Azamara Journey by Arzz
This review is written from the perspective of a frequent Holland America cruiser who has also cruised many other cruise lines. I have never taken a Celebrity cruise.
The ship itself is intimate and beautiful. Azamara has done an excellent job of making this ship look almost brand new. The atmosphere everywhere on board is understated, elegant and suggests the ambiance of a fine gentleman's club.
We arrived at Cape Liberty around 11:30 am and the embarkation process was really not a process at all. The terminal was configured to handle crowds with many lines all taped off and ready to snake back and forth to move large numbers of cruise passengers -- however, there were no lines. We dropped our luggage with a porter outside the terminal and we quickly passed through all the required check points.
Within minutes were on board the Journey. We were greeted with a glass of champaign as we entered Journey's elegant atrium on deck 4. Guest Relations, Shore Excursions and an assortment of comfortable sitting areas wrap around the wide staircase that is featured in so many photos of this ship and her sisters. We sat down, enjoyed our beverage, and met some of the other passengers with whom we would share our week.
Since the cabins would not be ready until 1:00 pm and we were a little early to enjoy lunch we self-toured the ship. We previewed the Celebrity Cabaret, the show lounge on board. It is entirely located on a single level of the ship, reminiscent of the lounges used for dancing and shows on the older cruise ships rather than the glitzy, multi-floor theaters of today's behemoths. It has a stage at the front, and for a ship this size we found it to be quite functional and a pleasant change from a large, impersonal, show lounge.
We also walked through the classic wood paneled dining room, the Cova Cafe, the casino and past the ship's shops. Throughout the fifth deck the ceilings are adorned with paintings of winged gods, goddesses and cherubs reminiscent of the frescos found on the ceilings of the palaces of Europe. We were often amused, however, when looking at the facial expressions as the cherubs invariably appeared to have a hand buried in the folds of the clothing of some goddess or other.
The Cova Cafe is located at the top of the atrium stairs on Deck 5 -- it is not an enclosed space -- it is located between the shops and the dining room so that there is much foot traffic that passes through. As I am not familiar with this area on other Celebrity ships I do not know whether this is an anomaly. We enjoyed afternoons sipping elegant coffees and unusual teas here, as well as evenings relaxing to the music presented by Jacqueline Dolan and her wonderful harp.
The on board casino is somewhat small, appropriately sized for the smaller ship's population. It contains several slot machines (penny, quarter and dollar machines) as well as gaming tables. During the few days that the casino was closed during our stay in Bermuda the casino seemed to be completely taken apart and reconfigured. The best that we can tell was that many of the slot machines were moved around, others were removed. The gaming tables were reconfigured and a lounge-like sitting area was created in one corner. The casino was, however, up and running right on schedule as we left the Bermuda coast and headed out into the Atlantic.
At the top of the ship is the Looking Glass Lounge, reminiscent of the Crow's Nest on Holland America ships. It is a beautiful space with 270 degree views that I believe was under utilized on this cruise -- but then the four day stay in Bermuda makes a lot of things about this cruise unusual. The only criticism I have of this space was the decision to stage the band at the center of the front windows which effectively uses a large section of what would be, otherwise, prime seating area to enjoy scenic views. As this ship wanders off to places like the Chilean Fjords this deficit will probably be felt dearly by passengers seeking a definitive seat from which to enjoy the sights.
Michael's Club is a wood paneled lounge that really looks like the archetypical gentlemen's club. It serves as both a lounge area and a library.
We only sampled the cuisine at one of the two specialty restaurants on board, the Prime C -- and it was excellent, but both of these restaurants are elegant and pretty -- they are located on deck 10 so the views from these spaces are as good as the food.
The on board spa is again smaller than that found on many ships but they still offered a variety of spa services as well as acupuncture and a small therapy pool. The small gym was well equipped with a variety of exercise machines and free weights.
The pool on deck nine is surrounded by incredibly comfy teak lounge chairs covered with thick cushions that during the day are each equipped with a rolled beach towel just waiting to be used (nice touch). Another nice touch is that a few of the lounge chairs are doubles.
The Windows Cafe is located on deck 9 and offers a variety of buffet style foods at breakfast and lunch as well as a pretty casual dining venue at dinner time.
Our cabin was a deck seven standard verandah cabin. It was a clean, bright exceptionally pleasant space adorned in dark woods, green curtains and a beige paisley print in the carpet. The new carpeting and soft furnishings made it look virtually brand new. The bed was extremely comfortable and was covered by many pillows. The room also had a love seat sized couch across from a small desk. The closets were in the entryway opposite the bathroom. The closets consisted of a double doored space with a clothing rod and a shelf above, a one doored space that had four nice size drawers with a very short hanging space above (we were hard pressed to find garments short enough to hang here -- we would have appreciated more drawers). At the end of the closet was a corner unit that probably used to contain the TV. It now consists of a few open shelves, a cabinet of closed shelves which included a programmable safe, and a bottom cabinet that contains a small, space age looking refrigerator. Not everyone recognized the object in this cabinet immediately as a fridge. It is about the size of a old computer tower but it does have space for a small selection of beverages and liqueurs inside. There was additional storage in the desk -- four small drawers on one side and two shelves on the other.
The wall opposite the bed sported a nice sized flat screen TV which was easy to view from both the bed and the love seat -- being wall mounted it was out of traffic patterns and away from potential cabin storage space. Nice feature!
Our verandah was small with a table and two chairs that are well set up to enjoy a room service breakfast out of doors.
The bathroom is, how shall I say, a tiny, tidy space. We are not particularly large people but we did have to become intimate with the shower wall in order to shower. The sink had a nice sized vanity with a medicine cabinet and a shelf below the vanity for storage. Though small it was very functional and very clean. And, we always had more than enough fluffy towels and face cloths.
The food was excellent and well prepared. We had no desire to eat in a specialty restaurant more than once as we were so well taken care of in the Discoveries Dining Room (the main dining venue). The dining room staff could not do enough for us. We are sorry that we did not get to know them better. With the open seating we were served by different people almost every meal. We really did miss assigned dining. We also wonder if the staff will be sufficiently compensated through the auto tipping system. With assigned dining we usually tip extra (above the amount required by the auto tip) at the end of the cruise if we have received excellent service (which we usually do), will the staff miss this additional income?
While the food was excellent, we do have suggestions on the food front: We found it very difficult to eat a light and healthy diet on board. We are accustomed to having, on the menu, both a vegetarian selection and a healthy selection among the dining choices. We missed these options while on board. We also found ourselves wishing that there had been more vegetables on our plates. And, we noticed some redundancy on the menus. We would have liked to see more variety. The Oriental duck consomme was on the menu at least three meals in a row (two dinners and one lunch, I think), many of the salads greatly resembled each other and most were garnished with goat cheese (I have nothing against goat cheese, I like it a lot, but it was ubiquitous during the cruise). One day at lunch there was a smoked salmon appetizer that was presented with a dill cream cheese that looked virtually identical to a smoked salmon appetizer that appeared at dinner that same night except that the lunch version was cut into circular shapes and at dinner it was presented as a triangle. For those folks wondering what day the bananas foster is offered for dessert, do not fear that you will miss it as it is on the dessert menu at both lunch and dinner on several days -- and it is excellent.
We really truly enjoyed several of the on board amenities such as the fresh flowers all over the ship, but particularly the fresh flowers in our cabin. The in cabin fruit bowl that was replenished and freshened as necessary was very nice to have. We enjoyed both the robe and slippers -- and an amenity that we have not seen before -- the floor mats that were left each night, one on each side of the bed, that said "good morning - good night". We truly appreciated the Elemis products in the larger, 3.4 oz bottles. And, the evening treats that were left in our cabins (cookies, fudge squares, truffles) were a welcome change from the mundane chocolate. Though we did not feel the need to indulge the ability to have afternoon tea daily in the cabin, or receive a plate of savories at mid to late afternoon was really nice. We also enjoyed the use of the binoculars that were provided in each cabin.
Things that we missed:
The larger cabins that are standard on Holland America. Though Journey's cabins are well designed they are rather tight on space and DH and I had to plan our in room movements to be in concert rather than collision with one another.
We question whether the standard cabins have sufficient storage space to properly accommodate the longer voyages that are planned for these ships -- particularly the ones that will require clothes for more than one climate (like South America).
We truly missed a self service laundry -- having one on board would have reduced the amount of clothing that we traveled with by about 40%. We do not object to paying for laundry service however for many of our things (especially those that are delicate or prone to shrink) we were unwilling to surrender the control of the temperature settings of the wash and dry cycles to unknown individuals.
I really miss the make-up mirrors that Holland America has mounted at the cabin desks.
We really miss the wrap around covered promenade deck for walking purposes. We know this is not something that Azamara can fix but due to the small size of the ship, getting exercise on board was very difficult -- the jogging tack on the upper deck is rather small (13 times around equals one mile), and not covered so that it really does not replace the promenade.
We would have definitely preferred assigned dining times. The situation was such with dining that if you did not appear at the dining room by about 6:30, you had to wait to be seated at dinner. We do this at restaurants at home and have no desire to do this on a cruise vacation. It is easy to miss shows and other cruise activities when dining times are uncertain. When we have paid a significant daily tariff we consider waiting to dine to be unwelcome, wasted time.
I have experienced main stream cruising, budget cruising, and premium cruising. Azamara claims to be a Deluxe cruise line and we believe that the intent is to compete directly with Oceania and other similar cruise lines. If there were no charge in the alternative dining venues and passengers could choose between all of them, I believe that it would relieve the crowding in the main dining room as well as present a more deluxe, overall, cruise experience. Please correct me if I am wrong but I do believe that when this ship was built there were several dining venues from which to choose and the cost of each of them was included.
A nice touch that I heard is a Celebrity tradition, is to offer a cold face towels to passengers as they return to the ship. We do applaud this practice as we really enjoyed it -- but on at least two of our in port afternoons the ship, apparently, did not have enough face cloths to go around and therefore our cabins were left without them. I assume that this is a detail that it should be easy for Azamara to correct.
We were caused real stress on board when the baggage that we left at the pier at ll:30 am did not appear in our cabins until over an hour and a half after sailing (after 5:30 pm). We were disturbed by this for many reasons. First we had no way to know for sure if it had made it on board until it was too late to initiate a search at the pier. Second, we like to unpack before the muster drill so that when the ship sails, we are really on vacation. Watching the ship leave the harbor in New Jersey was a large priority for us. And third, if at all prone to seasickness, unpacking while at sea is not a pleasant occupation. DH and I do not ever remember being on a cruise where the bags arrived at our cabins after we had actually left the port. We hope that Azamara could make this a priority and improve the baggage delivery service.
Other small concerns -- the coffee served in the dining rooms and the specialty restaurant was terrible. Not up to the standards that we would expect of a deluxe (or even premium) cruise line. --We enjoyed the butler service on board, though we are not sure that our butler was any different than a normal cabin attendant. Our cabin service was, by and large, excellent as small things like the need for replacement soaps and kleenex were automatically noticed without us asking for these things. Once we had to ask for an additional bottle of water. What we found disturbing, also easy to fix, was the frequent knock at our door when we were in the cabin to deliver paperwork -- if we delayed getting the door (say to take the small time to put on a robe) the butler would unlock the door and start to walk in. Each door had a mailbox as well as a space beneath the door that could be used to deliver paperwork. We felt it unnecessary to have these things placed on the bed or given to us by hand -- we got annoyed by the intrusion as this seemed to happen several times during the week. This should be another thing that Azamara could easily fix.
Despite the minor deficiencies (and we do consider them to be minor) noted in the last several paragraphs we had a very mellow cruise. Though we are Holland America medallion cruisers -- would we sail this line again? The answer in yes. Would we sail this line rather than HAL if all things were equal (price and itinerary)? -- in that case we would probably choose HAL. But if offered a superior or unique itinerary and a fair price, Azamara Cruises will definitely see us again.