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Azamara Journey Cruise Review by owl61

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Azamara Journey
Azamara Journey
Member Name: owl61
Cruise Date: November 2007
Embarkation: Rio de Janeiro
Destination: South America & Antarctica
Cabin Category: SSV
Cabin Number: 7121
Booking Method: Internet Agency
See More About: Azamara Journey Cruise Reviews | South America & Antarctica Cruise Reviews | Azamara Cruise Deals
Member Rating   5.0 out of 5+
Dining 4.0
Public Rooms 5.0
Cabins 4.0
Entertainment 5.0
Spa & Fitness 5.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Shore Excursions Not Rated
Embarkation 4.0
Service 5.0
Value-for-Money 5+
Rates 5+
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Ship Facts: Azamara Journey Review (by Cruise Critic!) | Azamara Journey Deck Plans
Good and sure to get better

INTRODUCTION

I have cruised a total of 55 times on almost all lines save a
couple of the ultra luxury ones. In 2007 the wife and I sailed on a 15
day Oceania Insignia crossing. Later in 2007
RCL
Ltd launched the
Azamara line by acquiring and refitting two "R" class ships ostensibly
to compete with the three virtually identical ships currently operated
by
Oceania
. There has been enormous interest, particularly on the part
of
Oceania
aficionados, in how the Azamara experience shapes us
against
Oceania
. Having now sailed both I was able to draw some
comparisons.


EMBARKATION

Wife and I hopped on an overnight bus in
Rio de Janeiro
where we
reside for the 6 hour ride to the embarkation
port of Santos
. Given
the normally heavy traffic it can sometimes take more than 2 hours
just to travel the 60 miles by bus from
Sao Paulo's Guarulhos
airport
to the pier in
Santos
. We figured we could save time and hassle if we
took the bus to
Santos
directly and avoided airport check in, taxis
and transfers, etc.

At the
Santos
bus terminal we hailed a cab for the 15 minute
ride to the pier. As we arrived at
7:00 a.m
we opted to drop off our
luggage and continue in the taxi for a tour of the area, principally
the neighboring beach town of
Guaruja. In contrast to Santos
, Guaruja
is a charming, upscale resort popular with well to do Paulistas. Next
time we arrive way early for a
Santos
embarkation we will spend time
on the beaches of nearby Guaruja. You may want to consider that too.

After the usual hassle with the cab driver over the agreed fare
it was back to the ship's terminal where we had to wait almost 2 hours
to board despite having been promised by Azamara reps that boarding
would start an hour sooner. Though I am normally impatient I have
lived in Brazil long enough to know that getting things done here can
often take longer than anticipated, especially since this was the
first time Azamara was embarking in Santos. We browsed the few
terminal shops until the embarkation desk opened. We were among the
first to check in so there were no lines. William, manager of the
Prime C specialty restaurant, had set up a separate desk where all pax
were required to make a dining room reservation for the first night, a
well meaning effort to avoid an unmanageable crunch at any of the
dining venues on night one. In point of fact, perhaps because we tend
to dine after
8:30
, we never had to wait more than a minute or two to
be seated in Discoveries, the main dining room, or either of the
specialty restaurants. That the ship was sailing with less than 500
pax, (70% capacity) no doubt also facilitated seating.


CABIN
AND
BUTLER

We made our way to our aft SSV cabin without benefit of
champagne cocktail or assistance, neither of which matter to us though
it might to some. This was our first time in an aft veranda which we
chose because of the oversized balcony, its only distinguishing
feature. We weren't much concerned with excessive movement while at
sea because on this itinerary the Journey would be hugging the shore
and sailing up river in Buenos Aires. After several hefty markdowns
from the original price at which I booked, the cabin finally wound up
costing us $3240 which I consider a real bargain; however, I don't
think the extra size of the SSV balcony justifies a significant price
premium primarily because both adjoining verandas are completely
partitioned by metal walls which together with the prominent overhang
tends to create a boxed-in sensation. The regular verandas on my deck
appeared sufficiently spacious to comfortably accommodate a dining
table and two chairs for those who want to dine on their veranda.

Shortly after freshening up we toured the ship. As expected the
layout is virtually identical to the Oceania Insignia and similarly
well appointed. We returned to our cabin to find our bags had arrived.
While we were unpacking our butler, Natasha, neatly attired in a
tuxedo like uniform, entered to welcome us and explain her function.
This was our first butlered cabin so I was eager to hear the
description of her duties. Aside from shining shoes, making
reservations in the specialty restaurants and delivering afternoon
savories to the cabin, I could not distinguish her duties from those
of the typical cabin steward. We are ordinarily low maintenance
passengers so any services supplementing the usual cabin steward
services are superfluous for us. As it turned out I assigned Natasha
several extra chores which she cheerfully undertook with only the most
fleeting of quizzical glances at me. Natasha (and her assistant)
performed all routine and not so routine tasks well and always with an
engaging sense of humor.

The cabin itself held no surprises. The bed, e.g., firm padded
mattress, high thread count sheets, and feathered/down pillows were
all first rate and super comfy just like those on the Insignia. The
bathroom shower was a bit small and the water pressure a bit low, but
neither to the point of inconvenience. The robes and towels were
plush. We appreciated the binoculars, umbrella and especially the hand
held hairdryer in the vanity desk. The table and chairs on the veranda
were more comfortable than expected. There was one significant
problem, a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. The wall thermostat
did not properly regulate the temperature and, worse yet, the ceiling
unit occasionally made a loud noise that lasted several minutes. I
delegated oversight of the repair to Natasha. After the Electrical
Dept failed to fix it in a couple of tries, at my urging I think she
finally invoked the aid of the Chief Engineer. Anyway, it got repaired
after a few days.


SERVICE

The outstanding feature of the on board experience was the
wonderful attitude of all staff and crew. While they may not have
always hit the mark, every single person I encountered sincerely
endeavored to please as much as possible. This excellent attitude
facilitated acceptance of the occasional shortcomings in food, table
or room service, guest relations service, etc. The eagerness to please
and to improve so permeates the ship that one can easily foresee the
overall Azamara cruise experience getting even better in the
near future.

In fact, many managers were new arrivals. I was informed that the
Hotel Mgr had boarded less than a week before we sailed. He was an
extremely affable and apparently very capable guy. The home office
Exec Chef, Tomas Symanski, was also newly aboard to revise the menus
which are, in deed, in need of revision particularly in the specialty
restaurants. I think the Cruise Director, Andrea Oliveti, was also
recently transferred from the Azamara Quest. They and the F&B and
Dining Room Mgrs were all very intent on upgrading the food and
service. All of these senior officers hosted a group of CCers at which
many issues were discussed and considered. I think the opinion of the
majority of those present was that our expectations were being
exceeded, perhaps because expectations had been tempered by widespread
negative criticism at the inception of the company's operations.


DINING

Unlike Oceania, Azamara charged a $20 and $25 cover for extra
visits to specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C respectively
(penthouse occupants got two freebies, all others got one). Azamara
has announced that this surcharge is soon to be eliminated and each
pax will be entitled to one additional specialty restaurant meal.

With the exception of the Windows Cafe buffet on deck 9 (wow,
what a breakfast!) I did not think the food was as good as what I had
experienced on Oceania's Insignia, but certain dishes at each of the
dining venues were very good, a few excellent. The roasted sea bass
which I ordered in Discoveries on the first night was up there with
the best fish dishes I have ever tasted and had me thinking the food
was going to rival that of the Insignia, a notion which got dispelled
as time wore on. In Aqualina a seafood bouillabaisse was to die for.
On the negative side the lobster newburg was the only lobster dish on
either specialty restaurant menu (actually it's only on Aqualina's,
but as they share the same kitchen you can order off either menu). It
was tasty, but I would have preferred to have had a choice of a
simpler lobster preparation. Large scallops were delicious one
night, but on another in a different venue their delicate flavor was
totally obscured when presented on a bed of bacon. The duck breast in
Discoveries was as bad as the stuffed quails were good.

Having lived in Buenos Aires for a couple of years and written
an article on steakhouses for the local English language daily I
consider myself something of a steak connoisseur. I did not think the
steaks were of sufficiently high quality in Prime C though I didn't
try the so-called
Kobe
beef available for an $8 surcharge. Roast prime
rib was not on the menu and should be in a good steakhouse.

Desserts were generally uninspiring throughout except at the
Windows buffet where early in the cruise I came across a fantastic,
dark chocolate mousse which, alas, I was never to see again. I'm sure
the kitchen would have accommodated a request for more, but my wife
reminded me of my promise not to overindulge in desserts so I left it
to chance and as fate would have it I never saw that mousse again.
Next time I am requesting it.

I expect the Exec Chef will be working to achieve greater
culinary excellence throughout the ship. Hopefully, the company can
purchase better steaks and add more lobster to the menus in the
specialty restaurants. Timing in the kitchens and table service needs
to be ratcheted up as well.  I had fabulous service 3 of the 4 times
we dined in the specialty restaurants as well as most nights in
Discoveries, but suffered mediocre service once in each place.

By way of example how hard the company is trying to please they
were quite generous in offering "comps.". For instance, when in
response to a query by our waiter in Prime C, we mentioned our mild
criticism of a steak, William, the manager, soon appeared and comped
us for a return visit. Another time when our Discoveries waiter
neglected to advise us in advance of the $25 corkage fee, a publicized
fee that I knew existed, the exuberant Dining Room Manager, Chaika,
came over at the end of the meal and removed the charge on the grounds
we were not expressly advised in advance - I didn't have the heart to
undermine his generosity by mentioning I knew about the fee. Finally,
as a gesture of thanks for a small favor wife and I did, providing
some info on
Rio
, we were comped at Aqualina by the F&B Mgr. It's
difficult not to enjoy yourself when those kinds of things
continuously occur.

For breakfast we ordered light, continental style breakfasts via
room service all but one day. In my experience room service is the
weakest link in the food service chain on board, but the Journey room
service crew did way better than most. They always arrived with almost
everything at the appointed time. Once late in the cruise they opted
to come at
7:00 am instead of our customary 8:30
when I neglected to
jot down the time we wanted our breakfast served. I assume the blame
for that although
7:00
was a bit curious in light of our known custom.
Okay, I'm nitpicking.

The weather forced us up to the deck 9 breakfast buffet once and
I was amazed at the selection of nicely prepared items available, not
the least of which was a juice bar from which you could order almost
any fruit/veggie concoction imaginable. Given that sumptuous breakfast
buffet I'm glad I avoided temptation by opting for the continental
breakfast on our veranda.

For lunch we either ate at the deck 9 buffet which was absolutely
first rate or indulged in a hamburger with fries or salad at the
poolside grill. I didn't like the franks, but the burgers were pretty
good even though well done is mandatory. Cheese, bacon and sauteed mushrooms
can compensate for the lack of rareness. I would also have preferred
not to have had to cope with those tiny plastic bags of ketchup,
relish, mustard, etc. My dexterity isn't what it used to be and it's
darn annoying trying to tear open a whole bunch of those bags to squeeze out
their minuscule contents. I neglected to write that on my comment card.
Maybe someone who agrees with me can do so in the near future. I was
disappointed with the pizza, but I'm always disappointed with pizza at
sea having grown up in
New Jersey and NYC's little Italy
. I think it
has to do with the lack of crispiness in the pre-baked dough and the
blandness of the tomato "gravy."  Lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch and
coffee were always available from dispensers located in the buffet and
near the poolside grill.

ENTERTAINMENT
AND
SHIPBOARD ACTIVITIES

The Journey's showroom/ theater is, like the other R ships,
without a raised stage. Consequently, it's more intimate than the
typical large ship showroom and well suited to the cabaret shows
performed by the Journey cast of five singers and dancers. They
presented three very entertaining shows during the 12 night cruise. I
was impressed with the quality of the talent although I thought the
shows' production values (staging, lighting and costumes) could have
been better. I didn't catch much of the other showroom entertainment
though my Brazilian wife told me the young group of Brazilian dancers
that performed when we were ported in Itajai were very good. The
orchestra was one of the better ones I have heard on ships although I
would have liked more pre-dinner dance opportunities. The talented
band that played poolside made a lot of music for a trio.

Andrea Oliveti was a capable, good natured cruise director. His
equally good natured staff conducted numerous activities throughout
each day maintaining a cheerful enthusiasm even when
attendance was less than SRO. I was taken back when only 4 people
showed up for a mid-morning trivia session. Boy, what a bunch of couch
potatoes. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of enrichment
lecture. Wife and I even briefly manned an orientation desk to provide
tips on
Rio
a day before we ported there.

The library (aka Michael's Club) had an honor system checkout and
was open all hours. I would have liked to have seen a better stocked
library - I could not find a single travel book. I believe tea was
served there in the afternoon ( I never ventured to events featuring
more food). There is a piano in the room and I understand it was used
during tea. In any event I wonder why tea service and the piano can
not be relocated to the large forward Looking Glass lounge (like it is
on the Insignia) so that the library can be maintained as an oasis of
quiet.

In addition to the piano player, there was a guitar player
performing in the evenings near the casino entrance on deck 5 as well
as a harpist who performed near the Cova Cafe on deck 5 (a spot where
specialty coffees and drinks were available for a charge). I confess I
did not catch their acts except in passing, but the guitarist was
Brazilian and sounded pretty accomplished. Each of the musicians had
their own small group of devotees.

The internet connection aboard ship was so notoriously slow that
the computer room was hardly ever occupied except for the occasional
free class offered by the host. Pay TV programming was available in
the cabin. I am not a fan of pay TV movie programming, but if it helps
to hold down the base cruise price I guess I can suffer through the
alternative non-pay movie programming that existed. A few almost first
run movies and selected classics were rebroadcast several times every
couple of days and, of course, there was ESPN and the annoyingly
repetitious CNN. The TV had an interactive service enabling one to review
his shipboard account, purchase excursions and check restaurant
reservations, etc.

The gym in the spa contained more than an adequate number of
elliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bikes in addition to a
brand new assortment of cable machines and free weights for us
bodybuilder types. I never had to wait to use a piece of equipment and
I worked out 1.5 times per day. There were spinning classes and
perhaps other classes, but I' m not a "class" guy so I wasn't fully
aware of schedules or cost, if any. Wife and I got haircuts,
manicures, pedicures, etc. before leaving on the cruise and did not
use the spa so I can not opine on the quality of those and the other
services offered. There was a room designated for acupuncture which
might be of interest to some.

The casino was appropriately (Insignia-sized) small. It contained
a bunch of slots, a roulette and a couple of blackjack tables and a
large, hi-tech, automated
Texas
hold'em poker table that will soon be
replaced in view of its failure to attract players.

PORTS
AND EXCURSIONS


The itinerary for this cruise consisted of
Buenos Aires, Itajai,
Paraty,
Rio de Janeiro and the return to Santos
. The ship departed
Santos on Thursday, Nov 29 and made its first port of Buenos Aires
on
Sunday, Dec 2. We sailed away from BA the same night. That was a
scheduling error. Compounding that we also arrived in
Rio de Janeiro

on the following Sunday and departed
Rio on Monday afternoon. Both BA
and
Rio
are world class cities and arriving on a Sunday when so many
of the things to see and do are closed is unwise. Conversely, after
leaving
Buenos Aires
we overnighted in the small southern Brazilian
town of
Itajai
apparently so that the ship could run an overnight
excursion to the
falls of Iguazu
for a small (30) group willing to pay
about $1400 pp. This type of scheduling should be avoided on future
runs in these waters.

I have not gone on a ship excursion for many years preferring to
fend for myself. In Itajai, we paired up with another couple from the
ship and hired a taxi to take us to the German colonial town of
Blumenau
located about an hour from port. Itajai has some pretty
beaches close to the pier, but it rained the next day so we cancelled
our outing to the beach. The Journey tendered passengers ashore in
Paraty, a picturesque colonial town located 140 miles from
Rio
. Tied
up at the pier where the passengers alighted were dozens of schooner
ships of various capacity. For R$20 ($12) one could purchase a 5 hour
schooner trip that included time for swimming and snorkeling among the
numerous islands that dot the Brazilian coast. Be sure to leave a
couple of hours for shopping along the town's cobblestone streets.
Paraty is an artsy, craftsy place.

CONCLUSION

In view of the spectacular effort by all staff and crew to
please, this cruise was delightful even if some things were not
absolutely perfect. The minor inconsistencies in service are sure to
be eliminated given the obvious concern by all senior officers to
achieve excellence. It is hoped that the on board presence
of the line's Executive Chef portends a revision of the menus and an
improvement in the quality of the food offerings particularly in the
specialty restaurants. When that happens the Journey will offer an
overall cruising experience very comparable to that which we enjoyed
on the Oceania Insignia. Let's face it, because of a weak US dollar,
the relative high cost of land travel throughout the world makes
cruising on a ship like the Journey a darn good value.

 








Publication Date: 12/27/07
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