Azamara Onward reunites a quartet of sister ships to take passengers on surprising voyages of discovery with Jeannine Williamson on board.
The sleepy Italian Rivera village of Portovenere is coming to life as I stroll along the pretty waterfront set against a backdrop of pastel buildings. Restaurateurs are putting the finishing touches to al fresco tables ahead of lunchtime and a local is giving his wooden boat a lick of varnish. Suddenly the unexpected sound of classical music drifts along on the warm morning breeze.
On an elevated section of the quayside I am met with the incongruous sight of an elegant pianist playing a gleaming grand piano. Beneath a shady temporary awning waiters in starched aprons are handing out coffee, Aperol spritz, olive studded focaccia bread, artisan cheese and other tasty treats. Breakfast is only a very distant memory but I can’t resist.
Welcome to the world of Azamara where the oft-used phrase of destination immersion is taken to a new level, quite literally, when we are told that the piano was physically carried up the flight of steps.
I had arrived ashore by tender from Azamara Onward, which is the latest vessel to join the Azamara fleet and recently named in Monte Carlo. The addition also reunites four class R-Class ships that were originally constructed for the former line Renaissance Cruises. Azamara had already acquired three of the vessels, now sailing as Azamara Journey, Quest and Pursuit, and in 2021 bought Azamara Onward. Constructed in 1999 it had been sailing as Pacific Princess for Princess Cruises since 2002 and following an extensive refurbishment it’s back on the ocean wave in a new guise.
With its classic looks and traditional features, such as wooden decks complete with comfy steamer chairs and Art Deco inspired interiors , it will appeal to anyone who enjoys traditional-style cruising on a ship that carries just 670 passengers. The size means it’s nimble enough to get into small and interesting ports of call that are inaccessible to mega-cruise ships. Marseille is home to France’s largest port and the main cruise terminal is shuttle bus ride into town. However, Azamara Onward moored in the old harbour which is within walking distance of the historic centre, which was a real bonus.
Our next stop on the itinerary was Portovenere, where all passengers were invited to enjoy the complimentary AzAmazing experience – normally one per sailing. From the waterfront pianist and refreshment stop we followed a marked trail. It took us up to the ancient church of San Pietro which is perched on a craggy headland overlooking the Gulf of Poets (pic 6), so named because its beauty inspired writers such as Lord Byron and Shelley. We carried on through the labyrinth of narrow streets in the upper quarter, where getting lost was part of the fun. Along the way we came across an opera singer, cellist and accordion player who were all part of the extra special morning.
Every destination visited offers a choice of optional shore excursions and after the AzAmazing event some passengers headed off to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and others went on a variety of boat rides. I opted for the latter, travelling along the scenic coastline famous for Cinque Terre, a string of five villages clinging to the hillsides and part of a UNESCO-listed national park. We stopped at one of them, Monterosso, and walked past lemon groves for a lunch of mozzarella cheese, pasta with pesto – a speciality from the Liguria region of Italy – and wine tasting at the small Buranco winery (pic 7).
The involvement with the destination continues back aboard the ship where the destination shop sells covetable items from Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Portugal and other areas visited. The seven dining venues include the main dining room, Discoveries Restaurant, and informal Windows Cafe, where the lunch buffet and a la carte evening menu feature regional cuisine. The pair of speciality restaurants include the superb Italian Aqualinaand there’s also a pool grill and 24-hour room service.
Exclusive to Azamara Onward is Atlas, an atmospheric travel-themed bar with its own cocktail menu of imaginative globetrotting drinks, such as Grand Bazaar, London Fog Martini and Tuscany Delight, plus sharing plates to go with them. Entertainment includes toe-tapping song and dance shows in the Cabaret Lounge and don’t forget to pack something for the glamorous white night parties that are yet another innovative Azamara trademark.
Azamara Onward will spend its inaugural season in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean visiting destinations including Italy, France, Greece, Croatia and Turkey. A seven-night Italian Italy Intensive Voyage, from Monte Carlo to Rome (Civitavecchia), starts from $1,119 (approx. £958) excluding flights.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara (www.azamara.com)