The Azamara Journey was advertised as a luxury small-ship cruise equivalent to Oceana--and it may be that someday, but it certainly isn't that now. The intent is there, the effort is there, but the execution...
There were many good points. Embarkation was a breeze--efficient, friendly, quick. The ship itself is a gem, just the right size to be comfortable. You can get from anywhere to anywhere on board in less than 5 minutes. Azamara is an off-shoot of Celebrity and, as on Celebrity, we were greeted with a glass of champagne, BUT, no escort to our cabin. On a ship that prides itself on its crew:passenger ratio, why did they drop that Celebrity courtesy?
CABIN Plenty of storage space. Ample closets and lovely wood hangars that you don't have to slide on and off that hook and ball combination. I guess they don't expect Azamara passengers to steal hangars. Lots of drawer space, too.
There is a refrigerator and safe, flat screen TV and lots of nice luxury touches. The ship provided robes and slippers, binoculars and umbrellas. The Elemis soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotion were lovely. One large free bottle of Evian. Two hair dryers--one in the bathroom on the wall and a non-attached hand dryer at the vanity. The fabrics on the sofa and throw pillows, like the fabrics used on all furniture throughout the ship are top quality. The bathroom is small, but adequate as is the balcony. The towels are Egyptian cotton and very absorbent EXCEPT FOR THE DECORATIVE BROWN BAND (totally unnecessary). Whatever decorator suggested that touch should be thrown out of the decorator's guild. That band is already pilling and will make the towels look shabby in no time. Plain cotton would have been much better.
Now, what is lacking. 1)Space in the bathroom to put a cup or glass. 2)Makeup mirror anywhere, in the bathroom or at the vanity/desk, with good lighting. 3) Good mattresses. It was like sleeping on a brick. I have been told that the mattresses were ordered, but not received yet and that some ships in the Celebrity fleet are already reequipped. Why didn't they start with the "luxury line?" The pillows, on the other hand, were wonderful and the linens quite good. They did pad our bed with foam, so that made sleeping bearable, but nothing as good as Holland America. 4)A reasonable TV channel selection. On cruises billed as luxury and all of long duration, you'd think they would skip the Cartoon Network and replace it with a financial channel. CNN International is OK, but the regular CNN to keep us in touch with home would have been nice, too. New movies on pay-per-view would be good, too, especially on long cruises. CABIN STEWARD AND BUTLER Both of these gentlemen were unfailingly helpful, courteous and efficient. The cabin was always clean. No towel animals. The butler brings fresh fruit every day and fills the vase with flowers (usually). There is a different sweet every night. The butler will, if requested, unpack and pack, shine shoes, serve breakfast and afternoon tea. Frankly, I didn't see the need. If someone else unpacks it will take me three days to find everything. There are already too many opportunities to eat without an additional meal and all the other duties are carried out by the room steward on other ships.
PUBLIC AREAS Beautiful, tasteful, elegant, for the most part. Luxury fabrics. Lots of bars and nooks. A small sitting area off the casino with a large screen TV was popular for sports. The Cova Cafe was another popular spot, with snacks available all the time--sweets, small sandwiches, and other delights. Coffee, tea, chocolate, too. Entertainment was provided by a pianist and/or harpist. Looking Glass (10 forward) was the spot for games and trivia. Lots of bridge players, mah jongg, games of all sorts available. At night, there was usually music, live or DJ. I didn't use the Martini Bar, so I won't comment. The casino seemed to be adequate, but the huge bar that took up a lot of floor space in the middle was hardly ever used. The library was supposed to be Michael's Club in the evening, but every time I was in it, it was just the library, much too big and beautiful to be so underutilized.
The shops run toward the expensive and impractical-- fine jewelry, expensive semi-precious items and costume jewelry. There is a small selection of clothing, an area the size of a kitchen cabinet for sundries and that's about it.
The pool is small but adequate, not too deep. The lounge chairs are wood, with thick upholstered cushions. Be sure to reserve one in the shade by 8am or you're out of luck. A trio played at poolside for about an hour each day. The pool and deck are kept very clean. The pool is salt water and is drained, cleaned and refilled daily.
SPA I didn't use the spa services much. The exercise classes are free--Pilates, spinning, aerobics, yoga. There seem to be sufficient number of treadmills, etc. Other spa services seemed pricey, but that's the case on most ships. The thallasotherapy pool (heated saltwater bubble pool) that we enjoyed so much on Celebrity for free is for fee only on this ship-- $125 for the cruise. I doubt anyone used it. I suggested that they make it a Captain's Club perk and it may be on future cruises.
INTERNET Slow, slow, slow. Many terminals, inadequate bandwith. It can take 10 minutes or more to reach your ISP, at $.53 a minute and even then you may not be able to sign on. We protested and got a refund. The best time to use it is between 6-8am, when the bridge and the ship offices are not downloading anything. Better still, use the internet cafes available on even the smallest island or in terminals.
DINING The Windows Cafe (buffet) is roomy, with adequate table space inside and outdoors on the stern. The food is of excellent quality, better than most ships. The dishes became repetitive, which was to be expected on an 18 day cruise. Trays are available, but it is better to use plates alone. There are machines for coffee, tea, iced tea, lemonade and a variety of fruit drinks. The coffee machine is slow and badly adjusted. It gives either half a cup or an overflow. Refills from the wandering waiters are spotty. Wait staff is very friendly. We ate breakfast and lunch there throughout the cruise but service is available in the dining room, too.
Breeza is the poolside grill. It offers hamburgers, hot dogs, Polish sausage and nachos, with a salad bar. There is a daily special, too. The hamburgers are average; the french fries are excellent as is the sausage. They have cheese and chili to top the nachos, but no salsa.
The specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, are really good. Service is wonderful and the ambience makes it a special dining experience.
Discoveries, the regular dining room, is a problem and I don't know what they can do. It was terrible for the first few days. Some people gave up and ate only at the Windows Cafe. The food is usually excellent, with a few misses--dry chicken (they don't do poultry well), undercooked fish occasionally, but they correct anything like that immediately.
There has been much care and attention paid to the quality of the food, the presentation, the tableware and the general ambience, all to the good, but the service is spotty at best and the room can be noisy, chaotic and crowded. The waiters often confuse orders, dishes hit the floor, diners get bumped by passing waiters and other diners. I don't think they have the free-style dining concept fully under control. Dinner often takes 2 hours or more, most of that time taken with waiting for dishes to arrive. Your soup can sit at a station for half an hour before anyone brings it to the table. Rarely were we asked if the dinner was satisfactory or if we wanted anything else. The wait staff just seemed relieved to be able to carry out orders. If you weren't happy and wanted to change your order--good luck! Refills of coffee, soda or other drinks on request; they are not refilled automatically. It isn't the atmosphere of a luxury dining room.
WINE SERVICE AND BARS I didn't use it personally but heard,"I ordered wine, but when it arrived, I didn't like it. The wine steward tasted it and said, 'It tastes OK to me.'" That is not professional conduct. Other comments "I don't mind paying $50 for a bottle of wine, but not for the $3.98 Trader Joe special." Mixed drinks are very overpriced. Should a Cosmopolitan cost $15.00?
CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES none
OTHER ACTIVITIES The usual--lots of trivia, name that tune, pictionary, ring toss, etc. Some more innovative activities included acting class, poetry, etc. The cruise staff was cheerful, energetic and friendly. Becky, the cruise director, is transferring to Quest in the Caribbean and Andreas will be doing South America as he speaks multiple languages. Ryan and Carissa worked very hard to keep everyone entertained. Carissa's Battle of the Sexes was a highlight of the cruise.
SHORE EXCURSIONS Lousy. I have never, in all my years of cruising, seen so many people angry and asking for their money back. The descriptions were bad--mild wasn't always and neither was strenuous. It was as if the shore excursion people had never been to these ports and had no personal knowledge of the conditions. There was little control over the onshore personnel. Most people were told to make their own arrangements if they weren't happy with what was available and, believe me, our own arrangements were better. After one or two bad experiences, most people cancelled their tours. The best part of that department was the local person who came on board for 2 hours in the morning to explain what was available on shore so we could make our own arrangements.
ENRICHMENT Wonderful! The lecturer was knowledgeable and entertaining, never dull. He spoke to packed audiences about Brazil, Portugal, the importance of cricket and soccer, the history of the samba and tango and kept us enthralled.
GUEST SERVICES E for effort, but they were over their heads on this cruise. It was a demanding bunch of passengers who expected the kind of concierge service one would get at a Hyatt and what we got was "I don't know." They have to check with the home office in Miami for everything. We asked them to check on our reservations for the flight home, which they promised to do and said they did, but at the end, they were not able to do it. They had to be cornered into that admission.
LAUNDRY There is a do it yourself laundry on Deck 7, but be warned, there is rust in the water and it may stain your clothes. If this happens call the butler, give him the garments and they will be cleaned at no charge. Bring your own fabric softener, stain remover and other laundry items. Detergent is provided.
CAPTAIN AND BRIDGE CREW Friendly, super competent and always available to passengers. He is the youngest captain I have ever seen and he is great!
DISEMBARKATION Smooth and fast. The problem was with the last day. We all were booked on red-eye flights out of Sao Paulo, not known as a tourist mecca. The routes had no rhyme or reason. Why did they route someone who wanted to go to Charleston, SC through Toronto? We were off the ship at 9:45 am with a flight at 11:30pm. Tours to fill the day were offered at $190 each but there is nothing to see in Sao Paulo unless you like pitiful slums. After much coersion from the passengers, the cruise line came up with a hospitality room to leave your luggage and some day rooms at our expense. It was not carefully thought out.
SUMMARY Azamara has potential, but a long way to go. It is not even up to usual Celebrity standards yet.