This was our first cruise on Azamara Journey and our second cruise in the Baltic Sea, the previous cruise being on Maasdam in 2000. We have been cruising for over 19 years and have cruised the Caribbean, South America, Asia, Alaska, Mediterranean and the Panama Canal sailing on assorted cruise lines and ships, 20 in total.
This cruise was a 12 night cruise sailing roundtrip from Copenhagen visiting Warnemunde (for Berlin), Sea Day. Helsinki, St. Petersburg (3 Days). Tallinn (Estonia), Stockholm (2 Days), Sea Day, Traemuende (for Luebeck or Hamburg) returning to Copenhagen. The cruise departed on a beautiful warm Sunday (high 20s C or 80s F). We had excellent weather especially for the Baltic in early June, with only 2 showers, one at sea and the other in Traemuende. We had to abandon the shorts and t-shirts after we reached Helsinki but it was still very comfortable time of year to visit the region, very green and lush.
Azamara Journey - Ship Information
One of two former Renaissance ships (R Six) in the Azamara fleet. The ship is beautifully fitted out and gives you that premium feeling while being intimate, less than 700 passengers and a little over 400 crew. Many of the passengers we met had planned to sail or had sailed Oceania and remarked how much the enjoyed Azamara Journey and one passenger who was a travel agent said he would be directing his clients to Azamara in the future because Azamara was better value for money.
If we had a concern about the ship it would be the gym while well maintained was warmer than most gyms and the Hot Tubs on deck seemed a little light on the bubbles.
One final point about the ship that is often left out of the reviews we have read about Azamara Journey is that her size allows her to get into smaller ports much closer to the city center. With the exception of Stockholm where there are restrictions on ships staying overnight at the close in piers, we were walking distance at every port we visited. For example in St Petersburg we docked in the city center (English Esplanade) only a 10-minute bus trip to the Hermitage. If we had Russian visas we could have walked into town. This is wonderful having visited St Petersburg in 2000 on Maasdam, we had 45 - 60 minute bus trip to the same location and that was provided there was no traffic. If you have been to St Petersburg you know how bad the traffic can be.
Service, Captain, Officers and Crew
We must say on the twenty cruises we have been on this cruise had the most visible, accessible and personable officers. We have never met so many of the ship's officers and the senior hotel staff on a ship. Many of the officers we met would stop and talk to you every time you met. The Hotel Director, Phillip Herbert and his direct reports were always around the public areas and keen to chat. Phillip was genuinely anxious and sincere in making the cruise enjoyable as were all of the officers.
Dottie Kulasa was our Cruise Director and what a refreshing change from the Caribbean mega ships. She was the right mix of outgoing and cheer. Many of the ships we have been on the Cruise Directors always want to be the Life of the Party and for us this gets old. Dottie, like her staff seemed to be very visible and approachable. They really made us feel at home and kept us smiling.
Our Captain was Carl Smith, the first British captain we have had the pleasure to sail with and definitely our favorite. In addition to the daily statistics at noon he would give the passengers information on the voyage and what might be of interest. At departure he would explain over the public address system how he would be casting off, which ropes, how the currents would affect the pull away from the quay, etc. It may sound like too much detail but everyone we met loved it.
As we mentioned this was our second Baltic cruise and we lived in Hamburg for three years so we only planned two excursions both in Russia because you cannot leave the ship except with a Russian visa that must be bought in advance or on a ship organized excursion. We strongly recommend if you are the independent sightseers and you are on Azamara in St Petersburg, that you get the tourist visa before you leave home. On Azamara you are so close to everything it would be great to have the freedom to walk off the ship.
Both excursions we went on were very well organized and the guides were great. We took the 'Canals and Shopping' trip in St Petersburg which was great for us. We could snap pictures from the canal boat without all of the traffic. Our second trip was the one-day tour of Moscow. We left the ship at 7am and with our St Petersburg guide and were driven by coach to the airport for a flight to Moscow aboard the Russian airline and a Russian airliner, a Tupolev 155M. The flight to Moscow was on time but the return flight was about three hours late, not too different from a Western airline, and we got food on board on hour long flight! We do recommend the Moscow trip, the St Petersburg guide accompanied us the whole day and we had a local guide in Moscow and another guide in the Kremlin, all excellent. We had very nice dinner in the Writers' Club before returning to the Moscow airport.
All the remaining ports we did on our own and as mentioned before we were within walking distance of the city centers except Stockholm where the cruise line provided a shuttle for a nominal fee. Having been to most of the tour locations we stayed in Travemuende and Warnemunde. Both towns were picturesque and not overrun with tourists. We do recommend that if you have the opportunity while cruising the Baltic or North Sea do try to visit Hamburg. Most non-German tourists do not know much about the city. It is beautiful, the city center surrounds two lakes and there are numerous canals running through the city with gorgeous homes and gardens. The city is the second or third largest city in Germany but you cannot tell. There are very few tall buildings as you find in Berlin and Frankfurt. It is also the richest city in Germany and the homes and buildings reflect it
Copenhagen Airport, Transfers and Embarkation
We booked our cruise quite late and we were traveling from London so we made our own arrangements. We had big problems due to delays by our budget airline. We had the port agent's contact details from our Azamara travel documents so we contacted the agent who was very helpful and let us know that we had enough time to get a later flight and make our ship. We recommend you carry the port agent details, had we not contacted the agent we may have not tried to meet the ship in Copenhagen and gone on to Warnemunde and missed a day on the ship.
Within 35 minutes of leaving Copenhagen airport we were at the pier. Within another 15 minutes we were on board. We had preregistered so our only complication was that we didn't have luggage tags as all our documents were electronic. The shore staff had to find us luggage tags, which was done promptly.
We had a beautiful Sky Suite on Deck 8. The cabin was one of the biggest cabins we have ever had. The bathroom was very large with a bathtub / shower combination. The bathroom is appointed in granite or marble. Plenty of hot water and the extra thick bath sheets and towels were wonderful, not the highly bleached towels of the mega ships.
The bed was very comfortable with European linen and mattress topper. The veranda was also very large though a bit narrow. We had a small fridge that was kept stocked with soft drinks and bottled water compliments of Azamara. Even though our cabin was near the elevators and below the Windows Café it was very quiet.
Our butler and his assistant were very good and not obtrusive. They kept the cabin clean and comfortable throughout our cruise. We had room service breakfast on two mornings and the first time we were not clear on our order form so the steward called and clarified our order and everything arrived perfect.
Dining on Azamara Journey was wonderful. We enjoyed dinners in each of the two specialty restaurants twice. Prime C focuses on the Steakhouse feel and Aqualina's menu was seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. The service and the food were excellent in both. The Discoveries Restaurant was the main dining room and was open seating. The service and food were also excellent and they were more than willing to accommodate special requests such as my wife's favorite ice cream. We also had breakfast in Discoveries on three mornings and they were more than willing to fit our schedule i.e. fast service or a leisurely pace. The Eggs Benedict were outstanding.
While there were minimal dress code requirements in the dining rooms there were no formal nights, which we missed. We did like being able to dine at Discoveries without a fixed seating but missed having the same waiting staff each night who are then able to learn your likes and dislikes. It also makes it harder to meet people.
The remainder of the mornings we had breakfast in the Windows Café buffet or in our cabin. The Windows Café had a wonderful buffet that changes regularly even for breakfast. At breakfast they even had a smoothie bar where you could choose your own fruit combination from a wide range and it was made up for you right there and then. For lunch we had a mix of dishes from the Pool Grill and Windows Café. The Pool Grill was wonderful and everything was made to order which meant it was fresh however we recommend that if you are getting food from the grill and the café that you order from the grill first and then it will be ready after you get your other food from the café.
One last point on dining or drinking, we love to have a quiet drink before dinner and seek out a reasonably quiet bar on the ship such as Michael's Club on Celebrity Cruises. Unfortunately on Azamara Journey the Michael's Club is the library. We asked the Maitre d' and he arranged with the Sommelier from the nearby specialty restaurants to find us a quiet corner in Michael's Club to enjoy our glass of champagne each evening before dinner.
A wonderful cruise in all ways, the itinerary was great and though we had been most places before we thought we enjoyed them more this time. The ship and our cabin were beautiful and comfortable with ship's size making everything, both on and off ship more accessible. The food and service was outstanding. Finally, the captain and his officers and crew made it most enjoyable.