Azamara Cruises, a branch of the Celebrity family goes "freestyle" cruising.
We had originally booked to travel on the Zenith from New York to Bermuda and return, but recently Celebrity Cruises sold the Zenith and acquired Azamara Journey, which now sails on this cruise.
We had previously travelled on this cruise on board the Zenith and thoroughly enjoyed the service, entertainment and ambience of the Celebrity Brand, thus the reason for the repeat cruise. When we were advised that the Azamara Journey would be of a higher standard of service etc than the Celebrity, so we were really looking forward to this trip, but we were disappointed
On board the Journey - Attire - Azamara Journey's ambience is always elegant casual; there aren't any formal nights. However, please note that jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, swimsuits, robes and bare feet are not permitted in restaurants and indoor bars at any time” All meals are taken open seating in the Discoveries Dining Room - dinner is served between 6.00pm and 9.30pm.
The ship sails from Bayonne, New Jersey. The port of Bayonne is in a very isolated area - great if you plan to drive to the ship and park your car on the pier during the cruise, but difficult and somewhat expensive to get to, if travelling independently.
On arrival at the pier, and even before we were able to get out of the taxi (USA$35.00 from Newark Penn Street Station), we were approached by a porter who was aggressive and somewhat intimidatory in respect of tips. He reminded us that he was responsible to ensure that our bags were placed on he ship. Having suitably rewarded him for his services, our suitcases were placed in a crate for delivery on board.
Check-in was efficient, professional and courteous. We were handed a letter at check-in advising us that Azamara Journey was a non-smoking ship - Azamara Journey has two designated smoking areas. They are located in the aft section of the Looking Glass Lounge, port side, and on the starboard section of the pool deck. Smoking areas have signs (no they don't) indicating that smoking is permitted there Cigar and pipe smoking are restricted to Pool Deck 9 forward starboard section. All other areas of the ship are non-smoking. This includes Public Rooms, Restaurants, Pool Deck, Staterooms and Suits, Verandas and Halls. Unfortunately this was the first we were advised of this policy. We understand that some guests were advised of this policy prior to embarkation but most were not. As a smoker this caused concern. The "corners" allocated were seldom cleaned, ashtrays were overflowing and rarely emptied and there was not enough room for the number of smokers onboard.
The ship and furnishings are however beautiful with exquisite flower arrangements throughout.
However on some of the stairways and bedroom corridors, where there is thinner carpeting, there is a "tinny" feel to the floor.
Being a smaller vessel, the "motion of the ocean" even in the slightest swell is noticeable.
We were occupying an "inside cabin" or stateroom on Deck 8. All Staterooms have their own Butler. Another name for your stateroom steward only dressed with tails. Unfortunately he did not provide or offer Butler Services as defined on other Premier Cruise Lines. The cabins too are well presented and comfortable, although there is limited storage facility, though enough for a 7 -day cruise. Unlike Celebrity Cruises, there is writing paper, pens or postcards of the ship in the cabin information folder, and no Totes bags are provided. There is supposed to be a pillow menu, which we were never offered. The cabin directory indicated that there was an in-cabin bar - this was not the case, nor was there a refrigerator. There was a television, though not an "Interactive Service" as on other Celebrity Ships.
Bath robes and slippers are provided, together with heavenly toiletries.
The telephone messaging system was non-functional throughout the cruise, even though we reported it twice as not working.
Occasionally we were able to hear the conversations of the guests occupying the next cabin.
The Main Dining Room - the Discoveries Dining Room was excellent in all regards - food, variety and service. A feeling of warmth and friendliness abounded.
The buffet - Windows Café is very small in size and thus selection was limited. The food was of reasonable standard and quality. There are no trays and no waiters to assist guests with their food to their tables.
There are two speciality restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C Restaurants (supplementary charges apply) - though guests are offered one complimentary dinner per guest per voyage (beverage charges apply). The dining experience in each of these restaurants is truly outstanding.
There are no "elegant afternoon teas" served on board, nor are there any tableside flambres in the Discoveries Dining Room (Crepes and Cherry Jubilees are pre-pared behind the scene).
There is a luxurious spa on board, offering a full range of exotic and relaxing treatments.
There is one small - very small swimming pool on board and two whirlpools.
Other usual services were available - shopping, photography, shore-excursions and Internet access.
Entertainment was good but not all that good. There were no professional Las Vegas style floor shows featuring singers and dancers - apparently there is not enough room on the stage - a major disappointment for us, as we always enjoyed this type of entertainment provided by Celebrity. Evening entertainment consisted of singers and comedians. The Celebrity Cabaret Lounge, the main venue for evening entertainment has poor visibility of the stage from some of the seating. There were no enrichment lectures.
All bands and music provided throughout the ships was excellent - there was something for everyone.
All the crew on board were pleasant, helpful and wanting to oblige and assist in anyway possible.
For us, Azamara Journey was a disappointment. We missed the little Celebrity touches, the lavish style entertainment and of course the non-smoking policy - but that is just us? Maybe, as this was only the 2nd or 3rd voyage for the Journey that time is needed for things to settle down. There is no doubt a market for this type and style of cruising in specialist areas. I do believe that a mainline Celebrity ship would be more suited on this route. Time will no doubt tell.