EMBARKATION—Prior reviews have pretty much covered this. I will add a couple of details, however. Don't be at the port until 11 AM. This is when the staff come out to start embarkation paperwork. We were told we could not board until noon but we actually were allowed on about 20 minutes before noon. Staterooms were ready right at 1 PM. Luggage was a little later than I've experienced on other cruises. I ended up wearing my travel clothes to dinner that night. I saw several others in jeans and shorts that night.
STATEROOM COMMENTS—We were in a Sky Suite on Deck 8, 8054, which is a perfect location for anyone with mobility issues. It is right outside of the elevator/stair corridor and only one deck below the Windows Café and pool deck. The stateroom was a good size with an equivalent balcony. I was concerned, based on prior reviews, that it would be small. It was not.
The bathroom was a perfect size, but I now understand some of the drainage comments from previous reviews. When the ship was out to sea, rougher seas caused the drain to flow back up a bit. We are not talking sewer here but some moldy water settled on the bathroom floor.
In our suite at arrival was a chilled bottle of champagne. This started the trip off right!
In the evening we received some type of goody. One night chocolate covered strawberries, one night fancy chocolates, and other comparable treats. I thought this was a simple but special touch.
SHIP SIZE—This is a really nice size ship. Normally I feel rushed and crushed at breakfast with people hovering for clean tables. On the Journey we sat on our first sea day (Sunday) for about an hour, enjoying coffee and several trips to the buffet.
POOL AREA—I was concerned that the pool would be too tiny for the ship based on prior reviews. It was a fine size. However, on Saturday our first day the pool was closed for maintenance. This didn't seem to concern anyone. We were too busy doing other first day things.
There was no issue with number of chaise lounges despite the usual "reserving" of chairs first thing in the morning.
FOOD—The food is where Azamara shines. At breakfast, don't miss the waffle and pancake station stuck in the corner behind the luncheon meat/cheese area.
In the buffet at dinner, there are two sections. The first is the normal Windows café if you want to go really casual. If you'd like one step less casual, make a reservation for the Breeza section of the Windows Café. Same place but with service and the ability to eat outside. I can't vouch for the food or service because I didn't know this opportunity existed until the last day of the cruise.
In the main dining room, Discoveries, we never had a wait for dinner for two, even at prime times. I did see some people waiting in Michael's in front of the dining room but these were larger groups.
PRIME C (Specialty Restaurant)—This is the only experience we had that was not up to snuff. We made a reservation for 6 PM Sunday night, our first sea day and the first reservation of the night. We sat until about 6:30 PM before we received any service and were told it was because everyone came at once. "Isn't that normal?" we asked. "Well, yes," was the answer. So in our opinion they should have been more prepared. It seemed as if the restaurant staff was overwhelmed. The next night at the Discoveries main dining room, we sat next to another couple who had the same experience with a reservation at 8 PM.
Suggestion—eat at Prime C later in the cruise when others have already used their one night at a specialty restaurant.
My meal was very good. No problems. However, my companion ordered a medium rare NY strip steak which came in well done. She was offered a new steak but at this point we had been in the restaurant for approximately 1 hour 45 minutes so we didn't want to wait another 30 or so minutes for a new steak.
Later, the assistant maitre'd brought the head chef of Prime C, Anthony, to our table to apologize. When asked what he could do, we asked for a free glass of wine when we ate at the next specialty restaurant, Aqualina, a couple of days later. (This request was granted, by the way.)
I will say that if I were in a regular restaurant, I would have had the steak taken off of the bill. You don't have this leverage on a cruise line.
AQUALINA—This was the best meal we had on our cruise. The service was impeccable also. It was Thursday, Lobster night, so if you went on a cruise just for the lobster, eat at Aqualina on another night. However, there is lobster bisque and lobster Thermador on the Aqualina menu every day.
I wanted to try the tasting menu, with 7 courses and wine, of course, but I didn't think I could do it. They might want to lessen that to 5 courses.
Be sure to try the chocolate souffle.
GYM—I work out normally every day so I was looking forward to doing so onboard. The gym is a decent size. I didn't see anyone waiting for cardio or weight machines any morning I was there.
I would recommend that they spend money on a second trainer or perhaps a more gregarious trainer. Most of the time I saw the trainer at the front desk for the spa, not in the gym area. My companion took both a spinning and a pilates class with the trainer and was underwhelmed.
SPA—My companion and I both had massages. These were good. However, my massage therapist started before my companion's did and finished after. So I guess I got the better value. It's a decent spa for the size of the ship with an adjoining salon (whose services I did not use). If you want a hot tub, behind the spa is the place to go. I saw few people out there.
ACUPUNCTURE—Acupuncture at sea seems to be the new thing. I convinced my companion to go to Fran after I attended one of her information sessions in Michael's. My companion, who has knee pain, said she appreciated understanding the acupuncture concepts and thought it might have given her some immediate, short term relief.
If you want to know more about the process, this would be good, non-threatening exposure. Maybe they should do chiropractic sessions also?
ENTERTAINMENT AND ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES—Again, for a ship this size, I was surprised that they had the same basic activities as a big ship. Trivia contests, bingo, exercise classes, afternoon high tea, Friends of Bill & Dorothy, wine tastings, you name it.
The Azamara folks must have been reading the prior criticisms of the entertainment on board. The outside band was very good with a wide range of songs and genres. There was always someone playing at the Cova bar, either the harpist or the pianist. Both suited the area in which they played—low key, not obtrusive, but entertaining.
The evening entertainment was better than I had expected given prior reviews. There was a troupe of 5 singers who did a cabaret style act on two of the nights. They were suitable for the stage size and the crowd on board.
Two other nights a pianist/signer performed. His style was a little too low key for me, so I have to admit I didn't stick around.
I was hoping for a comedienne or magician somewhere on board but didn't find either if there.
EXCURSIONS—We did two excursions. One was a scuba trip; the other a biking and beach trip. Both were great fun. However, we found out that the cruise line padded the scuba fee by about $55. I don't mind paying for the convenience but I think $55 is a bit much. I recommend working directly with the local businesses unless you have a tight deadline to meet returning to the ship. Then it makes sense to use the cruise line vendors because the ship becomes responsible for your return, theoretically.
On a somewhat related issue, take advantage of the ferries and buses in Bermuda. Both systems are great and affordable. Get a recommendation for a beach and ask the bus driver to stop there for you. It's easy.
Also, we pulled walking tours off of Frommers.com for Hamilton and St. George. Both were worth the time.
GENERAL COMMENTS—The Journey could use another 2 months or so of drydock time to fix minor, mostly cosmetic things. Examples—Locks and other hardware loosening off doors, external painting and rust eradication. A good clean up job.
I suggest they dump two things—the whole tuxedoed butler concept and the afternoon "canapés". Save the money and spend it elsewhere. We don't want uncomfortable stewards and we certainly don't need more food.
I really enjoyed the cruise but do feel that Azamara is missing the mark on being a class above its sister, Celebrity, and any of the other comparable cruise lines. The only place I really saw the upgrade is in the food.