We just returned from the 12 night Chelsea Flower Show cruise from Amsterdam to Southampton aboard the Azamara Journey. Two years ago we were on the Quest for the Best of Italy cruise and loved it. To sum it up:
Embarkation: Arriving passengers were seated in the terminal and provided with complimentary coffee and pastries. You are given a number to board based on (I believe) your cabin number. We began the boarding process at about 11:30 a.m. which went very smoothly. At that time we were given our cabin keys and allowed to make reservations for 2 nights at the speciality restaurants. We boarded the ship and were greeted with smiling faces and a glass of pink champagne. Although we couldn't go to our cabins, we were happy to relax in the Windows Cafe, have a few glasses of complimentary wine and help ourselves to the lunch buffet. At approximately 1:30 p.m. an announcement was made that we could proceed to our cabins. Our luggage was brought to the room almost immediately. We met our cabin steward and our butler. Our butler, Alwyn, was very helpful with all of our requests and was able to reserve additional nights in the specialty restaurants for us because we were in a suite. There were fresh flowers and a bowl of fruit on the table as well as complimentary waters and soft drinks in the refrigerator.
Cabins: Had a Continental Suite 8063 and previously had Veranda cabin 7029 on the prior voyage. Suite has more amenities and more space (see Azamara description), but a Veranda cabin is perfectly adequate for us.
Breakfast: Morning started out with coffee in our room (thank you Alwyn). Once we were awake we would head down to the Windows Cafe for a buffet breakfast. We also tried breakfast in the Discoveries dining room one morning. The only difference in the two venues would be: Do you want your breakfast served to you, or are you ok with getting the food yourself? Basically you can have anything you want in either setting. If you choose the buffet, the waiters will bring coffee/tea and juice to your table at while you peruse the buffet. The buffet offers the standard fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, but you can have eggs/omelets made to order, pancakes or waffles prepared before you, etc. I'm not a big fan of buffets, but we were perfectly pleased with the Windows breakfast buffet offerings.
Lunch: We had lunch at the buffet twice and both times we were very pleased, not to mention the complimentary wine and of course the chocolate gelato. If you are at the pool you can get grilled items such as hot dogs and hamburgers.
Almost every evening we ate at the specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C. The food is superb and the service is exemplary. On two nights we also dined in the main dining room, Discoveries, and must say that the food was also excellent. Personally I think that dining in the speciality restaurants is more intimate because there are far fewer tables and thus it is quieter and more relaxed. Dining in the Discoveries dining room is very lively and obviously more crowded during peak times. It really is up to you as to what type of dining experience you are looking for. We did not have any difficulty getting a table when we walked in to the Discoveries. Usually we sat at the bar first and had a cocktail then let them know we were ready to be seated.
Just as a side note: The Mosaics Cafe offers complimentary gourmet coffees and a delightful array of petite sandwiches and desserts.
Excursions: We booked a few excursions; i.e., Normandy Beach, Bruge on your own, Brussells on your own. We booked these on line when Azamara was offering a 50% discount. Great value, plus you always had transportation back to the ship.
Entertainment: We were usually too tired to go to the shows, but caught Eric's performances which were awesome. Before we moved to Florida from NJ we used to go to NYC Broadway shows often and we think Eric is right up there with talent as well as the clouds (he has to be about 6 feet 7 inches tall)!
Casino: The casino is small but this is a small ship. The staff is very helpful in assisting passengers to learn the gaming tables (my Blackjack was rusty). Never had to wait for a table or a slot machine. Won a little, lost a little.
Activities: This would not be a cruise suitable for children as there are really no activities for them. I am a loving grandparent, but enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. The daily "Pursuits" lists all of the day's events such as bingo, mahjong, enrichment lectures, fitness activities, etc., etc. There is plenty to do if that is your pleasure. There is a nice library with many current books on the shelves. I think the age group on these ships are probably 45 - 70 depending upon the itinerary. We saw a few younger people and a few older people, but this is probably a good average.
Pool: The pool area is clean and the chair covers are changed every day (if not more frequently). There was plenty of space (keep in mind we had only 1 full sea day). The waitstaff was always available to take drink orders but they were not aggressive. The passengers on this voyage were, for the most part, polite and thoughtful of each other.
Fitness Room: Well equipped but small, however, no wait for the machines.
Spa: I only used it for a manicure but thought the staff was friendly and helpful. Prices were not out of line with what I pay on land.
Ports: The size of the ship allowed us to go to ports that the big guys can't do. A highlight for me was going towards Rouen along the Seine. The countryside is beautiful, dotted with old chateau and farms. People were waiting on the side of the river for us to come by so they could wave us on.
On this cruise we stopped at many ports, each with its own charm. I would need several pages to describe all that there is to do and see. The fact that Azamara has so many overnights at particular ports is a real attraction for us. When you know you don't have to rush back to the ship, you can really get into the local scene and absorb the culture and sites with an unhurried attitude.
Crew: I can't say enough about the crew. EVERYONE was sincerely helpful and friendly. The captain was always in communication with the passengers and the rest of the crew were always ready to make your journey as enjoyable as possible.
Disembarkation: Again, very easy. You get to select what time you wish to disembark, you get a bag tag with a number on it, when they call your number you can leave and collect your luggage. Of course we stopped at the Windows Cafe for breakfast before we left. We did not use the Azamara transportation because we made our own air/ground arrangements. We used Smith for Airports and they were amazing. 97 GPB for a van (there were 4 of us) to Heathrow. Took about 1.5 hours from Southampton.
Negatives: Yes there are a few minor negatives. The only thing we had a problem with was the internet. Azamara has to get with current times...they charge way too much for a sloooooooow connection. Very frustrating for many passengers including us.
Overall: We had another great experience with Azamara. We are looking to book another cruise in 2013.