Azamara passengers like wine and gratuities changes

Voyages end.  Our bubble of civility burst in Miami, as Azamara Journey docked after two weeks at sea from Rome last December.

Azamara Journey docked at Tenerife, Canary Islands  (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, We arrived in Miami, about 600 of us aboard the cruise ship (right, docked in Tenerife) that had become a temporary home.

An old friend once described traveling in luxury as being a part-time millionaire. One day you are treated like royalty, cruising or resort-sitting where your comforts and attitude are someone else’s concern, your meals prepared, your bed made, your cocktails poured. The next day you are at home, cooking, cleaning, making your own day, chipping ice off the car windows to get to work.

I spent much of the last few days aboard Azamara Journey asking other passengers about their views of the ship and our voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Passengers rate Azamara Journey

Azamara Journey  (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, Most passengers were quite positive about their experience. Service by the staff, comfortable environment, meals, and congeniality of fellow passengers rated the highest.

Then I found two women who were unhappy about the ship’s gentle quiet and pace. They had hoped for more entertainment in the evening and for upbeat music around the pool. They had chosen the wrong ship.

The biggest, unexpected treats, said passengers, were the free pours of wines at lunch and dinner. This is a new policy on the two ships operated by Azamara Club Cruises, and for many passengers the change was a bonus, as it was announced between the time they booked their cruise and their date of sailing.

To be more all-inclusive, Azamara also no longer charges for bottled water, soda pop, specialty coffees and tea, and for gratuities for waiters, bar staff and cabin stewards. Each ship now has a free self-service laundry.

Fighting the urge to nickel and dime

Cookies at no charge on Azamara Journey (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, In this age of rampant nickel-and-diming aboard the big cruise ships – with charges from soft drinks and coffee to scoops of ice cream or bite of a cookie – Azamara is moving in the opposite direction.

New Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel wants to place his two cruise ships closer in style to the ships operated by Silversea, Seabourn and Seven Seas – top luxury vessels with higher rates that cover almost everything aboard ship, including alcohol. (Spa treatments and vintage liquors are not included.)

Pimentel also directed his ships to be more destination oriented, which shows in Azamara’s itineraries for 2011-2012. Pimentel said his ships are slowing down, staying  longer at ports to give passengers more time to explore, and staying later at ports with nightlife, sometimes docking over night. “If you leave Monte Carlo by 6 p.m., you haven’t been there,” he said at a dinner earlier this year.

Finding a ship that’s right for you

I asked Heike Berdos, the Journey’s hotel director, for a quick profile of the cruise passenger who would most like an Azamara ship. Her recommendations were:  self-entertained, educated, looking for a relaxing vacation centered on destination and culinary experience, not eager to dress up, not looking for late night entertainment aboard ship.

While passengers I talked to on the ocean crossing all were in favor of Azamara’s drift toward all-inclusiveness, free wine at meals carried the most impact.  “Not just any old whites and reds,” said Berdos.  “They are good grape wines from all over the world.”

“I am amazed,” said a passenger from Texas, who noted that the red wine that evening with dinner carried a Rosemont label. “I think I paid more than $30 a bottle for that on my last cruise,” he said.

At home, after two weeks on Azamara Journey, there were no free pours.

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