In a nutshell: Friendliest staff we've met on any cruise. It's a small, comfortable, elegant ship in the classic style. Room size was adequate, but storage was limited. Bathroom was incredibly small. Think of it as a floating boutique hotel. Multiple days in some ports make it an ideal way to travel Europe. They have worked hard to improve their service to this niche market and it shows. Overall excellent value!
Updates (Things Azamara has fixed from previous reviews) Bedside lamps. Glued tight to the table tops, they will not fall over. The light seemed adequate to us. Alarm clock. Small, battery-powered, digital clock provided in each room. Hangers. Closet was full of hangers. Bathroom storage. Very limited. Get a toiletry kit that hangs and it will help.
- Ship Review - Embarkation. Luggage check-in was confusing and slower than it should be. Azamara did not send out pre-printed luggage tags, we had to fill them out when we arrived. That needlessly slowed down the process. When we checked in there were only a few other people arriving so it was manageable, but I expect it was a mess when crowds of people started arriving. Azamara needs to send out luggage tags in advance. Even if they don't want to pre-print or color code them, they could send out the generic tags for us to complete in advance. We beat the embarkation rush, so the line was short. Processing was quick. They solved the "rush on the dining room" problem of open seating by having you select a time slot for dinner on the first night. That seemed to work pretty well. We were seated near the entrance to the dining room on the first night and didn't see anybody wait more than about five minutes to be seated. Note to Captain's Club members: Immediately after check-in, there was a table to make reservations at Prime C or Aqualina if you want to eat there instead for the first night. After boarding the ship, we enjoyed our glass of champagne, a great lunch, and some quiet time before the cabins were ready at 2:00 pm.
Service. From our arrival onboard, we immediately noticed a difference in the staff and level of service. For example, they were serving champagne upon entering the ship, but they did not have cranberry juice available for our underage niece. Shortly after making ourselves comfortable upstairs at the Cova Cafe, a waiter showed up with a glass of cranberry juice for her. We were shocked that they tracked us to our seats and followed up with delivering juice we had simply asked about. The service level at the buffet was also quite impressive. A smoothie bar for breakfast, a panini maker for lunch, and waiters who were carrying and delivering drinks to each table it was all a step above most other lines. However, here's an example of what really impressed us. My wife mentioned to me that she was going to return to the buffet to get an English muffin. A staff member overheard her say that and immediately offered to get it for her. He later came back to say that they were out on the buffet, but that it was on its way from the stores downstairs. Shortly thereafter he delivered it toasted and with butter just as my wife wanted!
Clientele. Much more international than cruises we have taken originating from the U.S. Wide range of ages. Even though it was summer vacation, there were only about a dozen children aboard. Most of the children were well behaved, but one group of several families had about eight kids who would have been better suited to another cruise line.
Cabin. Since we came on this cruise for the ports and didn't expect to spend any time on a balcony, we saved some money with an outside (non-balcony) cabin. Deck 4 mid-ship was a great location. Our cabin had a nice window with a large shelf in front of it that was a handy place to put stuff. (The butler also used it to store the extra pillows at night so they were out of our way.) The cabin itself was comfortable, with plenty of room to get around the bed, even without the "rounded corners" you see on lesser lines. However, the storage was very limited. We still had to "live out of a suitcase" for some of our clothes because there was not enough shelf or drawer space. Having a flat screen TV on the wall did free up some space in the corner unit over the safe for ice, water, glasses, etc. This was the first ship we've been on that had a reasonably sized safe in the room. Fresh fruit was replenished as we ate it. The bathroom was smaller than any ship we've been on in the last 10 years. If you are taller than 5 ft, you will have to sit at a 45 degree angle on the toilet. Other ships have small showers, but they are round with shower doors that slide making them more useable. This shower is narrow, so you might as well plan to get intimate with your shower curtain! Two of each 220V and 110V outlets at the desk made it easy to recharge camera batteries, etc. We brought an extension cord but didn't use it.
Captain. We liked his technical announcements when departing port (as mentioned in other reviews), but some people didn't. He is younger than any captain we've sailed with before, but he was very personable and seems to be running a pretty good ship. He made several minor itinerary modifications to improve the cruise, such as departing Warnemunde at a time to take advantage of the fireworks display and slowing down for rough seas.
Cruise Director. I thought Dottie was a bit goofy and seemed to focus on pleasing the older clientele, but this didn't make any difference in how much we enjoyed the cruise. However, our 12 year old niece thought she was a hoot.
Hotel Director. We saw him everywhere. He is really working hard and doing a great job providing a fabulous experience for his guests.
Entertainment. The show lounge is quite small, so that limits the entertainment options. If you have ever watched an episode of Love Boat, you know what to expect.
Food. The dining room food was good, but not incredible. I was not particularly impressed with the specialty restaurants. Again the food and service was good, but not incredible. We really enjoyed the pool grill, which was open during the afternoon when everything else was closed. They had a wide variety of meats and vegetables to grill. We often enjoyed a mid-afternoon snack of excellent ribs, salmon, and burgers from this fast and easy location. Breakfast and lunch buffets were excellent. We only ate at the dinner buffet once the last night before disembarkation. It was marginal and we were very disappointed. Perhaps this was because it was the last night. We did notice that several things around the ship (personnel, services, availability of self-serve items like beverages, dishes, cookies, etc) were being dramatically scaled down that evening. Things weren't quite at the level we'd come to expect.
Dress code. Every night was "country club casual." Wear what you would wear to a nice restaurant and you'll be fine. You might want to dress up slightly for the specialty restaurants. This is the first cruise where we left our formal wear at home, which was a real blessing with the baggage restrictions of European airlines.
Internet. Like most ship internet it was slow and expensive. I had a difficult time connecting on several days. The computer room was beautiful, but don't plan to get much real work done online.
Housekeeping. Butlers? I never even saw them dressed up pretending to be butlers. They are simply cabin stewards. We had a substitute for the first couple of days who made a lot of mistakes. When we got our regular stewardess back everything was fine.
Photographic services. On some cruises you have so many great pictures it is hard to pick which ones to keep, particularly at the prices they charge. It was easier aboard the Journey because only some of the pictures were good and they were not as expensive.
Ship Decor. Classic styling that felt warm and comfortable. The library was particularly cozy. Some areas are getting worn, particularly in the cabins, but we saw them trying hard to keep everything maintained.
Fitness Center. Looked nice, but never had a chance to use it with so many port calls.
Gift Shop selection. Very poor selection of branded merchandise. We came away empty handed when all we wanted was a quality souvenir shirt or jacket from the ship.
In summary, we loved this cruise. We really enjoyed the service and ambiance of the ship. The itinerary was incredible and the size of the ship gave us better port access than other ships would have allowed. There's no better way to see this part of Europe and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
- Port Review -
We took this cruise because of the itinerary, and we were not disappointed. Take this ship if you want to focus on the port calls and spend your time ashore. You'll likely be board if you stay onboard because many services are limited during port days.
Local experts. During our first stop in Warnemunde, a local woman was at a desk with maps of Warnemunde and Rostock. She also had directions on how to get to Rostock. It was incredibly helpful to have a local available to answer questions before venturing off the ship to explore on our own.
Warnemunde. A very nice resort town with a several fun things to see and do. Lots of food stands and shops made us wish we had more time to spend there. The smoked fish looked great, but we didn't try it. The Oceania Regatta was in port with us, but the streets were filled with German tourists, not cruise ship passengers! The train station is nearby the cruise terminal, so it was easy to go to Rostock. We enjoyed most of the day in Rostock seeing the city walls, churches, and architecture of this medieval town. There is an incredible free museum housed in a convent building downtown. If you like museums, you could spend several hours there. We toured Berlin on our own in three days prior to this cruise and I would highly recommend that instead of spending seven hours of port time on a bus for only a few hours in the city. There is no way to properly visit a city like Berlin in just a few hours, but it that's your only opportunity to see it, don't miss it.
Helsinki. We took a tour to see all the highlights of the city. It would have been nice to explore more of the city on our own, but we simply didn't have the time.
St. Petersburg. One of the strengths of the Azamara ships is their small size. That allowed us to dock right downtown, which was a huge advantage. Having three days in St. Petersburg was perfect. You really need some time to see what this fabulous city has to offer. Of course, you can't see everything in three days, but it certainly helps to have that kind of time available. Of course we would have liked to see more, but it's always a balance between seeing a little bit of a lot or a lot of a little. On our first day we took an extensive tour and saw most of the highlights of the city. It was a beautiful day and the guide was excellent. On the second day we went to Catherine's Palace for an exclusive tour (the 60 of us had the palace to ourselves), show, and dinner. It was truly an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the palace that way, and we can highly recommend it. On the third day we went to Peterhof. After touring the palace we watched the graduation of the Russian Naval Academy at the fountains in front of the palace. It was another once-in-a-lifetime experience! After touring the grounds we took a hydrofoil back to the city. We really enjoyed our time in Russia. Although we had fantastic ship-sponsored tours, our only criticism is that there were not more options. For example, there was only one tour available during the second day, but it overlapped what we planned to do on another day, so it wasn't a good choice. We didn't have the opportunity to get Russian visas or make other tour arrangements prior to this trip, so we were restricted to what the ship offered. The trips were excellent. We just wish they had more options. If you can't get a visa, you might consider making independent tour arrangements with certified operators so you can see what you really want to see.
Tallinn. We explored Tallinn on our own for a few hours. It was another medieval town with city walls, parks, churches, and incredible architecture. The ship had arranged a shuttle bus to downtown for a small fee, that was well worth it.
Stockholm. Again, having two days in this city was excellent. There was so much to see and do! We took a tour to Sigtuna (a quaint town that I didn't think was worth the time it took to drive there). We returned to downtown for lunch, some sightseeing and the Vasa museum. On the second day we went to Drottingham Palace. While we enjoyed what we saw on the tours, in retrospect, I would have preferred to explore the city more on our own. Like many European cities, Stockholm has hop-on/hop-off bus tours. I think that's a great way to get your bearings and have transportation from one site to the next. They allow you flexibility to spend as much time as you want at each site. If you are comfortable touring on your own, without a guide, I would highly recommend that approach.
Kiel. What a delight to join in the Kielerwoche (Kiel week) festivities. This city of 250,000 grows to 2 million people who are all there to sail, party, and have a good time. There are booths for food, souvenirs, candy, etc. for almost as far as the eye can see from downtown to the coastline! In one area downtown there was a huge variety of international cuisine booths. Entertainment was everywhere on the street and on outdoor stages. Of course, there are also beerfest areas with German bands. We explored the city on our own, but with so much going on we hardly scratched the surface. This would also have been a great place to spend two days. This was one of our favorite port departures and we will always have the memories of being one of the biggest ships sailing through the "yacht soup"!
Copenhagen. Disembarkation went quickly and smoothly as you would expect from a smaller ship. However, the taxis were limited so the queue for the taxi line took about 20-30 minutes. After a quick cab ride to the hotel to check in and drop our bags, we were off exploring the city. This time we took the hop-on/hop-off bus to see the key sights. Despite getting advice that everybody took credit cards, these busses are cash only. Given the time we had available, this was a great way to see Copenhagen. After a quick afternoon nap, we went to Tivoli for dinner and to see the famous Tivoli gardens at night. It was fun and interesting to be at a "classic" European amusement park, but if you've been to Disney theme parks, it won't really impress you. One caveat: the food was excellent, but expensive. If you want to spend an extra day in Copenhagen, make sure you budget for it. With hotel, meals, bus tickets, Tivoli entrance, cabs, etc. the extra day cost $1,000 for the three of us!
In summary, we'd love to book an Azamara cruise again with a similar itinerary. It was a great way to see the Baltic states of Europe and only left us wanting to see more.