The Journey is a beautiful ship which although smaller has a more spacious feel than many larger ships. This was our 5th trip on Celebrity and we will be making comparisons between Celebrity and Azamara. We are a 50ish couple and were travelling with our 3 children in their 20s.
Embarkation Never been to Cape Liberty and, while I wouldn't want to wander around there at night, it was an easy location to get to and through. Long term parking is adjacent to the terminal. There was no shuttle running from the parking lot when we arrived, but there was one when we returned. The parking lot is huge so a shuttle is a good idea. An alternative is to leave someone with all the bags and have one person park the car. Ironically, there was an attractive waiting area with snacks and beverages even though there was no wait. (We could have used that in Ft. Lauderdale.)
Arrival Onboard We were greeted with the customary champagne, but hadn't realized that we wouldn't have an escort to our room. Even though it is a smaller ship, some directions would have been appreciated. We dropped our bags in the room and went to the buffet where we meet our children who had boarded separately.
Stateroom We had booked one 1A and one 2A on deck 7. Both veranda cabins were nicely furnished with frigs and flat TV which was easy to see. The flowers and fruit were a welcoming touch. There was a nice table on the balcony perfect for breakfast. The bedding was the nicest we have had and mattresses the most comfortable - no need for an egg crate. The bathroom was small but not a problem for us. (Perhaps because I loved the showers at the Spa.) Our rooms were quiet and well situated. The only drawback to 7103 was that when we left the room, we walked right into the cart with refuse from other staterooms.
Our "butler" offered to make our specialty reservations but we had already taken care of it. She did later change a reservation for us to a later time; otherwise, besides the delivery of "savories" twice, the services were those of a stateroom attendant. I think the term "concierge" is more appropriate and less misleading than" butler" and that the descriptions in the Azamara literature should reflect the reality. It is not that I feel more services are needed, rather that they should not be overstated.
One minor change was that we needed to place a card on our door to have our room made up. It seems that open seating made it difficult for staff to plan their cleaning (even though we ate at the same time each night and told our butler this.) One night our room was turned down before we left for dinner
Restaurants This is where Azamara really shined. We had consistently very good food in all venues -beautifully presented with some real gems. Our first night we ate in Aqualina which was outstanding - perfect rack of lamb, foie gras appetizer, excellent sea bass, and chocolate souffle. The setting and service (we requested Carla) were both first rate. (Carla also supervised the room service orders and we would get little notes from her throughout the week.) We had dinner at Prime C on our last night when we were fighting 12 foot swells. It's a beautiful room and the service was excellent. Much less crowded than MDR. The lobster bisque was superlative as was the chocolate lava cake. Perhaps because of the waves or the fact that we had had such good food in the MDR, I found that I preferred Aqualina. Others in my family would disagree. Both are excellent
We were delighted with the room service breakfast menu (it included waffles and French toast - two favorites) and ordered that the first few mornings. As a rule I prefer not to go to the buffet in the morning. However, I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter encouraged me to venture down. Not only were the selections excellent and attractive, there was none of the chaos I had feared. We were always able to get a table (with an ocean view yet). The only time I had to wait for waffles there were only a couple people ahead of me. Even on disembarkation morning, I walked right up to the waffle and smoothie bars. The absence of lines throughout the ship was a big plus.
The breakfast selection was vast with some unusual additions like shrimp hash. Fruit and berries were plentiful. Smoked salmon was always included along with a choice of cream cheese. The smoothie bar and espresso machine were appreciated. In addition to the pancake, waffle, French toast station, there were also made to order omelets.
For lunch the buffet was also great. There were so many choices it is easy to miss some special dishes. Look for the salmon cerviche and Thai vegetable curry. I found the Thai dishes at the buffet and in the MDR to be excellent. There were many international dishes such as moussaka, quesadillas which I didn't try. We didn't eat at the buffer for dinner other than the very good sushi and some cheeses as hors d'oeuvres. (Table service at Breeza had been discontinued on our sailing which we would have liked to try.)
The grill. A favorite of the rest of my family, I had never been a fan. (I used to go to the Aqua Spa Cafe available on M ships). However, one day we returned from the beach after lunch and I was delighted to find excellent gyros at the grill. Also, the fries (which I don't usually eat) are amazing and in great demand. This may be the only thing you have to wait for on the ship. The grill also had fruit kabobs one day.
Cova Cafe was a mainstay for snacks. It had the longest hours and featured tea sandwiches and pastry. Their almond and two varieties of chocolate croissants are wonderful.
Discoveries, the main dining room. As long time Celebrity cruisers, we were skeptical about open seating. We didn't miss the formal nights, but liked the consistency of the same table and wait staff. Since we were a party of five, sitting with others was not an issue. The restaurant manager Richard (wrong spelling) was a gracious and welcoming presence. He seated us at a window table with a very pleasant and efficient team, Jaysingh and Elena. Please tell them "hi" from the family at Table 20. We ate at 8:15 every night.
The appetizers on the menu were excellent and there were often many which appealed. We missed some of the old dinner choices but found most new selections to be sophisticated and well prepared. Some of the labor intensive touches have been restored like wrapping the lemon as Celebrity did in the old days. Favorite entrees were the duck, prawns, lamb chops, salmon, NY strip steak. There was always a good Caesar salad which you could order with chicken or shrimp. While many dishes were innovative, the ingredients high quality and presentation beautiful, the seasoning on some dishes could have been more assertive. This was only the second week for the new menus; the dishes are very good now and can only get better with some fine tuning.
Desserts were strong. I was surprised that my favorites were not my usual chocolate choices which were also good, but rather an apple tart, bananas foster, and crepe suzette. We ate lunch in the MDR twice and had good service and food. Once we went primarily for the apple tart, bananas foster and brownie sundae which are always on the lunch menu.
Overall our service was amazing including being speedy when we once requested that. The one drawback is that the dining room seems to have too many tables. This might explain the absence of the dessert cart - it could not maneuver between tables. The wait staff were friendly but were obviously working very hard. They had to reset the tables after diners left which was distracting to those still eating. We can not evaluate open seating since we asked to be assigned to the same table every night; this greatly enhanced our experience.
Tea and Savories. We went to tea at Aqualina once for tea and it was lovely with harp music and table service. We found that stopping by Cova worked out better with our schedules. We didn't order tea in the room but had savories twice and they were excellent. Being tied down to a time didn't seem worth it except for sea days.
My favorite activity was the T pool on the spa deck. (It took one day to heat up). While on Celebrity I gravitated to the T pool to escape the noise of the main pool; this was not necessary on Journey. I actually went into the main pool for the first time on a cruise and had the pool to myself.
The Celebrity Cabaret was nicer that I expected and we had no problem with sight lines. The performers were good, but the material was not exciting. The magician had left and we had a piano player instead. The comedian was diverting as was the show about Hollywood. The nice thing was that attending was not a must but was pleasant if you could make it.
The guitar player on board was very good. The piano player outside Cova was not my taste. The harp music was lovely. The pool band was fine. There were the usual activities - we participated in the Broadway name that tune, martini and wine tastings, and culinary demonstration. We also attended the Captains Club reception. We missed the Captain's toast because we were at dinner. There were also some very distinctive events. There was a very nice cruise critic get together in Michael's Club which was well attended by senior staff who were eager to talk and listen. The ship arranged for Shabbat services. The soon to be Captain held a star gazing talk. There were performances by a noted local musician and the Goombay dancers which was outstanding.
We were docked in very convenient locations in both St. Georges and Hamilton. It was very easy to get on and off the ship. Bermuda was wonderful but won't go into here -particularly since only one more sailing.
After having had perfect weather in Bermuda, we returned with winds over 40 mph and 12 foot waves. The Captain made an announcement asking women not to wear heels and for everyone to stay off of the open decks. We had a very enjoyable day anyway. Our rooms were aft and it seems the motion was worse in front of the ship.
We had a very nice breakfast at the buffet. We were scheduled to leave at 9:10 and weren't called until almost 10 which was fine with us since we got to have some more time on the deck. (Have I mentioned how comfortable the deck chairs are?) Once we were called, we went quickly through customs and to car.
Comparison with Celebrity
Although it seems that Azamara is trying to differentiate itself from Celebrity, there are enough similarities to ensure a comfort level. The main differences from Celebrity are the lack of formal nights and open seating. What you don't have: midnight buffet, baked Alaska night, informal elegant tea, production shows, Aqua spa cafe, children's program, Captain's club gift. What you do have: shorter or no lines, senior staff accessible, less crowding, a very low key atmosphere, different pillow treats every night, tea available in room, more artistry in food presentation. For instance, instead of just plain broiled lobster tails, lobster was prepared four different ways; instead of baked Alaska we were served a dessert sampler. Also, the Journey is non-smoking except for two areas. The bedding and robes were of higher quality and concierge class amenities were in all cabins.
We have always enjoyed Celebrity and also enjoyed Azamara very much. I feel the two lines complement one another and would sail either with pleasure.