Azamara Club Cruises
We wish more ships were like Journey and Quest: large enough to be interesting during long itineraries, but small enough to keep things cozy, comfortable, and convenient. These are some of our favorite mainstream cruise ships.
Typical Per Diems: $165-$255
Journey sails the Sea of Cortez from San Diego (Jan 2011), the Panama Canal from San Diego (Jan 2011), and the Caribbean from Miami (Feb-Mar 2011) & from San Juan (Nov 2011-Mar 2012).
Quest is not sailing from North American in 2011-12.
Journey and Quest are exactly the kind of cruise ships we love: small in scale, cozy, and traditionally decorated, with an onboard vibe that's all about passengers' personal interaction rather than eye-catching gimmicks. Like all the vessels that were originally built for Renaissance Cruises, they're more boutique hotel than Vegas resort, with a decor that hearkens back to the golden age of ocean liners -- all warm woods, rich fabrics, and clubbily intimate public areas. When Celebrity and Royal Caribbean took over the ships, they put nearly $40 million into major refurbishments, moving the walls around on some cabin decks to create 32 new suites on each vessel; designing new specialty restaurants; expanding the spa; adding a cafe; and installing a new art collection, decking, carpets, paint schemes, bedding, cushions, drapes, table linens, and other soft goods. The result is a pair of lovely, practically new-looking ships, with only a few dents in cabin corridors (courtesy of luggage carts) betraying the fact that they've already been in service for more than a decade.
Cabins on Journey and Quest are divided into just seven configurations. Standard inside (158 sq. ft.), oceanview (143-170 sq. ft.), and oceanview Club Veranda cabins (175 sq. ft., plus balcony) are all almost identical in amenities. Each has a sitting area with a sofa bed and small table, a flatscreen TV, a minifridge, and a writing desk. Closet space is only just adequate for the long itineraries these vessels sail, though an abundance of drawers and storage space under the bed helps matters some. Bathrooms are on the tight side, with a small shower stall and awkwardly angled toilet, and are stocked with Elemis bath products. Cabin decor is nicely understated, with off-white walls, wood-tone furnishings and headboard, and upholstery and carpeting done in easy-on-the-eyes blues and golds. More than half the accommodations on board are oceanview Club Veranda cabins, each with a 40-square-foot balcony. Sunset Veranda cabins all face the bow or stern.
Club Continent suites (266 sq. ft., plus balcony) add considerably to your elbowroom and have such amenities as a 60-square-foot balcony, a bathroom tub, and a DVD/CD player. Club Ocean suites (430-508 sq. ft., plus balcony) and Club World owners' suites (560 sq. ft., plus balcony) have separate bedrooms and living rooms, master baths with a whirlpool tub and shower, a guest bathroom, huge 220-foot-plus balconies, and, in the owners' suites, a dressing room with vanity.
Four cabins on each ship are wheelchair accessible.
An evening in Journey's and Quest's main dining room is ideally a two-step process. First, you set a time to meet your friends at the clubby, wood-paneled bar located just outside the maitre d's station. Set below Sistine Chapel-esque ceiling murals, there's a chunky semicircular bar, couches, and comfy armchairs, with a faux fireplace and curio cabinets separating the bar area from the dining room itself. Next, get a table for dinner, preferably in the central portion of the room, where they seem to be more widely spaced than those along the periphery. Decor-wise, the room continues the ship's overall country-club feel, with Romanesque paintings, dark-wood paneling, decorative pillars, and understated upholstery. Tables are available for 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 people.
At the stern on Deck 10, each ship's two specialty restaurants sit side by side, allowing views from practically every table. Aqualina is decorated with a Mediterranean sensibility to match its menu, with a polished black tile floor and a color scheme that favors white and blue. Next door, Prime C is a thoroughgoing steakhouse. At the entrance, a wood-floored bar area is dominated by a high table for 14 at which wine-tasting seminars are given. Tables for four dominate the rest of the C-shaped restaurant.
On Deck 9, Windows Cafe is a standard buffet restaurant with a few nonstandard features. At breakfast, you can get freshly made vegetable/fruit juices or a complicated smoothie from the Health Nut juice bar, and fresh pancakes and waffles from a dedicated window to the side of the buffet lines. At dinner, the space serves sushi and custom-made pasta dishes, along with a spread of favorites. Seating is available inside and out. On the Pool Deck, the grill spices up the usual burger-and-dogs menu with salad, seafood shish kabobs, gyros, hot pretzels, and nachos.
Public rooms on these ships are clustered on Decks 5, 9, and 10. On Deck 5 forward, the Cabaret has space to seat about half the passengers on board. It has no raised stage, so productions are, by definition, floor shows. Aside from the semicircular banquettes that divide the room's slightly elevated perimeter from the main floor, all seating is in comfortable chairs interspersed with cocktail tables. The best seat in the house is a high table at the center of the rear bar area, between and slightly behind the two spotlights. In addition to production shows, the room is used for late-night movies, bingo, and other activities. Moving toward midships, there's a relatively large casino with a big-screen TV in one corner for sports events; the ship's two understated retail shops; and the cafe, a warm, inviting space that provides snacks 18 hours a day, along with complimentary specialty coffees and teas. A harpist and pianist perform here frequently throughout the day.
Deck 9 is primarily given over to the buffet restaurant, pool, and spa, but tucked inside one corner are an Internet center and a small conference room.
On Deck 10 forward, the Looking Glass disco/observation lounge has wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, a dance floor, and cocktail tables for two and four set in a large but still comfortably intimate space. Toward midships, the combo library and piano lounge maintains a generally quiet, gentlemen's club feel, with dark-wood bookcases and wall paneling, velvety couches, leather armchairs, oriental-patterned rugs, a chessboard, and a couple of globes showing the world that was. A faux fireplace, racing-dog ceramics, and a trompe l'oeil conservatory ceiling complete the picture. Afternoon tea is served here daily.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The Pool Deck has one smallish pool, two hot tubs, a small performance stage, and a bar, along with some of the best deck chairs we've ever seen -- heavy, wooden, and dressed in thick navy-blue cushions with flip-back pillows. On the rear port side, a covered seating area has double-width deck lounges for couples. On warm days at sea, the Pool Deck can get very crowded, but a little walking (not much -- these are small ships) will net you much less crowded lounging spots on the Sun Deck, two levels up. There's also a lovely little half-moon of sunning space and a hot tub just forward of the gym and spa. Shade worshipers can head to the Promenade Deck, which is filled with those same great deck chairs, set under an overhang in an area that gets little traffic.
The gym, located just forward of the Pool Deck, has treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, dumbbells, weight machines, and a large aerobics floor. Though the space is not huge, it's adequate for the relatively small number of passengers on board. It got crowded only once during our last cruise. Pilates, spinning, stretch, abs, and yoga classes are given throughout the cruise at no extra charge. Next door there's a beauty salon; a spa providing treatments in several pleasant rooms; and a separate suite for acupuncture, laser hair removal, and microdermabrasion.
A corner of the Pool Deck has Ping-Pong tables, and shuffleboard and a small golf-putting green are found on the Sun Deck.