The prevailing trend to build cruise ships larger than 12 storey apartment buildings shows no sign of ebbing and while they are widely popular they do not meet everybody’s taste. There are certainly those unable to abide the idea of a holiday on a mega vessel accommodating upwards of 3,000 people with capacities growing by the year. This is where a ship like the 694-passenger Azamara Journey finds its niche.

Never having sailed on a smaller vessel, I embarked on a 12-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Journey to escape a couple of weeks of February winter and also to determine how a mid-size boat stacks up with the big boys. It’s fair to say this ship that’s part of the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises family came through with flying colours–not just with me but everybody I rubbed shoulders with.

Fellow passengers, Brina and David Kates of Toronto, who have taken to the seas 28 times since 1994 and are repeat cruisers aboard the Journey, sum up the merits of the smaller ship. Among the features they like is the intimacy the vessel offers, the ease of embarkation and disembarking, no long buffet lines and not having to walk the length of three football fields to get from one end of the ship to the other. They are particularly partial to the casual, laid-back tone that defines the Journey, plus they like the fact that on a boat this size you can actually get to know some of your fellow passengers and crew. Part of the ship’s casual atmosphere includes no formal nights. Instead, the dress code throughout the cruise is resort casual; however, for those who wish to wear formal attire, it’s entirely up to themselves.

The Kates’ admit they don’t miss some of the features offered by mega boats: bowling alleys, skating rinks, giant water slides, rock climbing walls, zip lining and other over-the-top attractions. Their praise for the Journey was underscored by Kenneth Scott, a graduate of Montreal’s McGill University now living in Port Hope, Ontario. “My wife and I did the Caribbean cruise aboard the Azamara Journey last year and we loved it so much we booked the same cruise again this year.”

The ship

The Journey is different from many of the big ships I’ve cruised on that have–among other things–brass and glass from bow to stern, multi floor atriums, giant crystal chandeliers, Cirque du Soleil-type shows and art work worth millions. Instead, this is a deluxe, boutique ship whose décor is founded on understated elegance rather than the “wow” factor. It’s a vessel that embodies a graceful living style without sacrificing the amenities needed to produce a pleasurable cruise. Catering to a mature crowd, the Journey’s facilities include an attractive pool, mid-size casino, full service spa, exercise room and floor show lounge. The library was my favourite public room with its mellow, wood-clad walls, wrap around windows and soft leather furniture.

Staterooms and suites are generally spacious with 93% of them offering ocean views while 68% have private balconies. Personal butler service is provided to every stateroom on the ship, plus an exceptionally high crew-to-passenger ratio means attentive service around the clock.

Bon appetite

Any ship whose buffet restaurant serves sushi daily gets a good review from me. Sushi, however, is only the tip of the Journey’s dining experiences which include a large main dining room with open, anytime seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Evening meals here feature varied, multi choice menus and while I dined there a few times over the course of the cruise, my husband and I often opted for the buffet restaurant on Deck 9 where broad dinner selections included a choice of worldwide cuisines and we could carry our meal to a large outdoor deck and dine under the stars.

However, our ultimate dining experiences were reserved for the Journey’s two specialty restaurants: the Aqualina serving Mediterranean fusion cuisine and the Prime C serving top grade beef and fresh seafood. In addition, every afternoon the Aquilina offers an elegant tea that includes finger sandwiches and fresh-baked scones with whipped cream and strawberry preserves. The ship’s hotel director, Heike Berdos, insists that when it comes to food the Journey competes with the best ships on the water. She gets no argument from me.


Activities manager, Lisa Gallant, says the size of the ship is not a disadvantage in terms of offering plenty of entertainment options. Naturally, there is not the space to present stage show extravaganzas but she says guest feedback concerning the Journey’s smaller cabaret-style performances is exceptionally positive. Ship size is compensated for with noted acts like renowned pianist, Pearl Kaufman, who was a headline performer during my cruise and whose career in the music field is legendary. “She always packs the show room,” says Gallant. “This is not a ship that operates on the philosophy of merely getting passengers onboard, getting them fed and getting them off. On this vessel guests are not just a number,” she says.

With this in mind the Journey has developed a wealth of enrichment programs that includes seminars and lectures on a range of topics presented by experts. During these sessions passengers can get instruction on such things as digital photography, model shipbuilding, culinary skills, jewellery making, computer proficiency and more.

Beyond the enrichment programs there are the usual pastimes: bridge, trivia tournaments, dance lessons, bingo, shuffleboard, fitness classes, virtual sports and recent release movies. I overheard one passenger say he had planned to read a couple of books during the voyage but with all the activities he wanted to participate in, he had never turned a page.

Port stops and shore excursions

This particular 12-day itinerary departs Miami for two days at sea followed by seven Caribbean port stops and a final two days at sea on the return leg. A huge advantage for the Journey is that its size allows it to access smaller ports that larger ships cannot. First stop on the cruise was St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands followed by Marigot, capital of the French side of the half-Dutch, half-French island of St. Martin. Next stop was Gustavia, St. Barts, and then on to Roseau, a port town on the tiny island of Dominica. Last three ports of call were Castries on St. Lucia, Falmouth, Antigua, and finally the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

At each stop passengers have the option of taking one of the many ship-organized shore excursions or exploring on their own.

Always on the list of excursions are island tours which give an overview of each particular island, however, other choices include snorkelling adventures, cultural tours, shopping expeditions, historic and nature tours, island trekking and more.

My own favourite shore excursion was the “Cooking Caribbean Tour” on the island of Dominica. Over the years I’ve done many Caribbean island excursions but this one clearly topped them all. Twenty-five of us (the maximum number) were escorted to the mountainside home of a born and raised island woman, Daria Eugene, where her open air kitchen overlooks the sea and is surrounded by tropical gardens.

Here, following Daria’s instructions, we participated in chopping, dicing, slicing and cooking what would typically be a special Sunday dinner regularly enjoyed by the people of Dominica. The dishes we prepared involved the use of island fruits, vegetables and spices together with fish taken from the sea that very day. Not only was this tour a fun and participatory experience that ended with the group enjoying the meal we prepared (washed down with an island rum concoction), we were meaningfully immersed in the special culture of Dominica.

Travel Planner

Formerly known as Azamara Cruises, the company recently changed its name to Azamara Club Cruises and along with the new designation a series of additional attributes will be offered on the Journey and its identical sister ship, the Quest. Beginning this April added inclusions will be complimentary wine with lunch and dinner plus all gratuities and shuttle bus service to/from port communities.

Company officials say the new name together with an enhanced focus and extra attributes are designed to elevate a great product to an exceptional one for cruisers seeking an upmarket experience.
To learn more about Azamara Club Cruises and its various cruise itineraries in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, the Baltic, Southeast Asia, Panama Canal and Transatlantic cruises, go to or call 1-877-999-9553.

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