A Western Mediterranean cruise on board Azamara Quest

Azamara Club Cruises - pool deck With two ships currently and another joining the fleet in 2018, Azamara is a ’boutique’ cruise brand. They have money behind them in the shape of the Royal Caribbean group though and, over the past decade, have been busy building a loyal following for their very distinct style of cruising. It’s evident as soon as you start chatting to others on board – we were first timers but almost everyone we met seemed to be repeat passengers. I even heard of one couple who have taken no less than 52 cruises since the cruise line started in 2007. So what is it about Azamara that fosters such loyalty?

Many people we spoke to cited the size of the ships as a key factor – carrying around 600 passengers they are large enough to offer a good range of facilities but small enough to offer very flexible itineraries as well as a more intimate atmosphere. The styling is also relatively understated compared to some ships. Both the Azamara Quest and the Voyager were ‘reimagined’ in 2016 and, as a result, the overall feel is contemporary, classy and comfortable with a blissful absence of ‘bling’.

Lucca The food is also outstanding with tons of choice from buffet to a la carte, cafes to casual deck dining and, for a small supplement, two speciality restaurants that raise the bar even higher. Alcohol and soft drinks are also all included plus there’s afternoon tea, tapas with early evening drinks and 24 hour room service. I’ve been on other ships where the sheer amount of food (and drink) can seem over indulgent, almost off-putting but, on Azamara, it doesn’t feel like that – you won’t see passengers with plates piled high at the buffet, there are never any queues, you can eat wherever and whenever you want, linger as long as you want and its always a pleasant and relaxed experience.

Pleasant and relaxed sums up the whole on board atmosphere really and that, in no small part, is down to the staff. Staff on ships in my experience are generally smiley and friendly to passengers – cynics might say that’s because they are anticipating a generous tip but that’s not the case here as tipping is also included in the cruise fare. Azamara Club Cruises - sunset bar I think again the size of the ship is the main factor. There’s a high ratio of staff to passengers and that means that people get to know each other quite quickly, the service feels personal, the attention to detail is well thought through and, as a result, contented passengers give staff very little grief. Everyone has plenty to smile about.

As much as the on board atmosphere is important though, the other aspect of Azamara cruises which sets them apart is the time ashore. The size of their ships means they can access a wider variety of ports and, more often than not, dock centrally. They also aim to arrive early and leave late, maximising passenger’s time ashore and, in some instances, even staying overnight. This means of course that their port fees are higher and that translates in to the cruise cost but again, makes for a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience as well as opening up more options for shore excursions or independent sightseeing.

Azamara Club Cruises Our cruise began in Barcelona and ended in Civitavecchia (Rome). With hindsight, I wish we had booked a night pre and post cruise to have some time in both these wonderful cities – if you book a flight inclusive package your time in the start and end ports will be very limited. However, in between, we had plenty of treats in store to ensure this was a memorable week cruising the Western Med in Spring sunshine.

In Palma de Mallorca we arrived at 8am and had a full 13 hours in port. We opted for the half day cycling tour of the city. Azamara have their own bikes on board so setting off direct from the dock could not have been easier with a flat ride along the prom that lines the cruise port to reach the historic old town. With a local guide up front (giving us information along the way via a ‘quietvox’ audi system) and a member of the cruise excursion team at the rear to ensure no-one got lost, it was a stress free and really fun and informative way to explore the winding back alleys and key tourist sites of the old city.

Ajaccio beach In Ajaccio, with 10 hours in port, we took a morning guided walking tour of the town and market. This was less successful – guides can make a break a tour and we were unlucky on this occasion. It also transpired we could easily have got ourselves to the market as it was literally just along from where the ship was docked. You win some you lose some. We did however get to to spend a very pleasant afternoon on a beach that we would probably not have found without the guide’s input so every cloud.

Monte Carlo was the only port where we had to tender ashore, our dockside spot having apparently been nabbed by a Russian billionaire and his super yacht. Having been before, we decided to wander independently here but made use of the ubiquitous ‘hop on, hop off’ sightseeing bus. Monte Carlo Monte Carlo may be small but the hills are steep and certainly, if you want to visit the palace, this is a great option. As well as ticking the tourist boxes, we also whiled away a few hours enjoying the spectacle and throaty roar of luxury sports cars being road tested. With the Grand Prix only weeks away, the streets were full of them.

And finally on to Livorno where we had the luxury of an overnight stay and 48 hours in port, giving everyone the chance to take their pick from visiting Florence, Pisa and Lucca. We opted for the latter two which can be easily accessed independently and cheaply by local train. To get to Livorno you have to change trains in Pisa so its more than possible to do both in a day.

Azamara bike tour It was also in Livorno that we had our first taste of an ‘Azamazing’ evening – another Azamara innovation. The idea is to treat passengers to an exclusive evening that captures the essence of local culture – in this case, it was a Three Tenors performance at the ornate Goldoni Theatre. It is included in the cost of the cruise but is of course optional – I’d say probably 90% of passengers participated. We were all coached from the ship to the theatre and greeted with a red carpet welcome from the captain and senior crew. The concert itself was memorable – I don’t really count myself as an opera fan but no-one could fail to be impressed by the sheer power and harmony of those three, very different, male voices. It was an impressive finale to an impressive week.

*Update* Azamara’s third ship, the 690 passenger Azamara Pursuit, has recently joined the fleet.  

For more information visit www.azamara.co.uk

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.

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Cathy Bartrop

Travel writer & vlogger

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