We recently enjoyed a 10-day, western Mediterranean cruise on Azamara's "Journey." I won't reiterate here what has been stated many times before except to add my voice to the chorus of very pleased Azamra guests.
Nothing in life--including cruises--is perfect. That said, however, our Azamra cruise absolutely lived up to our expectations and in some respects exceeded them. Rather than going through the laundry list of cruise details, let me comment on some specific aspects of the cruise that may be of particular interest to prospective passengers. Also, since we're as idiocyncratic as any other passenger please keep in mind this is completely subjective! Moreover, since we were not traveling with children or with those with mobility issues, we didn't use the casino nor see any of the shows, and we didn't celebrate any milestone events nor make any special requests, I cannot comment on those things.
CONDITION OF THE VESSEL: The Journey and the Quest are not new ships, and some have wondered as to their condition after a decade of service. We found the Journey to be in beautiful shape (except for the often-remarked-on condition of the tile in and around the pool--yes, that does need replacing). All ships we've ever sailed on have constant maintenance, especially on port days. Journey crew were busy painting, varnishing, vacuuming with the best of them. No surprises there.
However one evening I noticed a tear along the seam of a back cushion on one of the upholstered chairs in the Mosaics Cafe. "Well, there's a sign of an older ship," I thought. I'd seen (what I thought was a reasonable amount of ) wear and tear on some older Holland America and Princess ships: a carpet stain that had been cleaned up not eradicated, a torn and mended lampshade, etc. So I was sorry to see the torn cushion, but not surprised. However, the next morning, when I stumbled down to Mosaics for a morning cup of coffee, the torn cushion was gone. Either it had been repaired overnight, or replaced. During the rest of the cruise, I would see an occasional burnt out light, only to note the next time I passed by, the light had been replaced.
There is a fair amount of bric-a-brac in the public areas of the ship. (Think a cross between a Ralph Lauren boutique and one of those PBS crunchy gravel English manor houses.) Some reviewers have speculated that the Azamara ships' decor may have been influenced by the movie "Titanic," which came out about the time the Azamara ships were built. Regardless of the motive, I can verify that all the decorative details are intact, clean, and looking like the day the ship left the builder. Not a broken fillial or scuffed wall sconce in sight. That is the attention to detail in terms of upkeep on this ship.
FOOD: Since this is likely the most subjective, and passionate, area of all, it seems pointless to evaulate whether the food aboard Azamara is as good as the "finest restaurants" ashore or not. Is "the finest restaurant" a high end steak house, or is it a temple of micro gastronomy? Do you yearn for a 30 ounce aged steak or a 30 course tasting menu?
What I can report is that the provisions served on our cruise were of high quality, well prepared and expertly served. The quality was apparent both in the types of foodstuffs: venison, veal, foie gras, etc; as well as the quality and freshness. In fact for us--and here is the subjective part so feel free to ignore it!--the specialty restaurants and main dining room menus were close enough in quality that we didn't feel an urge to eat in either specialty restaurant more than once, especially since the menus there do not change.
I recall out of the seven or so evenings we ate in the main dining room, only one meal was "ordinary" and even at that, it wasn't bad at all. After a few days, we had fallen into a group of new friends (more on that later), and so found ourselves requesting tables for eight. Since Journey and Quest were not built so as to hold the entire ship's passengers at a single time, we did have some waits for an available table. However, we amiably passed the time in the nearby cocktail lounge and didn't mind the delay.
From our perspective could Azamara improve the main dining room? Well they cannot rebuild the ships to seat everyone simultaneously (and we sailed on a full ship), and I know some have wished dinner could be served more quickly. However, for us, it would be nice to have a separate soup and salad course, and have the salad served after the main course. I'm not talking about an elaborate salad, just something simple with a vinagarette. By the same token, some cheese then dessert would be nice. Put all that together and you would have a four-hour dinner! Also I suspect I could have asked for those things and gotten them. One of the amazing things one gets used to quickly is that it is difficult to get a crew member to say "No" to anything! Lastly, when ordering fish, one gets a proper fish fork and knife! To me, that's always been a sign a restaurant takes preparing and serving fish seriously.
DRESS: Of the cruises we have been on, this one was the closest to adhering to the official descriptions. It really was "resort casual." No dinner jackets or long dresses, but no track suits or tee shirts either. These were 692 of the best dressed "casual" fellow passengers we've ever sailed with. Which brings me to the people aboard ship.
PEOPLE: What you've read about Azamara and its on-board staff, officers and crew is true. They have the most incredible people afloat. I don't know if it is that their attitude and personality rubs off on the passengers, or Azamara passengers "self select," but we have never enjoyed interacting with the crew and fellow passengers so much as we did on this cruise. After we disembarked in Rome, we both commented that when we were on a Caribbean cruise this past winter we were on a ship more than three times the size of the Journey. Yet on that winter cruise we talked to, and got to know, perhaps a third of the people we met and enjoyed getting to know on this cruise. That's a nine-fold improvement, if my math is correct.
The Azamara passenger ethos came home to me when I bit the bullet and went to the self-serve laundry on deck seven. Yes, I know the smart thing to do is to go first thing in the morning and not wait until mid afternoon when everyone is going to try to use the facilities. I also knew full well one never goes on a sea day, especially on a 10-day cruise with only one day at sea. I did both. But not only did I wind up with clean clothes, I had a great afternoon! At one point, I went back to the cabin to retrieve a couple of forgotten polo shirts. When I got to the elevators, I could hear all the laughing and conviviality from the laundry room all the way from the deck below.
Our interactions with ship's officers were equally unparalleled. While we did not meet or speak with the Captain (Which was our fault. We are at the Explorer level on Le Club Voyage, but managed to miss each and every event we were invited to!), the Staff Captain (the number two officer) saw us one morning having coffee. He stopped and talked to us for a good 5-10 minutes. We hadn't had that kind of interaction since a Windstar cruise 20 years ago (and that on a ship with only 183 passengers).
Would we travel on Azamara again? Absolutely. Azamara is now our favorite cruiseline. We may not be aboard for for a year or two as work makes extended travel a more tricky proposition than it does for our retired friends. We also enjoy renting a house and car, so we typically vacation on land more than we do on the sea.
But cruising takes you places and introduces you to people you'd likely never see or know otherwise. So when the ship's whistle sounds and we're once again aboard, our intention is for it to be on the Journey or Quest.