October 2014 - Azamara Quest to Europe - Mediterranean
12 nights on a relatively small ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and virtually no complaints to be made. This is THE way to cruise! We were met at the airport and driven, just the two of us, in a Mercedes limousine to a lovely little hotel in Rome where we were made comfortable and familiarized with the process and the trip. We also go to meet some warm fellow passengers. Let it be known that this is a cruise taken by almost totally experienced cruisers and certainly of a mature variety. Other than the captain's 3 children, there were no children on board, nor are there facilities to care for them.
After a night at out leisure, we were transported to the ship and processed quickly and with no fuss. That pretty well sums up the handling of the entire cruise, the crew was well past superb and the senior staff, right to the top, were more than willing to help make everything right.
The first night's dinner was a revelation. Beef that could be cut with a fork, vegetables that still had crunch. Gelato!! Real gelato and a different flavor nightly. (Ok, I'm a gelato freak.) The food was equally as good each night. The serving staff knew what to do and how to do it each step of the meal. It was fine dining afloat, without question.
Daytimes were well handled. Except for the daily briefing from the bridge, there are no ship wide announcements. No calls to Bingo, no screams for "bar service". There is a list of beer, wine and spirits provided throughout the day and evening as well as with meals that are included in the cruise fare. It's not a problem to find a suitable libation. The cafe on deck 9 was clean, neat and staffed so that almost everything was brought to the guest even though it was a buffet set up. Real silverware, plates and cloth napkins everywhere. Oh, did I mention that as we are long time RCCL cruisers there was a bottle of champagne in the room for us and petit fours each afternoon as well as a fruit bowl in our room. The bed was really soft and the mini-bar largely included.
On day 3 we were treated to a shore excursion as part of the trip. A lovely concert at Olympus in the original amphitheater. I tiny complaint was the lack of lighting at the seating area before and after the program, especially in light of the age of the attendees.
The rest of our shore excursions were as promised which meant they were mostly of quite a bit of physical activity. There is really no provision for severely handicapped persons in much of the Middle East, largely due to the antiquity of the area. In Israel, they certainly have tried but places like Jerusalem and Acre are mountainous and some areas are inaccessible to wheelchairs and those with walking disabilities. Where wheelchairs could go, they were welcomed.
We did a day in Rhodes and went to a ceramics factory. This was, as they all are there, a family business in a couple of rooms. I am delighted to say that I will never be a great potter, but I managed to get covered in clay and have a dish to prove it.
In Israel, we did the Leisurely Jerusalem trip which was hosted by a very chatty young man who told us all we asked about the country and people. We even got is some extra stops along the way. The second day we did Masada and the Dead Sea. Masada is truly awe-inspiring. It is also hot and will really test one's walking ability. The gondola to the top is crowded and it does sway for those with claustrophobia issues, hold on to your neighbor. The Dead Sea is an experience. No doubt everyone floats, but getting back up is not easy as it requires forcing your legs down through the water which has 10 times the usual salinity. It can be tough.
We skipped out on Acre for day 3 as it is well beyond our physical abilities. We are told it is best for mountain goats.
The only hope we expressed was for more and more varied excursions. However, what was provided was the cream of what was available.
A word on travel. Most folks were on British Air; enough said. We deviated to avoid some secondary airlines and flew Air Canada out and Swiss International coming back. Both are quality airlines though Swiss International is on a par with some of the best we have ever flown. Connections are the issue here. We were routed through Toronto. This is a big modern airport. Lots of restaurants and shopping. When we landed, a toilet was immediately necessary. There is NO toilet before going through passport control. That requires walking the length of the airport, going through the passport check and walking back to the other end of the airport and then down an escalator to reach the toilet. The passport check was necessary even though we were in transit on one airline. It takes about 10 minutes to walk each way. We live in Boston. You may have to go through Immigration & Customs even in transit, but when you get off that first flight, there is a toilet immediately available. Further, I needed a wheelchair. They put me on a golf cart type vehicle then told my wife to walk, as they would not have here ride with me. That's a first anywhere we have ever travelled. The airport personnel were also rude and abrupt. For me, Toronto is a never again facility.
I will travel, with great pleasure, on Azamara Club cruises again. It is worth every penny and more to be treated this well and with this much care. Come and enjoy.