Several priorities led us to select this particular cruise:
1. TIMING was to coincide with our 40th anniversary.
2. DURATION since we prefer cruises of ten or more days.
3. COST, or perhaps I should say value.
4. ITINERARY, which proved to be the bonus element for this cruise.
5. CLIMATE, we would be escaping summer heat and wanted moderate to cool weather.
This particular sailing of AZAMARA Journey fulfilled all of our requirements in a spectacular fashion.
The only thing I would change about this entire trip would be to allow another day in Barcelona. Flying in from California only one day ahead was not really sufficient. We had to choose to either see Barcelona or catch up on sleep. Sadly, sleep won. After nearly falling off the top level of the hop on hop off bus, we gave in and returned to Hotel Colon for a "nap" that lasted until the next morning. If you want a hotel that puts you in the middle of the Cathedral square, adjacent to shopping and at the hub of the city, Hotel Colon will fit your criteria. Their strength is the premier location and the very nice breakfast that is included with your room. If you need the comfort of a plush room with high end bedding, you might want to look elsewhere, but we would choose this hotel again based entirely on location.
Embarkation was a complete breeze. We waltzed through the whole process without lines or delay.
The ship is lovely. Public rooms are comfortable and the veranda suite seemed very similar to the same category suite on the Celebrity ships we've used in the past.
***AFTER THE ROOM SWITCH... More storage than we could possibly fill. We started the cruise in a standard veranda suite, and moved on the second day to the sky suite. I would estimate that the sky suite provides approximately triple the closet space, drawers and cupboards, and there is no comparison of the counter space, both in the suite and in the bathroom. The shower over the bathtub provides a generous amount of space compared to the tiny stall shower (with its clinging shower curtain) of our original suite. Simply cannot say enough about the luxury of having such a large suite, especially for a cruise as long as this one. The Sky Suite provided space and storage comparable to the Marriott Hotel we used in Copenhagen and it was larger than the Hotel Colon, which we used in Barcelona for the night before embarkation.
In the dining room on the first evening, we ordered a couple of bottles of wine; a white and a red. I'd read from previous reviews that the bottles would be stored and returned to our table on the following night. Since we had demonstrated an interest in the wine list, we were immediately introduced to Boris, the very capable sommelier. He mentioned a wine tasting event being planned on board the ship and inquired about our interest. We were enthusiastic about adding that to our agenda and Boris promised to let us know about the details. I have to tell you, attending that first wine tasting was to be one of our best, all time decisions!
Subsequent to that first event, we were privileged to enjoy two entire wine dinners, with specialty dishes and individually paired wines served in an intimate setting for eight to ten guests and attended by ship's officers, Ryszard Gusmann, and Philip Herbert. These proved to be a highlight of the cruise. During the second dinner, which was held in a beautifully adorned Michaels Club, each course was prepared and presented with table side comments from Chef Kyle. We were absolutely treated like royalty at these dinners, and the friendships forged, plus the wonderful company of Ryszard and Philip, all enriched our whole experience.
Specialty dining experiences were, as intended, superior to the dining room, though the dining room was quite good. We generally had excellent service and, as promised, any left over wine was promptly delivered to our table each night, regardless where we dined. We did notice that the main dining room seemed to consistently cook a little "to the done" so for you who prefer your beef or lamb on the rare side, don't hesitate to ask for RARE.
Another note about the wine and corkage issue, we did take a couple of special birthday and anniversary bottles on board. We knew we would be charged $25. corkage but what we didn't know was how it would be received... The wine staff could not have been more accomodating. They were gracious about accepting our private bottles and even complimentary of our choices. No hint of a negative attitude from anyone. If you have special bottles you really want to take with you, something you care enough about to drag it half way around the world in your luggage, don't worry about being given the cold shoulder from the wine staff.
Ports of call and stateroom details are covered separately, but if you are "big people" like we are, and you can afford the extra money, pay for the upgrade to the sky suite.
Overall, this was a wonderful itinerary. We were blessed with fabulous weather at each port. Paris and London were both enjoying extraordinarily fine, sunny days during our visit. The alternating sea days and exhausting port excursions proved a perfect balance. The cities like La Coruna, or St Malo, which were meaningless to us before this trip, are now cherished memories with fun stories to accompany our photos.
You are reading this review to make a determination of whether you would like to travel on this ship or this itinerary. If you have children traveling with you, you should probably select a different ship. The AZAMARA line does not pretend to cater to children, though there was one family with teenage children on our ship and they seemed to have a great time. If you are a fan of the great big stage shows, you should probably select a different ship. If you need a golf simulator or a climbing wall, this is obviously not your ship. But if you enjoy exceptional service, fine dining, comfortable accomodations and not being faced with standing in line for everything you want to do, by all means, book AZAMARA as soon as you can.
As for itinerary, this trip served as a great introduction to Western Europe. We saw places we'd always dreamed of visiting and we also discovered places we'd never heard of before. Sort of a "box of assorted chocolates" approach to visiting Europe.
We can't say enough good things about the staff on this ship. As mentioned before, the wait staff, Boris and the entire wine staff, and the chefs were all first rate. We were impressed with a tour of the kitchens and recognize the "unsung heros" who do all the prep work to keep those meals coming endlessly throughout the days and nights. Butler, Soobash, kept our ice bucket filled and learned our preferences. He also decorated for my birthday (without being tipped off by anyone).
The tone of hospitality is set by Philip Herbert, Ryszard Gusmann and Boris. They went to great lengths to do anything and everything possible to enhance our experience. We will look forward to sailing with this ship again, partially to renew friendships with these wonderful men.