I grew up on boats. I love to travel. However, up till now, I had no desire to go on a cruise ship. Why? Because I hate crowds, lineups, buffets, tours, corny entertainment and seasickness. And I'm not crazy about kids...other people's, that is, on a vacation. I have spent my life teaching teenagers and for me, a holiday must be as far away from them as possible or it simply isn't a change of scene. I do love the ocean, however, and if I'm going to be on a ship, I must be able to actually feel like I'm close to the water, not 16 stories up in a floating skyscraper. I spent a couple of years researching my 'first time cruise' and I chose Azamara for the following reasons: 1. I could not afford a balcony on Oceania and didn't want to go for 2 weeks in case I didn't like it 2. The ships are basically the same size and I liked the size and look of the ships a lot 3. The one week itinerary was terrific and at the right time of year for me 4. It seemed it would appeal to people like me, who are comfortable but not necessarily wealthy, have high standards but aren't totally spoiled and can appreciate the opportunity to travel rather than take it all for granted 5. I got an irresistible deal way before the prices jumped and am kicking myself that I didn't book a hundred more cruises before it was too late.
As I was constantly told by more experienced cruisers on board The Journey, I hit it lucky my first time. It was generally agreed by everyone I spoke to that this ship was a tremendous value and everything was fantastic. I have no basis of comparison, unless you count a terrible voyage in steerage on a dilapidate ship from the old Epirotiki lines from Brindisi to Athens as a college student when everyone aboard wanted to jump over from the lousy food, overly attentive waiters (I was much younger and prettier back then) and rampant seasickness. I say this so you can decide how many grains of salt to sprinkle on my review. I booked in the fall, way before rumors of the upgrade in services, because I sensed that the Journey would offer what I was looking for at a decent, affordable price. Imagine my shock at our good luck when the re-imaging took place and I found out that there would be more than met my eye....free wine! free coffee! no gratuities!......I'm not much of a drinker...either wine or coffee but the tips were a savings (although I couldn't resist tipping a little anyways, the service was so incredible). I am now suffering from withdrawal because, with my calculations, I can no longer really afford to return for another cruise.....and return I would, if the price wasn't practically double. Unless you drink like a fish, I'm not sure you could justify the difference in price, although, at the rate we paid, I suppose it's doubtful they could stay in business. Sigh. The best things about the cruise and The Journey 1. Embarkation/debarkation was perfect ....smooth, efficient and welcoming 2. Lunch, like all others to follow, was fantastic 3. Our Deck 7 Balcony suite was great....amazing views all along the coasts of Italy and the Balkans (are they still called that?) Blue seas, blue hills, blue skies. Sure, the bathroom is small, but it's on a ship! If you want a huge bathroom, stay home (where, I assume, your facilities are in a house). 4. The ocean was like glass every day. (Told you we were lucky...I never even opened my pack of wristlets or gravol, never felt queasy or anything but relaxed) Thank you weather gods. 5. The people we met were delightful, considerate, friendly and fun. All ages, too. Honeymooners, empty nesters and retirees. And a few oldies but goodies. 6. The staff was incredible....I absolutely endorse whatever positive comments others have written times 100....the teamwork, the professionalism and warmth made it very hard to leave....I actually cried during their good-bye presentation...felt like a cross between the Olympics and summer camp 7. The 'tendering' and tours were excellent, efficient and pretty reasonable, considering 8 The spa was lovely, but the treatments so costly that few people seemed to be there at any time making it easy to enjoy the steam, shower and private deck 9. The food was sensational. Given the number of people and the complexities involved, the service and the catering was first-rate. I am a 'foodie' with a bit of a background in culinary arts and found something wonderful to eat at each meal. Food was fresh, abundant and beautifully presented. The specialty restaurants were fantastic....all I can say is 'chocolate souffle'... 10. The Captain and his crew were approachable, friendly and eager to please. They are really trying to sell this new upgrade concept with a lot of opportunities for feedback 11. They never run out of anything....towels, food, water, hellos...
Not so much.... a very short list....again, based on my experience as a newbie 1. Somebody complained that there were a few cruddy tiles around the pool which had escaped my attention 2. There is only 1 laundry room with only 4 washers and dryers which create a kind of feeding frenzy at times.....it's strictly survival of the fittest in this little space....just don't leave your stuff for a minute or someone will remove it and leave it lying around, damp, and avert their eyes when you enter (don't ask me how I know) 3. Sometimes you can't make up your mind which dessert to order so you have to have two! 4. The programming is a little lame....the games are incredibly juvenile and the entertainment is not great, but it didn't really bother me...I am not interested in Las Vegas afloat 5. The onboard stores are so -so....kind of frumpy 5. I am now spoiled for the rest of my life.
I am very sad that I probably will not ever be able to justify spending twice as much for the same thing again and so will have to say Bon Voyage to the good ship Journey. My fear, for Azamara, is that they are now joining a pretty fussy class where their efforts may not be appreciated, given the shiny competition. And they are leaving out an entire group of potential cruisers, boomers new to cruising who want a lovely, romantic and adventurous escape from the kids, grandkids and cares. Like me.