Azamara Journey is the sea-going equivalent of a boutique hotel: a manageable size, carrying just 686 passengers with cool, stylish décor and fabulous food. This is without a doubt a luxury cruise, sitting just below the Silverseas and Seabourns of the world and including pretty well everything, from alcoholic drinks to bottled water, a stocked minibar and crew tips. The ship had a complete makeover in 2016 and I love the new décor – soothing colour palettes and lots of touchy-feely textures.
Where to sleep
As Journey and its twin sister, Azamara Quest, are older ships, launched in 2000, the one thing you do lose out on in the standard cabins is space. I’d definitely splash out on a balcony cabin, although the perks are the same for all cabin grades: bathrobes, fruit, binoculars and free soft drinks in the minibar. The new look, following the makeover, is clever in making the space look bigger and the colour scheme is pleasing, mainly shades of slate, cream and granite. There are nifty touches, too, like USB charging slots hidden under the bedside lamps. Among the suites, I particularly loved the Spa Suites, which have a shower and bathtub from which you can gaze out to sea.
If you’re up for an adventure, do not miss Nights in Private Places, where you can book the whole forward spa deck for a private, romantic dinner and a night under the stars. We did this in Panama and it was the best $395 I’ve ever spent, with our own butler, champagne, an open bar and candlelit dinner. The deck is yours for the whole night, including use of the thalassotherapy pool and a double bed with a canopy. Book as soon as you board, though, as it’s popular.
Where to eat
The food is a real selling point on Azamara cruises. The open seating dining room, Discoveries, is elegant and spacious, and there are plenty of tables for two. There is a real effort to serve dishes that reflect the area in which the ship is sailing, and in Windows Café (the buffet) there is always a station serving dishes with ingredients bought locally, for example: fresh mushrooms in Italy or feta cheese from the market in Greece. The choice beyond this was mouthwatering, from sushi to pasta to stir fry, and there are themed dinners in the evenings.
We ate several times in the two specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C, mainly as I couldn’t resist the garlic prawns and limoncello soufflé in Aqualina or the crab cakes in Prime C, and also because these intimate spots have a romantic setting, high up on deck 10. They are well worth the $30 – and if you are staying in a suite, there is no charge.
The Patio is a good evening spot, too. By day it is a standard pool grill with kebabs, chicken, burgers and salads but it becomes a bit posher after dark, with tablecloths and candles and a bigger menu. I noticed a lot of the officers ate here. I’d challenge anybody to resist Swirl & Top, a self-service frozen yoghurt station that’s part of The Patio, where what you save on calories in the healthy fro-yo you quickly make up for in decadent toppings.
What to do
Azamara Journey’s real selling point is the places it visits and the impressive range of shore excursions. As such, there are no gimmicks on board. We loved the pool deck, especially the double rattan loungers, and used the gym occasionally (there is free yoga and Pilates here), and escaped from the tropical sun in the Living Room, a beautiful observation lounge where you can gaze out to sea over a cocktail and tapas, or munch on cookies with your afternoon cup of tea. There are regular lectures; on my cruise, through the Panama Canal, an expert was brought on-board to provide commentary for the entire transit.
Evenings are more about music and quiet after-dinner drinks in the Living Room, though there are shows in the theatre and a casino. Once per cruise there is an AzAmazing Evening ashore, a cultural extravaganza, which on my trip was a virtuoso piano recital in an opulent theatre in Cartagena. I loved the White Nights deck party, too, with a lavish buffet, live music and salsa dancing under the stars.
What I loved
The service on Azamara Journey was exceptional, all the way to the top. The senior officers are particularly sociable (for one very entertaining lunch on-deck the captain was serving behind the buffet) and several have their own following; you can check out their schedule on the Azamara website to see who will be on your cruise.
I particularly loved the fact that you are treated as an adult. There is no formal dress code; it is just expected that you will make an effort for dinner, which people did, and you can eat when you like, with whom you like. No penny pinching, either; the wines poured with dinner every night were excellent and when I asked for something different one night, it was brought without question.
What I didn’t
The bathrooms in anything but the suites really are tiny – and they would be a lot better if glass doors rather than clingy shower curtains had been fitted in the makeover. A small price to pay, though.