we were thrilled with our choice. The breakfast room the next morning was full of people, mostly Americans, off on various cruises, though only one other couple were travelling on Azamara Journey with us and these two soon became good friends on board.
Once at the cruise terminal we were checked in incredibly quickly, however and once on board and provided with champagne we began to relax in the gorgeous surroundings of the Journey. It's a small ship but wonderfully fitted out, with many features reminiscent of a gentlemen's club, with tasteful artworks and trompe l'oeil effects in various places. Inside our stateroom we were very pleased to find a bigger room than some of the reviews had led us to expect, with an excellent balcony. This was wonderful for us, since it had a good sized table at which we enjoyed breakfast most mornings. I was pleased to find room-service breakfast on Azamara is much than on Celebrity (and certainly better than the concierge menu), with lots of well-cooked and innovative 'set' dishes as well as a good choice of individual items. Breakfast always came within the requested time, heralded as usual by a phone call The 'butler' of which Azamara make a great fuss is only a flashy stateroom attendant (the butlers wear tailcoats!), but our man Manish was very good, providing an unobtrusive yet efficient service and keeping our room and bathroom scrupulously clean and ensuring we had plenty of water, ice, fruit and chocolates (the night-time pillow treats on Azamara are hand-made, served on a plate and not on your pillow and include such things as chocolate-dipped strawberries, hand-made chocolates and truffles.)
Now, I've eaten in some very good restaurants in Britain and can honestly say that the food on Journey competes with the best of those restaurants. We ate twice in Aqualina and once in Prime C , originally intending to go back for more times (you're entitled to two visits but they'll let you have more if there are spaces) but decided that the main dining room, Discoveries, was extraordinarily good. I like the room itself very much and very much appreciated the way the maitre 'd understood quickly which table we liked best and managed to keep it for us every night, so that we could be served by the lovely and very funny Alex. It was in Discoveries that I had what I think might rank as the best meal of my entire life. The lobster main course was even better than the one we had on the Orient Express a few years ago and the dessert involved what I can only describe as a giant Belgian chocolate on my plate, together with a pot made of white and dark chocolate filled with chocolate mousse. What's not to like?
Entertainment on Journey is mostly cabaret style, which suited us down to the ground. Musicians around the ship included an excellent harpist, a guitarist and a pianist/singer. Activities staff organised a range of events and both the guest lecturer Jon and excursions manager Jean-Michel gave excellent talks on ports of call. It was good to find that these talks did not include any of the usual 'here are the shops we want you to go to' and concentrated instead on what there was to see and the history and culture behind it.
Much of what we liked about Azamara - and what made it a definite cut above Celebrity, is current sister company (though, apparently, Azamara will soon float on its own, though still as part of the RCI family) - were the little 'touches' that were provided at various times. All cabin grades get what amounts to concierge class, but with better extras, such as the two much better quality tote bags. Go for an early morning run round the jogging track and you'll find a table laden with jugs of cold juice and iced water; whilst you wait in the cabaret lounge to go on your excursion there's a table with coffee, tea and pastries, just in case you're still peckish so soon after breakfast. Good quality Elemis 'proper' bottles of toiletries are provided in the stateroom bathroom. Azamara are rightly proud that they don't hound you for every cent they can squeeze out of you like other ships.
Like many fellow guests, especially our American, Canadian and Australian friends, we booked this cruise for its itinerary - we had two nights in Israel and two in Egypt, as well as stops in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey - and we were not disappointed. The pyramids are awesome, absolutely breathtaking and I have no idea what those who complain about their proximity to the modern city of Cairo are on about. We did some very aggressive haggling with the peddlers at the pyramids and got some great prices on the items we'd set out hearts on buying. Perhaps our greatest coup was achieved by talking to the bloke in both Greek and Italian, neither of which he could speak, resulting in getting a fine table cloth for 2 Euros. 3 t shirts for 10 Euros was another good buy - 14 years previously I'd paid 1 British pound for a t shirt I still have (despite all the warnings from guides not to trust the stuff they sell on the streets) and expected some degree of inflation, but felt 3 for 10E was a good price. We opted to take the ship's tours in Egypt and Israel as we were nervous about booking private tours, perhaps with good reason - on the Egyptian tours there was a fully armed security guard on every bus. There were two passengers who did their own thing in Alexandria and didn't make it back for the sail-away, I'm sorry to say - but I'm glad it wasn't me.
On our other stops we mostly did our own thing, having a splendid time on our first day in Sorrento where we bought some good quality Italian wines to bring home (as Greek wine is execrable) and scored some outstanding Xmas shopping bargains. In Rhodes, which we've visited before but never tire of (we were only there in September, in fact, as we have Greek family there) we went back into gorgeous Rhodes town for a wander and a spot of Xmas shopping before re-boarding the ship, which docks right outside the medieval city gates. Chios was a big surprise. It was the last day of the cruise and nobody felt much like doing any sightseeing, so nearly everyone just wandered ashore (the ship docked alongside the waterfront) and walked round the town. It turned out to be lovely - Chios is quite a well-to-do place and has a very lively, untouristy harbour town, which absolutely buzzed on a Saturday morning. We definitely plan to return, hire a car and see what we missed on the island.
Disembarkation on Azamara is completely pain-free, civilised and easy; we were off the ship twenty minutes earlier than forecast, in our booked taxi and heading for the Corinth canal by 9.30am, reaching home within two hours. We left the ship at the end of the cruise feeling bereft - we made a lot of new friends aboard - it being a relatively small ship, it's so much easier to meet and get along with fellow cruisers - and greatly enjoyed meeting crew and officers regularly around the ship. We're back on Azamara Journey in a year's time to do the repositioning to Miami, but who knows if we'll hold out that long! Read Less