MV Astoria (Azores) Review

Azores, Liverpool, Aug 2015.

(Click to enlarge all images)

British based Cruise Operator, ‘Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) operate four Ocean vessels, mainly from UK ports. They aim their product at the adults-only market and are very popular with the grey pound.

The Marco Polo built in 1965 is their most well know vessel and small by modern standards at 22,000gt, carrying 900 passengers. However Azores, built in 1948 is both their oldest and smallest vessel at 16,000gt, carrying 555 passengers. In fact she is one of the smallest cruise ships operating from UK ports and one of the oldest operational cruise ships in the world.

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A Long History

Azores has had a very long history with many owners and many name changes. She was built as the Ocean liner ‘Stockholm’ in Sweden, in 1948.

Stockholm was the smallest passenger ship operating on the North Atlantic route. However, she was the largest passenger ship built in Sweden at the time.

On the night of July 25, 1956, at 11:10 pm, in heavy fog in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket, the Stockholm and the luxury liner Andrea Doria of the Italian Line collided in what was to become one of history’s most notorious maritime disasters.

M/S STOCKHOLM 25 juli 1956. Foto, ej vykort.

M/S STOCKHOLM 25 juli 1956. Foto, ej vykort.

Although most passengers and crew survived the collision, the larger Andrea Doria capsized and sank the following morning. Five crew members on the Stockholm were killed instantly and several more were trapped in the wrecked bow.

Andrea-Doria (Life-Magazine)

Andrea-Doria (Life-Magazine)

My Review

‘Azores’ is the smallest cruise ship than I have cruised on. For comparison, ‘Oasis of the Seas’ at around 225,000gt is an amazing 14 times bigger than Azores (by gross tonnage /internal volume).

(Courtesy cruise-ships.com)

Azores top, Oasis bottom (Courtesy cruise-ships.com)

Embarkation was at Liverpool’s cruise terminal, which is a small structure. Even though there were only 555 Passengers, embarkation was not as fast as you might expect, probably due to the small number of check-in desks. However I was some of the first passengers to be called.

Now I had heard from a crew member that Azores is not the most stable of ships and at only 16,000gt, I am not surprised. Therefore I booked a lower deck amidships ocean-view cabin, number 226.

By rights I should have been called last, not first. This was very odd.

I walked up the very steep gangway (not ideal for those with limited mobility) and entered the ship on deck four, via the reception area. There is of course no soaring atrium, just a circular space with reception, shore excursion desks and a glitzy twin-staircase to the deck above.

I was led by a steward up several staircases, rather than down into the bowels of the ships, where I normally find myself. We arrived at stateroom 641, one of only nine Deluxe Balcony Suites on the ship. Yes the ‘upgrade fairy’ had blessed me.

A bottle of champagne and hors d’oeuvres waiting in the generous sized stateroom.

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Layout

Azores has eight passenger decks. Curiously they are labelled 1,2,3,4,4a,5,6,7. However this is too confusing for me, so I will just call them 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. They also have names.

Most of the public rooms are on the fifth deck (4a Calypso). The Calypso show lounge is at the bow of this deck and the ‘Lotus Grill buffet’ is at the stern, with its outdoor lido dining deck and aft pool. It between the bow and the stern are some smaller public rooms such as the Tychon card room, Ithaca Library, Captains Club (a cigar room), Circe’s Casino, Emporio Boutique and Sirene’s lounge.

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Reception is one deck down (fourth deck) via the previously mentioned twin-staircase. This is also the entry and exit point of the ship.

The main (formal) restaurant is two decks down (third deck) amidships which is the most stable location on-board the ship. This was a common location for the main restaurant, on-board traditional Ocean Liners of the past .

The ‘Cyclope Auditorium’ on Deck 6 is towards the stern and is a cinema style room. Behind that is the ‘Muses’ nightclub, an intimate circular room with a DJ booth and a circular dance floor depicting the world.

A very small fitness, beauty and sauna centre is located on the uppermost deck, eight.

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The Chapel

There is a charming little Chapel on deck four, aft, which I guess could only accommodate 20 people. The Medical Centre is on deck two, forward.

Staterooms

Surprisingly there are seventeen grades of stateroom on this little ship. Most are inside, porthole or window. There are just nine balcony staterooms. Unusually all have a full-sized bath with shower attachment.

The staterooms are often smaller than you would expect on a modern ship. They range from 157sq ft (inside) to 199sq ft (Deluxe balcony). I have no figures for the biggest stateroom, the ‘Presidential Suite’.  However all will prove to be perfectly adequate.

The décor of many of the standard cabins is predominantly white.

Deluxe Balcony Suite, 641

641 is located on the uppermost deck, eight, towards the stern. It is only one of eight and is the top grade on-board the ship apart from the one slightly bigger ‘Presidential Suite’.

641

(641)

The suite comprises of a living room area, with three-seater sofa (possibly a sofa-bed), two armchairs and coffee table, an adequately sized balcony, a bedroom, and additional space with the closet outside quite a large bathroom.

The bathroom featured a full-sized bath with water jets, shower attachment and a bidet, amongst the usual fixtures and fittings.

The décor is wooden-clad.

(641)

(641)

Both the living room and bedroom had TV’s although the bedroom TV’s reception was particularly poor. There was a fridge and Kettle/Tea/coffee making facilities. The living room and bedroom walls had some attractive murals on them.

The air-conditioning had little affect although the weather was fortunately cool. (Most old ships have very inconsistent air-con.)

Being small, the ship is subject to sea movement more than many. Vibrations could be felt through my pillow particularly when the seas got rough; which I assume was from the engines/generators. 641 being at the stern and uppermost deck, was not in the most stable position, although the whole ship appeared to experiencing excessive movement.

Never the less, the suite was very comfortable and spacious. However the fare is normally at least twice the price of an Inside cabin.

Dining

The Olissipo Restaurant is quite attractive and stretches across the modest width of the ship. Being low down it has no panoramic windows, but a row of portholes on the port and starboard sides. There is a mix of table sizes: 2,4,6,8 and 10.

Olissipo Restaurant

Olissipo Restaurant

The waiters were friendly and efficient. My only criticism is that the wine waiters can be rather elusive, but this applies to many ships.

The evening meals are typical CMV: good quality (for the fare paid) five course fare, although not the finest dining afloat of course. The dishes always displayed in the restaurant foyer, pre-meal, which is a CMV trademark. I find this quite useful to assess portion size and clarify any creative descriptions with the visual reality.

There is one alternative restaurant, a  steak house which carries a surcharge. I did not try it myself but did here good reports about it.

Lotus Grill Buffet

I’m not sure why the ‘Lotus Gill buffet’ is called ‘Grill’.  It is relatively small as you might expect on a small ship. The  the choice of lunch time food was not particularly  broad. The food was satisfactory, but no more. Empty tables were difficult to find at the peak times, but that applies to every ship that I have ever been on.

Lotus Buffet

Lotus Buffet

However I was pleased to see that most of hot options were behind glass and were being server to the passengers by the crew. This reduces the risk of spreading the Norovirus that self-service buffets can do.

Given the higher quality of the formal restaurants food, I would probably not take my evening meal in the Lotus.

Entertainment

The show lounge is the typical non-raked type found on most older ships.

The audience sits with their back to the bow, looking at the stage. This may feel a little disconcerting for those prone to travel sickness.

Only the first few rows of passengers get a view of the performer’s legs. Arriving their early and claiming  a front row seat, is the only way to guarantee an uninterrupted view.

The shows are well-proven and energetic, but not very original. They feature singing and dancing to show tunes and pop classics. You can expect some Abba and Queen tunes.

As is normally the case, the troupe of singers and dancers are young and hard-working. However the most talented people on a ships stage are often the live musicians. Azores ‘orchestra’ (band) were excellent.

(‘Auditorium Cyclope' )

(‘Auditorium Cyclope’ )

The vessel also has  ‘Auditorium Cyclope’ a cinema style auditorium which provides a second entertainment venue. I’m not sure why they chose to name it after a mythical one-eyed beast.

The room is a useful addition and is used for films (DVD via data projector, not real film anymore) lectures and the occasional piano recital.

Ships Photography

The ships photographers are just as persistent as those on any cruise line. I have had many photos taken of myself on-board CMV vessels. However the results are remarkable and they always make me look ten years younger. I wonder how this is achieved? Maybe they have an anti-wrinkle-filter or maybe they Photoshop every portrait (unlikely)?

As usual the finished photographs are rather overpriced.

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Conclusion

MV Azores is a charming and intimate ship. She is the polar-opposite of today’s mega-ships.

Although some of her fixtures and fittings are a little dated, her interior condition does not reveal her age.

Marco Polo fans may feel that Azores is not unlike a smaller version of that classic ship. However compared to CMV’s bigger vessel ‘Magellan’, Azores is the ‘chalk’ to her ‘cheese’.

Azores has all of the basic facilities for life at sea. After all, how many restaurants and bars do you really need? What Azores does not have is gimmicks like bumper cars and rock climbing walls, but her clientele do not require them.

I personally would only require more public rooms, dining options and facilities, if I was on a very long cruise with multiple seas days.

The staterooms are at least “adequate” and suites with balconies are available, but are very limited in number.

The two negatives are: 1) You can expect some engine noise and vibration in certain cabins especial toward the stern, even on the eight deck. 2) Being so small she is more subject to the movement of the sea than bigger ships are.

Somebody recently said, while referring to todays mega-ships: “What happened to just cruising”?  I can report that it’s alive and well and can be found on-board Azores.

The CMV product is adults only and ‘may’ not appeal to young adults. I would also not recommend Azores to those passengers who are prone to seas-sickness.  However I would recommend Azores to those who enjoy the charm of a more intimate nautical experience.

Malcolm Oliver, 2015

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