Journey - Venice to Istanbul 9/26 to 10/3: Azamara Journey Cruise Review by jshape
Overall Member Rating
Journey - Venice to Istanbul 9/26 to 10/3
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
None of us are overly picky but all appreciate nice touches and good, not overly attentive, service. Food is important but it's not the end-all/be-all for us. It's more about the variety of ports being visited and doing different things without having to pack and repack or deal with transportation over a week or so.
We chose Azamara for three primary reasons - first and foremost was the size and character of the ship. We don't like mega ships, long lines or waiting for about anything. The Journey is the same size and configuration as the Oceania ship and the Renaissance IV(in fact it was a former Renaissance ship) we had sailed on before and enjoyed.
Second, More and almost as important to us as the ship, was the itinerary. We wanted to see most of the places the Journey was going.
Lastly - time considerations. Azamara offered a seven-night cruise that fit well with our schedules. None of us are retired and taking two weeks or more off for vacation just doesn't work for us yet. With the Azamara cruise, we could spend two nights in a hotel in Venice before sailing and a final night in a hotel in Istanbul before returning.
Cost was also a factor - albeit not an overriding one. We didn't want to spend the money that a true luxury cruise (SilverSea, OceanDream, Seabourn) requires mainly because we didn't want the amenities that the premium dollar gets you. We really don't need or want a butler - we had one on Oceania (due to a last minute upgrade) - and we really never felt it was needed or even desirable.
We booked the cruise directly from Azamara - their quoted prices were a bit higher than ones I found on the Internet but Azamara offered us a shipboard credit that was almost 50% more than the difference in prices.
We booked our airfare and hotels separately to be sure that we had flight times that suited our schedules and hotels that we knew we would enjoy (based on past experience or recommendations from others).
Transfers were not an issue - although they are quite expensive in Venice, especially if you opt for a door-to-door water taxi from the airport to your hotel (€110) which we did - and it was totally worth it!!!!
PRE-CRUISE COMMUNICATION (2 out of 5)
Communication with Azamara before the cruise was not very good - there was not much communication and what little there was came only via email. I did have some questions and a call to the call center answered them quickly and efficiently. But, it would have been nice to have a cruise booklet prepared for us with Q&A, port information, etc.
There was also some confusion about where to board the ship in Venice. The Port of Venice website clearly said one place but the Azamara people apparently told others (based on threads seen in the Forum) it was to be boarded at the other terminal. There's no excuse for that - the Venice Port people were, of course, right.
EMBARKATION & BOARDING (5 out of 5)
Boarding was handled very efficiently and smoothly by the cruise line personnel. It was quick, painless and very much appreciated by us. We boarded at about 2:00 PM and our bags had been delivered to our room by 3:00 PM.
SERVICE (3 out of 5)
Service on the Journey was extremely spotty. The crew was very friendly but they just didn't attend to things as well as they could have - especially in the dining venues on deck 9, i.e., Windows and Breezes. Many times the wait staff would be standing around rather than clearing tables or getting passengers silverware, napkins or placemats. Other times, even when crowded, we had great service. Bar service was almost non-existent while lounging around the pool. Go figure.
The materials published and distributed at the end of our cruise showed that the passenger to crew ratio was 2:1. When I asked my wife and friends to guess the ratio, two said 3:1 and one said 4:1. It sure didn't seem like 2:1 to us.
THE SHIP ITSELF (4 out of 5)
We like the English men's club dEcor that was originally outfitted by Renaissance when the ship was built, but my guess is that we are in the minority.
The public areas are nice and very well maintained. The on-board shopping in the 4th deck shops was pretty bad according to my wife - who bought nothing. Same with the 'art' that was for sale.
In the Azamara publications I read (at least the ones I read online since I never saw anything in real print), the dress required or requested of passengers was "country club causal." Apparently, lots of the folks on our cruise had never been to a country club because they showed up at Discoveries for dinner wearing jeans, t-shirts, hats, shorts and flip-flops. Although most people did dress appropriately, there were lots of people that looked like they should be eating at the Old County Buffet rather than at a nice restaurant on a supposedly upscale cruise. If Azamara DOES want a country club atmosphere on the ship, it needs to let people know what that phrase means and politely suggest to people who are not dressed appropriately that they might prefer to dine at the buffet restaurant. God, I sound like a snob but a lot of people really looked pretty shabby.
The casino was well appointed and well attended! The crews manning the tables were friendly even though they conspired to deal me terrible cards throughout the entire cruise. My wife won enough at the slots to almost cover my losses.
The pool deck was very nice and there seemed to always be enough deck loungers when we wanted them - even without resorting to getting up early on an "at-sea" day to stash a towel or book on the better seats. Some thoughtless passengers did this and then didn't return for three to four hours.
I did have to use the EConnections Internet service a couple of times. The cost of $0.65 per minute would have been OK but the connection speed the first time was so slow that I spent 13 minutes just to read one email and to send out a reply. Yikes!
We never used the spa or any of its features so I cannot comment on that. Same with the entertainment. We did not attend any shows so I can't comment. But, the poolside entertainment, the harpist and the piano player were all really good and we enjoyed hearing them.
The Oceania cruise we took in 2008 offered a 2-for-one happy hour each night in the bar located at the front of the boat. On the Journey, that was the Looking Glass bar on deck 10. The first time we went there, we were told it was reserved for a private function but that we could have a drink at the side of the room next to the smoking area. No thanks. The next time we went there, there was no furniture by the windows and no service from the people at the bar. So we left Looking Glass again and had drinks on our balcony. Never went back.
But our biggest disappointment was the [lack of] outdoor space at the rear of deck nine - more on that later.
OUR STATEROOM (4.5 out of 5)
We and our friends had adjacent balcony staterooms on deck seven. Being adjacent allowed us to open the glass door on the balcony when we were in port making the extended balcony a wonderful place for us to have cocktails or to merely relax. Also, having tables on the deck were a nice idea and allowed outdoor dining with room service!
The stateroom was very nice and comfortably furnished. Many posters here have complained about the mattresses being unsatisfactory. Maybe they were a little hard but they weren't worth complaining about. We certainly didn't have any trouble sleeping. Linens used on the bed were very nice.
The bathroom was small but perfectly suitable for our needs. The furnished toiletries were OK but nothing special. Towels were plentiful, large and very soft. Closet space was ample.
The primary TV channels offered were awful. The only news channel was Fox News - no CNN or BBC - and very limited other offerings. There were a couple of generic port information channels but nothing specific about the port that was coming up or what you might want to do there (other than to take an Azamara shore excursion). This could really be improved upon.
Our stateroom steward - Rosalie - was the best! Never was our stateroom not clean and made up when we returned from any meal. I don't know how she did it but she was great. She also made sure that we had ice and snacks when we asked for them.
PORTS OF CALL (2 out of 5)
Venice, Santorini, Kusadasi and Istanbul were all fantastic - albeit overly crowded - but that's not the fault of the cruise line. Great places draw big crowds. Also, the island of Korcula in Croatia was a wonderful surprise. It was a very quaint and interesting port town to visit and was probably a good choice over Dubrovnik - which can get very crowded at this time of year.
But now let's talk about Koper, Slovenia. I know that Slovenia is a beautiful country with beautiful mountains. But Koper is not. It is the worst port we have ever visited in our cruising experiences. Sure, there were shore excursions but the only two that were remotely interesting, i.e., Lake Bled and Ljubljana, required two+ hour bus rides each way and cost almost $300 per couple. We had ZERO desire to spend five hours on a bus.
Instead, we spent about an hour wandering through the streets of Koper's 'old town.' The old town was that - old. It also very gray and totally devoid of charm, joy or anything of interest other than lots of cats. There was nothing to buy, nothing to see and nothing to do. The most interesting thing we saw was a worker cleaning the town fountain with what smelled like hydrochloric acid.
I have no problem with Slovenia wanting to develop tourism through Koper - but this is not yet a developed port for a 'top rate' cruise line to visit unless and until more is developed for passengers to do. I feel I almost deserve 1/7 of our cruise price back from Azamara for making me stop here for some unknown reason. There were other ports that could have been substituted for this one.
Bottom line, I would not recommend any cruise that stops at Koper unless the itinerary for what was to be done there was fully explained and organized - a day at sea would have been preferable to our time spent there.
OVERALL DINING (4 out of 5)
Included Wine and Soft Drinks (5 out of 5)
We do like wine and the choices that Azamara provided each day for lunch and dinner were very interesting. The wines ranged from California to South Africa and it was nice to try differing varieties with your meals. Some were really excellent and some were just OK. We sure didn't send any back. We understand that wine preference is a purely personal choice and that others may feel that the included wines were not worth the effort. We thought it was a really nice touch. Same with the soft drinks - they were included and they should be.
Discoveries - Main Dining Room (4 out of 5)
The dEcor and atmosphere of the main dining room, Discoveries, was very nice. We only waited once to get a table for four. Most of the entrees and accompaniments at Discoveries were excellent. The appetizer courses were well done. The soups all were excellent - especially the chilled soups (we actually thought of having the Pear soup again for dessert!). The beef - prime rib and steaks - were better than I expected. However, many of the fish dishes seemed to be bland and without much flavor. Desserts were just OK. Requests for levels of doneness of tuna and beef were usually just as ordered.
Acqualina (5 out of 5)
This is a great restaurant that really is worth the extra $15 per person. The menu, as well as the service, were wonderful. All of us had lobster in some fashion and it was not at all rubbery as it frequently can be in large scale dining facilities. The soufflEs were also great - especially the chocolate one! We really liked Acqualina - as apparently everyone else did too. We were able to only get one reservation there.
Prime C (4.5 out of 5)
Prime C was almost as nice an experience as Acqualina but .... The menu was really beef driven and that's what you would expect from a restaurant called Prime C. The portions of beef were really large - too large actually - and could have easily been split. The sauces provided were very good as well. They only served one type of bread that had lots of onion flavoring. I liked it but not everyone may. The service was very nice. But, Acqualina had better service and a better overall menu. Still, Prime C was worth the extra cost and is highly recommended. It just wasn't that special.
Breezes poolside cafe (3 out of 5)
The problem with the poolside grill was that very long lines tended to form right when you wanted to eat and there were not enough cooks or servers to address the desires of the people waiting in line. Again - spotty service. The burgers, wings and hot dogs were tasty but it took forever to get them.
Windows (2 out of 5)
Dining at Windows for breakfast was pretty much a disaster every day. Very long lines and slow wait times to get an omelet or a fried egg. Just four stations for 700 passengers. They needed more. We finally gave up and ate at the Discoveries restaurant or had room service for breakfast.
Same thing with lunch - Discoveries was overly crowded due to the restaurant's design. The layout of the restaurant makes no sense requiring all diners to converge in a narrow space between two parallel buffet lines.
The thing we liked most about our dining on Oceania and NCL was having the ability to eat breakfast and lunch on the rear deck in the open air. On the Journey, the rear deck area was taken up by a huge, and mostly unused, wraparound bar rather than being used as space for dining. On the Oceania ship, the rear deck had three to four rows of tables that are available for outdoor dining. On the Journey, there was one row of about eight tables with umbrellas and the rest were stuffed to the sides under the overhang of deck 10. The eight or so bar stools mounted to the deck were the most uncomfortable stools I have ever sat upon and were rarely used. Every morning, passengers grabbed a cup of coffee and perched like vultures over the few tables that had an outdoor venue hoping that the current users would quickly end their meals so that their table could be snarfed up before another passenger swooped in to claim it for their own.
Buffet Nights (????)
We didn't do any theme buffets so I can't comment on them. I would note, though, that the ship did depart Santorini, Greece at 8:00 PM. And, on that night, the ship chose to have an Indian themed buffet around the pool area. WHY NOT GREEK FOOD WHEN IN GREECE???? I like Indian food but not when I'm in Greece. Apparently, everybody else thought the same thing because the other dining rooms were overwhelmed by diners that night apparently opting to have their curries another time.
Room Service Dining (4 out of 5)
We only had breakfast delivered to our room - and then only once. The orders were all correct, delivered right on time and were nice and hot. However, we didn't get any salt or pepper and the orange juice tasted more like Tang than being fresh-squeezed. Oh well.
DEBARKATION (5 out of 5)
Worked like a charm. We were out of the ship, with our account cleared and gathering our luggage within five minutes of our designated time.
OVERALL (3.5 out of 5)
We had high hopes for this cruise - some were realized and others were not.
First off, Azamara has a ways to go in terms of service and ambiance to match Oceania. It just didn't feel as good as did the Oceania experience. There needs to be more attention to detail to get to the next level - except for our steward, Rosalie, who was the best we have ever had on any cruise line.
I'd guess that the average passenger age was about 65. This cruise had more passengers in the 35-45 range that I would have suspected - many of which seemed to be with a corporate group that might have skewed things a bit. Also, the passengers were more internationally diverse than the Oceania cruise that seemed to cater almost exclusively to Americans. There were a lot of Brits, Germans, and other Europeans on the Azamara cruise.
Food quality was very good but not quite up to par with Oceania - except for Acqualina and Prime C.
Ports of call (with the exception of Koper) were fine and what we wanted to see.
Shore excursions were not very well described or marketed - hence we did ours on our own and had a much better experience.
Hope that this is helpful to those who read it. Less