We booked our cruise onboard Mercury last summer then transferred the booking to the online TA that we have used for many cruises. This review was written as a day by day report to give an ongoing perspective to our experiences.
Saturday We arranged for a car service to pick us up at 10:30 from the Residence Inn Times Square which we found an excellent place to stay. We used Marriott points and saved a bunch since breakfast and light suppers were included. About 10 minutes after we left the hotel we stopped to pick up Kelly and Lauren from our Roll Call and headed through the Holland Tunnel to Cape Liberty cruise terminal. Traffic was light for a holiday weekend and the trip took less than ½ hour. On arrival at the terminal, we handed over our luggage and checked in easily with our preprinted Express Pass - very easy and fast check-in with friendly personnel. About 5 minutes later we boarded a bus for the short ride to the ship.
We were among the first to board (no problem with two bottles of wine we carried on) With champagne in hand, we headed to the buffet for lunch. We had pizza and salad at a table on Deck 9 aft (outside) with Kelly and Lauren. I left to check on our dinner reservations at Aqualina (which I had made via Celebrity's customer service manager from home). This was my first meeting with Dominic who informed me that the reservation was indeed made for the day and time requested, added a reservation for Prime C and informed me that we were not in cabin 7039 as we thought but had been moved to 8049. I was surprised and wondered the cabin had been changed.
During lunch, the announcement was made that the cabins were ready (12:45 pm) so we went to explore our new cabin. What a nice surprise. The upgrade fairy is alive and well and lives on Journey! We had been upgraded from a balcony cabin to a lovely Sky Suite (not as large as we've seen on other ships, but lovely nevertheless). The dEcor was elegant and we enjoyed the gold and burnt orange colors. Nice balcony with a rectangular table and 2 chairs on which we enjoyed room service breakfast several times as well as afternoon wine.The bathroom was large with a tub and shower (design looked lovely but caused water on the floor every day - the narrow glass partition probably should have been wider) Elemis toiletries were in containers large enough to last all week with some to take home. Towels were of very good quality and attractive. The Cabin had plenty of drawer and closet space (two tier hanging rods made hanging longer things difficult) and empty suitcases fit easily under bed.
Our butler, Nelson, came in to introduce himself (dressed in tux with tails) and tell us a bit about the ship's services. We told him we needed some things laundered/cleaned due to our week in NYC prior to cruise. He opened our first bottle of wine for us and poured us a glass -...we knew that our cruise had begun and it was sublime. We unpacked and did a quick tour of the ship where we found things in good shape, went to muster drill, and then to deck 11 to take pictures as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty and out of NY harbor. A wonderful start to our long awaited cruise.
We went to the Martini Tasting in the Looking Glass Lounge - excellent with larger portions than on previous ships. In fact, we split one tasting and I had to ask to have my final of 3 drinks held until the next night - no problem! We enjoyed having fun there with the bride and her wedding party from the wedding that had occurred on the ship prior to sailing from Bayonne).
Dinner in Discoveries - there was ½ hour wait at 8 pm. We asked to share a table and had dinner with a lovely couple from the UK (both of the wives were nurses so we had lots to talk about). Our table was in a very noisy location in the center of restaurant - a location that we didn't repeat. Food was good and the service adequate. We ordered a continental breakfast for 8-8:30 AM. and went to bed early. We slept very well on a comfy mattress with lots of pillows.
Restaurant descriptions .....All restaurants are quite attractive. Aqualina is, as you might imagine light with sea colors and Prime C has lots of dark wood. Seating is good - lots of windows and not crowded. Discoveries - the main restaurant/dining room - is attractive with tables quite close together. Suggest you ask for a table of size you wish in the back section (right side is a bit quieter) and chose an early or late time. Most crowded during the 7:15-8:15 hour with waits of 30-45 minutes which makes the Martini Bar crowded and noisy. We found having Martinis in the 10th deck Looking Glass Lounge each evening was quiet with lovely views and a wonderful bartender (Marco from north of Dubrovnik) with beautiful eyes - yes, I did like looking at him ?
We really enjoyed the Cova Cafe which got crowded pre-dinner and during evening entertainment. We always found seats but some days it was harder than others.
Surprise! Justin Roland, our Captain's Club Host on Mercury last summer was the combination CC Host/Future Sales Mgr. He called and we stopped to see him before dinner - friendly, helpful as always AND he invited us to the Captain's Table for dinner. Thanks, Justin...more about that later.
Our room service breakfast (OJ, French Toast, fruit and hot water to make our own 'good' coffee using portable French Press) arrived after phone call at 8:20 AM as requested. Ordering at least coffee and juice is a wonderful way to get a wake-up call and have coffee first thing in the AM - a must for us.
We slept well after figuring out how to reset AC since it was very cold in the room. Awoke at 7 so relaxed, read and enjoyed the balcony until food arrived then had it placed on the table on the balcony. Food was not 'set-up' and attendant refused a tip! Weather was warm and breezy with some clouds. After breakfast, Art headed to the Looking Glass Lounge to read and I checked with Justin to see if Connections party invites had been sent - he didn't know but said he would check. Met Art and saw the few children onboard with a counselor playing trivia, cards and games and generally having a good time. We went to return a book to the library and discovered the Connections party in progress - we had not received an invite (due to cabin change apparently) but got in on enough to hear comments from CD John Howell and ask a few questions. John asked for feedback, answered questions and, in general, seemed sincere. I volunteered to collect comments and send to him.
Had lunch from sandwich bar in Buffet area (called Windows) with some cold salad selections and again sat outside on deck 9 aft. Then went to ask Justin about Captain's Club activities. Again found that the list never made its way to our new cabin and we had missed the Senior Officers' Party for Select and Elite members. I was bummed and not happy with the nonchalant response I got...but got over it and obtained a list of other activities. Went to Art Auction (Champagne and enjoyed the bidding - one of our Roll Call members did quite well). Then on to Battle of the Sexes Trivia - which is one of the few games we really enjoy - ladies lost but anything can happen in the battle of the sexes - 2 more times to go!
Had little sandwiches and listened to the Harpist at Cova Cafe - she plays beautifully and has a very nice voice. Not crowded and pleasant place to relax. Sat on our balcony until time to shower and dress for our evening with the Captain! I was glad I had brought one dressier outfit (not formal but a bit more than country club casual) which was perfect for the evening. We met Justin and the 3 other invited couples at 7:30 in the Martini Lounge. Introduced ourselves and chatted over drinks until the Captain joined us then were led through Discoveries by Justin who had let us know the appropriate protocol. We had our picture taken at the table with the Captain. Dinner was very nice - a congenial group, active conversation and an engaging Captain! Much fun.
After dinner we went to the Cabaret for Showtime with Antonio Salci - an amazing pianist and entertainer - and the wonderful Journey orchestra. A truly terrific show. Stopped by the Casino for the raffle of $500 and other gifts (we didn't win but it was fun to see the winners' reactions). We went to bed early to get up to watch the ship go through St. George's cut - a must do activity. Ordered coffee for 6:30 AM so that we could be dressed and on deck for the 7:45 event!
Awakened at 6:30 AM by call saying our coffee and OJ were on the way... dressed and on deck by 7:15 to see the approach to St. George's - got some good pictures of the pilot boat transferring the pilot to Journey on a cloudy morning. Going thru the cut was exciting but those who had done it before were disappointed that the town crier in uniform and canon shot were non-existent. After breakfast we walked from ship to King's Square where we began our self-directed walk through St. George (from Frommer's Bermuda 2007 book). Made a few wrong turns due to poor signage but managed to find all of the buildings on the list. We especially enjoyed the Unfinished Church at the top of a hill...great pictures and interesting plaques explaining why the church was not completed. After 2 hours returned to the ship for rest and lunch - sun had come out and it was quite warm so our spot on the aft deck was a welcome site. We had excellent shrimp scampi salad and a sandwich. Note: Art had been searched thoroughly at Bermuda security where a photo ID as well as ship's pass was required. This often happens to him...hmmm; wonder if he's on some kind of list ?
After lunch we went back into town to mail some post cards we had bought that morning - post office is a few minutes walk towards the square - large white building on left side (postcard stamps are 70 cents apiece!). Then we hopped on a #11 bus towards Hamilton - up the steps next to Cafe Latte - and used it as a tour bus to see some of the residential sections of the island. Enjoyed the views and the narrow, curving roads. It was fun to see how many locals greeted each other and asked about family members as they got on and off the bus, passed golf courses, hotels, large beautiful homes, etc. We got off at the ferry landing in Hamilton and took the ferry marked Dockyards/St. Georges. Sat on top deck (both covered and uncovered seats available and I had it to myself with one other passenger - Art stayed below). It was a fantastic ride - beautiful scenery, breeze blowing, great picture taking spot. When we stopped at the Dockyards, I ran downstairs to bring Art to the top deck and we enjoyed the longer ride back to St. George's Island. Bought a couple of requisite Tee Shirts on the way back to the ship - no long security stop this time.
Art napped while I showered to get ready for dinner at Aqualina. Still no canapEs delivered to the room. Enjoyed the Harpist in Cova Cafe again and our nightly martini in Looking Glass with Marco (who has figured out that Art wants the same Bombay Sapphire each night and I like to try whatever new one he suggests). So far I've enjoyed his Cosmo, Paradise, and Green Apple martinis with more to come.
Aqualina - very good food and service and we loved that it was complimentary (one night for all; 2 nights for suites). I wasn't thrilled with the Paella that I ordered since it was not rice-based but rather small kernels of corn (not bad, but not what I expected). And the crème brulee was beautifully presented (as was all of the food) but not the best. Art enjoyed all of his meal! There is a tasting menu that includes wine with each course that adds $50 to bill. We passed and ordered wine by the glass which was an excellent Sangiovese. Only problem with advanced reservations is that you choose the day and time before knowing the activities onboard that might conflict with your chosen time.
After dinner we went to the Cabaret for the Hollywood Stars (singing). They were quite good but too much sea air, food and wine sent us to bed before the show was over ? We made great plans to visit several beaches starting early the next morning.
Awoke early and thought I heard 'rain'...convinced myself that it was a dream and went back to sleep. Work for good at 8:15 AM and the dream was still playing. It was a dreary, rainy, windy day with, at times, torrential rain. We have a rule to never let the weather hold us back and to not 'sweat' the things we can't control. So....off to breakfast and the Captain's announcement that there would be rain/clouds/showers all day! After breakfast in the dining room, we put on the raingear that we had tossed into our duffels at the last minute and grabbed the umbrella that we had taken from our car and the one in our cabin closet and off we went! We walked down Front Street trying to stay on the covered sidewalks as much as possible, wandering in and out of shops and, amazingly, buying nothing! Wandering on some side streets, we asked a local if there was an Internet Cafe nearby - thankfully, there is one just a block or two from the ship (if you're interested in finding it, cross the street in front of the ship, turn left and make a right on a street whose name begins with a B (sorry but I didn't write it down ? ). It's on the left hand side of the street up a hill. Nice place with helpful employees and complimentary coffee, tea and hot chocolate which we relished in our cold and soggy state. We bought a ½ hour Internet card for $4. Fast connections with an easy to access timer. We left the card with the minutes we didn't use in our cabin hoping one of the crew uses it. We sent a group message to friends and family and posted an early report on CC then went back to the ship soaking wet to mid-thigh! It took 2 days for our jeans to dry!
We changed and went to Windows for lunch. We ate with 2 nice couples (one from NJ and one from Pearl River, NY). So far, the tally we've been keeping re: Journey is clearly in favor of larger ships - most people we've talked with had been on Zenith several times and would not have chosen a ship the size of Journey if given a choice. We, on the other hand, although booked on Zenith, love the size of Journey and took the opportunity today to book a Best of Italy cruise on Quest for fall 2008! For us, trips like those in the Med. are so port intensive that having no formal nights and open dining times works much better. And the itinerary is excellent - all Italian with one stop in Split, Croatia and starting and ending in the Rome port. We hope to plan a pre-cruise trip to Tuscany so we were happy campers.
After lunch we went to Michael's to enjoy the comfy atmosphere while I wrote in my journal and DH read his book with a nap thrown in! Today we received a survey form from the Hotel Director, David Kelly and we noted the still broken messaging system, public bathroom near main dining room that needed attention, lack of canapEs and almost invisible butler. We made the point that if Azamara wishes to compete with Oceania, these details needed to be addressed quickly.
Went for our nightly delicious Martinis by Marco in Looking Glass followed by dinner in Discoveries was good (food and service) but quite noisy. We asked for a table towards the back but we needed to be further back to avoid the noise in the front of the restaurant. Certainly didn't keep us from eating and enjoying dinner.
We did not go to hear the piano player, Dan Hodge, as we had heard him lots of times in Cova Cafe. The NewlyWed-Not-So-NewlyWed Game was funny as always with the usual risquE comments by those married the longest. But a fun way to spend a ½ hour. Just relaxed the rest of the evening, chatting with new friends and wishing the Casino was open. The required closing while in port, when you're in port for the bulk of the cruise, left a lot of people with time on their hands in the evening.
I realized this morning that Alexandra Battery Beach Park was near St. George and not near Hamilton as I had written down. So, after breakfast, we headed to the Ferry Dock to take the ferry back to St. George. We asked for directions from a shop owner in King's Square and she told us she had never heard of the beach. I had gotten the information from a Cruise Critic who had collected beach glass there with his wife (see www.lavasurfer.com/info/bermuda.html for long, interesting and helpful information.) We spent a few minutes looking over two maps and were able to show the local lady where the beach was (she called it Battery Park and told us how to get there). Off we went on a mile long, hilly walk through a lovely residential area to find Cut Road. I was excited to stand near the cut since I had taken pictures of that very spot as we sailed through the cut. I climbed up into the Fort, took a bunch of pictures and we continued on our way down the road. We came upon a rather large fort-like Battery building with a small beach park a bit further down the road. Two women who I had told about the beach the night before had arrived before us (by bus) and told us that since low tide wasn't until the afternoon, there wasn't a whole lot of glass on the beach. There was also a bunch of large jelly fish washed up on the beach so we trod carefully. We collected enough off of the seawall to make me happy and walked to the nearest bus stop to take #11 back to Hamilton. On the way back, I surprised Art with a stop at the Swizzle Inn - highly recommended by lots of guidebooks and posters on Bermuda threads. We had the Rum Swizzles that everyone recommended with a Triple Dip snack plate. We were not impressed. The Swizzles were good but small and the snack just OK....it was quite noisy. We sat on the upper deck and lots of traffic including buses passed frequently. But we have pictures of us drinking there and the bus stop was directly across the street. I wanted to stop at Crystal Caves but we had spent a lot of time getting the glass and I was ready to go back to the ship for lunch.
After lunch we took a ferry to the Dockyards. Really enough to do there for several hours, but we just walked around the Crafts Center and watched a few craftswomen showing their crafts. We didn't find anything of interest so we walked over to the Snorkel beach which looked shallow and safe for children. It was cool and windy - we waded into the water, brrrr! It was too late to go into the museum since the last entry was at 4 PM and we thought the $8 admission fee too high for the short time that we would have. So we took the # 7 bus back to Hamilton. It drove along South Road past all of the beaches and some nice hotels and beautiful views crossed the shortest draw bridge and we saw more residential areas. We decided to try to make our last day (we were sailing at 3 PM) a beach day!
The bus stopped a short distance from the entrance to the security area to return to the ship. I must include that the Bermudian security people here were the nicest, funniest and most pleasant people I've ever seen in that kind of position. By the time we had left and returned to the ship several times, they were almost our friends - bantering with us and telling funny stories.
We went back to the Looking Glass (of course) but I wasn't feeling well (the snack at Swizzle Inn??) so this time I had a Ginger Ale. About an hour later, we headed for our reservation at Prime C. It is a lovely place with very good food (my favorite, though, was Aqualina). Dominic was making his rounds again, stopped to talk to us and was his usual charming self. After dinner, we stopped at the Cova Cafe to listen to the music. Captain Bouzakis walked by and stopped to talk with us. He told us that he would be bringing the Quest online in September. We told him we hoped he was still there when we sailed the following September. I'd guess he will be used to do start ups of other new ships (just my intuition - nothing he said.
We then meandered to the Cabaret to see the Comedian/Magician who we really enjoyed. We had seen him (or someone with a similar act) on a previous cruise. He had some very funny interactions with members of the audience. The White Night festivities were later that night but we chose not to participate - masquerade type parties are not our thing. There was a street festival on Front Street and we listened to marching bands and laughter for awhile and then went to bed in hopes of an early start the next day. We had heard that if we got to Horseshoe Bay by 9 AM, the beach would be relatively empty for several hours.....
Last day in Bermuda, so we followed our plan and got up at 6:30, had breakfast at the buffet and hopped a #11 bus to the bus station changing to the #7 bus to Horseshoe Bay. On the way we realized that we had just used expired bus passes. We hadn't used the pass in yesterday's rainy weather and hadn't realized that the 3 days were consecutive. At least we weren't found out and didn't have to spend time in a Bermuda jail?. Only a 10-15 min ride took us to the path down to the beach. There were very few people there as we'd been told. We rented beach chairs ($10 per chair with a $5 returnable deposit) and set them up in the beautiful cove on the right side of the beach that reminded us of Virgin Gordo. I then walked the length of the horseshoe shaped beach - white sand with some red flecks giving the sand a slightly pink tinge. The day was perfect, sunny with puffy white clouds, warm air temperatures but cold water temperature. We spent several hours enjoying the beach, watching the kids play in the shallow water, chatting with others arriving from the Journey and relaxing in the sun on our final day in Bermuda. We waded in the water in the cove - not as cold as in the open ocean - so that we could say that we had been in the water at least once.
We packed up to head back to the ship. We had planned to climb back up the hill to get the bus but met a couple going back to Journey and shared a taxi back ($17). We said our final good-byes to our port security friends, dropped our things in the cabin and went to lunch and then started packing. Packing is a chore that I don't like especially when it signals the end of a wonderful vacation. But getting most of it done left me with time to enjoy the last afternoon on board, be on deck for sail away with Kelly and Lauren, and to take final pictures of Hamilton from the top deck. I got back to the cabin in time to watch the pilot boat retrieve the pilot from Journey and to enjoy a glass of wine on our balcony.
We went to the Captain's Club party at 6:30 in the Cabaret. We asked for Martinis when the waitress came around to offer wine/champagne/Mai Tais. She was happy to oblige and so we enjoyed our last Martinis of the trip. A couple we met at the Captain's table got the award for the most Celebrity cruises (21) - we were frequently reminded that X and Azamara were part of the same brand. I wonder if this will change as cruisers rack up numbers of Azamara cruises. We had dinner in Discoveries served by our favorite waiter in a quiet area in the back of the dining room. Lobster tails were on the menu tonight - mine was good; Art's was excellent. I found that my appetite was decreasing from too much overindulgence on previous days.
We had planned to go to the evening show, but, once again, we were tired from the beach outing and crashed early. Wondered if we're getting old or just relaxed - decided it must be relaxation?.
Friday and Saturday
Whew...the bitter sweet end of every vacation is upon us...looking forward to picking up our little schnauzer and seeing the family, but sad to leave our relaxing and beautiful Sky Suite and ending our vacation. We decided to be 'served' all day today and asked for and got our favorite waiter and good table locations each time. We had ordered OJ and coffee early so we really had 2 breakfast...but even oatmeal tastes good when it's served with a smile. After breakfast we went to the pool deck, DH in the shade and me in the sun. We read and relaxed until 11 AM when we went to the Martini Bar for the complementary Chardonnay blending seminar for Captain's Club members. The tables were nicely set up with multiple glasses, napkins, etc. Justin, 3 Sommeliers and a Maitre D' and the two of us. After about 10 minutes, when no one else had joined us, Justin gave us the choice of a 'one on one' seminar or a bottle of wine with dinner. We chose the wine and thanked the group. As we were leaving, Justin pointed out that one of the Sommeliers was from Australia. He knew that we are sailing on Mercury in Feb from Sydney and looking forward to a winery tour while there. We asked the Aussie if he could recommend a wine tour and chatted with him for a few minutes.
After a light lunch, we went to the Chef's Culinary class which was terrific. The Exec Chef and Dominic had an entertaining repartee going between them; they were very funny. Audience members asked questions and the Chef introduced members of his staff such as the Pastry Chef and Senior Asst Chefs. He demonstrated how to sear and prepare a Filet Mignon, Polenta, veggies and sauce. Then everyone got to sample the food. We really enjoyed this and stayed afterwards to tell them so.
Then the final Battle of the Sexes; a large crowd showed us this time with raucous participation from the younger members who had just completed a funfilled karaoke session. Misty was in charge again and kept the momentum going...ended with a tie and a Bonus round with the question being answered correctly by a retired school teacher - a WOMAN! Guess we showed them - by gender and age!! It was a lot of fun and I have a certificate to prove that I get the last word for a year!
I spent most of the rest of the afternoon finishing up our packing and leaving out our travel clothes for the AM. We then finished the last of the two bottles of wine we had brought onboard with us and dressed for our last pre-dinner drinks in the Looking Glass. We were supposed to meet fellow cruisers there and have dinner with them, but, unfortunately we didn't have their last names or cabin number, so when they didn't show, we couldn't reach them to see if we had the wrong time. So...we laughed it off, finished our martinis, said good-bye to Mario and Maria (the other bartender/waitress in the Looking Glass) and went to dinner. We stopped for music at Cova and then found that we had a long wait for dinner...which wasn't bad since I wasn't at all hungry. We bumped into the honeymoon couple with whom we had breakfast one morning and offered them one of our 2 bottles of champagne (one in the room when we arrived and the other sent by the CD) since they were driving and we couldn't carry bottles onboard and had no room in our luggage. It was fun to give them a bottle with a Celebrity Label as a momento of their honeymoon cruise. Didn't eat much for dinner...after ordering the Grilled Salmon that is on the menu every night. It was cooked exactly as I liked it, too. After dinner, we wandered around the ship visiting some of our favorite spots and then went back to the cabin and put our luggage tags on and the bags in the hall.
Somehow I awoke spontaneously at 5:30 AM -I went out on the balcony just as we passed under the Veranzano Bridge. The sky was pale pink and there was a light mist over the city...breathtaking! I grabbed my camera and woke Art to see the amazing scene. I stayed on the balcony until we were almost at the dock taking some lovely sunrise pictures and enjoying see the Statue of Liberty welcoming us back against a blurred skyline!
We dressed and went to breakfast in Discoveries...taking the last bottle of champagne with us to give to someone who was driving home. The majority of our fellow cruisers seemed to be from NJ, PA and NY so a lot of folks drove or had cars drop them at the port. We sat with 2 couples from NJ and they were happy to take our little gift home. Had our final meal with our trusty waiter, retrieved our carry-ons and went to hang out in the Cova Cafe until our 'color' was called. We met our honeymoon couple who thanked us for leaving the champagne outside their cabin door. Disembarkation was a snap...short wait, picked up luggage, short bus ride, quick customs' check and a walk dragging our luggage to the taxi area. We were given a town car for the same price as a taxi and in 15 minutes we were heading to the check-in point for our flight. We had several hours until our flight so were in no hurry...and, of course, getting through security took no time at all ?. Our flight was delayed by 45 minutes but was uneventful. Our shared sandwich of airport food was not what we had come to expect!
We spent the waiting time talking about our favorite times on the trip and looking forward to our next cruise in Feb. 2008. In summary,it was a very good cruise for us; not perfect or the deluxe trip we had anticipated, but fine. We look forward to sailing Azamara in the future when all of the kinks are ironed out. The ship was beautiful; we enjoyed Bermuda and we met many very nice people. The people we meet (crew and passengers) always influence our travels more than anything else and they were wonderful!