We only booked this cruise two weeks before departure, and we are so delighted we did. Our previous cruise experience has been on RCCL, Celebrity, NCL and MSC, so this was our first cruise on one of the smaller ships. Now we wonder why we waited so long.......
We live less than an hour from Dublin Port, so we arrived there at about 2pm. There were plenty of check in staff available and we were onboard within 10 minutes of arrival.There were some really good Irish muscians entertaining the departing passengers. Smoothest embarkation we have ever done. Well done, Dublin !!
Because we booked so late (and it was the President's Cruise..more about that later), we took an Ocean View stateroom, number 3021, down on Deck 3. This became the subject of some gentle ribbing during the cruise, as we described ourselves as travelling 'Steerage'compared to the balconies and suites higher up. The stateroom was very well appointed, and very quiet at night. We had some of the officers in adjacent rooms and ok, we only had a porthole, but we could see out better than in some of the oceanviews with impeded views on higher decks. Our attendant was Hussein, who was unobtrusive and did a really good job.The bottle of champers waiting for us on arrival ( we are Explorer level ) was a nice touch.
We enjoyed the meals in Discoveries and the Windows Cafe so much we did not go to Aqualina or Prime C at all during the cruise. Overall, the service in Discoveries was good, maybe one night did not reach the usual standards. We opted to share most nights (went to Windows on two nights) and met some really nice people along the way. Menu choices were good and as I have a minor dietary issue with certain ingredients, the Head Waiter went through my choices to make sure I wasn't eating anything I shouldn't.
The evenings in Windows were interesting. They did an excellent stir fry and on one of the last evenings, there was an Indian Food night. It was just a pity that the sea was rather choppy that night, it kept some people away.
We didn't opt for breakfast or lunch in Discoveries at all, Windows all the way, with a few lovely lunches at the adjacent Pool Grill.
Overall, we were really impressed with the food on the Journey.
We were pleasantly surprised with the standard of entertainment. OK, there is no massive theatre for the Broadway type shows, but most evenings in the Cabaret Lounge there were really enjoyable shows, ranging from laid back American comic, Ric Ceisler, to the classically trained duo, Eden. There was an excellent classically trained pianist, Brooks Aeron, and a really droll Scottish comic, Scotty McLean. In Dublin, Cobh and Holyhead, local entertainers came on board and performed which was a really nice touch.
The 'lounge' entertainers were really good, I especially liked 'Great Escapes' who played some lovely rock and roll, and Victor Cruez up in Windows kept everyone entertained. There was also some Elton John/Billy Joel from piano man, Jeff Warren, and Ireland's own Jacqueline Dolan entertained everyone on the harp. There was no razzamatazz, but it was all enjoyable and ably held together by cruise director, Tony Markey, who can sing a bit himself.
Ports of Call.
We were slightly concerned when we saw Holyhead on the itinerary, but it really is a nice little town and the local Male Voice Choir put on a special performance in one of the local churches. It was superb, the Welsh have really lovely voices.
Cobh was next and this is a lovely cruise stop, with its Titanic connections and proximity to Cork and Blarney Castle.
After a day at sea, we literally parked in the middle of Bordeaux!!. The Journey sailed right up the river and docked right in the centre of town. This was the day of the 'President's Event' when most of the passengers were treated by Azamara and its CEO, Larry Pimental, to a city tour then several hours at a local wine producing Chateaux, (3 different ones actually to cater for the numbers) including dinner and a typically French Cabaret, including the Can Can. It was a lovely gesture by Larry and Azamara and was one of the highlights of the cruise. On our return, the ships orchestra was entertaining both the remaining cruisers who didn't do the Chateaux tour and hundreds of locals who lined the Promenade. Next day, we had time to explore the lovely city of Bordeaux, and the Captain even organised an extra few hours, so we didn't leave till 10pm. Bilbao was next, nice city but very little was open as it was a Sunday. The Guggenheim Museum was a popular venue. The dock in Bilbao was just the opposite of Bordeaux, some 30 minutes by bus fron the city centre.
Next day we were in Gijon, where the sun came out and what a lovely little place this was. Vigo next, which used to be a fishing village but has grown substantially. There were 3 cruise ships in town that day, so it was busy. The Journey was the last to leave, and we caught up with the Costa Pacifica and P&O Oriana in Lisbon the next day. The sail into Lisbon under the bridge is spectacular and we had the day to enjoy this lovely city and the really warm weather. We disembarked after an overnight in Lisbon.
The ships captain (or Designated Driver, as he described himself) is fast on the way to legendary status. Captain Johannes Tysse is so professional at his job, but also very visible on board, and his good humour obviously rubs off on his fellow officers. He thinks nothing of putting the ship into a 360 degree turn to give everyone a good view of a sunset, and his announcements were full of humour and style. The other officers were everywhere, and they even dished out Ice Cream at the Pool Grill on the sea day. There was a great 'vibe' on board this ship, inspired by Captain Tysse and it runs through the entire crew.Its like everyone was taking their 'Happy Pills'. Smiling faces and cheery greetings from first day to last.
We love the Azamara concept. We made loads of friends and it will be smaller ships for us from now on. The fact that wine at lunch and dinner and Coca Cola etc at all times are included in the price is a great idea. You never got the feeling of being 'nickle and dimed'like on other ships. The shops were quite limited, no alcohol, cigs or perfume on sale. The Mosaic Cafe was a great meeting place, especially at 'Trivia ' time, and the coffee was great.
If I had a critiscism, it would be the cost of shore excursions and the photographs on sale. The internet speeds, while not super fast, were quite acceptable and as good as I have used at sea.
Azamara, you have two converts, the first of many I am sure.