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Sail Date: January 2004
WARNING!!! This was the voyage of the damned! For a line trying to break into the US market, they did everything wrong! From being herded like cattle at embarkation (including a welcome buffet I wouldn't serve at a prison) to a staff ... Read More
WARNING!!! This was the voyage of the damned! For a line trying to break into the US market, they did everything wrong! From being herded like cattle at embarkation (including a welcome buffet I wouldn't serve at a prison) to a staff that could barely speak English with a 70% American passenger complement. Our Mini-suite was a highlight, with an actual walk-in closet and lots of room(although our friends closet door fell off and hit them).The food would have been better if Denny's or Appleby's had catered the ship. The restaurant service was so poor we had to switch dining rooms and waiters (our 2nd waiter, Vincenzo was a dream). The entertainment wouldn't have made it in a 3rd rate Atlantic City casino lounge. Most of what they had in the bars and lounges were about 20-30 years out of date, as were most of the shows. Drink service on the pool deck was next to nonexistent, with maybe 3 servers at each end of the pool. If you were on any higher decks during the day, forget service! Then there were the excursions. This line was so cheap they didn't pay for docking fees. We were tendered off at almost every port. In Jamaica, this resulted in a 2-3 hour delay, with some passengers getting as little as 2 hours ashore. There it seemed a Carnival ship had taken what was supposed to be our slip. The final straw was at Key West, where again they chose not to pay the docking fees, and we were unable to land due to sea conditions. The excursions at San Blas, Cristobal, and Jamaica were poor, hardly what was advertised. It seems they spent the money on hyping the cruise prior to its crossing, and didn't have the money to provide the amenities they should have. We have been on both Princess and Celebrity ships and enjoyed those experiences with our friends. This cruise was so bad, that one couple we travel with may never cruise again! While the European passengers didn't seem to mind, I would say that if you are an American and have gone on other lines, you would be sorely disappointed. From the food (including the midnight buffets that ended at 12:15 with No other food service except room service available after that), the non-functioning ice cream machine, the outdoor buffet with burnt hamburgers and undercooked hot dogs, to the poorest shore excursions possible, this line failed to deliver what it had promised. We booked the cruise for its itinerary, and the mistaken assumption,that a new line and new ship would go all out for its passengers. There was not even the consideration I had come to know from traveling in Italy several times among the staff and crew. They also seemed to be constantly running behind schedule,and ran without the stabilizers engaged much of the time. It was certainly a rough ride! And finally, out of our party of 6, 5 of us had gastrointestinal problems at least for a night! MSC Lirica, thanks, but no thanks. Go back to ferrying goats from Venice to Athens, you certainly do not know how to cruise passengers. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2004
WARNING!!! Read this review carefully before you book a cruise on this ship! Day One: Embarkation - Boarded ship at approximately 2 PM. At the embarkation picture area we requested that our picture be taken with our friends. We were told ... Read More
WARNING!!! Read this review carefully before you book a cruise on this ship! Day One: Embarkation - Boarded ship at approximately 2 PM. At the embarkation picture area we requested that our picture be taken with our friends. We were told "No" even though we saw embarkation pictures with 3 - 5 guests in the photo library. We were also told we could not use our personal camera either to record the event with our friends. We were later told by the photography crew that our embarkation pictures were lost along with about 25 others due to a camera malfunction. Upon arrival in our cabin #12031 we noticed that both 110V electrical outlets at the dressing area did not have plates on them and the wires were dangerously exposed. In addition, the door covering the mini-bar was falling off. We noted these deficiencies to our Cabin Stewart, Alex Noel. He assured us that these items would be seen too and corrected shortly. Upon disembarking the ship the items still had not been attended to. We also noticed that although our friends in the adjoining cabin had been given robes, however, we did not receive any in our cabin. Upon questioning Alex, he made us feel that we may have misplaced or taken the robes. When he did bring us two, they were shrunken, frayed, and too small for even a child to wear. The air conditioning system in the room consistently failed to bring the temperature down to an acceptable level. We brought these issues to the attention of Alex, once again to no avail. It operated in the same condition upon our disembarkation. We finally left port in Fort Lauderdale about 2 1/5 hours late. We were informed by a placard in our cabin that we were assigned to table #75 in the L'Campo dining room at 1st seating which was advertised in the brochure as 7:00 PM but turned out to be 6:00 PM. Table #75 turned out to be two tables seating two each next to each other. Our other friends we were cruising with had been seated at separate tables. We went to speak with the Maitre'd, Leonardo Moccia regarding this error and were reassigned temporarily to Table #80 at 2nd seating which had now been changed to 8:00 PM from 8:40 PM as the brochure indicated. At dinner that night we were assigned to a waiter by the name of Marcella. Upon sitting down at the table, he "threw" the menus down in front of us, never smiled, failed to introduce himself, and demanded that we make all of our dinner selections including desert on the spot. When the beef entrEe arrived it looked like the bottom of an old shoe although we had ordered them rare. He begrudgingly took back the entrEes in a huff and replaced them with something that looked somewhat better but now had the consistency of an old shoe with vegetables that looked like they were "Jolly Green Giant" frozen rejects. We could not get tea at dinner, only water which was served in a wine glass without ice. Needless to say dinner was ruined and our appetites quickly disappeared. Our travel agent had requested a seating with the waiter Ciccio, all together. In addition, my wife is allergic to tomatoes and several other vegetables. A special food request was put in by our travel agent, but both requests were not honored by MSC staff. Day Two: At Sea - We paid a visit to the Maite'd once again to get reassigned to a table with Ciccio so we could all experience our lunches and dinners together. The Maitre'd was outraged at us and others trying to change their seating arrangements. He outwardly made disparaging remarks about Americans and vowed he would never sail with Americans again. He started swearing in Italian (I understand some) and kept up his negative remarks against Americans. His assistant finally changed our tables. However, the food once again proved to be of extremely poor quality although the service had improved. On another note, all beverages such as soft drinks, lemonade, etc. with the exception of water, tea, and coffee needed to be purchased at additional cost. We also found out that lunch is "open seating" and we cannot enjoy it together at an assigned table. This was not the way the cruise brochure depicted it. We were also surprised upon visiting the "Coffee Corner" that we were charged for our coffees as other ships we had sailed on in the past, these were always included. Activities on board were sorely lacking. No bands around the pool, no music, and a lot of dull entertainment. All lounge chairs, tables, etc. were wrapped up and put away by 5:30 PM and the pool/Jacuzzi facilities were then unavailable. The pizza area by the pool was never open during the duration of the cruise. We also realized at this time that the ship was not taking the navigation itinerary as shown in the brochure. The ship rather than going around Cuba to the West took the Windward Passage to the east. We especially booked our cabins on the port side to take advantage of the passage to the west around Cuba. This did not happen. Day Three: Montego Bay - We arrived in Montego Bay 1 hour late, however, by the time we made it ashore we were over 2 hours late. We had reserved a car for the 12:00 PM arrival so we could tour on our own. We were told that we would be Tendered to port although the itinerary in the brochure never did not suggest this method of debarkation and there were ample docking facilities available for our ship. A Carnival cruise ship was docked at the port. Reasons for not docking at the port were not given and the crew members asked did not now why. We went out on the first tender, thanks to Betty at Reception, although we were told that excursions would go first. As we arrived at the dock the tender pilot was unable to secure the vessel. We bounced around in the docking area, almost turning over once, as the locals laughed at us as we tried to land. The tender pilot came around time and time again until finally several strong locals tied him up. No disembarkation photos were taken as experienced on other ships. Since we had only a 7 hour time slot in port and 2 ½ hours were now gone, our day in Jamaica was ruined. We only had the time to visit one attraction before we had to reboard the vessel. Although we had to be on board by 7:00 PM, we did not leave port until 9:30 PM since the ship lost several passengers and their travel agent. Apparently they left the ship in Jamaica, refusing to return due to their negative experience on board. Day Four: At Sea - Once again the food was poor. The food at the buffet was bordering on uneatable. The joke on board was that whatever you didn't eat the night before would appear at the buffet the next day, and it did. Once again, the activities on board were the poorest we have ever experienced, napkin folding, learn to speak Italian, etc. Where was the wine tasting and the art shows we experienced on other cruises? Where were the bands around the pool, the excitement of it, and all the games on deck? Nothing at all on this ship! Day Five: Cartegena - We disembarked and proceeded on a tour of the city booked through MSC. There were no disembarkation photos taken as we had experienced on other cruises. We were promptly advised by our tour guide that Cartegena is not visited by many cruise ships lately because of the danger to Americans. As a matter of fact we were told that it has become "a very dangerous kidnapping area" and we must stay close to our tour. My wife was terrified upon learning this and did not enjoy her time on shore. She counted the minutes until the tour was over. These security matters were never explained to us in the MSC brochures or accompanying information. Once again the food was very poor and the buffet got worse (if that was possible). All juices are canned, not fresh; everything on the buffet seems very old and recycled. Day Six: San Blas Islands - Tendered to shore to Provenir Island where the local Kuna Indians sell their "molas". No disembarkation photos once again. On a high point, this was this first location that the ship set out water and juices for passengers. The experience here left a lot to offer. No tour guides from the ship to help us, dumped us off on an island where we were left to fare for ourselves. Food on board is continues to be the worse we have ever experienced on any cruise ship. Juices are canned, vegetables seem frozen and yesterday's food becomes today's salad. Day Seven: Panama Canal - We are told that we can not set foot on Panamanian soil unless we signed up for an excursion. No mention of this in the brochure. Since we booked an excursion to the Changres River, our ability to set foot on land was guaranteed at this point. However, all others had to pay $32 to go ashore. We were later informed that we also paid the $32 each as it was included in the excursion we took. We were at informed at booking the cruise that all port charges were included. If so, why were we charged an additional $32 each to go ashore? Again, food is absolutely terrible; nothing ever changes from the rolls to the desert. All deserts always come with a putrid green liquid on the plate that doesn't taste like anything. Day Eight: Puerto Limon - Once again ship is late getting into port. Brochures depict ability to travel inland to capital of San Jose. However, no tours or cabs will travel to San Jose and expect to get back to the ship in time for sailing at 5:00 PM. Trips to San Jose were advertised in the MSC brochure but no one could travel there due to the time constraints. Spent most of our time at the dock purchasing local handicrafts and other trivial items. Food hasn't improved at all. Now we're getting leftovers from three days ago at the buffet and at dinner. Day Nine: At Sea - Activities at sea once again very limited. This is definitely not a "fun" ship. It seems that MSC has purposely segregated the nationalities on board and the attitude towards Americans is not good. It seems a joke when we wanted to play miniature golf that we had to go down to Deck Six, pay a deposit of $10 to secure a ball and club to play. The hours of operation were so short that it was almost impossible to enjoy a game. Tonight was the "Buffet Magnifique" or the best buffet of the cruise. No ice sculpturing on deck. We were so disappointed having experienced the Grand Buffets on other ships. This buffet was a total "joke". The food at the buffet and the presentation was terrible. The one ice sculpture presented had already melted into a form that was all but unrecognizable. Food was a little bit better but not at all what we had experienced on other cruise lines. Day Ten: At Sea - Once again, activities are extremely limited. Food at the buffet has not improved at all. Staff continues to be nasty and not very accommodating. Our cabin steward at this point has made sure he doesn't interface with us, for what reason we do not know. Food in the dining room has become a ritual rather that an expectation of a culinary experience. This experience has set us up to never sail MSC Italian Line again. Everyone agrees that this ship will never make it in the U.S. Day Eleven: Key West - All 972 Americans on board were compelled to gather at 6;45 AM in the Lirica Lounge to meet Immigration Officials. Arriving at 6:45 AM all available seating was taken. Passengers were pouring outside onto the decks and elevator areas. No refreshments, coffee, etc. were served. Passengers waited until approximately 8:00 AM before the Immigration Official made it on board. Passengers were told that they could board tenders for Key West beginning at 9:00 AM. At 9:00 AM all passengers were informed that the tender could not operate due to the fact that the seas were too rough. Our entire day in Key West was spent aboard the ship anchored off shore. No explanation was ever given as to why we could not dock at Key West. The brochure we relied upon to make our decision to cruise the line never alluded to a tender at Key West. There were two other cruise ships docked at Key West (RCCL) and there was ample room for another ship to dock. Day Twelve: Fort Lauderdale - Thank GOD this experience was finally over. All of us on board have already come to the conclusion that the MSC Lirica is the "Motel Six" of cruise ships. Nothing could have been worse. In conclusion, this ship definitely did not live up to our most conservative expectations. Our expectations were based upon the literature that MSC Lines disseminated as well as our previous cruising experience. Your cruise $$$ will be much better spent on any other ship!! Read Less
Sail Date: January 2004
We have the following comments regarding the cruise, which, in all kindness, we feel should be passed on to the owner(s) of the cruise line: As you are may be aware, some of the comments posted on-line from fellow passengers on our ... Read More
We have the following comments regarding the cruise, which, in all kindness, we feel should be passed on to the owner(s) of the cruise line: As you are may be aware, some of the comments posted on-line from fellow passengers on our cruise and comments posted by passengers on the previous cruise (which unfortunately were not available prior to our departure), identify the MSC Lirica as the "Cruise Ship from Hell," among other labels. Here are some of the deficiencies specifically identified: 1. Our trip started off by having our photos taken as we entered the gangway. Our request to have the picture of the four of us taken was denied as being "not possible." In trying to find our pictures in the photo gallery, we became aware of the fact that there were pictures of three, four and even five people in one shot. Are there different rules for different photographers? As it is, this issue became irrelevant since the ship lost our pictures along with about 25 other guests' pictures. 2. The cabin was acceptable and quite spacious. However, the refrigerator stopped operating the second day and someone came to look at it approximately 5 days later. By that time it was working marginally and we were advised it was "just defrosting." At the time of the inspection of the refrigerator, the maintenance personnel also checked out the very pronounced indentation in the floor in front of the sliding glass doors. We thought for sure we would end up on the deck below before too long. The electrical outlets for the American products were exposed because some of the covers were missing; there were no outlets in the bathrooms and the doors to the wardrobe did not latch properly and thus the light inside was on most of the time. 3. The robes provided by the ship in our cabin were a nice touch. It would have been really nice to have had the use of them when it really mattered - the evening/morning before debarkation. Since everything was packed except what we were wearing the next day, it would have been nice to put on a robe when we put our luggage out instead of trying to wrap a towel around us. 4. The service at our dinner the first night on board was intolerable and rude. We were served in an abrupt manner and only very grudgingly received water upon request, forget about a soft drink or ice tea. Also, coffee was not offered at any time. We had a recommendation to request Ciccio as our waiter and our request was accommodated, but also very grudgingly. The service we received from Ciccio was superb, proficient and professional. Unfortunately, even very fine service could do nothing to improve the quality or presentation of the food in the dining room. 5. The food at the buffet and grill was marginal, to say the least. The first few days were almost unbearable in that we were served rather large rolls with one thin slice of meat in the middle, very dried out white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off, marginal salads and very, very dry cakes and desserts. As shown on tours through the galley on other cruise lines, pastries, rolls, breads, etc. are freshly baked. Not on the MSC Lirica - and we can see why there were no tours of the galley given 6. Further to the issue of food and service, we have never been on a cruise where one could not get some kind of snack at any time of day or night. On this cruise, not only were the meal times rather limited, but the buffet, especially, would close 15-20 minutes early. On several occasions, but most pronounced and noticeable to all of us at the outing at the Gatun Yacht Club, was the fact that no food was served on the excursions, and no food was available upon return to the ship. To be fair, there was plenty of fresh fruit and ice cream, and, wonders never cease, free water, soft drinks and beer. Fortunately, none of our party were medically required to have some kind of "real food" between departure at approximately 9:00 a.m. and return approximately 3:00 p.m., so we waited until we could be elbowed by the tremendous rush of bodies to the mid-afternoon buffet when it finally opened at 3:45 p.m. 7. Most mornings we requested breakfast service in our room. Even though we noted that there were 2 people in the cabin, we received our requested order, BUT with one plate and one knife. We do not mind sharing in the least, but can they spare a plate and knife for each of us? We had to note 2 plates, 2 knives on our order, along with 2 people in the cabin and continuously received just one if not otherwise requested. 8. As far as the formal dinners were concerned, unfortunately we could not enjoy them as we had intended since the Ship took it upon themselves to reject - not once, but twice - the delivery of Joe's tuxedo to our cabin. We have never experienced a ship refusing delivery of any kind, since it is quite popular to send and receive "bon voyage" flowers, candies, champagne, etc. Without the proper attire, the experience of the formal dress nights were totally ruined and almost inappropriate - with Angela wearing quite formal attire and Joe in the suit he fortunately brought. The dinner at the formal nights did not differ from any other night, so the atmosphere was only enhanced by the clothes worn, but again diminished by the fact that most of the Europeans must not have been informed of the "formal attire nights" and were notably inappropriately dressed for these occasions. 9. The tours: Fortunately, we did not book any tours, with the exception of the Cartagena City Tour - since we were advised not to venture out on our own into this country, and the Panama/Gatun Yacht Club - since we would not be able to leave the ship otherwise. We also question the appropriateness of having to pay to "get off the ship." 10. Since the ship was usually either late arriving at a given port, or did not dock and tendered the passengers, the time allotted in these ports and our opportunity to experience the various countries and activities offered was diminished and spoiled. 11. Activities on Board: I would highly recommend that someone purchases the "Cruise Video" to get the full effect of the activities offered. We decided not to waste $29.95 on this experience, since we could not justify putting our friends and relatives through the antics of "Mr. Cortez," dressed up in various women's and otherwise unrecognizable attire, hosting contests where, at various times, two guests put their faces into bowls filled with some kind of "goo," a few of the men passengers perform a half striptease and three male passengers have wine or some other liquid squirted into their mouths to win an MSC Lirica t-shirt. Other activities included water balloon tossing around the pool, aerobics (or some form thereof) by the pool (which was the only time there was music by the pool), napkin folding demonstration some place, unhosted chess and bridge club meetings and Italian lessons. Judging by the winner, the Ms. Lirica contest most definitely must have been fixed. 12. The evening entertainment was, if possible, even worse. We looked in and walked out. Our friends looked in, nodded off, and walked out. Definitely not a fun experience. 13. As far as the decor of the ship is concerned, since it is still pretty new, the decor was sparse, but still within acceptable limits. The decorations, such as they were, left a lot to be desired. Not a fresh flower in sight, and even the very, very cheap fake flowers looked wilted. This experience definitely does not fall into the "want to recommend to anyone" category. We understand that some guests may have "jumped ship" at the first port - we certainly thought about that and more often than not wished we had, and we were told by one woman that her husband was marking off each day of the voyage left with felt-tip marker on their cabin wall. We didn't think it worth the effort. Joe and Angela Read Less
Sail Date: March 2004
I have just returned from a wonderful cruise on the beautiful MSC Lirica. This ship has had some dreadful reviews and since factual information in these reviews (e.g. MSC described as a "new" line) is so inaccurate one loses ... Read More
I have just returned from a wonderful cruise on the beautiful MSC Lirica. This ship has had some dreadful reviews and since factual information in these reviews (e.g. MSC described as a "new" line) is so inaccurate one loses faith in the entire content I approached the experience with an open mind and determined to form my own opinion. I had cruised the previous year with MSC aboard the Melody and was aware that somethings might be less than perfect. However I was delighted and really would only make two complaints. First the slow delivery of baggage to the cabin and second the late running of the Captains cocktail party. We were invited for 19.45 not admitted until 20.00 and at 20.15 advised that dinner was now being served. The cabin was a joy...and yes I realise that I was fortunate to enjoy a full bathroom and balcony and I do realise that the showers are extremely small in all other cabins as are the complete shower/toilet area. The staff were magnificent and could not have done more for the passengers. I had specifically requested Ippocampo Restaurant 2nd sitting and a table for 2 and all was in order. Luigi the waiter was superb and provided brilliant service. The Italian/European food was excellent. It may not be to American tastes but that does not make it bad. The itinerary was excellent and we made the most of our time in every port. We docked in Montego Bay and had great value in the tour we took which lasted almost 5 hours and was spent in the company of a very funny guide. We enjoyed the ships tour of Cartagena also but did find the continual hassle of the local vendors a little tiring by the end. San Blas was a delight and after tendering ashore spent an idyllic day partly on the beach and also in the motorised canoe of one of the local indians. It was sad to see wealthy passengers bartering and haggling and taking pride in paying 2 dollars for something which had taken great skill and countless hours to produce and which was at a reasonable price to begin. Panama Canal/Gatun Yacht Club was another interesting and most enjoyable day. Costa Rica we docked and hired a local taxi driver to take us on a wonderful tour taking in the canal, a banana plantation, several local beaches, hotels and churches, his home village, a delicious local restaurant and a city tour. Excellent value and another memorable day. Once again we berthed in Key West and although it was crowded being a Saturday we had a special time that will always be a happy memory. All too soon it was time for us to leave Lirica but there is no doubt that we will be back and we will continue to use MSC for good food, superb service and value for money. Just for the record I am a British Citizen now living in the Czech Republic. I have lived in 4 continents and visited every continent. By sea and by air I have been round the globe 5 times. I have dined in the grandest 5 star restaurants in every major city and have shared food at the most humble inns. The one downside to the Lirica experience was the huge contingent of American passengers who could do nothing but complain in decibel 10 of their total dissatisfaction about anything and everything. They prided themselves on their gourmet knowledge but simply as a result of their comments poroved there ignorance on matters of food. I had to applaud the one American who in desperation finally told one group "If you want everything to be like at home then stay at home. If you want your plastic and tinsel cruise ships then have them but do not expect everyone to dumb down to your level". Seated beside us in the restaurant were 8 of the most uncouth boorish people I have ever encountered in my life. They proudly bragged they came from a free country not some communist state and would say do and behave exactly as they wanted and no one would stop them. They were wrong. A formal complaint to the company and they were obliged to tone down their behaviour even if in their ignorance they continued to toss personal abuse and make verbal assaults upon me. I urge all potential passengers - Keep an open mind and Bon Voyage. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2005
INTRODUCTION This is a review from my cruise aboard the MSC Armonia in January 2005. We sailed seven days from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and back. The Armonia continues to ply these So American waters so for anyone thinking about ... Read More
INTRODUCTION This is a review from my cruise aboard the MSC Armonia in January 2005. We sailed seven days from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and back. The Armonia continues to ply these So American waters so for anyone thinking about booking this line, my advice is to do some homework first. As detailed below, this was a horrible cruise, although in fairness to MSC I have heard that the Armonia experience outside of Brazil is not as bad. It could hardly be worse. I have been on over 50 cruises, on just about all cruise lines. Given this extensive experience I consider myself knowledgeable. I had no axe to grind with MSC. This was by far the worst cruise I have been on. Although time has passed since I sailed this review will still be relevant especially to those in the southern hemisphere as the ship continues this So American run. Since we sailed over the New Year, prices might have been somewhat higher than usual. An inside cabin cost about $300 per day per couple. I can usually get outside cabins on mass market lines like HAL, Carnival and RCCL for that or less. Per diem prices for cruises in Brazilian waters are uniformly higher than in most other areas of the world. EMBARKATION - BAD FIRST IMPRESSION Embarkation was special. Somehow we didn't make it on to the passenger list and were refused boarding. A person who I later learned was an MSC land agent tried to help us prove our entitlement to board. Things were frantic and when, out of curiosity (and concern for our bags which he had put aside out of our eyesight) I asked him who he was he told me to "f" myself. This was overheard by MSC staff at the boarding desk, but to my disbelief, no one seemed to care, much less apologize. Subsequently, I learned that it was the chief housekeeper, a senior officer, who had heard this exchange. He later bought me a bottle of wine for my troubles. At her request, I submitted a detailed memo of the outrageous incident to the Hotel Mgr demanding an apology from the MSC agent. When I wrote the home office for a status, it said my memo was lost and I was asked to resubmit it. I did and it went unanswered. DINING and SERVICE Without regard to price, the food was horrendous. The only free breakfast available from room service was a continental one of bread and coffee. Other room service breakfast items came with a charge. There was also a charge for all other room service snacks. The breakfast buffet consisted mainly of scrambled and hard boiled eggs only -- no omelet station, no waffles or pancakes -- sometimes accompanied by reheated hot dogs, greasy bacon or unappetizing cold cuts. The majority of the fruit offerings were canned. Can you imagine that in Brasil where there are fabulous exotic fruits so widely available that they served mostly canned fruit? Unbelievable. Breads were not much better. Only white toast was served -- forget English muffins or bagels. The juice was like Kool-aid. There was a fresh juice (and ice cream) bar, but it was closed because, I was told, it was not profitable. There was no variety from one day to the next. The lunch buffet was not much better. It seemed like the food was recycled. The desserts were bad. As Italians, they ought to be ashamed of what they tried to pass off as pizza. It was worse than any improperly cooked frozen pizza I ever tasted (and I was a bachelor for a long time). They served poor quality hot dogs and hamburgers at the poolside grill. There was no option for a cheeseburger or veggie-burger, nor was there any relish, pickles or a normal variety of condiments available. Food handlers often were not wearing gloves, so it didn't come as a total surprise when I got sick the last day of the cruise. Curiously, in the buffet lines and at the grill there are no food trays, one is required to carry a single large plate and put everything on it, including utensils and drinks. This was quite challenging for even the most dexterous of passengers. The situation was exacerbated by the absence of any servers to assist carrying items. Forget about service. The waiters were there to clear the tables, nothing else. Talk about laid back European service. My wife and I played cards for four hours one afternoon at a poolside table on deck, and no one ever came by to ask if we wanted a drink. Dinner in the main dining room was bad. Service vacillated between inept and surly. I attribute the poor service to dining room management. An incident that occurred right after embarkation provided a harbinger of things to come. Through no fault of our own, we were not provided with a dining room seating assignment. I called the Reception Desk to get one, but I was told (after some delay and a couple of follow-up calls) I would have to go to the dining room to get one. Consequently, I had to wait in line approximately one hour just to get a table assignment. Not to change one, but to get one. Though service was lackluster, it was nowhere near as bad as the food itself. In keeping with the ship's Italian origin pasta was served every day which is fine, but it was offered with only the same mundane tomato sauce each and every day. Bread sticks and rolls were ordinary - there was no bread tray. Soups all tasted the same no matter what they were called. The food was over-salted. On one occasion the meat was as tough as shoe leather. On another a fish offering came with some of the scales still clinging to the fish! Some dishes were downright inedible. My tablemates concurred. ENTERTAINMENT/PORTS The ship's cast of dancers (who doubled as the animation team) were OK as performers, but the production values of the shows were poor. The costumes, lighting, props and decor were all amateurish. Music in the lounges was very limited and ordinary at best. We like to dance and have a cocktail before dinner, and we couldn't find a decent spot to do so. There was no functioning library or card room. On the last day, the library was open one hour. It had only a small selection of English paperbacks, probably left behind by passengers, and one Spanish-language Scrabble set. The "animation" team had a field day because there were oodles of children on board. MSC must have been offering a special kids free type promotion. So the lounges were chock-a-block with kiddies screaming and running about. They and there parents may have enjoyed it, but there was little adult dancing, etc. We ventured into the disco a couple of nights and I was shocked to hear the gross rap music lyrics that came out over the loud speakers. It was in bad taste, but the deejay was oblivious. There were no port lectures or presentations of any kind in any language. We have grown accustomed to skipping almost all ship excursions as I find that they are overpriced and/or geared to a less active person. Those offered by the Armonia were no exception. Generally , one can arrange a better tour with a local cabbie at dockside. Which we did at Salvador, Ilheus and Buzios. We did not go shore in Santos ( Sao Paolo's port). ACCOMMODATIONS/PUBLIC AREAS The Armonia is a compact 58,000 gt, but accommodates about 2100 passengers owing to the tiny cabins, compact dining and public rooms, a small casino, no library/card room to speak of and bizarrely spaced shops. All cabins and public rooms and furnishings appeared clean and well maintained though a bit spartan. The pool area with buffet restaurant was typical except for a large eyesore of a rock climbing wall that was sealed off. The gymnasium was adequate. There was a charge to use the saunas - a first in my experience. The cabins were smallish at 144 sq. ft., but had adequate storage space, some of which would have been better devoted to making the uncomfortably tiny shower larger. There was a small refrigerator - good for keeping your own drinks cold, although the price of drinks aboard was reasonable. TV in the rooms advertised pay movies, but none ( pay or non-pay) were available at any time throughout the cruise. There was not much programming at any time, though we did get CNN for a while one day. The cabin attendant provided the best (in fact, the only) decent service. An oasis in a sea of incompetence. The shops were only open limited hours, but that was no problem since they didn't have much to offer. I thought the layout of the shops was disorganized. The underutilized casino had a couple of roulette and blackjack tables and a modest number of slot machines. I don't remember a craps table although there was ample space to install one. The pool was always crowded because on this South American run there were loads of kids...to whom I have no objection. It's just that it was noisy and crowded. CONCLUSION Unless this cruise was an aberration I advise against spending your money with MSC: Caveat emptor. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2005
Costa Victoria February 12-19, 2005 Brazil: Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, Ilheus, Buzios, Santos This is a cruise up the coast of Brazil designed for Brazilians but we found it quite enjoyable as Americans. We were 2 of 60 ... Read More
Costa Victoria February 12-19, 2005 Brazil: Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, Ilheus, Buzios, Santos This is a cruise up the coast of Brazil designed for Brazilians but we found it quite enjoyable as Americans. We were 2 of 60 Americans on board. The other 58 were with a corporate group that kept to themselves. Not knowing Portuguese and only a little French and Spanish, we anticipated difficulty but were delighted at Costa's surprisingly good logistics -- in six languages. Resourceful tour guide Angela and our lovely hostess Patricia were informed and attentive, close all the time on shore excursions for a quick translation in English or to point out something interesting. This was Patricia's first time hosting an English-speaking group (she usually hosts Germans or Italians) and she did a wonderful job. This particular week after Carnivale was, unknown to us, "Fitness Week." At least 1000 of the 2000 passengers were in rather awesome shape, making poolside people-watching an unusually attractive pastime. Victoria parties into the night, every night, as she cruises Brazil each February. Carnivale was especially hard on the crew, as Brazilian teenagers spray painted cabins, broke into storage lockers, ran down hallways late at night, often did not tip and drank illegally from booze they smuggled on board. This week, they merely ran down hallways and yelled a lot (bring earplugs). We were on deck 9 and it was pretty quiet except for two nights. If noise becomes a problem, demand the information desk gives you a second room in which to sleep. If the ship is not full, they will accommodate your request. Victoria is almost 10 years old but in the last year she's undergone some changes. There is a new captain and cruise director. Balconies were added to two floors of formerly porthole rooms in 2004. The best improvement? The food is *remarkably* better than late 2003 when we sailed her to Egypt. Each night we found cheeses or bruschetta waiting for us on the table. The seafood was excellent, especially the scallop and mussel salad. When we asked the waiter, a charming Filipino named Jay, why the food was so much better, he said, smiling, "The Victoria has had many changes. You know, we have added balconies in the last year." And with that, he left us wondering if this was a translation problem or he was just kidding! Note: the new balcony rooms are nice but you may want to get the exact same room, without balcony, for much less. Getting There and Back: Costa offers no transport to the port at Santos from the airport at Sao Paulo because, frankly, too few foreigners buy this great cruise. We took a taxi for $78 each way for the 75-minute trip. Embarkation, usually 15 minutes or less in other Costa ports, was a sweltering 90 minutes. Get to the port as soon as you can before 2 p.m. to secure a good place in line. You'll need to arrange for early disembarkation (red luggage tags) for any flights prior to 1 p.m. Using another cab, we got to the airport 5 minutes a harrowing 45 minutes before the flight and barely made it thru security and on the plane. Good Deals: 1) Due to a strong dollar against the Brazilian real, shore trips are a good deal. Rio de Janeiro is fantastic and more. Take the all-day Super Rio for $99 which includes a churriscaria (delicious meats) lunch, a train trip to Corcavado (The Big Jesus), a visit to Rio's contemporary Cathedral, shopping, and the trams to Sugarloaf (the big rocks you've seen in every travel poster of Rio). All the major places in about 8 hours, with plenty of nap time on the bus between stops. Everyone loves this tour. 2) Up the coast, the 4-hour "Salvador of Contrasts" features a ornate Cathedrals and monasteries, strolling through the old town plus shopping in the large central market. Ask the tour guide to go to the Donnini jewelry store. A special bus whisks you from the market up the coast to a gated cliff enclave. At Donnini, a guard checks you in, and an elevator takes you upstairs to an incredible display of emeralds and semi-precious stones. An English-speaking clerk shows you what must be a half-million dollars worth of jewelry and how to shop for color, grade, etc. Being the budget traveller, we bought a 7-carat blue topaz for $90. A taxi will return you to port, compliments of Donnini. There's free internet in the port building, all the way to the right as you enter from the ship. 3) Buzios is a picturesque town with nice shops to buy souvenirs, good lunch places, and quite a few nightclubs. Victoria docks here at 1130 p.m., then tenders passengers in to the nightclubs for a hearty party until morning. The ship leaves the next day at 430 p.m. 4) Deck 9 aft (all the way back towards the stern) has a deck with excellent views and relative privacy especially late at night (wink, wink). Not-so-Good: 1) At Ilheus, the "Itacare and Tijuipe Waterfall" tour is advertised at 5 hours but takes an oppressive 8. At least 3 of those 8 are on the bus, and the remaining 5 are three unimpressive stops (a beach overlook, another deserted and ugly beach, and a chocolate shop) and the waterfall itself. It is at the bottom of a long muddy road you walk - straight down. If it rains, as it did for us, that road turns to slush and becomes a long, wet, muddy hike up. Bring a towel and a bathing suit, but be a good swimmer. The rocks are slippery, the water is deep and the potential for injury is high. There's a restaurant adjacent serving good steak lunches for $10 and Brazilian beer for $1. We do not recommend this trip for anyone -- especially those with mobility problems. 2) A number of the public elevators and hallways strongly smell of mildew. This is normal for a 10-year-old ship but still undesirable. Bring a Stick-up for the bathroom, which may have its own special aroma (this is also normal for many ships). 3) Odds and Ends: Internet is slow and expensive at 50 cents a minute with no wireless service available. For that picture perfect cruise moment sipping coffee on your balcony, robes are no longer available except in suites -- even at the spa. Use Common Sense: Although crimes against tourists are few and tourist police are everywhere, use common sense in Brazilian ports. With the exception of Buzios, which is pretty much like Key West and very safe, leave your bling-bling (jewelry) in the cabin, along with your NASCAR tank top and your Budweiser hat. Carry money, your room key, your Costa card and your passport in a pants pocket, preferably zippered. Overall, spending a week on the Victoria is an easy, fun way to see Brazil with reasonably sized cabins and lots to do. For true pampering, choose another line like Princess or Celebrity. But for getting around inexpensively and comfortably to exotic places, Costa is the best. Hello to Mohammed and Rita from Switzerland, Charlie from England, and our waiters Jay and Frances! Happy cruising! George and Eleanor Read Less
Sail Date: March 2005
After a fast and early check in, we boarded the ms Amsterdam in Rio de Janeiro for a voyage rounding Cape Horn to San Diego, California. We were ushered to the Lido buffet, as our cabins were still being prepared. Beautiful live orchids ... Read More
After a fast and early check in, we boarded the ms Amsterdam in Rio de Janeiro for a voyage rounding Cape Horn to San Diego, California. We were ushered to the Lido buffet, as our cabins were still being prepared. Beautiful live orchids in full bloom adorning each table welcomed incoming passengers. Holland America spends at least two million dollars providing their ships with live plants and fresh flower arrangements to keep up with Dutch tradition. The Lido holds 386 guests for casual dining. The Lido offered a varied selection of hot and cold food. There were sandwich bars, stir-fry/omelet stations and an all day ice cream counter. A cappuccino/espresso machine sits along coffee dispensers together with packets of herb/regular tea and cocoa powder. Freshly squeezed orange juice was also available. Bejay an amiable maitre d' from India mentioned that ice cream, hot chocolate and cappuccino/espresso were on the house. Rey, a chef from the Philippines reminded us not to miss the outdoor barbecue and Mongolian cookout held during the trip. The La Fontaine dining room seats 838 diners on two decks. Impeccable silver settings and china grace linen covered tables. High glass windows and a flower-adorned ceiling evoke a bright and cheery ambiance. The wait staff was friendly, courteous and polite reflecting the hospitality of Indonesia where most of them come from. Filipino chefs prepared the food, pastries and baked goods. They worked magic with the cuisine turning them into five star gourmet meals. The Odyssey is an alternative restaurant that provides grilled cuisine and personalized service that is worthy of mention. A clock tower located at deck 3 dominates the ship's atrium. It is connected to the ship's time system and a built in carillon chimes every hour. It serves as a centerpiece and a focal point for guests trying to find their way. The 157 seat Wajang Theatre showed first run movies (free popcorn included). It also served as a chapel for religious services. The Java Bar was a favorite traveler hangout. Its cappuccino/espresso machines were quite busy from 7:30am to 10pm. An Internet cafe (75cents/minute) had a waiting list specially during sea days. The personnel mostly from the Philippines at the purser's office were helpful and very efficient. They filled up landing cards and immigration forms and delivered the documents to guest's cabins for signatures. A highly energetic cast performed Las Vegas type shows canned in Los Angeles at the 557 seat two level Queen's Lounge. Experts also held talks there on Inca, Mayan history, aerospace and diverse topics. Our 192-sq. ft. cabin had a large window and a good view of the ocean. It had a shower over a tub, ample closet space, a safe, a small TV and 115 volts ac. It lacked an icebox and audio/video inputs for a VCR. Moelyadi our cabin steward from Indonesia kept the stateroom very neat and well stocked with towels and fruit. The ship returned to port as soon as we left Rio de Janeiro to leave a critically ill passenger. An outbreak of Norovirus occurred that week we left Brazil and flared-up again the week before we reached San Diego. The Captain ordered that food be handled by employees only. Long lines formed at the Lido due to the need of more servers. It took the ship at least two weeks to alleviate the Norovirus situation. We missed Iguazu Falls and the Falklands on an earlier trip and made it this time. We got rained out in Iguazu Falls but it was a worthy sight to behold. We encountered rough seas approaching the Falklands. Stanley their only town was cold and windy. A city tour took about two hours. They showed us uncleared mine fields from the 1982 British/Argentine conflict that are now a tourist attraction. The Amsterdam is a friendly, comfortable ship and very easy to know. Most of the passengers were much-traveled repeaters, who graciously shared their cruise experiences with us. Some had at least 100 cruises to their name and visited equally the same number or more countries. We met several people that were on previous voyages with us and we were equally elated to have sailed with them again. philreamon@aol.com 5/17/05 . Read Less
Sail Date: April 2006
Crystal Symphony Buenos Aires  Miami April 13  April 29, 2006 and Iguassu Iguassu The trip to Iguassu was not part of the cruise - but it was part of our trip of which the cruise was the center piece. I booked flights with TAM and ... Read More
Crystal Symphony Buenos Aires  Miami April 13  April 29, 2006 and Iguassu Iguassu The trip to Iguassu was not part of the cruise - but it was part of our trip of which the cruise was the center piece. I booked flights with TAM and a hotel-tour arrangement with Iguassu Falls Tours (www.iguassufallstour.com). TAM mailed me e-tickets. Iguassu Falls Tours emailed me that our guide would be Edson. They also emailed me pictures of Edson and of the car that should take us on our tour. Our flight from Buenos Aires left one hour earlier than indicated on our tickets. We had to change planes in Curitiba. The plane from Curitiba left one hour late. In Foz do Iguassu Edson was waiting. The car, a Renault MEgane Scenic, was big and comfortable. We were brought to our hotel, the Tropical das Cataratas. There we changed quickly and walked the Brazilian side of the falls. While we were changing Edson brought the car to the end of the trail. By the time we were ready Edson was already waiting for us. During our walk Edson kept informing us about everything we wanted to know and I kept recording on video tape. We just had enough time to walk the trail and look around at its end before it got dark. At the hotel we were lucky to get a table. The food was good but we had had better and we were going to have better on the cruise ship. The next morning Edson was waiting for us when we were ready. First he took us to the Itaipu dam and then to the Argentinean side of the water falls. Having visited the falls twice before I was really impressed by the sights we got from the top of the falls (devils throat). That walk way had not existed when I visited before. I was also happy to see two caimans each about one meter long. We walked almost all afternoon on the different paths and Edson pointed to this fall, that bird, named the butterflies that landed and stayed on us. Toward the evening we went to the three lands marks and then back to the hotel. Again it was dark by the time we got there. And we had willingly skipped the boat ride underneath the water falls (since we did not want to get soaked) as well as the alternatives Edson had offered us. The next morning we were scheduled to fly at 6.50 a.m. Again Edson was at the hotel by the time we were ready. He brought us to the airport in time. Unfortunately there was fog so all planes had to wait for two hours before they could leave. This time we had to stop in Sao Paolo. The ground staff of TAM was very helpful so we got a connection to Buenos Aires without even having the time to sit down. At Buenos Aires international airport the taxi that was supposed to drive us to the hotel had left during our delay but the man who manages taxis to different hotels had the hotel taxi pick us up in about half an hour. Summary of the trip to Iguassu: It was worthwhile. We crammed too much into too little time. On the first afternoon we got really wet (from the falls and from sweat) on the second day we were fine (watch out about the season). Buenos Aires and Cruise Our hotel was about one mile from the cruise ship pier. So the taxi to the pier cost less than $10.--. Since we had two rooms, one that we were happy with and one that we were not as happy with  not that we were really unhappy - I will not give more information about the hotel. According to Crystal we were supposed to board at 3 p.m. and the ship was supposed to leave at 5 p.m. So we took a taxi to the port at about 12.30 p.m. Embarkation took only seconds  well about 7200 of them. We were neither the first no the last in line. I wonder what time Symphony would have left if everyone had come to the pier at 3 p.m. People in wheelchairs and with obvious problems to stand were escorted to the front of the line. On the ship we were escorted to our cabin. Then we went for lunch where we were offered a glass of sparkling wine. Choice and preparation of food was very good throughout the cruise (I do not use the word excellent for qualifications). We went to the two specialty restaurants but beside the advantage that we could chose the time we wanted to start our dinner I see no big pros or cons to go to the specialty restaurants. I did not find Crystal to be any dressier than other cruise ships I had been on some five years ago. The pool was just like on any other cruise ship I remember. There rarely were many people in it at the same time. What I disliked was that there was little space by the pool where I could lay in the shade for a few ours. Either the sun would shine on the head or on the feet after rather short moments or if laying close to the doors by the forward elevators the air-conditioning would make me feel uncomfortable. The level of the seat rows in the theater differs little. That enables you to conduct a profound study about the shape of the head of person sitting between you and the stage. Unfortunately if you like to watch the shows you can miss good parts of them. Rooms  I do not know about suites  seemed rather small to me. They are not smaller than the ones I had on other cruises but since the closets are on one side of the bed it just meant that we had to squeeze by each other. I found it supportable but not really comfortable. What we did appreciate were the free washing machines. Unfortunately we were not the only ones so we had to look for the right moments to use them. Stating that I cannot make a statement about the entertainment shows that there was a lot and many events took place at the same time. So we had to decide what we wanted to attend. Shore excursions: buses seemed to be among the best in each town and I have nothing to complain about the guides. Shore tours were expensive. We were in Montevideo on Good Friday. Our tour took us to Etchegarays house where we could see a collection of fine furniture, watch a tango dance, listen to the musicians and sip a drink. The house did though seem rather crowded with one bus. Shops were mostly closed except for one big shopping center. There was a free shuttle to that center. To my disliking they did not run according to the times they told us but only when the next shuttle had arrived. Therefore we lost a lot of time waiting for the bus to leave. As a result we missed the walk I had intended to take. In Rio de Janeiro we took the $ 107.-- tour to the Corcovado, a Churrascaria lunch and the Sugar Loaf. Unfortunately it was cloudy when we reached the top of the Corcovado. The statue could barely be seen trough the mist and the city could not be seen at all. Then it started to rain  well pour is more precise. So we went for lunch. The food was very good. After lunch we had to wait for the bus outside the restaurant. That was no problem since there were only a few drops. After boarding the bus we left for the Sugar Loaf. While we were driving a long the Copa Cabana Beach the weather turned to storm. As a result the cable car to the Sugar Loaf would not run. The alternative program was to visit the cathedral where only few people left the bus. I consider that we got little value for $ 107.-- per person. In Salvador it started to rain shortly after we got on the bus. And the rain continued with brief interruptions throughout our tour. First we went to the Upper City from where we could view the port. Then we walked to the cathedral, to the Franciscan church and through a small part of the historic center. After that we took the bus to the Carlos Costa Pinto Museum. The churches were certainly worth seeing but the city tour over all was a lot shorter than the two city tours I had taken on earlier stays in Salvador de Bahia. So I was rather disappointed about that part of this tour. However I was very impressed by the Museum that had opened exclusively for our cruise. I would have liked to spend more time there. It was too bad too that we were not allowed to take pictures or video recordings. After that we drove back to the ship. Some fellow cruisers left the bus at the Mercado Modello. In the afternoon the sun was out so we walked to the Mercado Modello ourselves. When we were in Fortaleza, Brazil enjoyed a holiday. Good for them  bad for us. There were few people so traffic was very fluid but we did not see what the city would be like on a normal day. The highlights of our tour were certainly the Teatro JosE de Alencar and the handicraft market in a former prison where the majority but not all of the shops were open. In Bridgetown we visited the Graeme Hall Swamp and a museum in a former fortress. I was happy to see both attractions. Arrival in Miami was comparable to the other ports. I did not see the usual long lines for immigration  but I did not miss them. I was not happy with the schedule to leave the ship. The good things were first that we could wait in our room and second that we got off as scheduled. Fares for taxi transfers to the airport Miami were at a flat rate of $ 24 plus & I do not remember having any reason to complain about a cruise director on a previous cruise. And this time was largely comparable: the information we got was okay including when he pointed out the Southern Cross. Rather special to me was the debarkation talk where I remember hearing that Crystal does not accept a very good but wants and excellent. Now this subject was not treated that briefly. The message I remember is that the passenger should comply with the expectations of the company. I would have preferred the company tell the employees how to do the job  and make sure that the resources to do it are sufficient  rather than tell the passengers or even the employees how they want the passengers to qualify the service they received - on the last full day of the cruise. Deciding what is excellent, very good and what is good seems quite difficult to me. Lousy service can only be qualified as poor. I would consider it fair that it also be split in lets say: throw the person into the pool, throw the person into the ocean or feed him or her to the sharks. For that part of the debarkation talk our cruise director would have been well advised to wear a bathing suit. Summary of the cruise: We were happy with the food. The room was good but not outstanding. There was a big choice of entertainment. The pool was good. The deck at the big pool offered too little shade. Due to the small number of port days and due to the weather we got too little out of the long trip. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2007
Embarkation at FT.Lauderdale: means long lines and long waits, it took about three hours plus to get through. Almost all of it in a line. Food average: Britannia Restaurant: So noisy at our table location all 8 of us stopped going to The ... Read More
Embarkation at FT.Lauderdale: means long lines and long waits, it took about three hours plus to get through. Almost all of it in a line. Food average: Britannia Restaurant: So noisy at our table location all 8 of us stopped going to The Britannia and instead went to the Kings Court Evening Venues. These rotating venues were better for food, atmosphere and the ability to hear your tablemates, which was impossible in the Britannia. Cabin was comfortable and at 6'6" I could actually fit in the shower! The unobstructed balcony was well worth the extra cost on such a long cruise. Having also seen the obstructed view cabins, glad we spent the money. Public rooms are spacious and quite nice. The library and the Commodore Club are both at the bow of the ship and are wonderful places to read and enjoy the ocean. The crew was great and would attend to any request with a smile! The gym was good, but needs supervision as some would hog equipment or not use the sanitary sprays supplied to wipe down the equipment. The Pub was good fun with participatory entertainment and different lunches available. The Royal Court Theater is a disaster, thank God the entertainment was so bad we quit bothering to go after awhile. Columns, handrails and partitions block many views and seats to the side are an insult. To get one of the few decent seats you need to go about one and a half hours early. Although posted signs say you cannot save seats many people do so as no ships company oversees this. Throughout the entertainment was very second rate. The ship was late arriving at almost every port which caused all the shore excursions we purchased from Cunard to be rushed with some itinerary items to be skipped. You will not feel crowded on this ship! On the other hand everything is a long walk if you are not up to it, find a smaller ship. Disembarkation in San Francisco was long and arduous, four ships were in port and after being required to vacate our cabin we had to wait in public spaces for almost four hours before getting off. I would sail on QM2 again if I got another great deal, but I would not deal with the Britannia Restaurant or the Royal Court Theater. We were fortunate to get almost a 50% discount on the published rate. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2007
OUr cabin was described as "cozy". Try tiny. The separate bunks are small and the mattresses are not much more comfortable than an army cot. The dinners were boring and very poorly organized. In some cases, if you ordered an ... Read More
OUr cabin was described as "cozy". Try tiny. The separate bunks are small and the mattresses are not much more comfortable than an army cot. The dinners were boring and very poorly organized. In some cases, if you ordered an alternate to the featured meal, you might wait for 20 minutes and by that time the other diners had finished their entrees. The bathrooms were not supplied with washcloths and the quality of the towels were not worthy of a cruise that was so costly. The price of the drinks in the bar was too high. I ordered a Martini that cost the equivalent of over eight USD and it was a poor excuse for a martini. The excursions were overpriced. We went on an express bus from Cork to Waterford at a cost of about 20 Euros (around $29.00 USD) The ship's excursion, that covered exactly the same route, cost more than 4 times what we paid. A provision for indoor smoking was not provided. The hot tubs were tepid and even a small pool would have been nice.The servers, cabin attendants and many of the engineering crew were from the Philippines and were most delightful and friendly. Fram is a well-engineered vessel and we found her quite sea-kindly and rode well in moderate seas of up to 20 feet. Her stabilizer system provided excellent roll control with the seas coming from any direction. The noise level from the propulsion system was pleasantly subdued. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
The Azamara Journey was advertised as a luxury small-ship cruise equivalent to Oceana--and it may be that someday, but it certainly isn't that now. The intent is there, the effort is there, but the execution... There were many good ... Read More
The Azamara Journey was advertised as a luxury small-ship cruise equivalent to Oceana--and it may be that someday, but it certainly isn't that now. The intent is there, the effort is there, but the execution... There were many good points. Embarkation was a breeze--efficient, friendly, quick. The ship itself is a gem, just the right size to be comfortable. You can get from anywhere to anywhere on board in less than 5 minutes. Azamara is an off-shoot of Celebrity and, as on Celebrity, we were greeted with a glass of champagne, BUT, no escort to our cabin. On a ship that prides itself on its crew:passenger ratio, why did they drop that Celebrity courtesy? CABIN Plenty of storage space. Ample closets and lovely wood hangars that you don't have to slide on and off that hook and ball combination. I guess they don't expect Azamara passengers to steal hangars. Lots of drawer space, too. There is a refrigerator and safe, flat screen TV and lots of nice luxury touches. The ship provided robes and slippers, binoculars and umbrellas. The Elemis soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotion were lovely. One large free bottle of Evian. Two hair dryers--one in the bathroom on the wall and a non-attached hand dryer at the vanity. The fabrics on the sofa and throw pillows, like the fabrics used on all furniture throughout the ship are top quality. The bathroom is small, but adequate as is the balcony. The towels are Egyptian cotton and very absorbent EXCEPT FOR THE DECORATIVE BROWN BAND (totally unnecessary). Whatever decorator suggested that touch should be thrown out of the decorator's guild. That band is already pilling and will make the towels look shabby in no time. Plain cotton would have been much better. Now, what is lacking. 1)Space in the bathroom to put a cup or glass. 2)Makeup mirror anywhere, in the bathroom or at the vanity/desk, with good lighting. 3) Good mattresses. It was like sleeping on a brick. I have been told that the mattresses were ordered, but not received yet and that some ships in the Celebrity fleet are already reequipped. Why didn't they start with the "luxury line?" The pillows, on the other hand, were wonderful and the linens quite good. They did pad our bed with foam, so that made sleeping bearable, but nothing as good as Holland America. 4)A reasonable TV channel selection. On cruises billed as luxury and all of long duration, you'd think they would skip the Cartoon Network and replace it with a financial channel. CNN International is OK, but the regular CNN to keep us in touch with home would have been nice, too. New movies on pay-per-view would be good, too, especially on long cruises. CABIN STEWARD AND BUTLER Both of these gentlemen were unfailingly helpful, courteous and efficient. The cabin was always clean. No towel animals. The butler brings fresh fruit every day and fills the vase with flowers (usually). There is a different sweet every night. The butler will, if requested, unpack and pack, shine shoes, serve breakfast and afternoon tea. Frankly, I didn't see the need. If someone else unpacks it will take me three days to find everything. There are already too many opportunities to eat without an additional meal and all the other duties are carried out by the room steward on other ships.  PUBLIC AREAS Beautiful, tasteful, elegant, for the most part. Luxury fabrics. Lots of bars and nooks. A small sitting area off the casino with a large screen TV was popular for sports. The Cova Cafe was another popular spot, with snacks available all the time--sweets, small sandwiches, and other delights. Coffee, tea, chocolate, too. Entertainment was provided by a pianist and/or harpist. Looking Glass (10 forward) was the spot for games and trivia. Lots of bridge players, mah jongg, games of all sorts available. At night, there was usually music, live or DJ. I didn't use the Martini Bar, so I won't comment. The casino seemed to be adequate, but the huge bar that took up a lot of floor space in the middle was hardly ever used. The library was supposed to be Michael's Club in the evening, but every time I was in it, it was just the library, much too big and beautiful to be so underutilized. The shops run toward the expensive and impractical-- fine jewelry, expensive semi-precious items and costume jewelry. There is a small selection of clothing, an area the size of a kitchen cabinet for sundries and that's about it. The pool is small but adequate, not too deep. The lounge chairs are wood, with thick upholstered cushions. Be sure to reserve one in the shade by 8am or you're out of luck. A trio played at poolside for about an hour each day. The pool and deck are kept very clean. The pool is salt water and is drained, cleaned and refilled daily. SPA I didn't use the spa services much. The exercise classes are free--Pilates, spinning, aerobics, yoga. There seem to be sufficient number of treadmills, etc. Other spa services seemed pricey, but that's the case on most ships. The thallasotherapy pool (heated saltwater bubble pool) that we enjoyed so much on Celebrity for free is for fee only on this ship-- $125 for the cruise. I doubt anyone used it. I suggested that they make it a Captain's Club perk and it may be on future cruises. INTERNET Slow, slow, slow. Many terminals, inadequate bandwith. It can take 10 minutes or more to reach your ISP, at $.53 a minute and even then you may not be able to sign on. We protested and got a refund. The best time to use it is between 6-8am, when the bridge and the ship offices are not downloading anything. Better still, use the internet cafes available on even the smallest island or in terminals.  DINING The Windows Cafe (buffet) is roomy, with adequate table space inside and outdoors on the stern. The food is of excellent quality, better than most ships. The dishes became repetitive, which was to be expected on an 18 day cruise. Trays are available, but it is better to use plates alone. There are machines for coffee, tea, iced tea, lemonade and a variety of fruit drinks. The coffee machine is slow and badly adjusted. It gives either half a cup or an overflow. Refills from the wandering waiters are spotty. Wait staff is very friendly. We ate breakfast and lunch there throughout the cruise but service is available in the dining room, too. Breeza is the poolside grill. It offers hamburgers, hot dogs, Polish sausage and nachos, with a salad bar. There is a daily special, too. The hamburgers are average; the french fries are excellent as is the sausage. They have cheese and chili to top the nachos, but no salsa. The specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, are really good. Service is wonderful and the ambience makes it a special dining experience. Discoveries, the regular dining room, is a problem and I don't know what they can do. It was terrible for the first few days. Some people gave up and ate only at the Windows Cafe. The food is usually excellent, with a few misses--dry chicken (they don't do poultry well), undercooked fish occasionally, but they correct anything like that immediately. There has been much care and attention paid to the quality of the food, the presentation, the tableware and the general ambience, all to the good, but the service is spotty at best and the room can be noisy, chaotic and crowded. The waiters often confuse orders, dishes hit the floor, diners get bumped by passing waiters and other diners. I don't think they have the free-style dining concept fully under control. Dinner often takes 2 hours or more, most of that time taken with waiting for dishes to arrive. Your soup can sit at a station for half an hour before anyone brings it to the table. Rarely were we asked if the dinner was satisfactory or if we wanted anything else. The wait staff just seemed relieved to be able to carry out orders. If you weren't happy and wanted to change your order--good luck! Refills of coffee, soda or other drinks on request; they are not refilled automatically. It isn't the atmosphere of a luxury dining room. WINE SERVICE AND BARS I didn't use it personally but heard,"I ordered wine, but when it arrived, I didn't like it. The wine steward tasted it and said, 'It tastes OK to me.'" That is not professional conduct. Other comments "I don't mind paying $50 for a bottle of wine, but not for the $3.98 Trader Joe special." Mixed drinks are very overpriced. Should a Cosmopolitan cost $15.00? CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES none OTHER ACTIVITIES The usual--lots of trivia, name that tune, pictionary, ring toss, etc. Some more innovative activities included acting class, poetry, etc. The cruise staff was cheerful, energetic and friendly. Becky, the cruise director, is transferring to Quest in the Caribbean and Andreas will be doing South America as he speaks multiple languages. Ryan and Carissa worked very hard to keep everyone entertained. Carissa's Battle of the Sexes was a highlight of the cruise. SHORE EXCURSIONS Lousy. I have never, in all my years of cruising, seen so many people angry and asking for their money back. The descriptions were bad--mild wasn't always and neither was strenuous. It was as if the shore excursion people had never been to these ports and had no personal knowledge of the conditions. There was little control over the onshore personnel. Most people were told to make their own arrangements if they weren't happy with what was available and, believe me, our own arrangements were better. After one or two bad experiences, most people cancelled their tours. The best part of that department was the local person who came on board for 2 hours in the morning to explain what was available on shore so we could make our own arrangements. ENRICHMENT Wonderful! The lecturer was knowledgeable and entertaining, never dull. He spoke to packed audiences about Brazil, Portugal, the importance of cricket and soccer, the history of the samba and tango and kept us enthralled. GUEST SERVICES E for effort, but they were over their heads on this cruise. It was a demanding bunch of passengers who expected the kind of concierge service one would get at a Hyatt and what we got was "I don't know." They have to check with the home office in Miami for everything. We asked them to check on our reservations for the flight home, which they promised to do and said they did, but at the end, they were not able to do it. They had to be cornered into that admission. LAUNDRY There is a do it yourself laundry on Deck 7, but be warned, there is rust in the water and it may stain your clothes. If this happens call the butler, give him the garments and they will be cleaned at no charge. Bring your own fabric softener, stain remover and other laundry items. Detergent is provided. CAPTAIN AND BRIDGE CREW Friendly, super competent and always available to passengers. He is the youngest captain I have ever seen and he is great! DISEMBARKATION Smooth and fast. The problem was with the last day. We all were booked on red-eye flights out of Sao Paulo, not known as a tourist mecca. The routes had no rhyme or reason. Why did they route someone who wanted to go to Charleston, SC through Toronto? We were off the ship at 9:45 am with a flight at 11:30pm. Tours to fill the day were offered at $190 each but there is nothing to see in Sao Paulo unless you like pitiful slums. After much coersion from the passengers, the cruise line came up with a hospitality room to leave your luggage and some day rooms at our expense. It was not carefully thought out. SUMMARY Azamara has potential, but a long way to go. It is not even up to usual Celebrity standards yet.   Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
Somewhere between the Marketing Department at Celebrity and the reality of the ship there was the most massive of breakdowns I have ever seen. Advertised as a "Crystal Light" it would be an embarrassment to Carnival so no telling ... Read More
Somewhere between the Marketing Department at Celebrity and the reality of the ship there was the most massive of breakdowns I have ever seen. Advertised as a "Crystal Light" it would be an embarrassment to Carnival so no telling how it being played in Miami headquarters. The good stuff first. Check in was a breeze, the cabin was compact but adequate, the balcony made for two only. The hot water was, and a good shower was to be had 24 hours a day. No trickle when someone at the other end of the ship took a shower too. Why was the cold water warm? Nice and comfortable for bacteria growth? Beds very comfortable. The butler (What was that idea?) is the maid with a bow tie, she was great, her assistant smiled a lot but spoke not a word of English. The special restaurants at an additional charge were superb, exactly what I was expecting in the regular restaurant. Now the bad stuff....where do I start? All the extras were grossly overpriced. Tours worth $70 were $150, no cinema on board but you could buy a movie on the TV for $12.95, regular drinks/wine $9 a glass. Food was OK but not exciting and repeated frequently. The dining room was a 2-3 hour visit which messed up attending the early show. Often the main course was the lesser of items I did not want as against the usual 3-4 on a menu that sounded good. Some waiters were good...some not. The alternative upstairs buffet restaurant had almost exactly the same fare every night, tables were at a premium and a bunch of surly waiters when they bothered to show up at all. I caught one at breakfast making the toast and wiping his nose with that gloved hand!! Yes I did report it !!! The shows were limited by a small theater but the troop did an admirable job. The comedians and magicians were poor the harpist and piano player OK. They are obviously just paying the minimum. The band soldiered on relentlessly. The British enrichment guy was absolutely fantastic and garnered the greatest audiences on the ship. The laundry was installed mid cruise at $2 a load to wash and $2 to dry...free on most other ship's, The coffee specialty area had great savories but the latte was $4, it just seemed they would squeeze you at every opportunity. The cruise is now being offered everywhere for a quarter of what we paid and still we would never set foot on that ship again. I have left a bunch of stuff off as recounting it is making me more and more mad!!! Spend your money somewhere else....they do not deserve it Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
This was my 16th cruise, and fifth on Celebrity. I like cruising, and know that to have a good cruise, you have to roll with the punches. I never expect perfection, and thus am not usually disappointed. This was a nearly perfect cruise and ... Read More
This was my 16th cruise, and fifth on Celebrity. I like cruising, and know that to have a good cruise, you have to roll with the punches. I never expect perfection, and thus am not usually disappointed. This was a nearly perfect cruise and we had a wonderful time! DH and I are late middle-aged, not yet retired, but soon to be. We are well-educated, fairly well-traveled, and our cruising style is a bit different from other folks. Celebrity suits us pretty well, with some minor reservations, to be discussed below. TRAVEL, HOTEL, AND EMBARKATION. We flew out of Harrisburg, PA on Thanksgiving day, with a connection in Atlanta, and on to Santiago. Thanksgiving Day itself was an ok day to fly. Everything went smoothly, and on arrival in Santiago the next day we were met by Celebrity reservations and whisked to our hotel - the Sheraton in Santiago. We had made all our hotel reservations, connections, air, and shore excursions through Celebrity. The hotel was fine, with a lovely park just behind it that was a great walk for DH. When we arrived our rooms were not ready of course, but there were representatives from Celebrity who offered us a tour that Friday afternoon. We immediately signed up for that tour and for a full day tour on Saturday to Portillo Resort in the Andes. After checking into our room, we went back to the lobby for our tour only to be told that it had been cancelled for lack of minimum number of guests, but that we could take the tour if we were willing to pay an extra $15 each. We agreed, and were told that the tour would depart shortly. Bottom line, we waited well over an hour, and the driver never showed up, so we cancelled the tour and got our money back. Slightly disappointed, but oh well, the outdoor buffet dinner at the hotel was lovely. The next day we did go on the all-day tour to Portillo Resort, but the small van was absolutely stuffed with guests, and my DH, who is over 60 and not as spry as he used to be, had to ride on a very uncomfortable jump seat. The trip WAS fantastic. Portillo Resort is high in the Andes and is accessed by the longest and steepest switchback road I have ever seen. The Resort is barren, ugly, and remarkable for extremely steep ski slopes. The lunch was wonderful. Our travel documents from Celebrity said that boarding was to be a 6:00 pm. Nevertheless, the bus picked us up from the hotel around 9:00 am Sunday, and smoothly delivered us to the port of Valparaiso. Embarkation was instantaneous and very smooth. We were aboard the ship with a glass of champagne in our hands by noon, had a great meal, were in our stateroom by 1:00pm, had our luggage - all of it - and were unpacked by 2:00 pm. Stateroom: 8181 is a Family Ocean View on a corner. It was amazing! There was more storage than we could have possibly ever used, two sofas in the sitting room, and a huge balcony with a 270 degree view. Beds were comfortable. Our steward, Glorio, was competent and never intrusive. He quietly did everything we asked for, including extra pillows for killer naps on the sofas, and two deck blankets. He also ensured delivery every late afternoon of a plate of cheese and fruit. Service: Cheerful, friendly, competent everywhere on the ship. Smiles met with smiles! Ship: Infinity is a beautiful ship! I liked the clean, contemporary design and the occasional whimsical decorations - especially in the Oceanview Grill. She is showing her age a bit though, especially in the soft furnishings of the staterooms, and in the Thalassotherapy Pool - a keen disappointment that the water was chilly for the first part of the voyage, and the side jets never worked. Small Details: Never enough USA version of the daily news, though Customer Service arranged to have a copy delivered to our stateroom every day. Tables in the Lounges were sometimes sticky and unwiped in the morning from the night before. Dining: Strangely enough, we never expect gourmet dining on a cruise, and are not disappointed. There is plenty to eat, and plenty of variety, although the timing of some offerings seems odd. The lovely pastries in the Cova Cafe are only available from 3 - 5 pm every day. Often DH would like a cup of coffee and a sweet nibbly in the afternoon, and could find nothing - the buffet was closed and the Cova not yet open. We ate breakfast in the Trellis the first morning and would not go back. We were seated at a table for 10 (I am hard of hearing) of whom only 4 spoke English. The menu we were handed was disheveled and spotted. It took over an hour for breakfast. A better choice was the Waffle bar - yum! - and the orange butter. The Waffle bar is short in length and rarely crowded at the time we ate - around 9:00 pm. Everything we wanted was right there. Waffles, pancakes, sausage, bacon, fruit, yogurt, pastries! And all in a short bar about 20 feet long. Lunch was easy - either the hamburgers from the Pool Grill, or the lunch buffet - lots of offerings! But why are the iced tea glasses so small? Dinner. We ate twice in the United States Restaurant, and this was worth every penny of the $30 per head - we even left an additional tip. The food is outstanding, the ambience soothing, the harp music exquisite, and the service very friendly. We ate three times in the Casual Dining on Deck 10. For the South America cruise it was a Rodizio Dinner every night. This is supposed to represent a typical Patagonia barbecue dinner, and it was delicious! Lots of good meat, great service, soothing ambience. A much nicer experience than the dining room. It was popular on this cruise, and rightly so. The dinner buffet in Oceanview is ok, but has only pizza, pasta, salad, sushi, and ice cream. It would be much nicer if one or two entrees could be included. We ate three times in the Trellis, because we ran out of other options. The waiter and assistant were very nice and competent, but I don't like five course dinners that take almost two hours. For two of those dinners the main entree was disappointing: my steak was mostly gristle, and the fish DH ordered was smothered in pasta - he had to hunt for the fish. The waiter offered to get us another entree, but we were not interested. Entertainment: the Naturalist lecturer, Milos, was the very best lecturer we have ever heard on a cruise ship. The historian, Dr. Pitron was excellent. The live musicians all over the ship were wonderful - very entertaining and personable. Especially commendable were the harpist Esther Underhay, and the Traveling Sailsmen - an a capello quartet whose specialty is doo-wop! We booked all our shore excursions through Celebrity and were not disappointed. I am somewhat limited in mobility, and used the descriptions to help choose excursions that I would be comfortable with. Here are the ones we chose: In Puerto Montt, the Petrohue Falls and Chilean Lake District; in Punta Arenas the Estanci aFitz Roy and Otway Sound; in the Falklands the Stanley Highlights tour, and DH did the Sparrow Cove Penguin Rookery; in Puerto Madryn the Punta Loma and Welsh Tea in Gaimain; in Montevideo the Montevideo Highlights and Wine Tasting; in Ushuaia the Penguin Rookery navigation. All the tour guides were excellent and the vehicles and catamaran comfortable. Tendering: this is a real pain. Celebrity does the best they can, and seems well-organized in getting the most people off the ship in the most expeditious fashion, but the whole procedure was still a pain and tremendous waste of time. Spa: a disappointment. I had a 30 minute massage the first night and it was great. Then I signed up for a Ladies Night special. When I arrived I was put aside in the Persian Gardens and left there - I don't tolerate heat very well. I left the Persian Gardens after 45 minutes- should have left sooner! The area around the reception desk was pure chaos. I asked when I might expect that my appointment time would be honored, and was told to go back to the Persian Gardens and wait some more. So I asked for the appointment to be cancelled and left, with a massive headache from the heat. Later I had a message on my answering machine marked "Urgent" It was message from the Spa offering some sort of special. I didn't appreciate this "urgent" message. Casino: I loved the Egyptian decor, although I played only a little bit. Disembarkation. Easy, from the ship. Our flight did not leave until 10:00 pm so we booked an all-day tour of Buenos Aires and a visit to an estancia for a barbecue lunch, as did about 200 other people. The four buses invariably arrived at the same rest and shopping stops at the same time. What a waste of time and patience! The estancia, Los Patricios, was lovely, the gauchos handsome, and the lunch delicious. Then we were all delivered to the Buenos Aires airport around 6:00 pm. I have never been in such a mess. There were three cruise ships debarking in Buenos Aires that day, and it seems as if all the passengers were delivered at once to the airport. The lines were atrocious. We had to go through THREE security checkpoints. Crowding. It beats me why there would be two or three large cruise ships in a very small port on the same day. Our itinerary was very closely crowded by a ship from another line. In Stanley, the population was more than doubled. It was impossible to shop because of the crowds. Same thing in Ushuaia. Can't the major cruise lines do a better scheduling job? Summary: Despite the sometimes negative comments listed above, the overall cruise was wonderful, and I have no regrets, other than that it is over. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
Married, 60 and 62 yrs. old, numerous recent cruises including a very similar cruise last fall on Oceania's Insignia. Note: the cost and value ratings are based on Azamara'a standard rates looking at the rate average over the ... Read More
Married, 60 and 62 yrs. old, numerous recent cruises including a very similar cruise last fall on Oceania's Insignia. Note: the cost and value ratings are based on Azamara'a standard rates looking at the rate average over the next 12 months, not the promotional rate on this particular trip. Pre-cruise and embarkation: Fairly standard, but don't look for Oceania's blue leather document folder. Pre and post trip air arrangements were very poor and I would strongly recommend making your own travel plans. Ship: We are very partial to the "R-Ships" so we are biased toward the ship. The Journey shows wear and little evidence of the remodeling that presumably was in mechanical areas of this ship. Also, it does not have desalinization equipment, so it takes on local water at ports (sometimes quite brown). Stateroom: R-ships have slightly smaller rooms, but very nice and the Journey decor and bedding were excellent as was the cabin service. We ever met the "butler", but I suspect he was around somewhere if we knew what he was supposed to do for us. Entertainment: No one ever agrees on ship entertainment, but I can tell you that the five show performers on this boat all have outstanding talent, even by cruise ship standards. Unfortunately, they were bored form lack of utilization. The enrichment series speaker was the highlight; although, the very inexperience cruise entertainment director did everything she could to disrupt his series. But he was so good and patient, it was still the highlight. Food Service: This was hopeless to the point of being comical at times. A few waiters were experienced and many learned during the cruise, but it never met the lowest performance we have encountered on any line. But they tried their very hard, and most everyone was quite patient. Some waiting encounters were so bizarre that all we could do was chuckle. Food: This was well below Celebrity standards. Very average preparation by any restaurant standard. I had the same Ahi tuna 3 times on the cruise. Once it came medium rare, once it was well done and the third time tan and dry. No meal was special or creative; although, the soup chef is superb and should be retained. Presentation is poor with excessive portions of carbohydrates on the main entree. Menus repeated. The lunch dessert menu was unchanged for 18 days! The dinner desserts have very limited variety and are quite average. I lost a pound on the trip. I think I can safely say from many years experience and interest in fine foods that the current chef simply lacks the basic skills to ever compete with Oceania. OH, you should know: No lobster tail night. I would say if you go for the fine dining room meals and service, take almost any other line. Specialty restaurants have excellent service and the lobster bisque is the truly one exceptional preparation on the ship. We had planned 3 or 4 nights in these restaurants, but they were mostly empty which distracts from the atmosphere, so we cancelled most of these. Disembark: They had never been to this port before and there were special issues that they tried to correct, but I doubt they will repeat this disembark port. I will say they made great efforts to make it go well. Summary: Mostly average staff and managers are trying very hard to be something special. We were scheduled to go to Antarctica on the Journey in February and had our own air reservations to correct that problem, but in the end, we cancelled our trip at some cost to us just because we do not want to get on this ship again, but if you are a Royal Caribbean client that has never been on Celebrity or Oceania, you may want to try this. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
INTRODUCTIONI have cruised a total of 55 times on almost all lines save acouple of the ultra luxury ones. In 2007 the wife and I sailed on a 15day Oceania Insignia crossing. Later in 2007 RCL Ltd launched theAzamara line by acquiring and ... Read More
INTRODUCTIONI have cruised a total of 55 times on almost all lines save acouple of the ultra luxury ones. In 2007 the wife and I sailed on a 15day Oceania Insignia crossing. Later in 2007 RCL Ltd launched theAzamara line by acquiring and refitting two "R" class ships ostensiblyto compete with the three virtually identical ships currently operatedby Oceania. There has been enormous interest, particularly on the partof Oceania aficionados, in how the Azamara experience shapes usagainst Oceania. Having now sailed both I was able to draw somecomparisons.EMBARKATIONWife and I hopped on an overnight bus in Rio de Janeiro where wereside for the 6 hour ride to the embarkation port of Santos. Giventhe normally heavy traffic it can sometimes take more than 2 hoursjust to travel the 60 miles by bus from Sao Paulo's Guarulhos airportto the pier in Santos. We figured we could save time and hassle if wetook the bus to Santos directly and avoided airport check in, taxisand transfers, etc.At the Santos bus terminal we hailed a cab for the 15 minuteride to the pier. As we arrived at 7:00 a.m we opted to drop off ourluggage and continue in the taxi for a tour of the area, principallythe neighboring beach town of Guaruja. In contrast to Santos, Guarujais a charming, upscale resort popular with well to do Paulistas. Nexttime we arrive way early for a Santos embarkation we will spend timeon the beaches of nearby Guaruja. You may want to consider that too.After the usual hassle with the cab driver over the agreed fareit was back to the ship's terminal where we had to wait almost 2 hoursto board despite having been promised by Azamara reps that boardingwould start an hour sooner. Though I am normally impatient I havelived in Brazil long enough to know that getting things done here canoften take longer than anticipated, especially since this was thefirst time Azamara was embarking in Santos. We browsed the fewterminal shops until the embarkation desk opened. We were among thefirst to check in so there were no lines. William, manager of thePrime C specialty restaurant, had set up a separate desk where all paxwere required to make a dining room reservation for the first night, awell meaning effort to avoid an unmanageable crunch at any of thedining venues on night one. In point of fact, perhaps because we tendto dine after 8:30, we never had to wait more than a minute or two tobe seated in Discoveries, the main dining room, or either of thespecialty restaurants. That the ship was sailing with less than 500pax, (70% capacity) no doubt also facilitated seating.CABIN AND BUTLERWe made our way to our aft SSV cabin without benefit ofchampagne cocktail or assistance, neither of which matter to us thoughit might to some. This was our first time in an aft veranda which wechose because of the oversized balcony, its only distinguishingfeature. We weren't much concerned with excessive movement while atsea because on this itinerary the Journey would be hugging the shoreand sailing up river in Buenos Aires. After several hefty markdownsfrom the original price at which I booked, the cabin finally wound upcosting us $3240 which I consider a real bargain; however, I don'tthink the extra size of the SSV balcony justifies a significant pricepremium primarily because both adjoining verandas are completelypartitioned by metal walls which together with the prominent overhangtends to create a boxed-in sensation. The regular verandas on my deckappeared sufficiently spacious to comfortably accommodate a diningtable and two chairs for those who want to dine on their veranda.Shortly after freshening up we toured the ship. As expected thelayout is virtually identical to the Oceania Insignia and similarlywell appointed. We returned to our cabin to find our bags had arrived.While we were unpacking our butler, Natasha, neatly attired in atuxedo like uniform, entered to welcome us and explain her function.This was our first butlered cabin so I was eager to hear thedescription of her duties. Aside from shining shoes, makingreservations in the specialty restaurants and delivering afternoonsavories to the cabin, I could not distinguish her duties from thoseof the typical cabin steward. We are ordinarily low maintenancepassengers so any services supplementing the usual cabin stewardservices are superfluous for us. As it turned out I assigned Natashaseveral extra chores which she cheerfully undertook with only the mostfleeting of quizzical glances at me. Natasha (and her assistant)performed all routine and not so routine tasks well and always with anengaging sense of humor.The cabin itself held no surprises. The bed, e.g., firm paddedmattress, high thread count sheets, and feathered/down pillows wereall first rate and super comfy just like those on the Insignia. Thebathroom shower was a bit small and the water pressure a bit low, butneither to the point of inconvenience. The robes and towels wereplush. We appreciated the binoculars, umbrella and especially the handheld hairdryer in the vanity desk. The table and chairs on the verandawere more comfortable than expected. There was one significantproblem, a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. The wall thermostatdid not properly regulate the temperature and, worse yet, the ceilingunit occasionally made a loud noise that lasted several minutes. Idelegated oversight of the repair to Natasha. After the ElectricalDept failed to fix it in a couple of tries, at my urging I think shefinally invoked the aid of the Chief Engineer. Anyway, it got repairedafter a few days.SERVICEThe outstanding feature of the on board experience was thewonderful attitude of all staff and crew. While they may not havealways hit the mark, every single person I encountered sincerelyendeavored to please as much as possible. This excellent attitudefacilitated acceptance of the occasional shortcomings in food, tableor room service, guest relations service, etc. The eagerness to pleaseand to improve so permeates the ship that one can easily foresee theoverall Azamara cruise experience getting even better in thenear future.In fact, many managers were new arrivals. I was informed that theHotel Mgr had boarded less than a week before we sailed. He was anextremely affable and apparently very capable guy. The home officeExec Chef, Tomas Symanski, was also newly aboard to revise the menuswhich are, in deed, in need of revision particularly in the specialtyrestaurants. I think the Cruise Director, Andrea Oliveti, was alsorecently transferred from the Azamara Quest. They and the F&B andDining Room Mgrs were all very intent on upgrading the food andservice. All of these senior officers hosted a group of CCers at whichmany issues were discussed and considered. I think the opinion of themajority of those present was that our expectations were beingexceeded, perhaps because expectations had been tempered by widespreadnegative criticism at the inception of the company's operations.DININGUnlike Oceania, Azamara charged a $20 and $25 cover for extravisits to specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C respectively(penthouse occupants got two freebies, all others got one). Azamarahas announced that this surcharge is soon to be eliminated and eachpax will be entitled to one additional specialty restaurant meal.With the exception of the Windows Cafe buffet on deck 9 (wow,what a breakfast!) I did not think the food was as good as what I hadexperienced on Oceania's Insignia, but certain dishes at each of thedining venues were very good, a few excellent. The roasted sea basswhich I ordered in Discoveries on the first night was up there withthe best fish dishes I have ever tasted and had me thinking the foodwas going to rival that of the Insignia, a notion which got dispelledas time wore on. In Aqualina a seafood bouillabaisse was to die for.On the negative side the lobster newburg was the only lobster dish oneither specialty restaurant menu (actually it's only on Aqualina's,but as they share the same kitchen you can order off either menu). Itwas tasty, but I would have preferred to have had a choice of asimpler lobster preparation. Large scallops were delicious onenight, but on another in a different venue their delicate flavor wastotally obscured when presented on a bed of bacon. The duck breast inDiscoveries was as bad as the stuffed quails were good.Having lived in Buenos Aires for a couple of years and writtenan article on steakhouses for the local English language daily Iconsider myself something of a steak connoisseur. I did not think thesteaks were of sufficiently high quality in Prime C though I didn'ttry the so-called Kobe beef available for an $8 surcharge. Roast primerib was not on the menu and should be in a good steakhouse.Desserts were generally uninspiring throughout except at theWindows buffet where early in the cruise I came across a fantastic,dark chocolate mousse which, alas, I was never to see again. I'm surethe kitchen would have accommodated a request for more, but my wifereminded me of my promise not to overindulge in desserts so I left itto chance and as fate would have it I never saw that mousse again.Next time I am requesting it.I expect the Exec Chef will be working to achieve greaterculinary excellence throughout the ship. Hopefully, the company canpurchase better steaks and add more lobster to the menus in thespecialty restaurants. Timing in the kitchens and table service needsto be ratcheted up as well.  I had fabulous service 3 of the 4 timeswe dined in the specialty restaurants as well as most nights inDiscoveries, but suffered mediocre service once in each place.By way of example how hard the company is trying to please theywere quite generous in offering "comps.". For instance, when inresponse to a query by our waiter in Prime C, we mentioned our mildcriticism of a steak, William, the manager, soon appeared and compedus for a return visit. Another time when our Discoveries waiterneglected to advise us in advance of the $25 corkage fee, a publicizedfee that I knew existed, the exuberant Dining Room Manager, Chaika,came over at the end of the meal and removed the charge on the groundswe were not expressly advised in advance - I didn't have the heart toundermine his generosity by mentioning I knew about the fee. Finally,as a gesture of thanks for a small favor wife and I did, providingsome info on Rio, we were comped at Aqualina by the F&B Mgr. It'sdifficult not to enjoy yourself when those kinds of thingscontinuously occur.For breakfast we ordered light, continental style breakfasts viaroom service all but one day. In my experience room service is theweakest link in the food service chain on board, but the Journey roomservice crew did way better than most. They always arrived with almosteverything at the appointed time. Once late in the cruise they optedto come at 7:00 am instead of our customary 8:30 when I neglected tojot down the time we wanted our breakfast served. I assume the blamefor that although 7:00 was a bit curious in light of our known custom.Okay, I'm nitpicking.The weather forced us up to the deck 9 breakfast buffet once andI was amazed at the selection of nicely prepared items available, notthe least of which was a juice bar from which you could order almostany fruit/veggie concoction imaginable. Given that sumptuous breakfastbuffet I'm glad I avoided temptation by opting for the continentalbreakfast on our veranda.For lunch we either ate at the deck 9 buffet which was absolutelyfirst rate or indulged in a hamburger with fries or salad at thepoolside grill. I didn't like the franks, but the burgers were prettygood even though well done is mandatory. Cheese, bacon and sauteed mushroomscan compensate for the lack of rareness. I would also have preferrednot to have had to cope with those tiny plastic bags of ketchup,relish, mustard, etc. My dexterity isn't what it used to be and it'sdarn annoying trying to tear open a whole bunch of those bags to squeeze outtheir minuscule contents. I neglected to write that on my comment card.Maybe someone who agrees with me can do so in the near future. I wasdisappointed with the pizza, but I'm always disappointed with pizza atsea having grown up in New Jersey and NYC's little Italy. I think ithas to do with the lack of crispiness in the pre-baked dough and theblandness of the tomato "gravy."  Lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch andcoffee were always available from dispensers located in the buffet andnear the poolside grill.ENTERTAINMENT AND SHIPBOARD ACTIVITIESThe Journey's showroom/ theater is, like the other R ships,without a raised stage. Consequently, it's more intimate than thetypical large ship showroom and well suited to the cabaret showsperformed by the Journey cast of five singers and dancers. Theypresented three very entertaining shows during the 12 night cruise. Iwas impressed with the quality of the talent although I thought theshows' production values (staging, lighting and costumes) could havebeen better. I didn't catch much of the other showroom entertainmentthough my Brazilian wife told me the young group of Brazilian dancersthat performed when we were ported in Itajai were very good. Theorchestra was one of the better ones I have heard on ships although Iwould have liked more pre-dinner dance opportunities. The talentedband that played poolside made a lot of music for a trio.Andrea Oliveti was a capable, good natured cruise director. Hisequally good natured staff conducted numerous activities throughouteach day maintaining a cheerful enthusiasm even whenattendance was less than SRO. I was taken back when only 4 peopleshowed up for a mid-morning trivia session. Boy, what a bunch of couchpotatoes. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of enrichmentlecture. Wife and I even briefly manned an orientation desk to providetips on Rio a day before we ported there.The library (aka Michael's Club) had an honor system checkout andwas open all hours. I would have liked to have seen a better stockedlibrary - I could not find a single travel book. I believe tea wasserved there in the afternoon ( I never ventured to events featuringmore food). There is a piano in the room and I understand it was usedduring tea. In any event I wonder why tea service and the piano cannot be relocated to the large forward Looking Glass lounge (like it ison the Insignia) so that the library can be maintained as an oasis ofquiet.In addition to the piano player, there was a guitar playerperforming in the evenings near the casino entrance on deck 5 as wellas a harpist who performed near the Cova Cafe on deck 5 (a spot wherespecialty coffees and drinks were available for a charge). I confess Idid not catch their acts except in passing, but the guitarist wasBrazilian and sounded pretty accomplished. Each of the musicians hadtheir own small group of devotees.The internet connection aboard ship was so notoriously slow thatthe computer room was hardly ever occupied except for the occasionalfree class offered by the host. Pay TV programming was available inthe cabin. I am not a fan of pay TV movie programming, but if it helpsto hold down the base cruise price I guess I can suffer through thealternative non-pay movie programming that existed. A few almost firstrun movies and selected classics were rebroadcast several times everycouple of days and, of course, there was ESPN and the annoyinglyrepetitious CNN. The TV had an interactive service enabling one to reviewhis shipboard account, purchase excursions and check restaurantreservations, etc.The gym in the spa contained more than an adequate number ofelliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bikes in addition to abrand new assortment of cable machines and free weights for usbodybuilder types. I never had to wait to use a piece of equipment andI worked out 1.5 times per day. There were spinning classes andperhaps other classes, but I' m not a "class" guy so I wasn't fullyaware of schedules or cost, if any. Wife and I got haircuts,manicures, pedicures, etc. before leaving on the cruise and did notuse the spa so I can not opine on the quality of those and the otherservices offered. There was a room designated for acupuncture whichmight be of interest to some.The casino was appropriately (Insignia-sized) small. It containeda bunch of slots, a roulette and a couple of blackjack tables and alarge, hi-tech, automated Texas hold'em poker table that will soon bereplaced in view of its failure to attract players.PORTS AND EXCURSIONS The itinerary for this cruise consisted of Buenos Aires, Itajai,Paraty, Rio de Janeiro and the return to Santos. The ship departedSantos on Thursday, Nov 29 and made its first port of Buenos Aires onSunday, Dec 2. We sailed away from BA the same night. That was ascheduling error. Compounding that we also arrived in Rio de Janeiroon the following Sunday and departed Rio on Monday afternoon. Both BAand Rio are world class cities and arriving on a Sunday when so manyof the things to see and do are closed is unwise. Conversely, afterleaving Buenos Aires we overnighted in the small southern Braziliantown of Itajai apparently so that the ship could run an overnightexcursion to the falls of Iguazu for a small (30) group willing to payabout $1400 pp. This type of scheduling should be avoided on futureruns in these waters.I have not gone on a ship excursion for many years preferring tofend for myself. In Itajai, we paired up with another couple from theship and hired a taxi to take us to the German colonial town ofBlumenau located about an hour from port. Itajai has some prettybeaches close to the pier, but it rained the next day so we cancelledour outing to the beach. The Journey tendered passengers ashore inParaty, a picturesque colonial town located 140 miles from Rio. Tiedup at the pier where the passengers alighted were dozens of schoonerships of various capacity. For R$20 ($12) one could purchase a 5 hourschooner trip that included time for swimming and snorkeling among thenumerous islands that dot the Brazilian coast. Be sure to leave acouple of hours for shopping along the town's cobblestone streets.Paraty is an artsy, craftsy place.CONCLUSIONIn view of the spectacular effort by all staff and crew toplease, this cruise was delightful even if some things were notabsolutely perfect. The minor inconsistencies in service are sure tobe eliminated given the obvious concern by all senior officers toachieve excellence. It is hoped that the on board presenceof the line's Executive Chef portends a revision of the menus and animprovement in the quality of the food offerings particularly in thespecialty restaurants. When that happens the Journey will offer anoverall cruising experience very comparable to that which we enjoyedon the Oceania Insignia. Let's face it, because of a weak US dollar,the relative high cost of land travel throughout the world makescruising on a ship like the Journey a darn good value.   Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
Let's start with if there were problems, they have been or will shortly be addressed. From my Previous Post from the SHIP on the last day (used up the last of our minutes): It was an excellent trip. We made a few new friends and ... Read More
Let's start with if there were problems, they have been or will shortly be addressed. From my Previous Post from the SHIP on the last day (used up the last of our minutes): It was an excellent trip. We made a few new friends and truly enjoyed our cruise. The staff is outstanding, I mean really outstanding, they are friendly and go out of their way to ensure everyone is having a good time. The personal attention we received on this trip far exceeds anything we have experienced on our 6 previous cruises. I, like many of you, have been reading the comments on cruise critic for insight into our cruise. Well, I have to say I was very much relieved once we started cruising. I feel like I am reporting on a completely different ship and experience then some of the previous cruise critic reports. First of all, the dining experience was outstanding. Starting with the embarkation process, Azamara has added a new feature in which they ask you what time you would like to dine at, on the first night only. This seems to have resolved any previous issues with line-ups especially on the first night. We rarely saw anyone waiting, if they did it was not more then a few minutes. For us we chose to be at the same table each night and it was always available and the staff seemed to know we would eventually be there. We dined at Aqualina one night and really enjoyed it, one recommendation, make sure you try the soufflE, it is out of this world! Domenique was on this voyage and he is excellent as some previous critics have reported. We very much enjoyed afternoon tea in Aqualina, again a highlight, the Harpist is very talented. The entertainment staff and the Cruise director Andrea and his staff were all excellent! The Cabaret is very intimate and gave us a feeling of being part of the show for each performance. We enjoyed all of the shows. The performers are very friendly and are often at other events off hours and interact with the passengers on a regular basis, much more then we have ever seen. Special mention to the following crew which we very much appreciated their personal attention: in the Dinning Room, Czjka (hard worker and always upbeat), Nitish, Ghanowa, Mario, and Maria the bar waitress from Columbia, our butleress, Maria Franco, George the officer who I was lucky enough to dance with we even won 4th prize!! SOME SPECIFICS: BACKGROUND Myself, my husband and my in-laws traveled together on this trip. We have all been on 6 other cruises, not the same ones, with a number of different cruise companies between all of us. All of our previous cruises were on bigger ships, the closest to this size ship was the Nordic Prince and the Song of America, otherwise larger ships with about 2,000 to 2,500 passengers. I was particularly worried this ship would rock & roll, but it didn't, not on our trip and we did have some rain days. I was worried about my mother-in-law, she had been a sick on the Nordic Prince a number of years ago and if anyone would feel it would be her, she was fine the entire trip. EMBARKATION The was painless, however one of the bus rides from one terminal building to the other seemed a little over kill we could have walked in one or two minutes, if that. As reported previously they have this process under control, even at the New Port of Santos, for Azamara, everything was quick and orderly. We were given Champaign as we entered the Ship and has some food which was welcome by this time even though we did have a big breakfast in Sao Paulo at our Hotel before leaving for Santos. CABINS The Cabins were a real treat for us as this was the first time we had a balcony, so worth it and someone told me you can't go back once you've had one, that might be true... In any case on this ship I would absolutely recommend it, especially for the difference in price from a window cabin, it's worth it! The bathroom while not big was fine and the shower was fine and not the smallest I've seen. The bath products are actually excellent as reported and they certainly give you plenty. The robes and slippers a real treat, never had that before either. POOL AREA While yes the Pool is small, this is the smallest I've seen, it works well enough and is not crowded. The area around the pool is very nice and chairs were a dream. The Grill has excellent food and while we only ate there twice it was very fresh and the fries are very good. BUFFET Windows was excellent for Breakfast! The blueberry pancakes and omelets are very tasty, The juice bar seems to be an under utilized area, they make any combination of juices to order, I would suggest trying this out. CASINO The is a great area, not very big and it felt friendly, I can say I should have won but I forgot "know when to walk away", maybe next time. I won a free Casino T-Shirt on a raffle so it wasn't a complete loss. ACTIVITIES We especially enjoyed the lecture on The Beauty of Mathematics in Nature, well worth attending. I liked the Food Demo and the talk about Gems. ENTERTAINMENT No there are no BIG PRODUCTIONS but with the space and number of entertainers on board they do a really good job of making each night interesting and fun. We really did like all the shows, some more than others but we never left completely disappointed. As I mentioned above the Ship entertainers are very good and because they are so personable and friendly with the passengers it gives the shows at night a different feel. SHORE EXCURSIONS We actually only booked one with the Ship but it was really good in Parati we went on a "Party Ship" to two different beaches and they sold "Cipirina's" on board which were the best I tasted in all of Brazil. Otherwise we did our own thing in a few Ports, no problem with getting a Taxi and were part a larger group in Rio and Itajai. Loved Argentina, Camboriu and Parati, plus Rio is Rio, loved it too. Speaking the language does help but I don't think it's a must have, not at all. DINING Completely enjoyed this, the portion sizes are just right so you can actually try more different courses. The presentation was excellent. The only issue for me personally is a seafood allergy, so much of the shrimp, scallops were off limits, but they did look really good and my husband loved it. The staff was very attentive to ensure I didn't have anything I shouldn't. My absolute favorite was the soufflE at Aqualina. AFTERNOON TEA This I have never experienced on a ship, we went a number of days while at sea to Aqualina for tea and treats and to listen to the Harpist play, it was every relaxing. DISEMBARKATION I thought this would have taken longer and was surprised how quickly we got off the ship. We had a Taxi waiting for us so it was all like clock work getting off the ship and back to Sao Paulo. I can tell you we loved our Cruise and would recommend it to all! I hope your cruise is as wonderful as ours! A little about our stay in Sao Paulo after the Cruise. SAO PAULO POST CRUISE We stayed one additional night and day in Sao Paulo and even though it rained the second day we had a wonderful time and saw many more interesting spots. For those wondering about prices, the taxi trip from the ship to our Hotel Downtown was $185Reals (Divide by 4 very reasonable). We had arranged with the taxi driver who originally drove us to the ship from Sao Paulo to pick us up, like clock work he was there. Once in Sao Paulo we wondered on foot and took one local cab the first day. If you do stay in Sao Paulo, a hotel near Ave. Paulista is a good location; you can wonder on this massive street and feel very safe, we did. It's a business district and the locals are dressed to the nines. There was a Christmas Show with a group of about 60 kids singing Nutcracker songs the evening we arrived at 6:30 outside of one of the banks. The banks also have their lobbies decorated with Christmas themes like I have never seen before, all free for everyone to wonder through and enjoy. We saw about 30 or so Santa Claus' wishing Christmas Cheer to everyone walking and driving by, this was a really good photo. Speaking of which I took many pictures on this street and again felt very safe. It reminds me of Time Square or Yonge Street a little. We saw a few helicopters making roof top landings to pickup executives at the end of the day. We stayed at the Maksoud Plaza, it was in a great location and very safe. I have to say the city view from the 19th floor from the odd numbered rooms is incredible. We hired the same driver for the second day for $300Reals, this included tip and drop off at the Airport later, (which alone is a standard $100Reals), he was with us from 11 am to 6:30 pm. We went to a number of places, the open market on (15th of Nov St, I think) it was amazing with only people on the street. The Train Station is impressive from the inside, the old churches and buildings are wonderful and the mix of architecture is well... very unique. We tried a local restaurant which serves food by the weight, or the Kilo the first night (just make sure you eat somewhere over $2.50 Reals for 100 grams, you get much more variety and better food, so said our Taxi driver, I think we paid $2.89, the entire meal was less then $40Reals for two with drinks. The second day we tried this deboned grilled chicken that was to die for, again the Taxi drivers recommendation. We went to a shop that only sold hot sauces and teas, I mean really hot sauce, we'll see if we can actually eat it or cook with it.... Too much more to mention, lets just say it was our first trip to Brazil but it won't be the last....I hope not. I should mention we speak Portuguese which in Brazil does come in very handy and now that we have been once, we feel much more comfortable about returning. But if you don't speak the language, downtown you will find many people do, also the Hotels have tours in many languages. Glad we stayed the extra time in Sao Paulo. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
We just returned from the 16 night South American Explorer cruise. On the whole, the trip was everything I expected and I would highly recommend Holland America with the caveats that no cruise will be perfect and that individual ... Read More
We just returned from the 16 night South American Explorer cruise. On the whole, the trip was everything I expected and I would highly recommend Holland America with the caveats that no cruise will be perfect and that individual expectations will influence one's enjoyment and satisfaction with a cruise- no matter what the cruise line. Embarkation- we hired a private car and guide to take us from the Santiago airport to Valparaiso. As a result, we were able to see a number of the sights along route as well as the highlights of Santiago. Embarkation was a breeze- we were in a deluxe verandah suite so had a separate check-in line. There were quite a number of people waiting for regular check-in but I do not know how long they waited. Our cabin was ready and our luggage arrived shortly before lifeboat drill. Accommodations- this was our third cruise with HAL so we knew what to expect. Our previous cruises were on Vista ships. On the Rotterdam, the balcony seemed to be larger than on the Vistas. We were located directly across from the Neptune Lounge which was a perfect location. Service- The level of service on this cruise was exceptional. Our cabin steward was a gem. The dining room staff were dolls. The concierges could not have been nicer or more helpful. I have always found the service on HAL to be wonderful but was really impressed with the service on this cruise. Food- this is a totally subjective area. We found the food to be adequate with some outstanding dishes. We only ate dinner in the main dining room. There was always something on the menu that appealed to us. Given that the kitchen is preparing over 5,000 meals a day, one has to understand that this is basically institutional cooking. The presentation of the food was very good. We had room service breakfast every morning and it was very good. Our order came on time and everything was well prepared. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill one night. We had a free dinner courtesy of Amex. We were not all that impressed and did not believe it was worth the extra money. We did notice that it was never full- usually pretty empty, in fact. So- it seems others felt the same way. Shipboard Activities- We were a group of 6 women so did not participate in many activities. There certainly was enough to do. We did take a cooking class which was lots of fun. Excursions- We had private guides in all ports except Ushuaia where we took the ship's tour of the Beagle Channel. We were extremely disappointed in the tour- it was 5 hours on a catamaran without any narrative and with basically nothing to see except for 10 minutes with the penguins and another 10 minutes with sea lions. We were not able to spend any time in Ushuaia which we found disappointing. I completed a comment card and to HAL's credit, we found a plate of goodies in our room the next day along with a 20% discount on the excursion cost. It was nice to know that someone actually reads these comments. We were extremely fortunate with the weather. Only one semi-rough day at sea, calm seas around Cape Horn and very little rain. Entertainment- We did not go to any of the shows- not my thing. We did see some good films, though, in the very comfortable movie theater. Overall Impression- As I stated, this was my third HAL cruise and I knew what to expect - a quiet cruise with an older crowd. The people on this cruise were older than on my previous cruises but I expected this given the itinerary and time of year. Our ports of call were wonderful- this was a trip of a lifetime for me and I was not disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
We just returned from a wonderful cruise on the Azamara Journey today after a 12 day cruise and 2 day precruise package. We embarked on the cruise on Dec 11. We started in Santos (Sao Paulo port) and ended in Buenos Aires. We had a ... Read More
We just returned from a wonderful cruise on the Azamara Journey today after a 12 day cruise and 2 day precruise package. We embarked on the cruise on Dec 11. We started in Santos (Sao Paulo port) and ended in Buenos Aires. We had a fabulous time. I sometimes wondered if I was on the same ship mentioned in some other reviews. For back ground I am 59 years old and my husband is 61. We have sailed 9 times on Princess, once on Celebrity, once on Carnival and once on Renaissance (now out of business). We are both still working. We have sailed on the very same ship when it was the R6 (Renaissance) and a similar ship with Princess (Tahitian Princess). The average age on guests appeared to be around 60 and there were less than a dozen children aboard. There are very few children's activities. We arrived 2 days early booking our own air and transfers to the hotel (we prefer to do this as we have had several bad experiences with cruise air on other lines in the past. We booked the 2 day pre cruise package at the Hyatt which was beautiful and very well priced (far below booking on our own). It included wonderful breakfasts and ships transfers. The only problem was the transfers to the ship were very poorly handled by the company contracting with Azamara. The liaison did not speak English or Spanish and really was not even sure what ship we were boarding. Azamara needs to have one of their own staff members supervising at the hotel. The ship is beautiful. It is a small intimate ship and unlike the larger floating hotels. They have done a fabulous job restoring and upgrading. The rooms are small but well laid out and we had a private balcony were we had breakfast many mornings (excellent). The bedding is new and very comfortable. We slept very well. The Elemis amenities were very high quality. There were flowers and fruit in our room upon arrival and replenished as the ship went on. The flat screen TV was lovely but I would like more programming/channels. There was on CNN sports, CNN (for ships?) TNT and TMC. There was also the ability to do pay per view films. The only negative is that I would also like shower/bath gel. It is mainly a non smoking ship and we never smell smoke anywhere. The pool is small with 2 jacuzzis tubs but never crowded. The lounge chairs are wood with very comfy pads. My biggest beef is that the jacuzzis closed at 8:00 PM. There is another Jacuzzi (thallastherapy spa?) at the front of the shipthat was open until 10 with more deck chairs, but the ship charged an additional $100 per person to use this during the cruise. I never saw anyone using it and I think this is rather tacky. On a premium line charge a few dollars more and include these things. The gym is very nice and well equipped. It was well used but not crowded. The Steiner spa treatments are good but expensive (the same as all other cruise ships). The crew was (with a few exceptions) helpful and very friendly and approachable. The Captain is British, young and interacted easily with the guests. They are constantly striving to make this a premium line and are receptive to comments and make changes very quickly. The cabin steward (butler?) and his assistant did a great job. I never ordered tea or canapEs in my room so I do not know the quality. The guest relations staff was extremely helpful. The dining is open seating, which we prefer. We never, ever waited more than 5 minutes for a table. Sometimes we ate alone and sometimes with new friends. When we cam in with 8-10 people it took a few minutes, when we were alone we were seated immediately. Some waiters were faster than others, if you found one you like you could ask to be seated at one of their tables. I liked the food, my husband not as much. The ingredients are all high quality. An attempt is made to make the food more "Nouvelle Cuisine" style. The food was somewhat bland, but considering the demographics of the passengers I can understand. The food is not over salted. The plates are unusually shaped and often glass 3 part "tasting dishes" were used. The desserts were excellent.. The salads a bit unimaginative. The food in the specialty restaurants is different but no better than the regular dining room. The buffet breakfast was very always very good. The lunch buffet was good but the ice cream bar was wonderful. I never ate at the pool side grill. Tea in Michaels was elegant and the snacks in Cova Cafe were very nice. Breakfast room service was great. I ordered room service pizza one night and that was terrible (good service awful microwave pizza). The wine and drinks were a little pricey. The ships excursions were a mixed bag. Some were very good, some were ok and some were bad. This is no different than our experience on other cruise lines. They were not cheap but this is the same on all ships we have been on. We particularly enjoyed the Tango show tour in Buenos Aires, the Jewish Heritage tour in Montevideo. The Blumenau tour was not very good. We did not take the 2 day Iguaza Falls tour ($1400 per person) and thought this should be offered as a pre or post cruise tour rather than spending 2 nights in Itajai while 38 people took the tour. The entertainment was nice but weak (Princess does a better job of the same size chip). The dancers and singers and band were very good We found Celebrity's entertainment to be weaker than other lines also. Embarkation and disembarkation were easy and quick. However people who flew in the same day had trouble getting their transfers at the airport and it was a 2 and ½ hour drive in traffic. The ship took a day room at a local quality hotel for use by guests while waiting for their planes. Overall we had a great time and will most likely book another cruise with Azamara. We like the smaller, upscale ships with open seating. We find the atmosphere friendlier. We do not miss formal nights and midnight buffets. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
This review describes our 28 days back to back cruise of South America, Nov 11th to Dec 9, 2007. First, let me say that my husband and I are very positive travelers and we tend to see the glass half full rather than half empty. Also, we ... Read More
This review describes our 28 days back to back cruise of South America, Nov 11th to Dec 9, 2007. First, let me say that my husband and I are very positive travelers and we tend to see the glass half full rather than half empty. Also, we have learned to keep an open mind during our travels and to thoroughly appreciate and learn from every experience and focus on how lucky we are to live such wonderful life experiences. If there are problems, we discreetly go the source and it is solved. Also, we are encouraged to fill out comment~suggestions cards and leave them at customer relation desk, where they are considered very seriously No need to bicker outloud... Sadly, there are too many picky, demanding and criticizing travelers. For the most part, on this cruise, the guests were kind, polite with a good sense of humor, which is needed during travels. Also, most of the passengers were of mature age which translated in a quieter atmosphere. We are pleased to have met many wonderful fellow cruisers from around the world. Our cruise began in Fort Lauderdale where we arrived at the port around 11:30AM. Embarkation was quick, efficient, courteous and within one half hour we were having lunch at the buffet, after which we changed and headed for the pool. Our room was ready at 1:00PM and our suitcases arrived around 3:00PM. We were graciously greeted and served champagne cocktail. The ship was beautiful, spotless and very impressive. Muster drill at 4:30 was quick (30 minutes). The staff: They made our trip most enjoyable. Each and every one of the staff was polite, helpful and spent time talking and joking with the guests. The best staff ever!! Room: We had a 7th floor balcony room, roomy, lots of storage and very clean. We shortly met our room steward who took very good care of us during the entire month and greeted us with a smile each day. Dinner: We were scheduled at the early seating 6:00PM as requested. The Trellis dining room is very elegant, live music often. We thought the menu to be amazing: choice of 3 appetizers, 3 soups (one cold), 3 salads, 5 entrees and several desserts. We were utterly spoiled by our superb waiter, Alexandru Brad (table 584), a Romanian young man who quickly learned our likes…Whatever we wanted, we got and more… We asked to keep our waiter the entire 28 days, we had such a good time with him and his team. We also enjoyed the buffet breakfasts, omelet stations, the poolside grill and the spa cafe restaurant . There was always a large variety of menus. There is also alternative dining on deck ten, a little more casual, but with nice menu and table service. We went twice and enjoyed ourselves. During a 2 week cruise, there are 3 formal dinners and the balance between informal and casual, which was fine with most. The ship: We loved Infinity ! With full capacity of 1950 guests, we never felt crowded. There were always areas to be found for quiet reading. The staff was constantly cleaning. There were plenty of loungers by the pools and we were even supplied with blankets for cool days. We mostly enjoyed the Thalassotherapy pool and hot tubs, especially during cool days, which were numerous. We used the gym facilities on sea days, as we tried to walk off a few calories… We had a tour of the galley/kitchen. It is amazing what goes in the ordering and preparation of meals for all guests. Entertainment: We thoroughly enjoyed the Infinity dancers and singers. What energy and high quality performance! Not to miss. There were three major productions shows during each 2 weeks cruise. We attended them twice. Several guest performers were wonderful as well: Jan Stirling (pianist), The Marquez Jazz Trio, The Rosario Boys Quartet etc… The various ship performers/bands were quite talented as well. There was always entertainment to be found somewhere on the ship. Our cruise director Jeff Potts was excellent at his job. Celebrity: They organized Cruise critic parties for each of the two week trips. Thank you. Also, they prepared a lunch feast for back to back cruisers. (with ice sculptures and all….) Thank you. Celebrity went out of their way to please their guests and make our vacation as pleasant as possible. The entire staff was amazing, and we were treated royally on this cruise. During sea days, we relaxed and participated in a few of the on board activities. There was always something for everyone. Every day, Celebrity Today, the daily information paper delivered to our stateroom gave a short history and points of interest of coming ports as well as all activities on board. We were well informed. The ship chose to limit the loudspeaker announcements, which was appreciated by all. The ports: Remember, these are our experiences and opinions. Cartagena: A Colombian acquaintance showed us around the city, the old monastery, Fort San Felipe and the Old City, and Boca Grande (the new hotel zone) all very worthwhile visiting. Loved the Old City!!! Super hot and humid. Upon returning at the ship, we were handed cold facecloths and punch. What a thoughtful touch from Infinity. (And hot chocolate on cool days.) Thoroughly enjoyed the Panama Canal transit. Lush vegetation, amazing learning experience. Manta-Ecuador: Took a cab with another couple, 30$/3hours per couple. Took us to Monterchristi's open market where Panama hats are made and sold along with other Ecuadorian crafts. We returned to the Civic Square in Manta for more market shopping. We could have avoided Montechristi as we saw the same wares for sale. Ecuadorians are very soft spoken and warm people. We enjoyed our visit. Lima-Peru: We rented a cab with a wonderful couple whom we met on cruise critic, the driver agreed to accompany us everywhere, The Plaza de Armas, The Cathedral, The Franciscan Monastery (Catacombs), the market and lastly to a flower greenhouse where we purchased flowers 4$/2 doz. No problem taking them aboard. The Plaza in downtown Lima was amazingly grand and beautiful. We watched the changing of the guard. The Peruvians we met are wonderfully warm and welcoming. Taxis can be rented at the pier for an average of 15$/hr. Great day, great weather! PS. The downtown area felt very safe- lots of police. Be prudent: leave valuables on board. We enjoyed the ½ hr scenic drive to downtown Lima, quite a bustling city of 3 millions. Arica-Chile: Arica is a mid-size seaside town of 185,000 bordered by desert and some fertile valleys. We took a cab for a 2/hr visit to the cathedral, el Morro de Arica, San Miguel de Azapa where we saw an interesting and beautiful cemetery, geoglyphs. We returned and strolled downtown. A worthwhile long enough visit in a very nice and safe port city. La Serena-Chile: What a beautiful town! Gorgeous architecture, very clean and spacious. A good blend of old and modern shopping. Get a taxi at the pier and get dropped off the Plaza de Armas for own walking tour. Valparaiso-Chile: Valparaiso is a worthwhile city to visit, a VERY busy cargo port, many plazas, beautiful architecture and several museums. The view from Cerro Cristobal is amazing. We took a cab to Vina de Mar and were disappointed. Not too much to see. Everything is closed on Sunday. We recommend hiring a taxi and guide for an hour to thoroughly visit the city. On Sundays there are several ferias/open air markets. A reminder: Please be returned to "Embarque"(where you go through customs) station (and not the dock) where you catch Bus Shuttle to the ship. We arrived in Valparaiso around 4AM and immediately, loading and unloading merchandise began. Since our room was on starboard side, it was very noisy… You may want to request a port side room to avoid port noises… THE SECOND HALF OF OUR TRIP: Puerto Montt-Chile: Puerto Montt ( a tendered port) was one of our favorite stops. Got a group of ten in a minivan for a 3/h (which ended up lasting 5 hours) 30$/each. Visited the Petruhue Falls, Lake Llanquihue, Emerald Lake, approx. 2 hr ride each way with stops. AMAZING scenery, view of Orsono Volcano and snow peaked mountains. Much German influence in architecture, beautiful farms and estates by the lake and large modern developments. We returned through Puerto Varas, a lovely tourist town by the lake. A tour in Puerto Montt is a must !! The Fjords of Chile: Slow cruising through the Fjords was a sight to behold: mountain cliffs, glacial valleys, snow peaked mountains. Wonderful days. Puntas Arenas-Chile: Tendered port. Rented a cab for a couple of hours. Visited downtown, the Cemetery (Amazing) and walked around the Plaza (crafts markets) before returning to ship. Lovely town of 120,000. Ushuaia-Argentina: Beautiful city, surrounded by snowcapped mountains. Rented a cab for 3 hours: Visited Terra del Fuego National Park (7$entrance fee) and Martial Glacier. Beautiful scenery. Lovely shopping and quaint restaurants on main street. Loved this port! Around the horn: The ship cruised slowed for an entire day around the horn. Port Stanley: Very long tendering process. Must provided more tendering boats.. Weather was very variable: sunny, windy, rainy, hail.. We took a shuttle bus from the pier to Gypso Cove to see the penguins. We saw them but from a distance. Very cute!!!! Walked in town, very busy this day as there were three ships in port. The island is barren, not too much to see but we are glad we got to visit this area. Very choppy seas this night, much ship movement… Puerto Madryn-Argentina: We loved this port. We took a Punta Tumbo tour. We were 3 in a very nice SUV.. Long ride but very much worth the trip as we saw and walked around thousands of Magellan penguins and their babies. What a highlight! We visited Gayman, a lovely Welch town . Returned to town, Puerto Madryn is a lovely oceanside town with a superb promenade and shops. Great weather and great guide. We lucked out in this port. This was by far our favorite port…. Montevideo-Uruguay: We walked from the pier directly to downtown to the shopping/restaurant area. Lots to visit. A 3hr walk around town allowed us to visit several blocks and plazas. Many wonderful architectural buildings. Before boarding, we sat a little outdoor pub and people watched. One liter bottle of beer: 3$ As you can see, we opted for private taxi tours instead of expensive ship tours. This way, we got to visit touristy and out of the way sights and mingle more with the locals on a personal level. (It helped that I speak the language semi-adequately and at no time did we feel unsafe). Many guests chose ship tours for security reason. Buenos Aires-Argentina: Now here is a city!! All 3 millions and plus. Disembarkation from the ship went well- followed by shuttle to the terminal. Utter chaos at the terminal. ( We learned that 3 ships were disembarking) Finally we found our driver/guide who took us to our B&B to Adrogue (30 minutes from downtown), where we spent the next 6 days. Next day, he took us on a 8 hr personal tour of the city ( The best!) Highlights: Teatro Colon (Grand building being renovated), the Plaza de Many (Gov. House, Cathedral. Town Hall, and huge and impressive works of architectural art, depicting ornate Spanish and colonial styles), Recoleta area( beautiful promenade and fashionable stores and homes) and the Cemenatrio de la Recoleta ( amazing!) ,our Lady of the Pilar Church, San Telmo, La Boca (very interesting historically and visually, the setting for painters, artisans, open air tango shows. Shopping: We shopped two full days on Calle Florida and Lavalle. Incredible experience: Beautiful stores, leather factories abound (I had a jacked made to order, very reasonably priced) , thousands of people, outdoor tango dancing, musicians etc… Very busy city. A visit to Galeria Pacifica is a must. One would need several days to thoroughly absorb and visit all that this city has to offer. We were quite impressed. The train and subway ride (extremely inexpensive) from Adrogue (1 1/2hr) to downtown was an adventure and an experience in itself- not for the claustrophobics and not up to North American standards. There is also a mini-bus service if one chooses. We stayed at : Teresita B&B: very comfortable and quiet cottage-good service. We flew back to Miami with American Airline-all went well We returned home on Dec 20th, in time for the holidays. This was a trip of a lifetime which we will remember forever. We made great friends. Would we travel on Infinity again? Definitely, Yes in a heartbeat. A& L Savoie, Ottawa Canada Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
We have taken 35 cruises. This was our third Celebrity Cruse..2nd on the Infinity. We were lucky enough to be upgraded from concierge class to a Royal suite...If not for that, we would have been totally disappointed. The suite which we ... Read More
We have taken 35 cruises. This was our third Celebrity Cruse..2nd on the Infinity. We were lucky enough to be upgraded from concierge class to a Royal suite...If not for that, we would have been totally disappointed. The suite which we spent a lot of time in and the butler Alfred were both incredible. We wish we could always travel that way! Flew into Buenos Aires on a Pre-cruise package. The Airport greet was very disorganized and after having traveled for 18 hours we then had to wait at the airport for almost 3 hours prior to being taken to our Hotel, The Panamerican. We arrived there and the rooms were not ready, the staff was extremely rude...another 3 hour wait. The room we had was very dirty looking and unkept! We arranged our own tours of Buenos Aires,The Tigre Delta region and a Tango show through Ricardo at Defrantur Tour Co. Awesome tours.. Our guide Ana spoke beautiful English and customized the tour to our liking. Very reasonable! Boarding the ship went very smoothly and efficiently. We boarded at approximately 5pm after only about a 7 minute wait. We had the second seating for dinner.Our dining room service was very poor. The menu selections were mediocre to say the least. We were lucky if we were finished in time to see the 11pm shows. The shows were average, the cruise director older than most and quite "not funny" when trying to get a joke over. The ship activities were limited and the scheduling was such you had to check everyday to see the time and place for them. There was no regularity. The staff for the most part had no idea what was going on and whenever you had a question you had to go through many people before you got the correct answer. This was very frustrating! The ports were ok although we had to stay in Montevideo an extra day because the channel to the dock was closed to traffic due to an accident with the NCL Dream and a barge carrying containers of automobiles which had spilled out and sunk. However we were able to leave the next evening and pretty much got back on schedule. Our favorite tour was a private photo safari in Puerto Montt I had booked through ALsur Tour company.. Again our guide, George was awesome. Went above and beyond our expectations! Disembarking the ship in Valparaiso went very smoothly however we were dropped off at the Santiago airport very early after an 8 hour tour.. long before the check in lines opened so we had to stand for quite awhile. All in all we did have a restful and enjoyable time due to people we met and the suite, but would we sail Celebrity again? We'd really have to think about it! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
We flew to Santiago and spend to days there prior to the cruise. We stayed in a hotel in the Providence district. Good restaurants, close Metro stations. Took a tour of the city. People were very friendly. Prices are cheap. The food is ... Read More
We flew to Santiago and spend to days there prior to the cruise. We stayed in a hotel in the Providence district. Good restaurants, close Metro stations. Took a tour of the city. People were very friendly. Prices are cheap. The food is excellent an the wines very good. I arranged the hotel, tour of the city and transportation to the ship with a tour to a winery. Before the trip a researched the brands and prices of the wines served on board the ship. I found that the price were at least six times more than buying it at the local grocery store. Holland American has a policy that you can bring wine on board and will charge $15.00 or the decorking. Problem solved, bought a case of wine at the winery for $5.00 a bottle, an opener and carried the case on board. The first thing that I did was to ask the cabin attendant for wine glasses every day. He did. Did not have to ask again. There was no glass of champagne or a crew member to take you to your cabin. The meal portions are smaller and fewer menu selections. Still, the food was excellent and the service all over was great. Great crew members. We love HA service. The passage thru the Darwin Channel was spectacular and the view of the glaciers specially the Asia glacier was awesome. Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas and the Falklands are stops nothing else, unless you want to see penguins. Buenos Aires. Love it. We spent two days and one night. I arranged dinner and show at the Carlos Gardel. A driver picked us at the pier, drove us to the show, drove us back for half the price that HA was charging. Again I used the internet for that service. I asked the driver how much would it cost to hire him for next day. He said $10.00 an hour Told him you are hired. Next day he picked us up drove all over the city and took us to a restaurant where he eats every Saturday with his family, not a tourist trap. Big lunch, excellent meat, wine, tip for $25.00. What a bargain. Montevideo> We took the city and winery tour. We were surprised. They have a tango show with a big lunch and wine. I recommend this tour. Rio. Beautiful city. Took the city and lunch tour. It was pricey but good. Rio airport. Hot, dirty, one small place to buy water, soda. Drinks were warm. Long lines to check in and security. In all a very nice cruise with a big variety from nature to city lovers. A couple of things that we did not like but I give this cruise high marks. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
The Rotterdam is quite appropriately the flagship of Holland America Line; it is beautifully appointed and seems to have been assigned an outstanding captain. The cabins are spacious and the appointments are excellent, including a bath tub ... Read More
The Rotterdam is quite appropriately the flagship of Holland America Line; it is beautifully appointed and seems to have been assigned an outstanding captain. The cabins are spacious and the appointments are excellent, including a bath tub in our rather low-category cabin. Despite some rough seas (15-18 ft swells in the Drake Passage), the ship was remarkably stable and she maneuvered wonderfully in the sometimes very tight channels around the Antarctic Peninsula. Holland America handled the air reservations and the air to ship, and ship to airport transfers professionally and with minimal trouble for the traveller. In addition, we were surprised that we got quite good seats on both flights. (The overnight schedule on Delta from and to Atlanta, to Rio and from Santiago, is a bummer on a heavily loaded 767 that is not particularly comfortable, but there is nothing Holland America can do about that.) We had no pre or post stayovers, so no hotels were involved in our trip. This is an incredible itinerary. My wife and I are not real fond of big cities when we travel, so the Rio, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago aspects of the itinerary were not so special for us, but seemed to be real hits with virtually all of our shipmates. They were also the only "hot/warm" spots on the itinerary, the rest of the time we were cruising or docked in rather cold (35-45degrees F) climes. There are just no words to describe the beauty and spectacular scenery of Antarctica, so i won't try. Holland America, however, did its best to make sure that the passengers could take full advantage of being in the last wilderness. The Antarctic Experience Team on board gave excellent lectures on the flora, fauna, sights, sounds and likely scenery of the Antarctic. From an expert on albatrosses, whales and penguins, to a geologist who had spent most of his career in the Antarctic studying the formations and its history, to an "ice pilot" with decades of experience guiding ships through the dangerous ice, the team was amazing, and approachable to boot. (One side note: In our opinion, the itinerary needs to be seen from east to west as we did on this cruise, hitting Elephant Island first was amazing, but would likely have been anti-climactic if it had come last as the west to east itinerary would do. The cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula was simply amazing. And when weather threatened to obscure the experience, the captain, aided by the "ice pilot" avoided the bad weather and found another location of amazing beauty and significance.) The non- big city ports of call were excellent as well. Just a couple of suggestions, don't do the little train in Ushuaia (sp?), it is nice but takes too long and leaves no time for the very nice little city. Second, if you are only going to do one penguin experience , do the Otway Bay at Punta Arenas where you literally walk among the penguins and see them doing everything from scampering across the grasses to swimming in the Bay, but beware if you have the early morning trip, it will be cold (at least 10 degree colder and at least 10 mph more wind than downtown). Don't miss Punta Arenas the town, the square is very nice and the handicrafts are worth visiting. At Puerto Montt, go to the lakeside cities (Puerto Arias and Fruittlar) then go to the local fish market area for a late lunch on the most amazing seafood. In Santiago, the Casablanca Valley wine tour, pre departure, is well worth the extra cost. My wife and I were extremely well pleased by all of the service personnel on board. Our dining stewards, not to mention our outstanding table mates, were attentive, knowledgeable and courteous. The Lido Restaurant was better, for its type of food, than we have experienced on any other cruise. Not to mention the great hamburgers and hot dogs from the Grill. (On a 20 day cruise, you just have to have a hamburger from time to time.) I particularly enjoyed the Culinary Center, both the demonstrations that are free and the classes that are very reasonably priced. (The Pinnacle Chef on this Cruise, Shawn from Halifax, was perfect for the instructor role in the Culinary Arts Center.) The stateroom was more than adequate, even for a 20 day cruise. The cabin attendant was unobtrusive, but always available when needed, and did a lovely job on the folded towel animals that seem to have become standard on cruise lines. Just a couple of quibbles. The Spa was, as is normal, excessively overpriced and staffed by people who one is not sure have the qualifications to do what they are doing, including the rather snooty manager. Only the sauna is available free, steam requires buying the "suite" for a daily rate of $20. The fitness center was well appointed and nicely located, but always quite crowded. (In fact, it was the only part of the ship that ever seemed crowded. The Rotterdam handles its complement of passengers with seeming ease.) The entertainment was at best entertaining. Nothing extraordinary, but entertaining. Enough said. Overall, we would recommend this itinerary to anyone looking for a true adventure. We were lucky with the weather, including the rough but manageable crossing of Drake Passage. It can be a lot worse, so be aware. We are fond of Holland America, and find particularly that the Indonesia and Philippine service crew are easier to working with than the eastern european crews on many of the other lines. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
18 day South American cruise just completed, so here are some thoughts. If Azamara seeks to be the "upscale version" for the Celebrity Line it falls short. Overall, This is NO Regent, but you do get a lot of cruise time for the ... Read More
18 day South American cruise just completed, so here are some thoughts. If Azamara seeks to be the "upscale version" for the Celebrity Line it falls short. Overall, This is NO Regent, but you do get a lot of cruise time for the buck. Embarkation: Easy, but our luggage did not get to cabin by sail time. Layout: Heaving the heavy doors on the pool deck to get anywhere must be hard for older folks...why not have sensors open the doors?? The layout of the ship seemed counterproductive. Butler service: In name only. Call them cabin stewards and stop pretending. Stateroom: Adequate, with smallish bathroom and no tub, just shower. Furnishings looked like a garage sale purchase. Captain: Exceptional communications and treated us to Fjord and glacier cruising when he couldn't get into one of the ports. Cruise direction Andrea Olivieri was a delight...and added a stargazing session Food: Unimaginative. Portions are large but seafood was mushy (where were the great mussels and fish that we saw at the ports of call??) and meat came rare even when requested well done. Desserts were flavorless. They definitely need a pastry chef. Waiters seemed to hurry us along, snatching plates even when we were not finished. Some were terrible or untrained, others seemed to respond much better. It was actually more relaxing to dine in the buffet area. Wine by glass: Come on guys, change the selection depending on the night. Very limited. One sommelier seemed clueless, the other knowledgeable. Specialty dining: 2 "special" restaurants with one visit each included in price. Sounds nice but the meals were not any better than the regular dining room. Big deal, ho hum Drinks: Costly, and having to present your room card for a drink at the pool area or in the lounge was annoying. Entertainment: The trio was great, but the orchestra (esp brass) could use some...er, tuning. Harpist was nice touch and pleasant. Comics and featured acts were so-so. Aside from the extra effort by the cruise director, the enrichment talks were abysmal. Excursions...Don't waste your time on Montevideo city tour. Stick to the penguins and scenic tours elsewhere. Azamara tours are costly, but the alternative taxi and do it yourself tours take you into uncharted waters (ie play it safe, take the tour bus and accept the extra costs).. Computers: Get there in the early morning to log on. I think they need to use a different satellite. The IT guy tries hard and was helpful, but the broadband was, ah, narrow. Spa: good Store: $7 for 4 Pepto tablets? Get real. Activities: Bridge tables set up next to the Nintendo Wii arcade. Not conducive to play. Casino: Lotsa slots. Could use some more blackjack tables in place of the video poker table that no one used. Overall, there is a lot of potential, but would benefit from some changes in the layout, the kitchen and ongoing training of the waitstaff. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
This was a difficult and disappointing trip for us. Difficult because my wife was ill for about 9 days, disappointing because of the lack of class we experienced with many of the passengers and a decline in the quality that we had ... Read More
This was a difficult and disappointing trip for us. Difficult because my wife was ill for about 9 days, disappointing because of the lack of class we experienced with many of the passengers and a decline in the quality that we had previously enjoyed on other Celebrity cruises. This review also includes our experiences on a side trip to El Calafate, Argentina, before embarking on the cruise. This was our twelfth cruise, fifth with Celebrity and third aboard Infinity. Also, this was our second time doing this itinerary - the first time was in 2004 (also aboard Infinity). That particular trip was outstanding, and perhaps, this is partially the reason that this second trip paled in comparison. Since this was going to be our second time in most ports of call, our planning emphasized visits to new locations and/or doing different activities. In most instances, we enjoyed the excursions in 2004 more than those that we did on this cruise (with 2 notable exceptions). So, by the end of this cruise, we had concluded that we had done it right the first time around. A Christmas Cruise This is the first time that we have done a Christmas or New Years cruise. I have always resisted booking a holiday cruise because there is a significant cost premium for these cruises. But the timing of the cruise ship worked perfectly with our work schedules, so we took the plunge. Now that we have done it, I will never do a Holiday cruise again. Are a few extra decorations, feeble Christmas activities, and a New Year's party really worth the 75% premium we paid? Absolutely not. Also, I did not enjoy having over 400 kids traveling with us. At times, they really strained the resources of Fun Factory. With most of the 3rd and 4th berths occupied, I can honestly say that this was the most crowded ship we have ever traveled on. We have a 5 year old, and I missed the attention she's gotten on prior Celebrity cruises. The Ship It has been 4 years since our last trip on the Infinity, and the aging of the ship is noticeable. The ship is in need of some TLC, so I hope that it gets a much needed refurbishment soon. As expected, the wear and tear is most apparent on public areas such as the Trellis restaurant (furniture), the elevators (broken buttons, worn out paneling), and the Thalassotherapy Pool (rust). The Service I am happy to report that the service we received was, for the most part, excellent. The staff in the dining room and our cabin attendants did a great job. The Food We like simple food, so we typically don't have much to say in this area. However, we did notice that the quality and variety of the food in the Trellis restaurant has deteriorated considerably. We kept seeing the same food (especially meat) presented with a different sauce over and over again. On the plus side, I can not recommend enough the Rodizio dinner that was offered as a casual alternative on the Oceanview cafe on several days during the cruise. It was excellent. As word got out, reservations became hard to get. We ate on the United States restaurant, and the experience was excellent, except for a pushy sommelier that kept trying to sell a bottle of wine to us, even though we only wanted a glass each. Passengers This was the first time that we travel on a ship where the majority of the passengers were not from the US. I would guess that 60% to 65% were from Latin America. Of those, the great majority were from Mexico (around 1000 passengers). My wife and I were both born and raised in Latin American countries, so I was disappointed, and sometimes embarrassed, by the rudeness and lack of class exhibited by many of the Latin American passengers. I saw people picking food with their hands on the Oceanview Cafe, cutting of lines, incessantly talking during shows, blatantly disregarding the rules (for dress code, age limits, behavior), throwing discarded bingo cards directly at the cruise staff (actually hitting her on the face several times), and trying to sneak into the Persian Garden on several occasions. Also, there was significant Spanish foul language from the younger crowd. My personal favorite was having our neighbor smoking cigars in his underwear on the balcony next to ours. What a sight! I truly believe that most of the passengers on this ship had never been on a cruise before, and did not know how to behave. This does not mean that we did not meet some very nice people during the cruise. We met some great families from Mexico, Venezuela and other Latin American countries. It was also a pleasure to share our daily experiences with our tablemates from Hawaii. Over the years of cruising, my wife and I have formulated this theory: the best cruises are the ones that have a general mix of passengers, with no particular group dominating. This cruise has reinforced that belief. Children's Services In our four prior Celebrity cruises, we never had more than 50 kids on board. While we think that the facilities, programs, and staff for young children are outstanding for groups of that size, they were struggling with such a large number of kids. Typically they have 5 counselors, but for this trip they added an extra 5. The lack of truly special programs for Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day was disappointing. Also, I knew that it was only a matter of time before Celebrity (and all other cruise lines) would figure a way of monetizing the children's program. By adding a few perks (such behind the scenes tours, costumes), re-branding existing programs and offering unlimited time at the Fun Factory (including premium $$ hours), Celebrity has created a program called VIP. In our cruise, they wanted $220usd per child for this program - which was absurdly overpriced. We did not sign up our daughter. The fact that only 9 children out of the 400+ children on board signed up for the program speaks loud and clear. Please note that kids are now allowed in the Thalassotherapy Pool, if the are with their parents. So, the peace and quiet of the area has been somewhat compromised. Travel Journal December 14 - Our goal was to try different things on this trip. That also included the airline. We decided to fly with COPA from Orlando to Buenos Aires via Panama City. We found chaos in the Panama City airport flying down to Buenos Aires and coming back home. For some reason, about half of the passengers seemed to have duplicate boarding passes, which made a mess of the boarding process. We were directly affected by this on our way down. The seats on the plane were very tight and uncomfortable, and the food was bad. This was our first and last experience with COPA. December 15 - Buenos Aires We arrived in Buenos Aires around 5:30am, and after immigration found our driver fairly quickly (we arranged all of our transfers in Buenos Aires thru DeFrantur). We made it to our hotel around 7:00am. The Claridge Hotel has good reviews in TripAdvisor, but we found the front desk personnel to be arrogant and unhelpful. The location of the hotel, near Florida street (a pedestrian shopping street), was not a good choice for us. That street seemed to have a sea of humanity every day (maybe because of holiday shopping). It was full of people trying to get you into their stores, street performers and beggars. On our previous trip, we stayed in Recoleta, a neighborhood we enjoyed much more. Even though our ship was departing from Chile, we came to Argentina first in order to visit the Glacier National Park near the town of El Calafate. So, today was an in-transit day. We finally got our room key around 11am and took a shower and a nap. Around 3pm we visited the Recoleta area and the market that is outside the cemetery on weekends. With an early flight the next day, we called it a day very early. Since we were coming back to the Claridge after our visit to El Calafate, we left 2 large suitcases with the hotel and took only 2 small ones to El Calafate. December 16 - El Calafate Our flight was at 8:30am, and we had schedule a transfer at 5am at the hotel. (Why so early? Well, having experienced Ezeiza airport before, we knew that we might need 3 hours to get to the gate.) The driver never showed up, so at 5:45am the hotel's driver took us to the airport. We were lucky and the line at the Aerolineas Argentinas counter was very short when we got there. Our flight left on time and we had a pleasant 3 hr flight to El Calafate. The airport at El Calafate is tiny, it had one gate. However, it is a modern facility. El Calafate is a small town in the middle of nowhere, whose only reason to exist is to serve as gateway to the Glacier National Park about 45 miles away. The town has a feel of a small alpine village, even though it sits at the shores of Argentino Lake. We found the people living there to be very nice and helpful. Our hotel, Calafate Parque, was very good and had a great location (one block away from the town's main street). The staff was great and I would recommend it to anyone who visits the area. The local operator (Prestigio) that picked us up at the airport offered a variety of tours to the Glacier Park, so we booked 3 tours with them for the next 2 days. That afternoon a contacted another operator (Cerro Frias) that offered a 2.5 hr horseback ride and dinner at a local estancia. I was a little concerned about my 5 yr old managing such a long ride, but she did great. We went up a small mountain and the views were amazing, including the horns of Torres de Paine on the Chilean side. We saw plenty of local wildlife and tons of wild flowers. Then, we went back to the main house and had an asado (BBQ) dinner. We had a great time! December 17 - El Calafate We typically prefer private tours, but a private guide will add little value here as everyone ends up in the same places anyway. So, on this day we joined a bus tour to the Perito Moreno glacier. We had about a 1 hour ride to the entrance of the park where you will pay an entrance fee of around $10usd. As were getting close to the glacier, the guide offered an optional 1 hour cruise to the south face of the glacier. We accepted the offer and had great views of the glacier (however, if you are doing the all glaciers boat tour at any point during your visit, I would skip this in favor of spending more time at the time in trails that face the glacier). After the boat ride, we were taken to the main visitor center, which has a decent restaurant and clean bathrooms. In front of the main building there is a trail and walkways that you follow downward. From these walkways, you get great views of the glacier. The sound of the ice cracking was amazing, and we were lucky enough to see a large caving while we were there. A memorable experience. December 18 - El Calafate Our second tour was an all day boat ride in a large catamaran to see 3 other glaciers (upsala, onelli and Spegazzini). The boat was packed with people, but each person gets a seat. As were seating down, one of the staff members announced that they had a few spots left in the VIP area. I jump at the opportunity and it was money well spent. For the extra money, we got very wide and comfortable seats in a great location (on the top floor with captain). We also got unlimited free drinks (such as coffee, hot chocolate and sodas). The VIP area also had 2 small balconies from which to step out and take pictures. We were very comfortable during the whole trip and avoided the mass of people trying to take photos below. I truly recommend that you pay the extra money and reserve seats on the VIP section when making reservations. The views the glaciers and icebergs from the boat were amazing. As part of the tour, we had a picnic lunch on the shore of a lake with small icebergs. The lunch was prepared by our hotel. Our daughter had a blast. We added a dinner and show at an estancia called El Galpon del Glaciar. So, on the way back they dropped us at the ranch about 1.5 hours before the program began. We had the opportunity to go horseback riding again, watch a farm hand sheer a lamb, ate a great dinner, and watch a descent show. For the price, it was a very good choice, but I would recommend not combining this with a full day tour like we did. We were worn out, and got to the hotel around 11pm. December 19 - Buenos Aires I wish I had scheduled more time in this region and less time back in Buenos Aires, when I planned this side trip. We had a great time here, and it would turn out to be the highlight of our trip. We got back to Buenos early afternoon. This time we flew into Newberry airport near downtown, so we were back to the Claridge hotel in no time. We took it easy the rest of the day. December 20 - Buenos Aires When we were planning the trip, we decided to take this day to visit Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It is 1 hour away from BA via ferry (Buquebus). We bought the tickets via their website about 2 months in advance, which turned out to be a great decision as the ship was sold out. The trip to Colonia was underwhelming. The historical part of town is tiny and can be seen in 2 hours. We had a very good lunch in a local restaurant, and did a little bit of shopping. Given the hassles of immigration (you are going to another country) on both ferry trips, I would not recommend doing this trip just for a day. Too much work, for such small payout. December 21 - Santiago My wife woke up with a fever, and was not feeling well. However, we had to catch an 8:30am flight to Santiago, and we pressed on. The check-in line for Aerolineas Argentinas was huge even though we arrived at the airport at 5:30am. It took about 1.5 hrs to check our luggage in, but we made to the gate with plenty of time. My wife was not doing well at all when we finally landed in Santiago. I had arranged a transfer with SportsTour from the airport to the hotel, but when we got out of customs no one was waiting for us. I called them to see what was going on, they said someone would be there right away. 20 minutes later and still no show, I called again and said if I don't see anyone in 2 minutes and would take a taxi. About a minute later someone from another company showed up and told me that he had been hired to take us to the hotel. The bottom line: SportsTour forgot about us and they ended up calling someone else to take care of us. We arrived at the Santiago Park Plaza, and as soon as we got there, we ask the front desk to call a doctor. The doctor was in our room in 20 minutes. My wife was diagnosed with bronchitis and given some antibiotics. A lot of rest was recommended. So, that killed our plans for the rest of the day in Santiago. I can not speak highly enough about the staff at this hotel. They showed genuine concern, and the fact that they got a doctor so fast was impressive. December 22 - Valparaiso My wife was still not feeling well but was doing slightly better. The day before I gave our contact at SportsTour a verbal whipping for non-performance. They promised that they would arrive on time for our transfer to Valparaiso. 15 minutes after the agreed time, SportsTour was no where in sight. Our representative gave me the cell number of the driver and, of course, I called him. He said that he was having trouble with the van and that he was going to be there in 10 minutes. To say that I was concerned about beginning a 90 minute trip in a van with mechanical troubles would be a major understatement. Four years ago, SportsTour gave us a great tour of Santiago; this time around they failed miserably. We made it to the pier around noon, and there were no lines. We were aboard by 12:30pm. We took care of spa appointments, reservation in the United States restaurants, and then my wife's fever returned. December 23 - Day at Sea My wife went to see the doctor, and she was diagnosed with the Flu. She ended receiving respiratory treatments for the next 3 days, and pretty much was out of commission in our cabin for the next 4 days. December 24 - Puerto Montt On our previous trip, I noticed that driving in the Puerto Montt region was pretty easy, so I arranged a car rental thru the local Hertz agency. Their brought the car to the pier and collected the car when we returned. My original plan was to go horseback riding in the morning, and then circle Llanquihue Lake in the afternoon. My wife stayed aboard the ship, so my 5 year old daughter and me collected the rental car and headed to Quinta del Lago. This working ranch sits between the 2 main volcanoes: Osorno and Calbuco. The ranch is owned by a lady from Washington State and her Chilean husband. We had a great time riding the hills of this beautiful land. After 2 visits, I think the best way to enjoy this region is by doing some kind of activity, such as river rafting or horseback riding. This region begs exploration, and not in a bus. Even though the rental worked out fine, there are plenty of taxis that will give you a tour just outside the pier entrance. They may not speak good English, but you don't need an interpreter to appreciate the beauty. This is a tender intensive itinerary. When we booked this cruise a year in advance, we specifically asked if "priority tendering" was still one of the benefits of having a Concierge Class cabin, and were told that it was. Well, when we met our cabin steward, he told us that Celebrity had recently stopped giving priority tender tickets to CC cabins. I was angry, and let the concierge know that I had private excursions in every port and needed to be out the ship early. The next morning, priority tender tickets showed up in our cabin. With tickets and help from some of our cruise critic friends, we were able to take early tenders on every port. I was told that in some ports, people had to wait up to 2 hours to tender the regular way. Yikes!!! December 25 - Day at Sea Christmas Day. I thought that Celebrity would have a full day of special activities for the kids, but the only thing that they did that different was a rather disorganized children's parade through the ship and a quick visit with Santa. All kids got some kind of gift. My daughter got a child-size bathrobe, which she loved. My wife and I have always enjoyed the Spa on our Celebrity cruises. This was no exception, but the prices are really getting out of hand. With so many days at sea, we purchased passes to the Persian Garden at the beginning of the cruise. Because of my wife illness and lack of time, we did not go there enough to warrant the price that we paid. For those of you that will be traveling on the Infinity in the next 6 months, I can not recommend Dora (from Hungary) enough. She has to be the best masseuse that I have encountered in over my 10 years of cruising. Ask for her in the Spa. December 26 - Day at Sea The weather was very overcast with low clouds, which limited somewhat the view of the Chilean fjords. However, the scenery was still spectacular. December 27 - Punta Arenas Our experience in Punta Arenas 4 years ago was underwhelming, so this time we looked for something outside the typical tours. I bumped into a website for a local ranch that offered several types of activities, such as trekking, hiking and a small zip line canopy. They arranged a program for us, and we decided to go with them. Our trip to Fundo San Fernando turned out to be an expensive disappointment. Our program called for a 2 hour hike to Cerro Campana, followed by lunch, then some canopy or horseback riding. The family of the Fundo was our hosts, and they were a very nice. However, the Cerro Campana hike turned into a 4 hour ordeal (I guess highly fit individuals can make up the hill and back in 2 hours, but there is no way the average person can do it that fast) and threw our whole day out of sync. My wife (feeling slightly better) was bored to death, as she waited for us in the main house with our daughter. In summary, this is a work in progress as a tourist attraction, and maybe in a few years, they will have all the kinks worked out. December 28 - Ushuaia On our last trip we visited Ushuaia first, and then Punta Arenas, which gave us the opportunity to see the 5 large glaciers a few hours away from Ushuaia. This time around, I got up at 4am, and missed them because we passed them earlier that night. What a disappointment! For this port, we contacted local operator Canal - they had provided once of the best excursions during our first trip. We visited the national park last time, so this time we did a 4x4 trip to Lake Fagnano. I am happy to report, that they did not disappoint. We had a great guide and enjoyed our ride thru the Fuegan forest and a BBQ lunch next to the lake. Even my wife's spirits were lifted during the day. I can not recommend them enough. December 29 - Day at Sea We had nice weather as we visited Cape Horn. December 30 - Day at Sea We went to see a comedian/juggler on this night. He was so bad that he was getting heckled by the kids in the front row. Overall, the nightly entertainment at the theatre was very poor. The production shows have been around for years now, and the rest of the entertainment was mediocre at best (with the exception of a comedian on the next to last night of the cruise - he was pretty good). I think Pampas devils have been in every Celebrity cruise we have been on (at least it seems that way), and trust me they are not that good. This is another area were a decline in quality was evident. December 31 - Port Stanley With some other CC members, we arranged a private excursion (with Neil Rowlands) to Volunteer Point to see a King Penguin colony. There were 14 of us. In essence, the same tour that Celebrity offers under the name "A Day with Royalty", but 30% less in cost. In our previous trip, we visited the rookery at Kidney Cove and had a wonderful time (at that time the trip to Volunteer Point did not exist). The opportunity to see King Penguins seemed to be worth the long trip to get there (2.5 hours). We found the trip to Volunteer Point too arduous. The last part (well over 1 hour) has no roads, and progress is very slow. What these Land Rovers can do, is truly amazing. Although the payoff is outstanding: 3 rookeries (King, Gentoo and Magellanic), we found the trip over there (and back) painfully long and rough. I must say, that some of the other members of our private tour though that the whole experience was great. Having done 2 tours in the Falklands, I would recommend the excursion to Bluff Cove rookery as a better alternative. Save the long trip to Punta Tombo in Puerto Madryn (which is also long, but over a paved/gravel road the whole way). After a long day, we still had a formal night and New Year's festivities ahead of us. I found no sense in Celebrity's holding the main party at the Constellation Lounge and requesting that all children be removed from the location by 11pm. As expected, most families ignored this rule. In addition to the Constellation Lounge, other parties where simultaneously held at the Rendezvous Lounge (with Latin Music), Michael's Club (with a string quarter) and the Cova Café (with members of the Celebrity orchestra). All locations were packed by 11pm with no seats to be found. I don't understand why the Trellis restaurant or the Celebrity theatre were not used. We roamed the ship until midnight, trying to stay awake. We did the countdown at the Rendezvous Lounge, and went to bed soon after. January 1 - Day at Sea My wife was finally starting to feel a little better. So, we enjoyed the ship together for the first time in our trip. We had dinner on the alternative restaurant on Deck 10 aft. We ended getting a show with our dinner. For about 1 hour, we went passed several whales (some of them very playful) that were heading south for the summer. This is the first time we had seen large whales in the open ocean, so it was a thrill for us. Those in the main dining room went unaware of the show outside as no announcement was made. January 2 - Puerto Madryn In Puerto Madryn, we contacted local operator Huinca Travel for a tour of peninsula Valdez. On our previous trip, we used Huinca for an excursion to Punta Tombo, which was excellent. At that time, the owner of Huinca, German Beck, gave us a great tour. His company has grown a lot since then, and he no longer has time to do the tours himself. We have stayed in touch with him since our trip 4 years ago, so we were so happy to learn that we would join us in our tour as a passenger. We had a great time with German and our guide. I recommend them without hesitation. I was a little disappointed in that our visit to Peninsula Valdez was between whale season and the peak of the sea lion season. However, we saw seals, sea lions and penguins (mostly from a distance of 50 to 100 feet. I must say that the color of the ocean on this area was truly remarkable. Having now visited both Punta Tombo and Peninsula Valdez, my recommendation would be as follows: (1) if your trip falls within whale season or the peak Sea Lion breeding season, go to Peninsula Valdez (see the penguins in the Falklands or Punta Arenas); (2) if your visit falls in between whale or sea lion season (or if can not enough of the penguins) go to Punta Tombo. For either tour, the distance that you will travel in total is the same. January 3 - Day at Sea The wind really picked up. Fortunately the wind was in the direction the ship was traveling, so the incremental ship movement was minimal. Around 5:30pm, the captain announced that because of the high winds for tomorrow, we would skip Punta del Este and instead, head directly to Montevideo and spend 2 days there. We really did not like Montevideo during our last visit, so this change to the itinerary was unwelcome by us. January 4 - Montevideo We had a private excursion set up in Punta del Este for this day. However, we were able to cancel with no problems. During our first in 2004, we arranged a city tour. That tour was really bad and spent 2 hours touring residential areas. Since the city itself did not warrant more than half a day, we walked out of the ship with no plans. Once we got to the area where the taxis are waiting, we asked the supervisor where to go off the tourist path and do some horseback riding. He suggested the Minas region in the center of the country. I usually do a lot of research before any trip we make, but this time we decide to just take a chance and go with the flow. Wrong decision!! After a 2 hour ride from Montevideo, we arrived at a vacation center in the mountain region usually reserved for employees of the electricity company of Uruguay. I do not kid you when I say that this place look like the hotel in "The Shining" movie. We got off in the main courtyard and were welcome by sad music blaring from a speaker from the 1950's and some very elderly people being wheeled around by staff dressed in white. It was so bad, that it was funny! We got there around 11:30am and were quickly informed that the horse trip would be at 3pm. So, that took care of that. Then we asked about eating lunch, and were told that the restaurant would open at 1pm. Fortunately, our driver convinced the restaurant manager to let us eat early. Our second stop was a waterfall called "Salto del Penitente". At this point we were skeptical about everything, but the name held promise: "Jump of the Penitent". After a 30 minute ride, we arrive at the waterfall. My wife and I looked at each other, and just starting laughing. My cabin shower had more water falling than this cascade. What a joke! After that, and because my daughter was starting to feel ill, we told the driver that we had enough and wanted to go back to the ship. This may our worst tour ever! January 5 - Montevideo After yesterday's fiasco, my wife and I decided just to do a little shopping and return to the ship quickly. January 6 - Buenos Aires The end of our trip. We were able to disembark quickly, and had secured transportation from the pier to our hotel for the day in advance. Our plane was not leaving until 3:00am that night, so we booked a room for a day at a hotel not worth mentioning. We did some shopping and then got some rest before leaving at midnight for the airport. After a very disappointing and difficult trip, we were ready to go home. We love to travel and we love to cruise. So, we look forward to better vacations in the future. Major bad luck and some bad decision making on our part seemed to doom this one. However, I do hope that Celebrity addresses some of the issues discussed above. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
After a beautiful 2 days in Buenos Aires, we were taken to the ship by our guide and translator Lydia. Check in was very smooth and we were invited to dine in Aqualina at 7:30pm. Apparently they no longer charge to dine in the alternative ... Read More
After a beautiful 2 days in Buenos Aires, we were taken to the ship by our guide and translator Lydia. Check in was very smooth and we were invited to dine in Aqualina at 7:30pm. Apparently they no longer charge to dine in the alternative restaurants. Guests are only expected to tip $5.00 per person, which is very reasonable. Upon having our picture taken for the cabin card, we were given a glass of pink Champagne. We had to find our way to our suite, since there wasn't anybody to take us. The Penthouse suite is very nice and spacious, although not as large as I expected. The bathroom is comfortably sized. The counter however had spots of soap residue or something on them. We told the butler to please have the cabin steward clean it up. That was disturbing to me. Dick liked the 2nd bathroom. I loved the Jacuzzi tub. There is lots of closet space, with plenty of hangers, many shelves, but not enough drawers in my opinion. Finally we did a ship inspection and noticed several areas that were not really up to par. The teak on the chairs was in bad need of refinishing, as were most of the handrails. Then it was time for lunch, which was buffet style and everything we had was very good. No complaints there. Luggage arrived fairly timely, just in time for the lifeboat drill. The actual explanations of what to do in case of an emergency took place in the dining room. The tables were set and I felt it may be unsanitary to have all the passengers sit there fiddling with their vests etc. Maybe the theater would have been a better venue. Then we all went to our actual life boat stations. When that was over, it was time for a cocktail and we realized there were no coasters. The suite is furnished in fine Cherry woods and it's a shame to set iced glasses on that. We used Kleenex. The small paper coasters would be great. Capt. Carl Smith is young, funny and very personable. He makes a lot of informative announcements, which Dick and I enjoyed, but others think are too much. Different people have different tastes. In the evening we had dinner in the Discoveries dining room with 2 other couples. The plates are basic white, not in any way decorative. Flatware is basic stainless steel. The service was adequate at best. It took a long time for somebody to take our drink order and we finally hijacked Yuli.... our favorite cocktail waitress. She took care of us from then on, although I don't think we were actually in her section. It took even longer to have our food order taken. None of the food items were delivered to the correct person. In other words, I ordered Prime Rib and Ed ordered Shrimp, the waiter tried to deliver Ed's Shrimp to me and my Prime rib to Ed. That happened with every course. I had to request and wait for horseradish and although Yorkshire pudding was supposed to be part of my dinner, I never received it. Hellena refused to eat her appetizer because there were so many finger/thumb prints on the plate she got disgusted. Dinner took an easy 2 ½ hrs. so we missed the show. We tried Discoveries again later and the service was fine. So it depends on which section you're in. TV programming is ok at best, and any good movies are Pay per view. Thank goodness for the DVDs we brought. One afternoon was a Cruise Critic discussion group get together with the Hotel Director, Food & Beverage Mgr., Front Desk Mgr. and Mahalia. They were eager to hear our suggestions for improvement and there were quite a few. Dick and I decided to "dine in suite". The dining room menu was delivered around 4pm and we placed our order with Raj, our Butler. At 7pm he prepared our table and served us dinner, brought up in courses from the dining room. Raj has worked in a Relaix & Chateau hotel and is very well trained. During the evening Xavier, the Asst. Chief Housekeeper came to check and make sure everything went well. We found out that nobody had ever requested this! We had a couple of cocktail parties and ordered appetizers etc. from Raj and it worked out very well. A good time was had by all Things on the ship got better every day. We spoke to the F & B Manager and Hotel Director practically daily and they kept asking for suggestions, which we were happy to make, and whenever they could, they would implement them. We had no major complaints. The crew can't do enough, the food is good and anything that needs fixing gets done when you ask them. We ate in Prime C and Aqualina several times. The food and service there is great. I don't recommend the NY Strip. It seems to be overdone most of the time. Everybody loves the Lobster. For breakfast and lunch the Windows Cafe is very good. The Pool Grill has Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Nachos, all kinds of "comfort food" and wonderful fresh fries. A few times we tried Breeza, which is the buffet at night. They have Sushi, Sashimi, and stir fry to order, a pasta bar and all kinds of food. When you're not real hungry, that's the place to go. We tried the Elemis Spa. The services are very expensive and when I questioned the receptionist, telling her that it's much cheaper on other ships, I was told that South America adds a tax to all services. That would explain the high pricing for shore excursions also. The spa facilities are adequate at best - nothing fancy. Near the front desk is a co-ed waiting area. Men's and women's locker rooms, steam room, showers and bathrooms can be accessed from there. From the locker room one can access the private outdoor Jacuzzi and lounge area. Unlimited access to that area is $113.00 for the duration of the cruise. New Years Eve was handled perfectly and everybody enjoyed the toast on the pool deck and entertainment put on by the entertainment staff in the Looking Glass Lounge. Management was really good about keeping the buffet open longer, so returning guests can eat there or at the pool grill. Finally we arrived in Valparaiso, where we had to disembark. We decided 18 days is not enough. Disembarkation was pretty organized. Our guide and driver met us at the terminal and we went off on our tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Overall, I would say Azamara has a "journey" ahead of them, but if the staff continues to try as hard as they are, they'll make it. We will try it again. If anybody has questions, I'll be happy to answer them. My email is traveler_chris@hotmail.com. Read Less

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