After 14 cruises with Celebrity we felt the ships were getting too big for us, and we were looking for something more akin to the experience we used to get on those Royal Viking Ships years ago. Well we found it on the Azamara Journey and we will be back! And, by the way the Embarkation experience was the best we have ever experienced!
First of all the itinerary was great - 12 nights round trip from Miami (with 2 sea days out and back) stopping off at smaller, and in our minds more interesting, ports of call - some which we had visited before (but not on cruise ships) and knew quite well from a "yachties" perspective, and others we had not visited. Virgin Gorda, St Bart's, Dominica and St John's were the highlights, although to be honest the shore excursions offered by the ship were not the most enthralling. So we did things on our own, which is what we usually do, and really enjoyed ourselves - scuba diving in Virgin Gorda, Dominica and St Croix; touring by taxi and on foot in other ports, and a memorable lunch at the Eden Rock in St Bart's, with the waves lapping at our feet.
The ship was in great shape and immaculate, thanks to the watchful eye of Captain "Theo" who we had met before on the Century. He was aided by a great team in the Hotel Department (Niyazi, Hotel Director) and a terrific Staff Captain Emmanouil Aposkitis. This ran right the way through the ship from the F&B Manager Scott, Chef Ari, the barmen (especially Dale), the Dining Room Waiters, deck staff and our head Butler and cabin attendants - all were fantastic. With just one meeting they remembered your name (and drink!) and any quirks and preferences. They were highly personable and professional. Our cabin was a Royal Suite on Deck 7 starboard, all the way forward, with a terrific view coming into anchorages and ports. The weather was fantastic for just about all the sea days and positioning and we were able to use the extensive balcony a great deal without too much wind (which is always a risk with a suite all the way forward). The service provided by our head Butler Arvind was just as it should be - attentive, personable, discreet, professional and prompt, although we thought having to fill in a card the day before to set the time of delivery of afternoon tea and evening canapes was a bit "tacky". So we asked to be spared this "pre-planning" requirement, which they immediately arranged and the evening canapes were always delivered to us at around 6.00pm - perfect! There were a few dings here and there in the cabin - to be expected - but the the linens, towels, amenities, bathroom etc were superb, and the Elemis products top of the line. And the space - well, perfect for a cruise of this sort.
Now, on to the food. In short quite the best we have had on a cruise ship. Both Prime C and Aqualina were excellent and the food was innovative, varied and of very high quality and it ALWAYS came out hot; the fish being some of the best we have ever had on a ship. The variety on the menus was broad enough to permit eating in these restaurants frequently - in fact we only ate in the Dining Room three times! The lunch time buffets were also very good and varied, and eating lunch out in the shade on the back deck (Breeze) was delightful - especially as this was home to Dale, the best barman afloat! We also had one of the best curry's we have had (lots of Indian staff on the ship, so it had to be!), which was made fresh in front of us up in the Window's Cafe one evening. The wine list were extensive and quite expensive, and all the other drinks were as expected from a price point of view.
If it's entertainment and Production Shows, you want, then the Azamara Journey is not for you! We don't "do" many of these, so it wasn't a problem for us, but the cast of characters for the shows was quite frankly pretty amateur - high school production standards! However one huge exception was the trio that played around the ship and in the Looking Glass Lounge forward at nights. The Ivory Coast Trio - absolutely terrific, with a huge repertoire and the ability to get people dancing - we closed the place most evenings!! Tony Markey was the Cruise Director, a Brit as is often the case, and he struck just the right note, not too over the top and "party hearty", and he always remembered a face and a name - that's nice. In all, a terrific cruise, on a terrific ship, with a terrific compliment of crew. Definitely takes the Celebrity standard to a new level, and we think creates a niche in the market all on its own. If Azamara can keep this up, keep their passenger demographic (not really for families with kids though), and continue their standards, they have a winning product here. We booked again on the Quest in August, we loved it so much!