Typically we book well ahead on our cruises, however a gap in the diary and a strong desire for some serious r and r brought us back onboard Azamara Journey, for the first time ever in an Oceanview room. We had read less positive reviews in the weeks previously and were also concerned about how we would cope sans balcony - however, within minutes we knew we had made the right decision because Azamara Journey is in great shape as ever and we had a brilliant seven nights.
This was one of the swiftest embarkations we have ever had and it was lovely that the ship was docked down town at the foot of Las Ramblas and not further out in the larger facility. From leaving our hotel (Crowne Plaza Fira very good) to sitting out the back with our first included glass of wine was 27 minutes, my mathematically precise other half tells me.
We had never had anything other than a suite on Azamara before and so we had read all about the small bathrooms. We were actually pleasantly surprised how spacious the room and bathroom were, the storage was far better than on a Celebrity ship and the bathroom is larger than the ensuite off our guest bedroom. We had expected something like we had experienced on our first ever cruise (NCL) but this was much better. The location on Deck 4 was perfect, very quiet and our stateroom team were excellent and the room was always immaculate and clean and showed no obvious signs of wear and tear. Again we had read that you see a difference in team when you are in the cheaper rooms - most certainly not so.
This is where I have my biggest complaint, or maybe it is with the manufacturers of our washing powder because all my clothes are now too tight and I think the other half has a similar issue. Every meal, be it in Windows Café or the main Discoveries Dining Room was well cooked, extremely tasty and just right. The pastries from Mosaic café were a delight (ok I know why we do not want a room on Deck 4 again, it is far too near that Deck 5 den of cake sin and cookie temptation). Service was always attentive, perceptive and with a smile. It is lovely that although waiters have individual areas of responsibility they work as a team, helping each other out and thinking guest first. For us all the food came at the right temperature and generally wine glasses were promptly topped up. They were a little slower topping up the Club sodas but I think when that happened there were usually surrounding tables who had quite extensive and complex demands on the Assistant Waiter re cocktails.
A Jazz Brunch was served on the At Sea day and as ever there was a great range of options to eat at that event with the eating accompanied by the Journey Orchestra playing some great Jazz sets.
We know Azamara will never compete with big ships and full production stages but we enjoyed what was offered most nights. We were a little less keen on the comedy hypnotist (but that is a personal preference) but this was offset by our delight at hearing Brookes Aehron again after a gap of several years. He has lost none of his sparkle!! There are no longer singing duos around, we liked that poolside as we prefer to read quietly there (or sleep) and it had no impact on us elsewhere. The DJ was less energetic than his predecessor but as he had just come on board, perhaps he was still settling into his style and rhythm. The Cruise Director (Eric) is extremely talented and yet also very modest (except when he is coaching Captain Johannes in navigation skills). Seriously though it is great to see staff working hard and yet having fun and being very comfortable as a team.
Ports of call
Minorca - a gem and a very easily walkable port but not one you will find lots of tourist shops. It is a genuine place, very welcoming and lots of lovely tiny streets to explore
Alcudia Mallorca - we were only the second ship ever to call there. A lovely new terminal building a level 15 minute walk from the main beaches and bus to the old town. Unfortunately the local taxis have not yet worked out there is money to be made here, so the lovely large taxi area was empty all day, we are sure they will quickly learn. Some cruisers travelled to Palma for the day both independently and through organised excursions. Some independents found they had a stressful trip back to the ship as the local bus timetables seem to be "optional" but every one did make it back on time (just)
Gibraltar - it was misty and a little windy so the Cable Car was not running for some of the day. We opted for a local taxi tour we picked up at the terminal which is at a standard set rate (£22 per person) and was very good and informative.
In Gibraltar we also enjoyed our Azamazing evening which was a wonderful night despite the challenges of moving over 500 guests half way up the rock via narrow roads. The venue was wonderful, plenty seats, the music spine tingling and pleasant interval refreshments (the ship had laid on pre departure and welcome back buffets so no risk of going hungry)
Cadiz - a lovely town to explore on its own but we opted to go further afield and took the cruiseline excursion to Seville, selecting the Seville on your own tour which is basically just transport to and from the beautiful Cathedral town. This was a great trip and we hope Azamara provide more of these "on your own" options in future as it gives us the security of reliable transport (and for 2 persons, less than the taxi fare) but combines this with the freedom to explore and see what you want at the other end. Being a Sunday we were very limited re the Cathedral but in a way were glad because we might not otherwise have explored Real Alcazar to the extent we did.
Lisbon - we arrived lunchtime the day before disembarkation when we were going to spend some more time in Lisbon, so we opted for another trip, this time to Mediaeval Obidos an absolutely charming town 90 mins drive away. Although we were on a large bus (c35 of us) there were two guides and we used audio guide systems, half the bus on channel 1 and half on 2. We took slightly different routes round the village and it worked very well and did not feel like a large group event. Again a good trip we would recommend.
This was very well arranged, we had hoped to opt for a late disembarkation but as the ship was on a tight turnaround, this was not offered so we changed our plans. Independent travellers were given a 2 hour window in which they could disembark when the chose, the luggage tags were only being used to help you find your cases. We like this and it all worked well.
This cruise reminded us why we like Azamara. It is everything from the relative compact size of the ship (and there are never elevator issues or lines to do anything) to the wonderful crew (not one person let the side down) to the fellow guests (hard to explain but it has the sorts of interesting people we like to cruise with, people who enjoy exploring places, socialising in the evening, but who do not need hip hop music and bling to make their holiday work for them).
It was perfect r and r even if it is now requiring some effort on the exercise front to remove that one unwanted but self inflicted souvenir of a great holiday