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Cruise Report: A wonderful voyage


Photo by Bob Hoelscher
Those who know me personally are aware that I am not reluctant to speak my mind whenever constructive criticism is merited. Nevertheless, although I was previously aware of Azamara Club Cruises (along with Celebrity Cruises, part of the Royal Caribbean family), I unfortunately knew little about the line’s operations before I embarked on the August 9-20 sailing of Azamara Journey from Southampton, U.K., to Lisbon, Portugal.

I was aware that Azamara specializes in a wide variety of port-intensive itineraries worldwide featuring some of the smaller, particularly unusual destinations bypassed by (or simply unable to accommodate) larger vessels, as well as frequent overnight stays in port. In this case, we made a stop in the Channel Islands, plus two ports each in France, Spain, and Portugal — all well worth our time.

Exceeding Expectations 
I cannot recall ever having a finer cruise experience. From food and entertainment to shore excursions and the incredible level of guest service, everything exceeded my expectations. I did not hear a single passenger complaint about anything for the 11-night duration, which surely reflected the happiness and pride in their work that was evident among the vessel’s crew members.

Furthermore, both Captain Johannes Tysse and multitalented cruise director Eric De Gray rank at the top of their respective professions and seemed to be everywhere — even seeing guests off on sightseeing tours and welcoming them back to the ship later in the day. Azamara has discovered the formula for making travelers feel like friends and family members rather than just passengers. A typical example of this is the waiter who served us at dinner in the Discoveries Restaurant on the first night of the cruise and welcomed us by name to the Windows Café for breakfast the following morning.

Attention to Detail
I have never encountered a ship that did so many small things right that other lines either promise and seldom deliver, or haven’t even considered. To begin with, Azamara’s prices include wine with lunch and dinner, free soft drinks and bottled water (great for taking on tours) throughout, complimentary shuttle bus transportation where required while in port, and all service gratuities except on purchases from the bar. Furthermore, there is a 50 percent discount on the price of shore excursions booked in advance via the Internet. There are no phony “art auctions” on Azamara, either. Guests were all well traveled and friendly and were very interesting people with whom to travel. Many were Azamara regulars who have been coming back again and again and/or taking two or three cruises in succession.

Built originally in 2000 as “R6” for the defunct Renaissance Cruises and refurbished in 2007, Azamara Journey (like sister ship Azamara Quest, formerly “R7”) accommodates fewer than 700 passengers at just over 30,000 tons, so it is not a large vessel by today’s standards. Although perhaps not the latest in “high-tech” glitz, the ship is extremely comfortable, the cabins are very well appointed, and the ambiance throughout reflects an understated, traditional elegance.

“Country club” casual attire is appropriate during evening hours, and there are no “formal” nights.

For groups seeking top-notch value and an exceptional travel experience and that have a budget that can accommodate something a bit beyond the prices charged for cruises aboard the “big” lines’ resort megaliners, Azamara Club Cruises receives my highest recommendation.