We chose this short, six-night Azamara cruise for several reasons: First, although we prefer longer cruises, two weeks or more, we faced some time limitations this trip, including work obligations and also meeting family and friends afterward for some spring training baseball games; second, we had heard some very good reports on Azamara from friends who really enjoyed the casual, small-ship atmosphere and we figured this would be a way to try it out without a big financial or time commitment; third, and most importantly, we wanted to visit Cuba, and this cruise included two days and an overnight in Havana.
Embarkation at the Port of Miami was easy. We drove to Miami from our home in the mountains of North Carolina because we wanted to have a car for the post-cruise spring training. It is a long drive, and next time we probably would fly (though we hate the MIA airport). We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Blue Lagoon International Airport on a stay and cruise package that included parking and a shuttle. That worked out fine compared with parking at the Port and saved us a little money and a good bit of hassle. It took only a few minutes to get through the formalities of paperwork (including the Cuban visa ($75 per person), which Azamara took care of for us.
Soon we were sitting in Journey's buffet restaurant enjoying a drink. Drinks are included in the cost of Azamara cruises, but the included package mostly has low-end brands and house wines. My wife decided to upgrade to the Ultimate package because she enjoys fancy craft cocktails -- unfortunately we would learn that, unlike Celebrity and some other lines most bartenders on Azamara are not up to speed on making complex drinks.
Before long we went to our Deck 8 Veranda Stateroom. Having read and heard a lot of reports, we were prepared for the stateroom to be on the small size, and the bath and shower to be tiny. The bathroom wasn't quite as small as I had feared, but I have to say that on a so-called premium ship that the shower is as small as it is. I have rheumatoid arthritis and back problems, and I have to say it was not a pleasure to look forward to a shower.
Although the Journey is almost a 20-year-old ship (it was built in 2000 as an R-2 class ship for Renaissance Cruises, now defunct, and then sailed under two names for Pullmantur line), it appeared to be in quite good condition. We liked all the mahogany and other woods in some of the public areas and enjoyed going on several open decks as in the "old days" of cruising.
Journey has one of the smallest swimming pools I've ever seen on a cruise ship.The fitness room is pretty well equipped, although smallish and with only one recumbant bike.
We found Azamara staff, both officers and guest-contact crew, almost uniformly helpful, friendly and hard-working. That was the case although gratuities were included in the fare. (At the end of the cruise we did tip extra for our room steward, who was excellent, and a bartender who had been extra nice to us.)
I have to admit that our overall experience may have been shaded by the fact that my wife had a cold that started soon after boarding (after disembarking she went to a doc-in-the-box in West Palm Beach and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and an eye infection. A couple of days after board I developed a toothache that turned out to be sinus-related. None of this was Azamara's fault (we didn't hear of any noroviruses this trip), and we probably should have checked with the clinic on board.
Dining was certainly adequate on board, but not exceptional. We usually ate in the main dining room, Discoveries, for dinner (everyone has open seating, and only once or twice did we have to wait for a table). Some of our favorite dishes, such as the escargot appetizer, seem to be the same as on sister line Celebrity, but others were mediocre. Service was always excellent, however. We did try Prime-C, the steak house (a $30 per-person upcharge), which was fine but not memorable. The Windows buffet, again, was adequate but with a limited menu compared with other ships we've been on. The Patio on the pool deck, which serves burgers and such, was -- I have to say again -- only adequate.
We loved our two days in Havana and wish we could have spent the entire cruise at Cuban ports. Why this itinerary included Cozumel I don't know. We have been to Cozumel many times, both on land trips and on cruises and no longer find it of any interest at all. It is a good dive destination that has been ruined by too many cruise ships and too much commercialization (Cozumel, amazingly, is the 3rd busiest cruise port in the world.) We were not that impressed with the ship excursion staff, who pushed the cruise tours pretty hard, and one of our pre-booked tours was canceled for no reason we could understand.
To summarize what we liked and didn't much care for:
Easy embarkation and disembarkation
Friendly, helpful staff
Lots of "traditional" wood paneling and such
The Havana stop -- Havana is amazing, and we only wish we had had more time there
Enrichment offerings (basically one speaker whose knowledge of parts of the Caribbean seemed a little dated -- having written many books on the region I probably knew more than he did)
Dining in all venues
The small-ship atmosphere -- Journey carries fewer than 700 passengers, but we really felt that we had more and better options for places to relax on the Solstice-class Celebrity ships.
Bartenders' skill -- some bartenders seemed to have no training in making anything but the very basics. The Celebrity ships we have been on had much better bars and craft cocktails; the ship skimped on some ingredients, for example substituting cheap maraschino cherries for Luxardo cherries. I think Azamara should totally rethink its drink policies – just raise the fare a few bucks and make the included drinks cover more options and better brands.
Small stateroom, tiny bathroom and ridiculously little shower
Bottom line: I guess our expectations were too high. We were hoping to really love Azamara, but at this point I doubt we would go on another Azamara cruise. We prefer its big-ship sister, Celebrity, and hope that Royal Caribbean's purchase of a majority interest in Silversea will result in a true premium line in the cruise family (we have been on Silversea and hope that Royal Caribbean upgrades to new ships).
As noted in our main review, and by many other reviewers, staterooms on Azamara are on the small side, and that's putting it kindly. The bathrooms are tiny, and the shower is ridiculously small.
There was adequate though not generous storage space. The room was clean and well-maintained, and our room steward, from Nicaragua, was excellent. Everything was done promptly and on time, and there was no unnecessary intrusions. TV programming is very limited -- mainly just MSNBC and Fox, not even CNN. Internet was slow and not easy to get on. We were told that a major improvement would have to wait until the ship was in drydock for a major overhaul of the internet system and wi-fi.
It was nice to have a veranda, although we didn't use it too much. The cabin would have felt even smaller without it.
Port of Miami, the busiest cruise port in the world, is well-organized.
A nice small village and a good diving destination have been ruined by too many cruise ships. To get off the cruise ship and to go into Cozumel you have to walk through a two-story "mall" hawking cheap souvenirs.
Our Hemingway tour was canceled (we don't know why) so as a back-up we booked a seven-hour city tour that included a stop at Finca Viga, Hemingway's house, now a museum run by the Cuban government. Although you can't go into the house, you can see most of it through open doors and windows. It is being very well maintained, as is Hemingway's boat, El PIlar, which is in a large shed near the swimming pool. Finca Viga was the highlight of this tour. We did not exchange any U.S. dollars into the tourism currency, CUC; instead we were able to use U.S. dollars and euros with tour guides, in shops, restaurants, etc. There is an official 13%+ penalty for exchanging U.S. dollars but only a small exchange charge for exchanging Canadian dollars or euros.View All 251 City Tour Reviews
We could have booked this independently, but due to when the ship was departing decided to go with the ship's excursion. You go by bus to select a classic car (ours was a 1950 Chevy with a Hyundai diesel engine -- most old cars are an amalgam of parts, sometimes with very little left of the original vehicle. Then you get a quick city tour and a stop at Hotel Nacional. Our guides, both the driver, who owned the car, and a private guide, were excellentView All undefined undefined Reviews