Monthly Archives: March 2012

Shortcut to not so Fabulous Cruise Review…Azamara Greece and Turkey

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Last fall, I went on a Mediterranean cruise through Greece and Turkey with Azamara Club Crises. I had an absolutely fabulous time, but this was in spite of the cruise line, not because of it. Those of you who have been reading for awhile know that I generally have a policy of only writing about positive experiences that I’ve had. However, for the second time in s2f history, I had such a negative experience that is a result of systematic problems with a company and not a possible anomaly that I feel it is necessary to provide a consumer alert for Azamara Cruise lines. It really doesn’t take much to please me when it comes to travel. I lived an entire summer in London in Flat with a bathtub with a gaping hole and a very slow drain and was happy as a clam, so I was surprised to have been so disappointed by a cruise line that pegs itself as a “Light Luxury” line. So without further adieu here is a review of the good, bad and the ugly concerning Azamara:

Booking


If you decide to book a cruise with Azamara, I highly recommend using a travel agent. I did my own research for this trip and knew exactly what I wanted to book and decided to book with one of Azamara’s agents. I had no issue with initially booking the trip over the phone. The agent was very pleasant and booked the stateroom I wanted for the Greece/Turkey experience. I gave her my payment information and indicated that I was prepared to pay in full. She indicated that I only needed to pay a portion and rest could be paid several months later. She took my email address and told me that I would be receiving cruise information via email. I stupidly assumed that this would include a reminder when the balance was due. Several months later, I had not received ANY communication from Azamara, I decided to login online and pay the balance in full. Much to my surprise when I logged into my account, I saw that my booking had been cancelled. When I called to inquire as to why the booking had been cancelled, they said I had not paid the balance. Mind you, I paid a $3000 deposit, so you would think that a reminder email or courtesy phone call would be in order before cancelling my booking. I did not even know when the due date was for final payment and never received any email notification that payment was due. When I expressed my displeasure to the agent on the phone, she chastised me and said that Azamara cannot be responsible for sending everyone an email reminder to make final payment….really?!?!  The last time I checked you can build in automated reminder emails in your systems and no extra manpower is required.

That is called smart customer service in a digital age and the cruise line should be better equipped to handle bookings from travelers who like to plan their vacations independently….after all the cruise line didn’t have to pay an agent a commission for our booking!

 

Day of Cruise


On the day of the cruise my husband and I had no idea where to board the ship because Azamara never provided us with the port number. Fate was on our side and we ran into a couple from New Zealand whose travel agent had provided them with the necessary information.

 

On board Experience

The overall on-board experience was adequate. However, it certainly did not rise to the level of “luxury” service promised by the cruise line. We routinely had to go find a waiter in the dining room to take our drink order after we had already eaten half of our meal and we were parched. After observing the wait staff routine for a few days, I realized that it is a model of inefficiency, which points to very poor management and in no way reflects poorly on the staff. For example, if you are dining outside at the Windows cafe and ask for a soda. The waiter must go inside, get a glass, come back outside the bar area, fill it with ice and the soda you ordered. There is a bar stocked full of glasses right outside but the wait staff are not allowed to take those glasses because they are for bar orders only. Why not just re-stock bar glasses more frequently rather than make patrons wait ten minutes for a glass of water?

What Azamara lacks is the attention to the little details and it is the details that truly create luxury. For example, they have a cafe that serves coffee and light snacks on the 5th floor. One of those snacks is hummus. However, there is no bread, chips or veggies to accompany the hummus. But if you go to the 9th floor and the pool grill area there are pita chips for everyone to enjoy…of course with no dip and certainly no hummus. Why hasn’t management thought to bring some chips from 9 to 5 and some hummus from 5 to 9?

 

Helloooo Tell us what to Wear?!

The cruise line never informed us of any dress code beyond the “resort casual” dress code they advertised online. Since I never got any cruise documents, I had no idea that all of the dining rooms except for the Windows Cafe require men to wear pants and no jeans are allowed. My husband only packed jeans, so we were effectively denied access to three of the four dining rooms. When we complained to the guest relation’s staff, they asked us if this was the first time that we cruised with Azamara. When we said that it was, they told us that the next time that we cruise with them we will get more information. Why do we have to be repeat cruisers to get access to information? They also indicated that we are not the only passengers who complained about not having the proper attire to enter the dining room and asked for our room number to se what they could do…they never got back to us (we complained on day 2 of a 7 day cruise).

 They had a White Party one night…but of course we never received any information about a White Party before the cruise so my husband wore a Red shirt to a White Party. How hard is it to send an email with specific information on the dining room dress codes and any themed evenings or parties. I am a researcher at heart and I spent hours on the Azamara website and perusing my documents before the trip and there was ZERO information on dress code other than “resort casual.”

 

Mykonos Miss

My favorite folly was the Mykonos Miss. We were scheduled to be in Mykonos on day 4 of our cruise. We all arrived in Mykenos. We went to the deck and took pictures, woke up early and ate breakfast so we could get an early start to the highlight of our trip. 30 minutes before we were scheduled to begin tendering ashore, the Captain gets on the loud speaker and tells us that the winds are too strong for us to safely operate the tenders to shore. He said he was working on a new port and would let us know when he found one. Now, clearly the cruise line has no control over the wind, but upon further research I found that this is a frequent occurrence with a ship of this size, yet were given no warning that the most anticipated part of our itinerary could be aborted. The captain came on the loudspeaker a few hours later and said that we were going to dock early in our next port of call, Kusadasi. Part of the selling point of an Azamara cruise is that they have heavy ports of call and minimal “at sea” time. In fact, the cruise is so focused on ports of call that there is very little on board entertainment. So we land in Kusadasi and there is NOTHING to do. We ended up going on our own and trekking two hours on local Dolmas to a remote beach.

 

I think the “on our own” is the key phrase to describe out Azamara cruise experience. We were truly “on our own” for this cruise…isn’t the point of going on a cruise to not be “on your own,” but instead to be pampered by a ship full of crew and staff. Well, not the case on Azamara…Sorry Azamara, we wont be cruising with you again to find out if repeat cruisers get the attention they deserve.

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Shortcut to Fabulous “I want to Go with Oh to Vienna”

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Vienna might be Europe’s most elegant city, and between Sacher Torte and Strudel, it makes my penchant for sweets go into absolute overdrive. Taking a trip to Vienna is like taking a step back in time to a world where everything is opulent and elegant. Vienna is one of the fab cities where Go with Oh has access to hotels and apartments for your stay. Right now they have a fab contest on Facebook where you can enter to win one of four prizes: a camera, luggage, an ipad or free Go with Oh accomodations. Click here to visit their website and get details on the contest.

 

The five things I want to do in Vienna if I go with Oh are:

 

5. Brush up on my waltzing skills. Vienna is synonymous with the Waltz. While I have taken lessons, have a halfway decent Waltz and have even competed in a local “Dancing with the Stars” style competition, nothing would be better than taking lessons in Vienna. In fact, the dream trip to Vienna would include dance lessons and tickets to one of Vienna’s famous balls. That has to be on every yuppie’s list of things to do before you die! Click here to get the low-down on the best balls in Vienna and ticket purchase information.

 

4. Splurge on a meal at one of Vienna’s chicest restaurants, Orlando di Castello. Freyung 1, Vienna, 1010. The décor in this chic Viennese eatery is so fun and the desserts are so delectable they make the traditional Sacher Torte seem so blah.

 

3. Joy ride on the Ringstrasse. For 7 Euros you can hop on Vienna’s Ringtram and get circle this majestic imperial city. All of the major city attractions are found along the Ringstrasse which literally circles the city center. For 9 Euros you can get a hop-on hop-off ticket and use that as your public transport for the day.

 

2. Take a Trip to Wine Country. A thirty-minute train ride (tram 38) from the city center whisks you away to the worlds only wine country that is part of a major city. The views are beautiful, the setting romantic and you capture a bit of old world Austrian charm. In 1784, Emperor Josef II issued an edict granting wine growers the right to sell their own wines at their own premises and the Heurig (wine-tavern) was born. Stammersdorf, Nussdorf and Sievering are less touristy than Grinzing.

 

1. Travel back in at the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace is a huge complex where the Hapsburg dynasty ruled most of Europe during the Golden Age. There are multiple museums and the Spanish Riding School housed in the gargantuan complex, but my favorite is the Sissy Museum. In the words of Phaedra Parks from RHOA, “Everybody knows” that a museum with a dress and jewel collection is a museum worth visiting. Empress Elisabeth’s obsession with vanity is on full display with dresses, exercise machines, jewels and more! Plus, the gift shop is one of my favorites.

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Shortcut to FabWUlicious Candle!

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You know you loved the title of this blog post….okay so maybe it is a little Manchego Cheesy, but I love it and I love this candle. 45 hours of burn time, just hit the market and can be purchased at Neiman Marcus. Yes I know $48 is a lot to spend on a candle, but we are not talking about a Glade candle here…this is Jason Wu people and after the Jason Wu for Target crazypalooza, I feel like spending $48 for a candle is a completely sane move….

 

Here are the deets about the scent:

 

Orchid Rain combines white orchid the Cattleya orchid with nashi pear, pomegranate and goji berry.

The fruity-floral essences are enhanced with blonde birchwood and hints of pink pepper and coconut. The sophisticated, custom-made porcelain candle vessel features a signature Jason Wu print in a bisque finish, and it is topped with an elegant, gold-plated lid.

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Shortcut to Fabulous $15 totally on-trend necklace

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What if I told you one $15 necklace could hit several style and trend notes for Spring 2012? You would  probably say, “Wow that is more than a Shortcut to Fabulous..that is a Fashion Miracle!” Well ladies, I present to you a Spring 2012 Fashion Miracle. Etsy Seller White Bear Accessories has this adorably presh lace hand dyed anchor necklace which hits the following trend notes: sorbet colors, boho chic, nautical all in one. Click here to purchase.

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Shortcuts to Fabulous “I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to London”

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Cheerio. I actually studied in London in college. I lived in some dingy little flat in South Kensington and ate at an Indian take-away place every night that was on the way home from my tube stop. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous or fabulous, but it was. I love London…love it and I can’t get enough….

To hit your own travel jackpot, Click on the Go with Oh Badge or here for your own chance to win Samsonite Luggage, a Panosonic Lumix Camera, Holiday Accommodation worth 500 Euros or an 16 GB Ipad 2. All you have to do is like the Facebook page and tell Go with Oh where you would like to go!

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The five things I want to do in London if I go with Oh are:

5. Spend all day in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The last time I went to London, the Fashion exhibit was closed for renovation and my heart was completely broken into tiny little pieces. The museum is free, but I donated 5 pounds when I entered to make up for all of the hours I spent in the museum as a poor college student. Luckily the Fashion collection is back and better than ever and I can’t wait to soak up the couture air of the collection!

4. Practice my Cockney Accent on Portobello Road. Shopping the Portobello Road market is one of the best experiences Europe has to offer. There is only a slight language barrier (wow some of those stall owner’s accents are thick), some fabulous finds, tons of photo opportunities and positively British flavor.

3. Curl my Pinky for Afternoon Tea. There are so many places for tea in London and you could spend a lifetime searching for the best. In fact there are awards given every year by the Tea Guild to the best places for tea. On my list to try: The Goring Hotel (it won a Tea Guild Award for Excellence in 2011, but I really just want to go there to pretend I am Kate Middleton’s American cousin) and the Orangery at Kensington Palace.

2. Pretend I am Becky Bloomwood from “Confessions of a Shopaholic” at Harvey Nichols. Harvey Nichols has a restaurant and some of the best shopping in London. I think an afternoon perusing designer labels, having mild heart attacks and sticker shock at the prices and dining in the restaurant is an absolute must for any fashionista.

1. Check out some West End theater courtesy of the tkts half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square. A trip to London would not be complete without taking in a show and the experience would not be as rich without purchasing half price tickets from Leicester Square. Part of the fun is showing up and spontaneously choosing a show from the available ticket options.

I hear London Calling and hopefully Go with Oh will be footing the bill…xo

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Shortcut to Fabulous “I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Barcelona”

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I am one of those oh so lucky gals that has been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in Europe. Between visiting European family, stints studying abroad in college and yearly trips, I consider myself a total Euro-file. Barcelona is my absolute favorite city. It helps that I have family there, but beyond that there is something about the city that makes my heart pitter-patter. Even though I have been to Barcelona, I want to go with Oh and find you some Shortcuts to Fabulous things to do, eat and experience. Click on the Go with Oh Badge or here for your own chance to win Samsonite Luggage, a Panosonic Lumix Camera, Holiday Accommodation worth 500 Euros or an 16 GB Ipad 2. All you have to do is like the Facebook page and tell Go with Oh where you would like to go!

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The five things I want to do in Barcelona are:

5. Check up on the Progress of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. I have been to this icnonic church no less that 20 times. I even have a painting of the blessed thing in my living room (painted by a Catalan artist no less). One of my absolute favorite things to do when I go the BCN is visit the Sagrada Familia and check up on the progress. I always imagine what Gaudi must be thinking about the directions the church has taken and if he is okay with the fact that it is taking F-O-R-E-V-E-R to build. It really is beautiful even if you have to wear a hard hat to see it.

4. Find a Fab Boutique in the Born Neighborhood. Bjorn is my absolute favorite shopping area. I love the old world char and narrow alley ways and I am certain there is anew boutique with my name on it…or at least something fun to blog about right in the Born.

3. Eat at my favorite Barcelona Budget restaurant. Les Quinze Nits is located in La Paca Reial and every evening lines spew into the square for this popular and affordable Catalan eatery. This restaurant is a Catalan institution with locals and tourists alike dining side-by-side on delectable ten Euro dishes. The ambiance is perfect and the food yummy, this is the place that keeps me coming back year after year.

2.  Dance the Night Away at my favorite hot spots. I have some favorite spots in Barcelona, but I am always in the hunt for more. One of my favorite spots is a speak easy bar and lounge called the Barcelona Pipa Club. You have to ring a bell to get in but once you step inside you are transported into a world of fabulousness.

1.  Go on a Tapas Crawl. Just the thought of Tapas makes my mouth water….pimientos de padron, gambas al ajillo and jamon Serrano…that is my tapas trilogy. I can’t wait to hop from tapas bar to tapas bar in search of the most mouth watering tapas.

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Shortcut to Fabulous Fast Facial Cleanser

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I am coming “clean” about the fact that I am a gal who doesn’t always wash her face in the p.m. I have lots of fabulous facial cleansers, but for some reason Shahs of Sunset and Jerseylicious seem like such a better idea than washing off the day’s make-up. Somewhere between a discussion of leopard print and Persian pool parties, I fall asleep on the couch like a total geriatric with a full face of make-up!

A month ago I read some article that indicated that not washing off your make-up ages you. I went into full panic mode, drove to Target and purchased $80 worth of cleansing wipes. I got an assortment of brands and I figured over the next few months that I would see what worked for me. Well, after months of playing “product test lab for lazy women,” I have chosen my favorite cleansing wipes…Neutrogena Pink Grapfruit Cleansing Wipes. The smell grows on you, it cleans all the make-up off with the least amount of effort (yes, I am that lazy) and it helps curb the pubescent acne problems I have developed in the last few years. I now keep the cleansing wipes on my coffee table and I am happy to report that several nights of the week, I actually use them! Here’s hoping that my new found practical solution saves me a little money on the back-end on botox and fillers! Click here
to purchase from Amazon (25 wipes for 6.97).

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