So, Azamara, how did you do? Have you converted us to cruising?
How else could we have comfortably seen so many destinations in such a short space of time? Had we flown, the time packing, unpacking, lugging luggage, travelling to and from airports – not to mention the hanging around – would have been extremely stressful and time consuming. Cruising took away the stress and saved time. Everything was taken care of. As a proponent of independent travel, this is a big plus point for cruising that I have previously overlooked.
Obviously, I am no expert on ships. I’ve never had a particular interest in them other than as a method of getting from A to B and, to date, has not been my first choice of travel anyway! As this was my virgin cruise, clearly, I can’t make a comparison with other ships. However, I can say, in all honesty, I loved the Journey. It was traditional and elegant, without being stuffy, yet comfortable and relaxing.
Recently refurbished in the public areas, the décor and furniture is traditional with the occasional contemporary twist and very pleasing to the eye. An eclectic mix of contemporary artwork adorns the two grand staircases and walls throughout the ship. In particular, the interior and ambience of the two signature restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, equal any top class restaurant on land. As for the food, well don’t get me started.
The cabins – called staterooms – are a reasonable size and very comfortable with good storage, although the bathrooms, particularly the showers, in the lower categories of rooms are a little on the small side. However, in the top two suite categories the rooms were considerably larger and the marble tiled bathrooms a good size, complete with bath.
One thing that I loved but which was also my nemesis: the constant provision of delicious food!
You could literally eat your way around the world with Azamara, usually at any time to suit you. There was always a tasty little snack here or a meal there and so many delicious desserts and CAKES to choose from. Of course, there was usually a healthy option available on the a la carte menu, but the spirit was weak and the flesh too willing. Iron willpower was in short supply when it came to choosing food!
The spa and gym facilities were excellent. But after an initial burst of energy and guidance from Branco, the PT, I have to admit my visits became rather spasmodic. Result: a few more pounds weight gain, trousers a tad tight. Solution: now munching raw celery, wearing stretch trousers. Future outlook: hypnotherapy before any future cruise to help curb cravings, instill good gym habits, reduce weight gain. And if anyone knows someone who could deliver on that, please get in touch.
The entertainment, cultural and on-board activities were varied and successfully appealed to different groups of guests. Not surprisingly, some activities didn’t appeal to us that other guests loved. But, as with everything, you can dip in and dip out. Some activities, though, were surprisingly popular. The World Affairs and Destination seminars were extremely well attended – standing room only in some – were very interesting and met a high intellectual standard that he enjoyed very much. He even watched some of the recorded versions on the TV in the comfort of our room.
Under the wing of the incredibly talented and larger than life Cruise Director, the entertainment on board, overall, was first class: the virtuoso harpist, the talented individual singers; the acts brought in at various ports – with the possible exception of the traditional Thai dance troupe whose music was atonal to most western ears – made for a varied entertainment programme.
One thing that became clear to me early on in the voyage was the very high number of repeat guests. Something even more surprising: the number of guests and staff who knew each other’s names from previous cruises. I met people who travelled with Azamara several times a year and some who had done upwards of ten cruises on Journey alone. A loyal following and remarkable achievement.
The service was exceptional throughout the ship. Genuine, personal, efficient, service with a smile, without being intrusive. The room service, the best I have ever experienced for fast delivery and flexibility anywhere.
Some things on board were a tad expensive, such as excursions, spa treatments and alcoholic drinks (other than wine which was free, good quality and plentiful during meal times). But no more expensive than other top-end hotels – which the Azamara Journey definitely is – but I understand a greater selection of complimentary alcoholic drinks will be included from this summer onwards.
What about the team that got us safely between destinations? The Captain: our self-described “designated driver” and his staff. Well, again, no expert here, but I’m reliably informed they did a great job steering the ship to minimize rolling, which for sea-legless people like me was very important. Unfortunately, I did suffer slightly from sea-sickness but, to be honest, it could just have easily been due to over-eating. Next time I will be better prepared!
From my own tour operating and hotel background I marveled at how the team made it all look so effortless. How do they do it? I would suspect the organization behind the scenes and on board is a serious logistical challenge. But, if that were the case, you would never know it. Journey operates like a well-tuned piano; the German state railways; Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers; Big Ben; a perfectly cooked soufflé – and its’ back to food again. Sorry, I just can’t help it!
Much to our delight we found we could be independent when it suited us. We even enjoyed an overnight hotel stay in Hanoi that I organized from the ship. So, it was possible to make it our ‘own’ cruise and holiday experience.
Another concern before travelling was the popular conception that the majority of cruise passengers would be quite elderly. Whilst it’s true that on this particularly lengthy cruise the majority of passengers were older than us, many were around our age and some were considerably younger. So, in fact, there was a good balance of ages on board. We certainly met some very interesting people.
Yes, it was really a great experience that we both thoroughly enjoyed and my pre-conceptions about cruising have been reversed.
At heart, though, I will always be a beach-loving, sunshine, kind of girl, for a truly relaxing holiday. For multi-destinations in style, however, I am now, most definitely, a cruise convert. And he is too.
So, where to next Azamara?
Read Chapter 1: Introduction: Is a cruise going to be the right choice for me?
Read Chapter 2: We’re on our way! Hong Kong
Read Chapter 3: Down time onboard the ship
Read Chapter 4: Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Read Chapter 5: Vietnam: Denang and Anhoi
Read Chapter 6: Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Read Chapter 7: Thailand: Bangkok
Read Chapter 8: Thailand: Ko Samui
Read Chapter 9: Singapore
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.