Cruise line: Azamara Cruises,
Bert Hyett review on board the Azamara Journey on a weeklong voyage around the islands of the Mediterranean.
"Bingo!" It was my first afternoon aboard Azamara Journey and I'd won the top prize in a game of bingo - an immediate upgrade from my Club Veranda Stateroom to a Club World Owners Suite, the highest category cabin on board. I was delighted, as anyone would be when confronted with 560 square foot of floor space and a wraparound deck big enough for games of shuffleboard. But what really pleased me was being able to see the ship from different customers' perspectives. I was here, after all, to scrutinise the vessel and to learn what Azamara Club Cruises has to offer.
Had I spent the whole voyage in the Club Veranda Stateroom I'd have not been disappointed. The well proportioned cabins have queensized beds, flatscreen TVs and Oceanview verandas. The suite, however, was truly palatial. It even allowed me to throw my own cocktail parties. My personal butler - a traditional butler is allocated to each suite - arranged wine and canapés at the drop of a hat, and when my guests came through to view the master bedroom, we sat 18 people on the bed alone. It was certainly impressive, and good enough too for Sir Roger Moore, who'd booked another of the Owners Suites and is said to have hosted the whole of the ship's guests on one particular occassion - all 694!
It was fitting really, as there's an air of James Bond to the feel of the ship. Not the modernist, high-tech 007, but the Bond that feels at home in a smart country club or boutique hotel. The ships - Azamara has two identical vessels - are smaller than most, creating a more intimate environment and granting them access to ports larger vessels cannot reach. They're filled bow-to-stern with bars, lounges and elegant furnishings. The library, for example, was a beautiful, grand and restful space, with an open fireplace, a trompe l'oeil ceiling, wingback chairs and sofas you can snooze on.
Everywhere I went I felt at home on the ship, helped in no small part by the wonderful crew, who pride themselves on attentive service. The ship's smaller size means you won't find any glitzy, West End-style shows, but the entertainment was nonetheless superb, with an evening performance in the theatre or lounge and additional musicians elsewhere on the ship. The observation deck was the place to be once the floorshow ended, with a dance floor, a dj and views of the ocean and the starlit sky.
Onboard facilities include a pool and jogging track, a gym, casino and a peaceful spa. The main buffet restaurant was the best I've seen at sea - and I've sailed with a lot of cruise lines. There are also two speciality restaurants: Aqualina, serving contemporary cuisine with a Mediterranean flair, and Prime C, a classic and hearty steak house. As a suite guest I could eat for free at both venues, but I don't feel the charge of $15 applied to other guests is particularly steep, especially given what excellent value you get overall.
All of your meals, wines at lunch and dinner, bottled water, soft drinks, speciality coffees, a shuttle service to and from the ports that need it, and gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff are included in every fare. With shore excursions extra it's more-inclusive rather than all-inclusive.
Azamara Club Cruises delivers the same modern staterooms, impeccable service and exceptional dining as the best of the all-inclusive luxury lines, but often at a fraction of the price. And with longer stays and more nights in port than almost all of its competitors, you really have the time to delve beneath the surface of the places you're visiting. Its ships are cruising's best-kept secrets, and as with the country clubs they closely resemble, an hour or two inside will have you hooked for a lifetime.
In 2013, Azamara Club Cruises will sail to 181 ports in 57 countries.
NOTE - As of 2013, your fare now includes selceted wines, spirits and beers in all bars all day, bottled water, soft drinks, speciality coffees, a shuttle service to and from the ports that need it, gratuities, and one AzAmazing Experience in port on every cruise.Overall rating: 5