We'd never cruised on a 30,000 ton ship and didn't know how much we'd miss the amenities and space of ships three or four times the size. We did miss some things but the camaraderie and atmosphere on Journey more than compensated and we came away with happy memories of our 12 days on board. We will definitely try to return to Azamara on a future cruise. Hard to pinpoint but key to our enjoyment was the stress-free atmosphere created both by attentive crew and friendly, considerate fellow passengers. No formal dress, freestyle dining and simply fewer people all made big differences. We only saw 4 or 5 well-behaved children and a few young adults. The vast majority of passengers, like us, were "boomers" or older, not folk looking for a wild time.
EMBARKATION AND THE SHIP: we arrived at the dock about 1 pm and were soon on board with glasses of champagne in our hands and directions to lunch while awaiting the green light to claim our stateroom. We were impressed with the unfussy, classic dEcor, attractive art work and some outstanding features like the library ceiling frescos. Unlike Solstice's, this is a real library with a good selection of books. We were surprised how small the buffet area was but soon saw there was a lot of variety on display and the plate (rather than tray) service system kept the diners moving. Our verandah stateroom was mid-ship on the port side of deck 7, close to a stairway and free of extraneous noises or motion when the sea got up. The cabin was small but livable for anyone under, say, 200 lbs or unusually tall or with more than 4 pieces of luggage to stow. There is a coin laundry with free iron on deck 7. Classy shampoos, creams and soaps are provided. Our butler Ronald and his assistant Chong kept the room spotless and added fresh fruit daily. They always had the room ready by the time we wanted to return. Not their fault, but some bath towels were in shreds and should be replaced. The verandah dividers weren't wide or high enough to create privacy which put us off eating out there. Though seating was often at a premium around the small pool, there was always a lounge chair free on the top deck, mercifully free of piped music, for a quiet read or gazing out at the ocean. We did miss the variety of shopping on board bigger ships and missed the customary Celebrity last sea day scrum around tables of half-price t-shirts and other bargains. A surprising disconnect was that though offered by the glass at the bar, we couldn't purchase bottles of Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and display space was taken up by 3 or 4 flavors of Baileys and vodka.
DINING: We found the food outstanding in the eateries we tried, and were pleased that portions were relatively small. As recommended on the Roll Call, we reserved a table at Aqualina in advance and ate twice at Prime C., remembering as soon as we sat down to order chocolate and grand Marnier soufflEs. Halibut melted in the mouth and Colorado lamb chops were delicious. Bianchi's Argentine cabernet was a good buy. In Discoveries the maitre d' did an excellent job of satisfying requests, in our case often tables for two, and we never had to wait to be seated. Freestyle dining meant waiters couldn't get to know our individual food tastes, but we still managed to build relations with several servers and were always well looked after. There was a new menu selection each evening and standard "classics" always available. Fish and shrimp dishes were consistently excellent. The only disappointments were duck and pheasant. Lunch in the main dining room was a cool, relaxing escape from the tropical sun. The menu varied daily. Soups and burger of the day were particularly yummy. We ate healthy (well, fairly healthy, i.e. not too many eggs!) buffet breakfasts of plentiful fresh fruit, oatmeal, crisp bacon, and luckily enjoyed the strong coffee that some complained about. Fresh-brewed regular or decaf, espresso, cappuccino and latte, were available 24 hours from machines at Windows Cafe. Afternoon teas there and an Indian theme buffet were excellent. We didn't try Cova, the Pool Grill or any of the bars.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: We certainly missed Celebrity's cinema, big stage productions and more professional performers, but the resident band and small group of dancers/singers entertained with energy and style. We didn't see all the visiting artiste's shows nor get on the dance floor later at night. One lecture of the enrichment series was enough. Trivia sessions were fun. We didn't use the Spa, Beauty Salon, Fitness Center, Casino nor (thank God!) the Medical Center.
PORTS OF CALL: The itinerary of small, relatively inaccessible islands was the main attraction when we booked. We went on two Azamara shore excursions and on independent tours elsewhere. In most ports we tendered, which was well organized and there were no long waits to get off or on the ship. The shore excursion staff on board was helpful and well-informed. Two of them came with us to personally share the experience and take notes. Errol was a "hoot" sorting the different tour groups, teasing and entertaining them prior to early morning departure. Local St John Azamara tour guide Wayne was well informed and amused us with his patter as we explored island highlights including magnificent views, the Annaberg sugar mill ruins and Trunk Bay Beach. In Martinique, Francoise led us on Azamara's "Historic Plantation & Gardens Tour" to little Sacre Coeur church, around magnificent Belata Gardens, and a banana farm. Then we tried and bought rum-based products at Clement Plantation. Especially for first time visitors, the tour was an excellent introduction to the island. Via the CruiseCritic Roll Call we pre-arranged private tours on three islands, all of which met or exceeded our expectations: On Bequia, 12 of us explored for 3 hours in two open safari taxis driven by Curtis Olivierre and his wife Sandra. Both have spent their lives on the island and know its history intimately, showing us all the main sites. We ended up with an hour snorkeling before returning to the port. Contact Curtis Ollivierre: email@example.com We were met at Roseau, Dominica, by Levi Baron of Bumpiing Tours, who took six of us on his guided "Roseau Valley Treasures" tour to mountains, gorges and waterfalls, after which we snorkeled at "champagne reef". Contact firstname.lastname@example.org Waiting for six of us at Basseterre, St Kitts was Ilva Wallace who had guided us around the main island sights last year. This time she took us down South Peninsula to Reggae Bar on Cockleshell Beach and we enjoyed a morning snorkel in clear waters. Contact Ilva Wallace at email@example.com We decided to "wing it" both at St Barth's and Virgin Gorda. In St Barth's we wandered over to shell beach, window shopped the famous French boutiques, and picked up specialty foods and wine at an inexpensive supermarket right on the dock. At Virgin Gorda we hired a taxi for $45 to show us the views from various high points, the copper mine ruin and drop us at the top of The Baths. Be sure to allow at least an hour to see this justifiably famous rock formation and beach as it's a hike up and down and a scramble to get through the Devil's Cave. It would probably be too strenuous, by the way, for anyone with limited mobility. IN
SUM: We had a grand time both on board and off exploring each island. For sure, we would like to return to cruise again with Azamara. The obstacle, alas, may be cost. As was expressed vehemently by CC members and discussed with senior ship staff in some detail at a coffee morning, there is strong resistance to Azamara's announcement of substantial fare increases. Many felt they couldn't afford to sail the Journey or Quest at the prices to be in effect from April 1 and, sadly, we may fall into that category.