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A Ship Plagued by Problems

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A Ship Plagued by Problems
With the Azamara Journey in the background, a centuries-old British-made cannon still stands guard on Ordnance Island in St. George, Bermuda. CNS Photo by Preston Turegano.
Originally, the Journey was one of eight "R" ships that belonged to Renaissance Cruises, which went bankrupt in September 2001. Celebrity Cruises acquired two "R" ships and earlier this year created Azamara.

Like her sister ship Quest, the Journey carries approximately 700 passengers and is just under 600 feet long. Each can sail to ports larger ships cannot reach. That might be their only advantage and true attraction.

Azamara says its vessels are a "deluxe cruise experience for discerning travelers who long to reach out-of-the-ordinary destinations and indulge in amenities and service unparalleled on the high seas." The company spent $19 million to "revitalize" (decorate) the "R" ships. The idea behind Azamara is a casual (as in no formal dressy nights) cruise experience.

Along with a throng of passengers who appeared to be the kind of people who probably dress up just for weddings or funerals anyway, we sailed the Journey from Bayonne, N.J. (an ugly, bare-bones cruise ship facility) to Bermuda. My companion, who is a travel agent, had been invited for an at-sea seminar with numerous other agents to learn about Azamara. For me, the mystique of Bermuda beckoned.

As a group of islands in a 21-square-mile area 667 miles southeast of Bayonne, Bermuda is a clean, quaint and charming vestige of British colonialism that began in the 1600s. Bermuda homes and other structures are painted in pastel colors, and all of their roofs are bright white to keep rainwater as clean as possible as it is collected in each building's tank, or cistern. There are no reservoirs, or fresh-water lakes, in Bermuda, which has a subtropical climate.

The islands' main draw seems to be ocean water sports and beaches. We rode one of Bermuda's pink public buses to the Grotto Bay Beach Resort near the airport for a pleasant day of swimming and sunbathing. Besides well-combed beaches, the all-inclusive resort has a real cave (with stalactites and stalagmites) where guests can swim and party. Shopping was a disappointment in the towns of St. George and Hamilton. Flip-flops were going for $60, and all of the Bermuda shorts we saw were in the $40 range and they weren't made locally.

With just three full days in Bermuda, most of the cruise was dominated by life aboard the Journey. The Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary was instituted in May and concluded in October. Our cruise was among the last. Before the ship got under way at Cape Liberty, our "deluxe experience" began with our bathroom sink producing water that stained two washcloths rusty brown. A maintenance man assured us the water would eventually be "flushed out" and that our water would be clean. Apparently it was. No one ever said we looked rust-stained.

Concurrent with the wondrous water, we had the portable minibar in our 170-square-foot cabin removed because it was placed where the desk chair goes. The chair was set to the side of the desk, blocking the full opening of our closet, which had a jammed drawer and had to be repaired.

Beyond our cabin, the Journey had bigger problems. Service in the Discoveries dining room was generally poor during breakfast and lunch. It was not "service unparalleled on the high seas." Many waiters seemed unable to understand English, and the dining tables were arranged badly. The restaurant staff was gleaned from Celebrity ships, where early and late dining is the norm. On the Journey and Quest, there's just one first-come, first-served seating beginning at 6 p.m. In the Discoveries, there were rows upon rows of three tables for two (side-by-side with very little space in between them) and a table for four at the end of each row. The arrangement was not conducive to privacy or intimacy. After one dinner under these cramped conditions, the Discoveries maitre d' put us at an isolated table for two at the back of the dining room for the remainder of the cruise, and assigned us a Turkish waiter who spoke excellent English.

The Windows Cafe - actually a cafeteria on Deck 9 - had problems, too. Its twin buffet line created a traffic jam where each line ended and met the other. Drinking glasses in Windows were juice glasses, not large containers appropriate for ice tea. The cafe's ice dispensers splattered ice on the tile floor, which was slippery most of the time. Unbelievably, Windows did not have paper cups in which to take coffee to our stateroom. Paper cups were kept only at the elegant Cova Cafe on Deck 5.

While the small, bar-like Cova served espressos and lattes, it did not serve regular coffee, which was available only at Windows. On a rough seas morning the Windows staff offered us china cups and saucers in lieu of paper cups, but not being flight attendants trained to carry drinks in bumpy situations we laughed off the absurd offer.

Of course, no one has control over rough seas and strong wind. During such conditions we - rather than someone from the deck crew - ended up going outside our cabin at 4 a.m. to stop a harpoon-like metal pole from constantly striking the bulkhead under our cabin window. The only way to silence it was to take it off a hook and rest it on a cushioned chaise lounge chair.

Did we like anything about the Journey? Yes, a few things.

The ship had many, polite and friendly staffers, particularly activities personnel. On the night we dined in Prime C - one of the ship's two specialty restaurants - the captain of the ship visited the restaurant and walked from table to table to greet guests. Very classy. Despite the service problems in Discoveries, we enjoyed its cuisine. The food in Prime C and Aqualina, the other specialty eatery, was equally delectable. The meal presentation was some of the best we had ever encountered aboard ship.

Overall, the Journey is beautifully decorated. Its swimming pool is surrounded by large wood-and-thickly cushioned deck lounge chairs. The arrangement of fresh flowers throughout the ship was a lovely touch, and the availability of hand wipes everywhere was a reassuring sign that any virus would probably be nipped in the bud before it could spread.

As our cruise neared its end, the only thing spreading was scuttlebutt: Supposedly Azamara is planning to stop saying "every cabin has a butler." Good. Our butler was just a cabin steward in tails.

One couple booked in a sky suite reported that when they asked their butler to make reservations to Aqualina the butler walked into the stateroom, picked up the phone, called Aqualina and then handed the phone to one of the cabin occupants. Huh?

A butler is supposed to be constantly attentive and pamper guests as if they are royalty. He or she should know your name and frequently ask if you need anything.

In what could only be characterized as a "Twilight Zone" ending to our cruise, the foul water in our bathroom sink reappeared after we docked at Cape Liberty, where disembarkation was delayed for two hours for some unexplained reason. We thought that perhaps the ship and sojourn had been cursed after all.

But, unlike the "Flying Dutchman" who is allowed to make port just once every seven years, we were able to get off the Journey after just seven, mostly disappointing, days.

© Copley News Service

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