Suite Life on Azamara Journey in South America
Rio de Janeiro
This was our second Azamara Cruise and first time on Journey, the identical twin of the Quest. In fact, we had the same exact cabin (7005 - Club Ocean Suite) as we did on the Quest, and imagine our surprise to have the same Butler, Alwyn! There were many familiar faces on board from the Quest, so we felt at home right away.
The Journey is well-maintained and our suite was just as we remembered on the Quest. Tons of closet space, plenty of outlets, and the wonderful huge forward facing veranda.
The highlight of staying in a top-category suite on the Journey for us was certainly the "Best of the Best" dinner. Held once per voyage, this formal dinner is set in the Drawing Room with background music provided by the excellent harpist, Jacqueline Dolan. Guests are welcomed with a flute of champagne. Candles, white linens, long table set with fine china - this is right out of the days of classic steamships and is a special perk only for guests in the four Club Ocean Suites on More
the front of the ship, and the six Club World Owner's Suites located aft. Dinner was hosted by Johannes Tysse (Master of the Vessel), Magnus Davidson (Staff Captain), Nikolaos Baltsavias (Chief Engineer), and Heike Berdos (Hotel Director). Couples are seated together at formal place settings complete with name cards, and the officers are interspersed, making for easy conversation. Interestingly, there were 8 couples in attendance, suggesting that 2 suites may be empty or those guests opted for less formal dining. (There are about 480 total passengers on board.)
Service is a classic "Ballet of Service" provided by the ship's white-gloved butlers who were keen to show off their training. Executive Chef Fabio D'Agosta prepared the meal, and wine pairings were orchestrated by Angelbert Macalinao, the Sommelier.
After a toast by the Ship's Master, the culinary magic began. Last night's first course was called "Royal Dome" and consisted of jumbo shrimp on salmon, avocado, and crab tartare with chives and smoked mousseline this was paired with a Bollini Pinot Grigio from Trentino, Italy.
The second course was decadent. Seared foie gras on honey walnut raisin bread with hazelnut roasted figs and black current syrup. The bright acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc from Clos du Bois in Geyserville, California was the perfect foil for the richness of the foie.
To cleanse the palate, chef offered a delightful lemon and basil sorbet, which delighted in both taste and aroma.
The main course was a choice of parmesan crusted Chilean sea bass with saffron risotto, sun-dried tomato pesto, and basil infused oil matched with a Pouilly-Fuisse from Louis Jadot, Burgundy, France or a "contemporary Tournedos Rossini" of veal tenderloin, Madeira jus, truffle oil, and yes, more foie gras - paired with a dark and luscious Merryvale, Starmont, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California.
Dinner conversation revolved mainly around the world travels of guests and officers - Heike shared her tip for the best Tango show in Buenos Aries. (This morning we found she had slipped a brochure under our door!)
To top things off, Chef Fabio created a "surprise" for dessert - and indeed it was a bit of culinary sleight of hand. I'll keep it a surprise for the next guest!
After dinner, a bit of Warre's 2003 LBV porto was offered, along with coffee and tea. Ladies were offered lovely long-stemmed red roses as we said our thank-yous and good-nights to the officers.
Dinner ran from 7 pm to just about 20 minutes til 10 pm, so we missed the start of the show.
Others have commented before about the friendliness of the crew, the intimacy of the ship (without feeling crowded), and other highlights. Suffice it say, my take is that anyone who loves food and wine will very much love the "suite life" on an Azamara Club Cruise. Less
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Cabin review: CO7005
7005 is a great, large 1 BR, 1.5 BA cabin, with tons of storage space, two flat screen TV's and a DVD player. There are plenty of 110v and 220v outlets, and the large forward facing balocony is great for sail-out and port days, but can be windy on rough sea days.
The suites are now being furnished with complimentary 375 ml bottles of gin, vodka, rum, and scotch (all top brands) and the mini-bar is stocked with complimentary soda and bottled water. Our butler was also happy to bring a bottle of wine to us each day from the included selections at lunch or dinner, but we asked for this (and our wish was granted).
Port and Shore Excursions
Disembarkations was swift, efficient, well marked, and very well organized. Plenty of taxis in the rank, and lots of friendly porters. We made independent travel arrangements for our post stay...plenty to do in Buenos Aires, so we concentrated out time there.
Punta del Este, Uruguay (2 days in port)
Punta del Este is lovely. Tenders running all night between Journey and the Marina for anyone who wants to join the late night scene. (Dance clubs open at 2 am and close around 7 am!)
We joined 3 other couples for a private tour and visited two magnificent homes in Jose Ignacio (about 30 km from Punta) owned by the Viks - patrons of the arts, wine makers, horse lovers, even own their own vodka brand. Playa Vik is a home/hotel by the beach, incredible modern/green design and decked out with international art. Estancia Vik is a Uruguayan "Southfork" - a 3,400 acre ranch with 12 room hotel/main house, polo field, working ranch dedicated to the art of Uruguay. We had a dinner comprised of fresh produce from the garden, perfectly grilled steaks, and wine from the Vik vineyards in Chile. All of this was arranged through thewine-experience.com by a fellow cruise critic member we "met" through the roll call, then met at the meet and mingle.
When we returned to the ship, we paused to catch the end of Evita being shown under the stars by the pool. Then came the big surprise!
Our butler, Alwyn, assisted by stewards Manish and Even had transformed the suite into a romantic retreat in honor of our anniversary. A forest of paper hearts danced in the air, suspended by tiny strings that allowed them to catch the breeze from a cleverly set fan! The table and chairs were draped in white, with a bottle of Chilean white wine on ice, and rose petals scattered about. There were even (LED) candles flickering! The bedroom revealed more rose petals and two elegant "swans" folded from towels - "bill to bill" so they formed a heart with their long necks. Once again, the amazing Alwyn and Azamara had outdone themselves.
We had a beach day at Playa Mansa with our new friends, followed by a leisurely lunch by the Marina at a cafe called Guappa. Uruguayans make a delicious steak sandwich!
We napped on the verandah of the suite during the heat of the day, enjoying the cool breeze, occasionally opening an eye to take in the many sailboats and pleasure craft on the sound. The Yacht Club had a number of sailors in training out in tiny 2 person sailboats.
We rallied ourselves and went back ashore for dinner at Soho - we each had sole and the preparation was excellent!
After returning to the ship we caught the end of live music and dancing on deck - then we danced in the Looking Glass Lounge til past midnight (it was Motown night).
In Montevideo, we opted for the ship's shore excursion to Juanico wine country, and visited a major winery producing high quality sparkling, red, and white wines, as well as dessert wines. The excursion featured great food and wine pairings, a winery tour, and a tango show at the winery - so we considered it a great value.
The Journey is the only ship at the cruise ship terminal, so check-in and embarkation was a breeze. Definitely saves time to have all your bags tagged and Xpress pass printed.
We were welcomed aboard around noon with a glass of bubbly and invited to head up to Windows where a lunch buffet was being served. A wide array of international fare was on display. Service is quite attentive - I chose a selection of nigiri sushi and rolls, and made my way outside to the bar where the bartender poured up a crisp reisling from Chile.
Cabins were ready at 1:30 pm, so after saying hello to Nikolas, one of the bar staff we met on Quest in 2010, we headed to the cabin. To our delight, Alwyn, who was our Butler on the Quest in 2010 is serving as our Butler for this cruise. He remembered us right away and introduced us to the new amenities, including four half bottles of liquor. After noting our preferences for morning coffee service, he took a few notes on dinner reservations and promised to introduce to the Sommelier (he remembered how much we enjoyed the wine tastings and connoisseur dinner on Quest).
We had a plethora of greeting letters (Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle at sail-away tonight at 6 pm in the Looking Glass lounge), free internet packages (89 minutes) as Discoverer level guests in Le Club Voyage, shore excursion updates (slightly revised departure times), etc. And a lovely bottle of Mumm (Napa) with a welcome from the Hotel Director.
After the excellent and informative safety briefing and muster, we had a cheerful welcome address from Captain Johannes. We will be departing a bit late due to late arriving provisions, but nobody wants to leave without all the wine aboard!
Port 2: Buzios, Brazil
We chose the Azamara catamaran excursion. We visited 3 beaches (one on a little island), and had a chance to swim at each one. The water was in the low 70s, but felt good as there were sun-warmed pockets swirled in with the chilly waters coming from the Atlantic. The catamaran crew was very generous with the open bar - rounds and rounds of caiprinhas and local beer, and even a round of champagne after our last stop. Then the motor promptly failed (really). After some moments of sparks and engine tinkering, we were "rescued" by a passing party schooner who towed us back to the pier. We were saved!
The Le Club Voyage party was very well attended - gratis rounds of beer, wine, bubbly, and a couple of tropical choices. Many senior officers in attendance. We had a very nice chat with hotel director Heike.
(The Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle on Monday night was attended by the Captain and department heads and complimentary wine and champagne as well as hot and cold savory bites were served. At least 50 CC'ers showed up!)
We opted for a casual dinner at Windows and were very happy - it was Italian themed and the selections of grouper, veal Milanese, risotto (made to order at an action station), and of course, gelato, were all top quality. The daily included wines were a NZ sauv blanc and a Shiraz from AUS.
We went to the LGBT meet and greet, hosted by Zach, one of the vocalists on board. It was held from 8-9 in the Looking Glass , and though we were the only folks who attended, it was nice to meet Zach and hear about the shows planned for the week.
The bay is absolutely beautiful, dotted with little islands and the water was glassy calm.
We had a long day in the port of Parati (last tender was not until 10:30 pm), so we decided to avoid touring in the heat of the day, and instead enjoyed the relatively empty ship for a lovely luncheon with new friends and lounging by the pool. We did hear from folks who went on the Gold Trail 4x4 adventure that it was tons of fun and they had great pictures of a sloth they encountered.
We tendered ashore (a 25 minute ride up the bay) at about 5:00 pm, arriving at high tide to see the famous flooding of the cobblestone streets. Parati was engineered to have a natural street-cleaning from the tides, and the water flows in and out through little channels in the seawall.
The town is a trip back in time - no cars allowed in the historic area, white-washed houses with colorful doors. Little shops and restaurants.
We attended Yara Roberts "Academy of Cooking and Other Pleasures" with about 10 other guests from the ship. Yara is known in the US for her PBS series "The Brazilian Table" and cookbook of the same name. She is also a guest instructor at the CIA in San Antonio and Hyde Park. A very charming person, she knows how to cook and entertain in a way that puts you right into the spirit of the evening.
Richard, her husband, was in charge of the "other pleasures" which included a lesson on making caiprinhas and the mysteries of cachaca, as well as pairing a nice Argentinian semillon blend with our meal. The Academy is essentially the living room, dining room, and open kitchen of Yara and Richard's beautiful home right in the historic center of town.
The lesson was a nice mix of cooking demonstration and teaching about the culture. Of course, when Yara asked for volunteers, I jumped right in along with a couple of other folks. Jeff documented the cookery with his camera.
I learned how to blanch banana leaves that would become the wrapper for little parcels of fresh corvino stuffed with banana and a "salsa." I also had my hand in the staple side dish of Brazil, farofa, which is based on manioc flour with lots of butter and garlic. Another guest prepared a lovely dessert of fresh pineapple cooked in honey and cachaca with cinnamon, star anise, clove, and juniper berries. This will go down as one of the best shore excursions I've had a chance to enjoy.
After a refreshing tender ride back to the Journey, we caught the last 20 minutes of the "Rock the Deck/White Night Party." The crew had transformed the pool deck into a white-themed outdoor dance club, featuring Eric De Gray and the show cast doing classic rock across the eras. It was glittery and silly and fun to watch.
We finished off the night in the Looking Glass. The International Dance Party was lightly attended...guess most people were tuckered out from the heat and the festivities on deck. Sail-away was lit by a full moon on one side and the flash of lightning from distant storms on the other. Another delightful Azamara day!
In port for a few hours (3 pm departure). The Costa Magica and RCCL Legend of the Seas are also in this tiny port with us.
The day was extremely hot - triple digits on deck. We sunned and swam in the pool had lunch from the pool grill (salmon, pork loin, and chicken brochettes), and enjoyed the super attentive poolside service from Furtado and Ernesto who kept us hydrated and thoroughly quenched.
We didn't make it into Ilhabela, but the folks who did said it was a small but charming town and they had fun. It was a bit over-run by guests from the two larger ships, but the Azamara guests enjoyed having no line and very short waits for tenders, as well as cold towels and cold drinks on the dock while the mass-market passengers on the other ships sweltered in line. Another big plus for smaller ships!
The future cruises talk was very well done, with complimentary wine flowing and a large cheese display. Azamara is offering some good discounts of $400-600 on future cruises, reduced deposits, and friends and family certificates extending these same on-board booking incentives. Tempting!
We had a fantastic dinner at Aqualina. The chilled shellfish plate was out of this world. Lobster thermidor was a nice update version, not too heavy, and the gran marnier souffle was heavenly. Hotel Director Heike stopped by our table for awhile and we had a very nice chat. We talked about the nuances of "English Butler" service on other ships.
After dinner we went to the "Abba Night" dance party. Yes, 60 minutes of fabulous Abba music. We ended up dancing til 1 am. Next time I'll pack my platform boots and sequined jumpsuit!
Porto Belo, Brazil
This port was pretty much was a washout for us, and about 200 other guests who opted to stay aboard the Journey instead of tendering ashore in the rain, which was quite heavy at times.
For us, we passed the time with a trip to the fitness center, a soak in the hot tub and dip in the pool (no lightning, just rain, which made the hot tub even more wonderful) and chit-chatting with other travelers. We heard from the activities staff that the team trivia contests are quite heated! Must be the steamy weather.