Azamara Journey Review June 9-16, 2007 The port of Bayonne, New Jersey is about ½ hour from the Newark Airport (a $45 cab ride). Upon arriving at the port, there is a sense of desolation, as this particular dock has fallen into disuse. Apparently, Celebrity/Azamara is using the port for the summer in the inaugural season to go to Bermuda. Embarkation was easy and organized although two of our bags were lost in the hold for several hours. We boarded the ship around 1:00 p.m., ahead of the scheduled 4 p.m. sailing. We went straight up to the two 'fine dining' restaurants, the Prime C and the Aqualina, to make reservations for dinners. We were given one complimentary seating by the ship and paid an additional $25 per person for the other reservations. More on this later, but the restaurants are on a par with New York dining and service. From this point, we ventured into the very nicely appointed exercise facility where we booked into spinning classes that were offered 3 times per week at 8 a.m. NOTE: reset your clocks on the first night out, as we missed the first session because we had not advanced our room clock.
The cabin: we originally booked a Sky Suite but received a call two days before sailing that the suites were overbooked. We were offered a 'sweet' deal to downsize to a veranda cabin. $1500 credit and $300 on board credit later, we were in a veranda cabin one deck below the suites. The A-1 category cabins were just fine and very similar to other Celebrity veranda cabins: ample space for luggage, king bed, a desk with a chair, lighted vanity, drawers on one side, cabinet on the other, flat screen TV with CNN, ESPN, 4 movie channels, veranda (the same size as the Sky Suites) with a table and two chairs, a small sofa and table, triple closet and drawers, room safe and corner cabinet which would presumably someday contain the mini bar which was absent in our cabin. The in-room amenities: toiletries were all ample quantity and quality: Elemis brand. Towels were refreshed twice daily, plenty of supplies. One bottle of Evian was provided at the outset, but there was a charge for additional water, which staff told us was 'very expensive'. Including a bottle of water each day would have been a nice touch, adding to the elite status being sought by the ship. In port, 2 liters of water cost around $2.50. Bedding was very nice, new, comfortable, and refreshed every day.
The butler service: The cruise line advertises one butler shared between two cabins unless you are in a suite where you have your own butler. Our butler was excellent, but he was training room stewards so he was responsible for much more than just our cabin. He delivered fresh fruit twice to our cabin, fresh flowers once, 2 canapés on two different nights, and he oversaw the placement of towels, turndown, newsletters, etc. in our cabin. The idea of a butler is very appealing, but for all other purposes, it was difficult to see a difference between butler service and the service of a room steward or cabin attendant. The cruise staff: This is where the cruise line shines. They have gathered the brightest, most congenial group of cruise members that we have ever seen. Each person, from the cocktail server, casino workers, room stewards, line waiters, sommeliers, maitre’d, activities personnel, harpist, piano player…whomever we spoke with…they LOVED their jobs and it showed. What a great crew! Entertainment: A gracious and talented harpist played daily on the mezzanine level. Also, a pianist who covered everything from jazz to the ‘one hit wonders’ shared the same space or traveled to Michael’s Club on the 10th floor. He was a terrific talent. The ship had a small orchestra and a pool band, neither of which played often enough during the daytime. The Cabaret, where the main entertainment occurred, hosted a very funny comedian/magician who made $20 bills move from envelopes into grapefruits, and cards float through space, as he included the audience in participation and told clever jokes. Another night a low-key humorist enlivened the audience with home grown humor. Two nights held no show time entertainment. Two nights gave us the typical cruise ship shows with ‘That’s Hollywood” and “Swing” type songs and dance done by attractive 20-somethings. The final night was a conglomeration of all of the above, without the comedian/magician from the first night. Overall, the entertainment was good, but not great. Three nights offered two seatings but the remaining two nights offered only one seating. On board entertainment: This is probably the weakest area of the cruise. The old stand-bys of pool games such as pass the hula hoop or pass the orange under the chin, King of the Cruise, Bingo, and Trivia are just overdone. A truly upscale cruise should be able to come up with something a little more innovative and “status” appropriate. Excursions: BEST of the lot! Everything from carriage rides, motorized bikes, snorkeling, ‘snuba’-diving, walks, and taxi tours was included. Look over the offerings and make your plans accordingly as it seems that EVERYONE leaves the ship when in port. The beaches in Bermuda are excellent and it is easy to grab a cab in port and go to the beach.
Dining: The Prime C is billed as a steak restaurant and it does have excellent cuts of steak as well as great fish, veal, and pasta. Most folks seemed to think the Aqualina was a seafood restaurant but it has a strong French/Mediterranean influence. Service in both restaurants was impeccable! The menu changes so you can dine more than once, as we did, and get a good variety. Save room for the food, though…servings are ample and upscale, so you will truly want to ‘dine’ while in these venues. Desserts are to die for…and change frequently. The soufflés are well worth the experience.
The ship: This particular ship was commissioned in 2000 or 2001 as the former Renaissance Cruise line. The furnishings are completely new in the suites and most of the veranda rooms have new carpet, bedding, etc. Yet there is evidence of the age of the ship in many areas where rust can be seen at the joints of balconies, poles, and stairs as well as bubbles on the finish of the teak railings. The pool looks like an antique compared to the newer ships. The tile is aging and the grout is discolored. The surface is actually quite slippery as there were two ‘slip and falls’ that required surgical care during the week. Crossing the Gulf Stream, this ship had a lot of movement. Several voyagers were ill on the going over and the return due to movement. The waves did not reach over 9 feet, but it could be felt everywhere. Four crew members told us that this was the calmest crossing to date. Our air conditioning went out twice while we were in port for a total of about 15 hours. It was restored both times, but there was no comment made by the guest services. We had to initiate all of the questions and did not receive any explanations or apologies. The Azamara Journey is seeking to establish itself as a ‘cut above’ the rest of the line as an adult venue with class and taste that pampers its guests. The daily papers note that jeans or shorts are not permitted in the dining rooms, yet every day we saw evidence of many diners in jeans and shorts. When we asked the staff about this, no one seemed to be aware that we were being told that there was a dress code for dining. Customer service had called each person before boarding and informed us that there would not be a formal night, yet on the third or fourth night, we were encouraged to wear our ‘gowns and tuxedoes’ and “make it a night at the Ritz”. Azamara Journey has not yet found its niche, but it is making a lot of strides in the right direction by hiring brilliant staff. We look forward to seeing the improvements to be made to make this into a true ‘first class’ journey.