Embarkation - Boarding Journey in Miami was one of the easiest embarkation's of the almost 50 cruises I have completed. Absolutely no lines and a minimal wait to embark. Upon stepping aboard, I was greeted with a glass of champagne, and the opportunity to make reservations at one of the alternative restaurants. There was also an area that one could check carry-on luggage, to be delivered to the stateroom or suite. I took advantage of this service, and enjoyed exploring the ship without the hindrance of a carry on in tow. This was a first for me, and very much appreciated. Lunch was served at Windows Cafe, with a nice wine and food selection. I was lucky enough to meet new friends, CC member "Candylady" and her husband. (Sue and David).
Suite - I was situated in a Club Commodore Suite on deck 8. The layout was spacious and lovely. The space afforded areas for extensive storage and included a large 10 X 6 balcony (equipped with table, chairs and lounge). The bathroom had a tub and shower and was stocked with Elemis products. A well stocked mini-bar and complimentary bottle of Absolut Vodka and Dewars Scotch was also available for consumption. Flowers and daily fresh fruit were always looked after. The suite attendants were magnificent. I pondered how I could leave the suite for breakfast, and magically the suite was made up while I was away!
The suite afforded Butler service. I understand that many suite passengers enjoyed the lovely tea service and restaurant reservation service he provided. I did not partake in the Butler amenity.
The only downfall to the suite was the bedding. My suite had lumpy mattresses that are in dire need of replacement. I understand that the plan is to switch to new mattresses in stages. Originally I was told that this would be done ship wide in the spring of 2012. Luckily, this is an easy "fix".
Public Rooms - Azamara Journey's public room's remind me of the first cruise ships that I had ever sailed on in the early part of the 1990's. Warm, "clubby", and classy. Not the glitz that so many ships offer today. The only negative observation is that in the main dining room, the chairs are in need of re-gluing and re-finishing, and the furniture is in need of replacement in the Discoveries Lounge.
The computer center had several computers, complimentary printing service and an attendant to help passengers with the equipment, if needed.
The gym was extremely well equipped with personal televisions on the elliptical machines and treadmills. There is a separate male and female dressing room off the gym area, with private showers, steam room and grooming area. Adjacent to the dressing rooms is a private "oasis" with soft sunbeds and a large thalassotherapy pool. This was an area I enjoyed immensely. I did not partake in the spa services, but heard from other passengers that they were very pleased with the offerings.
Dining Venues and Food - Azamara offers many choices for your dining pleasure. Breakfast is enjoyed daily in the Windows Cafe, with choices from eggs benedict, made-to-order omelets, cereal, fruits, oatmeal and array of typical American breakfast fare. The main dining room is open for breakfast and lunch only on sea days (very enjoyable sit down service). Lunch at Windows Cafe features a daily carving station, sandwich and salad bar, 2 choices of hot soups and daily buffet style offerings. The outdoor pool grill is also a hit with guests, with offerings of burgers (beef, turkey or veggie), chicken wings, hot dogs, fries, and onion rings. Complimentary wines are free flowing throughout all the lunch and dinner venues.
Dinner on Azamara is always a special event. It is open seating, dine with whomever you wish, whenever you wish (within reason, of course). The Discoveries Restaurant is the main dining room that offers a variety of items every evening, from lamb, beef, chicken, seafood and a vegetarian offering. The food was very good and consistent, for the most part. There was one evening a fellow diner didn't care for his lamb. The waiter made note of this, and immediately the maitre 'd came over with offerings of a new meal or a substitution. This was one aspect of Azamara I was amazed at. If there is any complaint, as small as it might be, the staff handles the situation immediately and graciously.
In the evening, Windows Cafe becomes a casual indoor - outdoor buffet venue, with a usual stir-fry offering. I didn't choose to eat at this venue, but understood that many guests ate there several times throughout the cruise.
The 2 alternative dining venues are Aqualina, specializing in seafood and Prime C, an on-board steakhouse. I enjoyed Aqualina 5 times throughout the cruise and found the food and service outstanding. Foie Gras was a favorite starter, the succulent lobster was offered 3 ways, the tuna was excellent, and choices of rack of lamb and filet mignon were right on the mark. Service was impeccable. If a land based restaurant, Aqualina would be rated 5 star. I also enjoyed Prime C, although the food and service wasn't quite up to par with Aqualina. The rib-eye steak was tough on more than one occasion, whereas the Kobe beef sliders were excellent. Service was a bit slow at times, and not consistent. That said, other than a few glitches at Prime C, I found the positive to outweigh any negative I experienced. There is a $15 surcharge to dine at the alternative restaurants, unless you are a suite guest.
Service - I found the service, for the most part, excellent and beyond expectation. (The exception was "spotty" beverage service at Windows Cafe lunch. This was noted on my mid-cruise questionnaire, and was personally addressed immediately.)
The outdoor pool deck service offered frozen melon offerings, Evian spray, cool towels, and unobtrusive bar service. One afternoon, on a port day, I fell asleep on deck 11, sun deck, and awoke to a large glass of ice water next to my sun lounge. I was amazed, as I was the only guest on this deck! This was service I will never forget. Sham at the pool bar, should be commended for his incredible "service with a smile" and attention to detail. Unfortunately another bartender at the pool bar was quite the opposite. Arrogant and uninterested in making the guest feel comfortable. This was the only service person that stood out as "not Azamara quality". I will not mention his name on this public forum, as I don't feel naming staff in a negative way is appropriate.
Service throughout the rest of the ship mirrored the experience I have enjoyed on Seabourn Cruise Line, an ultra-luxury venue. Well done Azamara!
Officers and Staff - "Visible" and "hands-on" are two terms I would use to describe the officers and staff. The interaction between and staff and guest were unparalleled in my opinion. I had the pleasure of dining with the Hotel Director, Scott Daniels, one evening, and had many positive interactions with Ngawhira, the "always my pleasure" guest relations manager. This is another personal touch to delight Azamara guests!
Entertainment I have to admit, that on a cruise, I tend to make my own entertainment. Although I didn't attend any shows, I enjoyed meeting new friends at the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle party and coffee social. Socializing with an array of friends throughout the ship and voyage is also one of the best aspects of cruising. Tony Markey, however, was an excellent Cruise Director on my journey.
Le Club Voyage - Having sailed with sister company Celebrity, I had 8 Captains Club cruise credits that immediately advanced me to Explorer status on Azamara. Some of the amenities included- over 2 hours of free internet service, a free bag of laundry, a bottle of sparkling wine, and several club parties. After this cruise, I will enjoy 3 more credits (1 for the cruise, 1 for a cruise more than 12 days at length, and another for suite status). This will advance me once more to top-tier Discoverer status that will offer even more perks. What a nice touch, to be rewarded for past loyalty to a sister company!
Disembarkation - Always a real "downer", Azamara made disembarking easy. I was able to disembark at my leisure, after the first few colors were called. Guests and staff expressed "Good-bye's" and "till we meet again".
Final thoughts - Having sailed on most of the ultra-luxury lines such as Regent, Crystal, SeaDream, Le Ponant and especially Seabourn, this is as close as it gets to the ultra- luxury cruise experience. Actually, I enjoyed my Azamara cruise over my Regent and Crystal cruises. My cruise had the "Open bar" promotion that really added to the luxury "feel" to the voyage. Hopefully this promotion will be offered in the future.
A good cruise is when you look back and have fond memories of ship and fellow guests. A great cruise is when you look back and realize that your cruise has now set a new bar for the ultra-premium cruise experience. This was a great cruise.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org