By Steve Faber, Cruise Critic contributor
Azamara Journey began life as the Renaissance R6, and like all its siblings under the Renaissance banner, with its dark livery and subdued Edwardian style interior decor, it seemed like a diminutive version of an early 20th century trans-Atlantic steamship. Though the decor is evolving (and is dependent on its cruise line owners, which also include Oceania and Princess), the ship's interior architecture is still evocative of that bygone era. The main entry hall is straight out of the "golden age." There's no soaring multi-deck atrium here. Instead, there's simply a gracefully curving staircase under a two-deck-high ceiling, capped with a domed, simulated stained glass skylight, leading one flight up to the main public room.
As Azamara Journey, the ship wears the white livery of warm climes. With some contemporary elements that clash stylistically with the classic turn-of-the-century North Atlantic steamers, Azamara Journey comes off a bit neither fish nor fowl. The first noticeable mismatch is in the art on the walls. Its collection of 1950's and 60's photos of Cuban Revolution-era Havana, and some of the contemporary paintings and lithographs, don't match the vestiges of the ship's original design sense.
The feeling is that Journey is still a work in progress, and it remains to be seen how much will be changed to complete the transformation. I am certain that there are aficionados on both the "keep it classic" and "keep the shell but lose the antiquarian style" sides, and the choice is purely subjective. Personally -- and this is again purely subjective -- I was never fond of the R-Series style, not because I am rigidly modernistic, but because of the way the style was executed. Much of it is ersatz. There are faux fireplaces with phony logs, simulated cabinets with trompe l'oeil paintings of statues, plates and platters, and an unnecessary proliferation of objets d'art. Taken altogether, there were so many simulated or painted-on elements in the original incarnation of the ship that it felt less like sailing on a classic steamship and more like riding in a reproduction of one at a Disney theme park.
As for architecture, Azamara Journey inherited some of the best passenger flow I've ever experienced. There are no bottlenecks, and the only time a passenger needs to climb or descend a deck to get from one point to another is during the unavoidable situation when destinations of interest are on Deck 9 or Deck 10, on the opposite sides of the pool and sunning area. The design is simple and conventional, with the Celebrity Cabaret (show lounge) and Discoveries Restaurant at opposite ends of Deck 5, and most of the public rooms sandwiched in between. A second cluster of public rooms is situated on Decks 9 and 10, including the spa and fitness area, observation lounge, buffet, pool grill and alternative restaurants.
The other defining characteristic of Azamara as a "brand" is that it lays claim to ownership of a new category, or niche, of cruises, dubbed "Deluxe." "Deluxe," according to Azamara, is positioned squarely in the middle between "Premium" (e.g., Celebrity) and "Luxury" (Crystal, for example). In my opinion, Azamara gets mixed reviews at this early stage of its development: There are some successes, and some areas that still need fine tuning and tweaking.
Azamara Journey Fellow Passengers
This ship attracts an older (but active), well-traveled group who are looking for what are for them, hitherto unvisited ports of call. Different itineraries will attract a different demographic, but the line is marketed mostly to North Americans, who make up the lion's share of the guests.
Azamara Journey Dress Code
Nighttime dress code is the increasingly popular "casual elegance." There are no formal nights, though some male passengers opted for jackets (with or without ties) for Captain's Welcome Aboard night and meals taken in the alternative dining venues. Daytime dress was dictated by whether it was a sea or port day, weather conditions and activity participation choices.
Azamara Journey Gratuity
Tips are included in the cruise fare, but additional tipping is at the passengers' discretion. Spa gratuities are not included in the voyage fare. And 18 percent gratuity will be added to passengers' onboard folio for spa services.
Four cruises this year (Celebrity to Baltic Capitols, Royal Caribbean Allure to Caribbean, Azamara Tuscany 7 night, Regent Seven Seas Mariner 21 night transatlantic from Lisbon to Miami). 11-12 cruises on many lines in last 15 years.
Embarkation: The Journey was docked very close to the city of LIsbon--less than 15 minutes' walk to Rossio Square so it was very convenient. Boarding was easy. We could either take the free shuttle bus to the ship or walk. We had no bags so we ...continue
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This is the area that Azamara could improve on most. The booking process was easy; however, like several other folks, we were promised a shore excursion discusion if we booked at least 4 days before sailing. However, Azmara ...continue