South America/Antarctica-Round Trip Buenos Aires
February 9-27, 2008
by Patrick and Harriette Regan
|Azamara Journey in Puerto
We wanted to see the Penguins and cruise through Antarctica and
around Cape Horn. We did all that on this 6,000 mile, 18 day,
Azamara Journey voyage.
We've been watching the Internet prices on Antarctic cruises for the
past couple of years. We don't want to cruise anymore on the
megaships that carry around 3000 passengers.
We like Celebrity, enough to have reached the Elite level of their
Captain's Club. We've had excellent food and service, and we decided
to try their new, premium cruise brand, "Azamara." The emails of
this company, which often referred to itself as "a premium cruise
line," ended with: "Smaller ships. Out-of-the-ordinary destinations. Unmatched
amenities - this is Azamara."
The Azamara Journey cruise looked like the small ship cruise
experience we were looking for. 18 days of South American cruising,
including 5 days cruising Antarctica beginning and ending in Buenos
We spotted an offer from Crucon on the Internet that included air travel
from Miami, gratuities, and a two hundred dollar shipboard credit.
With the added air to Miami from Vancouver BC, and factoring in the
cost of drinks and extra gratuities to those who earned it, the
price for two cruisers in a category 2A balcony cabin was ten
thousand dollars. We decided to splurge and spend most of our yearly
vacation budget on this 18 day cruise. The flying to and from Miami
added two more days and a hotel day to the trip. Twenty days for ten
thousand dollars works out to $500 per day for the two of us. That's one to two hundred dollars more per day than we've been
averaging for the 2 or 3 balcony cruises per year that we like to
The prices were around 35% higher than the internet offerings on
Celebrity M class or the Princess megaships doing this itinerary, or
about 20% more on Holland America, to be able to cruise on this
small ship. The Journey would be able to cruise into areas of
Antarctica inaccessible to the big ships.
The cruise was offered with round trip air travel from Miami to
We carry Alaska Air credit cards and get a mile for every dollar we
spend, so we used a combination of mileage and cash to fly Alaska to
Miami so we could avoid the midwestern or eastern part of the US in
The bad news was that the only flight offered from Seattle to Miami
is a red-eye. We took a puddle jumper from Vancouver early enough to
dine at Anthony's Fish House, which is a real restaurant, not an
airport fast food place, inside the secured area at the Seattle
airport. We can't say enough about Anthony's food, service and
prices, and we had delicious chowder and Cobb salads with shrimp.
Yummy. The perfect way to soften the blow of a five hour red-eye to Miami
crammed into the back of a 737 with poor seat pitch.
We arrived in Miami around 7AM, got our luggage and booked a day
occupancy room (checkout by 6PM) at the Miami Airport Hotel, which
is located right in the terminal. We had breakfast at their Top of
the Port restaurant and went to bed.
LAN ARGENTINA AIRLINES
was to be our carrier to Buenos Aires, and they recommended that we
start checking in 3 hours ahead of time. We checked out of the hotel
at 6PM and Joseph the bellman took our bags to the Lan Argentina
counter in Terminal J, which is a brand new concourse, for our 9PM
flight. It's a lengthy walk everywhere at the Miami airport and once
through check in and security it's another long walk. Whew!
The lines were long to check in as well as to pass through security,
and the extra time kept us in a relaxed mood in the middle of the
organized chaos of the airport.
The problem of noise pollution in public areas is everywhere now,
and the gate area where we waited had brand new flat screen
blasting CNN while airport background music also played on different
speakers, regularly interrupted by loud PA announcements. We
couldn't wait to get on the plane and get going.
The plane was a 767 that had been totally refurbished. Very spiffy.
Very clean. The food service was good, harkening back to the airline
service of yore including a blue room (restroom) that a person over
six feet tall can stand up in.
We had a nice dinner; chicken or beef was offered along with
complementary wine service and a variety of soft drinks. There was a
high quality entertainment system with an individual screen for each
passenger, with free movies, games, etc., and a free headset.
We were also provided with sleep masks and ear plugs.
In the morning, coffee, juice and omelets were served. We were well
taken care of by Lan Argentina in the person of Lucia, who was the
cabin attendant in our section. Thank you, Lucia.
We filled out our customs and immigration forms on the plane and
passed quickly through the modern terminal. Cruisers need to be
aware that the stamped portion of the paperwork returned to you,
needs to be kept and turned in when you depart Argentina. You will
also need to pay the departure tax when you leave.
We easily found the Azamara reps, who guided us to the airport
transfer vehicle included in our cruise price. Our luggage went
directly from the plane to the ship.
It was a pleasant, sunny day with the temperature in the mid 70s.
We rode through the central part of Buenos Aires, which looks a lot
like cities in Europe, on the way to the terminal where the ship was
docked. We got to the terminal about a half hour before the ship
could be boarded and had strong, perfectly made lattes and pastry
for two at a small cafe in the terminal. The price was about five
dollars US including the tip. The exchange rate is around 3.20 pesos
for every US or Canadian dollar.
was very smooth. We turned in our boarding passes, which we had
printed at home after filling out the necessary forms using the
Internet. Staff scanned our boarding pass, checked our passports,
and gave us our cruise cards. The whole process took less than 5
When we boarded the Journey, we were greeted with complementary
champagne (or cranberry juice), and we saw Hotel Director Niyazi
Korkmas, who was in the entrance lobby watching over the boarding
process and greeting passengers. We like to see Hotel Directors out
and about and talking with the passengers.
We were fried from 2 nights of red-eye flights and we stopped by the
poolside grill for a quick sandwich before we crashed for an
afternoon nap. They were offering the usual hamburgers and hot dogs,
plus lovely kebabs and many other grilled delights. Chips, salsa and
guacamole were always available.
FOOD QUALITY AND DINING SERVICE
Excellent, everywhere on the ship, under the direction of Executive
Chef Milos Pales and Restaurant Manager Ryszard Guzman. From
Discoveries dining room to the grill at the pool to the specialty
restaurants Aqualina and Prime C, the Windows buffet and room
service, the food is good. Well prepared and presented in sometimes
dazzling ways, particularly in the specialty restaurants. The array
of pastries and desserts is unending, and the croissants are
properly crisp and buttery. The beef is excellent on this ship, too.
We have been served lesser cuts of meat on many cruises lately, and
the beef on this ship was of high quality. Food and Beverage manager
Desiderio Cavaco is to be commended for the quality provisioning of
these dining venues under the supply chain difficulties of a cruise
all the way through south South America and Antarctica.
is the buffet on deck 9. There are numerous selections, including a
smoothie bar, manned by the hard working Jesus, Mario and Wandaka.
You can get fresh fruit smoothies, with protein powder if you
desire, and a variety of fresh juices. In the morning there is a
fresh-made waffle and pancake station, omelet bar, large selections
of breakfast meats, including a delicious baked ham carving station,
plenty of tasty, fresh baked pastries, hot and cold cereals etc. The
negative about this buffet for us was the fact they have chosen not
to have trays. It is harder to load and handle plates with
everything so people are scurrying more to get stuff they forgot and
it exacerbates the already crowded conditions in this smaller buffet
space when everybody is up and hungry. Every previous Celebrity
cruise we have been on has had trays. But, to show how responsive
the staff is to the passengers: on the fourth day of the cruise
after some complaints, trays were made available for those who
This is a small ship, so when the Journey is in a cold place like
Antarctica, the buffet overflow tables aft on the Windows patio at
the stern of the ship are unusable. They bring in as many tables as
they can from outside but there isn't room inside for all of the
outside tables in bad weather, making it difficult to find a seat.
The good news is that there is plenty of room in the Discoveries
dining room on deck 5.
DISCOVERIES DINING ROOM
A lovely, light-filled room. Restaurant Manager Ryszard Guzman and
his Asst. Maitre'ds are very attentive to the customers' needs.
With no traditional seat assignment, the staff has to seat people by
themselves or with others as desired. Great for breakfast, lunch or
dinner. High standards of food and thoughtful service. There is no
assigned seating at dinner, so tables are shared and you meet a lot
of your fellow cruisers. If you prefer to dine without company at
your table, there are always tables for two available.
The food at Discoveries is tasty and interestingly garnished and
presented, a feast for the tastebuds and the eyes. A half step up
from Celebrity M class or Holland America and for us, two steps
At dinner time the Windows cafe morphs into Breeza, with elegant
buffet dining and Sushi, pasta, antipasti, stir-fry, pizza, and many
other tasty foods offered. A dining alternative that is truly
casual. Shorts, jeans or whatever are welcome at Breeza.
Chef Anthony Mauboussin presides over the kitchens for both Aqualina
and Prime C, the Journey's specialty restaurants located aft on deck
10. Azamara has eliminated the previous surcharge for this
restaurant. The only cost is the suggested tip to the servers of
five dollars each for our two servers. Ten dollars US buys a truly
fine dining experience.
This is the specialty dining steak house. We made a reservation
through the Captain's Club before we left for the cruise, because
main dining rooms can be a zoo on the first night of a cruise. We
were still exhausted from our back to back red-eye flights, but we
knew we had to get up from our nap and eat dinner to keep up our
energy and to turn our body clocks back toward normal.
We were greeted and seated by Maitre'd Gokhan, who runs Prime C. We
had thought we would just pick at our food and go back to bed, but
we ended up having delicious soup, a popcorn shrimp appetizer and
buttery filet mignon which was cooked perfectly. We added creamed
spinach, onion rings perfectly fried and chocolate lava cake for
dessert. A gold star for the Prime C steak house--and all for just
the previously mentioned five dollar gratuity for each of our two
DINNER AT AQUALINA
Maitre'd Marius Borchila welcomes us to this lovely, light filled
room that he manages with a watchful eye. We cruised with Marius
previously on the Mercury. This is the most pleasant dining room on
Journey. Aqualina specializes in seafood; Prime C is more meat
oriented. Some previous reviews I read in November 2007 were not
happy with the specialty restaurants on the Journey, but things have
changed for the very much better. The food is good on the Journey,
and there is way too much of it. Seriously, we would prefer smaller
portions, because we know they'd bring us seconds if we asked.
Couple this with the fact that at dinner at Aqualina we were treated
to a magnificent sight. Our table was in the window at the very back
of the ship, and as twilight lingered, we were mesmerized by a long,
slow display of icy, Antarctic beauty. It went on for miles and
miles as we moved through waters "littered" with small chunks of
ice, surrounded by rocky mountains which were themselves surrounded
by glaciers along their shorelines, and pressed upon from above by
clouds. This was a nice, leisurely dinner, absolutely delicious from
the arugula/bacon/goat cheese salad, brie in baked in phyllo dough
through the broiled lobster tail, down to the chocolate soufflé. All
the food we've been served aboard has been fresh, well-prepared, and
served most graciously; this dinner, served by Catalin from Romania
assisted by Basant from Mauritius, was no exception. Azamara wins
the specialty restaurant comparison to the other cruise lines. We
were able to eat at Aqualina a few times. If Discoveries dining room
has a wait list and open tables are available at Aqualina or Prime
C, you may get a table in these alternative restaurants again.
Our truly non-stop, hard working butler/cabin steward is Pravin, and
his assistant is Rennie. There is a list of butler services
available at this cruise level, including packing & unpacking,
afternoon tea service, dinner reservations, etc. It sounds too good
to be true, because our butler is more a cabin steward in what we
used to call "soup and fish," meaning a swallow tail coat and dress
pants, like a butler in a movie. On Celebrity's Mercury, which we
cruised in the summer of '07, the butler is a butler with only
butler duties but here it's more window dressing. These 2 hard
working men have 22 cabins to service. The biggest number I ever saw
a steward with an assistant do before was 18 and I thought that was
excessive. I can't imagine them having time to do butler tasks, but
I see some of my fellow cruisers attempting to use them like they
were their personal servants.
The butler/stewards smile and keep our cabins clean & nice. We
wouldn't think to ask them to do the stuff Azamara offers, such as
packing and unpacking your bags, making alternative dining
reservations etc., beyond the usual duties of a cabin steward.
On the Mercury a butler has more time to just be a butler and can do
the little things such as those offered in the Azamara brochures. On
the Azamara Journey the butler takes your preprinted order form for
tea snacks and savories a la Celebrity Concierge class. The cruiser
checks the boxes for the items he wants and assigns a time for
delivery to the cabin within the window of the service time stated
on the form. You must be in your cabin to take delivery at the
appointed time. We'd rather not schedule our snacks, so we passed on
this delivery method. We don't like the fact that the room service
that is pre-ordered from the form the night before is brought to our
hard working butler/cabin steward for delivery. We have someone
delivering food who might have just been cleaning a toilet. Not that
our steward is unaware of hand washing, wearing work gloves etc.,
but mistakes can happen. Not very cruisey.
On the Mercury the butler knocks on your door at tea time and you
pick out some snacks from the cart if you're in the cabin.
We like the fact that the Discoveries dining room opens later for
breakfast, 8AM, than on many ships, so that the waitstaff who worked
late the previous night can hopefully get a bit more sleep before
coming to work. These folks also work hard. We also like the fact
that the dining room is open until 930AM, so we can eat there on the
days we choose to sleep later.
The cabin itself is from designs over a decade ago. Cruising has
changed so much since these R ships were on the drawing boards.
There are only two 110 volt AC plugs in this cabin, and they are
nearly unreachable; the rest of the plugs are European. There are no
switches near the bed to turn on low power nightlights; the switch
in the center of the new headboard turns on multiple overhead lights
that would disturb a sleeping companion. The bedside lamps are not
weighted on their bases, so they are lightweight and too easy to
knock over. That's not all bad though; since I was able to hold the
lamp in one hand and my book in the other, I was able to read in
bed! I had that nightstand taken out of the cabin because it too was
a lightweight vertical stand with no drawers and only an 8 by 10
inch surface on top. Once the lamp was placed there, no space was
available for glasses (reading or drinking) or the ever important
remotes. I knocked the lamp and the nightstand over the first night
more than once.
The beds are good, with high thread count sheets, a selection of
pillows, and a quality comforter. Your suitcases fit under them.
There is a wall mounted 23 inch Samsung Hi Def flat screen TV, with
an arm that can swing it for watching TV in bed or from the sitting
area, with unblocked inputs for our DVD player and our Nintendo Wii.
We mentioned the input blocking because we were amazed to find them
blocked on our last HAL cruise. We brought a universal remote,
(Sony, cost sixteen dollars) so the inputs could be selected,
because the remote supplied is for hotel use, set up for ordering
room service, examining one's cruise account and video on demand for
pay movies, including adult, by the way. There is another way to
access the multiple inputs, which we found a week into the cruise.
On the lower right side of the black frame around the screen of the
23 inch Samsung flat screen TV is an array of imperceptible, black
on black frame, selectors for inputs under the word "source." They
operate electronically without the selector having to be depressed,
merely touched, like a touch screen computer display, and they react
quickly and electronically. There are 2 HDMI inputs, AV 1 & 2 and
component video inputs. We used them for the DVD player we brought
and our Nintendo Wii, which we use to play Tiger Woods '08 golf
There is only one drawer in this whole refurbished expensive looking
dark wood cabin. What little storage there is, is in cabinets or on
closet shelves, a lot of it so low that it is difficult to access or
even see your things, compared to Celebrity M class Infinity balcony
cabins that have lots of clever storage and little shelves in the
bathroom with barriers that keep your stuff from falling off the
bathroom shelf. Ergonomics weren't enough of a consideration when
they refurbished this cabin.
We think the cruiser of today is interested in cabins set up in more
of an hi tech sensibility like more hooks, open shelving above open
closet area with double poles and finally bathrooms with simple
shelving, designed to keep your bathroom stuff safe from falling off
in a rough sea. There is only one shelf in this bathroom other than
the sink top, and no medicine cabinet, no storage under the basin.
Instead of the telephone being near the bed it's in a deep corner of
the vanity area where it usually gets buried by things left on the
We don't think a marine architect or for that matter a designer
familiar with cruising had anything to do with figuring out the
storage a cruise passenger needs. Not the standard of the premium
cruise line Azamara is trying to brand itself as. Celebrity M class
and HAL Vista class cabins are more premium (with appreciably lower
cruise fares) than ours on the Journey. We're told that 30 million
dollars was spent to refurbish these ships, but it doesn't begin to
show in this category 2A balcony cabin. This cabin also lacks a
privacy curtain, to divide the sleeping area from the sitting area
so one could read while the other person sleeps.
STAFF AND CREW
What is truly premium on the Journey is the "can do" attitude of the
staff and crew. From the Hotel Director, the guest relations staff,
cabin stewards, Asst. Maitre'ds, servers, housekeeping staff,
busboys and bartenders, this is a well managed crew in all
departments working to give us an excellent cruise experience.
GUEST RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
They are an amazing bunch with Ngawhira Fleet, the front office
manager, and an efficient, multi lingual team manning the hotel
desk. Ngawhira helped us settle in, running interference to get a
situation with our shower fixed immediately. We also want to thank
Alfred and German of guest relations for the helpful service
cheerfully offered by them and the entire front desk staff.
This is a blessedly quiet ship. The Captain's informative, brief
daily report at Noon every day is the only in-cabin announcement.
His microphone technique is very good. Afternoon naps are quiet and
restful, not like some ships with endless announcements.
There is one announcement missing, and we do not miss it. On almost
every other ship we've been on, there is a LOUD recording attending
your every elevator ride, announcing the approaching floor. On the
Journey, a small video screen announces the floor, and lets one know
if people are getting on or off. This boon is probably a result of
the size of the Journey, there being so many fewer people to move
Tastes like instant would be a compliment. Not up to the standards
of a freshly branded, self proclaimed "premium" cruise line.
We were on RCCL's (parent of Celebrity/Azamara) Radiance of the Seas
in the fall of '06 and they were featuring Seattle's Best Coffee and
it was truly premium and available everywhere from the dining rooms
to room service at no charge. The only decent coffee on the Journey
is at the Cova coffee bar, with a $3 charge. Wake up and smell the
coffee, Azamara senior management! You seem to be striving to be
almost Crystal; Crystal light, so to speak, but Crystal doesn't
charge for designer coffee anymore. The food is good on this ship
and the coffee should be as well.
is the designer coffee place. Our thanks to Ryan, Alexander, Maria
and Eliana, who brew great lattes for the three dollars we have to
pay. There are always pastries and little sandwiches and other
goodies at the Cova. We tended to retreat to the quiet of the Cova
during the day and its piano bar feeling at night.
and it certainly is. Every afternoon, with proper scones with
clotted cream, delicious tea sandwiches and pastries with a harp
tinkling in the background, tea is served in the beautiful Aqualina.
There are lots of books, haphazardly arranged. It's a beautiful room
with big comfortable chairs and couches.
We enjoy piano player/song stylist Dan Daly who is in the Cova Cafe,
at the piano from 9P until late, most evenings. The Azamara trio
plays nightly in the Looking Glass lounge. They have a great
repertoire in all the musical genres. Guitarist German Vilches and
Harpist Melissa Calusio also entertain in different venues. Melissa
also plays for tea, afternoons in the Aqualina Restaurant, and
German sits in on his guitar during the jam sessions. There were
solo violinists, pianists, a couple of singers, a Chilean Folklorico
Troupe and a comedian/raconteur headlining in the Cabaret theater,
which is the main showroom. The accent on entertainment seems to be
more in a classical soloist vein.
An excellent show in the Cabaret theatre. Simply staged and
beautifully sung by five talented, young performers, the men are
K.J. and Brandon; the women Brooke, Amanda-Jane and Natalie.
The show is a tribute to the music and lyrics throughout cinematic
history. We enjoyed it immensely. The 7 piece Journey orchestra
provided live music for this well paced show. It's a cabaret
setting, much like a night club rather than a theater, giving the
show a nice intimacy with good sight lines. This show is a wonderful
change of pace from the typically over produced (too many singers
and dancers, too many wardrobe changes) Broadway type shows that
seem to try too hard, which we have seen on some cruise ships. The
sound design and levels were good, allowing us to hear everything
without it becoming too loud. Kudos to all involved, from the
talented singers to the technical crew.
There are two other shows done in this manner, "Twisted TV," a
parody of--guess what?, and "Sing It and Swing It," a tribute to the
big band era.
There were 2 late evening (10:45PM) jam sessions in the Looking
Glass lounge, with some members of the orchestra and other musicians
on board playing Jazz from Antonio Carlos Jobim to Thelonius Monk.
SMALL SHIP CRUISING
We like this small ship a lot. It is easy to get anywhere quickly.
The ambience is that of a boutique hotel. The bad news is that in
order to make it profitable, Azamara has to charge more for drinks
and excursions because of the fewer passengers on board.
There is no wine package. The soft drink card is $5.00 per day plus
18%. The cheapest jug level glass of wine, with the tip, is nearly
nine dollars and change. High prices for vin ordinaire. Mixed drinks
are high priced and martinis are around 12 dollars. You're allowed
to bring in a couple of bottles of wine per passenger, which we did
in Ushuaia (first port out of Antarctica; southernmost city in the
This ship is clean. Not just picked up and vaccumed. Cleaning and
polishing goes on 24/7. Kudos to housekeeping supervisor Esta from
Paul Grant. An affable sort, who dresses beautifully. He was very
sensitive to cruisers' desires and tastes, organizing a jazz jam
session one evening after dancing in the Looking Glass lounge. He
then went the extra mile by greeting the listeners after the session
Unfortunately, generally there was a bit of a reverberation inherent
in his announcing technique, as if he was projecting to the back of
the room as he would without a microphone despite the fact that he
was speaking into one. Captain Karlsson, on the contrary, is clear
and easy to listen to. I guess he spoiled us!
The cruise staff Ryan, Naomi and Kelsey along with activities
director Matt have a full range of activities for interested
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
was held in the cabaret with the hotel director, the cruise director
and the food and beverage manager fielding passenger queries. We
appreciate them making themselves available for a question and
The gratuities on the Azamara Journey are $12.25 per day, per
passenger, higher than most cruise lines. This covers the
Butler/steward, his assistant, the waiters, the asst. Maitre'ds,
the asst. Chief Housekeeper, etc.
There is an additional 18% tip added to bar drinks, bottles of wine
and designer coffee purchases at the Cova Cafe. That's 3% more than
other cruise lines.
We bring a bunch of US singles and give them away for good service.
Room service waiters who deliver us a midnight snack get a couple of
bucks. If we order a club soda or a designer coffee or a single
glass of wine, we give the server an extra dollar in cash over the
tip on the tab. It makes us feel good to do this to thank deserving
staffers. We don't overdo it but it needs to be done in our opinion
to show our appreciation. The standard tips don't cover the level of
service available on the Azamara Journey.
Visit the ports & find the penguins in
Story & Photos Copyright
© 2008 by Patrick &