Cruising on the Azamara Journey

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about cruises. Many of those have been perpetuated by people like me who believed that cruises were just for old people or those without a sense of adventure. Azamara Club Cruises got in touch with me and asked me to try out a cruise on the Azamara Journey for a week. To say the least, I was apprehensive.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, sunset
The Azamara Journey would be only my second ever cruise and let’s just say my first cruise back in 2008 didn’t go so well! At the time, I had never even heard of Azamara but I took a look at the itinerary and it hit some of my favorite ports in the Mediterranean and stopped at some new ports I hadn’t been to yet. So I agreed to go and I am really glad I did.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara
The Azamara Journey is one of two small cruise ships currently operated by Azamara Club Cruises; which is a small luxury arm of parent company, Royal Caribbean. I likely wouldn’t have gone if it were a bigger ship because of the bad experience in 2008, but the capacity of just under 700 people on the Azamara Journey made it seem manageable. Additionally, I liked that it was a luxury ship so the quality of people would be higher than that of my budget cruise years ago.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara
I boarded the Azamara Journey in port at Civitavecchia; which is about an hour outside of Rome in Italy. The ship has 10 levels including a pool and sundeck with a running track and gym. I was really glad about that because I figured I’d be eating a ton on the cruise ship. The gym was pretty nice and always provided a great view out the windows!
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, Monaco
My stateroom was really nice. It had a large queen bed that was very comfortable and even a small couch. A small veranda made the room and was a great place to sit outside and have breakfast or just enjoy some fresh air at night as we cruised to the next port.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, stateroom
I highly recommend spending a little more and getting a larger room with a veranda. This makes a huge difference in my view. On my prior cruise I was in a small interior room with no windows and it was kind of miserable. My stateroom on the Azamara Journey was perfect and definitely enhanced the trip.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara
The other great thing about cruises and cruising on the Azamara Journey in particular is that you see a lot of places and can actually unpack. This may seem trite but to me it was a revelation. I am very used to seeing a lot of places but constantly moving around and never getting a chance to unpack. A week on a cruise ship makes that possible and easy!
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, cappuccino
The Azamara Journey had a main level with a delightful coffee shop where I would load up on cappuccinos each morning before heading out for the day. The main floor looked like something out of a Parisian hotel. It was really nice and welcoming.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, nightclub
The Azamara Journey has a small casino, an entertainment stage and several bars. It also has a nightclub that was pretty fun at night. It was apparently Abba tribute week when I was on board because Abba was definitely the band of choice for the DJ to play. Of course Abba is always fun.
Monte Carlo panorama, Monaco
There is a massive fancy dining room on board that requires dress slacks and collared shirts. I actually didn’t bring dress pants or shoes so I had to wear waiters’ pants and sneakers at dinners but that’s another story for another day! There is also a casual buffet style restaurant; which to be honest was my favorite eating spot on board-the Indian buffet night was easily the best meal I had on the Azamara Journey. Brick Lane would have been jealous!
Elba, Italy, Isola di Elba
Additionally there are two specialty restaurants on board. One specializes in fish and the other is a steakhouse. Both are excellent and the steakhouse I liked in particular.
St Tropez, France
All that aside, there were two main reasons I loved my week on board the Azamara Journey. First, the staff was fantastic. Everyone from bartenders, to the coffee makers to the people that serviced the rooms. They all made us feel welcome and part of the ship. It was really very endearing and to be honest-unexpected. Like I said, I had low expectations based on my prior experience but the staff of the Azamara Journey made me completely rethink what to expect and how things should be done.
Duomo Florence dome, Florence, duomo, Italy
The second thing that made my experience on the Azamara Journey worth remembering was the destinations. The itinerary was carefully crafted and included some stops at the obvious places in the area but also gave options for shore excursions to places that even I didn’t know about.
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
We docked for two days in Livorno; the port city for Tuscany. From Livorno, we were of course able to see Florence and Pisa but I was very pleased to visit a new place for me called Lucca. I will be honest in that I hadn’t heard of Lucca before the cruise and was thrilled at how nice a little town it was to visit.
Lucca, Italy, statue, travel
The other awesome experience in Tuscany was something called an “Azamazing Evening”. When I first heard this term, I rolled my eyes thinking it was hokey and would likely be lame; especially when I found out it would be an evening at the opera. To say the least I am not an opera guy.
Azamara, Azamazing Evenings, Livorno Opera House, Livorno, Italy
However, the way they did it was perfect. While I may not like opera, I respect the music and Azamara arranged for three tenors to come to a gorgeous and historic opera house in Livorno. We had balcony seats and the show only lasted for about an hour total. This was perfect because they sang the best and most popular songs so I actually knew most of them even if they were in Italian. I really enjoyed it and exposed me to something I wouldn’t have ever done normally. Azamara does these “Azamazing Evenings” on each cruise and it’s always different of course as they rarely repeat routes.
St Paul de Vence, France
The other place I absolutely loved was a small hilltop town called St. Paul de Vence. It is located about 45 minutes or so from Nice and Monaco. I had never heard of it and I had been to the South of France numerous times. I was very pleasantly surprised and thrilled because it gave me my favorite photos from the trip!
St Paul de Vence, fountain, France
Walking the maze of small streets, stopping in for a cappuccino or gelato or shopping was perfect. It is the small European walled town that you dream about. I highly recommend it and would definitely go back.
St Paul de Vence, Stairs, France
So all in all I really enjoyed my experience on the Azamara Journey. The ship has long in-port times; which allows you to stay out on excursions longer and minimizes time at sea. It is also very punctual; which I love!
Napoleon's House, Elba
My preconceived notions and apprehensions were pretty much for naught. It is true that the clientele is older of course but it is not like it’s a bunch of geriatrics rolling around in wheel chairs with respirators. The people who cruise regularly simply like the convenience a cruise offers and are generally very interesting and well-traveled people. People can and do stay on board the Azamara Journey for weeks as it never repeats stops. It is a great way to see a lot with minimal effort and maximum comfort.
Beach, Isola di Elba
Don’t get me wrong; luxury cruises are not for everyone and certainly not for budget travelers. Excursions costs can add up but they are so worth it. The only thing that I think needs improvement is the Wi-Fi situation and cost. It can be confusing on how to logoff to save time and accumulated costs can add up quickly so keep that in mind.
Azamara Journey, cruise, Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara, Larry Pimentel, CEO
However, I truly did enjoy my time on the Azamara Journey and hope to go back on the Journey or perhaps the other ship, the Quest, at some point. They travel the whole world and hope to expand their fleet in the near future. I look forward to watching the progress of Azamara and after having the chance to meet and interact with the great people who lead it-I know they will do great things in the cruise industry and further break down these misconceptions about cruises.

Comments

  1. Really good post Lee. I’m glad you hsve changed your mind about cruising. It really is a great way to travel for all the reasons you mention. I love it! Thanks for bringing Azamara to my attention. Only seen their name before: it looks great!

  2. That is an interesting perspective from someone who is not a cruise person, or at least doesn’t seem like one. The best part of your story is the waiter pants! I imagine that was pretty funny.

    • Haha thanks Oscar and ya I am not or at least didn’t think I was a cruise person but I did realize there is no real cruise person…it’s just a nice way to see a lot of places in comfort.

  3. Lee,

    I love the throwback Whalers and Nordiques shirts. Good work. Those weren’t appropriate formal dining attire? Did the staff know hockey? Obviously not.

    -Brice

  4. Great pictures, Lee….as always!

    I wish someone would just contact me and ask me to go on a luxury cruise for free!

  5. Lee, this is a great post about something I know you hate-I have been reading yours site since at least your last cruise post! Wow that makes me feel old!

    The pictures of the boat looks great and the room looks like a regular hotel room. The line about old people and geriatrics made me laugh!

    • Thanks Sasha and thanks for reading for so long!

      I hated my first cruise but really enjoyed this one so I don’t hate them anymore but ya I was definitely apprehensive before I got on the boat…but it worked out great!

  6. Wow this sounds like an excellent way to see the Mediterranean. I am also apprehensive about cruises but you make it sound good.

  7. Best line by far, “It is true that the clientele is older of course but it is not like it’s a bunch of geriatrics rolling around in wheel chairs with respirators.”

    LOL!

  8. I’ve done three cruises so far… two on Cunard (Transpacific on QEII and Canary Islands on Queen Victoria) and one in the Galapagos (Celebrity). Definitely I was one of the younger ones on the QEII. (I was 27 at the time). But I still had a lot of fun on all of them and glad I got that experience.

  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, I could see from Ashley’s posts as well it was cool. I went on an MSC one, which as you described your previous cruise experience with interior cabin, was a pretty miserable experience for me. Too many people, crappy expensive wifi, cheesy entertainment, etc, oh well next time :) I’m not a claustrophobic person, but that cruise certainly made me feel like one.

  10. You have got me to love Azamara Club Cruises. I gotta start saving to do this in the near future. Lee:) am going forward in seeing you i Cape Town from the 18th to the 19th Nov 2013. A Ghanaian looking forward in meeting you, will leave Accra on the 17th Nov 2013.

    • Hi Boatsefa, I’m sorry, have we spoken before?

      • Sorry Lee. We have not spoken before. I meant to email you before commenting on this your post. Thought i have long email you. Anyway, i read through your Fall 2013 Travel Schedule. Saw that you will be passing through Cape Town. I will be making my way the same time cos i have booked an overland tour which is starting in Cape Town to Johannesburg http://www.nomadtours.co.za/campingtour/south-african-explorer-north-2013/

        I have read so much about you and always saying to myself where will i one day just meet you. So was so happy when i read your Fall 2013 Travel Schedule that visiting Cape Town the same time. Just want to meet you in Cape Town.

        Sorry for not email you.
        Greetings from Ghana.
        Boatsefa.

  11. Mike Novack says:

    I gather from your “they asked me to take a cruise” comment that your cruise was comped. We paid over $12k for our 7 day cruise on the Quest (early September) and generally loved it but there were a few things we not enjoy so much. Though Azamara touts itself as all-inclusive it really is only if you pay a extra to make it so. The selling (upgraded bev, wine and dining packages, tours, salons services, blah blah blah ) started literally the second we set foot on the boat and never seemed to stop. Believe it or not they even have an upgraded WATER package. Seriously. Perrier? Sorry, that ‘s extra. Wifi? Extra (a LOT extra).

    Getting to our cabin was like running a gauntlet of carnival (no pun intended) salesmen trying to get you to buy the latest kitchen ‘chop o matic’ or ‘ginza knives’. To make matters worse, when we did buy the top-line bev package, and later tried to actually order what was supposed to be included in it, they said “oh .. we’re out of that, and that, and that too.”

    The port tours, even though the boat itself is small, are PACKED with the 4,000 people from the one or two or three OTHER boats making the same port stops. The brochures and videos stress the ‘small boats like ours can get into places that larger boats can’t”. Well, guess what? That’s what tenders are for. The 4,000 pax boats just anchor in the same ports at the same times and tender their hoards and it ends up quite crowded. In fact, even on the smaller Quest, we did way more tendering between the boat and shore tours than we expected. It’s the nature of the business I guess and beyond Azamara’s direct control.

    The wine lists needed more local wines (French and Italian in our case, since it was a cruise around the western med). They were below par wines (not a match for the quality of the food) and overpriced. Though we drank some of the wine list wines, it didn’t sit right with me to pay $30 for a bottle of $10 California wine. Who wants to do that on a cruise around the med? We’d usually end up buying a local wine that we had never had before while in port and have it with dinner for a very reasonable ($10) corkage fee.

    These were only parts of the Azamara experience we did not especially enjoy; I don’t want to overstate them but a few minor adjustments to their business/marketing plan could have easily resolved most of them. Not much anyone can do about crowds in popular places.

    We chose Azamara in part because of the casual dress code … some of the more upscale lines insist on dressing rather formally for dinner … That ain’t gonna happen in our world.

    The crew, the food and on-boat facilities were all top notch so if you can ignore the sales pitches and port crowds it should be a great experience.

    • Hey Mike and thanks for the great detailed comment. You are correct I was comped the cruise as I mentioned and I feel you on the extra charges-I was not comped extras with the exception of wifi. That is exactly how I felt in 2008 and I am aware of them on Azamara as well, although except for wifi I didn’t really think it was that bad.

      I was also unaware of the excursions meshing together with other boats. I didn’t experience any of that. The Journey had it’s own busses from the boat and in places like Monaco we just walked off the boat and did our own thing.

      The food is excellent I agree!

  12. Been on Azamara 7 or 8 voyages starting w/ the ‘shakedown cruise’ to Bermuda on Journey. Did 4 crossings with different stops. Great cruise line and I love the alcohol and tips are included!! Have been on RC and Carnival as well….Carnival is a BIG step down but ok for Hawaii cruise. RC is too big!

    Food is fabulous on Azamara and while it is an older crowd they are generally fit and active…don’t have kids or all night partiers but lots of fun and great ports~~~

  13. Seems that these guys (tourist service providers) dont get it. Is it really difficult to offer internet services at low prices or for free? I mean we are living the future right now and the Internet, which is very important to many of us should not be so of scarce resource.

    Personally, I wouldnt even consider traveling a place where Wi-Fi is very expensive or doesn’t exist at all because this is bad for the business. And I’m really really sure there are many like me.

    Nice blog Lee. Will start coming here more often!

  14. Awesome post here Lee! We recently had a cruise in Galapagos and hoped we ran into your blog earlier. We could have used your tips and take it to heart. But none the less, it was pretty much a nice experience taking a cruise! It was definitely hard not having WIFI access but glad to say we did survive

  15. Azamara Club Cruises is a world class luxurious cruise experience for discern travelers who long to reach unaccustomed destinations and indulge in amenities and service unparalleled on the high seas

    Book 7 Night Mediterranean Cruise

  16. After several trips with Azamara, I am true fan of theirs. Your comments about the staff being so important in your enjoyment of your trip are perfect. Only a person who has actually experienced the warmth and fun of the Azamara crew knows how truly amazing they are.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  17. Minday Rogers says:

    Surprised by Mike’s comments about all the extra costs.. Sailed the Quest in Nov 2011 and the Journey July 2012. Loved, loved loved it! Perhaps things have changed since the Azamara Cruise Line has been “discovered” because we found almost everything was included and never felt we were being nickeled and dimed like on other cruises. In fact, we had trouble spending the onboard credit from our travel agent. The staff were super friendly and we were suprised the Captain was frequently at the dock welcoming passengers on their return from port – I dream about the food!

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