AZAMARA JOURNEY To The Sea Of Cortez, Part Two

Continue with Peter Knego for part two of his latest Sea Trek on board Azamara Club Cruises’ MV AZAMARA JOURNEY as he wines and dines his way through the Eastern Pacific and into the Sea Of Cortez.

Azamara Club Cruises

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Part Two

All Photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2011 unless otherwise noted.  Please click on image to see larger version.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Drawing room corner, facing aft.

Breakfast in Windows was followed by an immersion session in the Drawing Room, hosted by Edie Bornstein, who joined Azamara as VP of Marketing in September 2009. One of the first policy implementations the line made after its executive restructuring was to eliminate “nickel and diming” by adding the inclusive boutique wines, bottled water, specialty coffees, gratuities, local shuttles, free of charge access for suite guests to the specialty restaurants, two bottles of liquor for suite guests, etc. Azamara Club Cruises positions itself as an “up market” product (which basically lands it between “luxury” and “premium”) and considers its only true competition to be “boutique hotels” versus other cruise lines. When asked about Oceania, which operates three former “R ships” in a similar market, she compared the hardware to aircraft, where one company’s 747 is a completely different entity from another’s. Azamara’s current passenger make up is 56% American, 11% Canadian and 33 % International (namely U.K., Australian, German and Scandinavian).

Cooking Immersion in Aqualina.

Following lunch in Discoveries where we gazed over the AZAMARA JOURNEY’s wake, I attended a special cooking demonstration hosted by executive chef Frederic Camonin. His assistant Zachary fashioned a special lobster and melon appetizer while Camonin, who oversees three sous chefs (one each for Discoveries, Prime C and Aquilina), five chefs and 58 cooks, sizzled up a caramelized fillet mignon. A few bytes about Azamara’s cuisine: All of its beef is aged a minimum of 34 days; no MSG or tenderizers are used; all stocks and soups are made from scratch on board ship; no canned or frozen vegetables; local ingredients are used whenever possible (for instance, fresh Baja shrimp and fish were purchased from local vendors during our cruise).

Captain on the wing.

Captain Johannes Tysse hosted a special bridge tour that afternoon. It was great to meet one of Norway’s leading seafarers — a confident, kind and much respected master mariner. Young Tysse was smitten with the sea upon hearing his grandfather’s tales of crossing to America on Norwegian American Line’s STAVANGERFORD. After serving in the Royal Norwegian Navy, he attended the Merchant Marine Academy and began his seagoing career on tankers and other “working” ships. In 1996, he joined his first cruise ship and never looked back, having served as an officer with Windstar, Seabourn and Sea Dream before joining Azamara in 2010. Although a native of the near-Bergen island of Osteroy, Captain Tysse now lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his beautiful wife Tonya (whom he met on board the WIND STAR in 1989), their shih tzu Bella and Maine Coon cat Brother.

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY Bridge, facing starboard.
Aft from port wing at sea aboard AZAMARA JOURNEY.

Following the bridge tour, it was high time to just soak up the sea air from various vantages on the JOURNEY.

Souithbound lifering.

On the Deck 5 promenades, the seas gurgled within earshot.

Prime C, facing forward.

That evening, another gourmand’s feast awaited in Prime C, the 84 seat steakhouse on aft/starboard Deck 11.

Prime C amuse bouche.

It all began with a salmon mousse amuse bouche…

Prime C buffalo mozzarella.

And some buffalo mozzarella atop beefsteak tomatoes for the salad course.

Prime C crab cakes.

Prior to this meal, I was no fan of crab cakes. Prime C has permanently altered that but will I ever find any this good again?

Prime C fish entrée.

Entrées included some fine cuts of meat and this amazing sesame halibut with fried rice and bok choy.

Banana cheese cake in Prime C.

I had a lovely creme brulée but the hand’s-down winner dessert was Rob’s banana cheese cake. All in all, one of the best dinners on the seven seas for a mere $15 additional tariff (but at no charge to suite guests).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seventh coffee.

Although the coffee in the main dining venues is better than most shipboard Joe, the specialty coffees from Cafe Mosaic are well worth seeking out. I began most mornings with a double shot cappuccino to go and returned in the early afternoon for an espresso booster, accompanied by bite-sized sandwiches on mini boules and croissants in the elegant surrounds overlooking the “TITANIC staircase”. All included in the fare and delivered with a smile by a friendly and hard working team of baristas.

Winging it with Claudius.

The day’s first media immersion session was hosted by Claudius Docekal, head of Azamara’s Deployment and Destinations. Claudius explained his process of selecting the ports visited by the Azamara fleet, each vetted for the following: sales appeal; air capacity for U.S., Europe and Australia; environmentally-friendly waste disposal; safety and bunkering availability. His itineraries take effect in April of 2011 and will, over the course of a year, take two ships to five continents, 58 countries and 187 ports, 37 of which will be maiden calls. The itineraries will blend familiar but popular “must see” places with new and exciting calls, combining overnight stays. Azamara Club itineraries spend 57% more time in port than most ships and offer special tailor-made excursions such as a night tour with a special concert, wine and light meal at Ephesus, a two night stay in Rio during Carnivale, a visit to Monaco during the Grand Prix, golf cruise programs coordinated with Perry Golf for the British Open, Eco Hikes in a number of exotic locales and much more.

Waiting to be served: a butler course in progress...

Our next immersion was hosted by Lesley Philippot of Triple S Consultancy, an outside firm that specializes in contemporary butler service training and global concierge services. Azamara originally provided butler services for all guests but with limited success. With the restructuring of the brand, the line decided to narrow the focus to better butler service for just the suite guests and brought in Triple S, which provided training and staff for some of the world’s poshest super yachts, including Paul Allen’s jaw-dropping OCTOPUS. Proper etiquette, quickly learning and responding to guest’s needs, discretion, barista training and wine knowledge are all overseen by Triple S. Our “lesson” was synchronized serving, alas, rendered with varying degrees of success…

Laurentian splendor: wine tasting in Prime C.

From the first night’s dinner, we were smitten with Romanian somellier Laurentia Tache. She is an enthusiastic, charming, “no nonsense” lady that adores wine and the art of pairing it with the right courses. Our group gathered in Prime C to sample two whites and two reds from the included boutique wine selections.

Color in the glass.

As we swirled, sniffed and palate-cleansed our way through the four vintages, Laurentia quizzed us on the aromas and provided just the right amount of historic background as well as suggestions on pairing.

Pinotage parfait.

Our chosen winner was the South African Stellenzicht Pinotage. Quel legs!

Cruising off Cabo.

When we stumbled out into the fresh air, AZAMARA JOURNEY was passing the white sand beaches and rocky outcrops of Cabo San Lucas. We were transitioning from the deep blue Pacific into the emerald waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Over the pool off Cabo.

The midships Deck 9 pool area had come to life in the balmy air.

Sunset on the JOURNEY.

Before the usual attempt to work off the gluttony, there was time to linger at the rails of Deck 10 to savor yet another magical sunset.

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY Best of the Best table setting.

Another very, very special Azamara Club experience are the “Best of the Best” dinners offered to the top 20 suite guests one night during each cruise. Hosted by the captain and key officers and staff, it is a supremely elegant affair that transforms the Drawing Room from Edwardian Library to Banquet Hall. We were greeted with a glass of champagne as harpist Jacqueline Dolan plucked away.

Amuse Best.

Moments after we were seated, the Amuse Bouche, a chicken’s egg shell stuffed with caviar and salmon was synchronously served. Its wine pairing was a Michel Redde Pouilly Fumé Sauvignon Blanc from La Maynerie, France. The next course was a Marinated Blue Crab with Melon-Orange Dressing and Lobster Medallion and Herb-Phyllo Crisp perfectly paired with a J&H Selbach Fish Label Riesling from Mosel, Germany. Hmmm, didn’t think I’d like that Riesling but was once again proven delightfully wrong.

Best of the Best champagne/sorbet.

Exotic birds chirped and blossoms bloomed in the frescoed dome above as a peach sorbet palate cleanser arrived with a splash of champagne….

Best of the Best Chilean Sea Bass entree.

Entrée choices included veal and a succulent Chilean Sea Bass on Aubergine Caviar with Saffron Porcini Risotto and Bell Pepper Coulis with Basil Oil paired with a Brancott Reserve Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. As delectable as the food and wine were, the company was even more delightful. The AZAMARA JOURNEY’s lovely “first lady” Tonya Tysse was directly to my right. She mentioned having worked on the entertainment staff of various cruise ships and asked if I knew of the “old” SS ROTTERDAM. I had made a new friend….

Best of the Best chef's surprise dessert.

The Chef’s Surprise dessert was a multi-layered and decadent combination of white and dark chocolate-encased tiramisu accompanied by a Chocolate Vodka-Tini. By the time the Petits Fours arrived, I was in need of a stretcher.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY at Mazatlan.

I bypassed the charms of Mazatlan to do some comprehensive documenting of of the AZAMARA JOURNEY for an upcoming Decked! tour. In the meantime, here is a preview of a few key spaces and details:

Looking Glass Lounge, facing starboard.

The Looking Glass Lounge seats 102 and overlooks the bow from the vantage of Deck 10. The starboard alcove is a card room and the port side offers quiet nooks for reading or just staring out to sea. In its center is a dancefloor and DJ booth, all served by a bar, just aft.

Hour Glass Lounge detail.

A series of blown glass discs entitled “Moon Flowers” by Terje Lundaas serve as decorative focal points.

Thalasso deck, facing port.

The Thalassotherapy terrace fronts the spa and gym on forward Deck 9. It is available for a nominal fee but is free of charge to suite guests.

Totally random carpet shot #1.
Totally random carpet shot #2.

Fleur de Lis patterns in varying colors are among the ship’s Edwardian-inspired soft fittings.

MV AZAMARA JOURNEY Cabaret Lounge, facing aft.

The line up of public rooms on Deck 5 begins with the Cabaret show lounge, accommodating 350. It features a large parquet dance floor, terraced banked seating and a sunken bar. This is the venue for port and enrichment lectures and twice per evening shows, which range from guest pianists and singers to comedians and Broadway-style revues. The AZAMARA JOURNEY has a high-spirited, talented five member company led by Toronto-based cruise director Eric De Gray.

Casino Bar, facing forward.

The AZAMARA JOURNEY’s Casino gaming area is larger than that of its Oceania competition and we noticed it was very well patronized when the ship was at sea. The Bar and Lounge portion seats 20.

Discoveries Lounge, facing aft.

The Discoveries Lounge is a lovely “ante” space for the adjoining Discoveries Restaurant in the ship’s stern. Seating 40, it features a handsome bar, dark wood veneers and ornate Edwardian detailing.

Discoveries Lounge ceiling.

Frescoed ceilings hover above the Discoveries Lounge and Restaurant.

H2O to go.

With most of the morning spent documenting, we headed off the ship to find some high speed internet access in the Mazatlan terminal. A nice touch is the chilled water in the ice-packed coolers at the gangway.

Trolley JOURNEY.

In Mazatlan, the only way to get from the ship to the terminal is via a colorful trolley that sputters its way past dockside warehouses and stacks of containers. Unfortunately, we arrived at siesta time and the internet access was denied, so it was back to the ship!

End Of Part Two. Much more to come…

Click Here for AZAMARA JOURNEY To The Sea Of Cortez, Part Three

Click Here For AZAMARA JOURNEY To The Sea Of Cortez, Part One

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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