Everyone was eager to get off the ship. Paradise beckoned.
We arrived in Ko Samui bay at 10.30 and, once ashore, had until 5.30pm to relax on the beach or go on one of several excursions on offer, including a Jungle eco safari in a 4×4. We were tempted, but a day on the beach was more appealing.
As we came ashore every taxi driver from the island must have come to meet the ship. Not easy to hide a large, luxurious, cruise ship in the bay and all the locals who felt they had anything to offer the passengers came to the pier expectantly. Tours around the island, elephant rides, best beach, massage, special massage, even. We were almost wishing we had booked an excursion to avoid the onslaught.
We walked away from the line of taxis and kept walking, politely declining, then not so politely declining, in the hope we would pick up a taxi at a more reasonable price, away from the port, to a nearby beach. As we walked through the streets of Naton, the small capital of the island, past the local market selling fruits we’d never seen before, little seemed to have changed since my previous visit 24 years ago.
As the shops petered out and the beach road took us inland, our plan was fading fast. A taxi stopped but, realizing we were off the ship, the driver wanted US$30 to take us the 5 minute journey to Nikki beach. Outrageous. Sadly, this can be the downside of arriving on a cruise ship, everyone thinks you are loaded and racks up the price. We waved him on and continued to walk rather despondently.
Our savior arrived in the form of a rather large, jovial, local man operating as a motorbike taxi service. After some negotiation he agreed to take us to the beach for 300 Baht, about US$10 or £6. We thought he would take one of us and come back for the other, but no, we both had to get on together. We climbed on, hung on and were off to the beach. Whizzing along, driving through coconut groves, past water buffalo, verdant vegetation and thatched houses. Needless to say, we didn’t have helmets and it went against all the health and safety regulations I instilled in holiday rep training, not to mention common sense. What the heck, we had to get to the beach. But if our kids are reading this don’t do as we do, do as we say!
We stretched our Azamara beach towels out onto the soft, white, sandy beach. The waves lapped against the shore rhythmically. Bliss.
A dip in the crystal clear sea, lunch at a beachside restaurant and all was well with the world. With the Azamara Journey clearly in view we knew this magical day at the beach would be short-lived, as the last tender to the ship was 5.30pm. Meanwhile, we just enjoyed the beach, a very different experience from the rest of the trip. He had a beachside massage – 90 minute full body and head massage for less than £10, including a tip. He declared it worth going ashore just for that.
Paradise never lasts forever. A sudden, short, heavy downpour brought ours to a rapid end. Dripping wet, sand in our shoes, our Azamara beach towels tightly wrapped around us, we climbed onto the back of the motorbike – with the promise of a large tip our guy proved to be extremely reliable – and headed back to the pier.
Once on board, revived by a hot shower, we spent more time than usual getting ourselves ready for dinner. Tonight we were dining with the Hotel Director, Heike Berdos, in one of the signature dining restaurants, Prime C. Before supper, though, we were off to hear Annika Odegard in the Looking Glass Lounge. A cross between Carole King and Norah Jones, but with her own inimitable style, Annika usually does two evening slots and is definitely a ‘must see’ whilst on board.
Imagine a very upmarket London or New York steak restaurant: oak paneled walls, sophisticated décor, a small bar, tables spaciously set apart. Prime C, with around 85 covers is a first class restaurant. Needless to say, the food was excellent. His steak was done to perfection and my lobster was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. The service, exceptional. Not surprisingly, Prime C and the other signature restaurant, Aqualina, have a cover charge of $25 per person to reflect their high quality menus – well worth it.
Heike has worked on cruise ships for many years and, specifically has been on the Journey since 2007. A lot of interesting stories were shared and I gained an insight into the added complexities of running a floating hotel.
I know from personal experience to run a hotel with consistently high levels of service and guest satisfaction levels is a tall order. To run a ship with 560 guests, for an 18 night cruise, with a multi-lingual crew of 404 (around 50 nationalities) is an amazing accomplishment. But note the ratio of staff to guests. This a major factor in the excellent levels of personal service provided. However, their people management skills must be first rate too, as the majority of staff are long-standing employees. That says a lot.
Of course, Heike doesn’t run the ship entirely by herself! I am equally impressed with all the team, in particular, the Cruise Director, Eric De Gray. Larger than life at 6’6” without shoes and his spikey hair, Eric is responsible for all the entertainment and cultural activities on board. An accomplished professional singer in his own right, Eric, together with his talented ensemble, have provided a wide spectrum of entertainment throughout the cruise.
As we head towards our final destination, Singapore, I can’t quite believe our cruise is almost over. Still, lots to look forward to: sunbathing, supper in Aqualina, the final cabaret show. I might even have a flutter in the Casino.
Read Chapter 1: Introduction: Is a cruise going to be the right choice for me?
Read Chapter 2: We’re on our way! Hong Kong
Read Chapter 3: Down time onboard the ship
Read Chapter 4: Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Read Chapter 5: Vietnam: Denang and Anhoi
Read Chapter 6: Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Read Chapter 7: Thailand: Bangkok
Read Chapter 9: Singapore
Read Chapter 10: Azamara Club Cruises: the verdict
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.