This was our 4th Azamara cruise and our third on the Journey. In the past, we liked Azamara because of the small size of the boat, food and service. With 690 passengers, you never feel like you're being herded around. You will get to know a lot of our fellow passengers. Most, like us, are in their 60s and 70s and seasoned travelers.
But, our tastes have changed. The veranda cabins are too small. This is an old boat. Refurbished, but not to modern standards. What was telling were Captain Johannes' comments in a Q&A on one of the last days. He likes the small boats, but he wishes the company would build new boats to compete with the competition. Frankly, we would be happier with veranda rooms with either Oceania or Regent (on their smaller ships).
Johannes is an interesting guy - very personable, a sense of humor, and he is visible a lot. Something you will not find on larger boats.
We found the service to be first rate as before.
We found the food to be a cut below what we experienced before. We had the standard drink package. Two white wines and two red wines each day. Not enough variety, but that was OK. Beer and liquor was OK.
- Waves is the buffet and you can always find something there you will like. The Sunset Bar is next to it on the back of the boat and nice to have drinks and/or dinner there when pulling out of a harbor.
- Discoveries is the MDR and it was a mixed bag. Two thirds of our main courses were good, the others not. Only half of the appetizers were good.
New Zealand - This is the most beautiful place on earth: great ports, uncrowded, wonderful beaches, great small port towns, friendly people, and great weather. Go there if you can!
A Little New Zealand History - Nothing to do with Australia, which is 1500 miles away. It was formed by volcanoes - it's in the Pacific ring of fire. Still lots of active volcanoes, like While Island which blew up recently. Australia was populated by Asians 50,000 years ago. New Zealand was inhabited 800-1000 years ago by Polynesians.
Our Cabin - We booked cabin 7000 which is a standard sized veranda room, but right in the front of the boat. We thought it would be cool to see 180o coming into port. It was, especially coming into Sydney. Downside is that you get more ship movement than mid-ships. Don't bother if you get seasick. We don't and use patches and were OK.
Enrichment Lectures - We were disappointed. Not enough and not the best quality.
We had two special interest groups on the boat. One was a golfing group run by Perry Golf. They got six rounds in. The other was a wine group which had multiple visits to NZ vineyards.
Ports Of Call - Supposed to hit about ten stops in NZ, then two nights in Tazmania, and end in Sydney. A cyclone prevented us from going around the fjords at the southern tip and stopping in Tazmania. Nothing you can do about that.
Auckland - We came in two days early and toured the city. Lovely harbors with restaurants (try "Soul", and make reservations), marinas, and museums. Be sure to visit the Maritime Museum and the Auckland War Memorial and Museum. Auckland downtown is mass construction - subway and new buildings. Hard to get around. The Skytower is worth a visit.
All the towns we stopped at had wonderful parks by the ocean. Clean and beautiful. And, restrooms all over the place. Nice. People are friendly. Hardly a smoker in sight.
We never used NZ or AU cash - just credit cards.
This idea that the Journey is a small boat and it can literally dock downtown wasn't true for this cruise. We docked in commercial ports, most with security, with a 10-30 minute shuttle to the town center - where there was always an info center with helpful people.
Tauranga - We took a six hour van excursion to see a kiwi fruit farm and Te Puia where we saw the Pohutu geyser, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere as part of this geothermal area. Followed by the Maori Maka dance. Worth a trip.
Napier - Took the shuttle into town and walked 20 min to the aquarium. A waste of time. But, a nice day.
Wellington - Took the shuttle into town and toured the Te Papa museum. Very good.
Picton - Walked to town. Nice shops and restaurants. Had lunch at local bar. Found some reasonably priced shirts and tee shirts. There was a ferry arriving when we walked from the ship. Fifty + people took the ferry into Picton and rented cars to take off into the mountains.
Christchurch - This town was damaged by two earthquakes ten years ago and you can still see open lots and rubble. We took the shuttle and walked to the botanical gardens - worth the trip.
Dunedin - Took the Taieri Gorge train into the mountains to see old mining areas. Also saw large lumber areas.
Akora - Headed back north and stopped at Akora. Stayed on the ship.
Kaikoura- Took the shuttle into a very nice town. Worth a trip.
New Plymouth - Our ship excursion was cancelled after waiting an hour. Took the shuttle to town. Nice museum, but I had seen too many at that point. Town not that interesting.
Sea Days - two to Sydney. Weather was rough. We had patches and were OK. BTW, you cannot buy patches in Australia.
Sydney - We sailed in around 8am. We had breakfast in the room and a beautiful view of the harbor, the opera house, and the bridge. Docked about 15 minutes from downtown. Immigration came aboard. Took about ten minutes.
We disembarked the next day - a piece of cake. The ship had an optional tour of Sydney - saw many neighborhoods, the opera house, and Bondi beach. Were dropped off near our hotel.
We stayed four days in Sydney. It's a beautiful city with bays, tourist areas, vibrant downtown, and lots of traffic. Worth seeing are:
- Bondi beach
- Sydney bridge - you can walk across the arch!
- Opera house (get a tour)
- Sydney Wildlife Zoo (check the talk schedule)
- Maritime museum
- Darling Harbor