Nothing in the last thirty years of cruising could have prepared me for the let down of this 16 night Panama Canal Cruise. Celebrity Cruise line should refund every passenger on this trip, their money, immediately. This trip was organized by my friends for my 50th Birthday, and was researched very carefully... what follows will make you think twice about boarding either of the Azamara ships. What you are about to read has not been embellished one iota, and can all be substantiated by other guests.
The good news is… the boarding process was seamless. We went directly to our "Sky Suite" to unpack. The press on this ship had stated the Azamara Journey had undergone a major remodel eighteen months previously. There was no indication of this upon entering our suite. Yes, the suite was rather small, and the bathroom miniscule, but it did appear to be clean, although extremely dated. There was no way this room had been fully remodeled eighteen months ago. Immediately the "Butler" (he is nothing more than a housekeeper with a bowtie) showed up introduced himself, and told us that if we needed anything, to just pick up the phone. He had a smile on his face throughout the entire cruise and did a great job keeping our room clean. After unpacking we caught up with our friends and we did a tour of the ship. We were expecting the five- star ship the Celebrity Cruise line was touting. We expected the ship to look just as it did in the advertising photos. Even an untrained eye could see the rust, the cracks, the dirt, the scratches, drapery rods with no draperies, lounge chairs that desperately needed to be varnished, I could go on, but why bother, we have bigger fish to fry. No one could explain why, but we set sail almost an hour and a half late. We missed the sunset and the fanfare that one normally looks forward to when you set sail. We should have known this was the start of a very long "Journey" to say the least.
The open seating in the Discovery Dining Room is a great idea, and the fact that you do not have to dress up if you do not want to is an added bonus. However, do not expect dinner to take anything less than two-and- a- half hours in any restaurant on this ship. That is unless you have a desire to eat average cafeteria food, if so you can eat the buffet dinner in the "Windows Café". The menus in the Discovery restaurant create such mouth watering expectations that when you taste the food, you are in shock. What happened to the savory food that was described so elegantly in the menu? Why was it taking so long between courses? Why when we specifically told our waiter that one of our guests was deathly allergic to Bell Pepper would he continue to put dishes that contained bell pepper in front of her? The food was so bad in this restaurant that after four days of torture we made contact with the Food and Beverage Manager who kindly and graciously arranged for all of our meals to be upstairs in the two "Specialty Restaurants." More on this later.
The first day, we were at sea, and we went to the gym. It was very clean, a great view of the water, and had all the right equipment one would expect. After about fifteen minutes on the treadmill we kept hearing some loud screaming coming from down a hallway and figured there was an aerobic class in progress. The screaming became more piercing and desperate to the point that many of us got off the lifecycle and went towards the door to see what the commotion was, but before we could get to the door a security guard closed the door. We were a bit confused as to what was going on, so we went through the spa and came out the other side of the hallway to an encounter that do not think any of us shall soon forget. It was almost as if we had stepped into a CSI crime scene. A security guard was telling us to "be careful" as we passed. There were bloody handprints and blood splattering on the outside of the first white paneled elevator doors. As we moved further along we could see that four or five other security guards had what sounded like two maniacs trapped in the other open elevator. It was totally surreal. Whoever was trapped in the elevator was screaming inappropriate racial remarks against the security guards who were from varying nations. In all the years we have travelled on ships we have never seen anything like this. We found it all deeply disturbing and went down to our rooms. Later we discovered that it was a father and son who had been drinking, and the son, who supposedly had never had any alcohol before, reacted badly to drinking and temporarily lost his mind. Everyone was expecting these two to be thrown off the ship at the first port, but surprisingly, they remained. And no surprise to any of us, a few ports later the drunken father was screaming at the drunken son outside of the ship, "I don't care if you walk home!" And with that he got on the boat leaving his intoxicated son to figure out what to do next. Passengers should not be subjected to this kind of behavior. Ever. There is no excuse for this.
What more could I say about the itinerary except that on Christmas the cruise line had us in Costa Rica, and on and New Year's eve had us in Cabo San Lucas. All of the shopping was closed in Costa Rica. Whereas we were in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, on December 26th, where there is absolutely nothing to buy, and truly no reason to ever visit. This port should be taken off the itinerary, but is probably much cheaper for the cruise line to land in, because you end up staying there longer than you do when you dock in Acapulco, which is a shame, because in Acapulco you truly could use two days to see the scenery. None of the itinerary makes any sense, except maybe to the corporate office.
As the cruise wore on, so did everyone's nerves. People were complaining left and right about the food, the accommodations, and the horrific third rate vaudeville performers. It appeared to everyone on the ship that one hand did not know what the other hand was doing. It was quite confusing, because all in all the staff was wonderful in their attitude. It was not until later in the cruise that we discovered that over fifty percent of the staff had never been on this ship before we sailed out of Miami. Most of them had never been on a cruise ship before. What was the head office of Celebrity thinking? The two high end restaurants "Prime C" and "Aqualina" did deliver better food than the other sources on the ship. However, this quality of food is what should have been delivered in the Dining Room to all of the guests on a daily basis. The high end restaurants on the "Journey" should be providing a higher quality product than what they have presented here. The staff was much more knowledgeable and attentive in these venues. It was a consensus on the ship that the Head Chef should be fired. In the daily activity program that is slipped under your door every night there was an article about the new head chef that had decided to change all of the round plates to square plates, and in doing so, Azamara was happy to announce they were incurring a major extra expense because square covers did not exist! Who is this chef? We have a news flash for you. How about keeping the round plates; and with the money you are saving hire proper chefs and purchase better quality food. In all of the years we have cruised, everyone in our party agreed, none of us could remember having such horrific food.
If Azamara is going to advertise the "Journey" and the "Quest" as "Five Star" ships then they should hire someone to walk stern to bow and point out the obvious issues. Why are the coffee machines breaking down? Why are the Juice machines malfunctioning? Why are the water machines not working? Why is there not a menu on the wall at the Pool Side Grill? Why is the staff allowing glass items to be served anywhere around the pool area? Why have you run out of honey? Why have you run out of Butter? Why have you run out of Peanut Butter? Why did you run out of steaks, and why would you purchase them from Panama? Why have you run out of vegetables? Why are running out of desserts? Why would you leave port without all of the obvious provisions necessary? You want to know why? We will tell you what the cruise ship employees told us. The reason we were late leaving Miami was because the provisions were late being boarded and the Captain finally said, "Enough is Enough!" And off we went in the dark without enough provisions. You are kidding us right? This is a joke, right? Sadly it was not. We were asked to fill out response cards at the end of cruise and to drop them personally in the boxes located on the fourth floor @ "Guest Relations" Everyone we spoke to yesterday said they marked their response card saying they would never take another cruise on Azamara, and they would definitely never recommend Azamara to anyone in the future. It will be very interesting to see how many of those response cards end up in corporate hands. I can honestly say our party was never so happy to see land, as it was today when we finished my 50th birthday party cruise!
PS… As other reviews have pointed out… This ship is not handicap friendly.