I returned from a 7 night Azamara cruise on Journey on September the 24th and wanted to write a review based upon my experience on the ship and compare it in part to Celebrity with whom I've cruised with a number of times. Just a word of warning. If you are reading for port/excursion ideas or views on the entertainment then skip over as this was more walking off the ship in the morning and having a stroll r & r time and I haven't been to a show in years!
I booked the cruise direct with Azamara's office in the UK from which I have always had great service. The package included flights and hotel accommodation in Nice the day before and the overall experience including transfers was very good. Nice hotel and seamless transfers to the ship. I've done Celebrity transfers before, but because of fewer passengers this was better.
Azamara Journey doesn't perhaps have the "wow" factor of the Celebrity ships, especially the S-Class. Rather they are very smart smaller boutique hotel in style as compared to a larger resort. This was immediately evident when boarding. No atriums. No large deck spaces. No Lawn Club. You could look down the stateroom corridor and see from one end of the ship to the other. What a novelty! I really liked the feel.
I had a balcony cabin, 7096. Toward the aft of the ship it was in a very handy spot for the aft staircase and being middle deck it was two flights down to the dining room and two flights up for the Windows Cafe. If you are planning on getting exercise walking off the food (which I'll talk about later) you won't get much on Journey! Everything is very accessible and I liked that very much.
The cabin itself was nicely appointed and whilst smaller than an equivalent balcony room on the S-Class or CC cabin on the M-Class it was fine. The shower is smaller because in fitting it in the space it tapers a little, rather than being oblong as it is on Celebrity. It was all very well set out though. Friend Helen's parents had a Sky Suite Cat N1 and that was spacious with a good sized tub.
Public areas are nicely furnished. The loungers are more comfortable than they are on Celebrity and are nicely padded with a towel cover fitted over each one. I fell asleep for two hours on the Promenade Deck one afternoon and I have never done that on a Celebrity lounger. There are also some very comfy seats under cover on the pool deck and the wicker chairs outside at the aft cafe area work well too.
I did miss the Lawn Club. It is so nice to sit up there overlooking the grass, having a putt or a game of bocce. I also missed the larger Sunset Bar from the M-Class, but more especially the S-Class where there is more cover and sofa seating. On Journey you had to keep your eyes peeled more readily for a seat outside, but we always seemed to manage it going to lunch at 1pm.
OK, the food. I wasn't sure what to expect here and went with an open mind. I have to say that I found it quite a step up from Celebrity. The buffet wasn't as extensive in its offerings, but then with the space it couldn't be. It was however none the worse for it and there was always a good variety of delicious food there. The main dining room food was on par with the Specialty Restaurants on Celebrity, but of course with a daily change in menu there was more variety. The waiters had much more time to converse and it wasn't as frenetic as it is on the larger ships. There were some really delicious menu items in the MDR. I went to Aqualina twice and Prime C once. They are the Specialty Restaurants on Azamara and didn't disappoint. We had memorable meals in all of them, particularly Prime C and Aqualina on the second visit. Not a lot better than the Specialty Restaurants on Celebrity, but they had the edge.
Service everywhere was excellent and the staff seemed very happy. There are just too many to mention all here, but our waiter Carmo and assistant Gomer who served us a couple of times in the main dining room were outstanding. Monico in Aqualina is a character and very good at his job. Mehmet in the aft bar looked after us very well. Farieda who boasts the longest title on the ship that I can't remember, but includes helping book future cruises and Le Club Voyage Hostess was ever present, friendly and helpful.
The officers were also visible, including Scott Daniels, the Hotel Director for this cruise and of course Captain Johannes although I didn't get a chance to speak to him. Tony Markey was the CD. I was fortunate to be invited to dine at the Staff Captain Thomas Roth's table one evening along with Guest Relations Manager Nikki Denyer and six other guests and we were treated very well all had a very enjoyable evening with good conversation.
You get the impression that all the officers make an effort to ensure you are having a great time and this filters right the way through all of the crew on the ship. A happy ship and because of that, happy passengers.
I am going to put down a few bullet points and comparisons whilst I remember them:
- I was concerned the ship not being of the more modern "pod" design would be noisy and vibrate a bit. It was very smooth, even in the cabin I was in which was toward the aft. The ship has bow thrusters, but no stern thrusters. It just uses rudder and propeller at the aft. I didn't feel a thing when we docked.
- We hit some rough weather between Nice and Corsica that had us on a changed itinerary and even though the seas were up to 15 feet Journey handled things very well I thought. We pitched, rolled and yawed which felt a bit like a washing machine for a bit, but was never uncomfortable.
- I preferred the Looking Glass room to the equivalent observation lounges on Celebrity. They are smaller of course, but more intimate with a single deck ceiling and comfy club style chairs. I always find those spaces on Celebrity are a bit barn like and don't go there much. We went to Looking Glass a few times.
- The included wine with lunch and dinner was poured generously. I learned my lesson the hard way one afternoon and took better notice after two paracetamol were required at 5 in the afternoon.
- I liked the fact we tendered or docked so close to everything and Portofino, Calvi and Sanary sur Mer are all beautiful places and not spoiled by lots of visitors. I was really quite happy just strolling around off the dock or tender and soaking in the atmosphere.
- The music was much mellower on Azamara and quieter too. The harpist in the Martini Bar was a nice touch and harked back to the Specialties on Celebrity when I first started cruising.
I loved this cruise much more than I thought I would. The ship is beautiful and the staff and food first class. It can't compete on the variety of activities that there are on the larger ships, but if you are looking for something where you can comfortably sit and read or rest up and entertainment and shows aren't your number one priority then perhaps you should take a look. Then of course it does go to some less accessible places that are interesting to visit and there are only 700 other passengers onboard. As I said this was an r & r trip for me and was perfect. I missed some of the venues from the larger ships and the cabin and balcony weren't as big as I'm used to, but that was really about it.
In summary and this might be controversial, but in an attempt to put my finger on it I felt Azamara was trying less hard and achieved more than Celebrity, both in terms of service and food. They have a really great product. It sounds like I am on a downer about Celebrity and I'm not. They are just different. Celebrity offer many things I like. I'll continue to do both, but will look at Azamara in a different light from now on. Onboard I booked Quest for November from Venice down the Adriatic to Athens. That's a pretty good endorsement. I told you Farieda was good at her job.