Sunday, January 19, 2014

CRUISING: Coasting along

Going places where the big ships can’t reach is one of this ship’s special features – and there’s much more. Bev Malzard reports.
I just knew that this was going to be a top cruise. As I walked down the corridor at Singapore’s cruise terminal there were other passengers hurrying past me to greet the crew that was signing us onboard. There was a lot of whooping and hollering and hugging. Repeat customers - and they were obviously happy.
That was the mood onboard the Azamara for the next seven days as we cruised the Vietnam coast from Singapore to Hong Kong.

This was my kind of ship, it’s a boutique-size classy gal, and it oozes a mixture of luxury and big ship ambience. The ship only carries 694 passengers, so after a couple of days you are seeing familiar faces everywhere. There are multiple dining venues, a casino, plenty of balcony cabins and a decent sized fitness centre.
The ship is also my fave because it stops at the more offbeat ports (leaving from Singapore, first port of call is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, then Halong Bay, before disembarkation in Hong Kong). The ship can dock closer to cities because of its size – which makes for an interesting itinerary, no matter what part of the world she is sailing. Eight days onboard the Azamara went quickly as there are the stops and days at sea are filled with shipboard activities or just plain old slothing around – which I did very happily.
This is a beautiful ship, not brand-spanking new but well-maintained and has the lines of an elegant ship from days gone by.
The four restaurants (Discovery, main venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Prime C, the steakhouse, and Aqualina, with a Mediterranean influence are dinner only with a $25 booking fee) all offer extraordinary food and service.
There’s Windows cafe, for a buffet; the pool grill for sandwiches, the Looking Glass Lounge for afternoon tea – mmm – something special happens here; and the Mosaic coffee bar – yes, there is a barista making great coffee too.

The cruise had a lot going for it and the longer stays in port were a hit with the regulars and newbies alike. It’s called ‘destination immersion’. When we disembarked at Ho Cho Minh City, it was a casual affair –there was a planned tour plus plenty of time to play on our own. All the shuttle services are free and drop off and pick up points are right in the middle of things. And when we arrived back at the ship there was the staff, waiting with lovely cold towels to wipe away the hot, humid day from our faces.
On one of the days at sea I explored some ‘at sea’ education, a photography seminar.
There was a small crowd of us and we learned how to take better pictures, how to look after our camera and some of the finer points of utilising our cameras.
In the afternoon, the Looking Glass Lounge beckons. I tried to stay away but the thought of the light-as-a-feather scones, tiny cakes and pretty pastries got me every time . . . afternoon tea has to be top of the food chain as far as happiness making meals go.
The following day there was a private bridge tour – and good to know how they drive this thing. The officers, as usual, were charming and welcoming, and that’s one of Azamara’s main strengths – a brilliant staff who offer personalised attention and a high level of service.


When we arrived at the port for Halong Bay, there was also the choice for a day trip to Hanoi. I missed that one but went along to Halong Bay for a glorious time cruising amid little boats and floating fishing villages. The bay consists of monolithic limestone islands, topped with thick vegetation, rising starkly from the ocean. There are three sets of caves here and the Hang Dau Go (Wooden Stakes cave) is the largest grotto in the Ha Long area.
After a walk through the glorious grotto it was good to return to our lovely comfortable ship for a night of fine food at Prime C to be followed by great entertainment. This was our last night onboard, tomorrow we enter the port of Hong Kong – what a sweet ride this has been.

All along there has been the distinctive ambience of understated luxury on the Azamara, luxury that I embraced as a gift rather than a privilege.




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