I’ve been on a fair number of cruises in my life in many different regions of the world and on a variety of ship styles. Every cruise is different and I firmly believe that there is a cruise for everyone, whether it be mega-ship or expeditionary. I recently had the opportunity to sail with a boutique cruise line I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, Azamara Club Cruises. I was curious about them because on paper, they seemed to fall outside of many of the so-called standard categories of cruise ship. The line only has two-ships, they’re upper scale and with a passenger complement of 690, definitely on the smaller side of world cruising. Mostly though I was curious for the same reason most of us become interested in a certain travel experience – because friends and family had told me about them. They actually gushed about Azamara, so when the cruise line approached me about working on a paid project together, I readily accepted the opportunity. As such, the cruise line has compensated me for my time but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. I’ll also be writing a more comprehensive review, but I first wanted to start my coverage with some brief, off the cuff first thoughts.
Having sailed other similarly sized cruise ships, I sort of knew what to expect with the Azamara Quest. The ship itself is 592 feet long and has 8 guests decks with 345 staterooms. In other words, it’s a very manageable size. Large, unruly crowds are not for me and Azamara provided me with the convenience and size that I look for when I cruise. Even though it’s not a 4,000-person mega-liner, there are still plenty of amenities onboard. The spaces to lounge and relax are almost everywhere, whether it be poolside or in the more refined Library area. There are also a few shops, a casino, spa and a large fitness center complete with personal trainer. The ship had everything I wanted and needed and I honestly couldn’t have been more pleased. Its more modest size also means though that it doesn’t take forever to do whatever it is you want to do. If you want to pop upstairs to the pool deck to grab a Coke or a glass of wine, it’s easy to accomplish without sacrificing hours in the process. I personally really enjoy this size of ship for its manageability and services provided.
Every hotel. Every cruise line. Heck, every entity within the travel and tourism community touts its staff. And in many cases, those esteemed opinions are well earned. Azamara too promotes not only the kindness of its staff but also their helpfulness and for once I was pleased to see reality surpass my expectations. Almost immediately, I was absolutely blown away by how attentive and omnipresent the staff was, always on-hand to answer a question or solve a problem whether it was in their department or not. In the travel industry, you can have the best of everything, but if you don’t have fantastic staff to back it up, then it’s all sadly for naught. Azamara clearly relies heavily on their experienced staff and it really does show in nearly everything they do.
Fascinating Ports of Call
When first chatting with Azamara, I had the opportunity to select one of several different cruise options. While all sounded interesting, I ultimately selected the Western Mediterranean route because unlike so many other cruise lines, it included stops that few others can even attempt. Mallorca, Corsica and Monte Carlo are just a few but, when also combined with larger ports of call, it offered a variety of destination styles that was perfect for me and my interests. More than just being rarely frequented by other cruise lines, the ports were also just fun places to be. Mallorca and Corsica weren’t destinations I’d thought I’d soon see, but I quickly fell in love with both almost right away. They’re fascinating little places with equally interesting histories and enjoying the unique opportunity to visit and explore both was one of the great highlights of the cruise.
Speaking of local experiences, ultimately that is what is at the core of the Azamara cruise experience. Not only does the cruise line take passengers to ports of call few other cruise lines make, but they offer experiences so unique and special that these destinations come alive in spectacular ways. In Italy everyone onboard was invited to a special opera event in Livorno. In Corsica, I joined a market tour where I sampled more than my fair share and ended up purchasing all of the ingredients needed for the perfect lunch. In other ports of call, passengers walked through markets and shops with the ship’s chef, selecting ingredients to then transform back in the kitchens. The experiences offered are many times unique and always special and create opportunities for guests to “go local,” to feel like a member of the community and that is exceptionally rare.
These are just a few first thoughts about my travel experience with Azamara. Over the coming weeks and months I’ll write more comprehensively about both the cruise itself and the destinations visited, all of which combined to create a memorable travel experience.