Azamara Club Cruises’ ship Azamara Journey is on its second sailing after a multi-million dollar overhaul – and Cruise Critic is onboard. A modern color scheme, new carpeting, furniture and dining venues are just some of the changes we’ve checked out so far. Overall, we love the ship’s new look, which is airy, crisp and modern, and the new spaces seem to be a hit with passengers.
Now that we’ve been onboard Azamara Journey for a few days, here are some of the hits and misses from the refurbishment that we’ve spotted.
Before the refurb, veteran passengers told me, Azamara Journey felt old. Outfitted with dark woods, carpets and upholstery, the ship felt dated and drab. But the refurbishment changed all that, they all agreed. Muted tones and neutral colors including beiges, gray, ecru and browns give the ship a much lighter – and more modern – feeling. On embarkation day, I repeatedly overheard returning Azamara cruisers proclaim to the first crewmember they saw how much they liked the new look.
One of the most significant changes to Azamara Journey was the addition of the Living Room on Deck 10 where the old Looking Glass Lounge used to be. It’s the place to be in the late afternoon for tapas, wine and trivia, as well as in the evening for a solo guitarist and nighttime for a DJ’d dance party. While not quite as cozy as I’d expect something called the Living Room to be (Azamara’s president, Larry Pimentel, said it’s reminiscent of an "elegant" living room), it’s a lovely space with a tiny Internet cafe and card room tucked away on one side and a small food station serving finger sandwiches during the day and tapas in the evening on the other side. The central dance floor is encircled by a mix of comfy, upholstered chairs of beige, cranberry and deep purple tones. According to hotel director, Ryszard Gusmann, people were rarely in the Looking Glass Lounge during the day or even into the late afternoon before the dry dock. Now, with the addition of a coffee machine and the tapas bar, the space is usually occupied – so much so that they now see fewer people hanging out in the ship’s Mosaic Cafe coffee bar.
One of the brand-new spots on Azamara Journey to grab a bite to eat is the Tapas Bar in The Living Room. Open from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Tapas Bar is a great place for a pre-dinner snack. Four hot and four cold small-plated dishes (no extra charge) might include garlic shrimp, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, artichokes with clams, marinated peppers, grilled calamari, Spanish tortilla with tomato-pepper salad and avocados with Cecina carpaccio. The small bites were particularly welcome in the late afternoon, after a long day in port but still too early for dinner. For a small fee, cruisers can also sign up for a tapas and wine pairing tasting event, held each evening in a small corner of the Living Room.
Once the clock hits 6:30 p.m., the tables by the outdoor grill receive tablecloths and the hot dog and hamburger menu is switched out for fancier grill fare including, but not limited to, bone-in striploin, BBQ pork ribs, tournedos of lamb tenderloin, grilled curried chicken kebabs and salmon steak with pink peppercorns. In warm-weather destinations, a cool breeze accompanies your meal; layer on the sound of the waves as the ship sails toward your next port of call and it’s almost as if you’re eating at an outdoor restaurant right on the beach. It’s a great atmosphere, but most nights we passed by, The Patio was next to empty. In talking to several passengers, it quickly became apparent most didn’t realize the menu changed at night and so had never considered "the grill" an evening option. Azamara might need to do a bit more publicity for the spot, but I believe it won’t be long until The Patio is full most nights.
When Azamara originally announced its renovations plans for both Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, it planned to remove the ship’s popular aft Sunset Bar and put in an Asian specialty restaurant. The resulting outcry convinced the line to change its plans, which is a genuine Hit – both because the outdoor spot is so popular and because it shows the line is willing to listen to its passenger base. We’ve got to say we’re with the past passengers. The Sunset Bar is a wonderful spot, especially in the evening and into the night, to watch the ship’s wake, feel the breeze and sip a drink your friends. With that said, the ship could still use an Asian restaurant.
For the first six days of my cruise, I believed Azamara had missed a golden opportunity to modernize the electrical charging capabilities of the cabins by not putting in any USB chargers. Then during a ship tour, we discovered from someone else that the brand-new bedside reading lights had USB outlets underneath them. Well, color me surprised. As it turns out, all the cabins have these nifty new reading lights with USB chargers. But because they’re hidden underneath the lights – somewhere the average person would not think to look – you’d never know about them without someone pointing it out. Apparently this is something the room steward is supposed to do, Gusmann said. From what I could gather in talking to other passengers, most room stewards never got that memo.
As part of Journey’s technological advancements, the line put in several large touch screens with digital postcards that are free to send (right now there are only four postcards available, but the hotel director has already put in a request for more options.), world maps and blurbs about the destinations Azamara Club Cruises visits. It’s fun to play around with. First you pick your general destination; from there you can drill down to specific ports and find itineraries that stop there. I enjoyed randomly tapping on spots to see what cruises went there, but found myself wanting more information than what was offered. Though fun, the touch screens are too obviously a marketing vehicle, and that quickly became a turn off. Rather than take me straight to itineraries, I would have appreciated more info about the destinations. What are the main highlights? What’s a typical meal you might find there? What language do they speak and what are some basic phrases? A deeper level of information would make the touch screens more of a learning tool, while still being a sales tool.
I loved, loved, loved the toppings bar at Swirl & Top, a new self-serve frozen yogurt area near The Patio. Fifteen choices, like mini chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, Oreo bits, two types of sprinkles, three fruit toppings, gummy bears and nuts, along with chocolate and strawberry sauce, make for an ice-cream lover’s paradise. But the accompanying frozen yogurt machines were a disappointment. Two machines both had the same flavors each day; if you’re going to have an amazing toppings bar, you want amazing ice cream to go along with it. Most days I hit the gelato bar in the buffet first, then made my way to the Swirl & Top toppings bar – and I wasn’t alone. It was a common sight to see cruisers holding a dish of gelato making their way to the toppings bar. I’d suggest either moving the toppings bar indoor to the buffet or supplementing the frozen yogurt at Swirl & Top with the gelato bar.
Among the many changes Azamara announced were complete overhauls of the non-suite staterooms, including a modernization of the bathrooms with new hardware. But from day one, Azamara’s president Larry Pimentel emphasized that the bathroom’s "footprint is the footprint." So we knew the size of the bathrooms would stay the same. But the line did miss an opportunity to give cruisers in these cabins a bit more shower space. Rather than put in glass doors in the showers, Azamara chose to stick with the clingy shower curtains – even in some of the suites, like the Club Continent Suites. Because these curtains have a tendency to drift into the shower, pulled by the heat of the water, they make the small space even smaller. A glass door, especially one with a slight arc, could have provided extra space while still working within the bathroom’s footprint.
Despite receiving some technological advancements during the refurb (bow-to-stern Wi-Fi, the touch tables), the ship did little to modernize the technology inside the passenger cabins. Doors are still opened with keycards rather than RFID cards and the cabin temperature is still controlled by a knob that goes from hotter to colder. A digital thermometer would be more efficient and cost effective for the line and more comfortable for cruisers. We frequently set our knob for too hot or too cold because we couldn’t quite figure out how to get the temperature we wanted at any given time.
All in all, the ship’s refurbishment was pretty comprehensive, so the odd item that was left unfinished stands out in stark contrast when spotted. Most cabin doors, for instance, are clearly old, as most are scratched up. Many of the cabin light switches are old as well – some are also scratched up, while on others, the color is faded. Some of the door handles are "leftovers" as well. My bathroom door has what is clearly an old brass handle on the outside, while the inner side of the door has a shiny new silver handle. While these are minor annoyances, because the old items are set amid new wall coverings, carpets and furniture, they’re particularly noticeable. It’s left me shaking my head, wondering why the refurb stopped just short of everything.