This was our 7th cruise. We drove from Naples to Port of Miami in less than 2 1/2 hours and used the expensive ($ 240.00 for 12 days) Parking garage at the pier.
Boarding - Staterooms With no lines and done in minutes - this was the fastest boarding ever. Before noon we enjoyed our first lunch aboard the "Journey". Staterooms were ready at 1:00 PM and the luggage was delivered by 4:00 PM. Rooms and balconies are smaller than on most newer ships, but nice and functional.
Food and Entertainment Both topics are very subjective and we apologize if we don't agree with every-body else. Overall we found Azamara's kitchen a bit below Celebrity's. While the presentation and the choices were equal and excellent, meat at dinner was sometimes tough (beef) or dry (overcooked) and the fish dishes were bland and missing herbs or spices. The two specialty restaurants offer nearly the same food as the dining room, but in a more intimate surrounding. Of course they can't compare to Celebrity's specialty restaurants where you pay $ 30.00 extra. On the other hand, the pastries in the "Windows Cafe" and the "Cova Cafe" were outstanding and can compete with any pastry-cook on land. We are critical when it comes to cruise directors: Tony Markey is an extraordinary entertainer, singer and the "center piece" of the daily entertainment. We appreciated his talent and engagement around the clock. We liked the cabaret-style entertainment, but found too many singers and not enough other soloists or comedians. The 5 singers and dancers, the only comedian and the guitarist were great while the magician and the older singer were ...... We had a good time in the "Cova Cafe" with Carlos Avalon's outstanding entertainment at the piano.
Captain's Club and Cruise Critic Parties We appreciated the presence of the senior officers and their participation in conversations with the guests. For the first (but not the last) time we also met the Captain's Club manager Liesl, who got so many positive reviews in Cruise Critic. Not only were these events very informative, but also AZAMARA was very generous serving delicious appetizers and all kinds of unlimited (!) drinks.
Service and Staff When comparing cruise lines, AZAMARA beats them all when it comes to friendliness and service! We enjoyed the special atmosphere of a smaller ship. Even with the concept of "Open seating" we got to know the waiters and received perfect service. It was agreeable to choose the dinnertime at our own pace and to be seated always without delay in an attractive location - even when requesting a table for two (without the usual first day fight with the maitre d' on other ships). By the way most guests liked the abolishment of formal nights. A huge difference were the ship's officers: For the first time we enjoyed personal conversations with the captain, the staff captain, the chief engineer, the hotel director and many others. To our surprise senior officers (including the captain!) would act as waiters during the island buffet on the pool deck. As the captain said: On this ship the officers don't hide!
Itinerary In order to avoid the rough seas in the Atlantic, the Captain decided to sail along Cuba's coast where we encountered calmer waters. Unfortunately we couldn't call on Martinique and Guadeloupe due to strikes and riots. St. Martin and Antigua replaced these ports. After two days at sea we arrived at our first port:
St. Croix: A taxi brought us from Frederiksted to Christiansted - a pretty town with small stores, well maintained buildings and a nice boardwalk along the harbor where we had lunch at the "Rum Runners" restaurant. Most passengers appreciated this port of call. St. John: We spent the day at my wife's favorite place: "Cinnamon Beach" - one of the worlds must beautiful beaches! The natural beauty of this island impressed many of our traveling companions. St. Kitts: We booked the "Scenic Railway and Brimstone Hill Tour" through the ship. This is a relaxing way to see most of the island - not just the shops in the port city, but also the real life in the villages. Informative narration, good banana daiquiris and a choir enhanced this tour. The visit of the huge fortress "Brimstone Hill" - a world heritage site - was very impressive and not to be missed. St. Martin (In place of Martinique): We had to go back to "Orient Beach" = another great place in the Caribbean! The late afternoon was dedicated to a visit of Marigot - a big disappointment to see this little town in such bad shape with dilapidated houses, deserted stores and dirty. Antigua (in place of Guadeloupe): Our first visit here and a big surprise: We discovered "Valley Church Beach" - for me the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. We shared this natural beauty with less than 30 people (while 3 ships unloaded approx. 7,000 passengers on this island). Before returning to our ship we strolled through the colorful shopping area of St. John's. St. Barths: A private tour showed us this clean and rich island. The view of the island's airport with its risky landing strip is just amazing. The capital Gustavia is the most expensive place for shopping. But you can save your money if you try to shop between 1:00 and 3:00 PM: All the fancy stores close for "Siesta time"! Virgin Gorda: While thousand of tourists invaded the famous "Baths", we chose to spend the day at another well kept secret: "Savannah Bay Beach". Only approx. 20 peoples (including "Grandma Gilly" from Cruise Critic) shared this 100 % natural beach (no facilities) with us. Going back to the "Journey", you had to be careful to board the proper ship: An identical vessel - the Oceania's "Regatta" - with similar tenders had anchored next to our ship.
Conclusion AZAMARA JOURNEY is an exceptional ship with an outstanding crew. It is different from the bigger ships, but we would recommend it to friends and book it again if we find a convenient itinerary. We enjoyed a great cruise and send a big "Thank you" to the entire crew! Our thanks go also the members of "Cruise Critic" for all the valuable information, which helped us to prepare this trip.
Peter and Dori