Aboard Azamara Journey
Day 1 - Saturday
I just boarded my first Azamara Cruise in San Diego this last Saturday. As many of you already know, this ship was one of the eight identical R-ships originally built for Renaissance cruise lines back in the mid-1990s. Now, I have sailed on Renaissance three time and its immediate predecessor, Oceania Cruises (with much of the same management as Renaissance) twice.
Azamara was the second cruise line to attain two of the R-ships (Oceania has three and Princess Cruises has three). When I walked onboard and saw the pool area, buffet court restaurant, pool area and the grand lobby with the grand staircase, I have to admit a distinct feeling of Déjà vu.
This stayed with me as I wandered around the ship to locate my stateroom, but when I walked in thew door that was where my memory evaporated like a wisp of smoke. I walked into a suite with a flat screen television, a huge ice bucket with a large bottle of Mumm Champagne chilling, with liters of both Dewar’s Scotch and Absolute Vodka, and a bottle of California Cabernet alongside.
Now, I soon figured out that only the champagne is complimentary with the suite, but it was nice to see that the other is readily available at a very reasonable fee.
But even better, as I looked around I realized how much this spacious room comes equipped with at no additional charge. There is the flat panel TV with DVD player, free bottled drinking water, binoculars and umbrella, plush robes, a bathtub, fruit basket and a spacious balcony with a dining table.
The room literature tells me my butler will serve ne breakfast or lunch in the cabin. I get complimentary daily pressing and shoeshine, daily news delivery, hors d’oeuvres served daily, and fresh flowers.
In the bathroom I found four large bottles of Elemis shampoo, crème rinse, shower gel and hand lotion. Alongside were too “scrubbies,” the things we use at home to distribute the shower gel over our bodies. Now, I had brought one with me because I have never seen them included with a stateroom before – but now I have. Impressive.
This cruise will take us down to Mazatlan and then back through the Sea of Cortes. I have wanted to sail on the Sea of Cortes for a very long time. I sailed the Mexican Riviera last year and we all know rthere are not many choices beyond that for Mexico cruising. But the Sea of Cortes in the other main Mexico alternative and I am hear to see how it stacks up in terms of Mexico offerings.
But mostly I am here to experience Azamara for the first time, and I hope you will stick with me as I update these reports daily.
Day 1: San Diego:
I arrived at the San Diego airport and saw an Azamara representative by baggage claim. She told me she could book me on her shuttle bus to the airport, “but a taxi is cheaper” she said candidly. Considering she works for the transportation company that was a pretty honest disclosure. I walked to the taxi stand and had a cab within minutes. The ride to the airport came to exactly $11 with tip, cheaper than even Ft. Lauderdale now that they have started “flat fees.”
For some reason, even though the much larger Oosterdam is here, we were given the brand new San Diego Cruise Terminal. It is nice, but small compared to what you see in Florida. I guess it is funny that they would build a terminal out on a dock (over the water, not on shore) so technically it could serve two ships at once, but the only other ship in port is docked at the old dock which has no covered building. Oh well, I guess it may take San Diego some more time catch on to the cruise industry. My cabby had never been here before.
Getting back to the ship; it isn’t good to rely on first impressions. I mistakenly chose to eat outside at the hamburger grill. The cook did not have a system for executing orders and was working alone. I ordered a plain burger with fries, and left to let it cook. When I came back people who had ordered after myself were being served. As a reporter I tested him, just to see what he would do, and he tossed another burger on the grill (they are pre-cooked but not hot) and gave it to me before it was really ready. Not too pleasant.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves. I should have walked into the deck nine open buffet with terrace seating. There I saw several delicious entrees, desserts, a salad bar and even a few self-service espresso machines. Yes, you can have espresso, cappuccino or other special coffee drinks on this ship at any time at no additional cost. That alone is a differentiator for many people.
But as I stated in my intro, the coup de grace is the stateroom itself. Ii am amazed not only at the roominess, but also the amount of storage and the number of amenities included. This is several rungs beyond what the old Renaissance used to offer. I have not personally been on Oceania since 2004, so I really cannot say, but I suspect it is close to what Oceania has become.
Here is the best part – with every suite comes:
· Complimentary coffee, soda and bottled water throughout the day
· Complimentary specialty dining for all suite guests (in the special restaurants onboard)
· Complimentary self-service laundry
· Complimentary wine by the glass in all dining rooms during lunch and dinner and by room service (let me repeat that incase it did not sink in – complimentary wine by room service).
This is a far more inclusive offering than I ever expected, and what is not included is very reasonably priced. I can easily see people migrating from these ships from the “all-inclusive” luxury lines, especially who enjoy wine with dinner but who do not want to drink all night long every night.
To say I am impressed so far is an understatement.