Azamara Journey Sept. 1-8, 2007
I want to preface this review by saying that this is my opinion (obviously) and coming from an Interior Designer who loves the look and style of the Celebrity fleet. Some of this may seem picky but they are things that are important to me and hopefully others will get something out of my observations.
We had booked this cruise in 2006, as soon as we heard about the new ship. This was long before anyone had ever heard the name Azamara so we were expecting a Celebrity experience. We think that we proceeded with excitement but with open minds.
We had an uneventful drive to the port from DC. We didn't want to get there too early and arrived about 12:15. Everyone was right about the breeze of a check-in. In all of our 11 cruises this was by far the easiest. We had checked in on-line and we were ready to go within 5 minutes. A short bus ride and we were at the ship.
We were greeted by no one as we entered the ship. A bored looking waiter asked if we would like some champagne. His tray was sharing a niche with an art glass vase. We declined and headed up the stairs.
We checked out our cabin, 7103, and found it ready to go. It was smallish but attractive and had the promised flowers (none in bathroom however) and binoculars. No fruit but it arrived the following day and was freshened up every day after. As I said, the cabin was attractive but nothing more. The linens were of high quality and the carpet and drapes had a nice updated pattern. The headboard on the bed had a quilted vinyl insert that looked cheap and had seen better days. The cabin artworks were inoffensive botanical prints. The closets, shelves and desk were a handsome dark wood. Unfortunately, the stool and table in front of the sofa were a lighter, cheap looking wood. The table particularly looked like something you might find in a flea market or yard sale and was quite beat up. As others have noted the bathroom was small but well appointed. Our luggage was delivered 2 bags at 3:15 and one at 6PM.
Knowing that we needed to get up to the Alternative dining venues to make our reservations we headed on up. There was a short line (you can make reservations at either the Aqualina or Prime C for either or both restaurants) and we didn't have to wait long. When it was our turn they mostly had only 6PM and 9PM slots available. Since this was 12:30PM on embarkation day we were surprised. We were able to make an 8:30 PM reservation for sailing night in Aqualina and Thursday night for Prime C. This was OK for us but we had originally thought we would do it 3 nights but in the end, 2 nights was fine.
Next we decided to get some lunch in Windows Café. I wasn't surprised that it was quite crowded at 12:45 PM on embarkation day and we had to wait around for a table to open up. Another couple joined us since seating was so tight. They were delightful and we had a great lunch, the food was very good. Also, the coffee is fabulous, you can get espresso or regular coffee. The beans are ground as it is made and as good as many coffee shops around the US.
Windows café, in my opinion, needs the most work of any space on board the ship. The chairs and tables are nice enough but the chairs looked a little worn. My main problem with the space was the bad design, both in traffic flow and décor. Although never a real problem, the food service areas seemed awfully crowded into the rear of the restaurant creating small but unnecessary bottlenecks. I thought the carpeting was OK but found the tile on the floor ugly (sort of a fake slate) and the trim color on the walls was an unappealing flesh tone. There were also many extremely tired murals of what looked like scenes in rural England or Ireland. I'm sure that these must have been left over from the "R" ship days. There are some nice tables and a bar behind the Windows café that looked over the aft. This area was very pleasant and said "Celebrity" to me.
In every dining venue they had jumbo sized containers of anti-bacterial wipes. While I guess these are a good idea, they look extremely tacky. About halfway through the cruise they started to get a lot more aggressive with handing them out in the Windows Café. Although we heard nothing about it, it made us think that there was perhaps an outbreak of something on the ship. We certainly saw no sign of this however.
After lunch we toured the rest of the ship and found it quite attractive. As usual for Celebrity, there was a lot of interesting art. Some of it worked better than others as a juxtaposition to the formal tone of the ship. The Titanic staircase, the Cova café and all the area adjoining it were lovely and were quite popular areas to relax during the cruise. The harpist played often in this area but as my partner pointed out, there should be a law against singing while playing the harp. The lower lobby area had some furniture that reminded you that it was a Celebrity product and was quite stylish.
The Casino was very tasteful and worked well. It was always popular when open and the slots didn't seem to be as "tight" as others I have encountered on cruises.
The show lounge had a beautiful entrance on both the starboard and port sides and led you to think that you were about to enter a fabulous space. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The room was furnished in comfortable but not exciting furniture and the ceiling seemed oppressively low. The stage was backed by a flimsy black curtain with white Christmas lights poked through. The size of the room worked well for a ship of this size though but the entertainment (what little we saw) was not of a high caliber.
The main dining room was also on this deck, 5, and had a nicely traditionally decorated Martini Bar in the waiting area. The waiting area was essential as we found out. If you didn't dine at 6PM or after 8:30PM, there was indeed a wait. This was not surprising since this is prime time but on our second night we arrived at the dining room at 7:50 PM and were not seated until 8:25 PM. We were told we could leave and come back and we did since there wasn't a single spot to sit in the Martini Bar. We had a drink in the Casino and came back after 20 minutes or so to wait for our table. They do put your name on a list and seem to stick to it. I thought the dining room was lovely if a bit crowded and the waiters had a time maneuvering between the tables. The chairs were extremely comfortable though and the food and service were excellent. We ate three dinners in the main dining room, two breakfasts and one lunch. Everything was wonderful with the exception of our lunch which was disappointing. The room is quite beautiful though and there are lots of windows all around. I guess that since it has been so long since we have been on such a small ship I had forgotten how low the ceilings can seem though.
The Specialty restaurants on deck 10 are both lovely with a slight nod in décor to Prime C. We ate in Aqualina on the first night and had a wonderful meal. We had the rack of lamb and the veal osso bucco, both delicious. The service was so-so though and we had to finally stand up to leave (after waiting for 15 minutes for someone to come by) in order to get our check. The restaurant was at least ½ empty though so not sure why they said they were so booked up. There was a bit of excitement in Aqualina that night though and we thought we must have made reservations there on "Food Allergy Night". The couple at the next table made a huge deal over the wife being allergic to Beef, Pork and Dairy. She finally settled on the scallops after being assured by the wait staff and even the chef that it didn't contain Beef, Pork or Dairy. She seemed to get concerned though while eating it (I had it too) and ate what she thought were sun-dried tomatoes but after getting the chef back out there, discovered that it was some dried meat product. At the table on the other side of us one of the diners was presented with something with a walnut on it. She said "I told you I was allergic to walnuts!" The waiter quickly took it away. "Don't just pick it off and bring it back" she yelled as they walked away. I assume that they didn't because she was able to finish her meal without further incident.
We ate at Prime C on Thursday night and it was lovely too. The service was great and attentive. I had the Kobe steak and loved it. Everything was perfect but I would have to say that we liked the food a little better at Aqualina. We had extremely rough seas the night in Prime C though so that might have accounted for the half empty restaurant.
The Looking glass lounge was perfect for Bingo and other activities. Again, a pretty room but nothing special.
The new teak loungers on the pool deck, deck 11 and the promenade were wonderful. Really comfortable and there seemed to be almost enough of them. They did have to break out the old chairs on deck 11 on days at sea though. I did notice a number of the new chairs were broken though so not sure of how long they will last.
I didn't think that the public restrooms were anywhere near as nice as on other Celebrity ships. The maintenance in them seemed lacking also. There were often no cloth towels and they needed to be cleaned more often.
It really was nice being on a smaller ship, hardly any lines anywhere, plenty of deck space and room in all the venues. The service was nice but nothing exceptional. We did enjoy our "Butler" but didn't use many of her services. She was very nice though and always ran ahead to our cabin to unlock it if she saw us coming. The different treats every night were a delicious change too. It was also great to always have ice in the cabin too. I thought the wait staff was wonderful and didn't see any lack of service since going to open seating. There didn't seem to be much cleaning and maintenance going on during the cruise though. There were lots of places with fingerprints and scratched and worn surfaces. The ship did not seem to be up to the standards of the 4 other Celebrity cruises we have gone on, either in décor or cleanliness. For example, the first day we noticed 4 coffee cups wedged in the railing on the deck outside Aqualina. One of the cups had a cigar butt in it. I walked by this several times and was quite surprised to see that it was still there the next day, over 24 hours after first seeing it! We also saw remnants from a private party in Michaels Club over 6 hours after the event. The heavy teak chairs on the promenade deck were stacked up for the muster drill and never put back in place. We and other passengers had to move them ourselves.
All of the negatives on this cruise were minor. They in no way kept us from having a wonderful time and it being one of our favorite cruises. That said, this is not a "step up" from Celebrity (except in the wonderful food) and we were disappointed. We also felt that for such a large staff there were several times where all you could think was "Where is everyone?" I think that if Celebrity wanted to create a new brand that was nicer than what they already have, they should have built new ships with all the things that we love about Celebrity and taken it to the next level. I would have to say of all the ships I have sailed on Celebrity, this was my least favorite. I liked the small size but to me that was the only (although very nice) advantage. We are planning to sail on Quest a year from December and hope that they have things up to snuff by then.
We enjoyed meeting some of the Cruise Critic folks, especially Jan and her three lovely daughters. Her daughter Marcy is extremely lucky though, winning hundreds of dollars on the penny slots and even winning Bingo too! My luck declined if I was even near her. Fortunately, she was nowhere to be seen late on the last night at sea and I managed to win $139.00 on a penny slot machine!
There were almost no children on board and that was a plus. It was nice to be able to use the hot tubs and pool without kids in the way. The crowd was well behaved and seemed to be seasoned travelers for the most part. I only saw 2 men in shorts in the dining room at dinner and one really gross man walked through the Cova Café shirtless, sporting the hairiest back I have ever seen. He didn't just stroll through though but stopped to pick up some tasty treats from the cart in Cova. He then proceeded to walk down the grand staircase and I assume on to his cabin on deck 3 or possibly steerage where he belonged. These were the exceptions though and it was nice to have such a civilized crowd to cruise with.
I'm not sure if these ships will ever be what they are advertising but they are still lovely little ships with interesting itineraries. With a little work on the décor and maintenance they will be a nice addition to the Celebrity family.