We have cruised with Azamara once before and thoroughly enjoyed it, not that their system credits us with having done so. When we saw the inventory for the Spice Route Voyage, plus a very good deal for the cruise including air fares and pre-cruise hotel, we booked up 11 months in advance.
HOTEL - A pre-cruise hotel was included in Singapore and the one provided, the Conrad Centennial, was excellent. Large very well equipped room. Comfortable bed. Huge TV. Bath and separate shower. Truly amazing breakfast buffet selection. Very well trained staff. While not near the main shops in Orchard Road it was in the Marina Bay area with access to the huge Suntec City shopping complex.
CREW - The overwhelming factor which makes Azamara superior to other cruise lines (we have tried many) is the staff training. All are incredibly friendly and helpful and the more experienced members of the crew truly excel. They quickly remember your name and greet you with a cheery smile wherever they see you around the ship.
On how many other ships do the Captains and/or the Cruise Directors personally see you off the ship at each port and on many occasions welcome you on board again. This is in addition to all their other duties. On this particular ship there is a running joke about Captain Johannes’ “twin brother”, the Cruise Director Eric. Eric is around 6’ 4” tall and the Captain appears to be about a foot shorter, making a striking contrast when they stand together. Even more striking when Eric is in his drag outfit , with high heeled shoes!
FOOD AND DRINK - The food in the evening was generally good or very good in the main Discoveries Restaurant, but it was sometimes difficult to make the right choice from the descriptions on the menus.
At breakfast and lunch there was a limited menu available (see “Bad” below).
Breakfast in the Windows cafe offered a very good and varied hot and cold selection.
Although self-service, Windows Cafe has waiter service to provide drinks, carry your food and generally assist you. A very pleasant addition to the normal self-service restaurants on ships.
During the day food is also available from the grill next to the pool, where burgers etc. and chips are provided.
The two speciality restaurants Aqualina and Prime C, provide a real “Fine dining” experience, but at $25 per person, perhaps only for a special treat. Those in Suites can eat there without the extra charge.
A white and a red wine were available each day in the restaurants and the bars. If you preferred one of the other complimentary wines which was not featured that day, it was always available if you asked. There was just one French rose throughout the cruise. The selection of wines was very good, very drinkable and certainly not cheap plonk.
In addition to the complimentary wine, tea, coffee, spirits and cocktails were available free of charge throughout the ship. A full list of these can be seen on the Azamara website.
Afternoon tea, with cakes and sandwiches were available from Windows Cafe or the Mosaic Cafe, although there was little daily change in the selection available.
CABIN, SORRY, STATEROOM – Looking a bit dated, but clean, with comfortable beds and a sofa. The balcony had modern, comfortable chairs and a large table, ideal for breakfast chosen from the extensive menu.
A decent sized television is provided, having a range of news and other channels, plus a long list of free and pay per view films. The picture quality was good. Much better than on some other larger, more modern ships. They also provide a DVD player, with a further list of films which can be borrowed.
There was always a good strong supply of hot water in the shower room, although slightly discoloured at times (see below). Basic soap, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are provided. The towels were reasonably new and fluffy.
We found our cabin stewards to be polite and very efficient. The cabin was always cleaned while we were at breakfast and dinner.
EMBARKATION – A complete shambles. We were collected from our hotel and dropped off at the Cruise terminal. We were given no directions. We were given forms to complete prior to embarkation, but the woman on the coach, who, when asked for help in completing them, said she had no idea what information was required.
We eventually found our way to the check in area where a long queue formed because the lap top computers kept crashing. We were then told they had to photocopy our passports but the photocopier had run out of toner. They sent out for new toner. This arrived but it was the wrong type. Someone was sent out for the correct toner. Meanwhile a further hundred or so people joined the queue and after checking in we were told to wait in a lounge, with seating for about 20 people. I then spoke to an officer from the ship who was not aware of the problem. She managed to retrieve our passports without them being photocopied, which allowed us to board the ship.
We had intended to have lunch on board, which we did, and then go ashore, as the ship did not leave until late that night. We were then informed that we had to attend a safety drill at 4:30pm. That ruined our plans for the afternoon. The next day it was announced that those who had been ashore the previous afternoon should attend the safety drill on that first day at sea. We were not impressed. Why were we not told of this arrangement?
FOOD -There was only a limited selection on the breakfast menu in Discoveries restaurant. For instance English bacon, available in Windows Cafe was not offered, with only crispy bacon listed. No baked beans listed, but available in Windows, etc. The same was true at lunchtime.
For us, the major failing was the lunch provided in Windows Cafe. Whereas at breakfast, the choices are spread across the full width of the serving areas, providing a very wide selection of food, at lunch it was duplicated on each side. There was usually overcooked very bland fish. Chicken with a different coating or sauce each day, although the different flavours were often indistinguishable. Pasta or other vegetarian offering. Overcooked pork or beef was offered. There was a different carved meat each day. There was a good selection of salads. Sushi was occasionally provided.
Cold desserts changed little each day, but there was a different hot desert, albeit a similar pear/apple/banana etc . pudding . A range of flavours of ice cream was always available.
LIGHTING – As on so many cruise ships, the lighting was very poor in the cabin, with no makeup/shaving mirror with a brighter light.
SHUTTLE BUSES - In their advertising, Azamara make a feature of providing Shuttle Buses at the ports. They do add “Where available”. At each port on this cruise, except Mumbai, we were informed ”Due to a strong taxi union we are unable to provide a shuttle service.” In Sumatra this did not prevent the ship from offering a coach to the nearest town at a cost of $39. In other words, we will not offer the free shuttle advertised, we will charge you $39. In Mumbai they proudly offered a free shuttle service to the port’s Green Gate. This took you a distance of a few hundred yards, which could be covered on foot in the few minutes. Less than the time you waited for each coach to fill up. Had the shuttle taken you through the gates and into the centre of this fascinating city it would have been worthwhile. As it was, you still had to run the gauntlet of the aggressive taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers as you exited through the gate.
AZAMAZING EVENING – On this cruise the venue was the garden of an hotel just along the waterfront from where the ship was docked in Cochin. Regrettably, but understandably, with around 700 guests it was split into 2 groups. We were in the first group in the late afternoon while the temperature was still around 90 degrees F. Not only was it unbearably hot, but we were not able to appreciate the atmosphere created by the lighting around the garden and in the trees. Instead of an AzAmazing evening we had a sizzling afternoon with nothing amazing about it. My advice is on future cruises, check the venue and if you are able to do so, ask to be moved to the later group in the evening.
ENTERTAINMENT – not all bad, but more of a curates egg, good only in parts. Many seemed to enjoy it, so perhaps I am being over critical.
WEAR AND TEAR - Ugly is perhaps a little unfair, but Azamara Journey is starting to show her age, despite some renovation after the fire and maintenance time a few weeks earlier when a propeller was damaged. Most of the furniture and upholstery is looking tired and worn and replacement is overdue. If you asked me if I would rather have this renewed and not have free drinks and gratuities, then the answer is no, but it does spoil the appearance.
To be fair, the ship was kept very clean, with only small areas of rust and peeling paint visible.
There were issues with the toilet plumbing where the vacuum system did not work. In addition to being told not to place anything except the toilet paper provided in the toilet, we were then told to limit the amount of paper used. They did not specify the number of sheets!!
The water often had a yellowish brown colour, no doubt a result of the ageing plumbing.
CASUAL CLOTHING - On the subject of ugly, we certainly like the absence of a need to dress up or have formal evenings. Nevertheless, some have difficulty in understanding the meaning of Resort Casual Wear. Shorts and jeans are specifically excluded in the evening, but some insisted on wearing jeans, or combat trousers with pockets on the legs, in the restaurant. We also saw a man of generous proportions in the front row in the Cabaret Lounge wearing a tight pair of shorts . Not a pretty sight.
I have tried to offer a balanced view of Azamara Journey and not say everything was faultless, or the ship is a complete disaster. The fact is that Azamara do offer something different and while not perfect, they provide a relaxed and friendly atmosphere from which you come away refreshed. Surely this is what a holiday and cruising in particular, should be all about. Would I cruise with Azamara again? Certainly.