Azamara Journey Transatlantic December 4 - 18, 2009
We were fortunate enough to be able to use employee passes to travel from Los Angeles to Houston to Amsterdam. The "non-rev" gods were with us and both flights were made in the forward cabin. Nearly 40 years of seniority does have its rewards.
We spent two great days in Amsterdam (NH Amsterdam Centre Hotel) before again flying on passes on KLM to BCN. On board with had excellent service in the economy cabin on an immaculate airplane. Sandwiches and complimentary wine were served. We were were lucky enough to have a seat mate who lives in Sitges but who had worked for HP in the Bay Area for years. He gave us lots of advice on things to see and do in Barcelona. We hope to follow his tips for exploration beyond the city next time.
Upon arrival at the stunning new terminal at BCN we fairly quickly picked up our checked bags and took the Aerobus into the city. Fare was 5 euros pp payable in cash to the driver. The busses are new and the service is fast and dependable. We got off at Placa Catalunya and had an easy two and a half block walk to our hotel.
We had booked rooms online at Hotel Onix Ramblas. This hotel is a jewel located a couple of blocks above Placa Catalunya. It is a small property (perhaps 40 rooms) but the rooms are large and comfortable. A full buffet breakfast was included in the 80 euro per day rate (for a "Shhh" room located on the back of the hotel overlooking the terrace.). Breakfast included scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries, yogurt, cerals, fruit, coffee/tea/cocoa. There was also free internet access in the room but no wi-fi.
We used the red "Hop On/Hop Off" busses to get acquainted with the city. The blue busses run similar routes but the hotel had coupons that basically gave us a second day free on the red. We also booked a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter through the tourist service at Placa Catalunya.
Our four days in this incredible city went far too quickly. We ate well, drank well, and saw as much as we could in the limited time we had. We will be back!
Our time in Barcelona came to an end far too soon but we were ready to head to the ship. Two friends joined us for what turned out to be a 45 euro cab ride to the port. That included asking for a mini-van, luggage charges, port charges and a tip. It was worth it! (As a bonus I finally got to speak some Spanish. I found that people in Barcelona either wanted to speak English or Catalan.)
We arrived at the port at about 11:30AM and there was virtually nobody in the boarding area. Checking our bags (even without preprinted tags) took less than five minutes and the actual process of getting our Sea Pass cards took another ten. (Another reviewer had a problem with only getting one leather card holder. We had the nicer soft leather ones from Celebrity so were not bothered by this. We also were not bothered by being asked for a credit card to cover onboard charges. This is pretty much standard procedure with cruise lines or hotels world wide and is spelled out in the pre-boarding documents.)
We were greeted by two ships officers and champagne. We were also directed to a desk where we were able to leave our carryons. They were delivered to our cabins later.
We did a quick walk around the ship and were impressed by the maintenance and decor. This was our first time on a smaller ship and it felt much like we would imagine being on some wealthy person's private yacht.
They were in the process of putting up Holiday decorations with two Christmas trees in the main foyer and a Menorah.
We had a light lunch at the buffet and Bloody Marys and headed to our cabin when they were announced as being ready at 1:30PM.
We were in Stateroom 7020, a category 2A balcony on the port side just forward of the forward elevators/stairs. This was very convenient and we used the stairs more than we would on a larger ship and seldom had a very long wait for the elevator. We were usually alone in the elevators. That doesn't happen much on larger ships.
We had been forewarned by friends who had sailed on Journey and by postings on Cruise Critic that the cabins might seem small. While they are smaller than what you might be used to they are laid out very well. We made a few small adjustments (put the balcony table crosswise and it works much better!) and were quickly settled in. The beds were comfortable, the service from our "Butler", Derrick, was unobtrusive, and we generally were as pleased as we have been in any cabin on any ship. There was a nice gift of a tote bag waiting for us and two bottles of Champagne. Neither had cards but we think we sorted it out.
Main Dining Room:
We had no trouble getting a nice table for four for dinner when we arrived at the Main Dining Room. There were a few glitches (Menus were not correct. The "Everyday" side was for the wrong day on two of the menus. This only affects the featured wines and this caused a problem with an inexperienced wine server.) The food that night and on subsequent nights was very good to excellent. We tended to end up with the same servers on many nights and they quickly knew what our tastes were. One of the sommeliers, "Mac" should be especially recognized. She not only knows wine and people but has a great sense of humor!
We did note that there didn't seem to be a lot of coordination of service. On several occasions we had two different people ask us what drinks we wanted. The service areas didn't seem to be very well defined.
(Inconsistency was a problem in other areas as well. At the CC gathering some people were able to get complimentary cocktails and others weren't . The "Loyalty Ambassador" didn't seem to have a clear understanding of what was expected at these events. You could ask two different people the same question and get two different answers. Perhaps there were staff that were new to the ship and the company?)
A hint: We never had to wait long for a table in the MDR. The secret, we think, is to go at an off time, e.g., 7:15PM as opposed to 7:00PM or 7:30PM. And it doesn't hurt to establish a relationship with the folks at the front desk early on.
The Buffet at dinner (we tried it twice) was generally a disappointment. It seems to be a training ground. The staff was anxious to please but really didn't have a great deal of knowledge of food or service. Choices were limited with some being left over from lunch. It seemed to us that the only way to get good fresh green vegetables was to go to the stir fry station. There were, however, a couple of good wines offered as nightly specials at $5.00 a glass. We especially enjoyed the Portuguese Red.
Lunch was usually good to very good. By combining choices from the Pool Grill and the buffet we never felt that we missed a good meal!
We used Room Service mostly for breakfast. The food quality was usually quite good but there was a real problem with getting the orders right. Much of the problem seems to be with ordering anything outside the "tick the box" menu. Each morning we ordered virtually the same thing. "Two orders of two poached eggs on wheat toast". Some days we got six eggs, some three, some days on toast, some days not. When we mentioned this we got an immediate call from the manager of room service and an offer of a bottle of sparkling wine in our cabin or at dinner. (We demurred but ended up with both!) We enjoyed sharing the wine but the eggs never were right.. Perhaps they need to go to an extended menu with places to check what your want as Celebrity does in Concierge Class.
On two occasions we used the Interactive menu on the TV to order lunch/mid-day snacks. The service was very slow on one day (45 minutes to be delivered) but quick (20 minutes) the next. The food quality was excellent.
We never used the interactive menu to order from the Main Dining Room menu and were not aware that that was an option. We did speak with one person who asked their butler to get them a copy of the main dining room menu and they ordered from that by phone.
We ate in Aqualina once. it was a very good meal. Service was a bit confused but that didn't detract from the experience.
We ate in Prime C four times and each time was outstanding. The food is wonderful and the service impeccable. The Bartender is from the "Old School". He knows his liquor and he knows what service and hospitality are. He also did a great job of keeping us happy during the morning cooking demonstrations.
We never had difficulty getting into Prime C. One night we ate, by choice, at one of the bar tables.
When we did a tour of the Spa area before sailaway my partner bought a package that was to allow access to the Spa, one of the 29 private lounges and use of a private whirlpool tub.
It quickly became obvious that the tub was not working properly. Only one of the jets was working and it was never really hot. After speaking to three different staff members in the Spa an agreement was reached where they refunded the unused days (9). We spoke with at least one other person who had the same problem and was, finally, able to resolve it in the same manner.
The Sauna was never turned on or hot until well after the Spa opened in the morning.
We were, much like a previous reviewer, disappointed in BINGO. We ONLY play on ships! We played only one game on this cruise after we discovered that it would be $20.00 for a single game and that the prize would only be paid if a full black out was completed in 42 numbers or less. When I asked if all the games would be that way the only answer I got was "That's how we do it here". They need to see how things are done at RCL or Celebrity. More games and a few simple prizes bring in large crowds (and more revenue).
We had a lot of fun playing Trivia on the sea days. There were, predictably, a few people who took it way too seriously. The staff, though, made it lots of fun and we made some good friends as we played.
We also participated in several other games and enjoyed them.
This was the first time we encountered the system of having an activity card signed to get prizes at the end of the cruise. Why not just give a few simple prizes (caps, key chains, pens, tee shirts) as other cruise lines do? I misplaced my card early on so don't really know what the prizes were.
This is not a big ship so you really can't expect "spectacular" entertainment. There was some very good music and several good variety acts. Think "Cabaret". A real highlight was the staff talent show.
We brought our laptop and used it to receive e-mail and then to send messages composed off line. We had no trouble at all using it in the cabin. The shipwide wi-fi worked well for us. We did not use the full amount of time we purchased.
We did hear some people who were unhappy with the "free" minutes offered to Elite members requiring a purchase of time. My understanding is that this was waived on an individual basis.
All of the ports, except Gibraltar, were new to us. We enjoyed each in its own way. We did a mix of independent tours and ship's tours. Probably the highlight was the ship's tour of Gibraltar which included a wonderfully gifted guide. She made the history and life of this "bit of England" come alive for us as we wandered through the tunnels and paths of "The Rock".
Shopping is not high on our list of activities but we found places that were open in each port. The exception was probably Gibraltar where we were picked up at the entrance to the dock and returned there and really didn't have much time in the town itself.
It was nice to have Coco Cay to ourselves. When the weather took a turn for the worse we were very impressed by the ability of the Captain and crew getting us all safely back on board early.
This was probably the smoothest we have ever seen. We were off the ship early and had our bags in hand in about fifteen minutes. Sadly, a serious weather front was moving over Miami and we, like many others, had substantial delays getting out of town.
Over All Impression:
This was a very good cruise and we want to thank the Officers and crew of Journey for being so visible and available. You made 14 days pass very quickly. Philip Herbert, the Hotel Director, is a true professional. Captain Theo is a Captain I would go anywhere with. Lisa and the galley staff do an incredible job of feeding some very demanding people. Richard, the Food and Beverage Manager is a remarkable young man.
The size of this ship is probably its strongest point. It took us a couple of days to change our usual habit of leaving ten to fifteen minutes early for activities, dinner, etc. Nothing was very far from any location on board.
The Specialty Restaurants which, at this time, were complimentary were especially enjoyed. We always doubled the suggested tip.
That said, however, there really wasn't a tremendous difference in the service levels from what we have experienced on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland-America. It will be interesting to see what the new, "improved" Azamara Club Cruises is like. We would miss the complimentary specialty restaurants. The complimentary house wine at dinner and lunch will be a function of how good a selection there is. We are also interested in how the new "Club Voyage" (The name seems a tad pretentious.) compares with Captains Club. Will we still enjoy Elite Status? Will the onboard ammenities be raised to match those on Celebrity and the Diamond level at Royal Caribbean?