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Cruise (No) Control!!! By Shobhaa De

I am a serial cruiser and love my days on the high seas But even the most exotic destinations and ports of call need the support of a great cruise experience to make the trip truly memorable.

I had done my homework, and knew what to expect in terms of amenities in the suite (first rate) and all the extra frills that attract Azamara regulars. Somehow, I was expecting a huge liner ! My initial response to the much smaller dimensions of the ship (Azamara Journey), was of relief – thank God, I said to myself, as we rushed to the 10th Deck and the Looking Glass Lounge, to grab our seats when we sailed out , this means there will be fewer people jostling around on the deck and overall better attention. So it turned out. Looking around the crowded lounge, we ordered a glass of champagne each and watched a mellow sunset light up the Bosporus. Leaving Istanbul had not been easy (it’s one of our favorite destinations )… and watching the play of light on the sparkling waters of the world’s most enchanting strait, prepared us for the magic of the next six days on board our temporary home.

Greece was in the midst of the worst financial crisis it has ever faced, but holiday makers would have never guessed! Azamara Journey sailed smoothly into four Greek ports and found life going on as usual – the beaches were full of locals, the bars, over flowing, shops, bursting at the counters with enticing merchandise. The party certainly never stops in these parts. Just as it never stops on the ship! While we had enjoyed the exceptional Azamara Experience at a Turkish port (Ephesus), a lot of the other treats lined up by the cruise director – the very efficient and charming Eric de Gray from Canada, came as unexpected delights. It helps to have an enthusiastic, well-informed crew to chat with during the long hours at sea. The Azamara being a smaller ship with a high crew-to-passenger ratio made for lively interactions with staff at various levels, most of whom identified passengers by name within 24 hours! This is the personal touch that I found very attractive. Besides, for the first time during a week long cruise, I didn’t get hopelessly lost, going from deck to deck looking for my husband! Having sampled what can best be called ‘cruise cuisine’ on earlier voyages, I must compliment the chefs on the Azamara, who ensured there was no monotony, no predictability even at the over loaded buffet stations. The gourmet options were also a-plenty – all you had to do is reserve a table at a specialty restaurant. For a pretty modest charge, diners were treated to a top class food experience, paired with wonderful wines. Since I am not too big on cocktails, and boringly stuck to white wine through the cruise, let me tell you my husband, who is as particular about his martinis as James Bond himself, was so pleased with his preferred cocktail, he enthusiastically pumped the bar tender’s hand and ordered a fresh round even after stating he was going to stick to just one! My personal favorite hang- out turned out to be the Nespresso coffee lounge, where I spent several quiet, contemplative moments enjoying a perfect cappuccino, with freshly made fruit tarts ( the pastry chef deserves applause).

If you ask me what I remember best about the cruise, apart from the White Nights party on the deck, I would say it had to be the nostalgia sessions, post-dinner, at which the DJ sensibly stuck to music tracks familiar to passengers of a certain vintage – mine! It was great to relax over a last drink, listening to familiar, well loved songs (Elvis Presley! Michael Jackson!), as more energetic passengers kicked up their heels and hit the dance floor. My only grouse was there wasn’t a single Bollywood hit on the list! And we know there is nothing as catchy as a Bollywood ‘item song’ to set the dance floor on fire.

While the Boutique on Azamara is much smaller than on the gigantic cruise liners that are called floating townships, the selection is superior and more carefully curated. It’s still fun to check out fresh deals every night and pick up gifts.

I would have loved to experience the ‘Nights in Private Places’, but given the number of honeymooners on this cruise, all the nights were fully booked! I did get the chance to have an exquisite dinner at Prime C (outstanding filet mignon), as also take a master class in Caviar tasting, very ably conducted by an elegant Austrian gentleman.

The one big attraction on Azamara is the late night departure from party ports like Mykonos and Kusadasi. I felt like Cleopatra strolling through the narrow streets, where legend has it, locals had welcomed the Queen by pouring gallons of red wine in her path, as she set foot on this ancient soil, with Mark Anthony.

A fabulous cruise experience is always made by the people who make you feel at home the minute you come on board. Well, what better compliment can I possibly pay than to say that the Azamara crew treated me like family.
Thank You. Dhanyavad. Till we meet again!

About the Author
Shobhaa De is an Indian Columnist and Novelist.

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