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Azamara Club Cruises – Azamara Journey Asian Adventure – Part VI – Reflections (Azamara Journey vs. Regent Seven Seas Voyager)

As my 18 night Asian Adventure on Azamara Club Cruises Azamara Journey comes to a close, as normal, this is my Reflection back on the cruise.  However, I came on this cruise to see if Azamara Club Cruises was able to deliver a near-to-luxury experience sufficient for the upscale guest to be satisfied.  Generally it is unfair to compare an Azamara experience with the luxury experience afforded by Seabourn, Crystal Cruises or Silversea.  However, what continually struck me during my cruise is that Azamara Club Cruises consistently exceeded my recent experience in August 2017 on Regent Seven Seas Voyager…a cruise line that markets itself as Six Star Luxury and that everything is included.

While I am sure Regent Seven Seas loyalists will axiomatically disagree or rejects what follows, I believe that where credit is due, credit should be given.  This is especially true when a premium line, such as Azamara Club Cruises, exceeds what a proclaimed luxury line delivers…especially when the cost of a suite on Azamara Club cruise is many times (but not always) significantly less than comparable Regent Seven Seas cruise.

THE BIG STUFF
No matter what cruise line you consider, each one does something better or more to your liking.  Royal Caribbean has impressive quality entertainment options, Seabourn offers complimentary high quality caviar, Silversea offers an Italian flare to much of its cuisine.  And the list goes on.  But there are things that matter more than others…even though what matters most varies from person to person (ex. I don’t like high diving acts or I don’t like caviar or I don’t want to pay for spirits when I don’t drink).
To my mind what matters most is service, service and suite followed by cuisine.  If the service isn’t consistently top notch you aren’t going to have a good overall experience.  And if your home away from home (your suite) isn’t well designed, comfortable and functioning you aren’t going to have a good overall experience.  And if you find dining frustrating, well…  Did I mention that service is important.  (Yes, I did mention it twice because it matters that much!) 
The Software

The officers, staff and crew on Azamara Club Cruises are incredibly friendly and you can see it in their eyes that they truly want to please.  I am talking from the Captain to the Hotel Director, to the waitstaff to bartenders to the cooks in the Patio Grill (enduring 90+ degree temperatures plus a hot grill).

The staff and crew on Azamara Club Cruises
always greet you with a smile and
exude a true desire to please

The officers are out and about the ship all day and half the night…and not just wandering about, but actively looking to engage the guests.  Notably almost every time I headed off the ship or came back, the captain was there greeting guests.  The waitstaff is not only engaged during their service, but ask the next day if I enjoyed my dinner the evening before.  The bar  staff is so attentive that I have had to anticipate them replacing my almost finished whisky with a fresh one when I didn’t think I wanted another.  And, of course, walking down the hallway in the morning required at least a few “Good Mornings” as the stewards and butlers were out and about.

Azamara Club Cruises from staff to chefs
do what they can to please.
You want it with authentic spiciness.  You got it!

Was the dining service incredibly polished, ala Seabourn?  No, but it was warm, friendly and efficient.  I think there was only one mis-order my entire cruise and not a single dish delivered without a smile.  Add to that sommeliers that are, in fact, ones and who sought to pair appropriate wines; not upsell you.

And, of great importance, every staff member spoke fluent English.  There were no “lost in translation moments”, no frustrations in requests being misunderstood or ignored or creating confusion.

In contrast, on my Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise there were numerous problems associated with staff that were not fluent in English. (Example:  How can you not understand to make my room up after 8:00 pm each evening…and then show up at 6:00 pm each day?)  There were numerous staff that just didn’t seem to care; noting that there were literally two bar/waitstaff that were run ragged trying to make up for the poor service by others. Want another drink?  At times I had to wait over 15 minutes just to get a server.

What was very evident on my Regent Seven Seas cruise is that entry level staff had virtually no training and as they rose through ranks the only real training they received was by watching their superiors…who also had not been trained, so the quality of service was, overall, shocking.  That is not to say that all staff is poorly trained, but Regent loyalists are known to seek out a particular server in order to receive quality service.

As I have said often:  If you have a OK meal with a great waiter you will remember a wonderful evening.  If you have great meal with a lousy waiter, you will remember a terrible evening.  On Azamara Club Cruises I will remember “friendly, engaged and wanting to please”.  On Regent Seven Seas I remember “terrible and frustrating”.

The Hardware (The Suite)

Here Azamara Club Cruises again easily wins.  My suite, renovated in 2016, is incredibly comfortable with a great bed, comfortable chairs (three in all…including a wingback chair I want to take home); high quality veranda furnishings, lighting, outlets, USB charging ports and, most importantly, an incredibly well designed bathroom.

Azamara Club Continent Suite

The television is a 55 inch flat screen that is flush mounted to the wall.  The problem is that movies are shown “old school”:  Two rotating movies each day plus pay-per-view at a ridiculous cost of $11.98 per movie…and some of them can be found on Netflix!  Some suite guests never turn their television on, but if you do, you may well become frustrated with the very limited non-news television programing.  Another issue:  Too many promotional channels.  When, as here, you have 7 full and 5 half sea days it does get annoying.

As I mentioned, the bathroom is small, but provides you with a fantastic and large shower with plenty of space to store all your favorite body wash, shampoos, etc.  (Note:  The Azamara bath amenities are acceptable, but what I would “innocuous”.  If you expect a refreshing sent and a “feel clean” tingle, bring your own.)  There are some Club Continent suites that do have bathtubs, so if you need one you only have so many suites to choose from.  Also, you are given a large supply of cotton buds and q-tips.

Azamara Journey Club Continent Suite Bathroom
(There is a large shelve in the shower. 
There is no mirror – It is a reflection)

Azamara Club Cruises provides you with complimentary 375 mil bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin, Stolichnaya vodka, Johnny Walker whiskey and Bacardi Gold rum as well as a regularly replenished mini-fridge with soft drinks and bottled water.  Beer or wine from your suite is, curiously, charged for.

In contrast, my Regent Seven Seas Voyager suite left me feeling like I was staying in an older Holiday Inn with old gray curtains and the television is unceremoniously haphazardly mounted on the wall with wires hanging and no art or other wall treatment.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager suite
Regent Seven Seas Voyager suite’s small sofa

I much prefer Azamara Journey’s providing two occasional chairs and a desk chair over Regent Seven Seas Voyagers sofa that is to small the stretch out on and a desk chair you must turn around if two wish to sit comfortably or want to dine at the coffee table looking at each other.

The Voyagers bathroom is notably larger, with a bathtub and shower, but the shower is very small and has an old plastic shower head with terrible water pressure.  There is a larger countertop, but alas only one sink.  And the cabinetry is old, tired, and painted numerous times.  Bath amenities are L’Occitane brand, but only in name as they are very low quality.  Again:  Bring your own.  As in budget hotels you are given small cellophane packs with a few q-tips and cotton buds.   But Regent does have the best bath towels at sea.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Bathroom

Where does Regent Seven Seas Voyager exceed Azamara Journey?  Television programing, with numerous complimentary movies and television stations; the mini-fridge is fully complimentary; and the veranda is wider, if not as long.

I note that Azamara Club Cruises offers butler service in all suites, while Regent Seven Seas limits it to only the upper categories of suites.  However, I just have never found a butler to be all that.

My conclusion:  I take well-designed, comfortable, beautiful and refreshed every time.  Add to that a fantastic shower (which is also great for those with limited mobility or are larger in stature) as a more than fair trade-off for a larger space.  For me Azamara Club Cruises wins this category easily.

Cuisine

Cuisine is another one that, taking everything into consideration, Azamara Club Cruises wins.  Now this does not mean the cuisine is of luxury quality, but rather – and being fully transparent – in some venues Azamara shines, but in, say the main restaurant, the bar was set pretty low by Regent Seven Seas Voyager.

Azamara Club Cruises Prime C’s Chateaubriand
Main Event: Perfectly prepared, but weak on the garnish.

When I boarded the Voyager my first experience was terrible pasta, which had clearly been previously cooked, was sitting in warm water then drained and pesto was added.  I found the same thing repeatedly (and never otherwise) on my ten day cruise regardless of venue.  On Azamara, no matter the venue the pasta was clearly freshly made, cooked perfectly and had just the right amount of sauce added.  (Though not technically pasta, the gnocchi with pesto in Aqualina was exceptional.)

On Azamara Journey, the main restaurant decor is pleasing and the cuisine was as diverse, prepared well (steak ordered medium rare was delivered medium rare, pasta was perfect, fish was moist and not overcooked), but to me overall portions were a bit on the small side and beef, while tasty, butchered too thin.  Vegetables were always done perfectly.  There was a definite focus on smaller portions when it came to side dishes, so for example, baked potatoes were surprisingly tiny. Garnish was always present, but, again, rather small.  Also, the main restaurant, Discoveries, is a bit on the noisy side.

In contrast, Regent Seven Seas Voyager’s main dining room is exceptionally and impressively well done and is quieter.  Unfortunately, the cuisine just doesn’t match the decor.  Virtually every protein appeared to be pre-cooked (lobster, steak and chicken) and the menu concept of you adding a sauce to design your own meal isn’t cuisine, but more akin to a “fancy” buffet.  The chef – not a cook and not me – should be preparing my meal.  Vegetables were consistently overcooked to the point that asparagus was consistently presented in a round bowl (gobsmacked over that!) and the broccoli was watery and mushy.

The Azamara Journey’s Patio Grill, however, was far superior to the Regent Seven Seas Voyagers.  It offers a diverse menu with frequent use of true charcoal barbecue grills for chicken, sausages, hot dogs and hamburgers.  Sauteed onions and mushrooms are made fresh right there, as well.  Spicy tuna wraps, a fantastic grouper panini (though I preferred my grouper on a hamburger bun), etc. along with a seriously fresh and diverse salad bar are available throughout the day.  In the evening it becomes an alternative no cost dining venue for grilled entrees in an al fresco setting.

Azamara Journey’s Patio Grill
Grouper Panini with Black Bean Salsa

While the Azamara Burger and Greek burgers are of note, so is the fact that french fries and onion rings are only served hot and crisp.  Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are served in single use ramekins.

In contrast, on Regent Seven Seas Voyager I experienced its Patio Grill having an extremely limited menu with poor quality and quality control.  I was served what I would call a “diner” hamburger presented with two bottom buns (care matters!) and grilled fish that was literally minuscule pieces of fish put on a plate.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Patio Grill grilled fish

Consistent with Regent Seven Seas lackluster Patio Grill, condiments are set out all afternoon in old fashioned squeeze bottles…which, when set out in hot weather is unappetizing; and even more so if one considers that they may not be emptied and cleaned each day. (Even thinking about three day old mayonnaise is not a good thing.)

Specialty restaurants on both Azamara Club Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Voyager are solid experiences, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Regent’s Prime 7 presents what are more luxurious (thicker) cuts of the expected meat offerings though Azamara provides similarly sized (but thinner) ones; all cooked properly.  Dover sole in both is excellent.  As I mentioned, the pasta on Azamara is far superior…consistently.

Azamara Journey’s Prime C Steak
Well prepared, if not cut a bit thin.

Regent also offer more of true steakhouse when it comes to shellfish and fish offerings, even if I wasn’t impressed with the delivery.  Azamara needs to offer a bit more “steakhouse” in my opinion.

Regent Seven Seas Prime 7’s Crab Cake
Smaller than a lemon wedge!
Regent Seven Seas Prime C Crab legs
A mess…and no finger bowl

Regent Seven Seas Voyager does do a better job when it comes to size and quality of side dishes in its Prime 7 versus Azamara’s Prime C…other than the consistently overcooked asparagus.  I like the diversity of choices and, for example, a large baked potato both visually and taste.

By the end of my Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise, especially with the luxury expectations, my daughter and I skipped a few dinners rather than encounter yet more frustration.  Not the case on Azamara Club Cruises.

THE LITTLE STUFF
(Beverages and Internet)

Regent Seven Seas provides you with unlimited internet (subject to it working…as with most ships) and a truly open bar with a good selection of wines and spirits.  In these areas it fare exceeds Azamara Club Cruises which includes basic spirits, beer, wine and bottled water, but nothing of a premium sort.

On Azamara your experience can be frustrated at the outset over a dizzying array of packages and loyalty discounts and amenities.  Because Azamara Club Cruises is upscale, but not luxury, and offers inside, outside, veranda and suite options, what is relevant for guests booking inside cabins should simply not be provided to suite guests.  (There is a definite contingent on Azamara Club Cruises that book inside and oceanview staterooms on price and then consume the most liquor, food, etc…but almost always sticking with the included items.  I am not sure how Azamara could possibly make money on these folks.  There has to be a better use of those spaces…and it would, I think, eliminate an irritant for those seeking to enjoy some of the public spaces better.)

How I am offered four 375 ml bottles of high quality spirits in my suite, but I have to purchase a beverage package (Premium or Ultimate) to get them outside of my suite is baffling; as is the need to have that same package to have Perrier and Pellegrino water included.  And even with the Ultimate Beverage Package a proper glass of champagne is not included….but Nespresso is.

Simply stated, Azamara Club Cruises needs to clean this up…and upgrade its sparkling wine/champagne offerings.  Also, it needs to deliver the complimentary wines that it says it offers.  There are supposed to be 19 different wines and that clearly was not the case.  Over 18 days the choices, some of which are quite ordinary, become tired.

Azamara Club Cruises charges for internet, but does give suite guests 235 minutes which can be combined with its Le Club Voyage loyalty minutes (for me 120 minutes) or it can be put towards a full cruise internet package with a $150 credit toward same resulting in a $335 cost based on the length of the cruise.  Azamara also offers internet by the minute (a very bad idea cost-wise) and, curiously, internet by the day. By the day?  Who says I want internet all day Tuesday, but none on Wednesday.  It should offer packages based on time; not per day.

Shore Excursions

Regent Seven Seas promotes that its tours are included.  Well, some tours are and my experience was not very good when it came to them.  None of the tours had anyone from the ship escorting them.  My tour from Livorno to Florence included a very lengthy pitch about which shops to go to and to emphasize that we were from the Regent Voyager to get the best prices (when it was really to make sure the guide got her kickback…and probably meant higher prices since we were from a luxury ship and the kickback had to be covered).  My tour to Barcelona had a driver that had her phone mounted to the windshield so she could text and never stopped talking for the entire 1.5 hours.  My tour to St. Paul de Vence was in a bus with known non-functioning air conditioning in 90 degree heat and nobody from Regent anywhere to be found.  Finally, my wine tasting tour was good enough, but it was at 9:00 a.m.  Please don’t say I didn’t give Regent a chance or that it was a particular country.  The events happened in Italy, Spain, and France!

In contrast, Azamara Club Cruises does not offer complimentary tours, but it does offer a complimentary AzaMazing Evening; this cruise in Yangon, Myanmar.  It was a high quality event where essentially the entire ship is bussed to a unique venue where the guests are offered many culinary and cultural options combined with a high quality show. 

AzaMazing Evening in Yangon, Myanmar

I did try to tours on my Azamara Journey cruise and both were exceptionally good and extremely well priced.  The first was birdwatching in Hambantota, Sri Lanka and the second was a walking tour in Columbo, Sri Lanka.  I could not have asked for higher quality experiences.  Total cost for the AzaMazing evening and the two tours was $268. 

Asian Elephant spotted during Azamara Club Cruises
“Birdwatching with a Professional Ornithologist”Tour

Based on my experiences I would rather pay for high quality tours ala carte than have the cost included in my cruise fare only to be the recipient of “Well, its free. What do you expect?!” low quality tours.

Overall Impression
Azamara Club Cruises markets itself as a travel product for those that want local immersion with late night and overnight stays, on deck events that focus on local cuisine and experiences.  Regent Seven Seas Cruises markets itself as Six Star Luxury and an All-Inclusive Experience.  It is my job to cut through the marketing, manage expectations and assure my clients book the correct experience for their personalities.
After spending ten days on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager (and having previously cruised on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner and Regent Seven Seas Navigator) and now eighteen days on the Azamara Club Cruises Azamara Journey (and having previously cruises on the Azamara Quest), and having stripped away the marketing hype I clearly have decided that the Azamara Journey provided me with significantly superior experience from service to suite to day-to-day cuisine to shore excursions.
Azamara Club Cruises does frustratingly baffle me with the various packages (which undercuts its upscale messaging) and charges (actually grossly overcharges) for things like movies.  It is so close to providing an exceptional experience from the moment you board the ship.  Unfortunately, it took me two days to figure out the beverage and internet packages; specially with the loyalty perks that vary widely.  Suite guests want what they want and, like myself, do not want to be bothered…no less confused for the first days of one’s cruise…with marketing and packages actually intended for Azamara’s more mass market sister (Royal Caribbean).
Regent Seven Seas does provide a more polished, inclusive, product from the marketing side of things.  But if I am paying for luxury and they are marketing Six Star Luxury, it has to be delivered and, consistently, I have found that where it matters Azamara Club Cruises overall provides a superior product.

Interested in experiencing Azamara Club Cruises or want to ask me a question? Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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