Sea of Cortez
January 19, 2011
I am a first-time Azamara cruiser with a long history of cruising on Celebrity, RCCL and Regent. The following is a review of our recent Sea of Cortez trip.
We embarked Journey in San Diego and the process couldn't have been easier. We flew in the day before, rented a car from the airport at Avis and stayed in Orange County the night before embarkation. While the airport is close, I did some research and found an Avis facility about a 5 block walk from the pier so we made arrangements to return the car to this location. Drove to the pier first to drop off our luggage and were surprised to be able to drive right onto the pier to off load our bags. Took all of 5 minutes. We drove the car back to Avis, they offered to drive us back to the pier but we chose to walk.
When we got to the pier, it was about 11, we were checked in and on the ship by 11:10. Rooms weren't available until 1, so we explored the ship a bit and had lunch in Windows Cafe.
We were most impressed with the Journey staff. Definitely a step up from our previous experiences - even on Regent. Lots of contact with senior officers, all crew were extremely friendly and helpful. Little touches made all the difference. For example, after we returned from a very long excursion to the Copper Canyon (16 hours), several officers were waiting at the gangway to welcome us "home" and remind us of the special dinner buffet they were serving just for those of us returning to the ship late (10:30 pm). We were always greeted by the Cruise Director by name and he would inquire how we were doing. With anytime dining, there is no guarantee of having the same waiter and assistant for dinner, however the maitre' d definitely makes an effort to seat you at a table so you have the same staff. Of the nights we ate in the MDR, only once did we not have our "usual" waiter and assistant. We appreciated that since it's nice when your drink preferences are known, etc.
Very good, always hot, decent portions, didn't feel as mass produced as on other lines. Good variety in the MDR. Selection got a little repetitive in the Windows Cafe for lunch. Great burger bar by the pool and one of the times you appreciate being on a smaller ship - no lines whatsoever for a freshly grilled burger. We were impressed with the variety of selection, however, for dinner. Indian, Mexican, Italian, Seafood theme nights were all done well. We were not as impressed with the outdoor buffets but the All-American BBQ is just not really our thing.
With the exception of Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, our ports were smaller and more intimate. We didn't know quite what to expect having read comments on Cruise Critic about the ports and with information provided by Azamara. We were very pleasantly surprised to find each port of interest and to provide great opportunity to experience a Mexico different from the larger ports. I can't comment on Topolobampo since we were gone the entire day on an excursion. But we thoroughly enjoyed La Paz, Guaymas and Loreto. Each was charming in its own right but we enjoyed Loreto with its more unique shops and atmosphere. Mazatlan was quite enjoyable, we hiked on our own to the El Faro lighthouse - a short walk from the ship. Interestingly, Azarama chose to stop at Mazatlan even though a passenger from a previous cruise was a victim of local violence (according to USA Today). We, however, never felt uncomfortable. Cabo was fine but felt crowded with three ships in port.
We were very impressed with the entertainment. I am very critical of cruise ship entertainment and rarely have positive remarks. Kudos to Azamara for the entertainment offerings. Activities were managed by our excellent cruise director, Eric de Gray, a consummate showman who had his own show one evening and sung in a Broadway review with the ship's singers another evening. My personal opinion is that Eric is the reason the entertainment was as good as it was. The guest singer and pianist were also quite good. The comedian was not to our liking but there were many people laughing hysterically. We very much liked the intimate atmosphere of the Cabaret lounge. It was never crowded and you could always stroll in 5 minutes before the show and have your choice of seats (how refreshing).
We were in stateroom #7116 a Club Deluxe Veranda Stateroom (formerly Sunset Veranda). An adequate cabin with a slightly oversized balcony (could accommodate two loungers and a small table and chairs). Lovely views of the ship's wake. We love aft cabins and have had the pleasure of sailing on Millenium class ships in the family ocean view staterooms several times. The room dEcor was fine if a little tired. The duvet was lumpy and not of good quality, the bathroom very small, furnishings worn. Plenty of closet space and room under the bed to store luggage. Interestingly, we received a note that work was to be done on our balcony (it did need some painting and the railing could have used a new coat of varnish) but no work was ever performed.
Here is where we were truly let down. I realize the ship is 10 years old but, in my opinion, is in need of some serious refurbishment. The tile around the pool is horribly outdated and moldy. Ditto for tile around the bar areas and in Windows Cafe. Furnishings in general look tired. Lots of rust in many areas.
We appreciate the opportunity to have breakfast, lunch and dinner outside but also noted many times when seating quantity was not adequate in Windows Cafe. I did not anticipate this. People complain all the time about crowds on Royal Caribbean ships in Windjammer, this was no different just on a smaller scale.
It's certainly not what I expected having been on ships of similar age and given the lines positioning in the marketplace. It doesn't appear much updating has been done by Azamara since these ships were originally put into service by Renaissance.
A great cruise made special by the ship's staff. Many times we appreciated the smaller ship with far fewer lines, more intimate entertainment and more personal service. We will, however, not be returning to Azamara until the ships have been dry docked or a new ship is launched (which our Captain indicated is in the works).
We were in stateroom #7116 a Club Deluxe Veranda Stateroom (formerly Sunset Veranda).
Quiet location, no overhead noise. Balcony partition not that private, could easily see or be seen from the adjacent cabin balconies. View partially blocked by ship's hull.
An adequate cabin with a slightly oversized balcony (could accommodate two loungers and a small table and chairs).
The room decor was fine if a little tired. The duvet was lumpy and not of good quality, the bathroom very small, furnishings worn.
Plenty of closet space and room under the bed to store luggage.
Interestingly, we received a note that work was to be done on our balcony (it did need some painting and the railing could have used a new coat of varnish) but no work was ever performed.