After a gap of a year, we returned from our "home away from home" the Azamara Journey to make a much looked forward to visit to India and Sri Lanka. This was to be our seventh Azamara cruise and our fifth successive trip on Journey. We had chosen this cruise because although those countries were very much on our bucket lists, we had some reservations about doing a land based adventure for our first visits.
We always now do our own flights and pre/post cruise bookings. We flew with British Airways who again turned out to be excellent carriers, we regularly transit Heathrow so are very happy using them. Our pre cruise hotel for two nights was the Hilton Jumeirah Beach and post cruise we stayed a further night in Singapore in the Ritz Carlton.
We had not been on Journey since its dry dock and we were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked the changes, even though others have expressed concern that they were less than they would have liked to see. Our view is, just like in your home, your wish list is always longer than your budget will allow and we think Azamara made some sound rationing choices, not least of all by looking after their hard working crew. The ship is in very good shape and was spotlessly clean all cruise long.
Dining was excellent, we dined both in the speciality restaurants and in Discoveries and were very pleased with the menu choices and every meal was perfectly served. Lunchtime options (buffet, pool bar and some brunches on the at sea days) were all good and there was ample variety of choice. We also had our regular room service burger (always a treat once a cruise) but apart from that, although we had a suite, we tended not to eat in our room. We found breakfast far less frenetic than on previous visits and therefore enjoyed more breakfasts in Ocean View (including its great smoothie bar) than had happened previously.
Service throughout the ship is first rate, staff seem to have been well trained to anticipate your every need and are genuinely engaged and happy to go the extra mile. They also work very much as a team as was evident when the White Nights had to be rapidly relocated indoors due to some unexpected monsoon rains. No one stood on ceremony or status, everyone pitched in to help and it was good to see a lot of guys making personal decisions and taking the initiative in how they looked after guests, not only that night but throughout the cruise.
The one area that is still work in progress is Land Discoveries - we had booked all our trips through them in advance to take account of the 25% discount. No trips were cancelled but the quality was very variable. Not only does Azamara have to work with their local agents to produce excursions which are differentiated from the run of the mill drive arounds, they also need to work with their onboard team as this is the one area that does not seem to fully grasp the service ethos and is still more of a cookie cutter sell rather than individual customer focused service mentality. Nothing was really bad, but when you compared how they handled feedback compared to how an Assistant waiter did, there was a disconnect.
The cruise director Eric de Gray worked tirelessly to entertain and the onboard production team were very talented indeed, with two doing excellent solo slots. The guest entertainers were all very good indeed. Nigel Marvin was a very good enrichment lecturer and it was nice to see how both enrichment speakers positively supported other activities staff and guest entertainers by attending their events - a real camaraderie existed. In our view, although we thought the pianist was perhaps less forthcoming in terms of their personality, we really loved the relocation of the piano to the Casino Bar area and found this a very relaxing and comfortable place to spend time, either before dinner or after the show. We know many do not like this move, but we feel Mosaic now has a clear purpose and with the piano to the side in the Casino Bar, it is not perched in a public transit area as is the case in Mosaic.
We were disappointed to see Park West back on board and felt their "wares" seriously cluttered up part of Mosaic and there were far to many bright pictures on the walls in that area of Deck 5 which just did not fit into the look and feel at all.
We slept so well in the new comfortable beds and were sorry when time came for us to disembark - as usual Azamara make that a relatively painless experience though beware, there is quite a long walk in Singapore both before you get your luggage and then on to the taxi stand.
In summary, we were so fortunate to be able to sail again with Azamara and to see that as ever the leadership skills of Captain Johannes and the attention to guest experience detail of Heike continues to rub off all the way down to the deck cleaners and to everyone we met onboard.
It was a great cruise, with a great cruiseline and one we are so glad we were able to complete.