After just completing my 6th cruise, I finally feel qualified to review my most recent cruise, the 12 day Baltic cruise on the Azamara Journey, which sailed on July 12th 2009. I am home a week and have been able to reflect on the entire experience. Overall it was a great experience. I originally chose the Azamara cruise for its 3 days in St. Petersburg, a rarity among cruises and in my opinion an absolute essential, a fourth would be even better, but I know that not possible.
I had read many reviews of the Azamara ships and learned early on that the staterooms were small by modern American cruise line standards and the bathrooms downright substandard. So I opted for a "Sky suite" on deck 8. I had a Sky suite on a previous Celebrity Mediterranean cruise and liked the "extra immunities" that came with such an accommodation. Immediately upon entering the room I knew this was no Celebrity sky suite. It was small by sky suite standards. The bathroom was certainly adequate with a tub shower and plenty of storage, but was also not that of its Celebrity counterpart. I also very quickly learned the butler service was also not that of its counterpart. I knew special dining reservations and spa reservations are at a premium on sea days so I, immediately upon meeting my "head butler", gave my request, written down on a piece of paper to him. He then replied, "Oh you can call the restaurant..." and gave me the phone number to the spa and the restaurant. I looked at him in a most perplexed way. I did however, while he was still standing in my room, call the restaurant and got a busy signal, I then handed him back my piece of paper. He did come through in the end, but I knew from that moment I had been spoiled and this was a "head butler" in name only.
The butler service only deteriorated from there. The next morning in anticipation of a 10 hour excursion to Berlin I ordered breakfast to our room. Our butler dropped the full tray on the tiny coffee table in the room and left. I took the dishes from the tray and placed them on the table on the veranda. My husband and I sat in sweatshirts and jackets and ate our breakfast while freezing on the veranda. We knew this room service breakfast business was also not going to work.
Then there was the issue of the decks on deck 9 getting hosed down everyday at between 8:30 and 9:00 AM. The water was pushed overboard and landed; you guessed it, on our veranda. I complained every morning I saw it happen, the butler assured me he had spoken to the head of housekeeping, yet it continued. I complained to guest services. An "Email" was sent to housekeeping. Finally on the last day of the cruise, upon returning from breakfast, I saw that my veranda was soaking wet. Ah I thought, I am safe, they had done their deck cleaning business for the morning. I went out on my soaking wet veranda to look out at the very sweet town of Lubeck. Then all of a sudden, it started again and I was getting soaked from above. I laugh now, but was I steaming mad! I get on the phone to the butler; he of course apologizes profusely and tells me he is going to call the "Bridge". "Do whatever you want, this is my last day and I am fed up!" I guarantee you the people who are residing in stateroom 8068 are, as we speak, getting their veranda soaked from above.
The food in the main dining room was good but by no means exciting. The service in that dining room ranged, depending on the day, from adequate to laughably awful. One morning the entire Waite staff was in such a frenetic disorganized state it resembled the keystone cops. I thought perhaps it was just me. But during an excursion that morning, I was talking with another guest who commented "...what was going on this morning." Dinner one night was so terrible all we could do was laugh. The specialty restaurant Prime C's menu is uninspired. The fillet mignon was typical and the rib steak respectable. The Aquiline restaurant offered a better menu, offering an excellent sea bass however my husband's lobster tails were inferior. But the service was significantly better than the main dining room. The lunch and breakfast buffets on deck 9 were certainly ample, even though by the cruises end I was satiated and bored with the faire. I missed the spa lunches offered on the Celebrity ships.
The entertainment was as expected. I knew it was a small ship and their options were limited. The young cabaret singers were charming and full of energy. The guest entertainers were variable, but frankly I was so tired from running all day and into the evening, especially in St. Petersburg, this feature was of little importance to me. The theater however, could use some refurbishment. Right now to me it looks like the all purpose room in my mother's assisted living facility.
As for the infamous nickel and diming, yes it is there. Everything from hawking the water at the gang plank before disembarking for a day's excursion to the sign on the bottle of wine placed in the room, drink and pay, to the fee for coffee at the coffee bar. But that is an old Celebrity trademark. It is also that way in every hotel in the world. So I am used to it. I know better so I never touch any of the extras placed in the room of any hotel. Yes it was different on my last Regent cruise and that was nice, but as is very obvious, Azamara is no Regent. The least expensive stateroom on Regent is larger than the Sky Suite on Azamara.
Now for what Azamara excelled at. The staff were all courteous, friendly and easily engaged in conversation. They were more than willing to impart any local information and wisdom they might have. On the whole they did try to satisfy. The ship was clean and well maintained. The spa seemed adequate for the number of passengers. The masseuse was excellent. The gym was adequately equipped and nicely laid out.
The itinerary was great. As mentioned the third day in St. Petersburg is a must. The two days in Stockholm, wonderful. The last day in Lubeck/Travemunde Germany, was such a nice addition.
The shore excursions that I used from Azamara were excellent. The guides were both pleasant and knowledgeable and afforded an excellent overview of the various cities. Disembarkation for the excursions was handled in speedy and efficient manor. However, I must add, I arranged from home for my own visa and private guide for the 3 days in St. Petersburg. She made the trip. She was SPECTACULAR! Therefore I cannot comment on the St. Petersburg offerings from Azamara.
Would I go an Azamara cruise again? Probably not, unless the itinerary was such that I couldn't get it on another cruise line, ie: 3 days in St. Petersburg. But I do believe Azamara, at just 2 years old, is young. I believe there is a genuine interest on the part of management to hear from there past passengers and they want their feedback. They are a work in progress and in time will probably find their niche. Will it be for me, I don't know.