You may have not heard of Azamara Club Cruises, however, you will have heard of Royal Caribbean International, which is Azamara’s parent company. But other than sharing the family name, there are no other similarities between Azamara and her sister, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Azamara operates just three small ships, with a completely different onboard experience.
Our sailing took us from Barcelona to Athens in ten days, visiting the French Riviera and Italian Riviera along the way. The Mediterranean in mid-September remained sunny and warm. Temperatures were still in the high 80s Fahrenheit (high 20s Celsius) and the sun burned hotly against unprotected skin. Cities were still crowded with tourists, but Azamara carefully planned this itinerary, and we were usually the only ship in port, thus sparing us from even more crowded streets. That was just one of the things we loved about our cruise, but here are five more reasons why you should try Azamara Club Cruises.
If You Don’t Like Megaships
Thought of cruising with thousands of people and lining up for everything fazes many people. For such travelers, Azamara’s ships are ideal. They carry less than 700 passengers. We sailed on the Azamara Pursuit, which joined the fleet at the end of August after a multi-million-dollar renovation.
With cozy names such as the Living Room and the Den, the public lounges were furnished with comfy sofas, velvet chaises, and high-backed wing chairs. Up on deck, sun loungers were draped with white terry covers and there were thick towels to wrap yourself in, after a swim in the refreshing salt-water pool. Another venue named to evoke thoughts of home was called the Patio and fittingly it was just steps away to satisfy our craving for chicken wings, burgers and fries, or a quick salad.
Our stateroom had a small sitting area, writing desk, and a balcony that had room for a table and chairs to enjoy room service. With these cozy spaces, the ship indeed felt like an intimate boutique hotel at sea.
If You Don’t Like to be Nickeled and Dimed
Our cruise came with many inclusions, which was a nice touch. A rotating wine list of two whites, two reds, and a rosé was offered every day, as was sparkling wine. I fell in love with a full-bodied red from Portugal that was poured one day, and learned I could ask for it again on any other day I wished (and I did). Standard brand spirits and cocktails, as well as a small selection of beer were included. Non-drinkers can enjoy unlimited specialty coffees and teas, sodas, and bottled water.
Gratuities for stateroom attendants and service staff were also taken care of, which on a big ship, you would be doling out $300 for two people.
There is a complimentary self-serve laundrette on the ship, although we found it to be busy as there were only six machines and they were constantly in use.
In ports where the ship is docked far away from the city center, Azamara offers a complimentary shuttle service. However, being a small ship, we were generally tied up at smaller berths closer to the entrance of the terminal, as we observed in Barcelona, Livorno and Civitavecchia (where a free shuttle service was offered by the port).
If You Don’t Like to Rush in Port
At each port, we stayed for eight to twelve hours, not departing until 8 pm or 10pm. We loved that we didn’t have to rush off the ship in the morning, and rush back in the afternoon as we would do on the big ships. In Monte Carlo, there was time to walk the seaside promenade to the famed casino in the morning, walk back to the ship for lunch, and head out for an afternoon climb up to the Prince’s Palace. As we did not leave until 10 pm, a few also went to the casino after dinner to gawk at the fancy cars, have a drink, and live out their 007 moment. Our long visit in Amalfi (7 am to 8 pm) also allowed us to take a ferry to Positano in the morning (spectacular scenery), and back in Amalfi in the afternoon to enjoy lunch and some shopping. Some of our friends took the beautiful Amalfi drive and had a gourmet lunch at a lemon orchard atop a cliff with stunning views.
If You Wish to Stay a Little Longer
Azamara also includes overnight stays on most cruises — ours was in Livorno. Having two full days opened up lots of sightseeing options. Although almost everyone took a day tour to Florence, we opted to take it easy and explored locally instead. After a leisure breakfast with the ship almost to ourselves, we walked into Livorno town to explore its quaint squares and outdoor markets. We also scoped out our route for our trip to Pisa the next day, which involved a short bus ride and a train. Again, since we did not depart Livorno until 7 pm, we were able to take a mid-morning train, toured the Leaning Tower complex, and got back to the ship with enough time for a refreshing Aperol Spritz — the must-have Italian cocktail — at a sidewalk café.
If You Appreciate the Little Extras
On every cruise longer than seven days, Azamara treats everyone to a special event, aptly called AzAmazing Evening. Ours was an opera performance in Livorno. Taking advantage of the overnight, after an early dinner, we were whisked off by motor coaches to the stunning Teatro Goldoni, built in 1847. Seated in velvet chairs, with wraparound balconies overhead lit in gold, we listened to the Incanto Quartet, who performed classical opera and contemporary songs accompanied by a pianist. What a memorable way to partake in some Italian culture. Back at the ship, we were welcomed at the gangway by the ship’s musicians and waiters carrying trays of sparkling wine, to end this AzAmazing Evening.
A second special event was held while we were in Amalfi. The White Nights party saw everyone dressed in white to partake in a festive deck barbecue. The entire pool deck was transformed, with white table cloths, chairs and linens, while we were entertained by a superb tenor, and later on, the house band played while we danced under the stars. The barbecue dinner was over the top, with lobsters, prawns, and meats on the grill, plenty of sides, salads, and desserts. With the spectacular backdrop of the Sorrentine cliffs and twinkling lights of Amalfi, the White Nights was certainly a highlight of our cruise.
MORE ABOUT AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES
The fleet of Azamara Club Cruises sails around the world, focusing on destination immersion that includes tours to engage with the locals and their history, culture, and culinary scenes. Cruises also visit cities during special events such as the Formula 1 Race in Monte Carlo, New Year’s Eve in Sydney, or Carnival in Rio, with overnight stays. Once a year, Azamara offers select cruises with a double upgrade offer, where you pay for an inside stateroom and receive a veranda stateroom. Contact a travel agent or visit the Azamara website for further information.