ONSITE: At Sea with the New Azamara Brand

If there is one flattering thing to say about Bayonne, NJ, it's that it has one of the easiest negotiated points of embarkation I've had the chance to be a part of. If you're like me, airport crowds incense you, and having to deal with long lines before stepping aboard your cruise ship does the same. Well, my journey to Bermuda on Celebrity Cruises new "deluxe" brand, Azamara, got off on the right foot, as I never broke stride on my way through the terminal, to the check-in desk, to the shuttle bus, and, finally, on to the ship itself: quick thumbs up for Azamara! Now the easy part: enjoying the cruise. First, here's some quick back story: Azamara currently exists as a two-ship fleet, Journey and Quest, which will begin service in October. A slight hiccup caused a one-day sailing delay of Journey, which set out on its first sailing May 6th, after a "too ambitious" dry dock period. The Azamara brand was launched to fill an identifiable niche between premium and luxury. Though Bermuda isn't necessarily exotic, hereafter, Azamara promises to visit less-traveled ports for its clientele, who are likened as travelers, more so than tourists, looking to travel to untapped ports of call. Now that we've got that out of the way...Once on board, I made my way up to my stateroom on deck 6 (Journey has 11 decks altogether and is easy to navigate). The ship is quite striking, mostly because of its detail. Unlike bigger mass-market ships whose interiors, while over the top and striking, can leave a bland, generic taste in your mouth. Not Azamara Journey, which, prior to joining the Royal Caribbean International family, was part of the now defunct Renaissance cruise line. A quick dry dock later and, presto chango: Azamara Journey. Stateroom doors have detailed carving, which gives them the appearance of a door to one's own home. Hallways and corridors exude a bed & breakfast feeling, from the bronze inlaid railings to the oriental carpeting. After a quick lunch, I was ready to give the ship a good once over. Only minutes later I was done, which I appreciated. As I stated before, the ship is quite accessible and easy to get around. With a maximum passenger count just north of 700, it's not huge; it is intimate and well laid out (no detours or dead ends-it flows well).Now, if you just entered your thirties, like myself, you find your body breaking down a touch. Month-long pain in the base of my neck/upper back, gave me the impetus to visit Journey's AquaSpa, for an earlier-than-expected treatment. I opted for the sports massage (the spa offers a long menu of spa options from facials to haircuts to shaves for men). The spa itself is cozy, with a smattering of treatment rooms and a well-appointed gym off to the side. Erin, my masseuse, went to town on my back, popping knots, breaking up scar tissue (I have a lot of that she says. Great, thanks!), before finally telling me more work is needed. Rain check, please. I left not knowing whether she had done wonders or whether she had just put me through some Draconian torture method. (I'll keep you all posted tomorrow on the potential fall out.) Afterwards, I went back to relax in my room before dinner. The rooms are well apportioned, not huge by any stretch, but just right for a couple. A king-size bed lies facing a mirrored wall (nice touch), and a flat-screen TV is mounted just left of the mirror. A smart glass table sits outside on the room's verandah, while the bathroom has its own glass accents and paneling. Shower products are by Elemis. After a quick shower, it was off to meet the journalist contingent prior to dinner. It's a tight-knit community and if drinks are on the house (or, contextually, the ship) there tends to be a good turnout. There was. The evening culminated with dinner in one of the two specialty restaurants on board. Located on deck 10 and side-by-side, you have the steak house, Prime C, and Aqualina, which serves up a Mediterranean-inspired menu. I dined in the latter restaurant (not fretting, knowing I'd get to eat in the other the following evening) and opted for the lobster bisque, Caesar salad and diver scallops to start (yes, I can pack down the calories) before my main course: the osso bucco, which was delightfully crispy and tender, YUM! Oh, almost forgot to mention the chocolate soufflé I inhaled for dessert. My compliments to Chef Rodrigo Fereira and maitre d' Dominique Gamba--keep up the good work. After a long-and I mean LONG-meal, it was time to hit the hay. If you are a film buff like me, you'll appreciate the rotating movies that are offered across three movie stations. I dozed off to Emilio Estevez-directed, Bobby, readying myself for day two at sea. More tomorrow from Journey...

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