Boarded the Journey in Barcelona on 9/12/10. The embarkation process was a breeze. Unfortunately, we arrived early that morning and had nowhere to go but the pier, so we arrived as the last of the passengers from the previous sailing were leaving and waited until 11:30 before they let us on the ship. The rooms were not ready yet, but we had our carry-ons with us and just changed into touring clothes in the spacious public restroom off the main entrance lobby and then handed off our luggage to the staff waiting in the lobby for just such a need. When we returned for lunch the cabin was ready and the bags were waiting for us.
The staff is everywhere on Azamara and you never have to wait a moment to have any request satisfied. Note, though, for our pre-ordered breakfast room service, the ship specifies a half hour window for delivery. We found that delivery tends to occur at the end of the window, rather than at the beginning, so plan accordingly. We got a call before delivery to make sure, I suppose, that we were awake and ready for delivery. A nice touch.
The rooms are fine. We thought the bed was comfortable and piled high with extra pillows during the day. Okay, they’re not pillow-top mattresses, but we had no complaints because they felt like pillow-tops and the bed linens were luxurious. Nice sized flat screen television. The cabin bathrooms are quite small and the shower might not be all that friendly to a very large person. Or at least they would be swaddled by the shower curtain, particularly if the ship was rolling. We had no problems and we are average sized Americans. There is a drain in the main bathroom for those who just can’t fit in the shower. Of course, if you’re that big, maybe you shouldn’t be on a cruise ship with such good food.
Speaking of food, the main dining room was fine every night. However, we can’t say enough about Aqualina, one of the two specialty restaurants. How many cruise ships can you get exquisitely prepared pan seared fois gras? Absolutely lovely. We never tried the specialty steak house because, well, we can get steak at home. And besides, we were having too much fun in the main dining room.
We ended up meeting a great group of people the first night and continued to eat with them for the rest of the cruise. Our group would grow and shrink a little every night and the dining room was always accommodative. Unfortunately, we rarely had the same servers more than two nights in a row, which, I suppose, is the price you pay for open seating dining. The dining staff was very knowledgeable about the choices and never steered us wrong. There were one or two items in the dining room that failed (a mango sorbet one night seemed to be infused with cod liver oil), but, by and large, we were happy with both the choices and the quality of food. Lobster was in abundance, for which we were particularly grateful.
Let’s talk about the wine. Wine at lunch and dinner was a seriously valuable part of our cruise. No cheap plonk wines, either. Some we recognized from our local wine store (@ $14/bottle) and others we didn’t, but the quality always seemed to us as in the $20 retail range. So these are wines you’d pay $60/bottle on any other cruise line that doesn’t provide complimentary wine with meals. The staff is very good about refilling your glass but when lunch (or dinner) hour is over, the cork is back in.
We still spent time in the cocktail lounges despite the wine with meals. There is a lovely martini bar outside the main dining room with an excellent variety at reasonable prices.
We sailed from Barcelona to St. Tropez (anchored – excellent tender service), then overnight in Nice. Nice is a great spot to be anchored and it is a fantastic base for touring the Cote d’Azur. Our cruise had no sea days, but the Journey served as an excellent floating hotel for us. We’re not sure what a sea day might have been like, but we did spend our second afternoon in Nice out by the pool and can imagine doing that on a full sea day.
Shore excursion options were plentiful. We were satisfied with our excursions in Italy (Florence and Pisa at Livorno and the Cinqueterre from Portofino) and pleased that Azamara provides shuttle service to the center or wherever when the dock isn’t near someplace we’d want to be. The staff was good about suggestions for doing touring on our own.
We have not sailed Oceania, but have sailed Windstar many times, as well as Crystal, HAL, Princess, Celebrity and Cunard. We thought the dining room was as good as Windstar and Aqualina was certainly as good as any of the specialty restaurants on Crystal. Given the choice, we liked the passengers on Azamara better than those on Crystal. Also, getting around on Azamara was a snap because the size of the ship really made a difference. It was like having the best of the coziness of Windstar and the elegance of Crystal. I think this is what the new Azamara Club concept is all about and I think they are well on their way of reaching it. We would probably still opt for Windstar over Azamara given the same itinerary, but lately Windstar has gotten into a rut about where they sail and we’re somewhat concerned about the future of the line. Azamara, by contrast, seems to be looking to go to all the nooks and crannies that a ship can get to on the globe, making every cruise a new adventure. As you can tell, our cruise exceeded expectations and we are looking at our calendars for our next sailing with Azamara Club.