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Old January 14th, 2011, 09:41 PM
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Paul Motter Paul Motter is offline
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It is getting close to my last night on board. We wrote that we dined in the Window’s Café for dinner a few nights ago. That night the wine was Chianti, and as I wrote earlier I had a day when I caught the bus to La Paz and just ended up not feeling well. It turns out I spoke to the friends I dined with that night and they said they also felt unwell the next day. “There was something horrid in that Chianti” one of them said. Of course, I do not know if that is correct, but the three of us did feel unwell.

It is perfectly plausible that it is the cumulative effect of too many days with wine at dinner in a row. Naturally, I have not had a drink since that night, and this is now the third following night.

I ate in my room that night, and last night they had a truly delicious Mexican buffet on the deck that was not to be missed. I am not a big fan of deck buffets on big ships, but on smaller ships they are executed far better.

This one featured freshly barbecued lamb chops, not the thick cut as they brought to my room (a bit too much on a tender stomach), but these were more the type that are just two or three bites apiece. Many of the dishes were being cooked a la minute, such as freshly made tacos, burritos, steaks, chicken breasts, etc. In any case, this buffet was expansive and everything I tasted was delicious.

I followed up that night with a visit to see the duo performing in the Looking Glass Lounge. This is the “windows on the world” room with a view over the bridge. I have the say the view was a lot more inviting than the music. This duo, Ray and Carla, are in their 50s and while she can sing a little it is very hard not to be thoroughly distracted by Ray’s most horrible fitting toupee in the world. It looks like a Mexican tarantula jumped on his head and is looking in every direction trying to figure out the best way to jump off. So, I checked in on them twice while they were supposed to be singing in the Looking Glass according to the program. Granted the room was empty except for the two of them, sitting at a table and drinking and laughing, but they saw me walk and they didn’t act like they were going to get up and start playing. They waited to see what I would do. I walked out and they didn’t start.

I then checked out the Russian pianist in the main showroom. She was a lovely in person and played piano very well. But I know cruise ship entertainment. She had a crowd of about 100 people. She told entertaining stories about her life in Russia, and her playing was exquisite.

So what was wrong? The band had not learned her charts (cruise ships bands typically get one run-through rehearsal, but if they aren’t cutting it then it is up to the artist – OR the music director or band leader to make sure they get it right. No one was in charge. It detracts from her show when she is playing “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story and she has to nod at the drummer to cue him when too start playing. And the drummer was the best player. The bassist couldn’t hit a note off of her chart to save his life, can he even read music? Doubtful. The horns only had to some in once, so they got their cue, barely.

The next song her introductory chatter included a reference to “an imaginary symphony orchestra” which gave the band a reason to sit in the dark with the lights off) – the “imaginary” orchestra was pre-recorded and played on tape. This sort of worked. To top it all off, the sound man didn’t even give her a separate vocal mic. She would talk into the piano mic, which was placed inside the piano, for her between song patter, and then when she was done she put it back in the piano. Maybe I am the only one who knows how wrong this is – but to get the best sound, you can’t move mics willy-nilly, plus a mic set up for a piano sounds bad when used on voice, and even more so the other way around.

Unfortunately, I can’t say much for the entertainment on Azamara. I am in my mid-50s and it is frankly too old for me. There was a tribute to Cole Porter, and another tribute to Irving Berlin. I’m sorry, but every entertainment director should know that people always identify with the music they learned in their early teens for the rest of their lives. Cole Porter’s heyday was in the 1930s, which generally means you have to be in your 80s to get the most out of those tribute shows.

You know me and entertainment, I don’t like average cruise shows, but at the same time I get too impatient to sit through what they have offered the last few nights; a classical violinist and a classical pianist. When I see a cruise line offering such artists it usually says to me “we aren’t really trying in this area.” I do enjoy the guitar playing/solo singer Steven Dockery. He looks to be in his early 60s but does mostly Beatles and other 50s/60s/70s songs that I know.

The performer the night I had to stay in bed was a younger lady from Nashville who I probably would have enjoyed more. But I can’t help wondering if the line ever thinks of getting any act other than musical – a comedian, for example.

Even the cruise director on this cruise, Eric De Gray, is a former figure skater and music major with bassoon as his chosen instrument from the University of Toronto. He is competent enough, but tends to speak as if he has marbles in his mouth and only remembers to vary the pitch in his voice at the ends of sentences. One gets the feeling he is not really engaged in what he is doing at any given time, especially when he is singing, which he does with the same amount of enthusiasm as his show direction.

The enrichment lecturer is very good, a facet of every cruise I appreciate a great deal. And I especially give kudos to Azamara for having the technical ability to replay every single enrichment lecture on the television every night. I also applaud the fact that this lecturer is an expert on our region – the Sea of Cortes.

Still, the over-riding picture I get from this cruise line is that there are two areas where they excel; cuisine and destinations. As I mentioned, the free shuttle buses in every port are a very nice touch. I took a bus into Los Mochis, a city of 400,000 inhabitants about 30 minutes from where the ship docked in Tompolobampo. Now, to give this shuttle for free, as the line does in every port, is a very nice touch. I personally enjoyed the city a great deal, although it is not distinguished by anything beyond having “the second most drinkable tap water in Mexico.

I could have gone to the Copper Canyon, but the price was bit much $450, which is reasonable for once in a lifetime 17-hour shore excursion. I would have gone except that I am from AZ already, and do not the same thrill from a saguaro cactus as and red rocks as the average person.

Tomorrow is my final night onboard, and I hope to try the last specialty restaurant left on my list; Aqualina. This room has a seafood theme, which means I will be getting the lobster.

I have to correct something I believe I wrote before – that all staterooms have butler service, It is only offered in the suites (which is as it should be).

Now – this kind of thing always irks the he** out of me. I was watching the television and there is an interview with the chef. He says “you can call for a reservation in the specialty restaurants any time of the day.”

So, I had to go to the front desk today anyway to get my passport for a minute, and I asked the person on duty to get me a reservation in Aqualina. He picks up the phone and tries to call and then says “they are not answering the phone right now.” Hmmm

So, I ask him to please make me a reservation for the next night as early as possible, preferably 6:00. He says fine. Then I did happen to see in the daily schedule that reservations TODAY could only be made from 9-noon and 4:00-6:00. I was at the front desk at 3:45. So, I was 15 minutes early.

But he didn’t make my reservation at all. I went back to the front desk at 6:30 pm (I took a needed nap) to ask what time my reservation was and I was told “you do not have a reservation.” They had not been made. So, the person on duty called (three hours after my request) and was told “All they have is 8:30.” Well, I wanted early and I had asked BEFORE that afternoon reservation session had started, but the person I asked did not follow up. So, now I am stuck with an 8:30 reservation the night before I am scheduled to leave the ship. I honestly do not know if it would have made a difference if he had called at 4:00, as he should have done, but I do know he did not do so, because no reservation was made for me until I checked back at 6:30. If a suite guest can’t trust the front desk to make a reservation, what can he trust them to do? I suppose I should have called myself, but I trusted them too take care of the request. This is just a typical disconnect that often happens on cruise ships.

There is always the something customer has to learn how to do for himself – in this case it is making restaurant reservations. I would have used my butler, but why bother him in the middle of the afternoon (we all know that is when they have their time off). That was why I asked at the front desk. My mistake?
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