I skipped a review of our last cruise, there are only so many times I can talk about the Celebrity Equinox, I am biased, what can I say, we love it! Celebrity make you feel like family. Anyway, I said I wasn’t going to talk about that cruise.
For the first time since Azamara started, ten years ago, when we were amongst the first to cruise on the Quest, we booked a cruise on her sister ship the Journey which we understand was refurbished last year. Before I review the actual cruise which started in Hong Kong, visited several ports in Vietnam and Thailand, and ended up in Singapore, I want to talk about our experience of dealing with Azamara’s Sales team.
We booked this cruise about eight months ago, and at the time we chose an inside cabin on Deck 6, something we would never normally do, having become accustomed to balconies on Celebrity. Azamara’s sales rep assured us there were bound to be cancellations and we would be able to upgrade nearer the departure date. Sadly, there were no opportunities to pay for an upgrade as none became available.
The situation was made worse by the fact that we specifically asked for a cabin in a quiet area of the ship, and we were assured this would be fine, and once again we were misled as our cabin was above the Cabaret Lounge, and very noisy (6011). To be fair, the Guest Services Manager moved us to another cabin on a lower deck, although we were less than impressed by how this was handled.
We encountered another couple of issues in the early days of the cruise, which led us to meet with the Hotel Director Ryszard, and credit where it’s due, he was far more sympathetic, equivalent to the high level of service we have become accustomed to on Celebrity.
As for the actual cruise experience. Although we have done it before, we still find it an odd experience boarding through a shopping centre, and although the officials obviously knew what was happening, we were somewhat bewildered. Anyway, we were greeted on board with a smile and the customary glass, or two, of fizz, and we did not have to wait long for our cabin and our luggage. The cabin was clean, and despite being an inside one, it was spacious enough, as was the one we moved to.
We were very happy with the ship, it was clean, well laid out, and what we liked most was it never felt crowded. However, some of the guests we spoke to, who cruise more frequently with Azamara, felt standards had slipped, and perhaps a degree of complacency had crept in, but like I said, we were very happy. As for the staff we encountered, they were efficient and polite, and for the most part friendly.
Facilities – we liked Discoveries, the main sit down restaurant, where the wait staff were always excellent, but Windows Café, the buffet area, we did not like at all as it was cramped, always congested and had very little choice. There was also a Patio café area between the buffet and the pool on Deck 9, where you could order burgers etc. during the day, and at night choose from a menu. Two specialist restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C, and the Mosaic Café complete the dining options.
The gym was well equipped, but as usual the spa was too expensive for us and the staff were not anywhere near as friendly or helpful as those elsewhere on the ship. We loved all of the outdoor areas, although there was always work going on outside on Deck 5 which was a tad annoying as it was one of the few areas where you could be outside and not in the sun.
The guest relations staff were a mixed bunch with Melvin and Royston always very friendly and helpful and the others maybe not so much. The security staff were by far the friendliest we have ever encountered, particularly Bernadette.
Unfortunately, we can never switch off totally, and like to keep up with the news, and especially football news. It’s a constant moan of ours, but we feel there is never enough tv channels which cater for British guests, Sky Sport News for example, but the Azamara Journey seemed to have less than most, despite there being 200 fellow Brits on board. Needless to say, there were several American news channels. Also, the cruise information channel never gave any weather info, which is really annoying when you have an inside cabin and you have no idea of the weather outside. Fortunately, we had our iPads, and unlimited wifi packages which were very reasonably priced, but understandably slow at times. We were at least able to watch a large part of the football matches that were of interest to us.
We did find it odd that we were unable to buy any confectionary, basic medication or toiletries on this ship, having been on around thirty different ships this has to be a first.
We chose this particular cruise firstly because we wanted to become re-acquainted with Azamara, not least because the ships are smaller, and can get closer into the destination points. As regular visitors to Asia, we think this is important, particularly when visiting this region. As for the itinerary, again we are biased, because we absolutely love Vietnam, and always enjoy Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam are amongst our most favourite places in the world, and we thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting them.
We also really enjoyed the free excursion Azamara laid on for us in Thailand, which was an evening out at the Ancient City to see a show featuring traditional Thai dance. This is part of Azamara’s marketing strategy of providing what they term as Azamazing Evenings allowing their guests to becoming more immersed in the local culture of the destinations visited. It must take some organizing to get so many of the ship’s passengers disembarked and transferred to an event, but it was very well organized. Upon our return, we were greeted by the ship’s band and another welcome glass of bubbly, which added to the whole evening’s experience.
Shore Excursions – Whilst as usual, we find these a bit pricey, they were well organized, punctual and the guides were very informative, and the transport was always clean and comfortable. However, what we liked most was that the shore excursions team treated us like adults, instead of the usual experience of being herded around.
We were somewhat disappointed with the entertainment programme on board, and apart from a rock violinist featuring in the main show over the first couple of nights, and a brilliant guitarist Teodor in the lounges, we were decidedly underwhelmed by the rest of the entertainment.
So to sum up this cruise, it was greatly enhanced thanks to the actions of the Hotel Director Ryszard who clearly understands the value of great customer service, and really helped to make this cruise very special for us. We really appreciated his care. We also loved the small ship feel, which in our humble opinion is totally different to the larger cruise ship experience. It is debatable whether the general level of service reflects the increased costs, but for what it’s worth, we have decided to alternate our cruises between Azamara and Celebrity, and we have booked our next two cruises on both brands.