Are you someone that loves to travel, exploring new destinations, discovering the local food and culture but doing so in luxury and style? Perhaps you thought that cruising was not for you: too many people, too many restrictions, not enough time to explore what you want to see?
While I’m relatively new to cruising I’ve realised that there’s definitely not “one size fits all”. Just as you might choose to stay in a boutique hotel or a luxury resort, a homely bed and breakfast or a local’s apartment, there is a cruise ship option to suit your travel style. If you are looking for small ship luxury and more time in the destinations you visit, as well as a chance to quiz Captain Johannes about that time he stopped the ship to go fishing, then Azamara Club Cruises could be the cruise line for you. Read on and watch my video for what to expect from an Azamara Club Cruise:
I hope you enjoy my video below – a ship’s tour of Azamara Journey
If you can’t see the video above about a tour of Azamara Journey see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above
Small Ship Cruising
When Guy and I sailed with Azamara Club Cruises last summer on their 7 night Greek Isles and Turkey cruise from Athens to Istanbul, I really felt the difference between travelling on a smaller ship with less than 700 guests, compared to the larger ships that take 3000+ passengers. While Azamara Club Cruises benefits from being part of the larger Royal Caribbean Cruise group, this niche luxury cruise line has just two ships. We sailed on Azamara Journey but Azamara Quest is practically identical and both have a capacity of 686 guests.
So how does being small affect for your cruise experience? It means that the atmosphere on board is friendly and intimate and it’s very easy to make new friends. While there is everything on board you’d find on any cruise ship it’s on a smaller scale; one swimming pool instead of three, for instance. More importantly it means that the ship has more flexibility to visit ports that some of the larger ships couldn’t get into or to adapt the itinerary if bad weather is forecast.
You’ll find that captain and senior crew are very visible around the ship, mingling with guests in the evening, and they have a lot more freedom to adapt the needs of the moment. If you bump into the charming Captain Johannes, be sure to ask him about the time he stopped to ship off the coast of Norway for a spot of fishing!
On Azamara Journey we were able to visit the Greek Island of Patmos which has a sleepy feel of the old Greece that Guy loved when he went island hopping as a student. Smaller ships also allow you to sail right into the heart of a city, within an easy walk of all you want to see, rather than have to be transported from the newer port where the larger ships will dock.
It’s all about the destination
Azamara Club Cruises is much more about the places you visit rather than spending your days on board, a concept they call “Destination Immersion“. Many of the excursions or “Land Discoveries” take you to places that are not normally open to the public or offer unusual, insider experiences that give you special insights to the local culture.
One of my favourites was the day we spent learning about Turkish cuisine and culture in a country house near Kusadasi. The house had been beautifully designed as a showcase for local crafts and artisans with Turkish rugs, carved marble fireplaces and Suzani cut-work throws on the bed. In the family’s kitchen, we learned how to make Turkish dishes like stuffed peppers and sat under the shady pergola rolling vine leaves to make Dolma. We were shown how a Turkish woman would tie her headscarf depending on the region of Turkey she came from and how to wash your rice many times so that every grain of your pilaf would be separate.
The meal ended with tiny cups of strong Turkish coffee and when we’d finished the cups were upturned so that the ladies could have their fortunes told from the pattern of the coffee grounds, the art of fortune telling being passed from mother to daughter. It was a lovely and relaxing insight into Turkish culture and cuisine and of course all the ladies came away with a headscarf and recipe book to bring home. Read about our day of Turkish culture here.
I’d describe the style of Azamara Journey, when we sailed last summer, as elegant, luxurious and classic. But if you’re planning to cruise from spring 2016 you’ll find a new contemporary look on board as both ships will go into dry dock to be refitted and come out “Re-imagined“. The natural elements of earth, air, water and fire have inspired a paler, more muted colour scheme, using creams and earthy tones throughout the ship.
Already last summer we could see some of this new contemporary look being introduced in the sun loungers and deck furniture in some parts of the ship, while in staterooms the darker wood and furnishings will be replaced this spring by light, fresh tones while retaining the luxurious feel.
Other innovations will be part of the refurbishment, with new spa suites being created that not only have a sea view from the bathroom but allow special access to the spa amenities included in the price of these staterooms. There will also be new investment in technology since most guests these days travel with tablets and smartphones, so a new wifi system on board will provide faster internet connections and there will be interactive tabletops in public areas for social media surfing.
We found the food on board Azamara to be excellent and unlike many cruise lines, the wines, beers, soft drinks and speciality coffees are included in the price of your cruise holiday. The small ship experience doesn’t mean you miss out on choice and you can eat with full waiter service in the Discoveries Restaurant, or choose from the buffet selection while still receiving waiter service for drinks in the Pool Grill and Windows Café.
On larger cruise ships the buffet restaurant can feel like a seething mass of humanity, but on board Azamara Journey we found an altogether more elegant experience. Our favourite place to dine was in the outdoor seating area of the Windows Café at the back of the ship where it felt as if we were sitting in a seaside restaurant with a view of the waves.
There are two excellent speciality restaurants on board, for an additional charge of $25 per person per meal: Aqualina which specialises in contemporary Italian cuisine and Prime C which has a country club feel, serving excellent steak and meat dishes. We dined at Aqualina one evening and had the most delicious meal featuring light, fresh dishes and plenty of seafood.
Guests who are new to cruising are often concerned about what they need to pack for their cruise. While there are shops on board, it’s not as if you can easily pop out to find the outfit you need, nor do you want to spend your holiday worrying about whether you’ll be caught out by a black tie dress code.
You can rest easy when you sail with Azamara Club Cruises since the dress code is elegant but informal. Most guests dressed up in the evening as you would if you were going to a smart restaurant, but it was more about a pretty dress and jewellery or a crisp shirt and jacket for gentlemen than about anything more formal. You won’t need a tuxedo or a long sparkly dress on board and of course there is a free self-service laundry so you can travel light if you like, knowing that your outfits can multi-task, especially on longer voyages. The only thing you should remember to pack is something white – more of that later.
Arrive early, sail late
You may not realise this but it costs a lot for a ship to be in port; like being in a very expensive car park with the clock ticking. That’s why on some cruises you’ll find that you’ll have to be back on the ship by mid-afternoon having rushed around trying to see everything. Not so when you sail with Azamara Club Cruises.
In most of the destinations you visit you’ll have time for an unhurried look around the port of call and just when all the other cruise ship guests are heading back to the ship you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon with less crowds. There’s plenty of time to see the sunset and have a leisurely dinner onshore at the places the locals like to eat once most cruise ships have sailed.
Arriving early also means that if you’re an early bird you can enjoy the views from the ship and disembark to make the most of the day. Our magical moments on our Greece and Turkey cruise were seeing the sunrise from the caldera of Santorini with the mist rising off the shore, or sailing through the Golden Horn as we arrived in Istanbul past the Topkapi palace and the Blue Mosque. Read about our stop in Istanbul here.
A lot more’s included
One of the big things to consider when choosing your cruise is what’s included and what’s not included in the cost of your holiday. Many cruises have a lower entry price but you’ll also need to budget for drinks, gratuities, self service laundry and shuttle buses. All of these can add hundreds if not thousands of pounds to your bill, but they are included in the price you pay for your Azamara Club Cruise. I must say that I found it a lot more relaxing to know that I didn’t have to think about the cost of that cappuccino or debate whether it was worth paying for the shuttle bus or taking public transport.
Another thing that is included in the price is an AzAmazing Evening on every cruise; a unique evening experience that you probably couldn’t recreate yourself. While Azamara Club Cruises are priced in line with the luxurious small ship experience they offer, once you take into account everything that’s included the overall cost may compare favourably with other cruise lines that appear to be cheaper but can’t offer such a unique experience.
Enjoy your evenings onshore
A big benefit of later sailing times is that you can enjoy evenings onshore, dining in a local restaurant or having a drink as the sun goes down. Azamara make this very easy through their Cruise Global, Eat local programme where they introduce you to restaurants that are recommended for their authentic local dishes, or are included in a lunchtime stop in the land discovery that you book.
We had a delicious meze lunch on Patmos after looking around the sights of Chora, in a restaurant with a gorgeous sea view. Read about our stop in Patmos here. On Santorini we dined on fava bean puree, Greek salad and roast lamb at Kalisti taverna in Prygos, which allowed us to see a different part of the island away from the crowds and heat of Oia.
Look out for Nights and Cool Places experiences that you can book, allowing you access to interesting places after dark, perhaps an art gallery or after hours museum visit, where you have a unique insider access.
A White Night party
One event that was not especially well publicised is the White Night Party that is the closest that the Azamara gets to a formal night; you just need to remember to pack some white clothes to wear. Depending on the weather, tables are set out on deck with a buffet selection and the Azamara singers and dancers perform a show to entertain you.
Our White Night Party was held in Patmos and the view of the sun setting over the island was magical as we sat on deck enjoying the warm night air. Captain Johannes thoughtfully delayed the sailing time until after dinner had finished, so that we would not be disturbed by any motion of the sea, although it was a pretty calm night.
An AzAmazing Evening
While the White Night Party was great fun, our AzAmazing evening at Ephesus was a truly magical event. On every cruise, Azamara offers a unique evening event that would be difficult to recreate on your own, and even better it’s included in your cruise. For our AzAmazing evening, we took the short coach journey from Kusadasi to Ephesus where cocktails and wine had been set out just as the sun was setting.
While we didn’t get the opportunity to walk through the entire site, we could stroll among the ancient pillars and see the sun setting behind the sillhouette of the Library of Celcus, built in 117 AD. After a glass of wine, we took our seats on the stone seats of the Odean amphitheatre where cushions had been thoughtfully provided.
As dusk fell, the Camera Izmir Orchestra entertained us with pieces by Bach and Mozart, a guest harpist performing Handel’s harp concerto, and a rousing Hungarian Dance with gypsy violins that got an enthusiastic round of applause. Read about our evening at Ephesus here. Other AzAmazing evenings have included opera in Venice and an orchestral concert in Liverpool cathedral, but since the ship’s itineraries change each year it will always be something unique and special.
By now you probably have a feel for whether this is the kind of cruise you’d enjoy and we certainly loved every moment of our Azamara Club Cruise. If you love to travel but are not sure if cruising is for you, I’d highly recommend Azamara for a first cruise since the experience is so personal and not at all overshelming in the way some of the bigger ships can be. It’s also perfect for solo travellers and couples since it’s easy to make friends on board. If you like to travel in style and luxury but still feel a connection to the places and cultures you visit be sure to look at Azamara Club Cruises for your cruise this year.
Have you sailed with Azamara Club Cruises? If so, do let me know in the comments how you found it and what you enjoyed.
Read More about our Azamara Greece Island Cruise
Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Kusadasi and Ephesus – day 4 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Istanbul – day 6 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
About Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.
Joining your Azamara Club Cruise
Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.
Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.
Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Club Cruises.
Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.
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