My husband and I are avid cruisers and have sailed more than 30 times on various cruise lines mostly on Royal Caribbean during the last 12 years. On Saturday, we had a smooth and on-time flight from Indianapolis and arrived early in Newark.
EMBARKATION We took the cruise line's ground transportation and arriving at the pier before check-in had begun, we were directed to a waiting area where we were offered fruit punch and cookies. The check-in process started at 11:00. We boarded the ship at 11:30, dropped off our carry-on luggage in our stateroom, and went to Windows Cafe for the welcome aboard buffet lunch. The presentation and variety of choices were plentiful, and the food was delicious.
As the ship sailed away from Bayonne, we enjoyed watching the New York skyline disappear in the distance from the panoramic Looking Glass lounge which is the highest vantage point on the ship. During our day at sea on Sunday, we experienced some 8-foot waves, but being experienced cruisers who love the relaxing days at sea, the motion was not a problem.
THE PORTS What a beautiful paradise Bermuda is with over 80 islands, all connected by bridges! Our first stop was St. George's which is a quaint interesting little town. We were docked from 10:00AM on Monday, until 6:00AM on Tuesday. We then cruised to Hamilton and docked at 9:00AM. Transportation from either port is convenient since a 1-day or multi-day pass can be purchased for the ferries and buses which we used to visit Horseshoe Beach and Kings Wharf. Hamilton is a great place to shop. We were docked at Hamilton until 3:00PM on Thursday.
THE SHIP Overall, I would recommend this ship and cruise line for couples without children unless they are less than 3 years old. The ambiance on this ship reminded me of a fine European hotel with comfortable, traditional furniture and dark wood veneers. It definitely is not for multigenerational family cruising since there are no organized children's/teenagers' activities. It never took us long to get where we wanted to go on this size ship (30,000 tons), and that is a benefit for port-intensive itineraries which this ship is scheduled to do.
STATEROOM Our stateroom had an obstructed view window, but we were fortunate that our window was between lifeboats so that we had a nice view. We would sale on Azamara again although on our cruise the Journey was still a work in progress. The mattresses in the staterooms on our deck had not yet been upgraded although the linens were of high quality. Fresh flowers, robes, and slippers were provided as well as daily replenishment of fruit. All staterooms have a "butler" with an assistant who makes up the rooms. We didn't really notice any difference in their service from other ships we've been on other than he offered to make our reservations at the specialty dining room.
DINING The Discoveries Dining Room servers (most of who had previously worked on Celebrity ships) were still trying to adjust to any-time dining with all guests not arriving at one specific time. We experienced both great service from some the dining staff and poor service from others. Menus in the dining room and buffet had a nice variety, and the food was excellent. Seating in the Windows Cafe was always available as were deck chairs at the pool and promenade deck. When we arrived at the dining room before 6:45, there was no delay in getting seated. One evening, we arrived at 7:30 and only had to wait about 10 minutes. One nice perk is that all guests can dine once in one of the specialty restaurants (Aqualina or Prime C) at no charge. Guests in suites get two complimentary dinners in the specialty restaurants where reservations are required. For additional dinings, the charge is $20-25 per person.
ENTERTAINMENT/ACTIVITIES Entertainment was cabaret style with four singers/dancers and two really entertaining comedians. Although bingo, trivia, the quest, etc., activities were available, there were no intrusive in-room announcements made.
The ambiance on this ship was more upscale than Royal Caribbean. I didn't feel that it was more upscale than Holland America or Celebrity, the only difference being that it was a small, intimate ship. It was wonderful that it wasn't necessary to stand in line for anything. As Diamond members of Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society, we were recognized as Elite members of Celebrity/Azamara's Captain's Club. We enjoyed the following benefits: - Champagne brunch for Select & Elite members - Captain's Club cocktail party - Tour of the bridge - Elite status coupon booklets - Use of the Select/Elite debarkation lounge
DISEMBARKATION On disembarkation morning, we could utilize our stateroom until 8:00AM. After that time, we went to the Select/Elite debarkation lounge and waited for our color luggage tag to be announced. This process was very well organized.
It was a great cruise, and I highly recommend a visit to Bermuda. As I was told by a shore excursion crew member, when comparing Bermuda to the Caribbean, "Bermuda is all that is good about the Caribbean with none of the bad"--meaning that Bermuda has beautiful tropical scenery and great weather but doesn't have poverty or crime.
We will look forward to finding out about itineraries that Azamara will offer in the future.