AZAMARA JOURNEY REVIEW – OCTOBER 2013
We recently enjoyed 2 back-to-back cruises on “Journey”.
The first departed Athens on 10 September cruising through Greek islands, Crete, Montenegro and Croatian coast to Venice.
The second cruise took us from Venice, Croatian coast, Montenegro, Greek Islands, Sicily, Sorrento, to Rome (Civitavecchia).
Only 2 ports were repeated and we still enjoyed those the second time!
Originally we were looking for cruise ship with a maximum of about 300 passengers, and we are pleased that our agent, (Roxi from Cruiseabout), advised us to consider Azamara in spite of having 700 passengers, as they were still just like a small ship – able to get close in to ports but with better amenities than some other ships, and very good value for money.
We decided that a single cruise was probably too short, so we linked 2 cruises to have 21 days on board. We are pleased with that decision as we really got to know the ship and staff very much better by doing 2 cruises, and it was great not to pack or unpack for 3 whole weeks.
Even when the 21 days were up we still didn’t want to pack and leave the ship.
Before booking we read as many Cruise Critic reviews as we could to try and get some information about Azamara and “Journey” in particular, we are pleased with our decision (so much that we have advance booked 2 more back to back cruises in 2015! This time on “Quest”)
In writing this review I will try and provide information that will be of use to people like us who may be considering which cruise line and size of ship to take.
There were 4 of us travelling, two couples in the 60/70 years young age bracket. We chose to book 2 Club Continent Suites side by side and we were well pleased with the extra room and larger bathroom and deck that these had in comparison to the veranda staterooms.
The suites had sufficient space between the bed and dresser so that 2 people could walk past each other (and without a squeeze also!) The hotel style bathroom was small but much better than the very small bathrooms of the other grade rooms. The shower is over the bathtub and there is also a laundry drying line provided.
Storage space in both bathroom and the suite itself is absolutely excellent, the wardrobes are big enough for a “his and hers”, while drawers and cupboards take care of the rest. We don’t travel light and as our trip was nearly 7 weeks long in total, it was great to unpack everything and put the empty suitcases under the bed!
The bed was extremely comfortable and the linen and towels were excellent.
Other advantages of booking a suite compared with lesser graded rooms included an “English” Butler. Our Butler’s name was Sooria and he was simply outstanding, always there just when we needed something but never intrusive, didn’t matter what it was – Sooria attended to it.
Suite guests also had priority in boarding and various activities, as well as the right to eat in the specialty restaurants every day with no extra charge, and you guessed it – Sooria made the bookings for us.
The room attendant, Kadek, and his helper were also absolutely excellent, doing the rooms and replacing linen in an efficient and always unobtrusive way, (and no naff towel folding on the beds at night, thank goodness.)
Breakfast on our balcony was a delight; only a couple of times did the wind threaten to blow the toast and pastries away…
We mostly ate evening meals in either Aqualina or Prime C specialty restaurants and I think our party ended up with a split decision as to which was best. There were only a couple of minor hiccups with the meals (I had an overcooked steak that I returned one night, and there was also an overcooked /tough lobster dish)
Overall I have to rate the dining experience as excellent, especially given that all the meat and seafood are from frozen supplies.
Dover Sole became one of our favorite seafood dishes, as did the Brie in filo pastry towers as a starter and Crème Brulee as a desert – Yum!
We do think that there could be a little more variation to the menus with perhaps some local specials adding to the fine dining experience. There were daily specials, but these were not aligned to specific countries/local cuisine.
The Maitre’d, Sommelier, and wait staff were fantastic, we got to know almost all by name and found their service excellent, professional but never impersonal or anything but enjoyable. They all really did enjoy their jobs!
The supplied wines were alternated ship wide with only a choice of one white and one red each day, we think it would cost the company no more to offer 2 whites and 2 reds.
That way you could choose, for example, between a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc or a Cabernet and Chianti, to suite your pallet and your meal.
For lunch we mostly chose to eat in Windows Café. The buffet there was excellent; we just had to exercise restraint for fear of getting off the ship too much overweight!
Breakfast in Discovery always seemed a little uncoordinated and rushed, but in fairness we are not early risers hence we were usually there just before closing time.
We didn’t try Discovery for lunch, we’ll do that next time, however the Pool Grill was OK for snacks/burgers.
Mosaic café was great for morning/afternoon coffee and tea; the little snacks were good as were the cappuccinos, “to go” coffees were always large and very hot.
Some reviews considered the décor on the ship somewhat out-dated; we thought it was great, and far preferable to glass and chrome starkness of more modern designs. It was timeless with styles and other décor varied throughout the ship - top marks Azamara!
Despite being 13 years old, the ship felt fresh – no doubt due to the extensive refit in 2007 and subsequent recent maintenance work, the dark blue hull colour looks classy, and the vessels probably still have a reasonable service life ahead of them.
The ship was generally quiet, we felt rather than heard engine and mechanical noise, thankfully we did not get pounded with endless announcements on the ship’s PA system.
The language of the ship was English, and for us that was an advantage as we did not have to endure the same message being repeated again in another language.
Cleanliness onboard was excellent. The ship was generally spotless and certainly food hygiene was of prime importance, and it worked, as we are not aware of any food borne/hygiene illness over both cruises.
Ship size matters when it comes to personally meeting and interacting with senior staff; we had several discussions with Captains Jason and Johannes (yes we had 2 Captains as they changed at the end of our first cruise)
Hotel Director Heike visited our table in the restaurants on several occasions and no matter where you went on the ship there were staff that remembered you and usually had time for a chat. We felt we were treated more like family than guests.
To emphasize the care that the ship took of us, when passengers came back on board from the Azamazing evening in Chania, Crete – there was a big swell running and the tender boats were being tossed around against the docking station. Captain Jason personally came on board each tender and supervised the unloading operation to ensure our safety.
We had 2 Azamazing evenings, the first in Chania and the second Dubrovnik; we enjoyed both but preferred the Dubrovnik one, as we felt the Chania evening was probably too long. However top marks for Azamara for putting on these evenings as they certainly must take a whole lot of extra effort.
A minor criticism of the Chania evening was that the toilet facilities available were inadequate in number and questionable hygienically.
Singing and dancing at both shows was interesting and fun, great to have the Mayor of a town welcome us!
Anyway, good on you Azamara for putting these evenings on, I am sure they will get even better over time.
The entertainment on board was very good given the number of entertainment staff, and the Cabaret evenings were outstanding. Performances (one solo) given by Cruise Director Eric de Gray were simply stunning.
We did not use the casino or gym, nor did we purchase any fine art or ships photographs, so I am unable to comment on these.
I did purchase a watch from “Indulgences” and I am very pleased with it. The pricing seems about equal to current Hong Kong airport duty free prices, but of course the range available on board is somewhat restricted by comparison.
We were surprised that the Journey Shop ran out of some essential consumables, and were told that it is only restocked every 3 months or so. Surely essential items must be able to be restocked each cruise, or the inventory increased to prevent running out.
Being suite guests we had free access to the Thalassotherapy pool area. This proved to be one of our favourite quiet spots with great loungers and amazing views out of the wind for port arrivals and departures.
I had trouble with my right arm so I went for acupuncture during the first cruise and this has certainly made a great improvement to it – thanks Nathan!
Many reviewers have grumbled about the internet connection. We found that it was adequate for what we needed (emails to and from home) and we managed to last on the free minutes that we each received by being Le Club Voyage Adventurer level members.
I guess if you attempt to stream video/facebook etc or send lots of photographs from the onboard system, then you will be disappointed with both the performance and cost.
Shore excursions tended to be a slight disappointment for us, we prefer to just go ashore and do our own wandering around. We did however privately book a day tour in Sorrento, which was really excellent.
The Achilles heel on the ship for us were the Guest Relations staff; we found their performance to be less than satisfactory. On several occasions we found that when they did not know the answer to your question, they just told you anything in order to either not show that they did not know, or because they simply wanted to get rid of you. Other passengers remarked similarly to us also.
This is not acceptable; the staff should be trained to carefully listen to requests and if they do not know, or are not sure, undertake the research necessary, and then get back to you.
I mentioned earlier that we booked future cruises whilst we were on board; Juliana was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. We were able to book our 2015 cruises a couple of days after the itinerary was released thereby enabling us to secure the cruises we wanted and also choose our suites.
Others have unfavorably mentioned the “up sell” on the ship for wine, spirits, and also caviar at the specialty restaurants. However we found after a couple of days, staff understood that we were not interested and desisted from going through the sales spiel.
There were a couple of glitches, one night there was hammering on the deck above us (sounded like paint chipping) it was going when we got back to our room after 11:00pm, took 3 or 4 calls to guest relations before it stopped just after midnight.
The other was some plumbing work being done whilst we were ashore, resulted in our toilet not working, then after that was fixed our floor carpet becoming flooded and squishy from the room next door’s plumbing (fresh water thankfully), took a bit to get things fixed and at least a day with a blower to dry out our carpet.
For us the Azamara ships are perfect, not too big that they are impersonal and not so small that they become stuffy or snobby!
Space on the ship was excellent, there always seemed to be room where you wanted it, certainly compared to a previous cruise we did on “Celebrity Galaxy”.
Whilst we love our own grandchildren dearly, we were really pleased to be on a ship where there were virtually no children; top marks for not running children’s programs, Azamara.
Smaller ships like the Azamara vessels are for us!
We think they are pitched just right in the market place and look forward to our next cruises.
The phrase “PROFESSIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL” probably best describes our cruise experience on “Azamara Journey”.
Our rating is 9.5 out of 10, well done Azamara!
Mike and Virginia B from New Zealand