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South America on Azamara Journey
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South America on Azamara Journey Cruise Critic contributor Steve Faber sailed onboard Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Journey to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval -- one of the hottest parties in the world with parades, dancing and elaborate costumes.

I can honestly say that I look forward to every travel opportunity that comes down the pike. But I would be less than honest if I didn't fess up that certain trips rate higher on my "Can't Wait to Go" meter than others. For me, this 12-night South American cruise aboard Azamara Journey (featuring Rio's legendary Carnaval!) has everything going for it.

Exploring Azamara Journey piqued my interest for several reasons. First of all, it will be like visiting an old friend; before becoming the flagship of the Azamara Club Cruises brand, the ship sailed as Renaissance's R6, which I sailed upon. Secondly, I am eager to see just how parent company Celebrity executes Azamara -- which it coins "Deluxe," positioned somewhere between "Premium" and "Luxury" -- beyond the simple fact that the smaller ship presents a more personalized environment. Of course, knowing that there would be a butler for every stateroom regardless of category seemed an appropriate step in the right direction....

And of course, beyond the ship stats, there was the amazing itinerary. Other than brief port calls at Cartagena, Isla Margarita and Los Roches, I've never been to South America. This will be an opportunity to visit two of that cruise region's premier cities: Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I have seen neither before, but all my research has whet my appetite and given me many ideas for exploration, not to mention the urge to samba and bossa nova at Carnaval. Dancing will be a good thing since I also plan to engage on a "Carnivore's Quest," and there will be calories aplenty to burn. South America is known for its incredible steaks, and I'm bound and determined to find out "Where's the beef?"

Gut-busting food ... nonstop partying ... what's not to look forward to?
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Day 3: Setting Sail
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay
Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio
Day 7: Carnaval in Rio!
Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo
Day 9: Disembarkation in Buenos Aires
Related Links
Azamara Journey ship review
Azamara Journey Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
Azamara Messages
Day 1: Friday, Pre-Trip Thoughts
Pre-Trip ThoughtsI truly have a soft spot in my heart for places in the world where people spontaneously take partners and dance in public. I'm not talking about organized ballrooms or Texas line dancing in clubs. In China I saw thousands of ordinary citizens gathering in the Peoples' Square in Chongqing, dancing mismatched steps and styles to music blaring from pole-mounted loudspeakers (which they did every evening as a form of exercise). I remember Flamenco ballroom dancing in outdoor restaurants in the Canary Islands, where half the patrons left their meals to squeeze onto a meke (stage), and a party on a meadow between huts on a tiny island in Fiji where villagers danced to singers telling tales of local myths and legends, during which I was grabbed to sashay around the meadow by a local.

So, when I heard about Azamara Cruises' 12-night Carnaval cruise, I was sold. Azamara Cruises sails longer, more exotic itineraries in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and South America, with "excursion experts" who offer more comprehensive information about ports of call. This particular trip was sailing roundtrip from Buenos Aires -- my kind of town. Beyond its famous nighttime tango dinner shows (which I wouldn't on my life fail to attend) or the tango clubs where I might actually get a lesson or two, Portenos (BA residents) are known to spontaneously start dancing in the streets when the strains of a tango can be heard spilling out onto the sidewalk.

My voyage includes calls at Punta Del Este and Montevideo in Uruguay, a call at Sao Paulo in Brazil, and four days at sea -- but most enticing is the promise of four days and three full overnights in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, land of samba and bossa nova, during Carnaval. Carnaval is a wild four-day celebration that takes place every year 40 days before Easter; crowds gather at the Sambadrome in the center of the city to enjoy parades, costumes, floats and music.

Besides the usual penchant for partying, there's the food. In Argentina I plan to enjoy a legendary steak at one of its world-renowned parillas (traditional grill restaurants) and also make my way to the Pampas, for a gaucho-inspired asado (Argentinean barbecue). In Brazil, I'm on a search for the best churrascaria (Brazilian steak restaurant). During the past couple of years, churrascarias have become one of the hottest trends in U.S. dining. These open-pit barbecue eateries feature a huge central salad bar and waiter/chefs in gaucho getup who parade around the room bringing sword-like skewers impaled with perhaps 30 different varieties of meat fresh off the wood pit grill -- they then continue to slice directly onto your plate till you throw your hands up in surrender. I've dined in churrascarias in Florida, the Bahamas, Northern and Southern California and Texas, but this will be my first chance to try one where they first originated.



The ship, too, was a draw. Over years of travel, I've found that my favorite trips are those that take me to places that are totally unfamiliar or those that I've visited enough that they feel like home away from home. Contradictory as it may seem, Azamara Journey fulfills both requirements. Though this will be my first Azamara cruise, I have actually already sailed on the ship when it was Renaissance's R6. Whatever the issues with Renaissance were (and there were issues -- after all, the company went under and scattered its vessels across the industry and the globe), there was no question that for lovers of small ships, like me, the R-series design is much-loved and sought-after.

The difference I'm in for on this particular cruise, however, is far more than simply a change from black to white livery. Under Azamara, Journey merges the familiar architecture of the R series with the ambience of a totally new cruise line and, if you pay attention to the dispatches from parent cruise line Celebrity, represents a whole new category of ships. "Deluxe" is the term it's coined to describe the fleet -- it falls somewhere between premium and luxury.

The line got off to a notoriously rocky start. In fact, its launch, which coincided with the launch of flagship Azamara Journey, could safely be called a fiasco. The ship's refurbishment wasn't ready in time, which forced the line to cancel a day of the cruise -- midday on the day of departure. Once it got sailing, its first cruises were peppered with issues including missing furnishings, the incomplete pool deck and confusion about butler service. Now that things have settled down -- cruiser feedback on the Azamara forum is more and more positive with each sailing -- I'm eager to see how its hallmarks stack up. These hallmarks include longer (and more offbeat) itineraries than are offered by Celebrity, all open-seating dining, boutique-style restaurants focusing on Mediterranean cuisine, and butler service.

And I'm curious to see how well Azamara succeeds in achieving the promise of the new "deluxe" niche.



As I started to wrap this up, I glanced up from my screen and out my office window at the hills surrounding Northern California's Marin County to see something very unusual: a dusting of snow. It had been cold, damp and dreary for days. I'm so used to living in the warm climes of Southern California and South Florida I have forgotten the lure of the tropics to the shivering northerner. A quick check of BA and Rio on my favorite Internet weather site told the tale: anticipated highs in the mid- to high-80's.

So while I make a mental note to pack sunscreen, I take inventory: a new ship (but old friend), cities that can't stop dancing for the sheer joy of it, a bellyful of the world's best beef, and a couple of weeks in the warm tropic sun.

Who knows what adventure lurks for me there?
  Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires

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