My journey on Journey...: Azamara Journey Cruise Review by Angiet2
Overall Member Rating
My journey on Journey...
Destination: Baltic Sea
Embarkation: We did traditional cruise air with ground transfers (not Choice Air), so we did not have any input in our airline arrangements. I will give a big round of applause to Azamara on the arrangement of our flights. We flew from San Diego to JFK to Copenhagen. Of course, flying such a long distance is NEVER fun, but we really feel like the air arrangements were handled well. Delta offered fairly good service in Economy Comfort (well worth the extra fee!) and I would fly with them again internationally, if their prices were lower than KLM or Lufthansa for a similar route.
I must tell you that the Copenhagen embarkation was truly horrible! We were let off of More the coach/bus, made to gather our own luggage (remember, this after flying all night long and being exhausted!). The wind was blowing at least 20-30 MPH, temperature was around 55 degrees, the rain was falling heavily... As we were all exiting the coach, we were hoping to get inside the embarkation area (think fancy tent), NOPE! We were left to stand outside, tired/wet/cold/exhausted and being whipped to death by the wind. Finally, after several elderly guests with walkers and wheel chairs were becoming agitated, we found someone who worked for Azamara, or at least the Copenhagen port authority, and told them that we MUST not be left out in this horrible weather.
We were informed that since security had decided to set up the metal detectors so close to the door, that they were not able to allow us to enter until it was 'our turn' at security. Imagine our disgust, when we got inside this huge tent (complete with bathrooms, and at least 2000 square feet of wide open space with tons of empty chairs), that we were made to stand outside in such horrible conditions.
The c/s rep that checked us in, was quite unhappy that I could not find my Express Pass papers. He made it very clear that I should have kept those with my passport. I asked him if he could just look me up by my name, or my travel companion's name, and let's get this process moving. He finally got someone to help him (and I'm not joking! He really had to ask a fellow team member to assist him!) and after 15 minutes, we were in front of the ship's photographer to get our 'Welcome Aboard' photos taken (complete with wind blown hair, rain streaked makeup and sheer exhaustion, clearly, written all over our faces).
You would think that this is the end of our embarkation story... Nope! As we exited the tent, we looked up and could not believe that, in order to board the Journey, we were being forced to climb stairs with our heavy carry on bags, in the rain, with absolutely NO Azamara rep to assist us. The metal steps were very slippery, our roller bags were heavy and it was almost more than we could stand, especially when you filter in the long flight, 3 hour city tour & harsh weather conditions, that we had just endured.
Once onboard, we went to Guest Relations, to tell them that we needed to cancel our Copenhagen City Tour that we had booked and paid for, since we just participated in the included (free!) city tour that was included with our transfer. This was a huge run-around. We were told to come back to the Shore Excursions desk at noon (approximately one hour later) and to just go have some lunch and not worry about it.
Promptly at noon, I returned to a closed Shore Excursions desk and there was no one there. I went over to Guest Relations and was told that they were now opening at 1 PM and that I would have to come back then to discuss a refund on our City Tour.
Normally, this would be OK except for the fact that all tours must be cancelled in advance and our tour began at 12:45 PM. I told Guest Relations that they needed to assist me with this, and that basically, I was not leaving their desk, until we had this matter resolved. I was very nice, but firm. I was clearly not informed that a city tour was included with my transfer and a refund was owed to me. Eventually, the refund was given, but it was not without an argument. Couple this with the rough embarkation experience in the tent/rain/weather/metal steps, and you can see how this day was going.
When we landed, there were several Azamara reps waiting for us. After clearing customs, we gathered our own luggage and then, proceeded to large coach/busses to start our Journey. Since it was very early in the AM (around 7:30 AM) and we would not be allowed to board before 11:00 AM, Azamara provided us a 3 hour city tour of Copenhagen. The rain and wind were very bad, and we were all very, very tired and jet lagged, so the city tour was definitely not fully enjoyed. I still truly appreciate Azamara providing this service.
Cabin: We were in 7078, a standard balcony cabin.... the dreaded and feared cabin directly across from the laundry room. In researching this cabin, I heard everything from 'high levels of noise' to 'avoid this cabin at all cost' to 'YOU'VE BEEN WARNED'. Well... let me set the record straight...there was basically no noise from the laundry room and for any noise that we heard (which was minimal), it was made up for in convenience factor with being so strategically located by the laundry room.
This standard balcony cabin is a bit smaller than the Celebrity balcony cabins I have had before on M or S Class ships, but it was well designed and the storage was adequate. The shower does have the dreaded curtain, but it did not cling to our legs, at all. There was an adjustable shower head that made the tiny shower much easier to take. We also utilized the Spa showers, which were nice! There was almost no transfer of noise, from either of our next door neighbors. I will give Azamara an extra point or two, over Celebrity, for sound proofing their rooms.
The linens on the beds were good and mattresses were of good quality. The other wonderful thing are all the hooks on the bathroom door and the large hook in the main cabin area. Very convenient for storing visors, hats, robes, etc. Also, there is a safe that easily holds a 15 inch laptop and 2 SLR cameras, plus plenty of other items.
Shore Excursions: Azamara offered the excursions (as long as they were booked in advance and NOT on board) for 50% off. Obviously, this made them a good deal and we booked nearly one in every port on this very port intensive itinerary. Well... This is an area that I am sad to report, really needs to have some attention paid. The shore excursions, for the most part, were far from great. The guide in Brugge Belgium neglected to tell our group that pick pockets were prevalent in the very areas that we would be touring. Well.... You know what's coming next... 2 women in our group had their money and I.D's stolen. This really put a bad mood on the group and might have been avoided had the guide let us know to hold our belongings close. The 2 women that were pick pocketed were each carrying messenger style bags, small to medium in size and zipped up (think Baggalini type of cross body messenger style bags). Even this security minded type of bag was no match for Brugge pick pockets! Also, the grand finale for our very lame tour guide, was when we got off of the canal boat, he was GONE! Yes, that's right! Gone! We had to find another Azamara tour and join them to finish our tour! Couple that with his super quiet, soft spoken ways (there was no amplification provided, so if you were hard of hearing, or not able to literally be standing right next to the guide, you had NO idea, what you were touring). We also had a less than stellar experience on the London Panoramic Tour. The group was picked up right after lunch (think full tummies and bladders!). London has basically no public bathrooms (perhaps due to the tight security for the 2012 Olympics that at the time of our cruise, were 2 weeks away from starting). So, picture this... 50 people on a tour bus...right after unlimited wine at lunch...bumpy cobblestone streets... **NO BATHROOMS**! You can use your imagination to fill in the rest! We all held it pretty good for the entire 3 hours, but as we were finally starting to head back to the ship, several of us began asking (begging!) the tour guide, if there would be a bathroom break, and if not, was it OK to use the bathroom on the bus. The driver and the tour guide told us that the bathroom was out of order, due to a burned out light bulb! Well, after much fighting and arguing, and people threatening to urinate in the seats if they were not allowed to use the bathroom, the driver finally agreed to unlock the door and let us 'go in the dark'. Fortunately, many of had our iPhones with us and used the camera flash as a flash light and managed just fine. After sitting in 2 hours of rush hour traffic, to go **five** miles, we were all thankful that the driver finally came to his senses and opened the door to the restroom. Note to self:, avoid Greenwich (London) between the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 PM at all costs, or be prepared to sit and sit and sit in traffic.
Day two in London, we had the good fortune to join some friends on a tour with Keith Bates . This was basically a private tour for our group of 5 and WOW!...what a GREAT day! www.londonbluebadgeguide.me Anyone visiting London, would be well served and very lucky, to have Keith as their guide. He was the BEST at taking old, at times, boring history, and making it more interesting than any show on E! or Bravo! Loved every moment! Also, when he drove us back to the ship in Greenwich, he also got stuck in traffic (for over 2 hours!) and never, ever became cranky or irritable. Just kept us entertained and always kept the mood light, even though, we were all clearly not liking the traffic, the rain, etc. Three cheers for Keith!
Food: As always, everyone's opinion regarding food and service is subjective. We dined at Windows Cafe, Aqua Lina (specialty restaurant with $25 cover charge) Pool Grill and the MDR.
Pool Grill: Loved the turkey burgers! Fresh burgers, grilled to order, were wonderful! Our friends had the chicken wings, daily, and they were always good. The nachos were OK, not great (they could be great, but Azamara must get rid of that awful liquid cheese and replace it with real, shredded cheese, melted in a broiler); however, guacamole was always fresh and appeared to be freshly prepared. We also loved the soft serve ice cream! The vanilla was always the perfect complement to any of our lunch items. Our only suggestion to Azamara would be to always have blue cheese dressing readily available for the chicken wings. This is a very normal condiment to request when having chicken wings and on the days that Azamara did not happen to have it on the salad bar, it was sometimes, quite an ordeal to get it.
Aqua Lina: Hit & Miss, to say the least. Be sure to go over the menu, thoroughly, before deciding to eat there. The menu (IMHO) is a bit limited and when we asked to please have some French onion soup and a chicken entree from Prime C, we were told a resounding "No" and we eventually left Aqua Lina, asked the maitre'd NOT to charge us the $50 for our party of two, and went to the MDR to dine, instead. We spoke to some of our other friends who were on this cruise, and were also told "NO" from the wait staff and maitre'd, to a simple French onion soup from Prime C, when they were dining in Aqua Lina. The kitchens for each specialty restaurant are right next to each other, so clearly, it would be very possible to honor guests requests for menu items, but Azamara decided to hold firm and let $50 in revenue walk out the door.
Main Dining Room (Discoveries): The menu, including the items that never change (chicken/steak/fish/shrimp cocktail, etc.) was good. Food was, for the most part, always hot and served promptly. Service was good to very good...the last night was a bit rough, but we all still had a very good time and no one went to bed hungry. The crÃ¨me brulee was wonderful, the cheesecake, fabulous. Azamara's breadsticks would rival the famous breadsticks on Seabourn. However, getting additional butter from ones waiter, could prove to be a challenge (picture a nice waiter with a deer in the headlights look!).
Room Service: Azamara has fabulous room service! When we did not find what we were looking for on the interactive TV menu, we simply called them, and they did their best to make us happy. The food was always hot (even breakfast!) and promptly served. This was one aspect of the trip, where Azamara shined. Room service, especially breakfast, on large ships, typically runs tepid to cold. Not on Azamara. I was glad I brought lots of small bills for tipping because I was always happy to tip our cheerful room service attendants who carried those heavy trays and got the food to us while it was still piping hot.
Entertainment: This is an area that Azamara clearly has the upper hand over Seabourn. The shows are not the Broadway style that you will get on the bigger ships; however, the singers and dancers are all very good and you will definitely be thoroughly entertained for your post dinner entertainment. Also, when we would see the entertainment staff around the ship at bars and restaurants, they were very nice and would always stop and talk. This was a first! Eric De Gray (cruise director) was very visible and always tries hard to keep the guests informed and entertained. Since he is allowed to perform in a couple of the shows, he appears to be very happy since leaving Seabourn to join Azamara.
Spa: We paid the $20 admission fee to utilize the spa and the T-Pool / Spa. The sad part of this story was that on the sea day that we paid the admission fee, was a very, very cold/windy/rainy day with high waves. The storm came on quickly and we were all in the T-Pool / Spa. The staff came out and quickly starting securing the pool deck furniture, cushions, etc. You would think that they would have come over and helped us out of the spa. Nope! Not one of the Azamara crew even approached us. They merely went on about their business of securing the spa deck furniture/cushions, etc. When one of the older guests, a female who was probably 70 years of age or older, attempted to climb out of the rocky spa tub, she fell onto another guest and caused her to be injured. Once again, the deck crew did not even approach us to help. Instead, a male guest, also in the spa tub, jumped up, in the cold, driving winds, to assist the older guest and get her out of the tub, up the steps and into the gym, for safety. The waves were getting so rough, that the water was literally being rocked out of the spa tub and the jets were becoming exposed. Not a big deal, until I got hit in the eye with the water when another wave hit.
I approached the spa manager, Kelly, after we had all calmed down from this frightening afternoon and told her that I either wanted a refund for my $20 spa admission or a comp'd day for our next sea day. She told me that this would not be possible and that I should have researched the weather before deciding to pay the admission fee for the spa. Uh, no.... Sorry...this is not the guest's responsibility. If conditions become unsafe due to rapidly changing weather, then offer your guests a rain check and escort them to safety out of the spa tub.
I went back to the spa desk, 2 hours later, and told Kelly that either she could do the right thing and give me a rain check, or I would take it up with the hotel manager. She finally smiled and said that she would be happy to give me a rain check and allowed me to come back on the next sea day (the weather was much better and there was no drama!).
The steam sauna on the spa is very good. I wish it had Eucalyptus but that would be the only area that I think Azamara could do to improve it. The showers are nice but several guests had a hard time getting them to function properly. The one time I had to ask for assistance, a cheerful spa employee was right there to assist.
Also, Azamara should take a clue from Princess and other lines, to offer food and bar service in the spa deck area. If you pay the $20 cover charge, and want to relax with friends, the last thing you want to do, is run all over the boat, getting lunch. On day #2, we were able to get the waiter from the pool grill to come back every 20 minutes or so, and take our drink orders. That was a nice touch.
This cruise was offered at a heavily discounted price to many of the guests, so that was a bone of contention with the guests that had paid brochure rate. Also, I had to wonder, if the staff had turned down the service, due to such a great number of guests 'getting a low price'? Conspiracy theory, perhaps... but, for the stellar reputation that Azamara has for service and food, we honestly did not experience that. Of course, nothing was down right terrible, not in the least. But, when you see that Azamara's rates vs. Celebrity for similar itineraries are considerably higher, you want to feel that your money was well spent. Yes, we enjoyed the wine at lunch and dinner, and having the tips included was a nice touch (we often tipped extra for outstanding service and always tipped our room service team!), but it always comes down to being made to feel special and having a fabulous experience. Azamara just does not have the finer details down to an art, yet. Things like, the robes, even though they were soaking wet, would not be replaced if they were not left in the floor. Often, we would leave our robes on the hooks on the bathroom door, assuming that our stewards would replace them when they noticed that the robes were soaking wet (from being used around the pool deck). Nope.... The robe belts were re-tied in a pretty bow and left WET, hanging on the door. Yuck! After another guest informed us that we must leave the robes on the floor or they would not be replaced, we happily complied. This worked well except that often times, our 2 robes would only be replaced with 1 robe; thus, making for another call to the Attendant on Duty.
For some reason, we also had a challenging time, getting the proper number of towels left in our bathroom when the used towels were taken away. One night, we had to raid the housekeeping cart left in the hallway, in order to take our shower and have a towel the next day.
Umbrellas were offered at the gangway, which is a very nice touch. However, Northern Europe is very wet and umbrellas often were gone by the time the majority of the guests disembarked. The one time that we requested that additional umbrellas be brought out to the gangplank, an Azamara employee assured us that they would get them right away (it was a true downpour in Amsterdam). After standing around for literally, 15 minutes (were they building the umbrellas?!), we finally gave up, went through security again, and went back to our cabins to get our room umbrellas. No, not the end of the world, but just a small detail that Azamara should have been prepared for. Also, on embarkation day, when we were trying to unpack, we had to ask our room steward 3 times, for hangers. Each time, she would bring us 5 hangers, even though I told her that we had a lot of clothes and really needed a lot of hangers. The 3rd request for additional hangers, was met w/ the infamous eyeball roll. Not a good way to start off the voyage. Also, she became like the water police when she would only give us one small bottle of water in our room, daily. We asked her if we were just expected to share the water bottle (think germs!), or if it would be possible, to perhaps, get 2 bottles of water, in our room? Eyeball roll, once again, but we did get 2 bottles of water so all was good in our world!
Gym: The gym was busy on sea days, like any cruise ship gym, but you could easily get onto a cardio machine (treadmill/elliptical, etc.) if you were patient. The equipment was clean and appeared to be in good working condition. Also, I give a round of applause to Azamara for having chilled bottled water available, as well as workout towels.
Pool & Hot Tubs: The hot tubs were well used by our group. We were in them, almost every night (due to the port intensive 'forced march meets German Boot Camp itinerary') to soak our aching legs and feet. The hot tubs were always hot and appeared to be very clean. The pool water was warm, even though Azamara told us that the pool is not heated. Perhaps the hot tub water is circulated through the pool? Whatever the reason, the warmer pool water in this cold climate, was very welcome and wonderful. Also, Azamara leaves the pool and hot tubs open 24 hours a day which is also a nice touch. The waiters at the pool grill were always fun and friendly and made us feel special.
Casino: Since this was a port intensive cruise, the casino was only open 3 or 4 times. Fortunately, this was OK since the slots were quite tight and truly, not paying. My friends and I had a good time, and James the casino manager took pity on us for the amount of 'investment' we had made, and gave us each a T-Shirt and a couple of complimentary drinks. Definitely a welcome gift! Thank you, James!
We did not use the complimentary Azamara shuttles in any of the ports, but I still want to commend Azamara for having this service available.
Interesting sewage smell was noted in the hallway, directly in front of our room, for several days. It was truly YUCK to the nth degree! After three days, we commented to the Guest Relations desk and they confirmed that there were some 'issues' with some of the toilets on deck 8 (it smelled as if the toilet residue was being flushed directly down our walls!). The smell would still come and go, but, basically after day 3 or 4, it was bearable. I am happy to report, that our toilet worked fine and we never had any of the issues that the guests on deck 8 were obviously suffering from (whew!).
The Journey is in good condition. Yes, there is definite need of the cabins to be refreshed, top to bottom, during her dry dock, but overall, the ship is lovely. There is fun and lively artwork in each of the stair wells that always makes you smile.
Shops: Uh, um...what can I say.... There is basically no shopping on this ship. If you are hoping for a baby version of any of Celebrity's other ships, forget about it! Unlike any of the larger ships that offer the T-Shirt sales, 'clearance sales', daily deals, etc... Azamara does not do this. In fact, it became the running joke in our group that they had the nerve to charge $255 USD for a ladies Ralph Lauren golf shirt. The rub was that a tailored man's dress shirt (not even a golf shirt!), also Ralph Lauren, was $90! Honestly, none of us could understand how in the world they arrived at a price of $255 for what appeared to be, at most, an $80 shirt, at normal retail. Live and learn! Needless to say, we did not have to worry about spending too much money at the Journey shop! Perhaps, Azamara did us a favor?!
Fellow passengers: Truly amazing! We met the most wonderful new friends, on this voyage! Jonathan, Maelo, Leonora, Ellen & Lenny...Thank you, all, for the fabulous memories that you gave to us. In addition to these wonderful new friends, there were always wonderful people to meet at dinner, or just hanging out at the pool grill. Maybe it's the wine that's included that puts the fellow passengers in a good mood? Whatever the reason, I am impressed by the camaraderie that was established with these wonderful, new friends. It became like traveling with family.
Disembarkation: Process was fairly smooth. However, since as previously mentioned, we had traditional air through Azamara (not Choice Air), and our transfers were being handled by Azamara, I was not sure why we had to be off of the ship by 7:55 AM for a 1:30 PM flight. I asked at the guest relation's desk for a later departure, but was told that since the Shore Excursions team handled that function of the cruise, and they were not going to be open again before disembarkation, that I was out of luck.
Needless to say, departing 5 hours early for our flight, made for a very, very, very long day. I know that the departure day of any cruise is never fun, but truly, kicking guests off at 7:55 AM for 1:30 PM flights is a bit odd. The positive spin on this was that we had lots of time to roam around the Amsterdam airport, spend nearly 20 Euros at McDonalds for 2 Chicken McNugget combo meals and go through the duty free stores, looking at items that we would not be able to get home, when we transferred in Atlanta to our San Diego flight (liquor, large liquid cosmetics, etc.). Once again, not the end of the world, but was a bit of a rough way to end our vacation with Azamara.
All in all, Azamara is a good, on its way, to trying to be a very good, cruise line. Would I give them five stars.... No, I wouldn't. I know that, in these days of a challenging economy and most, if not all, cruise lines finding ways to cut back, that some things are just going to suffer. I accept this when it comes to portion sizes of food; however, excellent service and the smaller details, do not come directly out of the bottom line of the balance sheet. However, it's these items that a customer remembers. I often say that if I go to a restaurant and the food is only so-so, but the wait staff is friendly, that I will leave happy, tip heavily and return again, to give them another try. However, it's one thing to do this with a meal, it's another thing to do this with such a costly investment such as a cruise.
I purchased Open Passage certificates while on board for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity but I did not purchase any for Azamara. I think, that for the difference in price, I will continue to be loyal to Celebrity in Aqua Class (service is the same, if not better, than Azamara). Also, thanks to our new friends that we met on board, we will be giving Holland America a try. They raved and raved about the 5 star service, the amazing food, the attention to detail, etc... For the same 'per day price' that Azamara typically charges, we could do a suite on HAL. Less