Our party of two couples booked Azamara Journey for a Baltic cruise because we wanted an upper tier cruise line, and because Journey was scheduled for three days in St. Petersburg which would allow us to do a one day trip to Moscow on the middle day. Journey provided us a good, but not great experience and allowed us to take our Moscow excursion, which was great. Consequently, we essentially met our objectives.
As a point of reference, our comments on our Azamara experience are in the context of a comparison with Seabourn, where we have previously cruised, and where we are booked again.
Our embarkation process was anything but smooth. Even on the morning of embarkation we were on the internet from our hotel (Marriott Courtyard Stockholm, very good) trying to locate the exact berth of Journey. We ultimately determined the Terminal, but not the berth, and set out on a taxi search for the ship.
As Club Suite guests we were advised we would have (early) Priority Boarding. We arrived at the embarkation point just before noon and found ourselves at the end of a line of between 50 and 60 passengers standing in the sun. Based on the cabin numbers showing on the luggage tags there was no differentiation between Priority Boarding passengers and any other. The total boarding process took a bit over thirty minutes, proceeding through three or four different stations, all in the sun. Unlike boarding on other lines, there was no effort to separate passengers by alphabet into smaller more manageable groups.
The whole process left a great deal to be desired.
On boarding we were a bit put off by the aggressive process to sell liquor/beverage packages and photos.
While the cruise is advertised as "inclusive", everything from sparkling water to most wines to call brand cocktails was a chargeable upgrade. While that is to be expected with top end beverages, other lines include quality spirits, wine, and Pellegrino in their standard beverage offerings. In fairness, the beverages offered "in suite" were of a higher quality, but limited.
The ship and onboard facilities were in good condition, but somewhat dated compared to other lines (probably reflecting the R-Ship heritage). Our Club Suite (N-2 Category) was very nice, but smaller than a Veranda/Balcony cabin on Seabourn Odyssey. Our Club Suite Butler, Angelo, and his assistants Rayner and Dennis, were most attentive and helpful. We avoided the 5th deck main restaurant, but dined in Windows and the two specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurant Maitre de', Alex, and some of the staff (Maria and Roy) were particularly good. We ate in the specialty restaurants fairly often, and on one evening, after they discovered both couples were celebrating 50th anniversaries on this cruise, the staff presented a special cake dessert. We had several lunches at the pool grill, which was also good. The Pool Grill area would have greater seating flexibility if more square 4 person tables were used instead of the large round 6 or 8 person tables now used. Overall the food, while good, was not exceptional. In the specialty restaurants, the "Starters" were often more memorable than the entrees.
Positive comments are warranted on two other items. The ship experienced a bit of an outbreak of nurovirius, and immediately took effective measures to control further spread. They did this quite well, and without severely inconveniencing other passengers. Secondly, as a long time Naval Officer, I was greatly impressed with the Captain, his manner of interacting with the passengers, and his ship-handling ability. He was most personable, and did a great job.
The Azamara Evening in St. Petersburg turned out to be an outstanding event. We were taken to a local performance hall and presented with an evening of ballet. Even though I am not personally a fan of ballet, the setting and performance were exceptional, and the logistics went off without a hitch. All was good!
Overall, our cruise experience was good, but failed to convey the personal attentiveness and amenities offered by Seabourn.