We cruised on the Azamara Journey 30 June 2009 12 night Baltic cruise out of Copenhagen, stopping in Warnemunde (3 hours from Berlin), Helsinki, St. Petersburg (3days, 2 nights), Tallinn, Stockholm (2 days, 1 night) and Travemunde (near Lubeck). We signed up quite late (10 June) for a 1A (or higher) Balcony Guaranty at what we felt was a very good price considering that tips and air from Washington Dulles (IAD) were included. We had discussed doing a Baltic cruise sometime, and having cruised Celebrity a number of times we had discussed trying Azamara, but other than those two facts this sudden discussion was driven by the price offered. Our GTY ended up being a Sunset Veranda (SV) facing forward immediately under the ship's Bridge (normally priced higher than a 1A).
Our Azamara last-minute procured air had a one hour British Air connection in London Heathrow (LHR). Although one hour is listed as a legal connection within Terminal 5, I think it would be missed probably 90% of the time, given that one has to deboard, go to the boarding pass check point, stand in line there, go up a floor, go through a Security Inspection, go down a floor and then locate your new gate. The Flight Service Manager [Purser/ Chief Flight Attendant] on our IAD-LHR could not believe this was a legal connection. Not only did we and the other Azamara couple on our IAD flight miss our LHR-CPH connection, but we were joined by 16(!) other people from other flights who also missed this connection. British Air did nothing to expedite our connection in LHR, but the service desk did get all of us on a later flight to CPH, and BA called Azamara's Copenhagen port agent for us so that we could let them know that we were confirmed for a 15:30 arrival at CPH. We arrived CPH at and after getting all our suitcases (amazingly no bags had gone astray) and making it to our bus transfer we were on the ship at (the Journey's scheduled departure time). We spent part of the extra time in LHR to buy some wine to have in our stateroom. There was actually a group of 14-16 (presumably from a connecting airport other than LHR [I never confirmed that]) who were trailing us by about half an hour who also made it to the ship. A Gold Star to the Journey for getting us on-board with grace, but a Black Star to Miami for starting with an overly optimistic schedule.
Arrival at the Journey was painless. Although I did not realize it at the time, upper level management including the Hotel Manager were there to make sure that everything went smoothly. On the ship we were greeted with Champagne and had a White Glove escort to our stateroom. In the Stateroom we had a notice that the Cruise Critic kick-off party was in half an hour, so were off. The Cruise Critic Mix & Mingle was relatively well attended by CC members, and I think (by this time I was a little groggy) by the AZ Journey Hotel Director, Cruise Director, Captain's Club Hostess and other officers. In as much as the ship was leaving the harbor of Copenhagen I don't think the Captain was in attendance, but that is certainly understandable.
We are fairly experienced cruisers (Celebrity 10+, RCI 6, NCL 2, Cunard, plus quite a number of small foreign based lines), but this was our first cruise on Azamara, and our first cruise on a "Deluxe" line (I guess that's what you call something between Celebrity ["Premium"] and "Luxury"). We were not disappointed. Service on the Journey was a definite step above Celebrity. This was especially noticeable in the Cafe were the main complaint would be that the tables were bussed too rapidly (watch your plate as you are getting low on food as it may disappear while you are not looking). Through out the ship the entire crew (not just the ones assigned to you) always had a cheerful greeting as you passed. Hotel staff from the Hotel Director Philip Herbert on down was friendlier and more accessible than any I have the pleasure of encountering. The Celebrity CC boards are full of people claiming that Celebrity's service is bound to slip because Celebrity implementedan auto tipping policy early in 2009; Azamara has auto tipping and the service was definitely superior to Celebrity's good service. In my working years I was always on salary, and felt that good effort and results on my part would be recognized and lead to promotion; I feel that Azamara's crew is professional and feels the same way. I know that appearance and reality are not always the same thing, but I do think the Journey has a happy crew.
We are Elite on Celebrity, and perhaps because of this we received invitations to tour the Bridge, the Engine Control Room and the Galley. While these invitations were not extended to everyone (indeed in the Daily Notices there were statements that tours were not available), I had the feeling that anyone who expressed an interest in any of these areas could probably obtain an invitation to their area of interest.
Not surprisingly for a European cruise, passengers came from many countries. Azamara is a US company, so there were lots of people from the USA and also lots of Canadians. We talked to passengers from Mexico, several South American countries, a number of European countries, Turkey and New Zealand. As always there were some people who were more interesting to me than others, but not one that I went out of my way to avoid.
Given the smaller size of the Journey, I was not surprised that on-board Entertainment did not include Broadway style production shows. In addition to lecturers and guest entertainers, the ship's song and dance group consisted of five talented young people who did cabaret style shows. The entertainment was a pleasant supplement to the port intensive schedule.
Main Dining was open seating. There was appropriate distribution between small and large tables and little trouble getting the table size you wanted (we were a party of two but enjoy sharing a table with others and always were accommodated at an English speaking table for six or eight; tables for two or four also seemed readily available). We are early diners and the Maitre d' always immediately gave us a table of our liking; when we would be leaving the dining room around 8-8:30 pm there was a short line of people waiting to be assigned a table. All main dining room meals were made especially for you, so modifications (eg no sauce or different vegetables) to the meal were easily obtained on the spot provided the ingredients were on that meal's menu. You could get items found nowhere on that day's menu (eg escargot), but these needed to be ordered in advance so that the chef had those ingredients out for preparation. Fresh squeezed orange juice was available at breakfast, and the Cafe had a smoothie bar at breakfast that made to your order. Azamara consistently had good food with good presentation and service. The Main Dining Room is generally not open for lunch on port days, but it is worth noting that when the weather turned inclement on our second day in Stockholm and more than the usual number of people remained on board, management quickly made the decision to open the MDR. There were two specialty restaurants on board - Aqualina is Mediterranean and Prime C is steak oriented. You are guaranteed at least two visits if you wish (more visits if space is available), and there is a "suggested gratuity" of $5 per person. While nice, these restaurants did not perform as well as the Ocean Liner restaurants on Celebrity's M class ships, but then those charge $30 per person.
Azamara's direct competition is Oceana - identical ship structure, and similar itineraries. We talked with several people on board the Journey who had also cruised Oceana and most gave an edge to Oceana in the food department, but one person thought Azamara's food was definitely better. The consensus was that Oceana was slightly better, but that you also were paying more on Oceana. None of these people seemed disappointed in Azamara given the pricing.
Was the cruise perfect? - nothing in this world is. One night in a Specialty Restaurant the timing of our two entrees got out of sync and one arrived less than hot. The stopper handle for the bathroom sink was somewhat obstructed behind the faucet, and therefore difficult to pull up. The shower was on the small side and had an overly friendly shower curtain. These were all items easily lived with given the quality of the service and the food. My main complaint is that Azamara has spoiled me for "main line" cruises.