The Azamara Journey is not a typical cruise ship... smaller than most ships, but a real step above. At about 600 passenger we got to actually met people and enjoyed conversations in lounges and over fine dining. After a few days it was like traveling with friends, not "other" passengers.
The food was above five stars and the service was also the best. We never had an empty water or wine glass, and the food was exactly what you ordered. I one case the chef came out and apologized for over-salting a dish and offered a "corrected" order. And that was typical of the on-board service. If something was not right, it was immediately corrected, with no hassles.
The entertainment was worthy of Broadway with the cruise director as part of the shows and the leader of the many parties. The Captain made it a point to meet the passengers and would often dine with us. The off-ship "events" were spectacular and above anything we have experience on any other cruise ship. In Cartagena the event was held in a newly restored opera theater and Jamaica a private plantation. Both events wereamazing.
The staff were friendly and very good at their positions. For example, some passenger bags were lost by the airlines, but the folks on Journey tracked down the bags and made special arrangements to have them shipped to our next ports. One of the officers who located the bags told us that she couldn't sleep until the passengers had their bags, and I think that is service above and beyond.
It is my understanding that after our cruise, the ship was going in for a "face lift" but the I think the ship was in fine condition. Our stateroom was very comfortable and they even washed the windows when we were in port (no other ship in port did that). There was never any "looking for a place to sit" and always a nice table chair available for afternoon tea, or for a nightcap. And you never felt crowded and could dine anytime you liked at several locations.
I have to say that a journey on the Azamara Journey was an experience I hope to repeat many times, to many exotic locations.
Azamara Journey (Wine & Food Cruise) August 2014 Southampton to Lisbon
Booking & embarkation was both swift & straight forward.
As with many airlines we were able to carry out our check-in
process on line & print the paperwork so that things flowed in
We were greeting with a glass of fizz, and advised that the self-serve eatery was open where we could relax whilst waiting for the cabins to be 'released'. This worked very well and we enjoyed a good selection from the buffet. I should add a note here that Azamara's ships are small (ex Renaissance R's) so there is no concept of 24 hour dining,or round the clock room service.
Our cabin was an obstructed outside cabin which afforded plenty of natural daylight. We were also fortunate that on the tendoer port days our tender was always in use so our room became an outside with large window :o)
The cabin stewards (each room has 2) were both very nice & very efficient, we rarely saw them, yet the room somehow got tidied & turned up/down without issue. In the minibar they explained that
In addition to these drinks there is also a lovely coffee bar (Mosaic) with a good range of hot & cold coffees & teas, we were a little confused when we first sat there as the drinks list have prices next to them, but it turns out that these costs ONLY apply to the 'Nespresso' capsulated coffee, the standard coffee shop 'Gaggia' type coffees were free.
If you wanted to take the drink away, they provided take away cups, holders & lids – and many people took drinks from here into the MDR instead of ordering there. The cafe also had a selection of light snacks, cookies, cakes, and, hors d'oeuvres available that you could help yourself to.
- MDR. There was never a delay in getting a table, such is the beauty of small ship cruising, and we were always offered any table size we wanted. The food itself was acceptable, but really would have benefitted from being hot rather than tepid to warm.
Please note that Azamara rarely open the restaurant at lunchtimes, so it's either eat ashore, use room service, or use self-service. The exceptions to this were a Pasta Bar which ran one day & allowed you to have pasta meals cooked in the MDR to your making as you watched, and something they called the "Azamara Brunch" which ran on one day from 10:00 until about 14:00, and seemed to be a way of clearing out any old food that they wanted to shift - but food is food and despite mostly being cold, was enjoyable.
- Self Service. This area always had a good variety of options, with 2 soups, multiple styles of bread, a sushi bar, carvery, pizzas, pasta, cold meats, and a reflection of the options in the MDR. Although we wouldn’t normally opt for this style of dining we found ourselves eating here quite often as we were in port overnight and we either got back late or wanted to eat & go back out again. Also it was lovely to eat al fresco overlooking the towns from the back of the ship.
- On-deck grill bar, provided freshly cooked (ok reheated) BBQ style food, fries, nachos etc. It did get busy, but was always worth the wait.
- On-deck BBQs. We had 3 or 4 of these, and all had a very large selection of meats, salads, pasta, and ethnic food, as well as several types of salads and a wide range of desserts.
- We didn't get to try room service breakfast or afternoon tea, nor did we use the speciality dining as others were reporting it not to be worth the money – also time didn’t allow. However we did get talking to one gentleman who left the payable "Captain's Table" dinner held in the library as the service was too slow that it became a painful experience.
- Dance Troupe. Given the restricted area available on this small ship, the troupe (2 singers, the 2 dancers who also did the daytime lessons, and 2 fillers) did a wonderful job putting on multiple shows. The use of a bank of screens to support them was inspired.
- Local entertainment. Unlike other ships of this size, Azamara only brought on local entertainment in one port - Bilbao. We were overnight in most ports, so they could have done better in our opinion
- Special Events
- White Evening, was a pleasant evening with local musicians & dancers onboard (see above). The food was a well-planned (if as usual cold) self-service BBQ, and everyone seemed to have a great time.
- Enrichment Talks. (Time for me to moan) Why-oh-why were there no Wine talks on board, after all this was sold as a Wine & Food voyage, yet there was no effort to offer insight & education into wines, pairings, different types & methods etc. I had expected evenings where you would be able to learn about the wines that Azamara offer to help us learn from the cruise, but nothing. Very poor and disappointing in my opinion.
The only talks on board were the Port Lectures, which you'd hope for, plus a REALLY annoying speaker droning on about various European Royals which really had no bearing on this cruise. We lasted just 5 minutes so maybe she had some interesting info, we (plus quite a few others) will never know
Dress Code - very casual to lax, many pax looked liked the had rolled straight off their sunbeds & stumbled into the MDR in the evenings. I understand that many pax were flying, but come on tee-shirts and shorts in the MDR for dinner, are you serious?
Rooms – were very well presented & thoughtfully laid out – Azamara had the sense to leave the ship in her original Renaissance format, which worked great. The Casino lounge bar was always lively with a great service from the guys there. The Looking glass was a little bit slower, and quieter, as the side areas weren’t obvious to the waiting staff, so you had to go & find them or order at the bar. The same was true of the deck bar, great service once you chased a waiter down.
As mentioned above Azamara have been very clever in using screens on the stage to give an impression of size & allow shows to be grander that would otherwise have been possible. Again an excellent service from the bar staff here.
There is a small lounge with bar just outside the MDR which was always a good place for pre-dinner drinks or relaxing evening listening to the very talented guitarist. This is the bar closest to the coffee bar, so the waiter soon got to know our habits & had our late night coffee liqueur ready for us to take to the Café :o)
The gym & spa were of standard offering and charges, so I’ll save space by skipping over those.
The library still has her Renaissance layout, which was wonderful, but note it gets closed often as it’s used for group gatherings.
The internet access was abysmal. Azamara had 2 lines of reply when people complained, the first was that it is going to be upgraded later this year & that will solve everything, the second – which kind of contradicts the first – was that the signal from a ship has to travel so far that response times are impacted. So how will upgrading on the ship improve that, unless the upgrade is a REALLY big aerial to get closer to the satellites ;o)
Well I think I have taken up enough time & space here, if anyone would like more details, or have any specific questions, please feel free to ask, or PM us & we’ll do out best to answer.
Happy cruising everyone,
Alan & Katrina
This is the first cruise we have taken on any Azamara ship, which was part of the old Reinannance Cruise Lines that numbered their ships R-1, etc . This ship has been renovated in 2007 and is considered an intimate, 694 passenger ship with an elegant and relaxed atmosphere. According to an announcement on board as we sailed there were 531 passengers, thus the cruise was indeed relaxed. This cruise was 14 night transatlantic voyage that left Rome on November 15, 2010 and schddueld to arrive in Miami on 11/29/2010.PS - this is a "no tip" cruise ship with staff tips included in the fare.
BOARDING - The boarding took place at the Civitavecchia terminal located about 40 miles from Rome. The cruise line had all cruise check in counters opened when we arrived about 12:30PM. The process was smooth and orderly. One of the best check ins we have ever experienced for any cruise. We presented our "e-ticket" which we had previously printed and we were walking up the gangplank steps within minutes. We were met at the top of the steps by several Amazara staff members, one which was holdinga glass of champagne. They advised our cabin would not be ready until 1:30PM and ask us to join them at a pre-cruise lunch on the 9th deck.
On the first cruise night we were assigned a time for dinner however after the first night all dining was open seating.
CABIN - Perhaps we were a little greedy when we saw the balcony cabins all listed for the same discounted price as we went for a "sunset balcony" on the aft of the ship. After the first night of rough seas we begin to think we had made a mistake by not purchasing a cabin more in the center of the ship. This is a small ship and some tossing is expected however we actually got more than we bargained for. The seas were rough, some rain and wind made using the outside balcony next to impossible. And we call ourselves seasoned cruisers.
The cabin was very nice with decorations in shades of tan, green and brown with dark woods. The bath is small however more than adequate. There is a fully stocked refrigerator with soft drinks and bottled water being complimentary. Fresh flowers and a fruit basket were also in the cabin. A 24 inch flat screen TV offered numerous programs in English. The TV offers several news channels as well as movies. An alarm clock was in the cabin, along with plush robes and outside balcony seat covers. The TV set welcomes you by name. Ice was delivered to the cabin twice daily and more if you request it. The room is not overly large however more than adequate. The beds, as on many cruise ships are actually twin beds and if one ask they can be put together to form one large bed.
In our cabin the mattresses were soft and were uncomfortable for us. The door on the left side of the desk rattled all night long for the first three nights. It was not until day four that I found the door was actually warped and did not fit well. By leaving the door open, the rattling noise stopped. On another cruise we found the sliding glass door did not fasten well and it too produced a rattling sound throughout the day and night. Sometimes if one looks for the problem the issue can easily be resolved without having to call engineering. Air conditioning worked great.
Our cabin and balcony was thoroughly cleaned each day with the result being some of the best service we have ever received. There are fresh flowers in the room each day. You can also have your shoes shined for free by leaving them with your cabin steward. And I should not fail to mention that the bathroom amenities are by ELEMIS. Now if you are really in need of additional service the cabin attendant will assist you in unpacking your suitcases as well as packing. Each evening there are d'oeuvres left in the cabin.
TIP - Are you aware you can select your own cabin anywhere on the ship? Well maybe not 100% of the time, however there are several internet sites that will show you where unsold cabins are located. Your travel agent should be able to do that for you however you should be armed with that information ahead of time so you can discuss with him or her. There are dozens of great cabins aboard the new ships so don't settled for an outside obstructed view cabin unless you are getting a great deal.
TIP - Some travel agents and travel companies have additional items they can offer with the cabin you select. Just don't forget to ask for those extras such as ship board credit or a bottle of welcome champagne and frankly anything ease that comes to mind. Just take a look at several travel sites for the cruise you have in mind and see what everyone if offering, then negotiate. Once you are satisfied you have made the best deal for the exact cruise you want then go for it.
DINING - On deck 9 is the Windows Café and outside the Windows Café Outside. The serving areas are well spaced and staggered throughout the area thus there were never long longs to get any particular type of food. For example there were areas on two sides where one could get omelets or eggs cooked to order. Service is extra-ordinary as waiters seem to be everywhere and each asking if they can help you. This is the most helpful and friendliest ship crew we have ever met. If you coffee cup was a little low they seemed to know and would offer to go get a refill for you. Ask for an English muffin and away they went. The food was as good as the service. Lunch time was the same. During the evening there was a theme such as Italian on the first night. What a great change from the crowded long lines on some other cruise ships we have been on. Lunch is served as is dinner. Dinner will include white table clothes and excellent choices for entrees. Once again service is outstanding. Fret wine is served.
There is the main dining room, Discoveries, with open seating, where you can also take your meals. The service is outstanding and the food is excellent. Some, if not the best we have had on any cruise and we just came off a Cunard cruise ship a few days before boarding this ship. TIP—we noticed several guest would arrive at 6PM and wait for the restaurant to open. Then there would be a lull in activity with 6:15PM and 6:45PM being the times for almost instant seating. The line then would build up again for those desiring seating around 8PM. Remember this is open seating restaurant with no predetermined time for guest.
For a small cover charge of $15 you can make reservations and dine in the steak house named Prime C on deck 10 or Aqualina (also Deck 10) which serves Contemporary American Cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. If you participate in the dinner with a variety of wines for each course there will be an additional charge. Reservations are needed for each of these restaurants. The food is excellent and there is a more intimate setting for each when compared with the main dining room. Friendly and helpful waiters all over the place.
The wine list contains reasonable prices and the ship serves complimentary wines with meals. However if you would prefer a more expensive wine we were surprised when on the first night the wine steward brought us a list of wines that could be purchased for 50% off the regular prices (three bottle minimum). The prices were great and the quoted prices included gratuity. They keep track of your wines purchased by your cabin number and you can dine in any restaurant and still receive your wine.
There is a pool grill located on deck 9 however due to inclement weather the area had limited openings. On good weather days the area will be crowded. Several theme food items were alternated with eon day being a pool side bar-b-q served by the ship's officers. It was excellent. There is always available hamburger, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. Complimentary wine along with complimentary soft drinks are available in this area for lunch. There is soft ice cream on this deck close to the grill. In good weather this would be a great place to grab a quick snack.
COFFEE BAR - They call it the Mosaic Café and it's one of the nicest little coffee bars you can find and the coffee is complimentary. There is a charge for specialty coffees containing liquors. There were always lots of cookies, sweets and snacks which are kept fresh throughout the day. This is a great place to enjoy a cappuccino at the bar of in the small intimate location. Very nice place to meet and talk. Remember I wrote, it's complimentary for lattes, cappuccino or you name the coffee. We found this location open at 8AM and closing late. This was a good location to listen to gossip for the day before and to witness unusual request. The opposite side the area is used for "trivia" games often in the day thus sit there only if you want to play trivial.
Many of these passengers apparently felt they could treat thee staff people almost as servants. One man asked that the water be removed from his water bottle, heated and return so he could add a "solution" to the bottle. He proceeded to drink a few ounces from the bottle so the remainder could be heated. Eventually the bar tender did provide some warm water to the passenger however not in his bottle. The bar tender explained he could not do that. It was obvious such an act could contaminate the on board equipment.
ELEGANT TEA - Found at the Looking Glass on Deck 10 each day form 3:30 to 4:30. Don't miss it. Would set you back $35 to $40 at Neimans in Dallas. Tea can also be served in your cabin if you give advance notice.
BARS - Although this is a small ship there are no less than 9 locations aboard the ship where one can obtain a drink. The Aqualina Bar Deck 10, Casino Luxe Bar Deck 5 are just two expels. Expect great service and reasonably priced drinks. The staff just seems to love to have you visit with them.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO ABOARD A SMALL SHIP? - First don't let the smallness of this ship be a negative. After being on some of the mega ships this was a most refreshing experience. There are plenty of activities. Bingo, ping pong, lectures, poker tournaments, etc. Then on a repositioning cruise such as this one there is plenty of time to take it easy, relax and read a book.
LIBRARY - You won't believe this. There is a complimentary library. Just take the book of your choice, read it and return the book. No cards, no fingerprinting just plain honesty. On top of this there is a good collection of books available and the area itself is very nice. We found this location to be a nice quite area in which to read your book.
WEATHER - I write this on day 2 as we continue on course for Cartagena, Spain. The seas were rough last night and they continue as such for today. The Captain has advised he hopes the weather will change by nightfall. There have been gale force winds up to 60 miles per hours and choppy seas up to nine feet. Dishes and glasses have slipped from the table sin the dining rooms and staff is assisting passengers with their food. Thus far we have not encountered any falls. The forward elevators have been closed as a softy measure thus only two elevators are currently available. This does not appear to be a problem as many passengers remain in their cabins as we note on our deck as about a third of the cabins have a "do not disturb" sign posted on their doors.
PASSENGERS - We have not received a listing of countries where the passengers originate however we were advised there are 531 passengers and this ship has a capacity of almost 700 thus we are about 75% of capacity. This certainly tends to make public areas less crowded. There are several from the United Sates as well as Great Britain with a scattering of several other countries. We note the passengers tend to me primarily seniors and we have yet to see any children. Some of the passengers we have met advise they are repeat passengers aboard an Azamara Cruise.
One common thread we have noticed in talking with those people is their belief this is a no tipping cruise with tips built into the fare. While that is basically true, tips are still expected for many services aboard the ship such as the spa, hair dressers, nail salon, bar service, etc. In addition the crew is like most other cruise lines as they certainly will not refuse extra tipping on the part of the passengers.
CASINO - Very small with one roulette table, three or four card tables and a limited number of slot machines. There is an electronic Texas Holdum Poker table. The staff is courteous and congenial, some of the best we have seen on the seas. You still lose though however this is entertainment. There are a couple of ATM machines at the back of the casino in the event you run out of ready cash. We never found the casino over run with passengers. Slots start at one cent. There are a limited number of Texas Holdum, slot , blackjack and roulette tournaments held throughout the cruise. Just check the daily newspaper for time.
BINGO - We witnesses one of the best prizes ever given away on a cruise bingo. The cover all winner received an immediate upgraded to the Captain's Penthouse, a prize worth several thousand dollars. The couple who won was amazed. To top this off only about 30 couples showed up for the bingo session. Thus one's odds were rather good.
LAUNDRY & DRY CLEANING - There is a self service laundry on deck 7. It is complimentary. There are 4 washers and dryers, an iron and free soap. TIP - The laundry has limited hours it is open so get there early and don't wait until the last days of your cruise otherwise you will not have access to a machine. The ship also has laundry and dry cleaning service available trough pick up in your cabin by your cabin steward. The prices are high but not out of sight. Clothes are returned the flowing day after pickup or you can pay 50% extra and get same day service. The cleaning and washing were both very good.
INTERNET - One of my favorite complaints about cruise internet service is the high price and the poor service. The prices for package plans about this ship were less than any ship we have sailed in the past five years and the service was very good. The internet room is located on deck 9 however your laptop will work wireless in your cabin. Before using your laptop you must go to the internet room to establish an account. This is the first on board internet service I have used where once you click on the "log off" button; the system actually immediately logs you off, saving you untold minutes of usage time. This is great.
There was some free computer classes held in the computer room however I found them extremely basic and they not be worthwhile if you have been using the computer for some time. They also offered for a fee classes of one hour on Adobe Photo however there were no take home handouts as we have received on other cruises. I frankly forget more than half of what I learned and find the hand out a necessity. You can get a bigger bang for your dollar if you will check with a local community college upon return home and learn more about Adobe Photo more in depth.TIP - Internet usage - If you have your own laptop and it is loaded with some type of "word" software, try tying you e-mails using that software, copy and send on the ship's internet service e. You will save a bundle of time by not hooking up to the ship's internet system and doing all your typing on the web.
SHOPPING & SHIP'S STORES - If you have gotten on board to shop you are going to be in bad shape. There are three small shops with a very limited number of items for sale. If you need basis such as toothpaste or sea sickness pills, buy them on shore at your first port. Jewelry was high priced as was clothing. We either bring from home or purchase on shore. People in the shops are very nice. We noticed that many watches reflected only a 10% discount off suggested retail prices. You can more than likely do a lot better back home.
BEAUTY SHOP & SPA - Located on deck 9 in the forward section. Prices are basically in line with other cruise ships offering such services. Acupuncture is available and a gym is located in the area for those looking for a physical workout center. Expect to tip in this area.
PHOTOS - OK you have been on enough cruises to know that photos are big business for cruise chips as each always has several photographers. I only caution that such photos are actually snap shots and not portrait quality prints. This cruise had a special of $195.00 for all the photos taken. Except for day one when we boarded the ship we have not seen a picture taken anywhere on the ship. One must remember there are no formal nights thus the taking of formal photos on this ship just does take place. Photos can be viewed on deck 5 close to the casino.
While we are writing about photos there is a common practice developing at numerous tour stops. Photos are being taken by someone at the tour stops in hopes that the passenger will purchase at an inflated price. At one restaurant/mansion stop in the Canary Island a 5 X 7 was priced at 6 Euros which is almost $8 US. Only one person in our group made a purchase. At Ephesus there were dozens of photos taken of our group and we saw a great many photos being sold to the passengers. The cost was much more reasonable at $2.50 to $3.00 US dollar. Take your own photos with you digital camera and make prints back home at a fraction of the cost.
PHOTO TIP - Can't remember all your stops when you get back home? Take a photo of the port, town or city name the minute you go on that tour. Digital cameras will even pick up the article in your daily news about the port you are visiting. Also take names of buildings, churches, street signs, etc. - anything that will help jog your memory on where you have been.
PHOTO TIP — While it may be tempting to listen to the sales clerk telling you to carry only one large memory chip when you travel, I personally find it's a lot better to carry several small memory chips. Having half dozen 2G memory chips I find is much better than a single 16G chip. First the pictures are easier to find and if I lose one small chip it's not losing everything I shot on vacation. Also the cost of smaller chips is very inexpensive when compared with very large chips.
PHOTO TIP - Did a mistake of some sort cause many of your photos to "disappear". That happened to me when on a cruise to Greenland. There are many services available on the internet (some free) where you can download software that may possibly recover those lost photos. It's worth giving a try.
ENTERTAINMENT - Not a lot to write about as the word "entertainment" is somewhat limited on this small ship. The signer act singer we say the other night saw many passengers leaving during his performance.
SHORE TOURS - The cost of shore tours is among the most reasonable we have seen on cruise ships; however the selection of tours available is somewhat limited and that is most likely due to the fact this is a repositioning or transatlantic crossing. There is a tour desk located on deck 4. Also on that deck is a small medical center and an office where future cruises can be reserved. TIP - if you have already booked your cruise make your tour reservations on the internet and your tickets will be delivered to you cabin upon arrival. The tour into Gibraltar included several stops with the most notable ones being the Barbary Apes, the cave, the airport and the sea coast area. These were all worth the small price paid for this tour. The tour at Cartagena was not as good except for the church we saw at Murcia. The inside is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.
In the Canary Islands we had a nice tour until the tour group let us off at a place loaded with souvenirs and of all things a ½ Euro pay toilet. That's 65 bents US and everyone refused to pay, It's bad enough when you get "dumped" at a souvenir stand and really bad when you have to pay to use their rest room. If anyone purchases anything we did not see them do so. Such tour companies need to be taken off the ship's tour contract. We will be writing them asking that action be taken.
PURSERS OFFICE (Called Guest Relations on this cruise) - Always open and staffed with courteous and professional staff. A pleasure to deal with. TIP - although we were advised postage stamps were available at the Purser's Desk that was found not to be the case. In Gibraltar we were told be could purchase at the cruise terminal office and the ship's crew would mail the cards for us. We proceeded off the ship and made stamp purchase at the cruise terminal and they directed us to a close by box where we mailed the cards ourselves. The Purser's Office made available a copy of our charges during the first part of the cruise and the listing was 100% accurate.
MOVIE THEATER - Actually there is no formal movie theater however movies are shown at set times on a large screen TV set adjacent to the casino. There is a movie channel on your cabin TV with shows and times listed in your daily guide.
DAILY PURSUITS - The "Pursuit" Is the daily guide for the ship. It is nicely printed and is delivered to your cabin each day plus copies can also be obtained in the dining rooms. The publication is printed nicely and properly laid out while being filled with information about the day's events. In addition a copy of USA Times plus other country "Times"were made available each day. The USA Times carried latest information including sports and stock info from the United Sates. The print was easy to read and the newspaper properly laid out. We just left a cruise on another cruise line that no doubt had some of the worst copy we. had ever tried to read. Not only was the documents poorly laid out they were equally as poorly printed.
SWIMMING POOLS - A pool and Jacuzzi can be found on deck 9 however due to the weather it may be a challenge to use the pool at least that's what we experienced on this particular cruise. On really "choppy" days the pool was closed. A ping pong table at just forward of the pool on deck 9.
LIFEBOAT DRILLS - The drills were held inside on deck 5. They safety instructions were given by both the staff and the Captain however life preservers remained in the cabin. The drill was well planned and orderly.
OBSERVATION DECK - The front of the ship on Deck 10 is the Looking Glass which is the location for numerous functions throughout the day. We never found a time though when it was so crowded that one could not find a seat and relax while reading a book except for trivia game time or an occasional lecture. Just check the daily newspaper to see if anything is happening in the Looking Glass. There is a bar where drinks can be purchased plus music during parts of the day. Very nice viewing area. If you would like to view the areas in front of the ship, there is provided at no cost in your stateroom a pair of binoculars. Be sure and return them, otherwise the cost will end up on your bill.
TIP - Cruising on a small ship can present a much difference experience than on many of the larger mega ships. You can explore this small ship in a very short period of time. There are no large theaters, no giant casinos and no long lines. Cruising on a small ship is not for everyone and one should give considerable thought before making such a reservation. There is virtually nothing that would be attractive for children or even teen agers. If you like unusual ports, loess tendering use, meeting new people and enjoying a few drinks, then the small ships might be your choice.
PASSPORTS- - Many cruise ship retaining your passports at the time you first check in. It was a delight to learn that one's passport was not retained, thus you have in your passport in your procession enabling you to exchange money at any of the ports where you stop. Try exchanging money bat some locations without your passport. One such port money exchange offered to exchange if I would pay an extra fee since I did not have a passport.
CAMERAS - You cannot imagine how many passengers we saw that were wishing they had a camera in order to capture some of the sites visited on the cruise. TIP - there are many nice small digital cameras available and some sellers will encourage you to purchase a camera with a screen on the back and lots of pixies.
Don't fall for this type sale. Purchasing a camera with a reasonable number of pixies (for discussion let's say ten) will far more pixies than many of us will need. Are you really going back home and printing 500 photos on 16 X 20 inch sheets of photo paper? No you are not. More than likely you will include some as attachment to your e-mails sent to family and friends and you might print a few 4 X 6 inch prints. Second, forget the use of that screen on the back of the camera when you are in bright sunlight. You just can't see the image and many cameras of this type you may see almost nothing except gray. A better suggestion is to purchase a small camera with a view finder that you can look through and actually see what you are photographing. More expensive cameras such as Canon and Nikon will have viewfinders; however there are small pocket digital cameras that also have viewfinders.
PORTS VISITED - This cruise is actually a repositioning cruise thus ports are not primarily a part of this cruise, but we did have four stops along the way as a means of getting to the "other side". The stop at Cartagena was very short and it was raining which we understand was rather unusual. We could have spent time in the city especially around the old town section. There just was no enough time to take in all the treasures one could find in an old port like this one. In Gibraltar we once again had only a few hours in the city and decided to take in one of the ship's tours in order to get the most out of the port stop. Gibraltar is a very small place and one could cover almost the entire city on foot and with short taxi rides. It is interesting though that one could also visit Spainwhich sits on the border. We just did not have time. The stop was too short to do a lot and way too short to try to get a rental car.
I hear people all the time telling me they cannot visit this particular port because they are concerned for their safety. If one becomes so concerned about very port then more than likely you will spend your holiday at home. We have traveled the entire world and there are certainly spots I do not go, however that is true for certain places in my home town. Go and have a great cruise.
WHERE IS THE BEST CABIN ON THE SHIP - Frankly I don’t know since it's for you. I know the ones I think are best for my particular cruise and that may not match your choice. If I had lots of money I would opt for the Captain's Suite every time. Since that is not going to happen I look at price, location, and sometimes amenities promised me.
PARKING FEES KILLING ME - Parking fees can run the prices of your cruise up by many dollars. One way we beat the high cost for close by departures is to rent a car for one way and drop it off with the rental car company taking up to the cruise terminal. Since we live in Dallas and have traveled out of Houston/Galveston this is always our mode of travel. In New Orleans we have used a hotel for pre cruise stays that will permit us to leave our car for a reasonable daily rate and we may stay there a night or two after the cruise. If hotel occupancy is low management will work with you and both you and the hotel come out winners.
ENRICHMENT SERIES OF LECTURES - Some of these lectures well presented with knowledgeable lecturers. You can tell after the first five minutes if a particular lecture is for you. Held on the Cabaret Lounge.
SUMMARY - This was an excellent cruise and we very much enjoyed the repositioning cruise and the ship. This is a very small ship and there is not nearly the activity one finds on the new larger ships, thus we think your preference should be the controlling factor. For us we really enjoyed the smallness, meeting the people and having limited distances to walk whether it was to the dining room of fitness center. If one is looking for all the glitz, Broadway lights, swimming pool slides and wall climbing events, then this ship will not fit for you. If you are looking for an upgraded slower pace with outstanding food and service then the Azamara Club should be tried.
We are a spoiled retired couple from Denmark.
We have done more than 20 cruises, and stayed in all kind of cabins owner-suite, penthouse, royal suite etc.
We decided to join Azamara Journey 2 days before departure from Copenhagen august 31, 2009. The only cabin not sold was an inside cabin – which we took. The cruise took us from Copenhagen to Barcelona and lasted 14 days.
The boarding was the fastest we ever experienced, 5 minutes only. This was due to the fact that we printed our boarding pass online.
Our cabin was as expected on the 8th floor. It was adequate for sleeping and shower, the only outside view you got was on channel 14 on the flat-screen TV showing the front of AZAMARA.
The cabin service was just fantastic 2 guys took very good care of us during the whole cruise, our smallest request was fulfilled at once ( maybe it helped a lot – that I paid them 20 dlrs each within the first minute).
I am a computer freak, the Internet on board are the fastest I ever experienced on any cruise. I could sit with my laptopall over the ship and use Skype with an amazing quality.
The hotel-director Heike Cramer is a real champion. She is responsible for all the staff on board. Under her supervision and training they all act as "mini-Heike's". The staff has been told that they are the face of AZAMARA, they all understood this. Always a big smile from everyone – trying all the can to please you in every aspect. If I had a cruise line, I would absolutely buy Heike to lead the staff – even at a costly price.
The food on board was more than great, Azamara has two speciality restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C. No surcharge is paid to dine there, except 5 dlrs extra gratuity per person. The menu is out of this world, lobster, sea-bass etc etc. We dined in those restaurants 9 times out of 14 days. If this was in Copenhagen each dinner would have set us back 300 dlrs a head for sure.
Being Danes we love real good coffee (not decaf), on 5th floor AZAMARA got the Cova Café. You got excellent service from 2 smiling girls. I am astonished to read in a review that a guy complained over paying 3 dlrs for the great coffee there, this guy should have stayed home. You get nice snacks with the coffee (free of charge of course).
The passengers came mostly from USA, UK and Australia. I will guess that 80 percent was American – this made conversation very easy.
I am a smoker, on AZAMARA you can smoke in the corner on Deck 9 – the pool deck and at deck 10 the Looking glass bar.
We will for sure be back many times on AZAMARA Journey.
We wanted to see the Penguins and cruise through Antarctica and around Cape Horn. We did all that on this 6,000 mile, 18 day, Azamara Journey voyage.
Cruise Value We've been watching the Internet prices on Antarctic cruises for the past couple of years. We don't want to cruise anymore on the megaships that carry around 3000 passengers.
We like Celebrity, enough to have reached the Elite level of their Captain's Club. We've had excellent food and service, and we decided to try their new, premium cruise brand, "Azamara." The emails of this company, which often referred to itself as "a premium cruise line," ended with "Smaller ships. Out-of-the-ordinary destinations. Unmatched amenities -- this is Azamara."
The Azamara Journey cruise looked like the small ship cruise experience we were looking for. 18 days of South American cruising, including 5 days cruising Antarctica beginning and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We spotted an offer from Crucon on the 'net that included air travel from Miami, gratuities, and a two hundred dollar shipboard credit. With the added air to Miami from Vancouver BC, and factoring in the cost of drinks and extra gratuities to those who earned it, theprice for two cruisers in a category 2A balcony cabin was ten thousand dollars. We decided to splurge and spend most of our yearly vacation budget on this 18 day cruise. The flying to and from Miami added two more days and a hotel day to the trip. Twenty days for ten thousand dollars works out to $500. per day for the two of us. That's one to two hundred dollars more per day than we've been averaging for the 2 or 3 balcony cruises per year that we like to take.
The prices were around 35% higher than the internet offerings on Celebrity M class or the Princess megaships doing this itinerary, or about 20% more on Holland America, to be able to cruise on this small ship. The Journey would be able to cruise into areas of Antarctica inaccessible to the big ships.
Getting There When the cruise was offered, it was with round trip air travel from Miami to Buenos Aires/Buenos Aires to Miami.
We carry Alaska Air credit cards and get a mile for every dollar we spend, so we used a combination of mileage and cash to fly Alaska to Miami so we could avoid the midwestern or eastern part of the US in the winter.
The bad news was that the only flight offered from Seattle to Miami is a red eye. We took a puddle jumper from Vancouver early enough to dine at Anthony's Fish House, which is a real restaurant, not an airport fast food place, inside the secured area at the Seattle airport. We can't say enough about Anthony's food, service and prices, and we had delicious chowder and Cobb salads with shrimp. Yummy. The perfect thing to soften the blow of a five hour red eye to Miami crammed into the back of a 737 with poor seat pitch.
Miami We arrived in Miami around 7AM, got our luggage and booked a day occupancy room (checkout by 6PM) at the Miami Airport Hotel, which is located right in the terminal. We had breakfast at their Top of the Port restaurant and went to bed.
Lan Argentina Airlines This was to be our carrier to Buenos Aires, and they recommended that we start checking in 3 hours ahead of time. We checked out of the hotel at 6PM and Joseph the bellman took our bags to the Lan Argentina counter in Terminal J, which is a brand new concourse, for our 9PM flight. It's a lengthy walk everywhere at the Miami airport and once through check in and security it's another long walk. Whew!
The lines were long to check in as well as to pass through security, and the extra time kept us in a relaxed mood in the middle of the organized chaos of the airport.
The problem of noise pollution in public areas is everywhere now, and the gate area where we waited had brand new flat screen tv's blasting CNN while airport background music also played on different speakers, regularly interrupted by loud PA announcements. We couldn't wait to get on the plane and get going.
The plane was a 767 that had been totally refurbished. Very spiffy. Very clean. The food service was good, harkening back to the airline service of yore including a blue room (restroom) that a person over six feet tall can stand up in.
We had a nice dinner; chicken or beef was offered along with complementary wine service and a variety of soft drinks. There was a high quality entertainment system with an individual screen for each passenger, with free movies, games, etc., and a free headset.
We were also provided with sleep masks and ear plugs.
In the morning, coffee, juice and omelets were served. We were well taken care of by Lan Argentina in the person of Lucia, who was the cabin attendant in our section. Thank you, Lucia.
Buenos Aires We filled out our customs and immigration forms on the plane and passed quickly through the modern terminal. Cruisers need to be aware that the stamped portion of the paperwork returned to you needs to be kept and turned in when you depart Argentina. You will also need to pay the departure tax when you leave.
We easily found the Azamara reps, who guided us to the airport transfer vehicle included in our cruise price. Our luggage went directly from the plane to the ship.
It was a pleasant, sunny day with the temperature in the mid 70's. We rode through the central part of Buenos Aires, which looks a lot like cities in Europe, on the way to the terminal where the ship was docked. We got to the terminal about a half hour before the ship could be boarded and had strong, perfectly made lattes and pastry for two at a small cafe in the terminal. The price was about five dollars US including the tip. The exchange rate is around 3.20 pesos for every US or Canadian dollar.
Embarkation This was very smooth. We turned in our boarding passes, which we had printed at home after filling out the necessary forms using the Internet. Staff scanned our boarding pass, checked our passports, and gave us our cruise cards. The whole process took less than 5 minutes.
When we boarded the Journey, we were greeted with complementary champagne (or cranberry juice), and we saw Hotel Director Niyazi Korkmas, who was in the entrance lobby watching over the boarding process and greeting passengers. We like to see Hotel Directors out and about and talking with the passengers.
We were fried from 2 nights of red eye flights and we stopped by the poolside grill for a quick sandwich before we crashed for an afternoon nap. They were offering the usual hamburgers and hot dogs, plus lovely kebabs and many other grilled delights. Chips, salsa and guacamole were always available.
Food Quality and Dining Service Excellent, everywhere on the ship, under the direction of Executive Chef Milos Pales and Restaurant Manager Ryszard Guzman. From Discoveries dining room to the grill at the pool to the specialty restaurants Aqualina and Prime C, the Windows buffet and room service, the food is good. Well prepared and presented in sometimes dazzling ways, particularly in the specialty restaurants. The array of pastries and desserts is unending, and the croissants are properly crisp and buttery. The beef is excellent on this ship, too. We have been served lesser cuts of meat on many cruises lately, and the beef on this ship was of high quality. Food and Beverage manager Desiderio Cavaco is to be commended for the quality provisioning of these dining venues under the supply chain difficulties of a cruise all the way through south South America and Antarctica. Restaurant Manager Ryszard is always in one dining area or another quietly yet visibly managing.
Specialty Restaurants Chef Anthony Mauboussin presides over the kitchens for both Aqualina and Prime C, the Journey's specialty restaurants located aft on deck 10. Azamara has eliminated the previous surcharge for this restaurant. The only cost is the suggested tip to the servers of five dollars each for our two servers. Ten dollars US buys a truly fine dining experience.
Prime C: This is the specialty dining steak house. We made a reservation through the Captain's Club before we left for the cruise, because main dining rooms can be a zoo on the first night of a cruise. We were still exhausted from our back to back red eye flights, but we knew we had to get up from our nap and eat dinner to keep up our energy and to turn our body clocks back toward normal.
We were greeted and seated by Maitre'd Gokhan, who runs Prime C. We had thought we would just pick at our food and go back to bed, but we ended up having delicious soup, a popcorn shrimp appetizer and buttery filet mignon which was cooked perfectly. We added creamed spinach, onion rings perfectly fried and chocolate lava cake for dessert. A gold star for the Prime C steak house -- and all for just the previously mentioned five dollar gratuity for each of our two servers.
Dinner at Aqualina: Maitre'd Marius Borchila welcomes us to this lovely, light filled room that he manages with a watchful eye. We cruised with Marius previously on the Mercury. This is the most pleasant dining room on Journey. Aqualina specializes in seafood; Prime C is more meat oriented. Some previous reviews I read in November '07 were not happy with the specialty restaurants on the Journey, but things have changed for the very much better. The food is good on the Journey, and there is way too much of it. Seriously, we would prefer smaller portions, because we know they'd bring us seconds if we asked.
Couple this with the fact that at dinner at Aqualina we were treated to a magnificent sight. Our table was in the window at the very back of the ship, and as twilight lingered, we were mesmerized by a long, slow display of icy, Antarctic beauty. It went on for miles and miles as we moved through waters "littered" with small chunks of ice, surrounded by rocky mountains which were themselves surrounded by glaciers along their shorelines, and pressed upon from above by clouds. This was a nice, leisurely dinner, absolutely delicious from the arugula/bacon/goat cheese salad, brie in baked in phyllo dough through the broiled lobster tail, down to the chocolate souffle. All the food we've been served aboard has been fresh, well-prepared, and served most graciously; this dinner, served by Catalin from Romania and assisted by Basant from Mauritius, was no exception. Azamara wins the specialty restaurant comparison to the other cruise lines.
Cabin/Butler Our truly non stop, hard working butler/cabin steward is Pravin, and his assistant is Rennie. There is a list of butler services available at this cruise level, including packing & unpacking, afternoon tea service, dinner reservations, etc. It sounds too good to be true, because our butler is more a cabin steward in what we used to call "soup and fish," meaning a swallow tail coat and dress pants, like a butler in a movie. On Celebrity's Mercury, which we cruised in the summer of '07, the butler is a butler with only butler duties but here it's more window dressing. These 2 hard working men have 22 cabins to service. The biggest number I ever saw a steward with an assistant do before was 18 and I thought that was excessive. I can't imagine them having time to do butler tasks, but I see some of my fellow cruisers attempting to use them like they were their personal servants.
The butler/stewards smile and keep our cabins clean & nice. We wouldn't think to ask them to do the stuff Azamara offers, such as packing and unpacking your bags, making alternative dining reservations etc., beyond the usual duties of a cabin steward.
On the Mercury a butler has more time to just be a butler and can do the little things such as those offered in the Azamara brochures. On the Azamara Journey the butler takes your preprinted order form for tea snacks and savories a la Celebrity Concierge class. The cruiser checks the boxes for the items he wants and assigns a time for delivery to the cabin within the window of the service time stated on the form. You must be in your cabin to take delivery at the appointed time. We'd rather not schedule our snacks, so we passed on this delivery method. We don't like the fact that the room service that is pre-ordered from the form the night before is brought to our hard working butler/cabin steward for delivery. We have someone delivering food who might have just been cleaning a toilet. Not that our steward is unaware of hand washing, wearing work gloves etc., but mistakes can happen. Not very cruisey.
On the Mercury the butler knocks on your door at tea time and you pick out some snacks from the cart if you're in the cabin.
We like the fact that the Discoveries dining room opens later for breakfast, 8AM, than on many ships, so that the waitstaff who worked late the previous night can hopefully get a bit more sleep before coming to work. These folks also work hard. We also like the fact that the dining room is open until 930AM, so we can eat there on the days we choose to sleep later.
More Cabin The cabin itself is from designs over a decade ago. Cruising has changed so much since these R ships were on the drawing boards. There are only two 110 volt AC plugs in this cabin, and they are nearly unreachable; the rest of the plugs are European. There are no switches near the bed to turn on low power nightlights; the switch in the center of the new headboard turns on multiple overhead lights that would disturb a sleeping companion. The bedside lamps are not weighted on their bases, so they are lightweight and too easy to knock over. That's not all bad though; since I was able to hold the lamp in one hand and my book in the other, I was able to read in bed! I had that nightstand taken out of the cabin because it too was a lightweight vertical stand with no drawers and only an 8 by 10 inch surface on top. Once the lamp was placed there, no space was available for glasses (reading or drinking) or the ever important remotes. I knocked the lamp and the nightstand over the first night more than once.
The beds are good, with high threadcount sheets, a selection of pillows, and a quality comforter. Your suitcases fit under them.
There is a wall mounted 23 inch Samsung Hi Def flatscreen TV, with an arm that can swing it for watching TV in bed or from the sitting area, with unblocked inputs for our DVD player and our Nintendo Wii. We mentioned the input blocking because we were amazed to find them blocked on our last HAL cruise. We brought a universal remote, (Sony, cost sixteen dollars) so the inputs could be selected, because the remote supplied is for hotel use, set up for ordering room service, examining one's cruise account and video on demand for pay movies, including adult, by the way. There is another way to access the multiple inputs, which we found a week into the cruise. On the lower right side of the black frame around the screen of the 23 inch Samsung flat screen TV is an array of imperceptible, black on black frame, selectors for inputs under the word "source." They operate electronically without the selector having to be depressed, merely touched, like a touch screen computer display, and they react quickly and electronically. There are 2 HDMI inputs, AV 1 & 2 and component video inputs. We used them for the DVD player we brought and our Nintendo Wii, which we use to play Tiger Woods '08 golf game.
There is only one drawer in this whole refurbished expensive looking dark wood cabin. What little storage there is, is in cabinets or on closet shelves, a lot of it so low that it is difficult to access or even see your things, compared to Celebrity M class Infinity balcony cabins that have lots of clever storage and little shelves in the bathroom with barriers that keep your stuff from falling off the bathroom shelf. Ergonomics weren't enough of a consideration when they refurbished this cabin.
We think the cruiser of today is interested in cabins set up in more of a hi tech sensibility -- like more hooks, open shelving above open closet area with double poles and finally bathrooms with simple shelving, designed to keep your bathroom stuff safe from falling off in a rough sea. There is only one shelf in this bathroom other than the sink top, and no medicine cabinet, no storage under the basin. Instead of the telephone being near the bed it's in a deep corner of the vanity area where it usually gets buried by things left on the counter.
We don't think a marine architect or for that matter a designer familiar with cruising had anything to do with figuring out the storage a cruise passenger needs. Not the standard of the premium cruise line Azamara is trying to brand itself as. Celebrity M class and HAL Vista class cabins are more premium (with appreciably lower cruise fares) than ours on the Journey. We're told that 30 million dollars was spent to refurbish these ships, but it doesn't begin to show in this category 2A balcony cabin. This cabin also lacks a privacy curtain, to divide the sleeping area from the sitting area, so one could read while the other person sleeps.
Staff and Crew What is truly premium on the Journey is the "can do" attitude of the staff and crew. From the Hotel Director, the guest relations staff, cabin stewards, Asst. Maitre'd's, servers, housekeeping staff, busboys and bartenders, this is a well managed crew in all departments working to give us an excellent cruise experience.
Guest Relations Department They are an amazing bunch with Ngawhira Fleet, the front office manager, and an efficient, multi lingual team manning the hotel desk. Ngawhira helped us settle in, running interference to get a situation with our shower fixed immediately. We also want to thank Alfred and German of guest relations for the helpful service cheerfully offered by the entire front desk staff.
Announcements This is a blessedly quiet ship. The Captain's informative, brief daily report at Noon every day is the only in-cabin announcement. His microphone technique is very good. Afternoon naps are quiet and restful, not like some ships with endless announcements.
There is one announcement missing, and we do not miss it. On almost every other ship we've been on, there is a LOUD recording attending your every elevator ride, announcing the approaching floor. On the Journey, a small video screen announces the floor, and lets one know if people are getting on or off. This boon is probably a result of the size of the Journey, there being so many fewer people to move around.
Coffee Tastes like instant would be a compliment. Not up to the standards of a freshly branded, self proclaimed "premium" cruise line.
We were on RCCL's (parent of Celebrity/Azamara) Radiance of the Seas in the fall of '06 and they were featuring Seattle's Best Coffee and it was truly premium and available everywhere from the dining rooms to room service at no charge. The only decent coffee on the Journey is at the Cova coffee bar, with a $3 charge. Wake up and smell the coffee, Azamara senior management! You seem to be striving to be almost Crystal; Crystal light, so to speak, but Crystal doesn't charge for designer coffee anymore. The food is good on this ship and the coffee should be as well.
Cova Cafe This is the designer coffee place. Our thanks to Ryan, Alexander, Maria and Eliana, who brew great lattes for the three dollars we have to pay. There are always pastries and little sandwiches and other goodies at the Cova. We tended to retreat to the quiet of the Cova during the day and its piano bar feeling at night.
Entertainment We enjoy piano player/song stylist Dan Daly who is in the Cova Cafe, at the piano from 9P until late, most evenings. The Azamara trio plays nightly in the Looking Glass lounge. They have a great repertoire in all the musical genres. Guitarist German Vilches and Harpist Melissa Calusio also entertain in different venues. Melissa also plays for tea, afternoons in the Aqualina Restaurant, and German sits in on his guitar during the jam sessions. There were solo violinists, pianists, a couple of singers, a Chilean Folklorico Troupe and a comedian/raconteur headlining in the Cabaret theater, which is the main showroom. The accent on entertainment seems to be more in a classical soloist vein.
That's Hollywood This is an excellent show in the Cabaret theatre. Simply staged and beautifully sung by five talented, young performers, the men are K.J. and Brandon; the women Brooke, Amanda-Jane and Natalie.
The show is a tribute to the music and lyrics throughout cinematic history. We enjoyed it immensely. The 7 piece Journey orchestra provided live music for this well paced show. It's a cabaret setting, much like a night club rather than a theater, giving the show a nice intimacy with good sight lines. This show is a wonderful change of pace from the typically over produced (too many singers and dancers, too many wardrobe changes) broadway type shows that seem to try too hard, which we have seen on some cruise ships. The sound design and levels were good, allowing us to hear everything without it becoming too loud. Kudos to all involved, from the talented singers to the technical crew.
More Entertainment There are two other shows done in this manner, "Twisted TV," a parody of guess what?, and "Sing It and Swing It," a tribute to the big band era.
Jazz There were 2 late evening (10:45PM) jam sessions in the Looking Glass lounge, with some members of the orchestra and other musicians on board playing Jazz from Antonio Carlos Jobim to Thelonius Monk.
Falkland Islands/Port Stanley Our first stop after leaving Buenos Aires: Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. Rough seas and bad weather got us there late, then we waited for clearance and after the people who had purchased excursion tickets were tendered, we managed to get off around 3:30PM. The last tender back was changed to 7:15 PM making for a very short time in a unique place. The sun came out and we wandered around in short sleeves.
We checked with the visitors' center about seeing some penguins and were told about the penguin bus (the sign on the minibus says Penguin Travel) that stops right at the parking lot of the center. Ten dollars US per person for a round trip, 15 minute each way, van ride to Gypsy Cove, where we saw many penguins.
The penguins are in an area that is cordoned off, because there might still be some Argentine land mines from the '82 war on the beautiful beach. (They thought the British might land troops there. Didn't happen.) The area was swept for mines after the war but the possibility remains that they were not all found, so the area is restricted by signs and fencing.
A group of several hundred penguins were gathered, sunning themselves on the beach, others of them swimming around close to shore, and smaller groups were up in the scrubby dunes between the walking trail and the beach. They were cute and plentiful, and some of them walked up so close to the observation point where we were that we got some excellent photos of these dear little birds.
The other penguin excursions (from the ship) were very expensive (as much as $200 dollars) and required bone shaking rides of 60 to 90 minutes to see a different type of penguins. Some cruisers expressed the thought that those less accessible birds were indeed "better."
This price disparity brought to mind the high priced Alaska excursions to glaciers versus taking the city bus in Juneau for a couple of bucks to the edge of Mendenhall Glacier. There are always options, even in a place as small as the Falklands, population around 3,000.
Our driver, Fiona, gave us a nice ride to the penguins and told us a bit about the Falklands. Children born here have the option at age 16 to leave for more secondary and university education, anywhere they wish, that is at least partly paid for by the Falklands government. Now that's a government truly in action. The kids do not even have to repay the kindness with a few years of social service, they have only to develop themselves as they wish and graduate!
Across the harbor is a monument on the low hills with the names of the British protector ships that won the Falklands war, and even now there is always a British warship anchored in the harbor or patrolling the area.
Small Ship Cruising We like this small ship a lot. It is easy to get anywhere quickly. The ambience is that of a boutique hotel. The bad news is that in order to make it profitable, Azamara has to charge more for drinks and excursions because of the fewer passengers on board.
Drink Prices There is no wine package. The soft drink card is $5.00 per day plus 15%. The cheapest jug level glass of wine, with the tip, is nearly nine dollars and change. High prices for vin ordinaire. Mixed drinks are high priced and martinis are around 12 dollars. You're allowed to bring in a couple of bottles of wine per passenger, which we did in Ushuaia (first port out of Antarctica; southernmost city in the world).
Housekeeping This ship is clean. Not just picked up and vaccumed. Cleaning and polishing goes on 24/7. Kudos to housekeeping supervisor Esta from Hungary.
Elephant Island, Antarctica We listened to expert Niki Sepsas relate the story of the harrowing adventure of the Shackelton expedition. The captain sailed us back and forth slowly past Elephant Island, giving everyone a chance to take a good look and get an excellent photo opportunity. It's starkly beautiful here, very much like Alaska. There are interestingly shaped icebergs floating near us as we get a close up view of the island. One of the icebergs has penguins sunning themselves with a few swimming and diving near the iceberg as the Journey passes by. This penguin sighting was announced by the captain as he brought the Journey as close as he safely could. Thank you, Captain Karlsson.
Cruise Director/Staff Cruise Director is Paul Grant. He's an affable sort, who dresses beautifully. He was very sensitive to cruisers' desires and tastes, organizing a jazz jam session one evening after dancing in the Looking Glass lounge. He then went the extra mile by greeting the listeners after the session for feedback.
Unfortunately, generally there was a bit of a reverberation inherent in his announcing technique, as if he was projecting to the back of the room as he would without a microphone, despite the fact that he was speaking into one. Captain Karlsson, on the contrary, is clear and easy to listen to. I guess he spoiled us!
The cruise staff Ryan, Naomi and Kelsey, along with activities director Matt, have a full range of activities for interested cruisers.
Question and Answer Session This was held in the cabaret with the hotel director, the cruise director and the food and beverage manager fielding passenger queries. We appreciate them making themselves available for a question and answer session.
Iceberg Alley In the late afternoon after leaving Elephant Island we arrived in Iceberg Alley. There were Penguin colonies on some of the 'bergs. Some of the icebergs have interesting rectangular or pie shaped geometric shapes. We photographed the busy penguins lolling in the sun and cavorting in the water. Some were skittering down the last 6 feet of solid ice into the water, while there were always just as many other penguins trying incessantly to clamber back up.
Windows Cafe This is the buffet on deck 9. There are numerous selections, including a smoothie bar, manned by the hard working Jesus, Mario and Wandaka. You can get fresh fruit smoothies, with protein powder if you desire, and a variety of fresh juices. In the morning there is a fresh-made waffle and pancake station, omelet bar, large selections of breakfast meats, including a delicious baked ham carving station, plenty of tasty, fresh baked pastries, hot and cold cereals etc. The negative about this buffet for us was the fact they have chosen not to have trays. It is harder to load and handle plates with everything, so people are scurrying more to get stuff they forgot and it exacerbates the already crowded conditions in this smaller buffet space when everybody is up and hungry. Every previous Celebrity cruise we have been on has had trays. But, to show how responsive the staff is to the passengers: On the fourth day of the cruise after some complaints, trays were made available for those who wished them.
This is a small ship, so when the Journey is in a cold place like Antarctica, the buffet overflow tables aft on the Windows patio at the stern of the ship are unusable. They bring in as many tables as they can from outside but there isn't room inside for all of the outside tables in bad weather, making it difficult to find a seat. The good news is that there is plenty of room in the Discoveries dining room on deck 5.
Discoveries Dining Room A lovely, light filled room. Restaurant Manager Ryszard Guzman and his Asst. Maitre'd's are very attentive to the customers' needs. With no traditional seat assignment, the staff has to seat people by themselves or with others as desired. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. High standards of food and thoughtful service. There is no assigned seating at dinner, so tables are shared and you meet a lot of your fellow cruisers. If you prefer to dine without company at your table, there are always tables for two available.
The food at Discoveries is tasty and interestingly garnished and presented, a feast for the tastebuds and the eyes. A step up from Celebrity M class or Holland America and for us, two steps above Princess.
Breeza At dinner time the Windows cafe morphs into Breeza, with elegant buffet dining and Sushi, pasta, antipasti, stirfry, pizza and many other tasty foods offered. A dining alternative that is truly casual. Shorts, jeans or whatever are welcome at Breeza.
Gerlache Strait, Antarctica We arrived in the Looking Glass lounge, at the bow of the ship on Deck 10, at around 3PM. We had believed the captain when he announced that the beauty of this part of the Antarctic Sound was such that we'd remember it for the rest of our lives.
We sat enthralled by the scenery, which was already revealing itself prior to our entering the strait, and we were rather amused -- well, maybe half annoyed -- at the music playing on the sound system. It was quite appropriate for the night club venue that this room becomes much later, but it seemed to add nothing at all to the spectacular vistas opening in front of us. It would have seemed more appropriate to have softer music to enhance the feelings of awe we were experiencing, rather than music which seems designed to elicit a nervous twitch.
Then, at 3:30PM, when we were entering the Strait, what did we find ourselves in the middle of but the start of a game called "The Battle of the Sexes Trivia!" Well named. Who, taking enjoyment from this game, would need or even appreciate this spectacular scenery as a backdrop while they were busy with their competition? Could this use of the Looking Glass lounge, with floor to ceiling windows, really take precedence over the enjoyment of the cruisers who were relaxing with each other while experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime sight, the raison d'etre of the cruise?
High Tea And it certainly is. Every afternoon, with proper scones with clotted cream, delicious tea sandwiches and pastries with a harp tinkling in the background, tea is served in the beautiful Aqualina. Yummy.
Library There are lots of books, haphazardly arranged. It's a beautiful room with big comfortable chairs and couches.
Neptune's Bellows This morning's adventures marked the end of our three days in Antarctica. We saw ruined huts of past scientific expeditions, and an abandoned station whose country needs its money for more immediately practical matters. This was a volcanic area, in which during times of eruption the sea actually boils. Today there was steam rising as we cruised past. Our last view before heading to open waters was a large colony of chinstrap penguins whose rookery was along the shoreline. The birds were too far away to see with our eyes but we got some pictures with our 18x zoom lens. It was fun watching smaller groups of them, up to a hundred or so, arcing through the water like small dolphins as they headed away from the ship, presumably back to the colony. Capt. Leif Karlsson said that the three day cruise through Antarctica, his first time, is the highlight of his sailing career, and he hoped it was that for us as well. The ice pilot, Capt. Ulrich Demel, said that he suspected that the Capt. would be very happy once the ship had successfully passed through the narrow, rock lined exit, Neptune's Bellows. We saw Capt. Karlsson at the Cova coffee bar shortly after we got back out into open sea and he had a big, satisfied grin on his face. We mentioned to him later that he looked like he had won the lottery and he said that's about how he felt getting back to open sea.
Cape Horn Cape Horn is breathtaking. We rounded Cape Horn in the late afternoon, and by doing so we each officially became a "Cape Horner" complete with a certificate signed by Capt. Karlsson.
Ushuaia Ushuaia is known by the locals as "fin del mundo," the end of the world. A lovely town surrounded by snow capped peaks and close to Pargue Nacional Tierra del Fuego (156,000 acres) with its bays, lakes, rivers and high mountain peaks. There is abundant bird life there. The parque is 11 miles west of Ushuaia. Cab drivers are waiting at the end of the pier and will take you to the parque at a very fair price.
This is a busy commercial port, dangerous (large forklifts moving containers being set down by cranes. Trucks moving supplies for the various ships, etc.), for cruise passengers to walk through, even worse for the physically challenged passenger, and with a strong smell of diesel fuel.
The walk to the end of the pier here from the ship is about a kilometer. When we berthed on other cruises at Mazatlan, or Puerto Limon, etc. in the commercial port area, we were shuttled through the working area in jitneys, mini vans, etc., to keep us safe from the vehicles working on the pier at the various berths we had to pass to get to the shore.
We had to be very careful walking here, because the port crews, truck drivers and giant forklift drivers are not very mindful of pedestrians. There were no Azamara crew members directing the path to take and no pathway painted or cordoned off. Cruisers had to keep their eyes open and walk sometimes on both sides of the pier depending on the irregular vehicle movement. Poor planning on the part of Azamara Cruise lines! Not premium in any way. It's not just a comfort issue but a serious safety issue.
We spoke to the Hotel Director, Niyazi Korkmaz, and he said there was nothing he could do; it was up to the "authorities." We believe that it is the Hotel Director's and corporate Azamara's job to deal with the authorities by working with the local chamber of commerce and Government Tourist Agency to obtain the proper permits for the pier and find drivers who have a pier security clearance to drive rented mini vans or similar vehicles.
Since the ship can bring transportation vehicles to the ships' gangway to send passengers off on excursions, then they can shuttle passengers through this dangerous working port.
We had a nice lunch at Tia Elvira; canelloni and spaghetti for two, with soft drinks and tip for only $20.00 US, well below the tourist prices found at some of the local bistros. We found a nearby internet cafe one block north of the pier on Ave. San Martin and checked our email, etc. If you walk a couple of blocks, there are excellent bargains and souvenirs to be had. We even found a new halter for our broodmare, Ruby of the Amazon, including a lead shank for $21.00 US. at El Faro, a large shop of much variety, a block from the pier. There is a lot of horse equipment for sale here in Argentina. You never know what you will find to buy on a cruise vacation. We love this kind of surprise.
We visited a few shops along the pier on our way back to the ship. At Huellas del Sur, Harriette got a beautiful pashmina scarf to round out her cruise wardrobe, for 96 pesos at 3.20 pesos to the US dollar (about $32 US). It is woven in pinks going on purple with some electric blue in there, and the weave makes it reminiscent of the tweed of a Chanel jacket. Everything in the shop was of high quality, most of it silk or wool. The ambience here reminds us of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Punta Arenas, Chile Here again our access to and from the ship to the foot of the pier and the town has been lacking in ground transportation or a safely marked pathway.
Today, on the way from the Journey to the town of Punta Arenas, there was another problem: WIND. El viento. The wind really, really blows at this port, all day long. The walk itself was doable for us, the pier being shorter than that at Ushuaia, but had I lifted both my feet at the same time I might have been swept along with none of the effort of walking at all. Add the salt spray stinging us, and we allowed ourselves to be blown back to the comfort of the ship; after a time the wind died down a little and we made it all the way.
I'm glad we did; we both enjoy empanadas, which are this culture's version of a pot pie crossed with a taco: flaky pastry encloses beef or chicken, with olives and hardboiled egg in this case. We found these at "Happy Hours" cafeteria, along with really delicious strong coffee and a Coke with the original zing, from a glass bottle. Ten dollars US, including the tip.
The cab driver, for a five dollar US flat rate fare, took us to a corner downtown, where there is a square block of tree-shaded park in the center of town. There are many craft vendors set up with prices much lower than the many stores that stock crafts and souvenirs. We acquired 3 small penguins including one in a snow globe for eight dollars US total. This town seems similiar to Mazatlan, Mexico.
Puerto Madryn This is a lovely place. Nice new pier with no bustling commercial activity. At this port, a shuttle bus and a guide named Teresa who rode the bus with us, gave us much info about the town as we rode to the end of the pier. When we returned she queried us about where we ate and what we shopped for, and how did we like it all. Puerto Madryn is going all out to welcome cruisers. The pier is next to a park overlooking a very broad beach with the business district across the street. We went to the Telecom internet cafe, 3 blocks from the pier, and then to the supermercado, 2 blocks from the pier, to stock up on a few toiletries. We took pictures of some majestically artistic graffiti pieces that were up on some old dilapidated buildings that sit ready for redevelopment next to new properties under construction, and then we strolled back to the pier. This place reminded us of Cabo San Lucas, the old town, in look and ambience.
Punta Del Este, Uruguay (aka Punta del Expensivo) Upscale pricewise, ala the French Riviera, Beverly Hills etc. The locals tout it as the St. Tropez of South America. A lovely harbor/marina. We tendered in past rows of large yachts docked in the marina. Warm and pretty. Bikinis and shorts were the uniforms of the day along the pedestrian promenade skirting the marina. We walked 3 blocks to the left of the pier and one block up and had a delicious, fresh made, expensive pasta lunch at El Viejo Marino for about $52.00 US, including soft drinks and the tip. Shrimp and spaghetti with a thin red sauce of fresh tomatoes and gentle seasonings. Sublime! We also tried the spinach and ricotta ravioli in a not too heavy cream sauce.
Tipping The gratuities here on the Azamara Journey are $12.25 per day, per passenger, higher than most cruise lines. This covers the Butler/steward, his assistant, the waiters, the asst. Maitre'd's, the asst. Chief Housekeeper, etc.
There is an additional 15% tip added to bar drinks, bottles of wine. Designer coffee purchases at the Cova Cafe carry an added 18% tip.
We bring a bunch of US singles and give them away for good service. Room service waiters who deliver us a midnight snack get a couple of bucks. If we order a club soda or a designer coffee or a single glass of wine, we give the server an extra dollar in cash over the tip on the tab. It makes us feel good to do this to thank deserving staffers. We don't overdo it but it needs to be done in our opinion to show our appreciation. The standard tips don't cover the level of service available on the Azamara Journey.
Montevideo, Uruguay A truly lovely city, very friendly to the cruiser. This is an example of an industrial port that also accommodates us slow walking cruisers in comfortable safety. No shuttle was necessary.
There was a clearly defined, green painted walkway edged with a white border and pictographs indicating access for pedestrians and handicapped persons. This green path led us safely to the main (and nearby) tourist center, so that we could not wander into the large trucks which were carrying in loads of logs, etc. On the pier and at street crossings there were uniformed traffic control personnel who politely waved us through when it was safe.
Maybe a hundred meters from the ship was the "Communications Center," a phone and internet center right here inside the port, where we were able to quickly check our email. There were telephones as well, and postal services. The price was a fraction of the cost of using the internet on the ship, and the connection here was at a high speed. We brought our laptop and plugged in. There were also computer stations for rent.
Another short walk through the main gate of the port and you cross the main street and walk a block and you have arrived at the port market, "Mercado del Puerto." There we had lunch (pasta again) at La Marosqueria, and it was delicious and about half the price ($26.00 US) of our lunch yesterday in Punta del Este.
There were numerous restaurants, some with very low prices indeed; a grilled sausage sandwich on a fresh baked roll with fries for around for $3.00 US. There was a variety of delicious smelling meats, fish and chicken being grilled, empanada stands and pizza. The place was filled with locals on their lunch hour, always a good sign.
There are shops with beautiful locally made goods of leather, knit garments of wool; silver jewelry with inset gemstones were plentiful also. We did not come across the numerous cheap trinkets for sale at so many cruise stops.
Walking outside the Mercado on neighboring streets, we passed many colorful fruit stands. This neighborhood was very photogenic, in fact. Many buildings are in semi-ruin awaiting renovations. There are architects' signs on buildings in renovation and you can see the gentrification starting to happen. The textures, rusted iron scrollwork, ornate doors and window trimmings, and wildflowers (some might say weeds) that will bloom no matter what, made for great photographic backgrounds as well as subjects to feature.
In Montevideo we found the shopkeepers to be friendly and helpful. They were quoting an exchange rate of 20 pesos to the US dollar on this day. The port security troops are courteous and helpful. Our limited Spanish and their limited English was a good enough match. We want to return to Uruguay for a longer vacation.
Buenos Aires, the Return We rode from the Azamara to the Emperador Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires in a minivan, and by happy coincidence, we had the same driver who had taxied us from the airport to the ship 18 days ago: Carlos. At first the ride seemed a bit harrowing; the method to progress from one street to another or from one lane to another, etc., is to nudge your vehicle's way in front of whatever conveyance could possibly give way. There were countless near-misses, and even a pedestrian who did not seem to notice that our van began moving forward before he had cleared it! BUT: there were no raised voices; no obscene gestures. No horn honking at all! It was very peaceful chaos!
Emperador Hotel Seeing the uncomfortable conditions in the holding area Azamara had reserved for our wait, we tried to book a room for the day, but there were none available. A knowledgeable staffer confided that they were overbooked. There were a lot of cruise ships at the port; Insignia, Sinfornia, Rotterdam and the old Zenith, re-branded as Island Cruises. One could relax at a table in this secure, sterile waiting room or wander. We wandered upstairs and had a nice lunch in a light filled room with big windows overlooking a courtyard and garden with ivy covered walls. Birds, fountain, shaded sitting areas; a pretty place. You may purchase wi-fi for the day on the hotel network from the bartender.
Summing Up Azamara proclaims the following at the bottom of the e-mails I exchanged with the Customer Relations Department:
"Smaller ships. Out-of-the-ordinary destinations. Unmatched amenities -- this is Azamara."
Well, we loved the small ship. The food was really good. South America and Antarctica were majestic, but the unmatched amenities were not evident in many ways.
The first of these things was the cabin. Although the space would have permitted ample, easy storage, there was very little, and it wasn't very usable. It was impossible for one cabin mate to stay up reading while the other slept, which could be corrected by installing a retractable drape between the bed and a lighted reading area with adjustable wall lamps above the couch. A very easy thing to do.
Celebrity 'M' class ships and HAL's 'Vista' class both excel in "cabin ergonomics," making a comfortable nest for the duration of the cruise.
The lack of shuttle service on two of the piers we stopped at was quite unsafe.
Why was it not possible for the Azamara head office to align with local business associations for the benefit of both Azamara's passengers and the port town? This lack of planning was not premium.
Cruise Air The airline travel booked by the cruise line has us coming off the ship after 18 days of relaxing and cruising into a long, long wait for the plane for Miami that leaves at 11:15PM. We expect to leave the ship and a few hours later board a flight home.
We had tried to avoid this 13-1/4 hour wait lasting from leaving the ship at 10:00 AM to our flight, departing at 11:15 PM.
We obtained permission pre-cruise to leave the ship a day early, so we could spend the day relaxing on the ship, and after an early dinner, proceed to the airport, arriving there 2-1/2 to 3 hours before our flight. Miami based Azamara Customer Relations warned us that we could be required to clear immigration and customs as early as 9:30 AM that morning, and be required to then leave the ship, and be faced with the same long delay, in a strange city, with our carry-ons in tow, without a secure hotel holding area.
So, we chose not to leave the ship a day early. As it turned out, passengers who had elected to do so were allowed to stay aboard the Azamara Journey until 5:30 PM. No more cruise line booked air for us.
To come off an 18 day cruise with that wonderful relaxed feeling, and to spend a long, long day and into the night waiting for the nearly nine hour redeye flight, somewhat diminished our cruisey feelings.
Future Cruises When we complete a cruise we usually have the next one already booked, but we are waiting and watching the internet for exceptional cruise value.
We have never seen so many last minute cruise bargains or received so many e-mails from the cruise lines we sail. It's a cruise buyer's market now if your schedule is flexible.
Introduction I have cruised a total of about 55 times on almost all lines save a couple of the ultra luxury ones. Earlier this year the wife and I sailed on a 15 day Oceania Insignia Atlantic crossing. RCL Ltd has newly created the Azamara line by acquiring and refitting two "R" class ships ostensibly to compete with the three virtually identical ships currently operated by Oceania. There has been enormous interest by Oceania aficionados how the Azamara experience compares to Oceania. Having now sailed both I was able to draw some comparisons.
Embarkation The wife and I hopped on an overnight bus in Rio de Janeiro where we reside for the 6 hour ride to the embarkation port of Santos. Given the normally heavy traffic it can sometimes take more than 2 hours to travel the 60 miles by bus from Sao Paulo's Guarulhos airport to the pier in Santos. We figured we could save time and hassle if we just took the bus to Santos directly and avoided airport check in, taxis and transfers, etc.
At the Santos bus terminal we hailed a cab for the 15 minute ride tothe pier. As we arrived at 7:00 a.m we opted to drop our luggage off with the pier ground crew and continue in the taxi for a 4 hour tour of the area, principally the neighboring beach town of Guaruja. In contrast to Santos it is a charming, upscale resort popular with well to do Paulistas. Next time we arrive way early for a Santos embarkation we will spend time on the beaches of nearby Guaruja. You may want to consider that too.
After the usual dispute with the cab driver over the agreed fare it was back to the ship's terminal where we had to wait almost 2 hours to board despite having been promised by Azamara reps that boarding would start an hour sooner. Though I am normally impatient I have lived in Brasil long enough to know that getting things done here can often take longer than anticipated, especially as this was the first time Azamara was embarking in Santos. We browsed the few terminal shops, had a coffee, and played gin rummy until the embarkation desk opened. We were among the first to check in so there were no lines. The Mgr. of Prime C had set up a separate desk where all pax were required to make a dining room reservation for the first night, a well meaning effort to avoid an unmanageable crunch at any of the dining venues on night one. In point of fact, perhaps because we tend to dine after 8:30, we never had to wait more than a minute or 2 to be seated in the main dining room or either of the specialty restaurants. That the ship was sailing with less than 500 pax,(70% capacity) no doubt also facilitated seating.
Cabin and Butler We made our way to our aft SSV cabin without benefit of champagne cocktail or assistance, neither of which matter to us though it might to some. This was the first time for either of us in an aft veranda which we chose because of the over sized balcony space, its only distinguishing feature. We weren't much concerned with excessive movement while at sea because on this itinerary the Journey hugged the shore and sailed up river in Buenos Aires. After several hefty markdowns from the original price at which I booked, the cabin finally wound up costing us $3240 which I consider a real bargain; however, I don't think the extra size of the SSV balcony justifies a significant price premium. The adjoining cabin verandas are separated by metal walls running the entire depth of the veranda which together with the prominent overhang tend to create a boxed in sensation. The regular verandas on my deck appeared sufficiently spacious to comfortably accommodate a dining table and two chairs for those who want to dine on their veranda.
Shortly after freshening up we toured the ship. As expected the layout is virtually identical to the Oceania Insignia. We returned to our cabin to find our bags had arrived. While we were unpacking our butler, Natasha, entered to welcome us and explain her function. This was our first butlered cabin so I was curious to hear her description of her duties. Aside from shining shoes, making reservations in the specialty restaurants and delivering afternoon savories/tea to the cabin, all the while dressed in a smart tuxedo-like uniform, I could not distinguish her duties from those of the typical cabin steward. We are ordinarily low maintenance passengers so any services supplementing the usual cabin steward/guest relations service is fine by us. As it turned out I assigned Natasha several extra chores which she cheerfully undertook with only the most fleeting quizzical glance at me. Frankly, I can't comprehend the ballyhoo that some make about how pretentious it is to advertise these employees as butlers. What matters to us is the level of service, not the title assigned to a crew or staff member. Natasha (and her assistant) performed well and always with an engaging sense of humor.
The cabin itself held no surprises. The bed, e.g., mattress, high thread count sheets, and feathered/down pillows were all first rate and super comfy just like those on the Insignia. The bathroom shower was a bit small and the water pressure a bit low, but neither to the point of inconvenience. The robes and towels were fairly plush. We appreciated the binoculars, umbrella and especially the handheld hairdryer in the vanity desk. The table and chairs on the veranda were more comfortable than expected. There was only one significant problem, a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. The wall thermostat was not properly regulating the temperature and worse yet the ceiling unit occasionally made a horrendously loud noise that lasted a few minutes. I delegated oversight of the repairs to Natasha, and after the Electrical Dept failed to fix it in a couple of tries I think she finally invoked the aid of the Chief Engineer. Anyway, it got repaired after a few days.
Service The outstanding feature of the on board experience was the excellent attitude of all staff and crew. While they may not have always hit the mark, every single person I encountered sincerely endeavored to please as much as possible. This excellent attitude made for easy acceptance of the occasional shortcomings in food, table or room service, guest relations service, etc. The effort to provide excellent service is so palpable that one feels comfortable offering constructive criticism to managers at every level when a crew member demonstrates the need for some further help/training or the food disappoints. The eagerness to please and to improve so permeates the ship that one can foresee that in the near future the overall Azamara cruise experience is sure to get even better.
In fact, many Mgrs seemed to be recent arrivals. I was informed that the Hotel Mgr had boarded less than a week before we sailed. He was an extremely affable and apparently very capable guy. The home office Exec Chef, Tomas Symanski, was also newly aboard to tweak the menus which are, indeed, in need of revision especially in Prime C and Aqualina, the specialty restaurants. I think the Cruise Director, Andrea Oliveti, was also recently transferred from the Azamara Quest. They and the F&B and Dining Room Managers were all first rate. All of these senior officers hosted a group of concerned cruisers at which many issues were discussed and considered. I think the opinion of the majority of those present was that our expectations were being exceeded, perhaps because expectations had been tempered by widespread negative criticism at the inception of the company.
Dining I did not think the food at any of the venues except the Waves buffet on deck 9 (wow, what a breakfast!) was as good as what I experienced on Oceania, but certain dishes at each of the various venues were very good, a few excellent. The roasted sea bass which I ordered in the main dining room, Discoveries, the first night was up there with the best fish dishes I have ever tasted and had me thinking the food was going to rival that of Oceania, a notion which got dispelled as time wore on. In Aqualina a seafood bouillabaisse was to die for. The lobster newburg was the only lobster dish on either Prime C or Aqualina's menu (actually it's only on Aqualina's, but as they share the same kitchen you can order off either menu). It was quite tasty, but I would have preferred to have had a choice of a simpler lobster preparation. I did not think the steaks were of sufficiently high quality in Prime C or elsewhere. Roast prime rib was not on the menu and should be in a steakhouse such as Prime C. Large diver scallops were delicious one night, but when presented on a bed of bacon another lost all their delicate flavor. The duck breast in Discoveries was as bad as the stuffed quails were good. Desserts were generally uninspiring throughout except at the Waves buffet where early in the cruise I came across a fantastic dark chocolate mousse which, alas, I was never to see again. I'm sure the kitchen would have accommodated a request for more, but my wife reminded me of my promise not to overindulge in desserts so I left it to chance and as fate would have it I never saw it again. Next time I am requesting it.
I think the Exec Chef will be working to achieve greater excellence throughout the ship. Hopefully, the company can purchase better steaks and add more lobster to the menus in the specialty restaurants. Timing in the kitchens and table service needs to be ratcheted up as well. When it was good, it was very good, but it wasn't totally consistent. I had fabulous service 3 of the 4 times we dined in the specialty restaurants as well as some nights in the Discoveries dining room, but experienced mediocre service once in each place.
Unlike Oceania, Azamara charges a $20 and $25 cover for extra visits to Aqualina and Prime C respectively (penthouse occupants get two freebies, all others get one). By way of example how hard the company is trying to please they were quite generous in offering comped additional nights. For instance, when in response to a query by our waiter in Prime C, we mentioned our mild criticism of a steak, the Mgr soon appeared and comped us for a return visit. Another time when our Discoveries waiter neglected to advise us in advance of the $25 corkage fee, an advertised fee that I knew existed, the exuberant Dining Room Mgr, Chaika, came over and removed the charge -- I didn't have the heart to undermine his generosity by mentioning I knew about the fee. Finally, as a gesture of thanks for a small favor wife and I did by providing some info on Rio, we were comped at Aqualina by the F&B Mgr. It's difficult not to enjoy yourself when those kinds of things continuously occur.
Wife and I ordered light continental breakfast via room service all but one day. In my experience room service is usually the weakest link in the food service chain on board, but the Journey room service crew did better than most. They almost always arrived with almost everything at the appointed time. Once late in the cruise they opted to come at 7:00 am instead of our customary 8:30 just because I neglected to jot down on the room service form the time we wanted our breakfast served. I assume the blame for that although 7:00 was a bit curious in light of our known custom. Okay, I'm nitpicking.
The weather forced us up to the deck 9 breakfast buffet once and I was amazed at the selection of nicely prepared items available, not the least of which was a juice bar from which you could order almost any concoction of fruit/veggie drinks imaginable. Given that sumptuous breakfast buffet I'm glad I managed to avoid temptation by opting for the continental breakfast on our veranda.
For lunch we either ate at the deck 9 buffet which was absolutely first rate or indulged in a hamburger with fries or salad at the poolside grill. I didn't like the franks, but the burgers were pretty good even though my preference is not for the mandatory well done. I would also prefer not to have to deal with those tiny plastic bags of ketchup, relish, mustard, etc. My dexterity isn't what it used to be and it's generally an annoyance trying to tear open those bags to squeeze out the minuscule contents. I neglected to write that on my comment card. Maybe someone who agrees with me can do so in the near future.
I was disappointed with the pizza, but I'm always disappointed with pizza at sea -- my standards are pretty high having grown up in New Jersey and little Italy in NYC. I'm not exactly sure why I find it unauthentic, but perhaps it has to do with a pre-prepared crust or the lack of zestiness of the tomato gravy. Anyway, there are so many other options and pizza isn't too good for me so it's just as well.
Lemonade, iced tea and fruit punch and coffee was constantly available from dispensers located in Waves and near the poolside grill.
Entertainment and Shipboard Activities The Journey's showroom/theater is, like the other R ships, without a raised stage and is consequently more intimate than the usual ship showroom. It's well suited to the cabaret shows performed by the Journey cast of 5 singers and dancers who presented three shows during the 12 night cruise. I was impressed with the quality of the talent although I thought the shows' production values (staging, lighting and costumes) could have been better. I didn't catch much of the other shows though my Brasilian wife told me the young group of Brasilian dancers that performed when we were ported in Itajai were very good.
The orchestra was one of the better ones I have heard on ships although I would have liked more pre-dinner dance opportunities. The talented band that played poolside made a lot of music for a trio.
Andrea Oliveti was a capable, good humored cruise director. His equally good natured staff conducted numerous activities throughout each day even when attendance was less than SRO. I was taken back when only 4 people showed up for a mid-morning trivia session. Boy, what a bunch of couch potatoes. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of enrichment lectures. Wife and I even briefly manned an orientation desk to provide tips on Rio a day before we ported there.
The library (aka Michael's Club) had an honor system self checkout and was open all hours. I believe tea was served there in the afternoon -- I never ventured to events featuring more food, but I did observe tea service being set up one day. I would have liked to have seen a better stocked library -- I could not find a single travel book. There is a piano in the room and I understand it was used at various times. I never was there when it was played. In any event I wonder why tea service and the piano cannot be relocated to the large forward lounge (like it is on the Insignia).
In addition to the piano player, there was a guitar player performing in the evenings near the casino entrance on deck 5 as well as a harpist who performed near the Cova Cafe on deck 5 (a spot where specialty coffees and drinks were available for a charge). I confess I did not catch their acts except in passing. The guitarist was Brasilian and sounded pretty accomplished.
The internet connection aboard ship was so notoriously slow that the computer room was hardly ever occupied except for the occasional free class offered by the host. Pay TV programming was available in the cabin. I am not a fan of pay TV movie programming, but if it helps to hold down the base cruise price I guess I can suffer through the alternative non-pay movie programming that existed. A few almost first run movies and selected classics were rebroadcast several times every couple of days and, of course, there was the annoyingly repetitious CNN. The TV was also programmed to enable you to review your shipboard account, check excursions and restaurant reservations, etc.
Ports and Excursions The itinerary for this cruise consisted of Buenos Aires, Itajai, Paraty, Rio de Janeiro and return to Santos. The ship departed Santos on Thursday, Nov 29 and made its first port of Buenos Aires on Sunday, Dec 2. We sailed away the same night. That was a scheduling error. Compounding that we also arrived in Rio de Janeiro on the following Sunday and departed Rio on Monday afternoon. Both are world class cities and arriving on a Sunday when so many of the things to see and do are closed is unwise. Conversely, after leaving Buenos Aires we overnighted in the small southern Brasilian town of Itajai apparently so that the ship could run an overnight excursion to the falls of Iguazu for a small (30) group willing to pay about $1400 pp. This type of scheduling should be avoided on future runs in these waters.
I have not gone on a ship excursion for many years preferring to fend for myself. In Itajai, we paired up with another couple from the ship and hired a taxi to take us to the German colonial town of Blumenau located about an hour from port. The Journey tendered passengers ashore in Paraty, a picturesque colonial town located 140 miles from Rio. Tied up at the pier where the tenders put passengers ashore were dozens of schooner ships of various capacity, where for R$20 ($12) one could purchase a 5 hour trip for swimming and snorkeling among the numerous islands that dot the Brasilian coast. Be sure to leave a couple of hours for shopping along the town's cobblestone streets. Paraty is an artsy, craftsy place.
Conclusion In view of the spectacular effort by all staff and crew to please, this cruise was delightful even if some things were not absolutely perfect. The minor inconsistencies in service are sure to be eliminated given the obvious concern by all senior officers to render excellent service. It is hoped that the on board presence of the line's Executive Chef portends a revision of the menus and an improvement in the quality of the food offerings particularly in the specialty restaurants. When that happens the Journey will offer an experience very comparable to that which we enjoyed on the Oceania Insignia. Let's face it, the relative high cost of land travel throughout the world because of a weak US dollar, makes cruising on a ship like the Journey a darn good value.