First things first, we loved this cruise!
We are frequent sailors with Celebrity so some of the comparisons will be with our previous experiences.
We began our journey with a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Miami. Hate flying and our flight didn't change that view. Everything was OK though as the flight was on time. It was a $22 flat rate taxi ride from the airport to the cruise dock. We arrived early for boarding (around 11 am) and found registration to be quite easy with no waiting what so ever. Unfortunately, not within the cruise lines responsibility, we could not board immediately. The ship was undergoing inspections by both the Coast Guard and Immigration so we were asked to take a seat and wait for official clearance. Less than an hour later they were cleared and we could board. Again, an easy process and quite quick.
We had our photo taken for the Sea Pass and were given a glass of Rose Champagne. The rooms were not ready but that was to be expected since we boarded two hours before the suggested time. It gave us time to explore the ship and it's common areas.
We had never sailed with Azamara and this was also our first small ship adventure. My first impression upon entering the ship was the ceilings were standard eight foot heights. If you love the soaring atriums and massive open spaces, a small ship like this is not for you. I quickly acclimated though and grew to love the smallness.
One of our first visits was to Michael's Club which is on the tenth deck aft. On Celebrity, Michael's Club is a very nice bar with live entertainment. On the Journey Michael's Club is a very nice library but no bar. There was a grand piano which was occasionally used by passengers and as practice by one of the performers. This room was simply lovely with seating in club chairs and sofas and tables upon which you could play games. The book selection was great and the books were filed alphabetically by author. Best selection and best organization I have ever encountered on a ship. There was always a good selection of books available. Very impressive!
Michael's Club was also used for various meetings like the Cruise Critic party, the Officer's Cocktail party, some religious gatherings (it was Christmas), and a meeting place for the Connoisseur Dinners (more on those functions later).
Windows Cafe is the name of the buffet area located on deck nine aft. It was open for open for lunch and had the only operating bar at that time. We took a break, had a light lunch and a glass of wine while we waited for our room to be ready.
The buffet is small but very adequate for a small ship. No trays, simply stacks of plates which you loaded from various stations. It worked on the scramble system where you pick the food station you desire. For the entire trip there were never more than three people in front of me. The food selection was fairly broad and I thought the quality was quite good. There was always a salad station, a cheese station, a dessert station, and a carving station. At breakfast there was cereal, fruits, eggs, a toasting station, an omelet station, and a waffle/french toast station. Full breakfast service lasted until 10 am and a Continental breakfast continued until 11.
One of the great things was their coffee machines. There were four of them all located on deck nine. You could choose from regular or decaf coffee, double coffee (cafe american), or expresso from six different buttons. We always had the regular double coffee and it was excellent. The coffee machine also had a spigot for hot water for preparing tea with a selection of bagged teas with milk and lemon available. Next to the coffee machine was another machine with ice and water. And a third machine which had four spigots dispensing iced tea, orange juice, lemonade, apple juice, fruit punch and a tropical blend fruit drink. Only four spigots, so the choices varied with iced tea the only one which was always available. All these machines were available 24 hours a day.
By the time we finished lunch, an announcement was made that cabins were now ready. Azamara follows the good policy of very few announcements. Once a day (at noon) was the Captain's report followed by the Cruise Director reporting on the days activities.
Our cabin was on the seventh deck forward very near the forward elevators. We were worried about noise from people gathering at the elevators but were never bothered. The cabin was 172 sq ft with a 42 sq ft balcony which is a pretty standard size. It was well furnished and comfortable. The bathroom was quite small with limited counter space but with enough cabinet space to hold our various necessities. There were bottles of Elemis shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion for our use. I have had small verandahs before but this one was made smaller because the furniture took up most of the floor space. There were two chairs and a 2' x 3' table which was just too large for the space. To stand at the railing you had to move a chair to make room. The furniture would have been perfect had the verandah been twice the size. Azamara advertises every room comes with a butler. After a while, ours came by to introduce himself and cover some information on our ship. We found the service to be excellent but the butler concept is really just a cabin steward in a better uniform. He was easy to reach via his cell phone and any time we needed something it was quick and easy to call.
Our luggage was delivered in stages over several hours. There was more than enough storage space for our needs. The closets come with removable hangers and there was drawer storage in one closet and also in the desk.
Azamara runs their dining room on open seating, no reservations required, and country club attire. We were tired after our red eye flight so we skipped the dining room and went to one of their speciality restaurants for a glass of wine and an appetizer. We didn't have a reservation but they gave us a seat at an upright table which worked perfectly.
The speciality restaurants are side by side on the tenth deck aft. Prime C is a steakhouse; Aqualina is Mediterranean. The food in both was excellent and we had several meals there throughout the cruise.
Because the ship is small, it is easy to get around. The ship's lounges were also miniature versions of the Cova Cafe and the Martini Bar but perfectly adequate for the smaller number of passengers. The Cova Cafe always had snacks available when open. The Martini Bar was an evening operation only. Both had live entertainment at various hours via a guitarist, a harpist, and a pianist who rotated between venues.
The ship's main showroom was called the Cabaret and it too was small but nicely furnished and comfortable. It was basically one level with a show floor that doubled as a dance floor. Entertainers were good but limited by the size with no sets or costume changes for the performers. All together the entertainment was just good not being any where near the variety or extravaganza of the larger ships. So if you desire high level entertainment, the Journey is not for you. We were happy because we more enjoy the entertainment in the small lounges where you can converse over beverages.
The main dining room is a single story, prettily furnished room which is supposed to hold the entire passenger load in a single seating. I thought the food and service was anywhere from good to excellent. But the room just seemed to be too busy and not conducive to relaxed dining. The food variety was quite good but I felt they needed more wine servers. Being open seating, you walk up to the maitre de and tell him the type of table you want, i.e., a single, table for six, etc. There was never more than a ten minute wait and that was only once at the popular 8 pm. The Martini Bar was at the entrance to the dining room and was a good spot to either wait for a table or for dining partners.
As Elite members of the Captain's Club we received a schedule of events in our room. I was impressed as we attended the Captain's reception, the Officer's cocktail party, the Cruise Critic party, and the Captain's Club reception that each event had waiters with trays of hors'douevers and servers with cocktails and an open bar. Very nice. Plus the hors'douevers were excellent.
Also excellent were the daily savories provided by our butler. We had this service previously on Celebrity and were totally unimpressed. So we delayed ordering thinking it would be the same. Big mistake. The savories were actually small servings of appetizers from the speciality restaurants and included things like tiger prawns, foie gras, grilled salmon, pate, and even slices of lobster. We will order every day next time.
There were ten sea days on this cruise and each sea day there were two events we loved. Each sea day at 10 am there was a cooking demonstration and at 1:30 there was a wine tasting. The cooking demonstration was done in the Cabaret show lounge by the head chef from the speciality restaurants and mainly featured items from those menus. Delicious samples were served at the end. The wine tasting was done by the cellar master and consisted of five tastes from a specific region. We covered France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Pacific Northwest, and other regions. An excellent idea well presented and informative.
In conclusion we loved the ship and the cruise. It was an upscale cruise for the food, wine, and a very nice group of passengers. We will certainly be looking for more sailing opportunities with Azamara.