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Rod Emmerson looks at the nuts and bolts of a luxury cruise through the Greek Isles and Turkish Coast.
Pre-cruise in Athens
Whether you’re a classical history buff or a fan of graffiti, Athens offers a lot. Arriving a day earlier, and adding a night at the end of your cruise allows plenty of time to find your rhythm in the organised chaos. Azamara booked us into the Hotel Melia, in central Athens, a perfect midrange hotel, nicely appointed, a cab rank outside and well positioned to zip off to see numerous sights. The Melia’s rooftop pool is a welcome retreat from the day’s heat, and the poolside restaurant offers an uninterrupted night view of the Parthenon but dining is best at one of the numerous cafes in the shadows of the Acropolis. If you prefer absolute top shelf hotel luxury, then check out don’t you will not pass up a suite at the Grande Bretagne in Syntagma Square. We easily walked to the Acropolis and surrounds, did serious shopping on Ermou St, The Plaka, between Monstiraki and Syntagma, and tried the cafes near the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea.
Early afternoon and we’re winding through the Athenian traffic on the 30-minute Azamara coach transfer from the Melia to the port of Piraeus. This is one of the largest, busiest ports in Europe, and handling passengers is something it has done for centuries. Our terminus is busy but the organisation is slick. Within minutes of arrival, we’re rolling through the final stages of check in. Most of this can be done online before departure but, as luck would have it, our login details refused to work. However, the problem was quickly identified and resolved.
The various rules of engagement are clearly spelled out here. Given we were passengers from outside the EU, our passports were held for the duration. A final security check and secure boarding passes issued, we were bouncing up the gangway.
The Azamara Journey is a French-built R-Class mid-size cruise ship that began life some 15 years ago as R6 for Renaissance Cruises. Just 181m-long, sporting 11 decks and a capacity for 694 passengers, it underwent a multimillion dollar refit (with its sister ship, the Azamara Quest) a couple of years ago, and is now fully focused on premium destination cruising.
The ship is gleaming, a brilliant white atop a deep blue hull, reminiscent of royal livery.
Boarding on Deck 4, we’re greeted by security staff and crew and left to explore. Rich carpets, timbered balustrades, wood-panelling, quality soft furnishings and tasteful artwork come into view and there is an immediate sense of refinement and luxury.
There’s a range of cabins (or staterooms) across five decks, between three decks of communal areas, which splits traffic at peak hours. Our Club Veranda Stateroom is on Deck 6. The sleek 24sq m cabin is delightfully appointed with quality furnishings and amenities for self- indulgence. Our bed is divine and has enough clearance to stow luggage with ample wardrobe space close by. Outside is enough balcony space for a very relaxing breakfast as the turquoise Mediterranean slips by.
The only smoking area is on Deck 9 and it becomes a meeting place for the Montecristo cigar smokers and others to gather and tell very tall inebriated yarns.
Life on board
It’s all about fabulous destinations on an elegant ship, so life is pampered at every corner. Socially, like any cruise, you can join in or opt out.
Our cabin is serviced meticulously by day, capped with an evening turn-down service. Staff and crew are polite and quick to engage a cheery greeting as they go about their chores. Foodies regularly switch between all restaurants, grills and cafes. Dress regulations are marginally relaxed in the plush dining areas of Aqualina and Prime C restaurants. Men may slink in without a tie, but a jacket is essential. Jeans, no matter how stiff the label, will set eyes rolling.
Discoveries Restaurant is a pinch more relaxed, but the menu, wine list and silver service is divine. Thanks to its relaxed atmosphere and blind-eye dress code, the buffet-style Windows Cafe is the most conducive, and where we dine most evenings.
The Pool Grill and Mosaic Café are good options for a quick bite. The lush Looking Glass Lounge becomes our watering hole, and a great escape from the popular Cabaret Lounge and casino.
A must-read is the in room daily newsletter, which becomes our best source of information on everything shipshape. Expanded information is available on the inhouse TV channel.
Fellow shipmates are mostly American, with a light mix of European, South African, Australian and Kiwis, and all very sociable. On-board entertainment is varied and well patronised. Passengers can fully expect to chat with the captain on his customary walks. The jogging/walking track is an ideal place to burn off the excess of rich dining, as is the gym and health spa.
In the Mediterranean heat, however, the most popular spots by far are the pool by day, and the bars by night. The curse of the cruise world is norovirus, so antiseptic handwash stations are everywhere. Don’t try to shake hands with the captain. The best you will ever get is a knuckle-to-knuckle tap and a wink.
Billed as the Greek Isles and Turkish Riviera voyage, this fabulous seven-night itinerary is a round-trip from Athens, taking in Mykonos, Kusadasi, Kos, Rhodes, Marmaris and Santorini, with an AzAmazing Evenings event in Ephesus, on the Turkish Coast. You have 14 hours or so to explore these exquisite historic ports. The ship’s travel desk offers the best connection with locally guided tours, or you’re free to explore at your own pace. The jewel in the crown is the Azamara classical concert in the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus with the Camerata Izmir Orchestra. Passengers will dine out on this for years to come.
Cruising parts of the politically unstable Mediterranean in the 21st century on a luxurious ship brimming with rather well-heeled Western passengers is not something overlooked by Azamara. Passengers, crew and ship safety is obviously paramount and the behind-the-scenes security measures are said to be state-of-the-art. Onboard is an ever-smiling, visible, security presence whose duties extend beyond portside passenger screening.
A day out, and there is no escaping the preparation for disembarkation. Our luggage goes into the hallway the night before, with backpacks kitted out to last us the next 12 hours. The early morning processing of so many passengers in bulk is honed to a fine art. Once we’ve had breakfast and a farewell with shipmates, our passports collected and security cleared, we’re back down the gangway to our waiting luggage and driver. With a night back at the Melia, we spend the rest of the day exploring Athens, privately wishing we had another week up our sleeves to do it all again. Thoroughly recommended.
1. AZAmazing evenings are a MUST DO on your Azamara cruise. These private, bespoke cultural events are complimentary and highly recommended that you pre-book.
2. More overnight and longer stays in many ports allows you to experience key destinations at night such as a Venice gondola ride by sunset.
3. Experience authentic local restaurants on select voyages in Asia and Europe – all included in your cruise price.
4. The smaller Azamara ships means you visit unique ports of call, and you often dock much closer to the centre of the city or town. Comfortable shoes a must!
5. You cannot cruise with Azamara without trying one or both of the speciality restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C – another experience not to be missed.
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