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CruiseReportAzamara Club Cruises Azamara Journey5A cruise review of Azamara Club Cruises Azamara Journey in Transatlantic
 
 
by C. Dikmen and
R. Richardson
 
Journalist  89
 
 
 
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  Azamara Journey Editorial
 
Transatlantic Journey
 
April 2011
 
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
 
Itinerary: 13-nights -  Miami, At Sea (10), Gibraltar, At Sea (2) Civitavecchia

t was just a year ago that Azamara Cruises was re-branded Azamara Club Cruises; a new name, a new vision, and a new leader at the helm of the young cruise brand. Azamara Club Cruises is part of the Royal Caribbean International/Celebrity Cruises family of cruise lines. Before our recent 13-night Transatlantic sailing, we really did not know exactly where Azamara fit in that family. As the line between premium and luxury cruise lines continues to blur, Azamara Club Cruises is an example of a brand that seems intent on erasing that line altogether. While I can't say Azamara Club Cruises is a full-blown luxury cruise line, the term "premium" doesn't seem adequate either. One thing is certain, no matter how you categorize it, Azamara Club Cruises is perhaps best kept secret in the cruise industry.

Azamara Journey and her identical twin, Azamara Quest, have a tonnage of 30,000 and each carry up to 694 guests. The two ships sail the waters of Europe, Asia, South America and The Caribbean. Brochure rates (online) for a 7-Night Caribbean cruise sailing out of Miami in November, 2011, are $1,399* pp for Inside Stateroom and $2,199* pp for a Veranda. A comparable cruise on Celebrity Cruises shows a brochure rate of $699* and $899* per person for Inside and Veranda respectively. Although more than twice the brochure rate, Azamara Club Cruises includes complimentary wine with meals, complimentary soft drinks and bottled water and gratuities are included in the cruise fare. Complimentary coffee drinks are also served at Mosaic Cafe on Azamara Club Cruises.

SLIDESHOW




There are no formal nights on Azamara Club Cruises voyages. The dress code is resort casual at all times.

* fares as of 4/26/2011 per each cruise line's website. Posted rates do not reflect cruise line promotions, discounts or special offers. Check with your travel agent for actual cruise fares.

EMBARKATION


Whoever said "it's the journey, not the destination" has never flown American Airlines! Our scheduled 8:50am flight from DFW to Miami was delayed due to thunderstorms. The "creeping delay" started with a claim of the flight departing at 10am. Of course, once 10am arrived we were told it would be 10:30am. This continued in 15-minute increments until we finally pushed back from the gate at 11:40am!. With the application of simple math we knew we would be cutting it close to make it to the ship before the 5pm scheduled departure. Everything would have to go perfectly once we landed in Miami. Fortunately, it did. We stepped off the plane at 3:15 and had exactly one hour and fifteen minutes to get to the port of Miami before it closed. A mad dash from the gate to the train that connects the D terminal to the baggage claim/ground transportation terminal found us literally stepping right onto a train. Within two minutes we were at the baggage claim terminal. Since we had used Luggage Free to ship our big luggage directly to the ship, we did not have to wait for baggage claim, so we ran outside and got in the first cab we could find. By now it was 3:20 and the driver assured us we would get to the ship on time. We did. It was a miracle! We actually got out of the Miami airport in less than 10 minutes from the time the plane pulled up to the gate.


This is a great testimony for Luggage Free (www.LuggageFree.com) delivery service (however, see the Disembarkation section for the full story). If we had been forced to wait an additional 30 minutes at baggage claim for checked bags, we would have missed the ship, no question about it. Luggage Free picked up our bags a week earlier, had them delivered directly to the ship and they were in our stateroom when we boarded. Talk about convenient!


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Once we arrived at the port terminal, we grabbed our carry-ons, went through security and checked in. Needless to say, we were the only ones checking in, so it went very fast. We were issued our room key/onboard charge cards and invited to board the ship. Stepping on board Azamara Journey brought back memories of our 2003 sailing on Oceania Regatta and our 2000 sailing with Renaissance. Journey is one of the original "R" ships that has been "re-purposed" for Azamara Club Cruises. These ships have a very unique and recognizable character.


Our Club Veranda Stateroom (7028) is located on Deck 7 forward port side, conveniently near the forward stairway/elevators. By the time we arrived, we did not even have time to start unpacking before the muster drill. After the drill, we returned to unpack and sort things out in the stateroom. Rickee and I agreed that we deserved a sailaway drink to help wash away the stress of the late flight, which we drank at the Pool Bar on Deck 9. A quick dinner in the Windows Cafe on Deck 9, the ship's buffet eatery, and it was off to bed for us. We were whipped!  The next nine days are "at sea" as we head east to toward Gibraltar.


ACCOMMODATIONS

At 175 sq. ft. with a 40 sq. ft. balcony, our Club Verandah Stateroom is "cozy" for sure. Two twin beds have been combined to make one queen bed for our journey with a small nightstand on each side. Each nightstand has a door covering two shelves for storage and a built-in lamp. When we arrived, one of the two mattresses had a noticeable and very large dip in the middle. After bringing this to our stateroom attendant's attention, he promptly added a mattress topper to address the situation. The mattresses are comfortable, but not what I would call "premium". The pillows, on the other hand, are quite good and the linens are top quality. The bed frames are too low to allow our largest suitcase to be stored underneath. Our stateroom attendant stored it for us elsewhere.


The "living room" section features a small sofa that can seat two people and a very small, round coffee table. A narrow desk/vanity is located directly across from the sofa and has a small stool. The desk was large enough to accommodate my Mac laptop and Rickee's Kindle. Fortunately, the ship's designers had the foresight to include four electrical outlets at the desk: 2 US-Style 115-volt and 2 European-style 220-volt (round 2-pin). We always pack a few Euro-male to US-female adapters so we can use all of the outlets. The desk has four decent size drawers on one side and two storage shelves on the other in addition to a small center pull-out drawer. A very large mirror is mounted to the wall above the desk and an even larger floor-to-ceiling mirror is mounted on the wall facing the bed. This does help to give the room a larger feel.
The desk would have been an ideal place for a lighted magnifying makeup mirror. There was really no place in the stateroom with adequate lighting for applying makeup. Since the balcony was completely covered, sitting right by the glass door didn't provide much light even on a bright sunny day.

The 40 sq. ft. balcony is very shallow and is best suited to enjoying breakfast or other meals al fresco. There is a nice-sized dining-style table on the balcony and two chairs. The balcony is too shallow to allow for a foot stool or lounger-style chair for stretching out and grabbing some rays. There are floor-to-ceiling windows to let all the sunshine in from the balcony and a sliding glass door. However, as mentioned earlier, the balcony is completely covered with a slight overhang so not much sunlight reaches the balcony. One evening, after going to bed, we noticed a loud whistling sound, the kind you get when you leave your balcony door open and get the negative air pressure rushing through the stateroom. We opened and closed our door several times to make sure it was sealed, but to no avail. We mentioned the noise, which was quite loud, to the front desk the next morning and a maintenance crew was sent to repair the seal around the balcony door. Whatever they did worked, because the room is dead silent now. In fact, one of the best features of the stateroom is how quiet and peaceful it is. Other than an occasional slamming door from an adjacent stateroom, the room is very quiet.


Storage is adequate with a nice-sized closet capable of holding two large suitcases of clothing. There are four drawers in one side of the closet for folded items. An angled storage shelf is mounted above the corner cabinet that holds the small mini-bar/refrigerator and in-room safe. The storage shelf is a good place to stash your cameras, caps, or other gear you may need to grab on the way out the door.


The bathroom is small by any standards with a tiny shower stall with curtain. A single sink and small vanity has a shelf below the vanity and a small 3-shelf medicine cabinet storage unit on one side. There are some slightly larger shelves mounted on the back wall of the bathroom above the toilet. The toilet is mounted at an angle, so as to fit into the cramped space. Bathroom amenities are top-quality Elemis products. Mechanically, everything worked perfectly. There is always plenty of hot water and water pressure is excellent.
One thing Rickee did not like about the shower was the shower curtain's tendency to drift into the shower and stick to her. The shower is really tiny!

The in-room television is a 32" flat-screen LCD. There is no CD/DVD player, but a curious co-ax cable is hanging from the back of the TV leading me to believe that if you bring your own player or X-Box that it can be hooked up easily. TV programming is good offering Fox News, CNN, Sky News, Discovery/Travel/NatGeo, MSNBC and a closed-circuit movie channel. There are also a few channels with closed-circuit ship programming. The TV also features an "I-TV" interactive system for checking your onboard account, viewing restaurant menus, booking shore excursions, daily activities and other pertinent information. The I-TV is well designed and easy to use. Television reception throughout the cruise was excellent.


Every stateroom enjoys complimentary bottled water delivered daily and soft drinks. Complimentary Afternoon Tea and Savories service is available by completing a card and leaving on the door. A nice touch for sure.
Azamara Club Cruises also provides a nice-sized tote bag for each stateroom. We received a daily newspaper, the USA Times. We had a small arrangement of fresh-cut flowers and fruit was replenished as needed. Bathrobes and slippers were provided for onboard use.

Perhaps the best feature of our stateroom was the attentive staff. No matter what time we leave our stateroom, it gets cleaned immediately. It is not uncommon for us (meaning Rickee) to sleep late and not leave the stateroom until after 10:30am. On many ships, if you are not out of your stateroom by 9:30, your room may not get cleaned until later that evening. Our stateroom attendant, Joseph, and his assistant, Raymond, have provided excellent service and responded to every request. In fact, this has been the case with every staff member we encountered. Friendly, professional, attentive and efficient, all can be used to describe the Azamara Journey staff and crew.
In addition to their other duties, the stateroom attendant/assistant can help with unpacking/packing, get your shoes shined, assist with making reservations in the specialty restaurants and Astral spa, and assist with getting shore excursion tickets. All you have to do is ask.

We would rate the Club Verandah Stateroom a 3.5 out of possible 5. The stateroom is better suited for 7-to-10-night sailings with ports-of-call, which is what Azamara is really known for. On long Transatlantic sailings where you tend to spend more time in your stateroom, the 266 sq. ft. Club Continent Suite would most likely be a more comfortable choice.



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DINING

The dining experience on Azamara Journey is quite varied for a ship of this size. We were impressed with the choices that were available. It was not that long ago, it seems, when the only choice for dinner on a cruise ship was the main dining room. Not any more. You will not be disappointed with the dining choices on Azamara Journey.

We were also impressed with the complimentary wine service at lunch and dinner. Each day the ship pours a different white and red wine. All of the wines we tried were good quality. Complimentary wine was offered in all venues, even at the Pool Grill. Another practice that we wish more cruise lines would adopt is opening their restaurants at 6pm. We like to eat early and some ships do not start serving dinner until 7pm or later. Every venue was open for dinner at 6pm. Good job!

The dress code on Azamara Journey is resort casual. No ball caps, shorts or jeans are allowed in Discoveries, Prime C or Aqualina at dinner. However, jeans and shorts are allowed in Windows Cafe at dinner. We were told in the beginning of the cruise that jeans and shorts were not allowed in the dining room at lunch. We later found this not to be the case. I find it telling that the daily program has to remind people to not have bare feet or wear swimsuits in the restaurants.

DISCOVERIES RESTAURANT


Discoveries is Azamara Journey's "traditional" cruise dining room open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menus here change each day at lunch and dinner time. Menu choices are about on par with what you would expect from a premium cruise line. There is a lounge/bar at the entrance into Discoveries where guests will often sit and enjoy a drink while waiting for a table to become available. Show up for dinner before 7pm and you are likely to be seated immediately. After 7pm, things get crowded in a hurry. If you do show up after 7pm, you may want to plan on two hours for a leisurely dinner. If you are in a hurry, opt for Windows Cafe, or come earlier.

We found the food served in Discoveries to generally be good; however, there were some slip-ups in execution. Nothing major, but noticeable. Both occurred at lunch, if that means anything. One day my cheeseburger was delivered without cheese. On another visit, Rickee and I both order a Mezze plate with hummus, babaganoush, pita bread, etc. Her plate included babaganoush, mine did not. Both minor incidents, but attention to detail could be better.

Service in Discoveries was crisp and professional. While not quite as polished as the service in Prime C and Aqualina, it is certainly acceptable for such a large and busy dining venue and will rival any other cruise ship main dining.

WINDOWS CAFE

Windows Cafe is Azamara Journey's buffet/lido restaurant. Windows is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is actually open 24 hours a day for coffee and tea. I visited Windows each morning at around 6am to work on my blog and enjoy coffee. Breakfast service starts at 7am and includes a lavish display of fruit, pastries, cereals and hot dishes. An omelet station will make fresh egg dishes to other.

Lunchtime at Windows Cafe is at noon each day and offers a variety of salads, breads, soup, sandwiches and hot entrees that change each day. A carving station features a different meat each day, as well.

Dinner is available in Windows from 6pm until 9:30pm each evening. The dress code is casual, meaning you can wear your blue jeans or shorts to dine here (blue jeans and shorts are not recommended/allowed in the other dining venues after 6pm). The highlight of the dinner buffet each evening is hand-made sushi, fresh tossed pasta dishes and their signature Asian stir-fry station. If you are in a hurry and do not want to stand in line to wait for the stir fry, there are other hit entrees and vegetables available on the buffet. There is a featured "live" themed-cooking station each evening with more exotic offerings. Your patience at the stir-fry station will be rewarded, however.

We found ourselves having dinner in Windows Cafe on several evenings. It was just so darn easy to walk up to Deck 9, get a table, and enjoy a good meal. Even though we are not big fans of buffets in general, the "fresh" approach to the sushi, pasta and stir-fry stations sort of take the "buffetness" out of the Windows experience. Waiters/esses are always nearby to take a drink order or deliver a glass of complimentary wine with dinner. For those who prefer to dine al fresco, Windows Cafe offers a substantial covered patio dining area aft. The outdoor patio was a popular place in the evening to enjoy dinner and watch the sunset on the ocean while listening to live music played by guitarist, Steven Dockery.

Rickee's favorite part of Windows was the hand-dipped gelato cart with a variety of homemade gelato flavors each evening. This delicious ice cream was also available at lunch.

MOSAIC CAFE


We are always keeping our eyes peeled for something new, different and exciting on today's cruise ships. Anything that distinguishes one ship or cruise line from the competition is always interesting. There is just such a venue on Azamara Journey: Mosaic Cafe. We walked right by Mosaic Cafe several times without really paying too much attention. After all, coffee bars are pretty common on most modern cruise ships. Today, at around 5:30pm, however, we decided to stop by and see what Mosaic Cafe had to offer in the way of "savories". Wow, were we impressed! The large, multi-tiered cart parked next to the coffee bar was filled with small "tapas"-style plates of delicious savory and sweet items.


Rickee and I quickly grabbed a few of the plates and found a table for two where we could enjoy an early evening snack. A small dish of hummus was delicious as was the plate of mozzarella w/fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. Another plate with shaved Parma ham and cheese found its way to our table, as well. Each of the dishes was very well executed and pleasingly presented.


We opted for soft drinks on this visit to Mosaic Cafe, which are complimentary (soft drinks are complimentary throughout the ship), however, they also offer a wide variety of complimentary specialty coffee drinks. Coffee drinks with liquor are available at an extra cost.


What makes Mosaic Cafe so special is not the idea of hors d'oeuvres. Many premium cruise lines offer guests hors d'oeuvres during "happy hour". What makes Mosaic Cafe unique is in the execution of the idea. The variety of savory and sweet items offers something for everyone. And, you can find these small dishes laid out throughout the day at Mosaic Cafe, not just at "happy hour". So, whenever you get the urge for a small bite of something to get you through to the next meal, Mosaic Cafe is there!
And the cookie jars are always filled for you to help yourself.

Mosaic Cafe is located on Deck 5 amidships, at the top of the grand staircase leading down to Guest Relations. It is open from 8am until midnight every day (at least on this Transatlantic sailing), so by the time it opens, I have already had my coffee for the day. If I were going to change anything about Mosaic Cafe, it would be an earlier opening time.


Mosaic Cafe was the chosen spot for holding lots of onboard activities such as trivia and other games. It was also the venue for lots of musical entertainment.  All in all, Mosaic Cafe was one of our favorite places on Azamara Journey!

AQUALINA RESTAURANT


Even though we have said it many times before, it bears repeating. Dining is an important part of any cruise. In addition to the more traditional Discoveries restaurant on Deck 5, Azamara Journey offers two alternate venues for dinner. Aqualina Restaurant, located on Deck 10 aft, offers American cuisine with a Mediterranean flavor. It should be noted that a dining fee of $15 per person is charged at Aqualina and reservations are required. When we called to make reservations, we were told that they accept reservations for 6:00pm, 6:30pm, 8:00pm and 8:30pm.


We arrived at Aqualina on time for our 6:30pm reservation and were immediately greeted by the host and escorted to a beautifully set table next to a window. On our visit, Aqualina was very quiet, with only three other tables of diners. Most likely this was because it was only the second evening of a 13-night cruise. Alternate restaurants tend to fill up as the cruise gets farther along.


Within only moments we were greeted by our waitress, Nicole, who presented us our menus and cheerfully agreed to take our picture together. Nicole pointed out a few of the items on the menu and answered our questions. She was attentive, knowledgeable and friendly.


The menu at Aqualina features four soups, four salads, seven appetizers, nine entrees and a chef's special. Soon after turning in our order, Nicole returned with an Amuse Bouche of smoked salmon made into what looked and tasted somewhat like a well-constructed tuna fish salad, albeit with salmon instead of tuna.


Aqualina also offers a tasting menu with five courses and four wine choices for $50 per person. We opted for the a la carte menu.


For the soup course, I chose the Broccoli and Spinach Cream Soup, even though I had my eye on the Lobster Bisque with Lemon Flavored Cream. Rickee opted for the Red Pepper Cream soup. Both dishes were served hot and were well presented. And, both were well seasoned and delicious.


Instead of a selection from the appetizer section of the menu, Rickee and I chose salads instead. My Classic Caesar Salad was a bowl of fresh Romaine dressed with Caesar dressing, shaved Parmesan cheese and large garlic croutons. It was very good. Believe it or not, a good Caesar salad is hard to find on most cruise ships. This one is good. Rickee chose a mixture of Endive, Frísee, Máche, Carmelized Apples, Strawberries in Mint Vinaigrette. She must have enjoyed it since there was not a bite left on her plate at the end of the course.


My entree of Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb consisted of three large chops with a thick crispy crust that almost had the consistency of a deep fried batter. The lamb was very tender and juicy but lacked seasoning. The "herb" crust was almost bland. Rickee's Gnocchi on Chicken Ragout featured a medley of carrots, asparagus, peas, sun dried tomatoes and chives in a goat cheese cream sauce. Her dish was executed perfectly, was well seasoned and very flavorful. We both agreed that her dish was the winner between the two.


Dessert is something I have to leave in Rickee's hands since I try to watch the carb intake and she has the sweet tooth. However, we were both spent after the three courses and even Rickee had to forego dessert. However, it should be noted that Aqualina offers a very decadent dessert menu. You can even have a souffle prepared by ordering in advance.


In summary, Aqualina offers a romantic and quiet alternative to the ship's main dining room. The atmosphere is subtle and serene and the menu offers something for everyone. Our waitress, Nicole, was excellent. Our only critique would be the long wait time between courses. So, don't come to Aqualina if you are in a hurry. Sit back, relax and enjoy a delicious meal that is well worth the extra $15 per person.


PRIME C


I am a Texan. I like steak. So, when I found out that Azamara Journey had its own steakhouse you can imagine my delight. Prime C is one of two alternate dining venues on Azamara Journey, the other one being Aqualina. Both are located aft on Deck 10, Aqualina port side and Prime C starboard. Both restaurants require reservations and there is a $15 per person charge for dining unless you are in a suite and then there is no charge.


Where Aqualina is decorated in cool blue and subtle tones, Prime C is much more masculine with dark colors, like a classic steakhouse. The bar at Prime C is more substantial than the one at Aqualina and looks like a trendy urban watering hole where you can enjoy your favorite drink and the menu as well. When we arrived at Prime C for our 6:30pm reservation, we were greeted by Prime C Manager, Mustafa, and quickly escorted to a table at the rear of the dining room next to a large window.


As soon as we were seated, we were presented with the large menus and immediately began scanning the vast selection. The menu offers two soups, four salads, six starters, eleven entrees plus a chef special. Where I struggled with choices at Aqualina, it took very little time for me to decide at Prime C. For one thing, Prime C breaks one of the the rules of fine dining: they offer deep fried starters. I hate rules. So, even though the Macadamia Nut Crusted Prawns came highly recommended, I had to try the Crispy Popcorn Rock Shrimps with trio of sauces. Just to cover all the bases, and for journalistic integrity, I decided to also try the Chicken Lollipops with trio of sauces.



 
Duman (waiter) and Mustafa (Maitre 'd) at Prime C
 

 
The meal began with an Amuse Bouche consisting of a small goat cheese tartlet with fig jam. It would be a crime to serve something that complex in a Texas steakhouse, nevertheless, it was delicious. Rickee and I both chose the Wild Mushroom Soup as our soup course and it was creamy and delicious. As soon as the soup bowls were cleared from the table, my first starter arrived. A bowl of fried popcorn rock shrimp with three dipping sauces. The lightly battered shrimp nuggets were deep fried to perfection and served piping hot. I could have easily made a meal of these. The three dipping sauces consisted of a cocktail sauce, a tarter sauce and some other mild tomato-based sauce. Rickee's plate of Beef Carpaccio was definitely large enough for two people to share, but she managed pretty well. The paper-thin slices of raw steak were topped with Arugula, shaved Manchego, olive oil and crushed pepper.


Fortunately, Rickee eats much slower than me. She was still working her way through her Carpaccio when my second starter arrived. A platter with what appears to be an Escargot serving dish re-purposed to hold six fried chicken "lollipops". A chicken lollipop is basically the small chicken wing drumette where the bone has been "frenched", so to speak, so that the bone can be used as a convenient handle. This is how the chicken should have been designed to begin with. All of the meat is on one end, dipped in batter and deep fried to perfection. Like the rock shrimps, the lollipops were fryer fresh and absolutely delicious. Of the sauce trio, I never made it past the BBQ sauce. The spicy mustard would have probably been better as a honey-mustard and I never got to the third sauce. Each bone was picked clean in short order.


By the time our main courses arrived, Rickee and I were both feeling full. I was fighting the urge to release my belt and pop the button on my trousers to get comfortable. My bone-in Cowboy Rib Eye was a thick, broiled chunk of meat with a nice bark on the outside. Rickee's Pan Fried Milk-Fed Veal Chop was as large as my Rib Eye. Both were ordered Medium. My Rib Eye was cooked perfectly, but Rickee's veal was slightly overcooked. However, both were delicious. Of the two, however, the Rib Eye is the better cut. Highly recommended is the Grilled Filet Mignon, which we have heard from other guests is the real star at Prime C.


When the dessert menu arrived I was already crying "uncle" but Rickee dug deep and found the courage to order the chocolate fondue. The small pot of warm chocolate sauce was accompanied by small chunks of fresh fruit and brownies for dipping. But, forget that, just bring a spoon and eat the sauce like a soup! The chocolate sauce was absolutely decadent and delicious.


The service at Prime C should also be commended. Our waiter, Duman, was excellent. And, the galley delivered each course promptly without delay. Everything was served hot and fresh and presentations were excellent. The food at Prime C was flying out of the galley compared to our experience at Aqualina, in spite of Prime C being quite full of guests during our visit.


In our opinion, Prime C should be at the top of any Azamara guest's "to do" list. Not only is Prime C well worth the $15 cover charge, it is a bargain at that price!


POOL GRILL

The Pool Grill quickly became my favorite lunch spot on Journey. I have pretty simple tastes when it comes to lunch. I like a good burger, onion rings, wings, etc. The Pool Grill had all that and more. The cheeseburgers were made fresh and were hot and juicy. That may sound insignificant, but you would not believe how many 5- and 6-star cruise lines cannot make a decent hamburger! The Pool Grill has a very extensive menu, for a pool grill, that is. In addition to the typical burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches, they also offered beef, lamb, chicken, salmon and pork brochettes and BBQ pork ribs.

It took me a few days to discover the chicken wings, which quickly became another of my favorites. The onion rings were a little on the tough side, but any onion ring is better than none at all. The fries were always hot and fresh. There is a small salad bar at the Pool Grill and they have guacamole, salsa and chips. However, the chips are often so stale and tough you can barely chew them, probably as result of sitting out in the humidity.

I like the fact that the Pool Grill opens each day at 11am, even though I must report that toward the end of the cruise, for some reason, they were opening about 45 minutes late. I know, because I was usually there right at 11am! I am not exactly sure why, but it happened on at least three occasions. I double checked the daily Pursuits newsletter, and sure enough it still showed 11am. In spite of this small transgression, the Pool Grill will be one of the first places I visit should I be fortunate enough to sail with Azamara Club Cruises in the future!

ROOM SERVICE

Room service is available 24-hours a day and has a nice menu. We never ordered room service, but should have tried it at least once if only to see where they would set the tray! The only table in the cabin looked too small to handle a tray or
enough food for two people. Perhaps that's why there is a table and two chairs on the balcony.


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ACTIVITIES




Emma leads us in a heated game of trivia!


Since this was a transatlantic cruise without a port scheduled until Day 11, the activities were plentiful. The schedule for the next day was provided in the Pursuits daily program which was delivered to your stateroom each evening. The page with the list of events and times could be detached and folded into a convenient size to carry with you. Chris Schmidt, Activities Manager, and his staff of three, Emma, James and Marcio, seemed to be all over the ship heading up games and tournaments.

I found it interesting that this ship had a Nintendo Wii game system and used it frequently to present gaming opportunities such as Bowling, Tennis, Wheel of Fortune, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, etc. People who participated in designated daily activities had a piece of paper with a lot of squares printed on it where they would get the signature of the cruise staff member who led the activity. At the end of the cruise, if you received a certain number of signatures, you could redeem your signature pages for certain "prizes" ranging from a bookmark, a book light, an Azamara tee-shirt, etc., depending on the number of signatures you had "earned".

There were many different types of trivia offered including visual trivia. A version of "Name That Tune" seemed to interest lots of people. There were games such as Taboo, Scattegories, and Outburst. There was a daily get-together for needle point, crochet and cross-stitching. There were lectures on the game of bridge and games of bridge played. There were get-togethers for canasta players, cribbage players, mahjong players and bridge players. There were get-togethers for solo travelers. Bingo was played almost every afternoon and the prizes ranged from cash to spa treatments at the onboard Astral Spa. Rickee won a game and one of her prizes was to get to blow the ship's whistle at noon from the bridge along with Captain Jason Ikiadis.

There is a small casino on Deck 5 with some slot machines and a few table games. Poker and slot tournaments were offered throughout the cruise.

Fitness activities such as stretching, yoga, walking on the jogging track and a spinning class were offered each day. Most of the fitness classes were free but there was one called "Boot Camp" for which they charged $30 per session and there were three different sessions. Some activities, such as liquor/wine/cocktail tastings, also had an associated fee. Some of the computer classes offered in eConnections had a fee. Games such as golf putting,bean bag toss, ping-pong, shuffleboard and darts were offered. Ballroom dancing lessons were presented and the nice thing about these lessons is that they stretched them out over two days. The first day was Part 1 and you finished up on the next day with Part 2 of the same dance.

The Fitness Center located on Deck 9 forward was very well equipped with the latest Life Fitness® weight machines, treadmills, elliptical machines and bicycles. Fitness junkies can enjoy a stint on a treadmill while looking out over the ocean through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Complimentary chilled bottled water is available in the workout gym as well as towels and the ever-present Purell™ hand sanitizer wipes. Separate locker rooms are set up for men and women, each with its own steam room.

The adjacent Astral Spa offers guests every possible massage and salon treatment while the Acupuncture center next door provides relief in the form of tiny needles inserted at specific points on the body.

 
  Rickee blows the noon whistle on Azamara Journey
   
There was an Arts and Crafts instructor on this cruise and she kept people busy learning calligraphy, origamy, making a photo and memento portfolio, and more. The Discoverer Enrichment Series consisted of three speakers: Jon Bailey, Richard Munroe and Ronald Bowers. Mr. Bailey lectured on musical topics, Mr. Munroe was the destination expert, and Mr. Bowers, a former prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, lectured on celebrity cases in which he had been involved.There were enrichment lectures given each sea day, and that means there were a LOT of lectures! A nice feature is that the lectures are recorded so if you missed one, you could watch it later in your cabin on one of the ship's channels.

This is the only cruise I've ever been on where a choir was organized using the passengers who wanted to sing. This "High C's Choir" rehearsed daily and performed at the end of the cruise along with the Azamara Journey singers. If you fancied yourself a ship builder, you had your chance on this voyage to build a ship and float it in the pool. It is amazing what people can create using only materials found on the ship!

Deck 10 is where you will find the Drawing Room, a beautiful well-stocked library with lots of comfortable seating. Daily crossword puzzles and Sudoku were available here. The Drawing Room is open 24-hours a day and books are checked out on the honor system.

For a ship of this size, there were a lot of activities. If you chose to, you could be busy starting from 7:00am until after midnight with scheduled activities.
 
  49 minutes
$29.95
  89 minutes
$49.95
  150 minutes
$79.95
  237 minutes
$99.95
     
eConnections is the ship's Internet Cafe on Deck 9. Guests can access the Internet using any of the center's 15 computers, or through the ship's Wi-Fi wireless system. Internet charges are in line with what most other major cruise lines charge. In other words, expensive. Pay-as-you-go rates are 65 cents per minute and you can always count on several minutes just to send even a single email. If you plan to use the Internet to any degree at all, you are better off purchasing one of the Internet packages (see table to right). The per-minute rates get cheaper as you purchase larger packages. The 237 minute package is 42 cents per minute. Le Club Voyage members may benefit from some complimentary Internet time.

The good news is that the Internet service aboard Azamara Journey was better than most cruise ships. Internet speed was acceptable and reliability was way ahead of most ships. I spend a LOT of time on the Internet, so this is a subject of which I am keenly aware. The only time I was unable to connect to the Internet was briefly during our port call in Gibraltar. Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship and is very good. I had no problems accessing the Internet from our stateroom, or from any of the public spaces. I would have to say that the Internet service was about as good as you can expect on a cruise ship.

ENTERTAINMENT

There are lots of advantages to sailing on smaller ships. You get to know your fellow guests, crew members greet you by name, you can walk from your stateroom to anyplace on the ship in under three minutes, and you rarely, if ever, have to stand in line. As with anything in life, there are tradeoffs. One of the "big ship" amenities you lose on a smaller ship is in the area of entertainment. Bigger ships have big budgets to put on impressive production shows. It is simple economics.


Apparently, someone at Azamara Club Cruises did not get the memo. The evening entertainment on Azamara Journey is exceptionally good. Perhaps it is the relationship between Celebrity Cruises and Azamara? We were blown away by the production shows on Celebrity Eclipse a few weeks ago, claiming them to be the best we have seen in years.


We attended our second performance featuring Eric De Gray, the ship's Cruise Director. De Gray has an an extensive performing career as a singer and is an accomplished figure skater. His credits are far too many to list here. Suffice it to say that at 6' 6" tall, you are unlikely to miss Eric walking down the hall of a cruise ship, not to mention when he steps on stage with microphone in hand. De Gray's first performance was a solo show held in The Cabaret lounge earlier in the cruise. We were so impressed by the first show we were anxiously awaiting his second appearance. The second show, "Broadway Showstoppers," was a collection of Broadway musical songs arranged by De Gray and performed along with an impressive group of talented vocalists. Lloyd Ziel, Sincée Daniels, Kim Bryant, Judy Lombino and Robyn Sears each displayed vocal skills rarely found on any cruise ship stage, much less one with a mere 694 guest capacity.


Music for the show was provided by the Journey Orchestra under the direction of Dan Redner. No canned, pre-recorded music here. All numbers were performed live by the 7-man orchestra, and all were performed flawlessly, at least to my untrained ear.


What Azamara Journey does lack is a theater venue worthy of these performers. The Cabaret Lounge is just that, a lounge, not a theater. Seating is fairly flat, so folks sitting in the rear may have seriously restricted views of the stage. The facility does not allow for sophisticated set changes as the elevated stage is just large enough to hold the orchestra members. The secret is to arrive early enough to get a seat near the front. If you are lucky enough to sit in one of the first 6 rows, you will have the best views of the show. We were seated on the front row, near the center of the stage, literally in the middle of the action. What The Cabaret lounge lacks in theater-style seating, it makes up for with reasonably good acoustics and an excellent sound system. And, Lubo Zykov and Jodie Jones do an excellent job with the sound, lighting and visual effects to draw as much punch as possible out of the little lounge stage.


Other entertainers performing on our cruise included: Hal Frazier, vocal artist; Emma Sinclair, vocal artist; Tim Mettivier, comedian/magician; Elena Ivanina, Russian piano virtuoso; and vocal artist, Lloyd Ziel. A guest talent show and a crew talent show rounded out the entertainment. A vocal duo, Ray and Carla, performed in various venues around the ship as did Jeff Warren who was billed as a "cabaret entertainer" and harpist Jacqueline Dolan.

So, if you are considering an Azamara Club Cruises vacation, you may be denied the joy of standing in long lines but you will not suffer from a lack of excellent entertainment.


GIBRALTAR, U.K.


Who hasn't seen the Prudential Insurance commercials and the iconic Rock of Gibraltar? Even as a kid, I remember the slogan, "Prudential, Solid as The Rock". Amazingly, even though we have traveled to Europe many times over the past ten years, this was our first visit to this tiny peninsula of mainland Spain. The small strip of land known as Gibraltar is only three miles wide and is pretty much dominated by "the Rock" which climbs to 1,400 feet. Peering across the 14-mile-wide Strait of Gibraltar, you can clearly see the shores of Morocco.


The history of this place dates back to 711 A.D. when Gibraltar was captured by a Moorish chief and was named Gibel Tarik, which eventually morphed into the name "Gibraltar". In 1462 the Moors were conquered and Spain ruled Gibraltar for the next 242 years using the Rock as a naval base.


In 1713, under the Treaty of Utrecht, Gibraltar became a British colony, following nine years of occupation during the Wars of the Spanish Succession.


Gibraltar was an important naval base of operations for Allied forces during WWII.


In the 60s, Spain once again tried to exercise its will and claim Gibraltar as its own. The U.N. even ruled that Gibraltar be de-colonized. The British Government refused to comply, unless it was the wish of the citizens of Gibraltar. A referendum was held and the people overwhelmingly voted to remain under British control.


Our "Upper Rock Walking Tour" ($54 per person) was booked through Azamara Journey's shore excursion department. The tour began with a short bus ride through the winding streets of the city to the cable car that quickly transported us to the top of the Rock. From the top, we had an excellent view of the Rock and plenty of time for photos.


A short walk from the summit brought us to The Ape's Den which is the home of the Barbary Apes. The Apes are actually not apes at all, rather they are a breed of monkeys that have no tails. Since Sir Winston Churchill once claimed that 'as long as the Apes remain, so will the British', it is now the responsibility of the British Army stationed here to feed and care for the Apes. We were cautioned that the Apes can become very aggressive and grab cameras, food, jewelry, etc. from admiring tourists. Apes will commonly jump on people's shoulders, grabbing their hats and sunglasses, or even pulling their hair (something I don't have to worry about). The Apes are, after all, wild animals, and apparently have a nasty reputation for raiding local shops for candy, snacks and other trinkets. Even though we saw lots of the monkeys, we did not have any unpleasant encounters. However, while distracted by a potential monkey attack from the ground, we ignored our air defenses and were bombarded from the air by an attack seagull. The single attack gull came out of nowhere and dropped his ordnance of digested fish on our group. I was hit several times on the head, back and shoulder. Rickee was only grazed on her shoulder. Another member of our group was completely slimed and could not be saved. Thankfully, I was wearing my cap and a long-sleeve shirt, both which protected me. There is no doubt that the gulls established air superiority.


After we spent some time photographing the monkeys, we made our way further down the Rock to St. Michael's cave. The network of interesting limestone caverns includes a large one that is frequently used for concerts due to its natural acoustics.


Our final stop on our way down the Rock was at the Great Siege Tunnels. The tunnels were blasted out of the rock as part of a defense strategy during the siege from 1779-1783. At the entrance to the tunnels there is an excellent view of the Gibraltar airport with it's famous runway that has a major street crossing it! From this vantage point you can watch as traffic stops to allow aircraft to land on the runway.




After a walk down the hill from the tunnels, we once again boarded the bus for our short ride back to town. Guests were given the opportunity to be dropped in town for shopping, after which they could walk back to the ship (about a 30-minute walk), or take a taxi/shuttle back to the ship. We opted to go back to the ship since Rickee had already secured her souvenir Gibraltar magnet at one of the shops on the Rock.


The Upper Rock Walking Tour is an excellent value at only $54 for 3.5 hours. However, guests should be in relatively good health and condition as there is a lot of walking up and down steep grades and steps. We were impressed with our guide and how the ship's shore excursion staff handled the operation. Gibraltar is definitely worth a visit. If you are on a cruise that makes a port call here, don't miss an opportunity to get off the ship and tour the Rock!


DISEMBARKATION

While the worst part of any cruise is having to leave, Azamara makes the process as painless as possible. Colored luggage tags are delivered to staterooms the day before disembarkation based upon flight times, post-cruise stay, etc. Large checked bags are placed outside the stateroom by 11:00pm on the last evening.

Disembarkation began around 6:30am with tag colors being called to leave the ship. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in Discoveries before we disembarked the Journey at 7:45am. After leaving the ship, we entered the terminal where all the luggage is placed and arranged by tag color/number. Porters were available to assist people and Azamara representatives were there to assist with directing people to the proper place. We were disappointed to learn that the representative from Luggage Free was nowhere to be found. We had made arrangements for them to meet us at the ship terminal, take our checked bags and have them shipped back to the US. We waited 15 minutes to see if the rep showed up, and even called the number we had for the rep but the number was "not in service." Bummer. We were forced to take the bags with us and check them with the airline and claim and recheck them in Chicago at Customs. We have used the service before and never had a problem. We are still not sure exactly what happened.

CONCLUSION


What is the Azamara Club Cruises difference? It was one year ago that Azamara Cruises became Azamara Club Cruises, a new brand with a new vision and a new direction. From what we have been able to observe, Azamara has already obtained a significant brand loyalty among our fellow guests. The loyalty program, Le Club Voyage, events are very well attended, indicating more than a few people are passionate about this cruise line.

Certainly the relationship with big brother Celebrity Cruises and bigger brother Royal Caribbean International has not hurt Azamara in working its way into their immense pool of loyal cruisers. Azamara wisely allows Celebrity Captain's Club credits to transfer to its Le Club Voyage loyalty program. As a result, we were able to benefit from our Captain's Club Select status while on Azamara. And, the Le Club Voyage program offers a lot of nice little extras which only get better the more you sail with Azamara. We benefitted from some complimentary Internet service, free laundry service (1 filled bag), and invitation to some special cocktail receptions and wine tastings. Captain's Club members will see similarities between the programs and benefits.


Azamara Club Cruises is a natural fit for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity guests who want to migrate to a more inclusive product with an emphasis and focus on destination immersion. Azamara prides itself on the number of overnight stays in various ports allowing guests to experience more of what the destination has to offer. Unfortunately, it is impossible to evaluate this primary feature of Azamara on this transatlantic sailing with only one port call in 14 days.


It is hard to define a category for Azamara Club Cruises. While Royal Caribbean is firmly entrenched into the "mainstream" cruise category and Celebrity Cruises firmly has established itself as a "premium" brand, Azamara Club Cruises creeps towards the "luxury/all-inclusive" segment without quite making the full leap. Azamara Club Cruises' guests enjoy some of the perks typically reserved for guests on Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, etc. Complimentary wine is served with lunch and dinner, soft drinks and bottled water are complimentary throughout the ship, and suite guests even receive a bottle of liquor in their suite. And, gratuities are included in the cruise fare as well. And we cannot forget to mention Mosaic Cafe, with complimentary coffee drinks. Perhaps Azamara Club Cruises could best be described as "Super Premium".
However you try to categorize this cruise line, one thing is clear: Azamara Club Cruises offers a unique combination of quality and value.

So, in our analysis, if you love Celebrity Cruises (or any other premium cruise line), but prefer a smaller, more intimate ship with the same great service and more things included, and are more interested in sailing to exotic destinations rather than in the glitz and amenities of a huge ship, Azamara Club Cruises is a logical choice.


WHAT WE REALLY, REALLY LIKE

  • Complimentary wine, soft drinks, bottled water
  • Very good entertainment for a ship this size
  • Pool Grill
  • Prime C
  • Gratuities included in cruise fare
  • Good Internet service
  • Casual dress code
  • Very attentive and friendly staff
  • Excellent housekeeping service
  • Excellent Guest Relations personnel
  • Le Club Voyage (loyalty program)

IMPROVEMENTS WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE


  • Better mattress on bed
  • Bed frame raised higher to allow larger luggage underneath
  • Consistency in Discoveries Restaurant

VIDEO REVIEW ON CRUISEREPORT.COM TV



end of review



It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
 
 
 
 
       


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https://cruisereport.com/crReview.aspx?id=2391   |  4/19/2019 11:49:34 AM