Onboard the Azamara Journey

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 (Journey's sibling, Quest, launches in October) earlier this month, over the course of a Bermudian itinerary. Here is what we found.

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.

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