Our most recent journey took us on the Journey on what was supposed to be a luxury cruise from Singapore, through Thailand, Vietnam, and ending in Hong Kong. Our flight arrived late the night before, so we only had half a day to explore Singapore before boarding the ship later that day. We have been to Singapore many times before, so a short stay was adequate. I will say that if you have not been there before, the city is spectacular, especially Orchard Road at night during Christmas. We arrived at the Harbourfront Cruise Center mid-afternoon, and embarkation was a breeze. It was not crowded, the associates seemed to be well trained with the process, and were friendly and efficient.
The ship had recently been refurbished in drydock, and looked brand new. Our cabin, a Club Continent Suite, had been remodeled without a tub, but had a very large shower and a marble/granite (or look-alike) sink. The room was very comfortable, had more than enough storage space with a good size balcony. This was the first time we had butler service, and still not sure what we could have asked for. He was instrumental in getting our dinner reservations in the specialty restaurants, which for suites is complimentary, but must be reserved because they do fill up, especially toward the end of the cruise. The ship is small compared to today's standards, and I do not believe we sailed full because upgrades were available in all categories by paying a reduced fee at the front desk.
Breakfast....for the first time, I can honestly say that the buffet breakfast was better than the dining room. The dining room breakfast on the first two days was less than poor. Menu was uneventful, and food had no presentation at all. Waitstaff were not very attentive, possibly not experienced enough. The dining room was not busy, so service should have been better. The buffet had a good selection for the size of the ship, and had a made to order fresh waffle station, and made to order egg station. You could place your egg order and it would be delivered to your table by friendly attentive staff. The waitstaff were available to bring you most varieties of specialty coffees (no charge) and the fresh squeezed orange juice was wonderful. you could also order any variety of breakfast smoothie created on the spot. But...even better than the buffet was room service. The room service menu included items you could not get in the dining room, or the buffet (i.e.steak and eggs). We enjoyed breakfast on our balcony two times, complete with tablecloth and cloth napkins, delivered on time by our butler.
Lunch.... in the dining room was a little better than breakfast, but again nothing to write home about. We were in port many days, so lunch was off ship. The few days we ate in the dining room, again not crowded, service was hit or miss. They did have a fresh cooking station which one day had tuna, another salmon, and the third time we were there, pasta with fresh clams. These items were very good, the rest of the menu seemed to be lack-luster. Wine was served with lunch, but getting a refill had to be asked for.
Dinner.... We were fortunate to have Aqualina and Prime C as an option because we sailed in a suite. In both restaurants, by far, the best beef we have had on any ship, consistently every night. The lobster salad and lobster bisque were both outstanding, and memorable. All dishes were very well presented, delivered at the right temperature. Every dish was very good, and enough variety on the menu that for 10 days we did not tire of the choices. However... the service again was hit or miss. Such a shame, because the food was really outstanding. Wine was served as usual, but a refill had to be asked for, unless you ordered a wine that was not on the complementary list. The wine stewards were more attentive to the tables that requested those wines. Service should not suffer if you choose to drink a wine included in the meal. Bar service was also hit or miss. Many inconsistencies in the quality of the drinks. Fortunately, the drinks are all inclusive, and you can always order another, but you hate to be wasteful.
Entertainment was good for the size of the ship. No big production shows. The casual musicians throughout the ship were very good, and the music level was just enough to enjoy it, and still be able to make conversation wiith your fellow travelers. Eric, the Cruise Director was always very visible (I guess being 6 1/2 feet tall would also help). He was very talented, took part in the production shows, and also had a show of his own. The guest entertainers were fun, the two we saw were a comedy musician, and a comedic violinist. The cruise ship singers and dancers also doubled as the activities staff, and were frequently late to their assigned activities. We enjoyed most of the trivia, the hardest part was not the questions, it was trying to understand the member of the activities staff and their pronunciation.
One of the best benefits of a small ship, especially in the Asian ports, you get to dock right downtown. The sail up the rivers to these destinations is wonderful. On some of our past cruises with the same destinations, we were sometimes docked two hours away from the city. Staying in port longer and later was also a plus. Shuttle service was still provided, but you could walk with no problem. We chose a ship excursion to the Royal Palace in Bangkok. The country was still mourning the death of the King last October, so the Palace was more crowded than usual. The tour was good, but because of the crowd, it was hard to keep the group together, and difficult for the guide to explain what we were seeing. The tour would have been better if we were in smaller groups. We chose to go to the floating market the following day, again a ship excursion. This excursion was outstanding. We had a great time navigating the canals on the way to the market where we had plenty of time to people watch and to shop for trinkets..(i.e. more crap to pack!!)
The highlight of the whole trip was the AzAmazing Evening held in Saigon, and it was just that...AzAmazing!! After a great buffet in the dining room all the passengers that chose to go were taken by bus to the event. We arrived and walked through some gardens where artisans were available to do calligraphy, caricatures, clay figures, etc. We were seated at small round tables on a lawn in front of a raised stage. The entire area had been covered with circus type tents because of the potential rain, an extra step they had not planned on. The performance highlighted the different types of music and dance from the different regions of Vietnam, and ended with a modern fashion show. We were served beer, wine, soft drinks, juice and water along with many plates of various finger food, most native to the area. The waitstaff was attentive, but not intrusive, and only served between the performances, very well done.
The enrichment speakers onboard were very professional and had good presentations. One was from the WWF, World Wildlife foundation, and spoke about food waste, a great topic for me since I am in the retail food business. The other speaker was from Nasa, explaining the future of manned space travel back to the moon and beyond. The seminars were not very crowded, disappointingly, the speakers were very good.
So, there were many highlights, but also many lowlights that need to be addressed. We did get a very good deal on this cruise, and feel we did get our money's worth. Paying regular price...we would think twice. Would we return...yes...we have two more booked for 2018, but again, we did get a great deal on those. With some new companies emerging into the small ship luxury market, Azamara may need to look closer at their service level, and some dining room meals, these were clearly not AzAmazing.
Recently remodeled with new fixtures including a very nice shower replacing the previous tub. The bathroom was large, in fact, had an echo when flushing the toilet. Room was comfortable with enough storage space and a very nice balcony. We were midship which was a benefit on the 8th day of the cruise that was very rough, forward and aft cabins were not comfortable on that day. Room could have been cooler, even with the temperature as far down as possible, it never seemed to get that cool, but it was adequate.