We returned last week after a wonderful 15 day cruise from Barcelona to Miami, with stops in Alicante and Almeria, Spain, and four Canary Islands. On both cruises, we had the best food and the friendliest service we've had over the past 30 years of cruising.
Embarkation - both in Sao Paolo and Barcelona, embarkation was a breeze; on-board in less than five minutes, with plenty of staff to assist. A welcome glass of bubbly, a full lunch in the Windows buffet, and into our stateroom by shortly after 1 PM, although we had arrived before the designated time twice. On the most recent cruise, our luggage was in the room quickly and we were fully unpacked and into cocktails before the 4:15 lifeboat drill.
Stateroom - we had a Sky Suite both cruises, which is a delight if available and affordable (we were upgraded for free the first cruise). Plenty of room, storage, good (but not great) in-room TV, excellent wireless internet access (for a fee), and fine service. I was surprised to read the review by Keefy, who had limited butler contact or amenities. We saw our butler at least daily (Pras), he was quick to respond to requests for extra ice, TV problems, laundry service, as were Ravin, the assistant butler and Michael, the assistant. Our flowers and fruit were changed periodically, as appropriate. Be certain to order the daily "savories," a beautiful and tasty array of four appetizers, available daily in the late afternoon. They were a highlight of both cruises. And room service breakfast has a menu surpassing most restaurants in selections, presentation, and quality. Don't miss it! Bathroom was adequate; we'd have liked a medicine cabinet but plenty of room under the sink. The rubber mat in the tub slips and slides if you don't push down to set the vacuum cups, but improves safety when you do. Toilet tissue was very thin; next trip we would bring a couple of rolls. The Elemis toiletries were excellent.
Dining - Discoveries had a menu and presentation as good as the specialty restaurants on most lines. We especially enjoyed the crab cocktail, Caesar salad, combined broiled and thermidor lobster, and cherries jubilee, but there were excellent choices every meal. Service was exceptional, with friendly, patient, cheerful and helpful wait staff no matter where we sat. The Maitre d' knew us by name, always took us to a table for two when requested, and checked on our happiness regularly (Garan from Macedonia). Probably due to a change in chefs between our two voyages, Aqualina was the better specialty restaurant last spring, and Prime C this time, but both would have been $100+ a couple ashore for the quantity and quality of the food. Friends traveling with us ate in them most nights, but we enjoyed Discoveries so much that we limited ourselves to the three "free" nights in the specialty restaurants. Windows, the buffet site, has more choices than on other cruise lines, although the variety seemed a little less this time than last spring.
Entertainment - fair to good. A magician, Alan someone, was average at best. The best shows were the three with the very talented and energetic five singers/dancers who comprise the onboard troupe. Don't miss the "Twisted TV" review which pokes wonderful fun at TV viewing. The last show, "Swing", was the weakest of the three production shows. Don at the piano nightly near the Cova Cafe was wonderful - excellent musician, fine conversationalist, and always entertaining. The harpist was very good, but harp music is not my favorite. We didn't go to the nightclub for dancing, but others seemed to enjoy it. The orchestra was exceptionally talented for a ship this size. Cruise staff - Contrary to Keefy's impression, we found Sue Denning, the Cruise Director, pleasant, available, and entertaining. She always had a "hello" even when in a hurry. Her daily TV introduction to activities is worth watching, although Kelsey, the Activities Director, tends to be too cutesy and interrupts too much. The entire staff of Journey are the friendliest, most cheerful, and respectful of any cruise we've been on; always stop what they're doing to smile and say hello.
Spa - we thought the spa was good if not excellent. My wife had a facial and a pedicure and I had a deep massage. Prices were high but not outrageous, and staff was pleasant and capable. The gym/exercise room was very good for a ship this size. Shopping - limited, a little high-priced, but pleasant helpful staff. Casino - Ellen and I enjoy low wager gambling, and this was the best. As a small ship, it has only five blackjack dealers, and we got to know each of them and they us, asking after the spouse when only one of us showed up. Cheers to Madeline from Glasgow, Nina from Minsk, Jack from Capetown, Margaret from Australia, and Svetlana from Alberta (originally from Ukraine).
Ports - Barcelona deserves a page of its own. Don't miss it. Best way to see it with limited time is to take the tourist buses which run on three intersecting lines with unlimited on and off. Alicante was pleasant but not outstanding, ditto for Almeria. We particularly enjoyed the free museum in the latter which houses the comical, realistic papier mache figures from their annual festival. The Canary Islands are outstanding. We worried about stopping at four of them, but each island is so individual in geography, views, and highlights that we would have enjoyed even more.
Disembarkation - not as smooth as embarkation, but not bad. They should have signage to indicate where each color of baggage (matching the tags we applied the night before) were located, but we had our bags within five minutes. Unfortunately, porters didn't arrive until a few minutes after we dragged our carry-ons and four large bags through the line. Friends traveling with us have sailed Oceania a couple of times and thought Azamara equal, but with better service. We hope to find another itinerary on Azamara which appeals to us for a return.