My husband and I cruised on the Journey's first 14-day sailing on October 27th. It was a great cruise and the Journey is a wonderful ship though they do have some work to do to become what I feel they are trying to market Azamara to be in comparison to the other cruise lines. The boat is still in need of renovations, repairs and updates; this would not be the expectation on the upscale, luxury lines. But what Azamara is currently doing right, is done with 5-star class, style and service.
The check in was a breeze; we were on board within minutes and eating a fabulous lunch. Though the check in was great, we would get a taxi the next time versus arranging for transfers. We waited in the airport 2 hours for a bus full of passengers to arrive before we could leave for the ship. We were not a happy crowd! A constant theme throughout the trip with one fabulous meal after another fabulous meal. All other passengers commented on the amazing quality and presentation of the food, which certainly includes the service of the personnel. In addition, both of us thought the buffet area and the dining room were very clean. We are also happy to report no known cases of any viruses on board.
We had an inside cabin and encountered very few people in other inside rooms; the majority of the rooms on board are ocean view and balcony rooms. We felt the room was perfect. We had no problems with seeing the TV as others have reported however there are very few channels to chose from but there were 2 movies running each day. Since we were cruising during Halloween, one of the movies was a horror movie/thriller (Frankenstein, Halloween, The Birds, etc). This did get a little old; maybe a day or two with horror movies but enough was enough! The bedding is as wonderful as others have reported; a very comfortable nights sleep every night while on board. The bathroom is very small for sitting on the toilet and for taking a shower. The Elemis toiletries in the bathroom are great - no need to bring shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bar soap, cotton balls, shower caps, or Q-tips. We opted for evening showers in the spa using the shower with 7 heads on many nights...it was very relaxing. It was rumored that our cruise was the last free cruise to have use of the T-pool, the showers and the changing rooms however I am not certain if that is true. On our first day, the manager of the spa gave us a tour and she did say this was the last free cruise but it was her first day on board and she could have been uninformed at that point. The gym area was never crowded and there was no wait for machines. The T-pool was very hot on most evenings but we still found it a relaxing and very underutilized area. The hot tubs by the pool were not working properly the whole cruise; we did mention this at the front desk and they acted as if this was new information to them. You can ask for berries and grapes in your fruit bowl instead of apples, etc and they will comply unless/until they run out. The flowers were never dead as others have reported. We did not utilize the "butler" service but we are pretty low maintenance.
Dinner was a wonderful experience each night. The first night was very crowded and we were escorted upstairs to Prime C for a free meal...a very nice surprise...but we did want a table for 2 only so this was their quick solution. The Prime C meal was perfection in all regards - sea bass for me; surf and turf for my DH. We knew it was going to be a great vacation with a beginning like this! Since we enjoyed Prime C, we opted for Aqualina on our "free" night (inside rooms get only 1 free night). Though we read many reviews noting that Aqualina was their preference, we found our meals lacking in quality, interest and presentation. Lobster for me and a filet for my DH; we both commented that the dining room meals were consistently superior to Aqualina (even the desserts). A table for 2 in the dining room was never an issue though most of the tables for 2 are very close together (a long line of small tables) therefore you feel as if you are dining with other couples but you do not have the obligation of making small talk. We did hear comments from others that they experienced frustration being seated at the larger tables - if someone was having wine(s), was a slower eater, or a talker, dinner could take 2 hours. Even though we agree that vacation is time to relax, we don't have the patience or the interest for this; we opted for a table for 2 every night. We tried Breeza (the evening name for the buffet area) 2 nights so we could enjoy the stir fry one night and the pasta the other; we read many positive reviews and had to agree that this was a nice option after a long day in the sun. The guitar player/singer in the evening added a nice ambience. The morning buffet seemed fairly consistent the days we ate there as was the menu in the main dining room; some breakfast variety would have been nice. Room service was excellent and arrived hot and as ordered. You receive a card each evening to make your selections; you chose your time of delivery. It is an excellent system and it does work! Lunch was varied in the dining room and in the buffet. The floor in the buffet area was very slick (esp in the mornings) - this is a problem that needs to be remedied quickly as it is quite a hazard. The soft serve ice cream machine was working well and was used quite often; chocolate and vanilla were most common but they whipped up some strawberry on some days (it was the best!). The grill was a hot spot in the afternoons; great fries; good hamburger and steak sandwich choices; the veggie burger was perfect.
Entertainment...well, sometimes not so entertaining! The Journey cast was great and everyone turned out for their shows; the 2 comedians were awesome; the international guitar player was exceptional. One entertainer, Loretta Holloway, forgot the words to her song twice and we eventually left. We heard the next day that she was singing to an empty room by the time her show was over. Hopefully she won't be invited back. There was also a steel drum player that was probably very good but his background music drowned out his instrument; I think the crowd dwindled down to a few people by the time his show was over also. The evening party on deck for Dancing under the Stars and the local Bermuda dancers was extremely fun; wish they had done more things like this; great turn out and lots of drinks being sold. We were disappointed that they only had a movie showing once in the theater during the whole 14-day cruise; this is usually a favorite of ours to enjoy a few movies in the theater but we may have been spoiled on Holland America with this option.
Bermuda was as good as reported by everyone; very safe and very easy to navigate by bus. The original itinerary included Grand Turk. Azamara sent letters to some passengers to note that Grand Turk had been removed from the itinerary though we were not aware of this until we were 1 day into the journey. This was a big disappointment to us and to others. We get tons of mail and email from Celebrity, Azamara and all the other cruise lines so we are not sure the problem with us not getting a letter or email notification. Labadee is a great place and very relaxing; we heard too many awful stories about the market so we didn't even venture in. Seemed like most people brought back the usual trinkets so I don't think we missed much. We tendered as early as we could and got a great spot; DH snorkeled and had a great time. They do require you to wear a vest if you chose to snorkel. The meal on the island was awesome but the locals eating with us was very odd. They took food with their hands and really piled it on their plates. A lot of locals were on this private part of the island but no one really seemed to be doing anything unless they knew they would be readily tipped for their service. No need to book a tour for Santa Marta. Once you get off the ship, you will be in an area to take a van tour for $20 each. Definitely a better option than going to the beach or walking around on your own. You see some nice sights, great views, do a little shopping, see the "resort" area; you will definitely leave feeling that these are very happy people that welcome the tourists. We arranged a private tour in Cartagena through Lee a.k.a. "Mister Emerald"; he was very responsive by email and provided a wonderful tour guide and driver. We were a group of 7 Cruise Critic members; $20 each for the tour and $25 for entrance fees to the museums. It was a good deal for what were able to see. Cartagena is a great place to see; plenty of history. Much better to see with a guide than to attempt this on your own; it did not look unsafe but just too expansive to really see effectively without a plan. You won't go wrong contacting Lee and you will feel very safe. On our last cruise, we went through the Panama Canal so we opted for the City Tour offered through Azamara. The majority of people on our bus felt the tour lacking in any substance or quality; I met several at the tour desk the next day filing a complaint form. We did also and received a letter reply (obviously mass produced) that we should have read our Terms and Conditions. I responded to their letter by sending a note stating that we only wanted to get what we paid for and what was advertised. They again responded with a letter that they would bring our complaints to the tour operators attention and they attached a copy of the Terms and Conditions. This was the greatest disappointment of the trip. Don't trust Azamara on the tours; thinking back through the committed itinerary and the product we received, it was not even realistic time wise. Our tour guide even told us he did not like doing tours with the cruise companies; it was obvious to us!! The San Blas Island stop confirmed that we were finished with cruising in the Caribbean for a while. It was just another stop to see the beach and be offered lots of trinkets by the locals. Many took very over priced cabs ($40 each) to see the island but we jumped on the bus for 25 (or 50) cent each - we saw enough of the island; went to the beach and went to the main shopping/tourist area. They take the 1-3 siesta time seriously and all shops were closed then. The most interesting part of the stop was watching the cars, buses, and scooters (with 3 and 4 people on them) go by; seeing the military people; and talking with a few of the locals. Definitely not a place to return to but not unsafe or scary enough to stay on the boat as many did. This was a long tender ride but with such gorgeous water, that was fine with us.
Disembarking was a problem...the boat was not cleared for a few hours for some reason. Then they let everyone get off at once as people were really getting loud about the delay; the luggage area was a zoo and there were only 2 immigration agents to check everyone out; I don't think we can blame Azamara for this but we were not concerned with the details at that point, we were ready to begin our 2 days in Miami. If you opt to stay over, check out the Indian River Hotel...very affordable nostalgic "south Beach style" hotel one block over from the beach and the boardwalk with a wonderful Cuban cafe across the street (Tropical something Cafe - so good we ate their twice - $13 total for dinner for 2). Just a few blocks walk on the boardwalk and you are in the heart of the South Beach excitement.
The boat handles well for its size; we loved the size of this boat! The smaller casino did not appeal to some but it was fine for us since we only spent about $3 in it. There are only 2 shops on board; they pull out the gold by the inch table and the boxed jewelry tables as usual. The art show was priced quite high and people were buying (much to our constant amazement!). Bring some extra wire hangers if you are on a 14-day sailing. We hung a dollar store shoe organizer on the closet door for toiletries, meds, etc that kept us organized since the bathroom was so small; we trashed it instead of bringing it home for a future trip but it was a well spent $1 before we left. They don't do a great job clearly listing all of the times and places to dance/watch others dance with the band. The band is wonderful and there were some very entertaining dancers on our sailing though we encountered them by surprise. The program has a list of activities and then a list of the musical offerings in a different location. Try breakfast in your room a few days; a very relaxing treat for us! Afternoon Tea in Aqualina is formal so they bring the cart around and serve each person; very time consuming so we only did this once. However, when it was offered in Michael's, it was on a cart where you could make your own selections; much quicker. Michael's had a great library and was a relaxing place that was consistently quiet. Michael's, the dining room, the theater, etc were well air conditioned so pack a sweater/wrap esp for evenings. Most took the resort casual theme a step too far but they were on vacation so it was no big deal to us; we did hear a few nasty comments about it from others. A few nights into the trip, resort casual turned into t-shirts; this is obviously offensive to some. There was one little boy on board; no other children; this is definitely not a kid's boat though even in the summer time. We were in port with the Quest and received a pass to go on board and check it out; exactly the same as the Journey though it seemed to be in slightly better repair from our limited surveillance. Your butler will empty your fridge so you can store your wine brought from home or other items as you see fit. We received choc covered strawberries 2 evenings and very tasty treats on the other evenings (some items seemed to be left over from tea time); it was odd that these treats left in your room were not covered in plastic wrap so they would be stale by morning if you chose not to eat them that night (covering food could be a personal preference I suppose!). If an itinerary and price came along that fit our needs, we would definitely sail with Azamara again (though we would not book any of their excursions). It was an overall great cruise!!