Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wrap-up 12-Night Azamara Journey Caribbean Cruise

Our 12-night Azamara Caribbean cruise ended in Miami on March 20th. Both Linda and I felt that this was one of the best cruise vacation experiences we’ve ever taken. The itinerary was excellent and the ship performed beyond our expectations.

Once again, we were astounded when the disembarkation process was the smoothest and quickest we’ve ever experienced—a mirror image of the slick embarkation experience from 12-days earlier. Because we had requested the independent travel option, we were given a 9:00 AM departure time. In fact, we left the ship at 8:50 AM with no waiting whatsoever. It was a breeze to leave the ship, collect our luggage and catch a rental car shuttle all within about 200 yards, and taking only a few short minutes.

The departure breakfast on the Journey was nearly the same as every other morning, a stark contrast to most other cruise lines who give you a significantly reduced choice in the buffet on the last morning. The only shortcoming was a lack of coffee cups. The service staff was its usual friendly and efficient self. We even had a chance for a final meal with the Reinagal’s from the Williamsburg, Virginia Cruise Holidays store.

The guest relations folks had advised us that we could take a peek at the Sky Suites and Penthouse suites after 8:30 AM on our last morning on the ship. The Sky Suites were substantially larger than our balcony stateroom, and they had bigger bathrooms with a tub—unlike our postage stamp sized shower. The real wow was in the Penthouse Suite which has a nice living room, bath and a half and a huge balcony. I think these categories will do very well as Azamara moves up to the Super-Premium category in cruising (just below Luxury).

Azamara is to be commended for putting together a product which shines in comparison to the premium level of cruising (Holland America Line and Celebrity). The service level and the dining was consistently better than the two aforementioned large ship lines. It’s evident that Azamara has a happy and motivated crew.

Things like the two on-deck evening barbecues with fresh fish from the local island; the great sushi chef every night in the buffet; the barbecue lunch served by the ship’s officers to the guests, and the sociable Cova Milano CafĂ© are superior examples of where Azamara shines. We even had a three hour soft rock concert on the afternoon of the last sea day, and an ice cream social as a nice exclamation point. The officers, both hotel staff and ship staff were highly visible and readily approachable, which was appreciated by the guests.

Only criticism was the bathroom size, and marginal wine choices by the glass with an 18% tip added to the tab. But, if that’s the biggest concern, then Azamara is definitely on the right track. As the female Hotel Manager said, “if we make a profit, we will definitely be getting newbuilds in the near future—and well they should.

I would recommend Azamara Club Cruises to couples and adults who appreciate good service and cuisine. It’s not a great cruise for children, but there are lots of other cruise lines who are. Experienced cruisers should find Azamara to be just their cup of tea—Earl Grey of course.

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