Pre-cruise information: The information Azamara sent about the ship, the food, the activities and the shore excursions was extensive. As I said, I think the excursions are expensive, but probably in line with other higher end cruises. One suggestion: It would have been helpful had they sent passengers information about weather. If one goes to the Caribbean, it's likely that people will know what to wear. But when traveling to Northern Europe, a guide as to weather conditions would have been helpful.
Check In: We had met friends at the Marriott in Copenhagen for breakfast. We found an Azamara representative in the hotel who told us we could purchase transfers to the ship for $36.00 per person. Consider a taxi would have cost $55-$60 per couple, we thought it a good deal.
We hopped a bus with about 20 other passengers. We arrived at the ship a little after 1:00 (boarding began at 1:00). We had no line and process went smoothly. At the end of the line, prior to getting on the ship, we were asked if we wanted to make a reservation for one of the 2 specialty restaurants for that night. The maitre' d said the the first night in the regular restaurant was usually crowded and hectic, so he suggested one of the 2 specialty places. It turned out to be a great idea because both of these places, Prime C and Aqaqlina, were quite, elegant and delicious.
Room: When we first walked into the room, we were disappointed seeing how small it was. There seemed less storage space compared to Windstar, where the rooms are probably the same size, but seem a bit larger. We usually slide our suitcases under the beds to get them out of the way, but we had trouble fitting them there. We ended up lifting the beds, so the frames actually rested on our suitcases. Not ideal.
The bathroom was one of the smallest I've seen on a ship. Little space around the sink for toiletries, thought there was a cabinet to store things. We only had one drinking glass, and we asked for a 2nd but it never came. The towels were great, especially the huge bath towels. The personal products are Elemis, very nice. Our balcony was a reasonable size, with a table and to chairs, but no room for lounge chairs.
We tried room service once. It was a joke! The food came on time, and it was good, but the server simply put the tray on our little round "coffee" table and left it there to balance. We had one sofa and one of us had to drag a chair in from the terrace. We ate balancing out plates on our laps. Other cruise lines have a creative room service set up so people can eat in chairs and enjoy the experience. If it were warm outside, we certainly could have eaten on the balcony.
The TV was a smallish flat screen with one movie channel, BBC News and one miscellaneous channel, in addition to the normal ship information channels. there was no MP3 player, CD or DVD player.
Food: Mostly above average. The 2 specialty places were excellent. The service was great, wine selection was reasonably prices and the food was very good. The policy is to allow those passengers with a stateroom (with or with our balcony) 2 reservations and those with suites, 3 reservations. Additional nights are allowed if there is space. Perfectly understandable so that all passengers have the chance to eat there. There is a suggested "additional gratuity" of $5.00 per person.
As on all ships, one could never go hungry. The Pool Bar was open from 11-6 serving burgers, fries, hot dogs and a special or two everyday. there were at least 2 other places open for lunch + room service. One of the bars had free pastries and small sandwiches most of the day. Specialty coffee, espresso, cappuccino and soft drinks were extra.
Excursions: Overall, very well run and organized. The excursion desk was in the guest relations lobby and the three-four women who staffed the desk and organized the trips were terrific. All were multi-lingual and very helpful. They had told me that they are required to go on excursions and evaluate local tour guides (something that Windstar often does not do), and evaluate the excursion for value. As I said, they all seemed expensive and all could probable have been done on one's own. But the convenience of letting someone else do everything and being back at the ship in time is a comfort.
This was one of the first of any ship's including three ports in Iceland on its itinerary, so even the ship's crew hadn't known what to expect. The weather was excellent, the waters were mostly calm and the stops were varied enough to make it interesting. During the sea days, there was an expert from each country on board offering "enrichment" lectures.
Entertainment: Coming from NYC, we are admittedly jaded. However, they did try to provide variety. There was a main show in the Cabaret each night. In other parts of the ship, there was a solo guitarist, a solo harpist, and small band and a DJ. Considering the crowd was on average, close to 80, there was not a huge turnout for the late night entertainment.
Ship: Perfect size! Passengers on this ship were very well-traveled. Many had been on 30-40 cruises and many of them were on high end ships. Almost all felt this competed with the best. Many liked the casual atmosphere - no formal night. Some folks did were suits to dinner, but others just shirts and slacks. People could have gone to a buffet dinner where shorts and jeans would have sufficed, so that option exists.
The spa was great. They offered the usual range of massages, facials, and manicures, but also had a board certified acupuncturist on board. there was a steam room in the men's and ladies' locker rooms. Robes and slippers were provide. Behind the spa, there is a private terrace with a whirlpool. This was available for an additional $175 per couple for the cruise. I guess the idea is that some people would prefer to sit in a private area with only room fro about 15 other guests. We did not do that.
There is also a gym staffed by one person. She led classes in yoga, pilates, body toning, etc. These classes were attended by 10-12 people. There were also exercise machines and probably due to the older crowd, were always open.
The track on Deck 10 is 1/13 of a nautical mile. The weather was good enough most days to use it. The pool was on Deck 9 and shielded by plastic panels from the wind .There were 2 Jacuzzis.
It was easy to get from one part of the ship to another. I over heard one guest comment that she didn't have to wait for elevators as she had on so many other ships.
There were many physically challenged people including several in wheel chairs. I think the crew did an excellent job in assisting them.
Staff: Maybe the best yet! John Howell, the cruise director, seemed to be everywhere! He constantly asked people how things were going. He greeted everyone as they headed out on daily excursions, walked around during sea days, poked his head into the restaurants and emceed the evening entertainment. The level of staff excellence, however, was attributed to the Hotel Director, Philippe (don't recall his last name). I talked to him and he came from Crystal and Celebrity and applied his knowledge and experience to the Journey. All staff were always smiling, offering "good morning", "how was dinner", "can I help you with anything"?
When someone we were eating dinner with had an unusual request, a wait said, "nothing is impossible on Azamara". That kind of response is usually what you hear from Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton hotels!
Debarkation: Very smooth and organized.
Suggestions: They had given out a mid-cruise assessment form. Good idea. We wrote a few comments and got calls the next day thanking us for our comments. We had complemented an staff member and she came over to us and thanked us. So it was clear the staff read passenger comments and took immediate action.
So outside of the smallish rooms and very small bathrooms, I'd say this was one of our top cruise experiences.If one wants to be picky, it could be said the some of the furniture in the rooms and in public spaces looked a bit worn. There was also a small dedicated smoking area that lots of people complained about, but at least smoking was not allowed in the casino, which was a huge issue on Costa.