Posts Tagged ‘Oia’

I recently came back from a wonderful 10-day Athens-to-Istanbul Azamara Club Cruise. This was a relaxing way to see some of the key regional highlights. So how did I decide on this particular cruise and cruise line?

  • Size of Ship: At up to 700 passengers, this is a fairly small ship. We went early in the season (mid-June), so there were only about 550 passengers on board.
  • Time of Year: Wanted to go in the shoulder season (mid-June) to avoid the tourist crowds and intense heat. Even so, we experienced 80+ degree weather most of the trip.
  • Ports-of-Call: Athens (2 nights), Nauplion, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Bodrum, Ephesus, Istanbul (2 nights).
  • Time in Port: Having 2 nights in both Athens and Istanbul really enhances the experience, and also adds to the ease of embarkation / disembarkation. Also, we would typically arrive in port at 7:00 a.m. and leave at 10:00 p.m., allowing us to experience the nightlife and to take longer, more in-depth excursions.
  • Sea Days: There was only one sea day.  I wanted to be off exploring the ports as much as possible, so this was really important. However, the one sea day we had towards the end of the cruise was welcome.
  • Type of Passengers: The average age of an Azamara guest is 45 – 55, so we were not the youngest people on the cruise. It was, however, a good mix of all ages (although they do not have a kids program). Also, we are not the black tie type, so “country club casual” is our preference. You always have the option to dress formally, but we found most people did not. All-in-all, a very casual, low-key atmosphere.
  • Entertainment: This is not a priority to us. That said, they had a nice variety of quality venues, including movies, jazz, comedy, pop singer, pop music violin player, and local entertainers in certain ports-of-call.
  • Partially Inclusive: Tips, specialty coffees, house wines, bottled water and soda are included in the fare. This is an important consideration because the true all-inclusive cruises include all alcohol and shore excursions. If neither of these are important to you, then you have to question whether it is a good value. Some cruise lines instead give you on-board credit which allows you to spend the money as you wish.
  • Shore Excursions: They had a good variety of reasonably priced options. We chose to use third parties at a couple of the ports so we could get a more customized experience and be nimble enough to miss the crowds. Caution: Some cruise lines let the people on their shore excursions off first. Azamara follows no such practices.

And what surprised me?

  • Spaciousness: Even with 550 of my closest friends on board, the ship felt very open and uncrowded.
  • Embarkation / Disembarkation Process: Utterly painless. Literally walked into the terminal, was immediately greeted by an Azamara representative, guided right up to the desk, checked in and was on-board within 15 minutes (with champagne in hand). Disembarkation was just as simple and, even better, we did not have to leave until 9:30 a.m.
  • Tenders: At a number of the ports we had to take in tenders. This can be a very, very time consuming exercise on the larger ships. Not at all the case with Azamara. We never waited to get off the ship and did not have to wait more than 15 minutes in port to get back on-board.
  • Dining: The main dining room and casual buffet venues did not have the quality of food I expected from a luxury-lite experience. For example, frozen fish while sailing on the Med / Aegean? What was very good to excellent were the specialty restaurants, the theme nights out on deck, and the food made-to-order at the Mosaic Cafe (buffet venue). The only other guests who I ran into with similar feedback were the Aussies and Kiwis, so  I concluded we are just spoiled by our own fresh and local choices back home!
  • Sunset Bar: This is located at the back of the ship and is a perfect place to enjoy your meal while taking in the beautiful scenery and weather. You do need to eat in the Mosaic Cafe (buffet) to enjoy this special spot, but we found it to be the best place to start and end the day.
  • Quiet: Very few announcements were made over the loud speakers. This can be quite annoying on larger, multi-lingual lines (I mean once is bad enough, but then in four other languages???). This is also a line which is not pushing you to buy things on-shore. Some other cruise lines have “educational” sessions where they teach you what to look for in the local goods and provide you will a bunch of coupons and maps. Unless you are a shopper, this is a waste of time.
  • Bridge Visit: Many of the cruise lines, for security reasons, no longer have bridge tours. We were pleasantly surprised to be invited to attend such a tour.

The following will give you a sense of the historical significance and incredible beauty of the region:

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