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Onboard the Azamara Journey

August 13, 2007 By: David Eisen Travel Agent

New deluxe cruise operator targets the underserved deluxe market

Some cruise lines might be in the business of creating new brands; others, like Celebrity Cruises,are in the business of forming new brands for new markets. The term deluxe market has been tossed around in the cruise industry here and there to describe a new cross section of cruisers who want an experience that lies between premium and luxury. So, Celebrity Cruises created Azamara Cruises,
which seeks to tap into this market that, beforehand, only Oceania Cruises was operating in.  Pool area of the Azamara Journey

The brand is now only a few months old (and one ship deep),
but Travel Agent had the opportunity to check out the 710-passenger Azamara
(Journey's sibling, Quest, launches in October)
earlier this month, over the course of a Bermudian itinerary. Here is what we

The Wow Factor

Perhaps a first for Travel Agent reporter: There was not one
spot that could be called the center of attention (unless you say the pool area);
rather, the ship's composition as a whole provides the wow.

Top Table

Let's start out with dining. Increasingly, cuisine has
become the cruiser's raison d'être. Yes, they love the pool, the spa,
the high level of service—but if a cruise ship's food isn't up to snuff, it
could spell doom. Luckily, Azamara took note, and created two fabulous
specialty restaurants to accompany its main dining room.

The gem is Prime C, located toward the back on Deck 10 and
adjacent to Journey's other specialty restaurant, Aqualina. The scene in
Prime C is New York
steakhouse. Dark wood tones surround patrons, and a magnificent transparent
wine display case backs a long communal dining table in the front portion of
the restaurant. All the cuts are cooked to perfection under the watchful eye of
chef Rodrigo Fereira (he is the chef de cuisine for both restaurants) while
Maitre d' Dominique Gamba will make sure your experience is top notch. If you
haven't had it before, opt for the succulent Kobe
beef (it's from Idaho, not Japan, and only
worth it if you order it medium rare—the selection carries an $8 surcharge).

A per person $25 charge does exist for Prime C ($20 for
Aqualina), but here's the upshot: Guests staying in a suite receive two
complimentary meals in the specialty restaurants; regular stateroom guests
receive one night gratis. Talk about an Azamara amenity!

Aqualina serves a Mediterranean menu with a lot of fish. It
too was good, but if you have to choose one, go with Prime C. On other nights,
the main dining room on Deck 5, Discoveries, does the job. Perhaps the best
part is there are no formal nights, so save from going barefoot, you can more
or less wear what you like. If going shoeless is your thing, grab a tasty
burger, crunchy nachos dish or juicy hot dog at the pool grill on Deck 9.
(Jacques Van Staden, the new vice president of food and beverage for Celebrity
and Azamara, tells us that gyros will soon be offered at the grill.)

Rating the Digs

Azamara Journey formerly sailed under Renaissance
Cruises until the line went belly up. With the backing of Celebrity and its
parent, Royal Caribbean International,
the ship has been transformed and much of this can be seen in the rooms. There
are 42 suites altogether, including six penthouse suites measuring 560 square
feet each. We had a deluxe ocean view with veranda room, which complemented the
space provided perfectly. (Do tell your smoking clients that puffing on the
verandas is prohibited, as it is at many of the spots throughout the ship.)

A small couch fit into the room even in the presence of our
king-size bed. A cool effect: mirrored walls facing the bed, so eyeing your
appearance doesn't have to be limited to the small bathroom mirror. A
smart-looking flat-screen TV was adroitly hung on the wall, while closets
offered ample space (make sure to make use of the fluffy robe provided).

Hot Spots and Entertainment

Okay, so here's the rub. Being that the ship is positioned
at a price point that mostly attracts an older, more affluent crowd, nightlife is
at a minimal pitch. Yes, there's a casino, but each night I went down it was
never overcrowded. Entertainment is provided in the Cabaret, and while the
shows are nice, they are nowhere near the productions you'll get on Carnival or
Disney. I will say they are more intimate.

Journey is more a day ship, and the pool on Deck 9
bears the brunt of the traffic, though you'll always be able to find a lounge
chair (Azamara just outfitted the ship with new ones, so make sure to wear
enough SPF because, invariably, you will fall asleep, they are so comfortable).

The AquaSpa on Deck 9 offers all the normal treatments. The
spa is not huge and the locker rooms are spartan (if you like privacy, take
advantage of the steam room; nary a person was there each day I went in).

Editor's Gleanings

My favorite part about the ship is how easy it is to get
around. No dead ends and if you forget your camera in the room, it doesn't take
an hour to walk back and get it. This is not a ship for families (I spotted
only a few children); it is a ship for couples or groups looking to cruise free
from formality and visit less-traveled ports, which will be a hallmark of the
Azamara experience.

What do you think of this $type?

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