Azamara Club Cruises – Azamara Journey Asian Adventure – Part IV
(The Culinary Experience)

With my Asian Adventure on the Azamara Club Cruises Azamara Journey being a repositioning cruise there have been far more opportunities to experience its culinary offerings than I probably should have taken advantage of.  I have found the cuisine to be much improved over my past experience, especially as to presentation and diversity. 

To be honest, with Azamara Club Cruises being an upper premium, not luxury cruise experience, presentation and garnish is not to the level of say, Seabourn…nor should one expect same.  But the “main event”, such as Chateaubriand, Dover sole and freshly made pasta, consistently hit the mark.

Azamara Journey’s Prime C’s Chateaubriand
Properly prepared and cooked to perfection

The primary dining venues are the main restaurant (Discoveries), the buffet (Windows Café), the pool grill (The Patio), and two specialty restaurants (Prime C for steaks and Aqualina for Italian).  In addition there are always pastries at the coffee bar (Mosaic Café) and warm finger foods in the Living Room lounge.

There are special culinary events, both private and shipwide.  Shipwide there is the AzaMazing Evening (for this cruise in Yangon, Myanmar), the Asian Buffet on deck and the White Night Party (which will be in Goa on this cruise).  Privately there are four different Chef’s Tables for ten guests held in Prime C and Rijsttafel (Indian Rice Table) for twelve held in the Windows Cafe. I will briefly discuss these below as well.
I must note that during this cruise there were a few passengers with gastrointestinal issues (generally 3 of 684, peaking with 9 at one point).  Because of Azamara Club Cruise’s almost militant (in a good way) Level 3 sanitation practices there have been some modification of how items are served (no self serve, bread baskets, etc.).  It has been impressive how quickly and fastidiously Azamara has made sure everyone remains healthy with the captain providing twice daily updates.  (To my mind a bit overly cautious about enjoying food in the ports we are visiting, however.)
Breakfast is available in both Windows and Discoveries with the former offering an alfresco option.  In Windows it is essentially self-serve though pancakes/omelets/freshly fried egg orders, coffee and juices are served by waiters.  While there is a fairly repetitive menu there are always new options (such as flank steak and vegetable gratin) and a wide variety of pastries/breads and fruits, as well as smoked fish and cold cuts. The pre-prepared eggs (scrambled and fried) should be avoided at all costs and the cooked meat offerings are consistently overcooked (at least for my American rare taste).  I am pleased to see that the offerings are set up for an easy rotation from the forward line to the aft line.  (On other older ships, such as the Regent Voyager, the offerings repeat, causing numerous “collisions” by guests turning around mid-buffet line.) It can get a bit frenetic, but overall it is not excessive.
Discoveries, which is well attended for breakfast, has a very diverse menu ranging from classics to Middle Eastern, Japanese and French offerings.  It is most certainly a quiet venue with plenty of tables by the windows.  While I have only sampled a few dishes so far, they are well prepared. It is, as expected, closed on most port days.

Azamara Journey Discoveries Middle Eastern Breakfast
Surprisingly available and delicious

Lunch offerings are available at Windows Café, The Patio Grill and Discoveries (but not on port days).  In Discoveries there is, again, a diverse menu and, usually, an action station which changes daily including pasta, sushi, stir-fry, etc.  Windows Café has a wide variety of offerings that changes every day with ethnic dishes being emphasized as well as a carving station with a different daily roast and a panini station.  Both are OK, but not inspiring.  The daily rotating roasts, however, are quite good and the ethnic offerings hint at the local flavors, but are most definitely toned down.

My favorite for lunch, however, is The Patio Grill.  I am impressed with not only the variety of the menu, including the actual barbequing/cooking done on deck, but the quality of same.  One day Azamara even had a Bami Goreng (Indonesian noodle) station  and the chefs were happy to really spice things up for me.  Azamara Club Cruises also has no problem firing up the charcoal barbecues at lunch so the offered chicken, sausages, hot dogs and hamburgers are more tasty.

Truly barbecued saugages (two types) on crusty rolls
 with grilled chicken and steak fries
Creativity and authenticity of cuisine is definitely
part of an Azamara Club cruise

There is a seriously good and fresh salad bar, as well as hot sandwiches (such as spicy tuna), hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.  Probably my favorite is the grouper sandwich.

Azamara Journey Patio Grill’s Grouper Sandwich
with Black Bean Sauce.  Yum!

This is also where I undertook my Hamburger and Hot Dog test, but because of the variety of offerings I had to try the Azamara Burger, the Greek Burger and a plain hamburger.  The result:  The plain burgers – which have been somewhat pre-cooked – have good texture, but very little flavor (weird).  But the “fancy” burgers were outstanding from bun-to-bun!  I do wish the presentation of garnish was better, but the french fries are excellent (and on some days they have even have steak fries).

Azamara Journey’s Greek Burger
with feta cheese and tsatsiki 

The hot dogs also threw me for a loop.  They are a curious, sort of orange, color which made me ready for a disaster.  Nope!  They are properly grilled and actually quite tasty, if not with the “pop” when one bites into it.  It clearly is not a Nathan’s or Hebrew National hot dog, but “it’ll do”.  This is especially so because Azamara Club Cruises provided fresh sautéed onions, sauerkraut, and sauteed mushrooms in addition to the standard toppings.  One quibble:  Only yellow, not Dijon or spicy, mustard is offered.

Azamara most certainly took this previous after-thought venue and turned it into one of my favorites.  Improvements such as this make a world of difference when seeking an upscale cruise experience.

Dinner, obviously, has the most offerings with the foregoing and the two specialty restaurants open; all of which allow for later dining…something that many guests complain are being shortened elsewhere.  Windows Café has, as expected, a different theme every evening ranging from French to Dutch to British which are very well received.  While I have not dined there for dinner, most everything for traditional buffet-style dining looks to be of quality…but, again, of buffet-style thinly sliced and smaller portioned offerings.
Discoveries is, still for me, a bit of a disappointment as the menu always reads better than the delivery; though most guests find it quite good.  One thing to keep in mind is that Azamara Club Cruise serves a broad range of guests and, to be frank, expending large sums of money preparing food with nuance of flavor and presentation that would lost on many just doesn’t make sense. (Not an insult, but an honest observation.)

Thus, and consistently, there is a reason suite guests have unlimited access to the two speciality restaurants and I suggest that is where the upscale guest wants to dine each evening (if not at the Patio Grill) where the cuisine and quiet, polished, atmosphere is far superior.

Prime C and Aqualina are the specialty restaurants that are included for suite guests, but cost $30 per person for others.  Prime C has a more upscale/steakhouse feel with an attractive bar and, as you enter, a wine cellar and hi-top Chef’s Table.  Aqualina, to my mind, still needs a bit of an update as you pretty much walk right into the dining area (though there is a bit of a screen), a bar that is not used as such and sparse decor.  If you dine in the rear area of Aqualina the ambience is much improved.  The place settings in both are attractive and the service is friendly and efficient.  The cuisine, from presentation to taste ranges from good to excellent, but fortunately more towards the latter. 

Azamara Journey Prime C’s 16 oz. Ribeye
Curiously a thin cut, but excellently prepared

Because of its more diverse menu Aqualina has more opportunity shine.  From excellent soups, including a minestrone that could be the best I have ever tasted with its fresh tomato, just crunchy enough vegetables and perfectly melted hint of parmesan cheese, to freshly made pastas and gnocchi, and Dover or Lemon Sole properly prepared it is definitely more to my liking overall.

Azamara Journey Aqualina’s Minestrone Soup

Souffle fans:  Not to worry.  There is a different souffle offered each night in both Prime C and Aqualina.

For me, however, where Azamara shines is its efforts to immerse in local cuisine in a variety of ways other than theme nights in the Windows Cafe.

The AzaMazing Evening in Yangon offered over two dozen different local dishes, including a few spicy and hot as the locals enjoy.

The Asian Buffet on deck was excellent.

And, without limitation, the Rijsttafel (Indonesian Rice Table) is worthwhile.  This is a special dinner limited to twelve guests (costing $25 per person) that is normally served in the traditional family style (but on our cruise due to the health issues was not) offering fifteen (15) courses plus four (4) desserts.  Each of the well-prepared dishes are explained by two very proud Indonesian staff.

The one complaint:  The table is near the beverage dispensers so there was constant background noise.

Azamara Club Cruises also offers six themed Chef’s Tables with different ones presented on each cruise. It is a three starter, sorbet, choice of main and two dessert with paired wines affair for up to twelve people costing $95 per person.  The wines are definitely of a much higher quality. This can be a nice evening to share with a number of people.  I enjoyed a couple of this on my previous Azamara Club cruise, and found them fine, but not a true chef’s table.

Amazara Journey’s Prime C’s Bar and Chef’s Table

And one cannot talk about cuisine without talking about wines.  The complimentary wines are acceptable, but not inspiring.  What I have also found is that the majority of the published complimentary pours – 19 in all – are not regularly available. In fact, on this cruise I have not seen one of the wines on the published complimentary list and probably only a total of eight complimentary wines overall.  Not good…at all.

With the Ultimate Beverage Package, which I will discuss, in another article you do have the choice of about eight more wines, but most are not inspiring at all.  No true champagne is offered even with the package.  Domaine Chandon Brut is as good as it gets.  Also, not good.

In short, unless you purchase wine by the bottle -especially difficult if dining alone – makes pairing food and wine a bit challenging.  Fortunately, the sommeliers are aware of this fault and do their best to, ‘er um, “beef up” the complimentary wine offerings.

My overall impression is this:  Azamara Club Cruises has definitely upped its game when it comes to cuisine.  Quality is generally quite good, specially if you dine in the Patio Grill, Prime C and Aqualina.  It is not the quality you would encounter on a Seabourn cruise, but based upon my August 2017 experience on Regent Seven Seas,  Azamara Club Cruises cuisine is superior.  I have also heard a number of guests comment that it is better than Oceania Cruises (at least on the similar former R ships) as well. 

Because of Azamara Club Cruises culinary improvements and the opportunities for more local immersion, I would say the cuisine is better than what you would encounter on, say, a Celebrity or  even a Regent Seven Seas cruise, but not being a luxury cruise line; understandingly not at the level of Crystal Cruises or Seabourn.  In short:  Unless a true dining “experience” is critical to your selection of a cruise, Azamara Club Cruises delivers…Now for it to just to get the wines in order.