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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
To judge by the number of B2B travellers from the previous cruise, many of the Azamara family had been eagerly awaiting this first journey to Sydney round the West Australian coast. I for one was certainly not disappointed. A brisk ... Read More
To judge by the number of B2B travellers from the previous cruise, many of the Azamara family had been eagerly awaiting this first journey to Sydney round the West Australian coast. I for one was certainly not disappointed. A brisk headwind greeted our journey south, but as we visited ports where we were given an enthusiastic welcome, the temperature hovered around the mid 20's (70's) which made for comfortable exploration .For a first journey, the ship's excursions, while expensive, were varied and professionally presented but one or two need fine tuning The shuttles provided for individual exploration, worked well. Tenders were needed for only two ports. As a solo, older traveller, I cannot speak too highly of the always pleasant, professional and efficient staff throughout the ship. One never needed to be surrounded by family or fiends to feel included. Open dining in Discovery in the evenings made for many pleasant and interesting dinners. The delayed arrival of a Bridge Director in Perth was welcomed by the card players in Perth as lessons and duplicate sessions began. Some of the entertainment was outstanding, especially two of the solo singers but I think some of the day time lectures might have dealt with Australian history and culture. The films shown on board were disappointing compared to other Azamara cruises. While Casablanca and Sleepless in Seattle are classics more recent offerings would have been welcome. I noted that people with varied dietary needs were well catered for but while the range of food available was broad and more than adequate, the menu in Discovery has changed little over the years and I personally would like to see more authentic dishes in Windows on Asian and Middle Eastern evenings. Overall for me 10 out of 10 Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2018
This was our 5th Cruise with Azamara and cruising down the West Coast of Australia is the wrong time of year as it is Cyclone season. Although we didn’t come across one there were a few in area both before and after our sailing down the ... Read More
This was our 5th Cruise with Azamara and cruising down the West Coast of Australia is the wrong time of year as it is Cyclone season. Although we didn’t come across one there were a few in area both before and after our sailing down the coast. Embarkation was a little longer then we have previously experienced as there were torrential rain in Bali and I think everyone wanted just to get onboard and stay dry. It was great to see familiar faces as we boarded handing us a glass of champagne Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2017
Not new to Azamara so know what to expect and on the whole it does deliver a great experience. However on this journey I did have some niggles, everything was not perfect but once I spoke to the Rob, Guest Services Manager, things did get ... Read More
Not new to Azamara so know what to expect and on the whole it does deliver a great experience. However on this journey I did have some niggles, everything was not perfect but once I spoke to the Rob, Guest Services Manager, things did get better. However as the scourge of many cruise lines the devil is in the detail and the ball kept being dropped. On arrival we had been twinned on an embarkation bus with a Delta flight so sat waiting for an hour on the bus waiting for their flight to arrive. Cabin Door left open for a few hours after the steward had been in, had me listed as cruise only despite the fact I was on fly cruise and for me the service in the dinning room was not as sharp as it could have been. But once you get past that, and they did put everything right, there was no lasting damage and the Azamara experience is a good one and if you are thinking of going don't let the above put you off you will have a good time. The standard of crew service is generally good and the food excellent even though the complimentary wines are very young and generally unheard of Ultimate test, will I go again.... Yes of course and booked to return in October! Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2016
We chose this cruise so we could visit India Maldives and Sri Lanka. Going by Azamara was great as we love sailing with this company. Also we figured we would more likely become sick travelling by sea than on land. Mumbai was a great ... Read More
We chose this cruise so we could visit India Maldives and Sri Lanka. Going by Azamara was great as we love sailing with this company. Also we figured we would more likely become sick travelling by sea than on land. Mumbai was a great eye opener for what was to come in India did a ship excursion to the dalla-wallahs ,train ride then onto the laundry dhobi ghats. great place to watch 22 million people. Goa own arranged shore excursion not as busy and more beaches and relaxed. Coochin organised tour with fellow cruise critics excellent sailing on the Backwaters of Alappuzha. Great Azamazing evening with the ship. lots of different activities other than drinking and eating. Had our palms read, a sketch of our faces an hand tattoo which is just starting to fade now.(2 weeks later). Next stop Maldives - What a picturesque spot snorkelled off a back of a catamaran with another couple from cruise critic very in expensive $65 US each for 6 hours sailing and snorkelling with lunch included.Remember to keep on applying sunscreen. Will come back again Sri Lanka - What a wonderful place and private tour with 7 couples from Cruise Critic TUK TUK SAFARI- Is an excellent and well run company with happy and great drivers and tour guide. It was the little things like having cold water, beer, coconut juice (fresh) peanuts cold wash towels, taking us to get fresh mango juice and many more things. We will definitely visit this place again and do a night tour with TUK TUK SAFARI. Chennai was a nightmare to get off the ship but once we sat and waited an hour on the bus and got to our hotel it was easy to adapt to the mad crazy drivers. really enjoyed visiting Manmallapuram - very unique and wonder in stone. A must see. Azamara Journey is an easy to get around but although there is only 600 passengers we found that by the end of 2 weeks we had not seen some passengers until the last day. We love this size ship. Our services onboard was excellent and nothing was too much to ask for from the crew. This was the first trip with Azamara that they allowed Bridge tours and engine room tours which was an eye-opener. Cooking demonstrations was great, dinning in all restaurants were of high quality food and waiters always willing to please you although their gratuities have already been paid for before we get on-board they were just great always smiling. we did a lot of reading and when I had finished my book we visited the ships library and borrowed another 2 from there. the captain and senior officers are always mingling with the passengers and taking questions when needed. The only disappointments is the repeat of shows from previous cruises which we choice sometime to miss. Enjoyed the Indian Buffet on pool deck and always the white night. Brunch is also a pleaser in Discovery. We love the whole Azamara Experience and feel like family oncer onboard. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2016
Did my first vacation as a Single/Solo traveler and was very impressed with how everyone aboard made me feel as though I was part of their extended family! The Captain was very visible and friendly, far more than any other Captain on ... Read More
Did my first vacation as a Single/Solo traveler and was very impressed with how everyone aboard made me feel as though I was part of their extended family! The Captain was very visible and friendly, far more than any other Captain on other cruise lines. He was always at the gangway when we were going on shore excursions and kept us up to date on what was happening. The respect that he showed for his crew and guests was excellent and this is what made this the best cruise I have taken to date. I'm sure that I put on a few pounds with the excellent food and the staff were very professional but also joked with our group when appropriate. Bar staff knew what I drank and brought it to me once they saw me arrive. The entire ship was well maintained and clean. Every crew member onboard was friendly and did their jobs beautifully. Will be booking another cruise on Azamara very soon! Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2016
I chose the cruise because it had an amazing solo supplement price on a cruise with ports I had been longing to see again. Good decision!! I had sailed on this ship several years ago. When I stepped on board I just stopped and said ... Read More
I chose the cruise because it had an amazing solo supplement price on a cruise with ports I had been longing to see again. Good decision!! I had sailed on this ship several years ago. When I stepped on board I just stopped and said "wow!" Beautiful ship. Great service. Fun activities like dinner parties on deck with incredible singers. Many options for dinner. Great room service for breakfast before all those tours. I sat on the veranda and watched the sun rise painting every building in gold. Wine was pouring all day. I'm more of a vodka drinker, no problem. I traveled solo but quickly made friends. But please don't offer the escorts to me!!!! That's not what I want and I found it insulting to be asked. I'm suffering from jet lag One European voyage from US. CA. may be enough for a year but I'm clutching the voyage info and I will appear again. Thank you to all the staff I was well taken care of. Read Less
15 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
I chose this ship as I wanted to be away on these dates and this cruise came up at a very reasonable rate for a solo traveller. I had also heard very good reports is Azamara cruises. The transfer from the airport was not easy. We had to ... Read More
I chose this ship as I wanted to be away on these dates and this cruise came up at a very reasonable rate for a solo traveller. I had also heard very good reports is Azamara cruises. The transfer from the airport was not easy. We had to claim our luggage twice and then had a long walk to the transfer bus in high temperatures. On arrival at the ship we had to claim our luggage again and another walk before a check in. Recommend asking for assistance if walking is not too easy. I was worn out by the time I actually got on Board. My cabin was on deck 4, outside. Very convenient. Excellent large bed. Smaller than some other cabins but ok for me on my own. Bathroom very small with small shower cubicle and shower curtain. Could not be easy for a large person. The main dining room I used every evening. Very good menu with a good choice. Food very well presented and good. Soups excellent. I normally joined the solo group but it worked just as well if you just turned up on your own. Breakfast every day was in the self service restaurant. Would not recommend the fried eggs, rubbery, scrambled eggs the same or the bacon but the other choices were very good. Lunch most days in same restaurant. Good choice of salads every day and same with desserts. Some hot dishes good but not all. Not a lot of room for a large choice. Freshly cooked burghers on pool deck excellent. The service in all was first class and could not be faulted. It seems a happy ship. The amazing evening was superb, visit to a theatre in Monte Carlo with a very good unusual trapeze show. Organisation very good and straightforward. One entertainer comedienne and magician was well worth watching but the rest was mediocre. Not a good choice if you want evening entertainment. Good choice of ports. Excursions expensive. Internet access very expensive. Loved the size of the ship and the friendliness of the staff. Would I go again. Yes if the price was right. It did not live up to my expectations but maybe they were too high. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2016
I chose this cruise due to the fabulous Amalfi Coast itinerary although I'm a great Azamara fan and this was my 8th cruise. From boarding in Rome to disembarking in Athens, Azamara did not disappoint. My trip was made by the ... Read More
I chose this cruise due to the fabulous Amalfi Coast itinerary although I'm a great Azamara fan and this was my 8th cruise. From boarding in Rome to disembarking in Athens, Azamara did not disappoint. My trip was made by the wonderful people I met and the crew who recognised me and welcomed me back. I was lucky enough to have dinner with Eric on the first evening and met some great friends who I socialised with throughout my cruise, including dinner in Aqualina. The food was first class, in particular the Limoncello Soufflé so my compliments to the chef. Azamara have done a grand job with the refurbishment and I loved the new menu in The Patio formerly the Pool Grill and the Living Room. My stateroom was an Oceanview on deck 7 at the front which was spacious and comfortable especially the new bed linen. I took several ships tours including the tour to Pompeii which was made by the tour guide, Matilda who was from Sorrento and a great character who was highly knowledgeable. Amalfi and Positano were stunning and I didn't want to leave. On arrival in Mykonos it was fairly windy and the ships tender drivers did a grand job. Captain Johannes made the decision to visit Mykonos before Santorini due to the number of ships in Santorini on our original date. This proved an excellent decision which was greatly appreciated by all the guests I spoke to. Thanks so much Azamara for another fabulous trip. Thanks also to my new friends..You know who you are. Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2016
This is my 6th cruise with Azamara and I keep coming back so I must enjoy it! The staff of course is the reason, but a lot should be said for the Azamara clientele. I met so many nice people and enjoyed great company. I have cruised the ... Read More
This is my 6th cruise with Azamara and I keep coming back so I must enjoy it! The staff of course is the reason, but a lot should be said for the Azamara clientele. I met so many nice people and enjoyed great company. I have cruised the big lines but I will never go back, and the main reason I stick with Azamara is the solo-traveler price. That said, the prices have steadily increased over the last several years, so I don’t know the future for me. Accommodations: The recent refreshment is lighter, although I worry about how they will keep that carpet looking good. The cabin curtains and linens are much improved. I LOVE the Living Room refresh, and the availability of tea/coffee is a much-needed reprieve from the often-overcrowded Mosaic Café. Food: I ate in the MDR and the Buffet four nights each. The Patio was a very nice dinner option and I ate there two nights and also one night at Aqualina. I felt the new MDR menu is reduced in selections, but EVERYTHING I had was delicious. So perhaps quality is emphasized with less variety. The buffet was a bit stale. I tend to eat there because it is quick and I enjoy the view (Santorini at sunset for example), but there seemed a real lack of variety. The salads for instance were similar almost every day (tomatoes, cabbage based, mushrooms, and a pasta salad) and that became boring. Itinerary: The cruise was originally Istanbul to Rome, and later changed for an Athens departure, with Napfoli and Mykonos added. I have been to several of the ports (Mykonos, Santorini, Valetta, Sorrento and Florence. The new ports for me were Napfoli Greece, Trapani Sicily, Amalfi Italy, and Porto Vecchio Corsica. Due to the disembarkation port change I was given a $100 credit, that I planned to use on excursions, but both the ones I signed up for were canceled for lack of participants. Athens: I arrived the same day so did not go into Athens. As an aside, the Athens port workers were on strike, and the Azamara staff unloaded and loaded all luggage and supplies at the port. This was the quickest I ever got my luggage, truly exemplary in the face of adversity. This is what I love about Azamara. Nafoli: I had arranged a private tour with guide Patti Staikou who met us at the Mycenaean ruins. I really enjoyed her insights and learned a lot about the site and culture. The taxi dropped me off in town and I had a nice lunch (the best of the trip). I walked round the old town. Looking back this was the nicest and least touristy port. Thoroughly enjoyable town filled with flowers. Mykonos: I took it easy and went into port at 5 PM, after most people have left, walked around the town, had a wine and returned to the ship at 8 PM for dinner. Santorini: I did not get off the ship. Valletta, Malta: I had been to Malta twice so I used the HOHO bus to get to Mdina to look around. Lovely town then boarded the bus back to Valletta and walked around the town. The Azamazing evening was back to Mdina for a concert by the local choir. Trapani, Sicily: I played it easy and booked a 4 hour combo transport package right at the port. The RT bus/funicular to the old town Erice was €20. It was a lovely day walking around the old hill town. The views were incredible, and the ticket included a “free local pastry”. It was a fun exploration. Back at the port I walked around the city of Trapani and had a nice and very late lunch. Amalfi: I have previously visited most of the tourist sights on the Amalfi coast (Paestum, Sorrento, Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Ravello), but had never been to Amalfi proper. First, I arranged a tour to Ravello and Positano through Aldo tours, since I thought I would never make that drive again. The tour was great, and I appreciated the driver’s skill and patience. However, the best part of the day was just walking around Amalfi. It is a lovely town and less touristy than Positano. I spent time walking around, shopping, and watching a bride ascend the steps to the Duomo. Back on the ship as Amalfi was also “white night” and I had a very nice time. Sorrento: I first visited Sorrento about 30 years ago, and it has changed so much it makes me sad. I visited my favorite music box store “Gargiulo Inlaid” at 33 Via Fuoro and purchased two boxes including one puzzle box with a hidden key. I returned to the port via bus that had a circuitous route, so I got to see a bit more before going back to the ship. Ponte Vecchio, Corsica: We arrived just for an afternoon; since my planned excursion to Bonifacio cliffs was cancelled I took the shuttle bus into town and walked around. It was a nice pretty town. Others that took tours into the interior of Corsica raved about how beautiful the island was. Livorno/Florence overnight: On the first day, I took a taxi to the train station, and the train to Lucca. I really enjoyed the lovely walled town of Lucca. You can walk along the walls. I also visited the Cathedral, the Cathedral museum, and Santi Giovanni e Reparata (as a package ticket and mainly as relief from an unexpected rainy period). There is some interesting art in the cathedral, but the Church of St John was very interesting for the archeological excavations 6 feet under the floor of the modern church. There is a walkway exposing the five previous occupation levels going back to Roman times. It was quite interesting and well worth a visit. After the rain cleared, I explored more of the town, had a lunch, and took the train back to Livorno (45 minutes) and a taxi back to the port. A party of four (or more) could have easily arranged for a taxi to Luca (at the port) for only slightly more than the train/taxi price for the four combined. Something to consider. On the second day in Livorno my excursion to Florence was canceled (I was going to use it as a one way transit) so I packed up and headed into Florence by taxi. I spent three nights at the Hotel Degli Orafi. A lovely hotel on the Arno between the Ponto Vecchio and the Ufficci. I had booked a single room, and was upgraded to a single apartment. I highly recommend this hotel. Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2016
This was our third cruise on the Azamara Journey, from total 39 cruises on 10 different cruise lines. We were looking forward how the refurbishment will change the view to the ship. And they did a good job in dry dock in ... Read More
This was our third cruise on the Azamara Journey, from total 39 cruises on 10 different cruise lines. We were looking forward how the refurbishment will change the view to the ship. And they did a good job in dry dock in Freeport/Bahamas. The Check-in was really fast, only 5 minutes and we had to wait for about 1 hour to get onboard at noon. And guess what, we´ve got an upgrade to a verandah stateroom at the aft of deck 8. Okay, sounds good, but this part of the ship is vibrating all the time, when the ship is sailing. If you like to read a book lying on your bed, this will vibrate all the time. If you are sensitive for seasickness, this is not the cabin type for you. Cabin: The new beds are wonderful, the mattresses are really comfortable, and the bedding is very good. Compared to the old beds, which caused us backache for the whole cruise, this is a quantum leap forward in comfort. They mixed old parts in the cabin like the closets and the desk with the new refurbished parts, like the beds, new carpets, new love seat, new huge TV. Bathroom is as small as in an inside cabin and I hate this close contact to the shower curtain every day. But the bathroom is too small for another solution. We like the creamy soaps, shampoos, body lotions, but a lady asked me to write, that the smell is not acceptable for men. I spoke about it to other passengers and they were satisfied as we were, even the men. Towels were soft but some of the small towels had stains and wholes. That is not acceptable for a ship like the Journey and attendants have to sort them out. Hotel director agreed about this fact. Stateroom was cleaned twice a day, bottled water were placed close to the bed every evening. The verandah was deeper than the usual verandahs, but… a lot of soot every day. You could not use the deckchairs without putting a towel on it. They cleaned it every day, but if you wanted to use the table in the afternoon (when ship was sailing) you first had to clean the table by yourself. There is enough space for the table with a comfortable size you can have your breakfast or other meals and two chairs. Journey has two staircases, both with 2 elevators, which came really fast. I liked the refurbished Mosaic Café on deck 5, the new Living Room on deck 10 and we spent a lot of time sitting in both, one for coffee time and writing my German review and the Living Room to meet new friends and have some drinks together and some snacks from the new tapas bar which I can highly recommend. The restaurants: there are several restaurants on the Journey. First of all the main dining room – Discoveries, we preferred for dinner except for two evenings, when we dined with friends in the Patio and we did not like the menus. Good to very good menus, but no highlights. Good to very good service, but not better than on other Cruiselines, sorry. We preferred the Windows Café with the self service for breakfast, ordering eggs we liked, like delicious Eggs Benedict, served to our table after ordering and prepared behind the scenes. I like the Smoothies every morning, different styles and the fresh squeezed orange juice. Coffee and other things could be ordered by friendly waiters and were served at your table. We like it sitting outside in the Sunset Bar and enjoying breakfast with a fresh breeze. We prefer standing up early and have an early breakfast; so we never had problems finding an available table. But later in the morning Windows Café was a bit crowded. For lunch we loved eating outside close to the pool in the sheltered area from the now called Patio with all the fresh prepared dishes from the grill. Many people loved this place for having lunch, so it was a lot of noise and busy all the time. In the past the opposite side was also open for lunch; that was much better, to lunch with some ease and comfort. But they closed the passage to the other side and nobody served there. Getting bar service in this area was also difficult. The waiters were not attentive enough. We had dinner two times in The Patio with some friends and it was also really good. And you had the chance to combine the offers from Patio with the offers from Windows Café. It was empty in the evening, so you had really good and fast service and we all liked it. Every time during the day you could ask for the wine of the day. White and red wine changed daily but the rose was the same for the whole cruise. A Portuguese rose, not the best quality, but drinkable. I know some people did not like the wines and purchased a wine package. Or they bought the Ultimate Beverage package, having a better quality for the drinks and cocktails. We were satisfied with the included drinks, but my husband only drinks a beer and not every day. Entertaining: The cast was not as good as on the other cruises with AZ and shows on other Cruiselines were better.I missed “Voices”, one of the best shows I´ve ever seen on the high seas. We only listened to one guest entertainer, a young violinist and that show was quiet good. Tony Markey´s show was also good; he has an excellent voice and it´s always fun to see him performing. Also in the show they performed during White Night. The Big Band was really good, but the guitarist and pianist were playing the same songs over and over and not really well. The White Night on Deck, with all things decorated in white, even white chairs and tables, many passengers dressed in white, a really good buffet served by the senior officers, a good show and a lot of dancing passengers, including me, was wonderful. The AzAmazingEvening in St. Maarten was nice, with a steel band by young Caribbean musicians and an electrical string quartet and dancers performing at the side of the passengers, sitting close to the stage. A 5 minute firework at the end was a surprise but the evening was not as good as our AzAmazingEvening we had in Liverpool. But typical Caribbean and we liked it. The evening ended in the Living Room with Cherries Jubilees and a show from Marcus, one of the singers from the cast. The ports of call: We started with two days at sea, our first port of call was St. John, the little sister of St. Thomas and we had a nice private tour to explore the island with wonderful beaches. The next day we docked in Antigua and because it was Palm Sunday and there was only one other small cruise ship in port, the island was almost empty and we could enjoy all the beautiful views and English Harbor, as well as a nice beach stop. This was also a private tour; we booked together in advance with a group of 19 CC people. Following port was Nevis, little sister from St. Kitts, but we had an appointment on St. Kitts and had an exhausting time on the ferries to and back from St. Kitts. After arriving back on Nevis we only wanted to tender back to our Journey. Next stop was St. Barts, also a tender port, with a lot of traffic in Gustavia, but we enjoyed walking around, watching all the million dollar yachts in the harbor for a while and avoiding these really expensive shops in the center. Our last port was Virgin Gorda and we had again a pre booked tour with CC members. For about 1,5 hours we enjoyed the views from different sightseeing points of the island and ended with a stop at Spring Beach. A CC friend had done some research about the beaches and we decided not to visit the maybe overcrowded The Bath and all of us loved Spring Beach. We were about 20 people at this beach, with an easier access and a lot of space for everybody. We enjoyed the crystal clear water, and the soft waves, the rock formations, Virgin Gorda is famous for. And everybody said afterwards, that was the best day we had on the cruise. Okay the sunburn was not so nice, but visiting Spring Beach was worth it. Reaching Miami after two more relaxing days at sea, with unfortunately a lot of reserved deckchairs, we were due to technical problems a bit late. But no problem for us, we could stay longer onboard, because we had an afternoon flight. Not so good for passengers with an early flight. Disembarkation and Immigration were really fast. In about 10 minutes we were outside the building but the organization for the airport transfers was not really good. Conclusion: it was a wonderful cruise, on a really good refurbished ship with nice crew, wonderful and often visible officers, a good service, food from good to very good, but no highlights except the Seniors Officers Table, mediocre entertainment and nice contacts to other passengers from many different countries. The itinerary was perfect because we know almost every other Caribbean island from 9 other Caribbean cruises and we visited now these small other islands, big cruise ships cannot go. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2014
This is my first review on Cruise Critic, the style is a little more narrative than a review however there is some good information about the ship, the service and the ports of call as well. I was traveling solo, female, mid-forties and ... Read More
This is my first review on Cruise Critic, the style is a little more narrative than a review however there is some good information about the ship, the service and the ports of call as well. I was traveling solo, female, mid-forties and had booked the trip only four weeks before sail-date but have been a Japanophile since I was a child. The airport in Montreal was a madhouse on Saturday, February the 15th due to a weather event along the entire east-coast. So many flights had been canceled and getting anywhere interesting that day was impossible. At 3:30 am, I discovered that my United Airlines itinerary had been modified from a 1 pm flight to Newark connecting to Hong Kong to some kind of milk run via Cleveland getting me into HKG a full 24 hours late. My call to Choice Air Emergency Help Line was answered by a service rep who acknowledged and confirmed that the change was noted in my file and that the late arrival was expected. Hoping against hope that if I just got to the airport early enough, they could re-route me, I got to the airport within an hour and at 4:30 in the morning found myself waiting in a long line of folks with the same idea. It took about one hour to get to the check-in desk. Security took about 20 minutes and immigration was around thirty minutes. Grabbed a bagel and waited in line for ninety minutes to speak with United Airlines about rerouting me. No go. There was not a single flight to New York that would get me to my Hong Kong flight on time so I had to sleep and have dinner in Cleveland on my own dime, fly back to Newark the next day and then get to Hong Kong. My travel agent was powerless to help either. Cleveland's Airport Radisson Hotel and the Chili's restaurant across the street were not exactly the Hong Kong Butterfly on Morrisson and Din Tai Fung dumplings that I had planned for. At least getting to Newark was easy the next day. The waiting area for the fully booked Hong Kong flight was packed. Got my standard economy seat 37L toward the back of the 777-200 plane. I was at the window and there was a tall man on the aisle. A young man stepped up and asked if either of us wanted to switch with his wife in 20A. The tall man said no so I volunteered! That seat was a premium economy plus and was so much more comfortable that I upgraded for the trip home! Meals were a choice of chicken or vegetable curry with a roll and salad plus a brownie. I was able to sleep and watch in flight entertainment until a few hours later when we got a sandwich and ice cream. Just before landing we got a choice of eggs or noodles. Water and drinks were being offered almost constantly throughout the flight so we arrived hydrated, full and happy even after 15 hours in the air. It was a pleasure to emerge into Hong Kong airport. Sparkling clean, free trolleys (Newark charges $5.00!) and lots of aides to guide you if you miss the totally clear signage. Immigration and baggage took only a few minutes. Customs was just a nod to the guy in the "nothing to declare" lane. I found the taxi stand easily and handed over my instructions to the port in Chinese. No problem to get there for around $300 HKD ($40 USD) but it was after-hours so I had to drag my luggage to the ship terminal through a shopping mall! It was humid and far and annoying that there were no crew at the door to assist. Even when crew members could see me struggling across the gangway they sent no one to help. In all fairness, I had been warned by my travel agent that this would happen if I arrived past the formal embarkation hours. It was just beyond my comprehension that porters were not outsourced if ship staff were unavailable. I would have paid out of pocket but there was no one to help at all. Later in the cruise, Heather from Guest Relations personally called me to discuss my comments about the issue and let me know that she would relay my feedback to the powers that be. I finally crossed onto the deck of the ship and cleared security. A crew member guided me to guest relations where a single person was manning the phones and the desk. She was obviously overwhelmed. I was hot and sweaty and tired but waited patiently for my turn and blissfully, somebody handed me a flute of champagne. Geeta at guest relations was nice but I couldn't believe the amount of paperwork she was expected to process for each guest. She basically went over it quickly, shoved it all into an envelope and told me to read it and bring it back later. Inside was information about the make-up muster drill, immigration and departure forms to complete and instructions for clearing each port. It was really important stuff. There were two older couples from Quebec behind me in line. They were French-speaking and sure enough missed the next day's muster drill and had to be paged to immigration before the ship could depart. Even I had trouble digesting all the information. I was surprised by Azamara's welcome for late arrivals. They seemed to be unprepared for us despite (at least in my case) flight arranged using Choice Air. I finally got to my room which was lovely. It was a category six Oceanview on deck four, starboard forward section with a Queen bed and because it was an adjoining cabin, had an armchair rather than a sofa which suited me just fine. There were fresh fruit, water, soft drinks and chocolate brownies in the room along with fresh flowers. As promised, robes, slippers, a set of binoculars and an umbrella were provided for use during the cruise and we were given a tote bag to take home. The vanity table had dim lights but admittedly, they probably matched the lighting in the dining room for make-up application purposes…they just weren't bright enough to write your thesis at the desk. Storage was more than ample for a solo traveler but probably was adequate for a couple. You really don't need a whole new outfit for every dinner on Azamara! I had brought seven cocktail dresses…totally unnecessary. Suitcases fit under the bed with room to spare. The bathroom was well-organized with cotton buds and amenities but next time, I will bring my own shampoo/conditioner as their brand didn't agree with my curly hair. The shower was just like every other shower on every other cruise ship but the Grohe fixtures were much, much nicer. I actually have the same hand shower in my own guest bath back home! Since I was an early to bed, early to rise kind of gal, there were some nights when I could hear the muted bass and drums coming from the Cabaret lounge on deck five but it was not disruptive. In general, other than some creaking and the sound of the bathroom vacuum system it was quiet. The harbour was extremely foggy but I could practically see into the water taxis from my bay window which was two decks above the water line. I unpacked and read over the bazillion pages of info and decided not to order room service because it was already after midnight. In the morning, I explored the ship. It is so tiny but has everything you could want. There is a casino, two shops, a coffee bar, a pool grill and bar, a buffet area, a main dining room, two speciality restaurants, a lounge up top with a view, a library, computer room and a salon/spa/fitness area. There are also lots of cozy lounge areas with bars and the main entertainment lounge. I really liked the quiet elegance of the ship. Other than the sparkly things in the Swarovski display cabinets, there is not much flash. HONG KONG For breakfast, I disembarked and explored Kowloon. It was only around 7 am so the shops were all closed. I went into the Royal Pacific hotel and asked for advice on a local dim sum shop. They directed me up Haiphong Road to Lock street and I ended up at this place Hing Fat Restaurant G/F, 8-10 Ashley Road, T.S.T., Kowloon, Hong Kong China http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294217-d2373146-Reviews-Hing_Fat_Restaurant-Hong_Kong.html?m=19905 YUM! For $16 CAD I got a selection of steaming hot shaomai, pork buns and tea. Don't tell anyone but it was meant for two...heh. I demolished it and even considered getting an extra oyster pancake but held off. There was a lovely park on the north side of Haiphong road between Canton and Nathan with tropical birds calling and it was a nice touch to have some nature beside all of Hong Kong's haute couture. I returned to the ship to take a look at their ample but not too adventurous breakfast buffet and of course ended up eating more food! I had to try the ginger smoothie shots, some weird black cold cuts and polenta omelettes. The crowd is older than on Celebrity on this itinerary there were mostly Americans, lots of Australians and a few of my fellow Canadians. The crew and staff are demographically similar to the ones on Celebrity but they are able to be much more friendly due to the smaller size of the ship and they really get to know the passengers individually. I went back ashore to see about these "fantastic" discounts in Hong Kong. Um, not so much. Maybe the mall attached to the cruise terminal was priced for tourists. I did find a really cute handbag though. That was my only purchase and I quickly returned to the ship and handed my passport over to the Hong Kong authorities onboard for inspection. We had a late-arrival muster drill that just demonstrated how to wear a life preserver and explained emergency procedures. It took only five minutes plus time to answer people's questions and address any safety concerns. As mentioned earlier...there were some no-shows at the mandatory drill. When it was time to sail, there were many announcements paging people to drop off their passports. No matter how many instances passengers were told, in writing, by public address, on the cruise television it seems that some still didn't get the message. I'm not sure if it was a language issue but again, I strongly believe that this most important information should be conveyed BEFORE embarkation when the brain is too frazzled to process much of anything. Additionally, the information should be available in the language of the guest. This information is available ahead of time, why couldn't general instructions be provided in French, Spanish, German etc? Seasoned cruisers were grumbling about the delayed departure. I didn't grumble...I went to tour the spa. In my opinion, services were too expensive for my taste but were comparable in price to large hotel spas. Compared to the luxurious thalassotherapy pool on Celebrity Summit, the Journey's little cousin is a soda can. I opted to not buy a cruise pass for $99. So with nothing left to do, I visited the buffet for lunch. Unfortunately for my waistline, this became a recurring theme. I got a Sea Breeze cocktail and some food. Everything was tasty but there was nothing too exotic. They know their target market. Older, fussy folks with lots of dietary restrictions don't want seven types of curried lentils for lunch. We finally started backing out of our berth. It was still really foggy in Hong Kong. Looking up to the tallest buildings made me wonder if the people inside could see anything at all! Those apartments are worth millions and they were shrouded in cloud. Hong Kong has huge hills which are so steep that there are hardly any homes on them. That's why the land is so valuable where people can build and there is nowhere to go but up. Finally, it was time to investigate the tiny pool! It is heated sea water so it really makes one float. The motion of the ship makes it really nice and wavy, too! After that, there was a visit to the Owners Suite. The cruise line offers a Bingo game and the grand prize is to win occupancy of the suite for the duration of the cruise. I went to the visit and enjoyed seeing the immense room with a marble vestibule (useful for taking your shoes off without tracking in travel-schmutz) and the powder room in addition to the gigantic bathroom with jetted tub. Other than the beautiful aft-facing verandah with full loungers, there were no features that trumped the comfort of my own category six oceanview stateroom so I did not buy any bingo cards. I got dressed up for dinner and headed over to the Cruise Critic's cocktail meet 'n' greet. There were 62 of us and I finally met many of the very nice folks I had been chatting with online, face-to-face. The senior staff introduced themselves. I met all the top brass like the food & beverage manager, the hotel director and the cruise director. They asked us to make as many requests as we wanted. They reminded us that our feedback is more useful while we are on the ship. I learned that they meant it over the course of the ship. A feedback form was provided in the first week and I received two follow-up calls responding to my comments. The level of customer service on Azamara is unsurpassed in my opinion. After that, Tony the cruise director hosted a singles and solo cruisers dinner in the main dining room. There were at least 25 of us because Azamara offers low single supplements and I must say, it attracted fun and really interesting cruisers. Throughout the voyage, friendly folks were always willing to chat and dining was not a daunting task. If you wanted to be alone, you could but finding new friends was easy. Solo-ers, fear not! Now for the good part: Dinner! The main dining room is about an eighth of the size of a Celebrity MDR. They have cozy booths as well as tables so it feels more like a lounge. Waiters were very attentive. If they needed to get your attention or reach towards you they would say: "please permit me to…" refill your glass or take your plate or clean up your crumbs etc. It was extremely civilized. The food was fantastic. I had a firecracker shrimp starter, pear soup with cinnamon and tandoori lamb for the main. I started with a Riesling but tried the Cabernet too. It was all new to me to have wine with dinner in such abundance. The waiters keep refilling your cup, so if you're a light drinker, be forewarned! The desserts were insane and they also had many choices for digestifs or specialty coffees on offer. Since there are no main/late seatings, no one rushes you. Dinner is easily a three hour affair! If you don't have a quick bite in the buffet, you might want to eat at six in order to make it to the entertainment which begins at around nine pm. Unfortunately, I never did get to the Cabaret lounge or the daily activities so I'll have to leave it to someone else to review. It was more my style to go straight to bed after supper. The seas were wild! The spray churned up into my stateroom window and you could see the enormous waves as the bow ploughed through them. I wondered what the view from the outside cabins on deck three would have been like because I love that kind of excitement. It was too far for me to see from my bed so I gathered up my comforter and fashioned a little bunk on the window ledge. I spent the whole night there sleeping and waking to watch the show. It was around the same size as a business class lie-flat bed so I was pretty comfy. When he came to make up the the room the next day, the steward had a good laugh at my makeshift sleep area and called his buddies over to see what I had done. Heeee! After my full five hours of sleep without a meal...(on a cruise ship that is savage cruelty)...I left my little window bunk and headed up to the Window's Cafe on deck 9 for the early riser's breakfast. On this ship, the forward and aft sections on decks 9 and 10 have inside facilities but you must walk outside to get between fore and aft or, you could comfortably walk to the rear of the ship from the front and use the stairs / elevator on a lower deck. It's windy and raining and 8 degrees Celsius...which option do I take? The outside jogging track on deck 10 of course! Wheeee! Better than Disneyland! The ship was rocking, my jacket and scarf were fluttering like flags on my body and the deck was slippery. Put this sport in the Olympics, please. We could call it the "200 m gotta get some breakfast and struggle with door in windy conditions biathlon" I brought home the gold! My reward was a proper mug of coffee. Not a cup of coffee that you need to refill three times...a proper mug. Best.Azamara.Perk.Ever. There were also muffins, croissant and yogurt with fresh fruit & honey to hold me over until the buffet opened at 7:30 am. Formal dining had kippers for breakfast but that only opens at 8:00. Too late for me! I sat in the Windows Cafe watching the approach to Xiamen. There was a huge amount of boat traffic. Freighters, commercial fishing boats and local fishermen with their coterie of seabirds along side them. The colour of the sea was something completely unnatural. It was basically brown sludge and disabused me of any plans to  snorkel in Chinese waters. However, the little islands with jagged tops were beautiful. There was no question that this was China. The China of the photographer's dreams. Some Australians in their 70s noticed that I was alone and invited me to join them for breakfast. We had lots of good conversations. I apologized for my appearance by saying "I've just had my hair done on deck 10." It took them a minute to get the joke but we were bosom buddies for the rest of the cruise. XIAMEN, CHINA It took a long time to dock but once we disembarked into the ultra-modern Chinese cruise terminal everything ran smoothly. We were whisked through an immigration inspection. Most of the attendants were Chinese women in smart little uniforms including hats. There were security cameras everywhere as well as photographers documenting our arrival with handheld cameras. The English spoken was very good. At the booth, they take your picture and look at your passport, they stamp a paper copy of the passport and you hand the original back to cruise authorities as you exit. A shuttle bus was provided to the ferry terminal serving Gulangyu Island but due to the rain, we couldn't see much through the fogged up windows during the 15 minute trip. The ferry terminal to Gulangyu Island was crowded with fashionably-dressed young couples, wedding parties and holidaying families. While waiting in line for the ferry, vendors tried to sell us cheap toys and souvenirs. At one point an old beggar man approached with the standard issue tin cup. Another man rushed over and slapped the cup out of his hand and chased him away. It was a bit shocking the way he was treated. We paid 15 yuan ($2.50 USD) for the round trip. It only took around 5 minutes to cross. Glad we hadn't opted for the high-speed ferry. Gulangyu Island is an old colonial outpost that has been transformed into something like the Chinese version of Vieux Québec. There are churches and villas behind fortification walls. The villas have been transformed into hotels or restored to their original splendour and you must pay a fee to visit. There are also gardens built around natural stone formations the major one being Sunlight Rock. The brave can climb to the summit of Sunlight Rock. I had done brave at breakfast so instead, my new friend Gill and I just strolled around looking at the gardens and architecture and chatting about our mutual love of travel, whales and animals in general. We got along very well. Suddenly, these two twenty-something Chinese girls approached us and with fairly decent English pronunciation asked if we wouldn't mind taking a picture with them. I assumed that they meant take a picture #of# them. Nope, Gill understood immediately and we posed with one while the other took the snapshot, then switched. Apparently, blonde hair and blue eyes are as deserving a photo opportunity as Sunlight Rock. They were super sweet and thanked us politely. By now we were hungry and we passed kiosk after kiosk of delicious snacks. It was almost impossible to decide what to eat. There were guava fruit with straws pressed into them for drinking, lychees on skewers, lots of live seafood in aquariums or grilled delicacies. Some young vendors called us over to their shop and asked us in their best English what we would like to try. I smiled and answered: Just look at me, I'd like to try EVERYTHING! They were obviously trying to be polite but since I gestured by patting my chubby tummy they took my cue and giggled. I opted for a bowl of grilled squid with fish balls...no, really...I came all the way to China to eat some gefilte. It was really cheap, delicious and filling. There were so many things to try but one can only eat so much. I'll have to go back to try the grilled conch. They empty the meat, chop it up and cook it with vegetables and spices then re-stuff it into the shell and grill the whole thing on a BBQ. I will have to learn what that dish is called. There were many couples in fancy dress posing for wedding pictures with the historical buildings and gardens as a backdrop. We also visited the shops where there were really cute outfits for sale. The Chinese people were extremely fashion-conscious. This island resort also had a sea world-type park and probably much more that we never got to see because we were overwhelmed and returned to the ship for a well-deserved nap. Dinner was a bit disappointing with undercooked grouper and inedible sides. No problem, the waiter switched it out for surf 'n' turf with filet mignon and Caribbean lobster tail. Dessert was tiramisu. The seas were even more churning than the night before. The spray blew past my window like powdered snow drifts and waves occasionally splashed up like a car wash. It's true that on a smaller ship, you can feel the motion a lot more than on a larger ship. It really doesn't bother me though. Because of the lousy conditions, we lost time. The Captain announced this over the PA system and warned that we all needed to take a seat in the next few minutes as we were about to make a 90 degree starboard turn and there would be a discernible list especially on upper decks. I was on deck 5 at the Mosaic Cafe. We made the impressive turn smoothly but yeah, you could feel it. Moments later, the Staff Captain emerged from the bridge and sat down next to me at the coffee bar. I thanked him for the amazing roller coaster ride! I let him know how I nested in the window ledge and that nothing made me happier than to have the spray splash up into my face on deck. He said "so you've got sea legs then..." and I volunteered the story of how my then nine-year-old immigrant grandmother was the only passenger to have an appetite on the crossing from Poland to Canada. That is what being on Azamara Journey is like. You can have intimate chit chat with the ship's second in command and only need two minutes to walk from stem to stern. I already understand why there are so many former Celebrity passengers that have made the switch to Azamara and won't sail with anyone else. KEELUNG CITY, TAIPEI, TAIWAN We pulled into Taiwan and had a smooth disembarkation. We simply had to show the paper copy of our passport which they stamped. Three flashy dancing dragons pranced and posed for the passengers. It was very welcoming and quintessentially Taiwanese. Not so Taiwanese but ubiquitous on this trip were the terminal's duty-free gift shops hawking tobacco products, purses and booze. There is also the phenomenon of the giant yellow rubber ducky mascot. It is EVERYWHERE! You can get your G.Y.R.D. umbrellas, keychains, iPhone cases etc. at every souvenir shop in the land...please Google to learn more because I am afraid that if I say its name three times it will be summoned...rising from the depths like Godzilla. I had planned the Taiwan visit down to the smallest detail. I wanted to visit Ho-ping Island Park also known as Peace Island. It was only 7 kms from the ship and would cost $7 USD each way by taxi plus a few bucks for the entrance fee and snacks. I had even printed out the Google maps with directions in Chinese. My new friend Jayne, a fellow passenger and solo cruiser thought it was an interesting choice and came along. The taxi dispatcher kept pointing to a different destination on his picture chart of tourist spots saying that it would be better. I was firm and insisted that this place was where we wanted to visit. He let us know that there would be no one there (exactly!) and that we would have to pay a standing fee for the cab to wait one hour. No worries. If I had been alone, I might have simply taken the local bus number 101 back but we agreed to split the $900 Taiwan Dollar ($30 USD) roundtrip price. Arriving at the park, it looked just like it had on Google street view. Not a tour bus in sight! We paid the entrance fee and received a bunch of coins as change. There was a hill with what looked to be manicured trees on it because it was so neat and tidy and symmetrical. The wind at this place is strong. It is responsible for all of the interesting land formations and probably is the gardener that created the bonsai on the hill. It was only about eleven degrees Celsius so we bundled up in scarves and sweaters and raincoats then made our way along a stone path towards the sea.  Tables and hibachis were provided for picnickers. We passed a little family made up of Grand-dad, young mother and rosy-cheeked 9 month old baby in a bunting sling tied against mum. Both Jayne and I gestured and spoke in English that they were a beautiful family. The daughter answered us in English asking where we were from and how we had discovered this place. I answered "internet" and she seemed surprised! The Taiwanese people are so friendly and helpful. We heard from many fellow passengers that if they seemed lost or confused, someone would offer assistance without prompting. We approached the rocky beach where waves crashed high into the air like a geyser. I got some video of it. We viewed the rocks shaped into tiny mushrooms by the force of erosion and read about the graffiti cave where ancient Dutch mariners had left their mark. At this time of year, we were not allowed to walk to the cave or among the mushroom rocks but I got some pictures. It was gorgeous and like I had mentioned previously...completely devoid of tourist crowds. It was quiet except for the constant howling wind and extremely clean. Time to hit the sandy beach and see the water up close! The park set up a sea wall to enclose a natural sea-water pool. In this way the waves bash around 50m outside the swimming area so the bathers are protected from being swept out to sea. Fish can and do enter the pool though. I had come prepared with my one piece swimsuit, snorkel, aqua socks, travel towel and wetsuit liner but man...it was windy! There were a few local men and women swimming laps in the 20 degree Celsius water in just their bathing suits. I could have been convinced to join them but Jayne was not keen. I did get in to my knees just to feel the water but I didn't see any critters. We stopped into the gift shop where we were offered tea and samples of local treats! I bought some dried sesame fish candy, you'll have to see it to believe it and yes, it is good! Again, the shop staff wanted to know how we found them and were amazed to know that their park was on the internet to be discovered by anyone in the world. The tourist bureau promotes other parks more aggressively so they don't see many foreigners here. I used the Taiwanese coins to purchase some vending machine drinks as souvenirs and found the cab back to the ship. Jayne was elated to have had such a unique experience and thanked me. It isn't very hard to do the research before leaving home. The resources are out there...you just need to do it! Returning to the ship we were offered hot ginger tea or hot chocolate to warm up. I joked with the crew-member serving, asking what kind of rum was in the chocolate. He was embarrassed and said sorry...there was no rum...BUT...no joke...guests arriving back on board later that day reported that they were offered shots of rum with their chocolate!!!! That is Azamara. I rest my case. ISHIGAKI ISLAND, JAPAN It's a blur. I knew that I was about to realize my life-long dream of visiting Japan so my mind was racing. At breakfast, I warned my companions that it was entirely possible that I would burst into tears as soon as I touched the soil. We pulled into port and had to wait for immigration officials to board. We were called by group to pass inspection which consisted of a thermal reader to check our temperature, fingerprints and the reception of a landing permit to be affixed to a paper copy of the passport. I greeted the thermal camera operator with a happy "Ohaioo gozaimasu!" (Good morning) and responded to the inspection officer's instructions by saying "Hai, wakarimashita!" (Yes, I understand) The officials were very serious so there was no time for chit chat. I had teamed up with some folks from Cruise Critic and booked a snorkel trip using an English-speaking dive shop called UMICOZA based in Kabira Bay. They specialized in trips to see the Manta Rays at a known Manta cleaning station. I had found their website on the internet and they were very professional and friendly in their correspondence. Our group of four snorkelers rendezvoused at the Mosaic Cafe. Then we descended the ramp to the port.  The temperature was mild, the water appeared to be clean but we did not see the UMICOZA van in the tours area. We looked outside the gate, no van. It was getting late so we boarded a shuttle bus to the local ferry terminal thinking they may have been confused about what we meant by cruise ship. No van at the ferry terminal either. Panic. I turned on my cellphone risking expensive roaming rates to see if they had left a message. No signal! Okay...time to use my Japanese for real! I went to the information booth in the terminal and said: "sumimasen...denwa ga arimasu-ka?" It worked! The lady guided me over to the pay phones! Hooray! But...the pay phones only took coins. Oh no! Luckily, at this point my cellphone enabled itself and I was able to call the dive shop. The driver had been waiting for us at the cruise ship but outside the main gate. The van only had a window sign, no logo on the side so we had missed it. All was well but I have learned the importance of locking down the details when making these sort of plans. It is not enough to say pick me up at the ship...you need GPS coordinates to avoid confusion! Toyo-san was our driver and guide. He spoke English very well but I had fun practicing my Japanese with him. Finally, away from the shipping containers and bus loads of tourists we began to see the beauty of Ishigaki Island. Trees are a mix of tropical palms and deciduous. We saw a huge owl sitting calmly on an overhanging branch. There were green fields loaded with grazing cattle on one side and either rice fields or blue water on the other. Conditions were windless and warm. It almost looked like the rolling hills of Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica that I had recently visited. The road itself was smooth and the signs were in English and Japanese. It honestly would not be difficult to drive around in a rented car. At the shop, I zipped into my snorkel & wetsuit in ninety seconds. My companions...not so much. Hee! Wetsuit virgins, they were! They had pre-ordered rental wetsuits by size and it was included in the price. The wetsuits were neatly laid out on the table with a name tag clothes pinned on with the respectful honorific-sama. Mine would have said "Lisa-sama." Lois and Yves from Toronto got into their suits and birthday-girl Gill got into her fabulous pink booties while I just wandered around listening to the birds and breathing in tropical Japan. Gill got a fright with the heated loo-seat at the shop! No chilly buns at this party! Because it had taken a bit long to disembark, find the van and get dressed, we decided to scrap our second snorkel spot with the Manta Rays and just do the coral garden. We hopped back into the van, drove five minutes to the dive boat and waded into the super-clear water. The temperature was actually quite lovely. A two-step ladder into the flat-bottom boat and we were aboard. We were offered hot tea and there was a cooler filled with hot water which the super-skinny guides poured into their wetsuits in order to keep the chill off. The trip to the coral garden took only a few minutes. We were just south of the famous Kabira Bay where snorkelling is not permitted. To save time, I reviewed the guidelines while we were underway. Any current? Nope. Any dangerous creatures? Nope. Are we anchored? Yes. Well, bye bye then! I plopped into the water while the others fussed with their stuff. Wow! It took a few seconds for the water to enter the wetsuit and make a warm layer next to the skin. The visibility was excellent and there was absolutely no current and very little chop on the surface. The first species I identified was a Blue-Head Wrasse…very similar to those in my favourite place, Bonaire. There were also Princess Parrotfish, Butterflyfish and Angelfish. Towards the bottom, were two sea snakes coiled together. I would have thought that they were mating but they appeared to be of different species. Folks were still on the boat getting their snorkels and fins sorted. I asked them to plug their ears while I asked about the sea snakes...nope, not dangerous! So I continued on looking at the beautiful blue coral, anemone and dazzling fish. It was overcast and started to rain a bit so after an hour we headed back to the shop. I presented the guide with a small gift from back home, a little tuque saying Action Scuba on it. He was really appreciative. There were hot showers and tea for us. They dropped us off at a local restaurant. Those cattle we had seen grazing were to be our lunch. Ishigaki Island beef is famous! The restaurant was so Japanese that *this* is where I got all weepy. We doffed our shoes at the door and put them in a little cubby. The wooden floors were so clean and smooth. The table was low and had adorable seat cushions with an owl motif. Owls are big (popular) in Japan! The table had a brazier (shichirin) in the centre of it. We ordered our meals. I tried to practice my Japanese again but the waitress didn't seem to understand me. I was trying to find out if there was a mixed grill with samples of beef, pork and chicken. Unsuccessful in communicating my wish, I opted for the premium steak set which came with 180g of beautifully marbled flank steak, miso soup, salad and vegetables. For dipping, there was BBQ sauce, wasabi, lemon and soy sauce. It was probably a bit pricy at 6,800 yen (almost $70 USD) but I had budgeted for that. The server brought a bowl of already glowing briquettes for the brazier and set them up placing the grill on top. We used long tongs to place the beef on the grill. Since the meat was nice and fat, there were a few grease fires but that's all part of the fun! Who needs eyebrows anyway? With an enthusiastic "Itadakimasu!" addressed directly to the food, I dug into my salad which was dressed with some lovely sesame-ginger. Then, I enjoyed the miso soup which only had broth and a few negi (scallions) cut into it. My meat was nicely done and it curled up onto itself like fatty bacon. For veggies there were cabbage and carrots which I ate raw, some eggplant and local specialties kabocha (squash) and goya (bitter melon) which were better grilled. I mixed the meat and veg into my bowl of rice and tasted the flavour / texture explosion. Oh, yeah. The way that the thin meat tastes so full is a wonder in itself. It was a terrific meal and very filling. I gave the waitress and the shop owner a great big "Gochisoosama deshita!" to thank them for the meal. I would have loved to have included a link to the name of the restaurant but Lois and Yves paid on their credit card and I gave them cash so they have the bill with the address on it! It was only a short waddle back to the ship...yep...Lisa got big - time fat on this trip. I napped and only surfaced to snag a few pieces of sushi from the buffet for dinner. Then I happily retreated to my cabin, dreaming of Japan and of floating in the crystal clear water. It's 2:30 am. The moon is shining into my cabin and I am wide awake. Seas are calm. I need fresh air so I get dressed, gather up my silk sleeping bag, a blanket and a pillow and headed to my secret enclave on deck 5 forward just under the tenders. It is a quiet area even in daytime so I reckoned that I wouldn't be disturbing anyone and might even see some whales as we sailed into their Okinawan breeding grounds. I found a deck chair and replaced the cushion which had been stowed for the night. Then I set myself up with my little cocoon and enjoyed the sound of the waves with the bright moon glittering on the water. It was very comfy and I slept well until the morning sun warmed my face. Soon after the deck hands came by to set up the chairs for the day. Needless to say, they were a little surprised to find me there. I put on my best fake indignant voice, pointed at my imaginary watch and proclaimed: "I have been sitting here since 2:30 am and NO ONE has offered me a drink!" It took them a second...but then they laughed. The crew on this ship are very easy going and mix it up with the passengers at every opportunity. On Celebrity, it sometimes seems like a two-tiered class system but on Azamara, the staff IS the main attraction. Alas, I saw no whales from my position but folks in the Windows Cafe where I normally went for breakfast did. Oh well...we had a whale watching excursion booked for later that day. No worries. NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, JAPAN I got back to my room, showered and changed because I looked like I had spent the night on deck...well, actually, I had spent the night on deck. The whale watching tour only met at 13:15 so I had the morning to explore on my own. The weather was sunny and warm so I packed my snorkel and one piece wetsuit liner into my bag just in case. Leaving the ship, I could hear drums banging. It was local entertainers in bright costumes there to welcome us to Naha, Okinawa. Onboard, the Japanese customs enforcers guarded against cruise ship sandwiches and fruit coming ashore. Descending the gangway, I could see that besides the drummers, there were singers and a little girl handing out photo postcards as a gift. There was also a local beauty pageant winner (She might have been the mayor but she wore a sash) posing for pictures with passengers. I asked a guide in Japanese where the information booth was and she answered me in English. Oh, well. The information booth was chaotic. Only three agents were on hand plus a guy doing currency exchange. As I was politely waiting my turn and was next in line to be served, this gigantic Russian-speaking man pushed in front of me to grab some maps and literature. When he did not immediately step away from the table I got uncharacteristically assertive. "SIR..I have been waiting in line, you can do the same." and he sheepishly walked away. Seriously, I had spent so long waiting in line. I found it disrespectful. I had worked out all the details preparing for this trip in a short amount of time and others were expecting to get a five star hotel concierge to plan their tour for free as soon as they got off the ship! Well, the Japanese guides were happy to do this which is why it took so long for it to be my turn. All that I needed was to be oriented out of the port area, understand which direction was north and see if they knew whether Naminoue beach was open to the public in February. Finally, a nice curly-haired Japanese lady stepped over to assist me. I pointed to my curly hair then politely gestured to her and said "Watashi no imotoo desu ka?" (Are you my little sister?) That got a laugh, I got the information and I was off in a minute or two. The route was over an elevated highway but there was a pedestrian walkway so it was safe. Okinawa looks surprisingly a lot like Miami beach with bridges and causeways as far as the eye can see. After a short walk, Naminoue beach came into view. What a little gem. Sure, it's under a busy overpass and not far from a major port but the sand looked clean and soft, the water was crystal clear blue revealing rocks and coral below the surface. It was also padlocked shut. Waaaah! Trust me, my next visit will not be in February. All was not lost. Using my super-katakana-reading skills...I discovered that the Subway sandwich place in an adjacent hotel lobby offered free internet and massage chairs? Yup, welcome to Japan, people! Hungry because it had been ten minutes since my last meal, I entered the Subway which looks exactly like any Subway in any city anywhere...except for the garbage bins which I will describe later. I selected the chicken and cheese sandwich, was delighted to learn that white bread is called "Wa-i-to" rather than "shiroi no pan" and then came the toppings. There was a picture chart showing onions, olives, lettuce etc. I didn't want any of those things just tomatoes and green pepper (to-ma-to & pi-men-to) so that's what I said. I watched the server slather an unholy amount of mayonnaise on my sandwich...I didn't recall asking for it but mayonnaise is extremely popular in Japan so I didn't complain. I got busy counting out my 100 yen coins to pay for my sandwich and noticed the plastic tray where I should put them. Another successful experience in Japan, I thought proudly to myself...until I unwrapped the paper and found a garden full of lettuce and olives and onions. What the heck? I squinted back at the topping picture chart to see if it said "Hold the XXX..." I didn't see that but I learned that is the subtle difference between Japanese and Canadian Subway restaurants! Now you know, too! I used the free internet but never found the massage chairs. I tidied the lunch tray and carried it over to the trash bin. Uh oh...three separate areas labeled in kanji with rather unhelpful pictograms. I am sure it said something like metal/glass, paper, organic but which was which? I must have stared at the kanji for a whole minute looking for one that I recognized. I would have recognized "metal" or "paper" but I have to study what "glass" would be. I took my best guess and hurried back to the taxi stand near the ship. I had prepared a Google map to the SEASIR MARINE HOUSE dive shop hosting the whale-watching tour with the address as well as directions in Japanese. It was perfectly clear. I even read the address to the driver and offered him a GPS code but he was acting like he had no idea where the place was. I could see a water tower landmark that I knew was close to the place (thanks again, Google street view!) and guided the driver towards there. We found it with no trouble. Japanese drivers will not take a tip so I am the proud owner of some very small denomination coins. Looks like someone is going to get more vending machine goodies! English-speaking guides greeted me at the shop and handled the process of payment and liability release. I got the most adorable admission ticket ever...it is a child's crayon drawing of a humpback whale. Kawaii! Cute!! The whale watching boat was actually a huge scuba diving boat with several showers and changing rooms. It would have to be the nicest dive boat I have ever seen. We did see whales but nothing like in Tonga...that trip spoiled me! I spent most of the trip talking to the friendly guide. Lots of people on the boat got seasick but the staff were prepared for it and took care of everyone. The operation was extremely professional and they even offered a refund if we did not see whales. It was a three hour trip and by the time we were done, I was ready for supper. I chose not to go into Naha city because it was getting dark and instead had dinner on the ship in the dining room. The waiters on Azamara are evil. Not only do you risk getting an infinity glass of wine, if you ask for a recommendation between two main dishes, they will simply bring both. They get to know you and refer to you by name. They size you up and know that you don't really mean it when you say "no French fries, please." They know what your preferred condiments are. By day three, everyone brings me sambal with my eggs and black coffee...no need to ask. So I totally abused my body that night with a samosa starter, oxtail broth and both the vegetable croquette healthy choice option AND the seabass and some kind of obscenity for dessert. What's the number for Jenny Craig when I get home? TOKYO, JAPAN - OVERNIGHT IN GORA, HAKONE-MACHI AT A RYOKAN (TRADITIONAL JAPANESE HOTEL) I'm taking artistic liberties and skipping trip reports for the two days at sea. I can summarize by saying that I slept, swam, ate, walked around on deck then ate again. Sea was gorgeous, sun was bright but it was a bit chilly. I have met many friendly people. It was a very relaxing two days. I packed my bag the night before arriving in Tokyo and set out the clothes I would wear. It was important that I looked put-together but was comfortable for the trip to the hot-spring resort in Gora, at the foot of Mount-Fuji. I must have woken up every hour on the hour that night. Finally, by 5:30 am, I went up to watch us approach the port. Let me just say that it was very emotional for me. For years, I have loved Japanese culture, food and language. Here, was the culmination of all of that passion being realized...underscored by the Japanese drummers welcoming the ship. Tokyo. Edo. The source of it all spread out before me. The skyscrapers twinkled and the seabirds soared around the ship. The port wasn't busy at all. We were the only game in town at Harumi. I cried a lot because it was a bit surreal but soon it was time for me to take a shower and head out on my adventure. With my spiffy new raincoat, my new handbag and my comfy yet fashion forward travel-wear, I disembarked the ship into the REAL Japan. But...I was a bit too early. The shuttle bus into town didn't start for another twenty minutes. I spent the time chatting with a lady from the ship and with a Japanese tour guide. I boarded the bus. And sat. And sat. We are waiting for more passengers. I see the number 5 Toei city bus pull up along side us. I was just about to give up on the shuttle and take public transport but my passage was blocked by folks boarding. Crap. And sat some more. This was stupid. As soon as people stopped getting on, I jumped off just as another city bus pulled up. 200 yen later (two bucks) and bada bing! It was fun to people-watch. I saw a few young mothers wearing anoraks with a built-in baby carrier. It was like a normal coat but instead of zipping closed there was a fabric panel to hold the baby snug and warm. There were little school girls dressed in sailor suits or French Madeleine-style uniforms with straw hats and ribbons trailing behind them. And of course...lots and lots of salarymen. It took just 30 minutes to get me to Tokyo Station. It was not that busy. I was surprised. It was very easy to navigate. Signs are in Japanese kanji, Japanese hiragana and in English. I found the midori mado-guchi (green ticket window) and gave the attendant the number of the Hikari Tokaido Shinkansen Bullet Train I wanted to take to Odawara. Up on the platform, it was like a ballet. Train is approaching, the conductor guys stand ready with their red flags, the recorded voices announce the arrival in English and in Japanese, passengers line up on blue markers inlaid into the floor. These markers optimize traffic flow, enabling those disembarking to exit unencumbered by the people getting onto the train. Twinkly Christmas music chimes and if the conductor guys give the all clear, the doors close and the train pulls away. It was almost time for my train to arrive on the platform. An army of ladies in pink uniforms outfitted with squeegees appeared flanked by helmeted guys in blue onesies. All and sundry wore gloves. The Tokaido Shinkansen Bullet Train originating at Shin-Osaka station pulled in at 11:23 am and needed to be readied before turning around with all aboard 10 minutes later. The ballet went like this: Passengers leave the train. Blue onesies kick the pedals to disengage the seats and spin them to orient them to the new forward-facing direction. One row at a time on each side of the train...kick, spin, kick, spin. Then, the blue onesies rip the paper antimacassars off the seats...rip, rip, rip. The pink ladies follow closely behind with fresh paper for the headrests...stick, stick, stick. The two brigades seamlessly complete the tidy up, dusting, wiping down and mopping all without bumping into each other and then file out in perfect synchronization just as the red flagged conductor guys appear to usher the passengers in. Cue the twinkly Christmas music and we're off! My seat was comfortable and I had a huge picture window from where I could see the high-rises interlaced with train lines morph into residential apartment buildings and then into individual homes all with the prerequisite futon and laundry drying on the balconies and window sills. Tiny cemeteries, golf driving ranges, waterways lined with fishermen and wading birds, Shinto shrines, orange trees, flower boxes, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Odawara...Disembark 35 minutes later. This is the Bullet Train…no time for verbs. Odawara station is much smaller than Tokyo station but it has several connecting lines. Still, the excellent signage made it easy for me to find the right wing in which to purchase a ticket on the Hakone-Tozan electric railway. This time, I used the vending machine. You just look up your destination on the fare chart, insert the coins into the machine and out pops your ticket! Insert your ticket into the platform gate for validation, collect it when it pops back out and keep it safe until you put it into the exit turnstile for fare evaluation at the final destination. If you paid too little, you can make a fare adjustment upon arrival. It is idiot-proof. The little red train from Odawara to Hakone-Yumato is...in a word...adorable! It is the Hello Kitty of rail transportation. Three cars, each with purple velour benches and plenty of standing room shuttle passengers on a 15 minute, 5 stop journey. A uniformed driver at each end manually pilots the train back and forth along this route. At Hakone-Yumato, you transfer to an even cuter mountain train! Because the path is so steep, several methods are used to make the journey easier. Firstly, there are tunnels cut right into the mountain. Secondly, the train makes a few switchback stops where we head down in elevation only to head back up in a zigzag pattern. Thirdly, we coil around the hill like a boa constrictor. I know that this is Japan. Every visual cue within the train belies it but to look at the little station of Gora, a log and stucco structure surrounded by snowy mountains...you think... Switzerland? The cable cars connecting the railway to even higher elevations eventually linking to the Mount Fuji ropeway gondolas simply reinforces the idea. Although it was sunny and mild, the remains of last week's blizzard clogged the village. People were still busily shovelling the pavement clear. There were little shops selling souvenirs and snacks leading up a hill to the local park where the main attraction is...wait for it...Craft House, a Venetian glass blowing atelier and museum! Have a look on the internet. They have some incredibly beautiful things that are at once out of place and right at home in this picturesque town. A station or two before Gora has the open-air museum with original sculpture by Picasso, Rodin and others. The Hakone-machi area is loaded with culture from Japan and abroad. It was such a pleasure to wend the long way around the village to the Gora Tensui ryokan where I had booked a one-night stay using Expedia. Please see my review of the hotel on Trip Advisor for more information about my stay. Back onboard Azamara Journey, I was up top listening to the drummers entertaining the crowd before the push-off. When I got chilly, I came inside to check out the menus for the two specialty restaurants. I must say that the premium vodka and caviar was a little dear! One spoonful of caviar ranged in price from $50 to $175! Just then, the captain made an important announcement and we learned about the propeller damage that would ultimately cut the trip short. Reactions ranged from anger to confusion and concern. For me, it changed nothing. The cruise line handled it professionally and did everything they could to compensate us for the inconvenience. I have no complaints but a certain subset of the passengers took it very badly and became abusive to the staff. We learned more about the damage the next day. As we arrived in Tokyo, the crew had noticed unusual vibrations. The called in a dive team to take photographs which revealed wire leads and fishing netting tangled around the port side propeller. Both the screw and the shaft were damaged and needed to be repaired in dry dock. According to the Captain, the Japanese Coast Guard deemed the Journey seaworthy operating on a single propeller but we had to be tugged out of our berth in Tokyo. We cruised at a slower pace to Osaka, which had two side effects. Unfortunately, we could not out-maneuver some weather. Seas became rough and the ship got tossed around a bit. Except for me and a few experienced sailors in the dining room, that night was pretty quiet at supper. It was difficult to walk around. More than once, we heard the noise of things crashing to the ground from trays and counters. At one point, it felt like the sea had evaporated from beneath us. We just dipped suddenly as though we had gone over the first hill of a roller coaster. Lots of people screamed. I got a major tummy flip! The next day, Captain Jason explained that it was due to a quick turn in order to avoid traffic in the busy passage from Tokyo to Osaka. Needless to say, I had a great sleep rocked on the waves in my luxury cradle. The second result of the slow pace was a big delay. In reality though, there was a benefit. We got to see all the little fishing boats and the gorgeous islands during daylight. We even spotted a submarine cruising along the surface! That was unusual and very cool! OSAKA, JAPAN Arriving in Osaka was a dreary affair compared to Tokyo. Instead of arriving on 27th at 9 pm, we pulled in at around 4 pm on the 28th. The weather was cold and rainy, it was dusk, we were late and some people were still cranky about the propeller issue. The ship was greeted by Azamara's CEO, Larry Pimentel and a bus-load of at least 40 go-team members. This was the cruise-line's damage control. The go-team was made up of Royal Caribbean International employees from around the world. They were responsible for the logistics of moving six hundred bodies from Osaka to Shanghai and making them feel as comfortable along the way as though we had sailed there. They endured jet-lag, a bit of abuse and probably the most adrenaline-charged, stressful assignment ever piled on luxury vacation specialists. But they made it work. We all had to get off the ship to once again clear Japanese immigration but I got right back on the ship because...it was Indian night at the buffet! Hooray! Some kicky, spicy stuff to counteract the safe cruise food and the delicate Japanese flavours. I really overdid it. The Indian guys were cheering me on! I had one spoonful of everything on the buffet except the deep-fried selections. It was so different, I really kind of wished that there were spicy options every day. The next morning, when I woke up, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. In the other ports, there had been clear plans but Osaka was kind of free-form. It's usually my habit to get off the ship too early when the shops and restaurants haven't even opened so this time, I spent the early morning finishing up packing. Should I get on a train to Nara to see the deer? Should I go to the aquarium? Should I go downtown to the Dotonbori district around Namba station? No way. That's where everyone from the ship went. Weather was cold...not sure a whole day outside would be smart with an hour travel each way. I ruled out Nara. It was Saturday. There would be tons of kids at the aquarium. Scrap that idea. The town around the port was quiet except for the throngs of people getting off the subway to go to the aquarium...why don't I just stick around here? Okay! It was only 11 am. Too early for lunch so I just walked and walked and walked some more! What did I find? Only the best stuff that no organized land-excursion will ever show a tourist. For example, I had the opportunity to see how the old and new Japan manages to live alongside one another. Down streets only as wide as a North-American back alley, ten story apartment buildings that look as though they were built in the sixties or seventies stand next to hundred-year-old homes built low to the ground, maybe one and a half stories high. Sometimes, in the narrow spaces between, modern architects have created single family homes on several levels with fully functional use of all the space available. Hearing some shouting, I found some little girls playing tag in a tiny court yard and next door, some rhythmic chanting coming from a local shrine or community centre-type place. In the film "Lost in Translation", Bill Murray's character is an American action film star sent to Japan to shoot advertisements for a Japanese brand of whiskey. No joke, I saw publicity photos of Tommy Lee Jones used to sell Coffee Boss coffee from vending machines! Strange! I took photos of that and other assorted weirdness. Then there was big excitement at the fish shop as the van pulled in with the catch of the day. When you hear the expression "hole in the wall" to describe a small, nondescript place this shop beats that. The store front is maybe eight feet wide. Three feet for fish, three for fruit and if you can squeeze inside past the old ladies battling for the choicest pieces, there is a two foot wide aisle lined with buckets and baskets of all kinds of goodies. I saw whole crabs powdered in sawdust, sea cucumber packed into brine-filled baggies, huge snails and lots and lots of fish. It was crowded in there! On the way up the street from the ship, my kanji skills had scoped out a sushi place with no English writing on the sign so I returned there with a fierce craving. The bad news was that the sushi shop never opened. A basket of freshly washed oshibori napkins that had been delivered by the laundry sat uncollected on the front step. Oh well, maybe the sushi master was still at the fish shop fighting with the grannies. Saddened by my sushilessness, I walked around looking for something else. There were lots of ramen shops and soba shops and places with unappealing-looking plastic food in the window. Many of the places had gangs of salary men in suits chain-smoking. Yuck. I was almost right back at the ship when a tiny shop caught my eye. It had a solid door with no window to see inside but a small banner said "okonomiyaki" in katakana. Okonomiyaki means "oh my goodness…this is better than sushi and you have to come to Osaka to get a piece of me!" This food is like omelettes or pancakes stuffed with any kind of thing you like. Seafood, veggies, meat, cheese, old shoes, anything goes. Daringly, I slid the rolling door open and discovered out a very enticing restaurant. There were tatami tables at the back where you have to put away your shoes before sitting. Instead, I sat down at the bar where one could see the chefs making the orders. Beside me, was Cindy, the future cruise specialist and Le Club Voyage Hostess. We had met earlier in the week. I got my pancake filled with "mix"...basically a combo of squid, octopus, pork and beef. It was suggested to me that beer goes well with it so I got a pint and we both really enjoyed our meals! Cindy went back to work and I continued the unstructured wandering. Here is where the gluttony becomes out of control. Beside the ship is a shopping mall called Tempozan Marketplace. Instead of regular food courts, they have built a little circuit to look like narrow streets with food vendors...something like what I had seen on Gulangyu Island in China. It was totally fake but you somehow feel better buying food from a place with electricity and running water. So even after my okonomiyaki, I sampled some pork buns and some sashimi! I saw a Japanese kids' menu, we don't get those at home. It was so cute that I took pictures. The nigirizushi are cut up small for the kiddies! Finally, I managed to pull myself away from this fantasy land of calories to my stateroom, the most relatively food-free area that I could find. Just to be social and say my goodbyes, I did a quick pass around the public areas after dinner and then went to bed! DISEMBARKATION-FLY TO SHANGHAI The group heading out on a 9:25 am flight to Shanghai disembarked at 5:30 am. Security scanned our keycards as we left the ship before sunrise. We had to find our bags among hundreds of suitcases on the ground between the ship and the terminal building illuminated only by the head lights of a few port authority cars. Luckily, I found a helpful porter to wheel them along while I waited in line to collect my immigration documents and to follow me while I moved to another line to have my picture and fingerprints taken by Japanese officials. Then we had to exit the terminal and stand in line while workers loaded the suitcases into a standard-issue white cube truck and passengers boarded a chartered motor coach to Kansai airport hoping for the best. On the hour-long bus ride to Kansai airport, a chipper British go-team leader joked about how she had really needed a stiff drink the night before but that she had gotten the "waggy finger" from Larry (the CEO.) We could tell that the story itself was all made-up but her comic timing put everyone at ease. She made fun of her Japanese-bus-aisle-walking awkwardness and just made the whole ordeal much more pleasant. She answered questions clearly, professionally and with humour.  Upon arrival, we were happy to find the truck with our bags and we were greeted by another capable go-team who guided us to our respective check-in counters. I was on Air China flight 164 for the two-hour trip to Shanghai and was allowed to check two free bags for the regional flight! Wow! I felt as weightless as a man on the moon with no clunky carry-on to schlep. Free WiFi, cute gift shops, fun Japanese snacks (seaweed crackers & plum-filled, triangular onigiri (rice balls) with a hot canned coffee from a vending machine) all kept me busy until the smooth boarding process began. Most two hour flights in North America don't even offer food for purchase but we got a meal tray! There were three big party sandwiches, cucumber, egg and something else along with a fruit cup, a dish of Japanese pickles and tamago plus a cookie. How civilized is that? The only downside was the number of smokers onboard. Although smoking was not permitted, the stench was unbearable coming off of people's coats and belongings in the overhead bins. I literally had to cover my nose and mouth with my Downy-April-Fresh handkerchief. Anyway, it was certainly not the worst two-hours and fifteen minutes of my life...thank you, Forrest Gump. One other neat aspect of the flight was that we never really got away from civilization. From the air, the ground below us seemed entirely populated unlike short-haul flights back home where it might be fields and trees for miles without a road or a home in sight. The descent from blue sky through white cloud into brown smog layered over brown water and brown land signalled our arrival into the pollution of China. It's a sad reality. At Pudong airport from the gate to immigration, the walls were lined with publicity for expensive designer goods like Prada and Longines…none of which could be seen on the actual people in the terminal. Our Shanghai go-team greeted us and efficiently got people and luggage sorted onto yet another hour-long motor coach ride to The Bund district. SHANGHAI, CHINA The elevated highway from the airport into the city is lined with tall apartment buildings crushed right up against the guardrails. You could honestly imagine shaking hands with the residents if you were stopped in heavy traffic. My mind reeled at the thought of what would happen if Mrs. Fung's clothespins failed and her bedsheet draped over the windshield of somebody's car speeding along the roadway. Luckily, we made it to the Shangai Hyatt on The Bund Hotel without any laundry-related traffic mishaps. Shanghai is a very crowded city…I wish that I could review it for you but honestly, that hotel was such a beautiful oasis that I never left it until the shuttle back to Pudong Airport the next day. Azamara spoiled us. They even ensured that our nightly turndown chocolates were offered to us in our luxurious rooms. We were treated to a complimentary breakfast buffet with both Asian and Western specialties and as part of the compensation package, were offered up to $100 USD for incidentals in Shanghai. I went for dinner in the hotel's Chinese restaurant and enjoyed fabulous Peking Duck which still makes me shed a tear…it was that delicious. Other than meals and sleep, my time was spent in the Hyatt's spa facility where the steam room, sauna, hot tub, cold plunge pool and giant swimming pool gave me the all the comfort and relaxation I needed before the arduous transition to post-cruise reality. Although the land discoveries had been cancelled and charges reversed on my onboard account, the go-team still organized complimentary coach transfers from the hotel to the airport. It was the perfect way to end the voyage. Despite my uncomfortable arrival in Hong Kong, where I was a bit underwhelmed by my reception, I was so happy with my first Azamara experience. The propeller issue only provided evidence that their customer service is actually the best and I will not hesitate to sail with them again and recommend the line to everyone looking for a more intimate, port-intensive cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2013
This was my fourth cruise and first on Azamara. After reading reviews for months, finally adding my own. Was a really good trip overall but in many ways I just don't understand the hype that surrounds this brand. Not a complaint just ... Read More
This was my fourth cruise and first on Azamara. After reading reviews for months, finally adding my own. Was a really good trip overall but in many ways I just don't understand the hype that surrounds this brand. Not a complaint just my thoughts. Saved my gripes for the end. Cruise was round trip departing out of Athens from Oct 19 thru Oct 26th: Pre cruise Hilton Athens: Gorgeous wide open bright lobby, lots of glass and marble. Quick check in and I got a room with an Acropolis view. Very cool! Room was large and spotlessly clean. I'd like to have the shower and bathtub in my home! Rooftop bar/restaurant had stunning nighttime views of the Acropolis. Hotel bars and restaurant good but not great food and very pricey. 55 euros for two glasses of wine and a skewer of chicken souvalaki for dinner. Included breakfast was adequate, standard stuff. Transfer to Pier: Letter at check-in at Hilton indicated what time to meet the bus in lobby. Pretty large group of about 75 people went in two buses at 12:00 and 12:30. Azamara rep was on site at the hotel in the morning for questions and directing people to the bus. Call me a privacy freak but I was not really cool with the bulletin board by the Azamara table with everybody's name on it. Saw no need for that at all. Aprox. 30 mins to pier, lot of Azamara people directing where to go inside. Check in was pretty quick, aprox. 15-20 mins in line and I had my cabin card and was on the ship at about 1:30. Greeted with champagne/juice. Able to get in cabins at about 2:00. Luggage showed up within about an hour which was nice (well it was in the hall being lined up ready to be delivered and I took it in my self), poor guy working there was mortified! Ship: Interiors were spotless everywhere. Looks pretty much just like the pictures in the brochure/online. Very elegant, lots of marble/granite, metal scrollwork, lots of cream, green and gold colors with an old world vibe. Good signage everywhere. Bars and pool grill and buffet restaurant were open at time of boarding. Modest effort made to upsell people on the drinks package but nothing annoying on first day. Cabin: Small but fairly standard size with balcony compared to prior cruises. Spotless, nice touches with fresh flowers and a fruit plate and included drinks section in minibar which was replenished throughout the week. Complimentary tote bag in room at check in (pretty nice bag actually). Bathroom, spotless and small. Standard stuff. Cabin attendant very efficient all week. Food/Beverages: Breakfast buffet was pretty average overall. The omelet station was disappointing both times I tried it. Sit down restaurant was "closing" 20 mins before posted hours both times I went so I never got to try that for breakfast. With early starts for most of the excursions I needed to be in and out quickly. Never went hungry but never impressed. Pool Grill/lunch buffet was a bit mixed. Some of the offerings in the buffet were quite good such as the made to order sandwiches and salads. (Nice that only staff vs a couple hundred people with likely grubby hands touching the serving utensils). Buffet is not my favorite to say the least. The bright spot at lunch was really the Pool Grill. They had a menu, it was all cooked to order and they would find you where ever you were seating. Wings, burgers, grilled sausages, 4 or 5 different kinds of kebobs, club sandwiches, ribs, tacos etc. Dinners. Discoveries and Prime C Restaurant Ate in main restaurant Discoveries all but one night when I went the "specialty" restaurant Prime C. Overall my thoughts on dinners were again, mixed. The main dining room was gorgeous in its interior, although stiflingly hot every evening. Discoveries menu had the "always available" section and then the "daily specials". Many nights the two were not that different. Can't complain about the quality but portions were small and in some cases really tiny. Some of their food descriptions left a lot to be desired, for example "cheese and onion soup" was really French onion soup and "rack of lamb" was a tiny lamb chop. Many of the meat portion size descriptors on the meat cuts were way way off in terms of what the menu stated vs what showed up on the plate. Frankly the menu was pretty basic, was hoping for something a bit more. Again, never went hungry but was never wowed either. Prime C was also gorgeous in its interior and looked out over the bow of the ship with floor to ceiling windows. Menu a bit more mixed but in my opinion still pretty basic. I ordered the filet rare and it came to the table medium. I sent it back and the re-fire was perfect like it should have been the first time. Was actually the best dinner I had all week. Overall service in both restaurants Have mixed thoughts on the service. While the service received was always good, it was frequently slow and drawn out. Dinner easily took two+ hours most nights. While tables for 2-6 were frequently empty in the dining room, they definitely pushed you to sit with other people at the large tables which I truly resented. (Luckily I met some really cool people to share with but if I had not I would have had a real issue with that) Bar staff were uniformly great everywhere throughout the ship the entire cruise. All the included alcohol and wines worked well for me. Good to very good quality on the wines. Excursions: With the exception of the ungodly early start times (8:30AM) for most of them, all of the excursions I booked thru the ship were great. Shuttle buses right by the pier, extremely knowledgeable guides and nicely paced. Ultimate Ephesus and Rhodes walking tour in particular were superb. Ports: With the exception of Kos they were all very enjoyable. Not sure what the draw was on Kos. Santorini, Rhodes and Ephesus were all outstanding in very different ways each of them. Mykonos and Marmaris both very pretty and enjoyable as well. My gripes: My poor thoughts on ChoiceAir have been further amplified. Finding a suitable flight home on Sat was made impossible due to the direction of "absolutely no flights before 1:00PM" causing me to have to stay over another night in Athens. Imagine my surprise when the captain announces that "due the volume of early flight departures they will be anchoring at 4:30AM with initial disembarking beginning at 5:30AM". Could have easily made a 12:30 flight that I had found that ChoiceAir refused to book and saved myself a couple hundred bucks! Transfer to post cruise Hilton from ship This falls into the it's never too late to make a bad impression category. There were two buses at the 8:30 disembarkation one for the Hilton and one for the Bretagne Hotel and Hilton hotels. I am sitting on the first Hilton bus when a man and a woman approaches and says "we'll need you to come with us". I asked what was wrong and they just herded me off the bus. They then hustle a couple onto the bus to sit where I was sitting. When I asked what was going on they said as I was alone they wanted to get the couple onto the other bus first. Excuse me but that was a huge WTF moment for me. It was seriously more important for a couple to get on a bus that was going to the same place arriving maybe 15 mins apart?? And the driver had attitude when I insisted they take my luggage off the first bus and put it on the second. He made a snotty comment about "keeping people waiting". What were they going to do with my luggage leave it at the curb?? I really had to restrain myself from saying something. I made it almost a whole trip without experiencing solo discrimination but as I pointed out earlier it is never to late to leave a really bad impression. Post cruise Hilton From prior travel I had a vague memory of Europe ending daylight savings time a week earlier than the USA. (This did not occur to me prior to leaving to check out myself, go figure!) When I asked two different people at the desk they knew nothing about it. Bought a newspaper and didn't see anything either and thought I was mistaken. Next morning sure enough there was a flyer at the desk alerting people to change clocks back, would have been nice to know the day before when you are getting up at 3:30AM the next morning! And no "included breakfast " that early either. Random thoughts: Did I have a great time, absolutely! Did it live up to some of the hype I have read, some ways yes and others sadly no. Loved the size of the ship and the service was really good albeit slow overall. I was impressed by the number of repeat cruisers and the fact that in many cases the crew recognized people. Saw many instances of smiles/handshakes and hugs all around. That transfer experience really left me on a very flat note though. Will I cruise Azamara again, for a great itinerary and pricing absolutely would.   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2008
Azamara Journey Barcelona to Barcelona - November 9th, 2008- Or a Cautionary Tale of an Adventurous Woman with No Means I had been eyeing the Azamara Journey's November itinerary that included Corsica AND Valencia since I first saw ... Read More
Azamara Journey Barcelona to Barcelona - November 9th, 2008- Or a Cautionary Tale of an Adventurous Woman with No Means I had been eyeing the Azamara Journey's November itinerary that included Corsica AND Valencia since I first saw it earlier in the year. I thought I would never be able to make it because my work schedule would be too busy for me to take the anticipated 14 days off it would take to enjoy it. So imagine my surprise when I lost my job two weeks before the ship sailed. With the economy heading for an iceberg, I thought I would take my pleasure first, before I take my pain. I have sailed on cruise ships before (Silversea, Princess, Windjammer Barefoot, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity), in fact, I think I am a cruise junkie. The Journey is, I think, cruise number ten or so for me. I also cruise by myself, which means I have to limit the amount of cruising I do, because it is more expensive, so I try to get the most "bang for my buck." My travel agent helped me to get an extremely good single rate on this cruise, enabling me to have a verandah cabin for less than the cost of an ocean view. I also received shipboard credit, which kept the entire amount of the cruise less than the cost of shorter cruises I have taken on other lines. I made my own flight arrangements, so I have only myself to blame for going through Heathrow (do not do that...it is so annoying), but I highly recommend Expedia, because they allow you to book a hotel for fewer days than your flight plans. I was able to book the round-trip flight from San Francisco and hotel for the night for less than others paid for a round-trip ticket. The hotel I stayed at, the Vincci Maritimo Barcelona, was a very chic, three-star, high-styled newer hotel, near the trendy Diagonal shopping center. A Metro stop was literally at the corner, so I was able to poke around Barcelona after a night's sleep. I took in the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Gaudi masterpiece of a cathedral. I walked the Ramblas and took in the Barcelona energy. The Spanish have a beautiful city with lots of history to embrace. I was filled with anticipation as the taxi sped me to the ship at around 2:30 pm on Sunday. The pier was not crowded. The security people were unhurried. As I walked up the gangplank, I was struck by how the ship reminded me of a home. The size does not pretend to overwhelm you, as do the megaships. Instead, there is a cozy feeling. A young steward with Champagne who led to my cabin greeted me. My butler emerged and introduced himself, pointing out all the amenities that awaited me. I was in 7029 on the Starboard side, a bit forward. My cabin was gorgeous. Mirrors tricked the eye to think the room was larger than it was. The slider to the verandah opened effortlessly to let me breathe in the sea air....ahh...home again! Every nice day I was out on that verandah for breakfast. Every rainy day I had breakfast in the cabin. It was only toward the end of the cruise that I ever went to the ninth floor Cafe for the elaborate and extensive breakfast fare that most passengers raved about. For me, the ease and quiet of rising and having coffee in my room was an exercise I enjoyed. As many other reviewers will tell you, the bathroom is small. If there are two of you traveling, you will probably notice how small the quarters are, but for those of you who travel solo like me.....jackpot! The toiletries, by Elemis, are very nice. My butler brought me extras so I have some for home. I felt the sail-off was a bit subdued, but then, I think people may have still been exploring the ship. I don't think I realized how many people were on the ship at any time other than at the muster. People really kept to themselves, and I never noticed a crowd or a line at anything. First night dinner I was the guest of a gracious hostess, Doreen Allen. We met at the muster, and I joined her group of sartorially splendiferous, well-travelled friends for my first of twelve gourmet nights of dinners. I just have to tell you that there is not a bad meal on this ship. Although I took the chance to go to both Prime C and Acquaviva, which are sumptuous and the service is a lesson in attentiveness, I would say that you are experiencing fine dining in the Main Dining Room, so if don't get to the specialty restaurants, you will be fine. The veal chop is wondrous. If it's on the menu, you must have it. Our first port, Marseilles, has a reputation of being a motley, somewhat unsavory place. I intended to go inland to Aix en Provence, but instead ended up touring Marseilles for the day. It was wonderful! I think when I had tried to visit it by road before it had seemed forbidding and dark, but from the sea, it was just another port town, full of fish restaurants, cafes, bars, churches, and relics just like any other port. Monaco is an access point for Nice, St. Paul de Vence, Eze, or other interesting places. That it has to be its own little gambling principality is its own business. Portofino drowned in November rain and began the rainy weather we had throughout Italy. The stalwart village faces the sea in its tones of ochre, red, and tan. I highly recommend you take a look at the mausoleum behind the chapel in Portofino. You'll see pictures of the residents, now passed, in their prime. Most are life-long fishermen, or sturdy wives, legacies of families, and some young children. Off in a separate section in the rear of the area, set off by an iron gate, is the Protestant cemetery. A word of caution? If it's rainy, be very careful when walking up and down the stone stairways. I twisted my ankle and was just glad to be able to get back to the ship. If you are unlucky enough to hurt yourself in this way, the Medical Clinic keeps walking boots that will allow you to walk, in a fashion, without crutches. (They'll charge you $30.00 until you return the boot). At our next port, Livorno, many tours went to Florence or Pisa and other passengers made their own arrangements. Just a word of caution on bus tours from Livorno to FlorenceThere isn't time to spend as much time as you might like, even in such off peak times, in the Academia and the Uffizi. With commute time thrown in, there is just time to gloss over the many sights of Florence. The shore excursions from the ship cost $700 for a couple....$350 per person. Some passengers were very disappointed. I heard other passengers were very satisfied by private arrangements they made in smaller groups. Civitavecchia is a friendly small town in itself, and I was willing to forego Rome because of my self-imposed handicap (the boot), however, I managed to stump to the train station, and was able to buy a birg, an all day ticket for train/bus/metro for $9. I ended up leaving the train at Trestavere, where I took a streetcar further into Rome. I then walked up to the Piazza Rotunda, smack into a student demonstration protesting cuts in education. The students were intent on being heard by banging pots, waving flags, and shouting slogans, Police were out, helicopters surveyed from overhead, and Italy expressed itself. I continued up to the Trevi Fountain where no protesters could ruffle the calm of the falling waters around the beautiful sculptured horses and men. I made it up to the Metro station and took it to Roma Termini. I caught the 5:17 to Civitavecchia, due to arrive at 6:37. The ship was scheduled to sail at 6:45. I stumped off the train at 6:37, frantically looked for the tax driver who was not in his taxi cab in front of the station. Three minutes later he appeared and asked, "did you want a taxi?'" We sped toward the ship with me urging him to go faster all the while. He pulled up in front of the ship. The steward opened the taxi door, and as I boarded I was told "no hurry, we are still waiting for one more person." I have never been that late to board—and had pictured myself hiring a fishing boat to catch up to the Journey on its way to Corsica. In Corsica it was still raining. The Moorish looking profile of Bonifacio rose to a height along the Corsican coast. Corsica is a very wild and interesting place, but off season, it is hard to grasp the feeling of the Corsican culture. The launch took us to the dock in front of the old fort of Bonifacio, and the ship offered us a shuttle for $8 that was available to us all day. Well, the shuttle only went about a quarter mile at best, albeit steeply, and was only used by most people once. A group of passengers had formed and our "band of gypsies" from San Francisco, Roseville, Connecticut, Minnesota (and sometimes Charleston), did our best to explore the streets and paths along the Bonifacian coast. I noted some of the Corsican specialties for sale, such as knives, wine and jewelry with a shell in the center. There were also some wonderful little French clothing shops with horrific Euro prices. The rain was daunting though, and I am afraid that Bonifacio got short shrift on the exploration that day. The next day we arrived at Malaga, Spain. Known for its beaches and its location in the Spanish Costa del Sol, I loved this small, ornate city. I hiked up to the ancient Muslim fortress above the city, the Gibralfaro, and walked along the parapets where soldiers must have defended the fort easily. I looked down at the bull fighting ring and the sculptured gardens with its promenade below. I was reminded of how life must have been along this seaside promenade long ago. It is still a lively port. I found my way to Antigua Casa de Guardia, on the main promenade. Opened in 1840, this wine tasting establishment is a way station for locals and tourists alike. Oak casks behind the counter hold wines and ports of local vintage and they are very good. For one euro, you can have a glass of wine. On the wall behind the casks is a picture of John Wayne bellying up to the counter of this popular place. Our first day at sea was a lovely opportunity to savor the amenities of the ship. The Library was full of current titles. The fitness center had lots of machines, all in good working order, and fitness experts who conducted classes in pilates and yoga. Bingo sessions thrived. The Trivia Teams were fiercely knowledgeable. The Art at Sea Auctioneer passed out champagne. The Captain had a reception that was well attended. At 4 o' clock, on my way to Tea, I passed a couple on the stairs. The husband was remarking that he thought they would have so much time to do things today and where did the time go? It seemed the ship was endlessly fascinating. Sometime after nightfall, during dinner, we passed the Rock of Gibraltar, on our way to Casablanca in Morocco. It was a good thing there were stabilizers on the ship, as everyone raced to look out the starboard windows. In Casablanca, I bought a ticket to the land tour of Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque, hearing that the mosque was one of the largest in the world and one of the most opulent. Indeed, the mosque is quite impressive. It can accommodate 50,000 men inside the mosque, and 75,000 men outside in the courtyard. Oh, and 5,000 women up in the rafters on the second floor. And, come to think of it, where were the women? Occasionally, we would see a pair of shrouded women getting into a taxi, or in a car, but very few women in public. Only men sitting in tea bars, in stores, asking us for tips, taking us into tourist shops. The bus tour took us proudly into the wealthy section of Casablanca, and into the neighborhood by the king's palace. Back on the ship, the mood was very mixed. Most people had not enjoyed Casablanca that much. Those who had gone into the souk (the REAL souk, and not the tourist stores the tour guides deposited us at) came back with stories, both good and bad, of what they saw. The souks can be very earthy the farther back into them you go. We passed the Rock of Gibraltar in daylight the next morning. It was impressive, if partly shrouded in clouds. The amount of ship traffic was amazing. The passage between Gibraltar and the mountains of the North African coast cannot be more than 3 miles. As the day passed, we made our way toward Valencia, our last port on the return to Barcelona. Valencia is an exciting city of contrasts, and my main reason for choosing this trip. I had seen the unreal pictures of Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences in a magazine and had to see it with my own eyes. Architect Santiago Calatrava suspended all rules, it seems in constructing this masterpiece of a public esplanade where museums, theatres, aquarium and open spaces are housed in buildings that inspire. Reflecting pools mirror arching steel structures and lines and curves jut everywhere. The aquarium complex takes hours to visit—I took three hours to visit all the parts, for a ticket price of $25.00. The dolphin show is impressive, as are most of the exhibits. This was only the second time I have seen Sea Dragons in an aquarium. Near the complex is one of the Calatrava's famous bridges that challenges the engineering world. There are five, I believe, in the city. I was energized by this city that apparently considers art and architecture as important basic elements. I visited the Museum of Fine Arts (free admission) as well as their gorgeous tiled train station before heading back to the ship. I began to miss the ship on the last night, as I said goodbye to friends, and realized how quickly I had come to like the ship, and how quickly the staff, the cruise director and the officers had learned my name. I thought about how I would miss coming to my lovely stateroom, finding the bed turned down and my fresh fruit waiting. I'd miss sliding open the balcony door and sitting out in the sea air. I'm still fantasizing about the veal chop for dinner. So, as I brave the worsening job market, I will be motivated to get my next job, if only to pay for my next cabin on the Journey. Ciao bella! Read Less
Azamara Journey Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.2
Dining 5.0 4.4
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 5.0 4.5
Fitness Recreation 4.0 4.1
Family 1.0 4.1
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.7
Enrichment 4.0 3.8
Service 5.0 4.6
Value For Money 5.0 4.2
Rates 4.0 4.3

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