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Azamara Club Cruises: Spotlight on Beautiful Ports of Call

Azamara Club Cruises: Spotlight on Beautiful Ports of Call

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Some people travel to sightsee. Some travel to learn a new language, and others, to immerse themselves in new and different cultures. I happen to travel for a combination of all those reasons, but most importantly, to explore the local food and drink culture. Azamara Club Cruises provides the vehicle for total destination immersion, where guests have the ability to eat and drink onboard and then do more of the same, but this time, in exotic locales.

The boutique cruise line now offers longer stays and more overnights in port that allow guests to grab dinner in a quaint town of Livorno and go dancing late-night in Monaco, which is often simply not an option on more traditional cruise lines.

Recently, I sailed on the Azamara Journey for an eight-night tour of Tuscany and Provence. While on board, there were opportunities to dine in the two specialty restaurants, a steakhouse and seafood restaurant, as well as multiple casual dining options. It was the best of both worlds for a full-time eater and drinker. I was able to fuel up in the morning with the in-room breakfast service that I leisurely ate on my veranda while plotting the day ahead. (My usual became the corned beef hash with poached eggs over gluten-free toast).

While on land, I couldn’t run fast enough to local gastronomic treasures, like the olive oil shop in St. Paul de Vence, the picturesque Tuscan winery that served gluten-free pasta, or the best fried artichokes in Rome in the Jewish ghetto.

Below is a roundup of the ports of call including: Rome, Livorno, Monaco, Nice, St. Tropez, and Elba, and the corresponding culinary highlights of the trip:

Rome: We began and ended our Azamara journey in the eternal city of Rome. While there are many tours offered for those who are looking to see the unforgettable sights of Rome, like the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Vatican, and so on, we decided to meander through the city and check out the Jewish ghetto. We made our way to Nonna Betta for traditional Roman Jewish cuisine. On the menu were fried artichokes and whole sea bass roasted to perfection. (Don’t worry, we spent hours in the Coliseum, too! Unforgettable photo op at dusk.)

Livorno/Florence: The beauty of Livorno is that once you’re in port, guests can choose to venture to Florence, Lucca, and nearby Pisa. If you’ve spent time in any one of those cities before, you can easily amend your schedule to explore somewhere new. On day one we visited the small town of Maiano, nestled on top of a hill just outside of Florence. We stopped at local restaurant Trattoria Le Cave di Maiano for an unforgettable meal consisting of burrata and tomato, prosciutto and melon, zucchini flower risotto, and grilled beef. That night, we visited Goldoni Theater to catch an exclusive performance of three Italian tenors who performed classics from famous operas such as Rigoletto.

Review: Our First Sailing With Azamara Club Cruises

Quick. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Some of you answered chocolate, some vanilla, while others might answer mint chocolate chip, strawberry, cookie dough, or a myriad of other choices.

With hundreds of thousands of luxury boomer travelers reading our website, newsletter, and social media outposts over the course of a year, we are constantly asked: what is the best ocean cruise line?

And just like ice cream, the best ocean cruise line depends on your palate, your travel style, your desired destination, and of course, your wallet.

In my mind, ocean cruise lines can be segmented into four general categories:

  1. 4-star large-ship brands
  2. 4.5-star small ship brands
  3. 5-star brands
  4. and finally, expedition ships that will take you to the Antarctic and such.

Azamara Club Cruises (LINK) fits into the 4.5-star category with its main competitors being Viking Ocean Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

Azamara Quest in Mykonos, Greece. Note: click all photographs for larger views. ©2017, David A. Porter

It seems that it always takes me several days to write our review articles as I struggle with how to condense 10-days of experience into a readable and informative format. And, as I’ve learned over the years, folks enjoy bullet-points. Let’s proceed in that direction.

First off, two things:

  1. If you have questions that I haven’t covered in my article, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section at the bottom of this article.
  2. And, so that we don’t bury the lead: we enjoyed our experience, would love to sail with them again, and we feel that Azamara Club Cruises will be just perfect for many baby boomer travelers looking for a 4.5-star small ship experience.

With that said, let’s get started…

Highlights From our Azamara Club Cruises Sailing

  • Boutique, upmarket cruise line – Cruise lines in the 4.5-star space are careful not to call themselves luxury as one person’s definition of luxury is going to differ from another’s. And, Azamara Club Cruises isn’t trying to compete with the true luxury cruise lines. In my view, the 4.5-star cruise lines are best for those who don’t want to sail with 5,000 people, desire a more upscale experience, and view the destination experience as more important than that of the ship. After all, while the ship is certainly important, isn’t this all about going to a destination? Here is how Azamara defines themselves: “founded in 2007 and then re-launched as Azamara Club Cruises® in 2010, Azamara is a boutique upmarket cruise line operating two 690 passenger ships, the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest. The company serves an upmarket segment of international travelers, who tend to be curious and well-traveled, and as a whole are eager to explore new destinations and cultures.” Azamara Club Cruises is a wonderful option for those who desire to step up from the large-ship 4-star brands.
  • Small Ships – While we recommend the larger ships for our clients who might be more budget conscious or perhaps looking for a multi-generational experience with the family, as a rule, we prefer to recommend the small-ship cruise lines that start at least in the 4.5-star or higher category. With just a few exceptions, if we send couples on the big ships, they come home with complaints as their expectations were not met. When we stick to the smaller ships, we get very few complaints. Think about it, the ships with Azamara Club Cruises carry a maximum of 690 guests. Your experience on these smaller ships is going to be significantly more intimate than a floating city with nearly 6,000 people aboard. Plus, when you’re in port, you can get into smaller docking areas that the larger ships couldn’t dream of getting into. When we were in Dubrovnik with Azamara Club Cruises, we were docked right outside the city. We hopped aboard our tender and were walking the streets of Dubrovnik within 10 minutes. The large ships were docked 2-miles outside of the city, and those poor folks had to be bused into the city. Being identical ships, the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest were both inaugurated in 2007, and hold 690 guests in 345 staterooms: 46 Club Suites, 200 Club Veranda Staterooms, 73 Club Oceanview Staterooms, and 26 Club Interior Staterooms. Both ships were refurbished in 2016 and look shiny and new. While you can’t see the Azamara Quest in my photograph below, we were moored with the yachts in Dubrovnik where the large ships are lost in the fog somewhere down the coast. You can see the Azamara Quest in my photograph through the ground cover in my second photograph.

  • Space Ratio – One of the specifications that we like to pay attention to when choosing a cruise ship is its space ratio. To determine this, we take the ship’s gross registered tons (30,277) divided by the maximum passengers (690). By doing this, we get a space ratio of 43.88. That’s not bad. The best are north of 50, and the worst is below 25. We never felt crowded on board, although we did notice that on our sea day, the pool area was a bit crowded.

  • Dining Venues – The main restaurant aboard the Azamara Quest is called Discoveries. We enjoyed most of our meals in Discoveries and found the cuisine to be quite nice. The staff was attentive and the chef mixed up the menu each night so that you didn’t feel like you only had the same choices each night. While there are specialty restaurants aboard (Prime C for steaks and seafood – Aquilina for Italian), we were very content to enjoy the main dining room each night. If we needed a quick bite, then we would enjoy the Windows Cafè which is the ubiquitous buffet found on most cruise ships. Another favorite stop of ours was The Patio, a casual grill on the pool deck where we enjoyed their grilled tuna wrap and a small bit of frozen yogurt from the nearby self-service station. I would give our dining experience a rating in keeping with our overall 4.5-star rating. While you’re not going to dine at a Thomas Keller restaurant aboard the Azamara Quest, I’m confident that you will enjoy the cuisine.

Discoveries Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Azamara Club Cruises.

  • White Night – One of the things we noticed right away is that the mix of people on board our sailing was different than other lines that we’ve enjoyed in this space. The crowd trended younger, and in the mix we found baby boomers and older, quite a large contingent from the LGBT community, a few solo travelers, quite a number of families with children, and our ears were also treated to a number of different languages aboard as well. Quite an eclectic mix, wouldn’t you say? While I certainly wouldn’t call this a party boat, the vibe was a little more upbeat and energetic. Because the crowd tends to be a little more lively, Azamara Club Cruises hosts a complimentary White Night Party aboard ship on every cruise where everyone dresses in white and we all enjoy a festive get-together on the pool deck replete with a fabulous buffet (think grilled lobsters, steak and every imaginable food and dessert). Further, we were treated to a group of Greek dancers that were brought on board, the cast from the Cabaret Lounge entertained with wonderful music, and all of this was set to a beautiful moonlit night in the ocean caldera of Santorini. Magical, it was! I have a picture to share with you. Please pardon the graininess of the photo. It is a panorama that I shot with my iPhone in the low light.

  • AzAmazing Evenings – Another treat afforded to the guests of Azamara Club Cruises is the so-called AzAmazing Evening offered on most sailings. While moored in the port of Dubrovnik, Croatia, they offloaded over 600 of us to the small Lokrum Island Nature Reserve to enjoy a lively evening of entertainment from Croatian Cellist Ana Rucner. Take a peek at my video below from this special evening.
  • Stay Longer. Experience More – Azamara Club Cruises pioneered Longer Stays and More Overnights. With its two ships, the focus on these extended stays and authentic local experiences keep evolving. “Stay longer. Experience more.” is the philosophy behind every Azamara Club Cruises voyage.Capitalizing on longer stays in port, more overnights and night touring, Azamara Voyages deliver to guests authentic cultural experiences across the globe. The ship’s smaller size allows for visits to ports larger ships are unable to venture to. In 2017, Azamara will take passengers to more than 200 ports, in 68 countries, including 195 late night stays and 82 overnights. Azamara’s commitment to Destination Immersion coupled with exceptional onboard service offers a unique cruise vacation for those who love travel. What’s not to like about that? Right?
  • Back to Back Voyages – Because Azamara Club Cruises is operating with only two ships in their fleet, they can turn what might seem to be a disadvantage to an advantage for their guests. While many cruise lines will run the Athens to Venice itinerary over and over, Azamara Club Cruises will stretch out a series of back to back itineraries that will allow folks to explore many different areas and spend less money all at the same time. While we needed to hop off the ship in Venice, many of the ship’s passengers continued from Venice to enjoy a string of back to back cruises stretching out for 31-days. And, to make it even more interesting, the longer you sail, the more savings Azamara Club Cruises will offer to you.
  • Elegant Interiors – Azamara has “club” as a middle name because the brand seeks to offer its guests an intimate, country club-like ambiance. I think they pulled it off. I immediately liked my surroundings when I stepped aboard the ship. Take a peek at these photographs I captured in the lobby.

  • Staterooms – OK. Here is the only place that I am going to offer a little negativity. I felt that the majority of their staterooms trended towards the small side as compared to their direct competitors. 299 of their staterooms clock in at 175 sq. ft. or less, and while the living space seemed workable, the bathrooms required the finesse of a ballerina to get around. Therefore, if you prefer a larger stateroom, book early so that you can get one of their 46 beautiful suites. For our next sailing with Azamara Club Cruises, I’ve got my eye on this beautiful Club Spa Suite (photo courtesy of Azamara Club Cruises). Check out that soaking tub in the back looking out over the ocean. Pretty sweet, right?

Well, I think that about covers what I want to share with you about our onboard experience.

Again, Azamara Club Cruises is perfect for the traveler who might want to step out of the 4-star large ships to enjoy a more intimate 4.5-star upscale experience. And, we also found that luxury travelers tend to scoop in to quickly take up the suites as they enjoy the overall Azamara experience. We get that and would put ourselves in the same camp.

Now that I’ve shared our onboard experience, stay tuned as we share the fun from each of our ports of call.

For more information or to book your own Azamara Club Cruises experience, please call Roaming Boomers Travel Services at (480) 550-1235, or use our convenient online information request ( click here ) and we’ll reach out to you. Plus, through our affiliation with Virtuoso, we’ve probably got complimentary VIP perks to add to Azamara’s best offers.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for our travel newsletter to keep abreast of our best travel tips, on-location reviews, exclusive travel offers, group travel events, and much more.

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Azamara Journey

The Azamara Journey is a lovely ship accommodating 690 guests. Her size ensures that there is always something to do and someone to meet as you cruise right up to the doorstep of some ports. The Azamara Journey features comfortable spaces throughout the ship including in the many dining venues, bars and lounges so you will never feel crowded. Attentive service is always available from a well trained staff always anticipating your needs and happy to see you.

Enjoy a posh club-like atmosphere as you relax at a variety of chic venues, including the Discoveries Lounge, the popular Looking Glass Lounge, with its Murano glass illuminated dance floor and stunning panoramic views. The Cabaret Lounge, with cozy tables, is the perfect place to enjoy various shows. Mosaic Café, after dinner, transforms into [email protected] This is a perfect venue for socializing and enjoying live music from the comfort of cushy seating. Boasting a full bar, Casino Luxe will keep your excitement level high with a host of games and slot machines. Michael's Club will soothe you with the sounds of talented musicians tickling the ivories on the Grand Piano. Select from 20 varieties of the popular drink at the Martini Bar, perhaps you'll discover a new favorite.

Acclaimed chefs combine innovation with favorites to create inspired daily menus with cuisine sure to delight your palate. The Discoveries Restaurant is a sophisticated dining room, offering a variety of scrumptious nightly selections. Specialty restaurants include Aqualina, featuring delicious Mediterranean dishes and a classic steakhouse, Prime C. Wine aficionados will thrill at the 8,000-bottle collection of limited production, small label and rare vintages in the E Wine Cellar. Casual fare is featured at the Pool Grill and Windows Café is a buffet-style eatery.

Stunning staterooms feature peaceful and elegant tones, rich woods, flat screen televisions, European linens and more. Many staterooms have private verandas, so you can open your door to fresh sea air and amazing views.

Azamara enables guests to participate in the best of local traditions with Destination Immersion&trade, which are late night or overnight stays on over half of the port visits. Complimentary shore excursions called AzAmazing Evenings SM provide insight into local customs while onshore and Land Discoveries® seminars about destinations, culture, excursions and more are a fascinating and fun way to learn more about the places you visit.

Poolside Parties are elevated to the next level with amazing fare and boutique wines. Dance late into the night, under the stars, to a live band. Stop by the onboard boutiques for lovely items including souvenirs for those back home along with exquisite jewelry and watches.

Relax in the ship's library, the Drawing Room by Assouline, a quiet jewel on the ship, with a beautiful collection of lifestyle and travel books. Spend some quality time at the Azamara Spa, an oasis of tranquility, with fabulous massages and other pampering treatments. Don't miss a workout with the personal trainer at the Fitness Center than head to The Salon. Stay in touch with 24/7 Internet access and email availability at onboard computer stations, WiFi service is also available.

The Ship

To me, the ship felt like a boutique hotel. It’s not big and flashy nor does it feel like a floating amusement park. Instead it’s comfortable and traditional—a cruise for adults, if you will. Azamara is about seeing the world and relaxing–there are no gimmicks or over-the-top amenities–and I mean that in a good way. The Azamara Quest holds about 700 passengers and was launched in 2007 (though the ship was built some time before that). This is not a mega-ship and in comparison to some of the other ships out there it’s quite a small vessel. The ship was renovated in 2012 but if I’m speaking honestly, could use another refresher (which its actually undergoing very soon).The renovation in 2012 updated the main buffet restaurant, Windows, the pool deck and the fitness center so all of these are quite nice and sparkly new. While the public spaces are quite lovely, though not quite Five Star, they still feel luxurious. And the attentive service makes up for this to some extent.

It’s easy to find your way around the ship. There are public spaces on decks 5, 9, and 10. On 5, was my favorite spot—the coffee shop, which is a great meeting spot. I’ll tell you more about this in the Food section.

Fitness Center? New machines, very clean. Much more Equinox than New York Sports Club. If you’re a New Yorker, you know what a compliment that is. The gym also offers complimentary Pilates, spinning yoga and fitness classes.

Spa? I didn’t get a chance to visit the spa but I did take a look and it looked nice. You could do anything—from a traditional massage to acupuncture.

Pool? We didn’t have much time to relax by the pool—there were too many wonderful destinations. But it never appeared to have problems with overcrowding or seating. I think most cruisers on Azamara are hoping to explore the destinations.

We loved the ping pong table!

I loved bringing a book to this outside deck and just relaxing (even though we did have our own balcony, I liked this full reclining chair).

Azamara Club Cruises – what you need to know

As one of the newest and smallest cruise lines around, you’d be forgiven for not having a clue who Azamara Club Cruises are. When I tell people that they are owned by Royal Caribbean, it seems to give a little more recognition…and then to put them into the same basket as Silverseas, Seabourne, and debatably Viking, you will probably start to get more an idea of what these ships are all about.

A bit of history

The Azamara ships are ‘R’ Class, also known as the Renaissance Class, of which there are 8 cruising around the world. Azamara ‘Quest’ and ‘Journey’ are numbers 6 and 7 and they have more recently purchased the newest, number 8, to be named ‘Pursuit’which will launch in August 2018 in the Med.

The parent company RCCL purchased Quest and Journey from acquired Spanish-based cruise company, Pullmantur in 2007, originally to be an addition to the Celebrity Cruises brand. However, it was quickly realised that these ships had the potential to be an exciting new brand, and so Azamara Cruises (later amended to Azamara Club Cruises) was born.

It’s an unusual name for sure, and one many struggle to pronounce…so where does it come from? Well, it’s made up! The obvious links are to blue (az) and the sea (mar). Also inspired by the Acamar star which in Classical times was the most southern bright star that could be seen from the latitude of Greece, and Azamara likes to think of herself as a star on the blue sea.

What makes Azamara different?

Azamara Club Cruises is a cruise line for the discerning traveller who wants to truly immerse themselves into the destinations visited. The ships are small enough to get into the ports which the larger ships can’t, making the itineraries really appealing. She also stays in ports overnight and late at night, allowing guests to experience cities when other cruise lines have departed, such as night markets or a local restaurant or theatre etc. The ships also move constantly around the world, so you can stay onboard for as many cruises as you like to cover as much of the world as you desire. The second part of a ‘back-to-back’ will always be discounted.

Another unique selling point for Azamara Club Cruises is the AzaAmazing Evening which is offered complimentary to all guests on most cruises. These are a money-can’t-buy experience arranged on shore which guests will be talking about for years after. You can look up what the evening entails for each sailing on their website. I was lucky enough to attend one in Newcastle, Australia, where guests arrived at Fort Scratchley, overlooking Nobby’s Head, to trays of drinks and canapes whilst soaking in the panoramic views, before being treated to an exclusive performance by local artists including the renowned Jazz performer, James Morrison. The evening was capped off by fireworks over the harbour with a spotlight beaming down on the ship, before guests were escorted back to the ship. Certainly an evening I’ll never forget.

When asking loyal guests why they choose Azamara, the overwhelming response would be ‘service’. The staff on these ships truly know how to make a guest feel welcomed, valued and a part of the family. It’s not a stuffy white glove service, but an authentic, friendly and caring kind of service.

What’s included?

Azamara is an inclusive cruise line, meaning you won’t be paying for much once onboard. This includes numerous dining options, most of your beverages (includes alcohol, although you’ll pay a small supplement if you want the top-shelf drinks), barista-made coffees, bottled water, all entertainment, self-service laundry, English butler service for Suite guests, fully-equipped gym, daily activities and shuttle transfers into city centres from most Ports. Gratuities are also included.

Where do they sail?

With 2, soon to be 3, ships in the fleet, these ships cover the majority of the world. They don’t have any one ‘home-port’ like most cruises do, they just continue to sail, making them perfect for building your own extended itineraries. You simply stay on for as long as you like, covering more continents. Being the small size that they are, they were one of the first to get into Cuba, and have some really fabulous Cuba intensive itineraries, combined with the Caribbean. They also do some great European itineraries, Norwegian Fjords and from July 2019 Azamara Quest will be visiting 11 ports along the stunning coast of Alaska.

Give me the lowdown on food

For a small ship, you have a great selection of dining options on Azamara to suit your mood or plans.

Discoveries Restaurant is your main restaurant where you can choose to dine in a couple or a share table.

The Patio and Swirl and Top. The Patio is a casual pool grill by day and al fresco dining experience by night. If you fancy something sweet, Swirl and Top is a self-serve frozen yogurt bar with a selection of flavours and toppings, to cool down at the end of a day.

Windows Cafe is a truly international restaurant, featuring cuisines from around the world, with a focus of the part you are currently in. It is casual in style and the menu changes daily.

Mosaic Cafe and [email protected], for casual dining and snacks. This is also a great place to sit and enjoy your favourite coffee either to start or to end the day.

Specialty Restaurants – Aqualina is a beautiful Italian fine dining restaurant and Prime C is a steakhouse restaurant. These are charged at US$30 (subject to change) for guests, except for Suite Guests for whom these are complimentary.

In-room dining is also available 24 hours a day. Think big breakfasts, hearty soups, healthy salads, pizzas, sandwiches and desserts.

Dress Code – generally speaking, smart casual is how guests roll on Azamara. Think Country Club/Resort style, you’re not required to wear ties and jackets unless you choose to. Although guests will dress up for Discoveries Restaurant and the specialty restaurants. There are no formal nights on Azamara. As my colleague and Sales Manager for Azamara used to say, “She’s five star without the la-di-da”!

Don’t forget to pack something appropriate for the fabulous White Night too. This is a much-loved evening, where the ship’s officers and crew will serve you out ondecks 9 and 10 which is turned into an outdoor restaurant/buffet. This feast will turn into a party not to be forgotten!

Most dietary requirements can be accommodated, but you will need to advise them at least 40 days in advance of the sail date.

Tell me about activities and entertainment

Whilst you’re not going to find any ziplines or bumper cars on Azamara, there is still plenty to keep guests entertained. They run an Enrichment program which includes seminars and lectures from the ship’s own onboard experts with open Q&As, culinary demonstrations, wine tastings hosted by their own sommelier, port-of-call lectures including their Cruise Global Connect Local program and if you need a little help with your IT skills, you can join an Excel, Powerpoint or Photoshop class (for a nominal fee). Of course, there is plenty of shopping to be done onboard if that’s more your thing, and for those quieter days you can borrow one of the many board games.

There is of a course a beautiful Spa and Fitness Centre onboard to keep you feeling energised and revitalised…and to work off some of the fabulous food!

Azamara has had a bit of a revamp of her onboard entertainment recently. Moving away from the previous full stage productions, you will now find a more jazzed up and operatic style of show.

54 Below at Sea is your New York style cabaret featuring iconic entertainers and rising stars for a show-stopping and authentic performance.

Magic City Opera is a social soiree, an engaging experience showcasing the beauty and drama of a classic art form…if anyone is onboard and can elaborate on this for me, please do so in the comments below – I’ve yet to see it myself!

Of course, you can’t go far without hearing live music all around this ship, either relaxing by the pool to a classical guitar, or the sultry sound of a harp whilst enjoying a coffee to dancing the night away to ABBA, it’s all there for you.

What are the accommodation options

I am often asked which type of accommodation someone should stay in, and there really is no ‘right’ answer. It is completely dependent on personal preference and budget at the end of the day. Consider if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in their room who may prefer a balcony or suite, or someone who literally just sleeps there, in which case maybe an interior is sufficient. If you think you may be prone to sea-sickness, I recommend a balcony so you can step out into fresh air whenever required.

There are 4 types of non-Suite staterooms on Azamara Interior, Oceanview, Club Veranda and Club Veranda Plus. All these come with terry bathrobes and slippers, 24hr room service, luxurious bedding with duvet/doona, welcome fruit basket, fresh-cut flowers, tote bag, turn-down treats, complimentary use of binoculars and umbrella and ‘About Rose’ toiletries. Note that some of the oceanview staterooms have an obstructed view due to the lifeboats.

If you prefer the Suite Life, you can choose from the Club World Owner’s Suite, Club Ocean Suite, Club Continent Suite, or the new Club Spa Suites. These all come with English-trained butler service, complimentary specialty restaurant dining, complimentary laundry service (one bag per 7 days per suite) and complimentary internet (235 minutes or $150 credit towards a full voyage package).

For the ultimate in unique experiences or to celebrate a special occasion, you must book the ‘Nights in Private Places’. Only available to be booked onboard, you will be treated to champagne and canapes whilst in the private retreat at the back of the ship, before being served fresh seafood and meats cooked on a hot stone by your private butler. Enjoy the spa to yourselves, surrounded by candles, whilst the butler will arrange turn-down (or close the roof panel and curtains if preferred) before you retire to a stunning night under the stars. A truly memorable experience not to be missed.

(US$395 per night at time of writing this).

Let’s wrap this up!

So by now, hopefully Azamara has taken on a whole new meaning for you, and is no longer ‘Aza-who?’! With 9 out of 10 guests returning to cruise again, I’m always really confident in recommending this boutique cruise line to everyone within her target market. She’s not for everyone, and she’s not at the cheap end of the market – nor should she be. You won’t find kids running around, in fact, you’re unlikely to see any at all. This isn’t your ‘family cruise’ ship, the average age of guests is around mid-50s upwards, depending on the voyage, and the mix of nationalities now sees Australians picking up third majority after the US and the UK. English is the first language, although staff are from many countries and most literature is printed in several languages.

If you’re looking for a cruise which will allow you to really explore your destination, take you to the best ports and stay late/overnight, whilst sailing in a warm and friendly style of luxury, Azamara Club Cruises is a must for you!

As always, I really appreciate comments and feedback, so please do post below and I’ll always respond. Thanks!

Azamara will culturally immerse you

Snapping that perfect selfie in front of a famous monument may prove that you’ve been to a destination, but Azamara’s land programmes will truly immerse you in the local culture. Following a rebranding, Azamara dropped “Club Cruises” from its name and gained – along with a modern logo – more than 1,700 land programmes. The idea was to venture beyond the sea while continuing to provide authentic Azamara experiences on land.

In order to provide this range of land programmes, Azamara is collaborating with the most well-renowned luxury travel companies. Operating more than 75% of the land programmes is Cox and Kings with niche companies, such as Micato Safaris, PerryGolf, and Aloschi Brothers, taking care of the rest. Azamara’s land programmes will throw you into the core of local life, providing you with authentic experiences that will let you personally explore a new culture.

Azamara land programmes are divided into three distinct categories.

AzAmazing Journeys

  • three- to six-day curated programmes with intimate groups of twelve to 18 guests, led by expert guides
  • familiarise guests with local culture thanks to independent specialists, such as historians, professors, and connoisseurs
  • AzAmazing Moments: once-in-a-lifetime experiences that indulge the senses
  • breathtaking accommodation, from five-star hotels and castles to boutique inns and glamping experiences

Land Journeys

  • three- to six-night programmes with a wider group of like-minded guests
  • specialised travel experience showing destinations from new perspectives, showcasing both hidden gems and must-see landmarks
  • accommodation in 4- and 5-star hotels, boutique inns, luxury lodges, and more

Stay Local

  • two- and three-night stays for time-restricted guests who still want an immersive experience
  • intensive crash course on a city, offering both pre- and post-cruise
  • transports guests beyond typical city highlights and immerses them in local life

Azamara Club Cruises Reveals Plans For New Spa And Spa Suites

MIAMI, October 20, 2015 – Azamara ® , the up-market line delivering an unmatched experience at sea and on land, unveiled today its new concept for its spa and spa suites as part of the line’s program to Reimagine Azamara while in dry dock early next year.

When both the Azamara Journey ® and Azamara Quest® undergo innovative transformations, the spa will be reimagined and new spa suites introduced. The Azamara Spa, renamed The Sanctum, will incorporate new programs with a focus on wellness and vigor providing holistic health and beauty treatments combining eastern and western wellness elements. Aesthetically, The Sanctum will be revitalized with a fresh, elegant and contemporary style comprised of sleek new carpeting, wall coverings, windows and more.

The Sanctum Spa Menu
The floor plan has been reworked allowing for a beautiful, open area, and open-air space for select spa services on the private outdoor deck – The Sanctum Terrace. It also will include a nail bar and pedicure area, dedicated stations for barber services, teeth whitening and hair services along with a full Medi-spa and acupuncture clinic.

The Club Spa Suites
Now you can visit the spa just a few steps from your suite! The new suites will be adjacent to The Sanctum featuring an elegant décor with muted colors. The refined suites will have contemporary décor featuring custom designed fabrics and furniture and a masterfully designed bathroom with his and her sinks, rich wood grains, and a separate rain shower. And, talk about a room with a view, the bathroom shower will have a view of the water while a spacious veranda with private soaking tub will be overlooking the ocean. Club Spa Suite guests will enjoy exclusive amenities.

The Club Spa Suite Amenities:

  • $200 spa credit, per suite
  • Nights in Private Places (1 night)
  • Daily delivery of healthy snacks each afternoon
  • Frette® plush robes and slippers
  • In room spa music

“As we sail around the globe immersing our guests in a myriad of cultures, we look to bring as many local accents to our onboard experience. This has always been evident in our culinary program as we prepare indigenous recipes using locally sourced ingredients in each port and serve wine sourced from nearby vineyards,” says Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara. “Now, we also will bring health and wellness practices to life in our new spa and spa suites. It’s an exciting time at Azamara and while our ships will undergo major upgrades from bow to stern, we have a feeling the new spa will be a guest favorite.”

The Azamara Journey will enter dry dock in January 2016 in the Bahamas, and the Azamara Quest in April 2016 in Singapore.

For more information, travelers can call their travel professional, dial 1-877-999-9553, or visit Connect with Azamara on Facebook at, on Twitter @AzamaraVoyages or follow President and CEO @LarryPimentel. Travel agent professionals can access more information and make reservations at

About Azamara
Azamara is a brand of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE/OSX: RCL), a global cruise vacation company that also owns Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur, and CDF Croisieres de France, as well as TUI Cruises through a 50 percent joint venture. Together, the six brands operate a combined total of 41 ships with four under construction. They operate diverse itineraries around the world that call on approximately 460 destinations on all seven continents.

2016 Azamara Journey Cruise-Venice+Croatia

We decided it was time to take a cruise on one of the Azamara ships. The two Azamara Club ships are known as boutique ships because of their size and elegance. Azamara is also an upscale cruise line that began in 2007 as part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd family.

Our cruise, on the Azamara Journey, started in Venice, Italy. It then continued to Croatia and finally one night in Albania. This was the seven-day cruise we had been looking forward to take for years.

Our Flight From New York To Venice

We sat in cramped seats for 9 hours . All the airlines have now reconfigured their planes so they can add more seats. We had 7″ from the edge of our seats to the seat in front of us. Now I am only 5𔄁″ and I couldn’t move in my seat. Reclining a couple of inches didn’t help our situation either since the seats are tight they no longer recline the way they used to.

We noticed others contorted and trying to get some sleep hanging over their tray tables or having their feet in the aisles. At $1000 per ticket, for an international flight round trip, you would expect to have a decent seat. We stayed up all night watching the free movies.

On the way home we paid $75 per person extra to get seats in what they called their Comfort Zone. Those Comfort Zone seats are the same ones we sat in for years and they weren’t that comfortable than. It wasn’t really worth $150 extra for an additional 4″ of leg room . For many years we would request Exit Row seats which were free of any extra fees, that is no longer the case. It is easy to understand why Delta and the other airlines are showing record profits, it is the extra fees they now charge.

Azamara Journey At Night – High Dynamic Range Image

Cruise Lines Enjoy Fantastic Growth

Cruise lines have seen excellent growth over the past 10 years. Cruising is now one of the most popular ways to take a vacation. For families, there are Fun Ships, for those that want fabulous entertainment, unlimited food selections and loads of activities there are the Mega Ships, however there is another class of ship that is gaining popularity for those that want a cruise that is more about the destinations then the size of the ship. These are what the industry call the boutique ships like the Azamara Journey.

Can Smaller Ships Compete?

Well these smaller ships are the perfect choice for those that want to see the world and get a chance to visit destinations that the larger ships can’t. We discovered that many of the ships passengers, were retirees who have the time and have the financial means to cruise on a ship like the Azamara Journey or its sister ship the Quest.

Venice and Croatia

We have spoken to many guests on the Azamara Journey who are free of family responsibilities. Many of the Azamara passengers prefer a luxury, relaxing and upscale experience on a beautiful boutique ship.

We fit that demographic too. Now that our children are grown, grandchildren getting older we wanted to see more of the world. We had taken many cruises to the Caribbean and other destinations, but never to Venice or Croatia. At our age, we wouldn’t be able to even take advantage of many of the activities on the larger ships. Certainly not the Flowrider, the Rock Climbing Wall, the Basketball Court, you get the idea.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Ports Of Call

We wanted to see Venice again and we have never visited Croatia, which was high on our “must see” list. So we chose to sail on the Azamara Journey one of two ships in the Azamara fleet. Both the Journey and the Quest, were completely refreshed and they are simply beautiful as you can see in my photos.

Comfortable Lounges

Excellent dining choices in their main dining room, as well as their two specialty restaurants, the Aqualina, Italian cuisine and Prime C their steak and chops restaurant. Of course they also have the buffet on deck 10 which we dined at for breakfast and some lunches if we weren’t out touring the destinations we visited.

Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy

Azamara is a Two Ship Fleet

They are a member of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines family. These two ships never repeat itineraries in the same year. For those that have the time and the money, you can choose to stay on the ship for weeks on end. Passengers have the opportunity to spend their time immersing themselves in the local culture of the towns and cities the ship visits.

Walls of Debrovnik Protect this 14th Century City

You see, smaller ships can get into ports and close to the heart of the destinations they visit, that would be impossible for a larger ship. For those that love to cruise visiting the same islands in the Caribbean or the same ports of call when you cruise, have become boring. The last time we cruised we never left the ship. So for the many, like us, that want to continue to explore the world and love to cruise Azamara is the best option. Passengers love the fact that each time they cruise on Azamara, they enjoy a new adventure.

Andy & Polly We met on the cruise

Make New Friends

Since this cruise attracts an older demographic, we found ourselves making new friends from the very first day. Every single couple we met loved the cruise.

Some of guests we interviewed, told us they have even booked back to back cruises. Those guests chose to spend one or more weeks on the ship.

Some even confessed they have cruised on the Journey and the Quest as many as 16 times. I think you will agree that this is a true testament to the Azamara staff.

Azamara Offers Exceptional Service

I mean you never have to get up for a drink or even a dish you might want on their buffet. Just relax and enjoy the wonderful service.

Smiles on the crews faces mean a happy experience for passengers The Tender Takes You To and From The Ship

The ship can accommodate a 690 passengers with over 400 crew members so the ratio is better than two staff members for three passengers. They truly take care of you on this ship. I think the best part for us was not only the fabulous destinations and their ability to drop anchor right into the heart of the larger cities we visited but they take you by tender on the smaller destinations too.

I love going back to the ship in the tender after a day of walking through ancient cities. The short ride gave me some opportunities to get some great photos and video of the ship in the water. It is a short, but very pleasant ride back to the ship.

At the dock where the tender was waiting to take us back to the ship, crew members were there to greet us. They helped us cool down with a cold cup of lemon water or flavored water and an ice-cold wash cloth. The last time I had this type of service was on a cruise down the Amazon, where it might have been as hot as it was in Croatia.

Rather then attempting to cover every aspect of our cruise in words, I decided to let the ship’s Captain, Hotel Director, Executive Chef, Food Service Manager and of course their talented Cruise Director tell you what sets them apart from other cruises.

Meet The Ships Master, Captain Magnus Davidson

Invitation for the Captains Table -Click to Enlarge

I have been on a number of ships and have interviewed their captains and or their senior staff. I have always been impressed on how intelligent and friendly they were to me and other passengers. I have never met a captain of a ship quite like Captain Magnus Davidson.

This man is charming and you could see how the passengers enjoyed talking to him. My wife and I, were given the honor of sitting at the Captains table for dinner one night. I didn’t want to bother the captain taking photos of him at the table, but was able to grab a few nice candid portraits of him.

Hotel Director Heike Burdos

The hotel director of the ship is responsible for pretty much everything on the ship, other than the navigation and safety of the ship. As you will see in the video, Heike loves her job. She was actually glowing as she talked about her ship. You will see her and other senior staff members serving passengers at White Night and walking through the ship talking to guests. This is one of the reasons many of their passengers come back.

Dining Options

Now we know that dining is very important for some passengers and so is food safety. We have heard of cruises ruined by the Norovirus or some other disease. Food safety has become a high priority on all of the RCL and Azamara Journey’s ships we have cruised on. We have never gotten sick on one of their cruises and that is not an easy feat for the food and service manager.

Passengers Don’t Have To Handle The Food

Passengers are not handling the food or drinks as they do on other ships. Here the staff is happy to serve you . All soft and many hard and mixed drinks are also included in the cruise. You should also know that the cruise covers all gratuities too.

Exec Chef Monica and Food and Service Mgr. Stephane

My next interview I was with Azamara Journey’s Executive Chef Monica Ortiz and Food and Service Manager Stephane Carriou. They will give you some idea of what the challenge is feeding passengers and crew . We talked about some of the special evenings we enjoyed on the cruise including White Night and the AzAmazing Night which you will see in our videos.

My wife Gladys and I at White Night

Azamara Journey’s Chef Monica and Stephane explain some exciting programs and the optional offerings they have including the Tapas Bar in the living room, their Savor Local program which takes guests on a tour of the local food markets where they shop for ingredients for their evenings meal. They also offer various other dining options and special events.

White Night Is Lots Of Fun

Most noteworthy was their wonderful buffet, music and dancing on the pool deck. Amazing how their crew was able to clear all the lounge chairs from the deck and set up tables with white linen table cloths in just a few hours. Guests were able to try many dishes including sushi, seafood, grilled meats and many fresh salads and desserts. See my photo galleries for stunning photos of the food, the ship and the ports we visited.

Executive Chef & Food Manager


Eric De Gray is the Azamara Journey’s Cruise Director, so we were looking forward to meeting and speaking to him. Not only is the cruise director responsible for the entertainment in the evenings, but for all passenger activities during the day too.

AzAmazing Night Concert With Ana Rucner

Eric is not only a talented entertainer who can sing, dance and even roller skate, he was a professional ice skater and appeared on Broadway. He is responsible for all the activities, including Bingo, which you may laugh at but we were there when one lucky passenger won a cruise for two on an Azamara cruise in the future. Not a bad prize and a good reason we saw so many passengers were playing high stakes Bingo.

Big Ships Have Big Casinos

As is the case with the larger ships, they too have a small casino, a few card tables, roulette and a nice selection of slots. Watch our video as Eric explains his part in keeping passengers entertained. I have to admit their shows were really quite entertaining. I am not one who loves Broadway Shows and on a larger ship you can sit in the audience for two hours, which is a bit much for me.

We Loved The Shows

One night they had a wonderful comedian, violinist and singer and another night a funny British gal who did is a cabaret Magician. She was a bit naughty as you will see in our video. The entertainment was just right and having the comedians interacting with the audience is genius. They had show that used human voices with no instruments at all. Ever show was Amazing.

Azamara Photo Galleries Including Croatia

I shot so many beautiful photos on the Azamara Journey, Venice and Croatia. Instead of adding these to this article I put them in nice albums on Flickr where you can see and even download the ones you like. The links below will take you to each of the albums. You be able to click on any image to see a larger size.

Heartfelt Thanks To The RCL and Azamara Team

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all the people at RCL and Azamara that made this project possible. Although we arranged for this cruise ourselves but I did reach out to my contacts at RCL and Azamara. Their support, made this project possible.

  • Tracy Quan, Associate Vice President, Global Brand Communications at Royal Caribbean
  • Signe Bjorndal, Director of Global Marketing & Public Relations, Azamara Club Cruises
  • Magnus Davidson, Captain and Ships Master
  • Heike Berdos, Hotel Director
  • Stephane Carriou, Food & Beverage Mgr
  • Monica Ortiz, Executive Chef
  • Eric De Gray, Cruise Director
  • Florina Cucu, Concierge & Group Events Coordinator

and the crew and passengers that supported us in the production of the article, videos and photos.

Visit Travel Pavilion for your next cruise…We love to cruise and are cruise experts.

Visit the Azamara website for more information and sailings.

Download Azamara Photos

You have permission to download and share my photos. When you open an album and come to an image you like just go to the lower right corner and you will see a down arrow icon, click on it and select the resolution or size of that photo you want to download.

One of the best ways to enjoy an intimate relationship with the beautiful ports of call on your cruise is to rent a bicycle and ride through the streets and villages. You’ll get acquainted with the sites, smells, sounds, and people of the places you visit. Join a guided bicycle tour or set out on your own. Either way, you’ll become much better acquainted with your cruise ports.

When ships arrive at cruise ship ports in certain areas, it’s very easy and inexpensive to rent a bike, and sometimes they are arranged for when it is a guided excursion.

Here at, we know a lot of vacationers enjoy cruises that take them to ports of call where they can tour with bicycles. We’ve put together a list of some great cruise ports where you can enjoy biking.

Key West, Florida – This is a great biking area, and you can easily cover all of Key West on a bicycle. Rentals are inexpensive, and it can be a great family day spent exploring the sites. Visit Fort Zachery Taylor State Park and ride along the shore on shaded paths. You’ll bike along the Key West Shipping Channel and past the historic Fort Zachery Taylor. Bicycle to the home and museum of writer Ernest Hemmingway, and then enjoy the sights and sounds of the historic harbor and seaport. Everything you want to see is accessible by bike.

Halifax, Nova Scotia – You can pedal with pleasure through beautiful Halifax. A great ride for the less-experienced biker is from Casino to Point Pleasant Park. Some of your ride will be on the waterfront boardwalk and some on a very low traffic road in that winds through the Halifax Port Authority. The park has trail maps posted that point out the easy route around the perimeter or the more difficult and steeper interior trail. Halifax has more than 62 miles of bike lanes and off-road trails. You’ll find bike rentals available right on the waterfront, and prices are reasonable. You can find a variety of bike varieties including electric bikes, road bikes, city bikes, and hybrids ranging in price from $20 to $45 per day.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Bicycling in Amsterdam is the main way the locals get around. The city is designed for bikes, and you can pedal just about anywhere. Amsterdam has signs and signals designed just for bikers. At intersections, you’ll see traditional yellow, red, and green lights in the shape of a bicycle, and you need to obey them. Round blue signs with a white bicycle indicate a bike lane or route. Visit historical sites, enjoy the quaint shops, and have lunch in local restaurants. You can do it all by bike. Join a guided tour with a local to be sure you don’t miss anything.

Brussels, Belgium – You’ll find as many bikes on the streets of Brussels as you will cars. It seems like a national pastime for citizens of all ages. You can find a bike at an automated rental kiosk or join a bike tour to get in all the sites. There is an exceptionally beautiful cycling path in Brussels named the “Green Walk,” and the highlights include the Woluwe Valley and the Sonian Forest which is the last of the ancient woods that historically formed a divide between Gallic tribes and the Romans. Ride through the city to discover chocolate makers, restaurants, and charming shops.

The Island of Bonair – Many people believe the best way to experience the beauty of the flora and fauna of the island is by cycling. There are easy cycling routes as well as challenging mountain bike trails, and many miles of both road and off-road cycling routes. You’ll see and get to meet local residents (Dutch is the official language but many people speak English as well), enjoy beautiful weather, enjoy the donkey and flamingo sanctuaries (makes for great photos), see all the sites, and do some shopping.

Book a luxury cruise to Japan

Are you left longing to view the stunning displays of pink blossoms in Japan? Take a luxury cruise here and experience not only this unique natural phenomenon but also the scenery throughout Japan as it offers immersive heritage and history galore.

Cruise lines which visit Japan include Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea and Seabourn. See all of our cruises sailing to the region by clicking the button below, or call our Cruise Concierge team on 0808 202 6105 for expert advice and award-winning customer service.

Have you visited Japan before? Would you like to see the cherry blossoms? Let us know in the comments below.

2 Responses to “More than a cruise: Cherry blossom season in Japan”

Just read your article on Japan and cherry blossom. Do you have cruises you offer for 2012 in April?

Hi Rob, you can find all of our cruises to Japan here: If you would more information, please call our Cruise Concierge team on 0808 202 6105 for more details. Many thanks, Emma.

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Watch the video: Azamara: The Features That Make It the Best Cruise Line! (May 2022).