This was our first cruise on Azamara Journey and our 7th cruise since we started cruising in March of 2007 aboard RCCL's Voyager of the Seas. We have taken our family (daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter (10), and grandson (13)) with us on two Caribbean cruises and on a 12 night cruise/tour to Alaska on the Radiance of the Seas. My wife and I have a cruise scheduled on the Explorer of the seas to Bermuda this October.
The Azamara Journey is 30,277 tons with a 694 passenger capacity and a length of 593 feet. We are sold on this size ship.
By the end of the year, we will have sailed on RCCL seven times, NCL once, and Azamara once. We have a family cruise scheduled on Carnival's Freedom next April from Ft. Lauderdale. So you can see we have really gotten into cruising. Caribbean Cruises are great for grandchildren as they like the programs on the ship, meeting new friends, and wouldn't care if it never visited any ports. I retired two years ago, but my wife is still working - someone has to pay for all this.
We always wanted to visit St Petersburg and the Baltic, and I had scheduled a 13 night trip on Celebrity's Constellation which left out of Harwich England and spent 2 days in St. Petersburg. After doing a lot of reading and research, particularly on Cruise Critic's Cruise Reviews & News, I changed our reservation to a 12 night cruise on Azamara Journey. The primary reasons being that it was a much smaller ship which could dock downtown St. Petersburg within walking distance of the Hermitage - not at the shipyard way out of town, it spent 3 days in St. Petersburg, and it left from Copenhagen- you do have to go through town to get to the cruise terminal from the downtown hotels and to get to the Airport from the ship so allow time for rush hour - there are no bypasses around Copenhagen.
We booked our own air travel via SAS airlines and arrived a day early in Copenhagen. We stayed at the Marriott downtown and could walk to Tivoli Park. We arrived at the hotel about 8am Tuesday after leaving Dulles Airport, Washington DC, about 5pm the night before. The hotel advertised a canal tour that stopped at the hotel about 9am. We took the approximately 2 hour tour and it was well worth it, we saw a lot of Copenhagen including the little Mermaid. We spent the afternoon at Tivoli Park - It is a must do in Copenhagen - there are a lot of restaurants and beer gardens in addition to the rides. With the time change, it was early to bed. The next morning we took a taxi to the Azamara Journey - We embarked about noon with no lines - we could have arrived earlier. The cruise gods were looking down on us - about a week before the cruise, I printed out the pre-boarding information and found out that we had been upgraded from a balcony to a Sky Suite (cabin 7058 to 8052) - I never did find out why, but we didn't complain - it was great, so much more room. Copenhagen is very expensive is all I can say, but still better than trying to get to Harwich England where the Constellation was docked.
We really wanted to see everything in St. Petersburg. After a lot of research, we decided on a 3 day tour with Alla-Tours. Months ahead, we started planning our itinerary for the three days in St. Petersburg with Alla via her WEB site and email. We decided on a private tour with just the two of us, that way we could be more flexible, which really enhanced our 3 day tour once we got there. It wasn't much more expensive that having four people or more. Our tour guide (Elena V.), driver (Slava A.) and a black Mercedes sedan were waiting for us every morning at the pier, we would discuss our plans for the day and off we would go. We got to ride the Subway to see the beautiful stations and visit a local store about 5 miles out of town - it was like a Sams Club or a BJ's. We cannot say enough good things about Alla-tours. They far exceeded our expectations. In the long run it was cheaper than taking multiple ship tours over the three days, and we saw a lot more in comfort. Did I mention that we got head of the line privileges at all the museums and other sites - and the lines are LONG. This by itself is worth the money and time saved. Check out Alla-tours at http://www.alla-tour.com/.
We went off by ourselves in all the other Baltic ports and had a good time seeing the sights. We like to visit the old churches and forts. Azamara had chartered shuttle busses in Tallinn, Estonia and Lubeck (Travemunde) Germany.
In Stockholm, do not miss seeing the Vasa, the only remaining INTACT 17th century war ship - the water taxi will drop you off at the Vasa Museum - allow 1 to 2 hours to see it all if you are a ship buff.
The ship docks in Travemunde and you can take the shuttle to Lubeck, about a 30 minute ride. The shuttle drops you off in the center of the old town of Lubeck and you can walk around - plan on walking 2-3 miles if you want to see most of the sights. I would suggest that you go to Lubeck early and then spend the afternoon in Travemunde - it is a great little seaside resort area. When you get off the ship, you are standing in the main restaurant and shopping area.
Food was very good to excellent in all the restaurants and buffet on the ship. We never had to wait to eat or feel rushed - we usually eat early. There was never a problem getting a table in the buffet, including the outside tables, but again, we like to eat early. Everyone gets 2 reservations in the specialty restaurants without paying the surcharge, Suites get 3 free reservations, though you are asked to add a tip to the meal - well worth it for the service provided.
The shows were upscale, I assume because of the older crowd. They had a concert pianist who played a wide verity of music, a violinist, and a folk show in St Petersburg with a local troupe. The theater is small, more like a large bar area with a large stage, but it is laid out well. You could arrive about 10 minutes before show time and still get seats. We enjoyed the entertainment.
We used the self service laundry as it was a 12 night cruise and you can pack only so much, it would be nice if all ships had this service.
The ship is small and easy to get around - we only used the elevators a few times.
I kept expecting to run into the crowds on the ship, but they never appeared. Most of the time, it only took us a few minutes to get on and off the ship at the ports. You could count the children on one hand - probably because of the itinerary and time of year.
The Ship and the crew more than met our expectations. We are now Azamara and small ship fans. We are not into the more expensive cruise lines which seem to have most of the smaller ships. Azamara provides an excellent small ship cruise experience at a reasonable price. That said, we are looking at a 35 day trip on Oceania in April 2010 that goes from Hong Kong to Athens, when my wife retires, as it has a great itinerary. Azamara and Oceania ships are sister ships that were purchased from Renaissance when they went out of business.
As we had a flight home that left at 12:15 pm, we received luggage tags to debark the ship with the first group. When the color was called, we walked down the stairs a few decks to the gangway and couldn't believe that we were the first ones off the ship. We got our bags and were in a taxi to the airport within 10 minutes. It took about 45 minutes to get to the airport.
The best cruise we have been on so far with a great itinerary, particularly with the 3 days in St. Petersburg. We enjoyed all the stops. Alla-tours was great. We highly recommend the Azamara Journey - the crew, from the Captain on down were outstanding. We particularly liked the Captains announcements when we arrived and left ports - He would tell you how he would use the engines and how he would deploy the lines based on the weather and our location within the port.