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Lucille Pucciarelli
Lucille Pucciarelli

Azamara Journey and Bermuda

by Lucille Pucciarelli last updated on 10/29/2009 Disclaimer

Azamara Journey, the first in a new class of ship and new spin-off cruise line for Celebrity, is a former R-class Renaissance cruise ship that has undergone a $19 million renovation, some of which is still ongoing. The ship is about the same size as Zenith was, however, it holds a mere 700 guests, compared with that of 1400 carried by Zenith. The ship’s layout is also completely different, with more of a yacht-like feel. One word of advice for all potential clients is that as the ship is small, you feel the movement much more than you do on most other ships, so, be sure that clients have their “sea legs.”

Having had the privilege of previewing the ship in May, I thought I was fairly well acquainted with it, however, there were many surprises, including all lounge chairs being replaced with beautiful, new wooden Balinese beds, replete with thick blue cushions.

Dress/Dining: The ship offers a country club atmosphere, with a resort casual dress code and no formal nights. There are no assigned seating arrangements and dinner is served in the main dining room, Discoveries each evening from 6pm-9:30pm, as well as in the Windows Café, which is called Breeza at night, and in both specialty restaurants, Prime C (Beef and seafood specialties) and Aqualina (Mediterranean cuisine). Included in your cruise fare is one specialty restaurant experience, and if you wish to purchase another, the cost is $20 per person. Suite guests are given two specialty restaurant choices. Reservations for the specialty restaurants are required, and should be made as soon as the guests arrive on board. The popular favorite is Prime C, which is already getting high critical acclaim, but we ate in Aqualina, and found the food to be very good and the choices interesting. You can preview the menus at each venue before making reservations. We ate few meals in Discoveries, and chose instead the more casual Breeza Café in the evenings. For both lunch and dinner, Breeza offers a variety of food, including a gelato and sorbet bar, and the presentation is fresh and appealing. We had pasta several times, and enjoyed the choice of different types of pasta with your choice of tomato, meat or alfredo sauce. You choose the pasta, and the sauté chef warms the pasta and then sautés it with the sauce. A guitarist plays as you dine, and we enjoyed watching the sunset on clothed tables al fresco one evening in St George - an experience which can only be described as magical. The real surprise on this ship, though, is room service. Guests are encouraged to order breakfast, tea and/or dinner ensuite. Each night, your butler (new name for cabin stewards/stewardesses) leaves a card on your bed that you can complete to order a meal and have it delivered. We did order breakfast twice (for St George and Hamilton arrivals), and were thrilled to enjoy piping hot food on our balconies, while enjoying arrivals at two of the most picturesque harbors in the world. We also ordered tea one time as we left Bermuda, and that, too, proved a superb experience. Each afternoon, tea is served in either Aqualina or the Libarary/Michael’s club. Service is white glove, complete with scones and sandwiches, and always with musical accompaniment, which was a harpist on our cruise.

Service: Again, as expected, the level is very high. Stewards are called butlers, who can perform a wide variety of tasks, including packing/unpacking, reserve shore excursions or dining, etc. The entire crew is friendly and affable. Of any ship I’ve sailed, this crew is definitely the happiest group I’ve ever seen. They are always offering to assist with every little thing, always smiling, and converse with one another in a multitude of foreign tongues. They are quite obviously content in their work, and readily admit that when you speak to them. Everyone we spoke to preferred this ship over all others, and called it home. When dining in Breeza, more than a few times, waiters offered us coffee, tea, punch, juice, etc., and there are no bothersome bar stewards hawking drinks. The waiters also try to take your plates - there are no trays - and carry them to your table. Most members of the crew are older than their counterparts on other ships.

Entertainment: As we were the last 7-day Bermuda sailing, the entertainment aboard was about to change. There were two production shows, which consisted of 5 very talented young people doing songs from Hollywood movies, and singing and dancing some jazz and pieces from the 40s. There was also a pianist and a comedian aboard, which most guests raved about, but we did not see them. There were also the usual range of activities and games, arranged by the cruise staff. The staff aboard is (obviously) smaller than on the larger ships, and some were very good, but the cruise director in particular was definitely under par, too young and not very bright. She smiled a lot, as she announced in her bad grammar all the events and frequently stumbled when she did not understand a word or its meaning. The disembarkation speech and other events she ran were a waste of our time - a comment not just from me but from most guests. She made it very clear she was unapproachable, and kept her distance - on a ship whose officers and crew were exactly the opposite. Many activities seemed like Celebrity experiences and these need to be tailored if not replaced by more mature and developed activities for the mature and educated crowd Azamara attracts. Few guests wanted to attend a French lesson to learn 5 French words, but most expressed interest in a more developed astrology program. They showed movies under the stars, but the choices were too juvenile, and the deck party was led by a cruise staff who thought they were on a Royal Caribbean ship. Guests were more interested in the Bermudian Gombey dancers brought aboard for a short folkloric show.

Accommodations: All are rather smallish, but they serve their purpose well. Amenities in the room include elemis beauty products, binoculars, umbrellas, robes and slippers. Every day a bowl of fresh fruit is delivered and each evening, instead of chocolate, you get a different surprise - brownies, cookies, candy, etc. The fridge is stocked with soda, beer and wine, and a list of associated costs is near the water pitcher and ice bucket. It should be noted that the costs are the same as you find at the bars. Azamara gives you a free bottle of Evian, but once that is gone, you must purchase the remainder. I believe Azamara should also gift guests the initial contents of the mini-bar, if they wish to compete with others. The beds are very comfortable, and numerous pillows of various sizes and varieties make for a very relaxing nap at any time. The verandahs are small, and hold a small square table and two chairs, just enough to enjoy a meal outside. The night prior to arrival in Bermuda, we found high quality tote bags on our beds, which we used during our stay.

The last few cruises I’ve taken have been on bigger ships and frankly, I was concerned about how I’d feel on a smaller ship with many less options for activities, etc. I loved this ship, and other than the cautionary notice about sailing, I would not hesitate to recommend it highly. It is the first ship I’ve sailed on in quite a while on which the majority of the guests were very satisfied, if not completely content. Many said they would not return to the larger ships after this experience. You meet many more people than you do on larger ships, and see them more often. Most clients are mature, well traveled and well educated. Azamara Cruises is still “a work in progress,” and as they develop their own identity and move away from other RCI traditions, they will get better and better. For now, they offer a wonderful experience to all who sail their two ships, Journey and Quest.

A few words about Bermuda… Though I’d heard about the loss of Triminghams and Smiths, I did not expect to see so many changes afoot in Bermuda. St George remains exactly as is, as does much of the island. Had I not been in Hamilton, I probably would not be writing this note. Hamilton, once the capital of world class shopping on Front Street, has become the city of construction cranes. It pained me to see the hole in the ground where Triminghams used to be. Speaking with the manager of Vera P Card - whose store is closing, as the building will be knocked down in March, 2008 - I found many Bermudians unhappy with the current state of affairs. She told me that when they knocked Triminghams down, and burnt the wooden contents, she could smell the cedar burning from her store - how sad it was to destroy that beautiful handmade cedar staircase that was the trademark of Front Street for so many years! Bermuda is no longer a shopping paradise. It has become the capital of the Insurance and Re-Insurance Industry. The Minister of Tourism is very sad to note that the majority of visitors these days come for business and conferences within this industry. So, Hamilton is abuzz with new office buildings and condos to accommodate the new business. Front Street and the cruise ship docks in Hamilton will also undergo a “revitalization” plan, which will change the entire appearance of Front Street over the next 3-4 years. Many are expecting that Bermuda will legalize casino gambling and off shore casinos will be docked at Front Street piers. No cruise ships will call Hamilton any longer - any that come will be in Dockyard and possibly St George. No ships will be doing the Bermuda route next year. Some, such as Caribbean Princess, or Explorer of the Seas, will stop for a day in Dockyard. Many Bermudians are questioning the future of their little paradise.

Fairmont Southampton: I did have the opportunity to visit the Fairmont Southampton while there, and recommend it highly. Fresh from the addition of Willow Stream Spa, completely renovated guest rooms, doubling the size of the outdoor and indoor pools, and the addition of a wine cellar/sports bar, it is a grand hotel. The guest accommodations were always large, and are now well appointed as well. The spa is beautiful, and the indoor pool is part of that complex. It can be used by spa guests at any time, and is open to hotel guests after 6:30pm. The pool has a clear dome around it, opening on all sides to patios with Balinese beds and Jacuzzis with incredible south shore ocean views. The outdoor pool has also been enlarged, with the addition of a children’s pool, Jacuzzis and Balinese beds. Restaurants have been given facelifts and some new names, including the shoreside Ocean Club, which serves Asian-seafood fusion and is lovely. The 18-hole golf course and other restaurants are open and running. It is truly spectacular, and should be the first choice out of the large hotels in Bermuda.

This review appears on Cruising and Bermuda.