A couple of months ago I had the chance to try a cruise line that was new to me, Azamara Club Cruises. With only two ships in their fleet, they are the very definition of boutique travel and based on what I’d heard, I was very curious. While the sailing was a short one, the time I spent onboard (and off) wasn’t only fun, it was enlightening and now that some time has passed I thought I’d sit back and reflect on the voyage and what it meant to me.
There’s a Cruise For Everyone
I have been on a fair number of cruises over the years from small-ship expeditions to the Galapagos and Antarctica, to those megaships that circle the Caribbean on a Sisyphean quest for the perfect margarita. While it’s certainly not how I choose to travel every time I leave home, I think that a cruise can be a fantastic travel option and I have always firmly believed that there is indeed a cruise for everyone, a fact that Azamara demonstrated to me in spades. There are many unfortunate misconceptions about cruising, mostly spread by people who have never actually been on a cruise. The truth is that the cruise of the 21st century looks a lot different than it did even just a few short years ago. Cruising is ultimately what you make it. If all you want to do is sit in a lounge chair and soak up the rays, you can, but there are so many more options available to the modern traveler. The best cruise lines out there provide guests with incredible active experiences, all designed to introduce passengers to new destinations and making those new ports of call the true focus of the trip. If you pick the right cruise line, your trip can be educational, interesting, fun, active and so much more. It’s ultimately though a matter of personal taste, but it’s yet another reason why there is in all honesty a cruise line or itinerary out there for everyone, even the most independent of travelers, like myself.
Small in Size Big in Spirit
My own personal preference in regards to cruising lately has shifted slightly to small and medium sized ships. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy sailing on a larger vessel once in a while, but I like the feeling that only a smaller ship can provide. Luckily that’s what Azamara is all about. 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.
All About the Destination
Modern travel, whether you’re a backpacker or an ultra-luxury traveler, is all about connecting locally. Gone are the days when we travel inside a bubble of our own making, instead most travelers in the 21st century want to learn and experience as much as they can when they leave home. For Azamara, that act of connecting locally is at the heart of the experience, as I very quickly learned. 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.
While the unique destinations are perhaps what first drew me to Azamara, at the end of the day one lives onboard a cruise ship for at least a week and so more than anything else, service is critical. Across the travel experience, even if you have the nicest of amenities, a trip can be easily ruined by poor service but, thankfully, that was hardly the case on my cruise with Azamara. Perhaps it’s the smaller ship mentality or the fact that it’s also a small cruise line, but the sense of camaraderie and investment in the travel experience from crew was evident throughout the cruise. 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.
Cruises can be fun, immersive experiences and, if we pick the right one, they can also be transformative travel experiences. I like cruising for a variety of reasons but at the end of the day what matters most is my comfort and the experiences I enjoy. Azamara had high expectations to live up to, but even now a few months removed from the trip I can say that they exceeded these lofty aspirations with ease. My time onboard was fun, educational and featured the best that experiential travel can provide. I saw parts of Europe totally new to me, ports of call I’d probably never otherwise visit. But I also experienced fantastic hospitality onboard the ship that, when coupled with luxurious amenities, delicious food and fun activities all combined to create a truly memorable trip. That’s all any of us want when we travel. We want to see returns from our travel investment and when it comes to Azamara, I couldn’t be happier with the memories from that incredible experience.