Review of Azamara Journey, 16-night Transatlantic cruise from April 9-April 25, 2008:
I will use a 1 to 6 star rating system to match the ratings generally used in the industry. Typically, 5 stars are assigned to premium cruise lines and 6 stars are reserved for the luxury cruise lines.
Food, Main Dining Room (5.3 stars): Ingredients are excellent. Cooking: generally excellent. Variety: excellent. I don't remember the food on our Crystal cruise very well to be able to compare, but I'd say that the food on the Journey was of slightly lower quality than on Crystal. Also, Crystal tended to be more consistent in the quality of cooking and there was a big difference in the buffet food (see below).
Food, Buffet (4.5 stars): This was definitely inferior to the food in the main dining room. They tended to have the same items in various sections of the buffet during the entire cruise and this made it less interesting over time. Also, I think the quality of ingredients and cooking was inferior to that served in the main dining room. Most of the stewed dishes tasted very much like "buffet" food in inexpensive restaurants.
Food-Related Problem: A big problem was the main dining room being closed for lunch on all port days, forcing guests to dine at the buffet. People would get back to the ship around 2 PM and the buffet would be jammed. So, aside from the inferior quality, there was the problem of far too many people trying to lunch at the same time.
Specialty Restaurants: We dined at the specialty restaurant, Aqualina, and I'd give their food 5.5 stars. We also dined at Prime C (which has a somewhat limited menu of steaks and seafood) and I'd give them 5 stars.
Wine List (5.7 stars): The wine selection on Azamara ships is excellent. I was able to find several very drinkable and reasonably-priced wines in the main dining room as well as at the specialty restaurants. It was very reassuring not to be subjected to pricey and unexciting wines. My experience at the wine tastings, however, was disappointing, as the selections were not exciting and, at best, included one decent wine out of four. This was in contrast with our experience on the Quest in February 2008 where the wine tastings were very exciting and involved interesting wines.
Fellow Passengers (4.5 stars): Passengers we met were mostly on a par with Celebrity Passengers and of a lower socioeconomic level than on our Azamara Quest cruise (Feb. 2008). Nevertheless, there were many friendly and unpretentious passengers and we did manage to meet some interesting couples. I'd score the average socioeconomic level as moderate to high. In contrast, I'd rate the socioeconomic level of Oceania and Crystal passengers as high.
Entertainment (4.5 stars): Good, but not excellent. Considering a passenger capacity of about 700, they obviously cannot afford to spend a great deal on entertainment. Nevertheless, there were three talented artists who did some of the main shows. The in-house performers were not exciting. The lounge performers were of poor to fair quality. The harpist was a bore and the lounge pianist was mediocre. The trio that played at the pool and at the top deck lounge was fine. I think this is an area where they can easily afford substantial improvement without additional expense.
Excursions (?; not my thing): a bit on the pricey side. One can easily do much better independently.
Activities(3 stars): very few. There was a great deal of repetition. The same pair presented lecture/performances on about 7 occasions and the singer and pianist were both fair to good. The main available alternative was the trivia game. I think this is an area that could use a great deal of improvement.
Basically, the lounges were empty and quiet during afternoons, particularly on port days. They definitely need to do more about supplying more varied and interesting entertainment in the various lounges throughout the day. Even a player piano would be better than having an empty lounge.
The Ship (5.5 stars): It is built in an "older" style with rich, dark paneling and warm colors. The various public lounges and dining rooms are nicely decorated. This is one of the 7 or 8 original Renaissance ships and the three we've been on so far have been the nicest-looking ships on which we have ever traveled.
Service (5.3 stars): Excellent. There is little difference between quality of service on Celebrity and Azamara. The staff and crew appear to be very well trained (as with Celebrity) and happy to be working on the ship. This, in turn, reflects on the friendliness and helpfulness they show passengers.
They closed the main dining room (Discoveries) for lunch on all port days. This appears to be getting to be a trend with cruise lines and is a real negative for us. If you don't go ashore on a port day, there is little to do anyway on the ship and the buffet can get monotonous and uninteresting quite rapidly. Anyway, the buffet food is clearly inferior to the food in the main dining room. When you write your comment cards, please be sure to request that the main dining room be kept open for lunch on port days. My second complaint is that the ship basically hibernates on port days. Lounges are quiet and empty and there are no activities of interest. An effort needs to be made to generally liven up the ship, particularly on port days.
Basically, cruise lines use the port days to drastically reduce operational costs (food, entertainment, activities). This is good for them, but makes for monotonous days on the ship for passengers who stay on. Only when passengers voice their demands for better services on port days will the situation improve. Let us use the comment cards to request better food, activities, and lounge entertainment during port days. Cruise lines do respond when passengers consistently state their preferences. If passengers begin demanding (via their comment cards) more varied and better entertainment in the lounges, more options for food at lunch time, or more varied activities throughout the cruise, some of those demands will eventually be met.
Overall (5.0 stars), I'd say that Azamara is an excellent cruise line and wish they had more ships, particularly on the West coast.
Value (4.8 stars): Value is the overall rating in the preceding paragraph divided by cost.