First Hand Report from Onboard Azamara Journey – South America
(December 23, 2007 – January 10, 2008)
At about the halfway point of our 18 day voyage, I would define the ethos of the ship’s officers, staff, and crew to reflect this motivation by demonstrated behavior and actions. For the record, we are in no way connected to the cruise company or any travel business – we are previous cruisers, mostly on Celebrity ships.
Now, on to some specific observations and reflections:
Embarkation and Sailing
The start of embarkation at Buenos Aires was hampered a bit by some confusion in channeling cruisers into the two designated flows of (1) Suite Bookings, Select and Elite Captain’s Club Members and (2) others. The two flows converged so that the larger flow of regular entrants resulted in no preference in embarkation. It wasn’t a big issue but caused some passengers to ‘grumble’. Upon entering the ship, passengers were welcomed by friendly staff with champagne and invited to enjoy their first lunch buffet at the Windows Café. Later in the afternoon/early evening, the butler and assistant introduced themselves and offered their services.
Captain Carl Smith
This captain is special – he is passionate about sailing the seas, especially the southern part of South America—the ports, channels, the Straits of Magellan, Patagonia Sur, and Tierra del Fuego. We have never met a more accessible, interactive, and ‘down-to-sea’, ‘tuned into the people’ (the cruising public) senior officer on any ship. His brief, factual, highly informative, and timely comments on features enroute, ship and sailing details, are always listened to by all with great interest. The Cabaret Theatre was absolutely packed out for an outstanding presentation on Magellan and the South Patagonian area by the most capable, highly energetic and intelligent Cruise Director Andrea – adding a half-hour appearance by Captain Smith to provide a thorough briefing of navigating and sailing through the South Patagonian archipelago, brought the house down with applause and appreciation. For me, this special presentation was a definite highlight of the Azamara Journey itinerary – the atmosphere during this talk reflected the ‘Azamara Experience’, being strived for in their itineraries (as far as I can tell). Circumnavigating Cape Horn during New Year’s Eve was a most memorable experience.
January 1, 2008 had us visiting the southernmost city, Ushuaia, Argentina – what a pleasant surprise – a most picturesque setting – a city surrounded by snow-capped mountains and many glacier fiords nearby.
The Onboard Experience
Having dined at Three-Star Michelin restaurants in Europe and at other fine dining establishments, leads one to have certain perspectives and expectations with respect to dining out. On the other hand, it is important to keep situations and circumstances in perspective, when it comes to eating and dining at sea.
Based on our experience on the Azamara Journey, execution in everyday details is guided and exemplified by great leadership – service with excellence is provided under the direction of Philip Herbert (Hotel Director), assisted by Food and Beverage Manager, Dominique and his team – just to mention a few outstanding individuals: Czajka, Vlado, Zoltan. The leadership is constantly practicing MBWA—Management By Walking Around, checking and correcting and perfecting. It is indeed a great pleasure to eat and dine great food selections beautifully presented, in a variety of settings: main dining in Discoveries Dining Room, various daily buffet selections in Windows Café, and the upscale Specialty Dining Restaurants (Aqualina and Prime C). Some special features to be highlighted are the wonderful Sushi Bar, the fresh juice and smoothie bar, very good selections of appetizers, main course dishes, and a fabulous baking and dessert presentation. Evening dinners in the Dining Room are always a wonderful experience – great food, great presentation – we were served by an outstanding waiter, Philbert, and his assistant.
Everyone, at every level, is tuned to providing excellent service with attention to details – the prevailing attitude is ‘listening and following up’ on any suggestions that are provided. Serving staff and all ship service personnel always greet cruisers in friendly ways and offer assistance at every turn.
Stateroom and Service
On the R-8 Class of ships, a long voyage is much more comfortable in one of the Sky Suites – more space in every sense – tremendous amount of storage space, a larger bathroom with a bathtub/shower, excellent products (Elemis) – really a nice way to ‘clean up’ and perform the ‘beautification routines’. The towels are nice and thick and very absorbent and the bedding is great.
How are we looked after by our stateroom attendants (butler and assistant)?
Let’s say it totally straight – “Sergio and Tek are absolutely terrific”.
We don’t look to a butler to unpack or pack but we expect service with excellence and that is what it has been. These two guys aim to please in every way: extra champagne glasses to host some guests were delivered chilled; dusty shoes after visiting the penguin colony were cleaned and shined in short order; any small requests were looked after expeditiously – all in all, the two performed very well and showed great disposition.
Entertainment and Programming
The highly dedicated and vibrant Andrea Olivieri has to be one of the most gifted and able Cruise Director sailing the seas. He is highly organized, most personable to everyone, creates great programming and seems to be everywhere all the time – it’s absolutely amazing how he pulls it off. He also gives very good dance instruction in short time blocks.
Stage Entertainment is a subjective thing – some have found some acts repeated from previous Celebrity cruises. The New Year’s Eve program, ‘Twisted TV’ was a terrific show to poke fun at American TV programming – really well done.
A number of people expressed a desire for some more diversified ‘easy listening’, Jazz, and light classical music in small gathering areas of the ship. The harpist, Melissa Calusio, performs in several areas and is greatly appreciated. Live dance music was weighted more to Latin and very high volume dance music than balancing this with some slower ballroom dancing music – given the ship’s clientele, this would perhaps appeal more to a very large part of the demographic profile.
Thalassotherapy Pool at the front of the ship, accessed from the Spa area, is overpriced at $113 for the length of the cruise. The T-Pool is fine but not nearly as wonderful as in other Celebrity ships (disregarding the size aspect) – the powerful jet at the back of the pool with the seating rails are not the most comfortable configuration. Even if someone were to use the T-Pool 6-8 times (given that shore days leave less time for usage), that would result in an average charge of about $15 per use – it really isn’t worth it at that rate. The Steam rooms (male and female rooms) are really good – marble benches and good space for six people of so.
So much for now ... perhaps, more later ...