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EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN -- My wife is a veteran of 14 cruises and I have taken 11 so while we are not grizzled cruise old-timers, we are no strangers to the sea either. She has more trips under her belt because she takes our daughters on one-on-on outings. September 27, 2009 my wife and I took a 14 day cruise of the Med from Barcelona to Athens with stops in Monaco, Italy and Turkey aboard the Azamara Journey. We want to make it clear we are not affiliated with the cruise industry in any way and this is the first review we have ever written. In any event we enjoyed the cruise so much, my wife and I wish to share a few reflections on the trip, the crew and the Journey. EXTENDING—When one travels across the sea it is always good to spend a little extra time on each end which we did in Barcelona before boarding and in Athens at the conclusion of the cruise. These were very nice respites and really helped us to get acclimated. We would highly recommend the practice to others. TREATED LIKE FAMILY--First the term family really does apply. Having sailed on 3,000 plus passenger ships and on some with around 2,000 and then the Azamara Journey we are hooked on small ship sailings, especially if other ships are anything like the Azamara Journey. On the advice of our travel agent Leslie Kraus (Cruise Club of America), who has booked all of our previous trips, we first tried out the Journey last spring sailing Trans-Atlantic from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona and liked it so much we decided to see if this was a fluke. On the spring TA voyage we enjoyed the downtime, re-learning to play bridge, the educational lectures and we each read half a dozen books. This was our first taste of the Mediterranean and we wanted more. Our fall return to the Journey was everything we expected and more. Many of the same crew were still on board and remembered us. It was like going home again and seeing old friends. Hotel Director Heike Cramer was new to us and delightful. (We had become friends with Phillip who was director on the Spring TA.) Don't know how Heike manages wearing high heels every day. Captain Georgios Teodorou was proud to be showing us his home islands. Food and Beverage Manager Ryszard Gusmann did an outstanding job and Tony Markey was full of himself as usual and we mean that in the best possible way. It takes lots and lots of energy to do the job Tony does so well. By the same token, this Azamara family, down to the passengers, is composed of adults. We love children and have raised three daughters and took them cruising with us as young adults. But if you have younger children and want to cruise with them the Journey might not be your cup of tea—at least in the Med or TA. Might be different in the Caribbean but the ship does not really offer that much for youngsters. CRUISE CRITIC GATHERING—Like on the TA in the spring the officers of the Journey hosted a gathering of about 30 of us Cruise Critics. It was a very nice reception and the crew lingered far longer than any of us expected. Although we had gotten to know Tony on the last trip, this time we had an in-depth conversation. This was great way to start the adventure. ENTERTAINMENT--If you like big glitzy shows then small ships like the Journey are not for you. But for intimate quality entertainment the venue is just right, the shows are not crowded, there are no bad seats, and you even get to personally know the entertainers. At least we did. We enjoyed all the shows we attended although we did not make them all because after a full day on the excursions one often was ready for bed after dinner. In Istanbul they even brought a local band and a belly dancer on board—quite enjoyable. SHORE EXCURSIONS--The excursions were good values and were well equipped. We felt like we were reliving 3000 plus years of history on fast forward. We especially enjoyed the sit-down lunches in Florence and Rome. Riding in Mercedes buses was a treat and although we thought we would never be one of those people with a listening device following a paddle-holding guide through the Coliseum, museums and ancient ruins there we were. And the system really does work reasonably well as it keeps the guide from having to serve as a mother hen/or father rooster. Just stay in range of the transmitter. Some with limited mobility might find many of the tours a bit taxing. "Read and follow the guidance describing the activity level" is our best advice. Another added benefit was the unexpected goodie bags in the buses relating to the tour of the day along with the usual bottle water. The tour operators go the extra mile for the comfort of those touring. For instance, in Istanbul when touring the mosques we were not near public restrooms. The tour operators had rented mobile restroom trailers and stationed them strategically which were very nicely appointed and much appreciated. We do not know how the bus drivers manage to maneuver the huge buses on the small streets in many of the towns, villages and in Rome, Florence and Istanbul. We cannot say enough about the professionalism of all drivers. All the guides had a great command of English and knew their subject matter and their enthusiasm was contagious. Some had lived in the U.S. and even understood American idioms. All the guides seemed to enjoy what they did. It was not "just a job" but they were proud to show visitors their country. Following is another example of how accommodating the tour operators were. By the second day in Istanbul my wife had seen enough mosques and palaces and really wanted to shop so mid-way were able to get on with another of the tour outings so we could take the time needed to buy those hand-made Turkish rugs that are getting so expensive these days. We took personal delivery last month of the rugs we bought and were so impressed we bought another off the delivery truck. EMBARCATION/DEBARCATION--Having stood in lines with some cruises to board and to go-ashore, we can report things are definitely not that way on the Journey. There are no lines. Maybe that is a quality for smaller ships but in any event, crowd control is handled well. When first entering the ship we never really stopped moving only pausing slightly to sign our name and receive our cruise card. We were delayed only slightly, and delightfully so, by a crew member offering us reservations for the specialty restaurants (no charge). This was a nice touch and we signed up. We think most cruises have gotten better at handling check in now that most things are all pre-arranged on the web. Same with going ashore for the tours—again, there were no lines. Although if everyone would have shown up when they were supposed to for tours then even this would have gone even smoother. It is always bad when you have to wait for people so everyone can leave together. Not sure there is a better way since we are all human beings and for some 7:30 a.m. means 7:45 or whenever one wants to arrive. Even so everyone did get back on the ship on time and we did not have those dreaded and repeated calls at every stop for "Sheila in Baja 4067" to please check in if you are on-board. We believe that is partly due to the maturity of the passengers aboard the Journey and that the majority are well-travelled. DINNING-As always there was more than enough great food. The specialty restaurants were just a cut above, but the regular Discoveries dining room was good and service was prompt and friendly. The appetizers in the specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, were quite good, maybe better than the main courses. The large windows in Discoveries allow for some outside viewing while you are underway. And if you want something special, like escargot, just let your waiter know the night before and it will be prepared for you the next evening. We ate well but did not gain weight although we certainly enjoyed the outstanding desserts. Probably because we walked more than two miles each day on our excursions and up on deck when we had time. Thirteen times around equals one mile. On other cruises we have found the desserts "look" good, but they all taste the same. Apparently they just color and flavor the sugar differently and call it something else. Not the Journey though, flavors were crisp and balanced and even the ice cream selections were excellent and varied. Windows Cafe is the buffet adjacent to the pool deck area and has very passable food. Not gourmet, but not bad and you can get something other than loads of carbs. Some nice fish dishes for lunch and the made-to-order omelets at breakfast are good as well as the pancakes or waffles...and lots of good fresh fruit. The buffet was not of the massive caliber of some of the bigger ships and that's O.K. because the lines are not there either. Food at Discoveries was adequate and selection was just varied enough. But one could live on the fruit smoothies we had for breakfast every morning and the fresh breads at all meals were outstanding. After learning the secrets of making them from watching the staff make ours every morning, fresh breakfast smoothies are a practice we have continued every weekend since returning home. SPA—I did not use the gym as we walked instead but it appeared to be well appointed. However, my wife did attend yoga classes (no charge) and felt the instructor was very qualified. She did not have to sign up but was just able to attend as she was able. And of course my wife had her usually spa treatments and enjoyed them. As noted earlier we did walk a lot and there was ice water and juice available on the track in the mornings. This was just another nice gesture. DRESS CODE--No ratty T-shirts and obscene hats on this cruise. Dress was casual elegant with polo shirts for the men while the women wore skirts or pants. There was not a formal night on this cruise but some, including me, did wear a coat and tie to the alternate dining venues or to the Captain's welcome party and my wife does like to wear long dresses to show off the new sparklers she seems to find where ever we travel. CASINO--Was small and limited but people seemed to enjoy it. Was much more crowded when we did the Trans -Atlantic last spring than on this trip as there were so many stops and it was go-go-go while docked. We were in port a lot so the casino hours were limited. CABINS--We had our usual balcony which was great but we were never in the room long enough to really sit out and sun as we seemed to be always on tour. Though we did enjoy our morning room service coffee on the balcony, which was very relaxing. There is one thing on which both my wife and I agree--this is a relaxing ship, a friendly ship. In the cabin there was fresh fruit daily, mini-fridge and min-bar as well as voice mail on the phone, in-room safe and a small flat screen TV which carried GPS navigation information where you could order room service and keep track of your account. The bath products (Elemis) were excellent and robes and slippers are standard. The butler service was much appreciated. BEVERAGE SERVICE--One of the things were really like about the Journey was the fact the bars and waiters are not in your face pushing alcohol. The cocktail servers are there but they are pleasant and not pushy. We have been on other cruises where you could not turn around without a cocktail server asking you if you wanted a drink. There also seemed to be a lot more wine served than hard liquor which may also say something about the age or sophistication of the passengers. IMPROVEMENTS--Although as noted the television interactive feature has been added to allow you to keep track of your bill and to take other actions, the ship's internet operation still has problems even after new servers were installed. We had the same sort of problems last spring on the TA trip. It was better this time, but not great. We know you go away to relax but we have become too dependent on the net as a means of communication--just like this posting. And in the past we have enjoyed the art-at-sea program. The art director (not an Azamara employee but a private contractor) disappeared mid-cruise which led to some speculation that he was not retained. OVERALL--The cruise was relaxing for the most part even with the fact in the first 7 days we had 7 shore excursions--each of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The standing joke among the passengers was "if this is Tuesday it must be Rome"—a line from some old movie. There were only two sea days on this trip. We like sea days to recover. We must be getting older. All the crew was great. We did not have one unpleasant experience. We believe the strength of the Journey is the crew of caring, friendly staff who want to make sure ever thing is right for the passengers. And it appears to be a lot of "management by walking around the ship." We always saw the ship's officers around. With one notable exception even the passengers were fantastic. There is always one in every crowd and we had ours. If there are others who took this trip and read this review you will know to whom we refer, but even she became a cause for a laugh. "You will never believe what she has done now," was the opening of many conversations with fellow passengers. But Tony the Cruise Director was generally able to politely keep her under control. GOING AGAIN—Perhaps the most telling part of our review is this--before the 14 days were over we had made friends with new crew members and new fellow passengers with whom we continue to communicate and we have again booked Azamara though our on-board friend Liesl Smit, Manager Captain's Club Cruise Sales. Not sure when and where but we will decide to go but we have lots of time to decide that. Linda and Ron Maryland

AZAMARA JORNEY--GOING AGAIN

Azamara Journey Cruise Review by Buck1

Trip Details
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN -- My wife is a veteran of 14 cruises and I have taken 11 so while we are not grizzled cruise old-timers, we are no strangers to the sea either. She has more trips under her belt because she takes our daughters on one-on-on outings. September 27, 2009 my wife and I took a 14 day cruise of the Med from Barcelona to Athens with stops in Monaco, Italy and Turkey aboard the Azamara Journey. We want to make it clear we are not affiliated with the cruise industry in any way and this is the first review we have ever written. In any event we enjoyed the cruise so much, my wife and I wish to share a few reflections on the trip, the crew and the Journey. EXTENDING—When one travels across the sea it is always good to spend a little extra time on each end which we did in Barcelona before boarding and in Athens at the conclusion of the cruise. These were very nice respites and really helped us to get acclimated. We would highly recommend the practice to others. TREATED LIKE FAMILY--First the term family really does apply. Having sailed on 3,000 plus passenger ships and on some with around 2,000 and then the Azamara Journey we are hooked on small ship sailings, especially if other ships are anything like the Azamara Journey. On the advice of our travel agent Leslie Kraus (Cruise Club of America), who has booked all of our previous trips, we first tried out the Journey last spring sailing Trans-Atlantic from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona and liked it so much we decided to see if this was a fluke. On the spring TA voyage we enjoyed the downtime, re-learning to play bridge, the educational lectures and we each read half a dozen books. This was our first taste of the Mediterranean and we wanted more. Our fall return to the Journey was everything we expected and more. Many of the same crew were still on board and remembered us. It was like going home again and seeing old friends. Hotel Director Heike Cramer was new to us and delightful. (We had become friends with Phillip who was director on the Spring TA.) Don't know how Heike manages wearing high heels every day. Captain Georgios Teodorou was proud to be showing us his home islands. Food and Beverage Manager Ryszard Gusmann did an outstanding job and Tony Markey was full of himself as usual and we mean that in the best possible way. It takes lots and lots of energy to do the job Tony does so well. By the same token, this Azamara family, down to the passengers, is composed of adults. We love children and have raised three daughters and took them cruising with us as young adults. But if you have younger children and want to cruise with them the Journey might not be your cup of tea—at least in the Med or TA. Might be different in the Caribbean but the ship does not really offer that much for youngsters. CRUISE CRITIC GATHERING—Like on the TA in the spring the officers of the Journey hosted a gathering of about 30 of us Cruise Critics. It was a very nice reception and the crew lingered far longer than any of us expected. Although we had gotten to know Tony on the last trip, this time we had an in-depth conversation. This was great way to start the adventure. ENTERTAINMENT--If you like big glitzy shows then small ships like the Journey are not for you. But for intimate quality entertainment the venue is just right, the shows are not crowded, there are no bad seats, and you even get to personally know the entertainers. At least we did. We enjoyed all the shows we attended although we did not make them all because after a full day on the excursions one often was ready for bed after dinner. In Istanbul they even brought a local band and a belly dancer on board—quite enjoyable. SHORE EXCURSIONS--The excursions were good values and were well equipped. We felt like we were reliving 3000 plus years of history on fast forward. We especially enjoyed the sit-down lunches in Florence and Rome. Riding in Mercedes buses was a treat and although we thought we would never be one of those people with a listening device following a paddle-holding guide through the Coliseum, museums and ancient ruins there we were. And the system really does work reasonably well as it keeps the guide from having to serve as a mother hen/or father rooster. Just stay in range of the transmitter. Some with limited mobility might find many of the tours a bit taxing. "Read and follow the guidance describing the activity level" is our best advice. Another added benefit was the unexpected goodie bags in the buses relating to the tour of the day along with the usual bottle water. The tour operators go the extra mile for the comfort of those touring. For instance, in Istanbul when touring the mosques we were not near public restrooms. The tour operators had rented mobile restroom trailers and stationed them strategically which were very nicely appointed and much appreciated. We do not know how the bus drivers manage to maneuver the huge buses on the small streets in many of the towns, villages and in Rome, Florence and Istanbul. We cannot say enough about the professionalism of all drivers. All the guides had a great command of English and knew their subject matter and their enthusiasm was contagious. Some had lived in the U.S. and even understood American idioms. All the guides seemed to enjoy what they did. It was not "just a job" but they were proud to show visitors their country. Following is another example of how accommodating the tour operators were. By the second day in Istanbul my wife had seen enough mosques and palaces and really wanted to shop so mid-way were able to get on with another of the tour outings so we could take the time needed to buy those hand-made Turkish rugs that are getting so expensive these days. We took personal delivery last month of the rugs we bought and were so impressed we bought another off the delivery truck. EMBARCATION/DEBARCATION--Having stood in lines with some cruises to board and to go-ashore, we can report things are definitely not that way on the Journey. There are no lines. Maybe that is a quality for smaller ships but in any event, crowd control is handled well. When first entering the ship we never really stopped moving only pausing slightly to sign our name and receive our cruise card. We were delayed only slightly, and delightfully so, by a crew member offering us reservations for the specialty restaurants (no charge). This was a nice touch and we signed up. We think most cruises have gotten better at handling check in now that most things are all pre-arranged on the web. Same with going ashore for the tours—again, there were no lines. Although if everyone would have shown up when they were supposed to for tours then even this would have gone even smoother. It is always bad when you have to wait for people so everyone can leave together. Not sure there is a better way since we are all human beings and for some 7:30 a.m. means 7:45 or whenever one wants to arrive. Even so everyone did get back on the ship on time and we did not have those dreaded and repeated calls at every stop for "Sheila in Baja 4067" to please check in if you are on-board. We believe that is partly due to the maturity of the passengers aboard the Journey and that the majority are well-travelled. DINNING-As always there was more than enough great food. The specialty restaurants were just a cut above, but the regular Discoveries dining room was good and service was prompt and friendly. The appetizers in the specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, were quite good, maybe better than the main courses. The large windows in Discoveries allow for some outside viewing while you are underway. And if you want something special, like escargot, just let your waiter know the night before and it will be prepared for you the next evening. We ate well but did not gain weight although we certainly enjoyed the outstanding desserts. Probably because we walked more than two miles each day on our excursions and up on deck when we had time. Thirteen times around equals one mile. On other cruises we have found the desserts "look" good, but they all taste the same. Apparently they just color and flavor the sugar differently and call it something else. Not the Journey though, flavors were crisp and balanced and even the ice cream selections were excellent and varied. Windows Cafe is the buffet adjacent to the pool deck area and has very passable food. Not gourmet, but not bad and you can get something other than loads of carbs. Some nice fish dishes for lunch and the made-to-order omelets at breakfast are good as well as the pancakes or waffles...and lots of good fresh fruit. The buffet was not of the massive caliber of some of the bigger ships and that's O.K. because the lines are not there either. Food at Discoveries was adequate and selection was just varied enough. But one could live on the fruit smoothies we had for breakfast every morning and the fresh breads at all meals were outstanding. After learning the secrets of making them from watching the staff make ours every morning, fresh breakfast smoothies are a practice we have continued every weekend since returning home. SPA—I did not use the gym as we walked instead but it appeared to be well appointed. However, my wife did attend yoga classes (no charge) and felt the instructor was very qualified. She did not have to sign up but was just able to attend as she was able. And of course my wife had her usually spa treatments and enjoyed them. As noted earlier we did walk a lot and there was ice water and juice available on the track in the mornings. This was just another nice gesture. DRESS CODE--No ratty T-shirts and obscene hats on this cruise. Dress was casual elegant with polo shirts for the men while the women wore skirts or pants. There was not a formal night on this cruise but some, including me, did wear a coat and tie to the alternate dining venues or to the Captain's welcome party and my wife does like to wear long dresses to show off the new sparklers she seems to find where ever we travel. CASINO--Was small and limited but people seemed to enjoy it. Was much more crowded when we did the Trans -Atlantic last spring than on this trip as there were so many stops and it was go-go-go while docked. We were in port a lot so the casino hours were limited. CABINS--We had our usual balcony which was great but we were never in the room long enough to really sit out and sun as we seemed to be always on tour. Though we did enjoy our morning room service coffee on the balcony, which was very relaxing. There is one thing on which both my wife and I agree--this is a relaxing ship, a friendly ship. In the cabin there was fresh fruit daily, mini-fridge and min-bar as well as voice mail on the phone, in-room safe and a small flat screen TV which carried GPS navigation information where you could order room service and keep track of your account. The bath products (Elemis) were excellent and robes and slippers are standard. The butler service was much appreciated. BEVERAGE SERVICE--One of the things were really like about the Journey was the fact the bars and waiters are not in your face pushing alcohol. The cocktail servers are there but they are pleasant and not pushy. We have been on other cruises where you could not turn around without a cocktail server asking you if you wanted a drink. There also seemed to be a lot more wine served than hard liquor which may also say something about the age or sophistication of the passengers. IMPROVEMENTS--Although as noted the television interactive feature has been added to allow you to keep track of your bill and to take other actions, the ship's internet operation still has problems even after new servers were installed. We had the same sort of problems last spring on the TA trip. It was better this time, but not great. We know you go away to relax but we have become too dependent on the net as a means of communication--just like this posting. And in the past we have enjoyed the art-at-sea program. The art director (not an Azamara employee but a private contractor) disappeared mid-cruise which led to some speculation that he was not retained. OVERALL--The cruise was relaxing for the most part even with the fact in the first 7 days we had 7 shore excursions--each of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The standing joke among the passengers was "if this is Tuesday it must be Rome"—a line from some old movie. There were only two sea days on this trip. We like sea days to recover. We must be getting older. All the crew was great. We did not have one unpleasant experience. We believe the strength of the Journey is the crew of caring, friendly staff who want to make sure ever thing is right for the passengers. And it appears to be a lot of "management by walking around the ship." We always saw the ship's officers around. With one notable exception even the passengers were fantastic. There is always one in every crowd and we had ours. If there are others who took this trip and read this review you will know to whom we refer, but even she became a cause for a laugh. "You will never believe what she has done now," was the opening of many conversations with fellow passengers. But Tony the Cruise Director was generally able to politely keep her under control. GOING AGAIN—Perhaps the most telling part of our review is this--before the 14 days were over we had made friends with new crew members and new fellow passengers with whom we continue to communicate and we have again booked Azamara though our on-board friend Liesl Smit, Manager Captain's Club Cruise Sales. Not sure when and where but we will decide to go but we have lots of time to decide that.
Linda and Ron Maryland
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