We are an active recently retired couple who travel. Our preference is for small ship with personal service. For the past few years we have been sailing on European river boats and barges. We thought we'd give this reasonably new line a try. This was an audition cruise for Azamara. We'd say they passed. We certainly would book them again.
The Azamara Journey is a small ship, holding about 700 passengers. On this 14 night transatlantic cruise it was about 2/3 full - 485 passengers. With a crew of 404, the passenger to cruise ratio was quite favorable. There were no crowds to contend with, which was just fine with us. Disease prevention was a priority for the crew. The Captain made specific note of this and consistent with the policy the crew tried to avoid shaking hands. There were hand sanitizers everywhere and crew stationed at the entrance to dining rooms to not only greet passengers but to kind of assure people used the sanitizer. It was subtle, but it worked.
There was activity overload with overlapping activities that would occupy anyone's day. If you couldn't find something to do it was your fault, certainly not the ship's. Besides the usual games and trivia contests there was an enrichment program with one or two speakers a day on sea days. The speakers included Nigel Marven, a British biologist with his own TV series very similar to the late Steve Irwin who was popular in the US. Nigel was extremely entertaining. The second speaker also was quite familiar with sea animals by profession and spoke of these. He also was a historian and gave talks on pirates and Atlantic history. He was informative and dramatic. The third speaker was a horticulturalist. This was a topic that did not interest us, so we didn't attend. One passenger described the cruise as a seven day all inclusive resort followed by a seven day cruise. This is an accurate characterization. There was quite an extensive art program with a very knowledgeable art manager.
It should be noted that we had a couple of days of rough seas that caused cancellation of some activities and changes in lectures and entertainment. The service on the ship was exceptional, from the Captain on down. Everyone had a big smile and a warm greeting. They went out of their way to see that everything was just right. We had a suite and our butler, Pravin, went out of his way to anticipate our needs. The cabin attendant, Alvin, and his assistant kept the cabin spotless. We hadn't planned on excursions as we like exploring on our own if we can. Nigel Marven arranged two spontaneous excursions though. We didn't go on the first, but the people who did raved about it. This was a search for a rare bird in the Azores, which they found. We did go on his other trip in Mallorca to search for tortoises, birds and snakes. Found all three. His knowledge and enthusiasm were priceless.
We elected a Club Continent Suite (formerly Sky Suite) as we thought we might be spending more time in the cabin on a transatlantic crossing than we would on a typical cruise. The suites gave more space, more storage space and a full bath with shower. People in the standard verandah cabins complained that the showers were too small. The river boats and barges typically had small bathrooms and we had our own sailboat, so we are used to small showers. It seemed to be a concern though. The cabins were well appointed.
We read reviews of Azamara dining which complained about the food. Our experience did not bear this out. We felt the menus in the Discoveries were well thought out, the food well prepared and beautifully presented. With the exception of a hotel barge in France the food was the best we've had on a cruise ship. The new complimentary house wine policy was welcome (of course the base price of the cruise has been increased to account for the "free" wine. The wines were quite good, coming from Australia, Spain, Chile and Coastal California. Unlimited complimentary dining in specialty restaurants for suite guests is now part of the new Azamara Club policy. The menus in the restaurants were the same each day and frankly were less interesting than those of the main dining room. The big draw I guess is the choice of steaks in Prime C and the lobster in Aqualina and of course to some the status of dining in the specialty restaurants. The service, as one would expect, was more attentive in the specialty restaurants.
A small ship is not going to have the same glitz for shows as the large cruise ships. The entertainment venue was called the Cabaret and that is an appropriate designation. The entertainment was cabaret performers. All were very very good. These included a violist, a pianist, a singer who played leads in Les Mis and Phantom in London's West End, an impressionist and a comedian. The latter two were Las Vegas types. The house band, singers and dancers were excellent. The pianist/singer, Dan Daly, who played the Cova Cafe, had a big and well deserved following. Usually, lounge singers are not our cup of tea. Not the case here.
Boarding in Miami and disembarking in Barcelona were both a piece of cake. Overall, a great time.