Amy and her friend Lauren recently cruised from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome) onboard Azamara Quest, experiencing Azamara for the first time; here's what thought Amy thought of Azamara...
Is there a more heavenly and serene feeling than watching the sun set over the ocean, glass of sparkling wine in hand, and looking forward to another delicious dinner, followed by a night of dancing? I hardly think so, but if there is, then relaxing on your personal balcony on board a cruise must at least be in the top three.
Last year, I converted my friend Lauren into a luxury cruiser, as we sailed from Athens to Venice, exploring the Eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic onboard Silversea. I’d got her hooked on luxury cruising; after all, who doesn’t love spacious public areas, attentive service, a variety of fine dining options, and inclusive drinks, all on board an elegant ship? This year, we decided to head west, focussing on itineraries beginning and ending in Barcelona and Rome, as Lauren had never been to either of these cities, and I had only been once to Rome and a couple times to Barcelona, but only briefly as ports of call on earlier cruises. Plus, we’re big fans of tapas, anchovies, and cava, as well as pasta, pizza and Peroni.
Of course, Barcelona is the biggest cruise port in Europe, and we were looking to go in peak Med season (as Lauren works in a school), so we were spoilt for choice with itineraries. In the end, we opted for a six-night cruise with Azamara Club Cruises, as the itinerary looked interesting – visiting some chic and beautiful destinations along the French and Italian Riviera – and because I was curious about Azamara. We enjoyed two night stays in Barcelona and Rome before and after our cruise, giving us plenty of time to explore these fabulous cities, including two memorable and highly recommended excursions with Urban Adventures (a tapas walking tour of Barcelona, and a fascinating tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum with an expert local archaeologist).
Personally, I’m a small-ship cruiser; I like to be surrounded by space rather than crowds of people, and I prefer an intimate atmosphere onboard. With 686 guests onboard their ships, the Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey, Azamara certainly fit the bill there. Originally built in 2000, both ships were once part of the now-defunct Renaissance Cruise Lines, before being brought into Azamara’s fleet in 2007, and last year they were both refurbished. (Cruise Geek Edit: In 2018, Azamara added a new ship to the fleet - Azamara Pursuit - which was also part of the Renaissance Cruise Lines' fleet, so is a full sister ship to Quest and Journey, but was most recently P&O's Adonia.) We were cruising onboard Azamara Quest, and it was immaculate onboard; it looked barely a year old, rather than 17! Perhaps the one feature which belied her age was the size of the bathroom in our stateroom, with small showers featuring shower curtains, harking back to an age of cruising just on the cusp before the industry hit a new-found boom, which saw increasing numbers of ships being built, boasting ever bigger or ever more facilities.
As soon as I stepped onboard (and was offered a glass of sparkling wine, always a plus), the first thing I noted was how light, bright and airy it was. It felt like a breath of fresh air. Crisp whites and muted, earthy colours are the predominant colour palette throughout the ship, creating an elegant yet homely ambience, and making the most of the spaciousness. She’s certainly an attractive and contemporary ship! Our Club Veranda stateroom was comfortably sized, with a sitting area, generous storage, and a balcony featuring a table and two chairs.
Our balcony was a private haven for us to relax, enjoy some drinks whilst getting ready before dinner, and even indulge in breakfast with a view (which, of course, we did). However, whenever we ventured up to relax out on deck, there was a wide variety of seating and sun loungers, some by the pool along the pool deck, but others on the deck area onboard decks ten and eleven. Whilst there’s plenty of space for al fresco relaxation, there’s also plenty of opportunity to find somewhere inside to relax, perhaps read a book or people watch, or enjoy conversation. One of the most beautiful spaces was The Drawing Room, which took me by surprise. It first welcomes you with the plush carpet, the dark, earthy tones of the wooden book cases, and beckons you in, inviting you to snuggle up with a book in one of the chairs or sofas, where the homely heart of the Drawing Room is completed with a fireplace and the beautifully painted domed ceiling. By day, the Living Room – at the ship’s forward – offered up another place to relax, take in the views, or listen to an onboard guest speaker. By night, however, the Living Room came alive and was the social hub of the ship, popular for after-dinner drinks and dancing, with DJ Eddie playing requests. Every night, without fail, there was a lively atmosphere in the Living Room, with plenty of people dancing.
The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room
The Living Room
The Living Room
It was nice, for once, not to stick out like a sore thumb; we weren’t the only two onboard under the age of fifty or sixty, and so we weren’t confused for dancers or entertainment staff (possibly because we may have already been spotted on the dance floor). The guests were a diverse bunch, ranging from Brits, Germans, to South Africans, Australians, Canadians, and (of course) Americans. There were some families onboard, but there were also guests in their late twenties/thirties, forties, and fifties, and some a bit older. It had a more youthful vibe to some of the cruises I’ve enjoyed, but it also felt very friendly, relaxed, and homely.
One of the pinnacles of a cruise with Azamara is their famous White Night Party; (white) linen-draped tables out on deck, accompanied by a sumptuous al fresco buffet, and dancing by the poolside to a live band, with everyone resplendent in white. Of course, like us, if you didn’t fancy buffet, you could still dine in the main Discoveries Restaurant, and join in the dancing afterwards. Most other nights, the pool was host to ‘Movie Under the Stars’, with a different film shown on a projected screen, whilst people wrapped up in blankets on sun loungers. Both offered something special and different in the open air, making unique use of the deck space at night; sometimes – it seems to me – cruise lines can miss a trick and not make adequate use of their al fresco areas, particularly once the sun has gone down…but not Azamara!
Sadly we were unable to
experience one of Azamara’s unique and exclusive ‘AzAmazing evenings’, as our cruise was only for six nights. The ‘AzAmazing
evenings’ take Azamara’s Destination
Immersion concept even deeper, with private and bespoke authentic travel
experiences shining a spotlight on local life and culture, from watching
acrobats soar in Monaco to a night out at the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.
Azamara have long emphasised their focus on destinations, with longer stays in
port (some of which are overnight) and ability to get closer to the heart of
destinations thanks to their smaller size, but have enhanced this with a ‘cruise global, connect local’
philosophy, offering up imaginative and
intimate shore excursions which highlight the destinations visited. During
our cruise, excursions included a visit to a ‘Lucca Family Villa’, where guests
are welcomed for brunch by the descendants of an Italian count into the 18th
century villa, and explore the streets of Lucca on a walking tour, ‘Hilltop
Villages and Wine Tasting’ in St Tropez, and ‘Livorno’s culinary melting pot’
with the ship’s executive chef, browsing for ingredients for a special private
shipboard dinner hosted by your very own Azamara Chef, and sipping four local
brews during a tour of the Piccolo Birrificio Clandestino brewery. Mostly, we
chose to do our own thing, but in Livorno we opted for ‘Pisa and Florence on
Your Own’, which included transfers and free time in both Pisa and Florence, a
local guide who gave us some information about both cities during the transfer,
and the option to use smart-phones which were pre-loaded with data, so that you
could send photos and messages to friends and family without using your own
internet plan or roaming, and GPS technology.
Cruising is perhaps almost as
synonymous with food and dining as it is with destinations and shore
excursions, and Azamara delivers brilliantly on that front, too. The main
dining venue is the Discoveries
Restaurant, which you enter via the
Discoveries Lounge, which is somewhat reminiscent of a country house and
offers up a warm ambience, while the
Windows Café is the light and airy buffet alternative up on deck nine, near
the pool. The Patio, adjacent to
Windows Café, offers light meals and
grills, al fresco style, by the pool side, with a ‘Swirl and Top’ frozen
yogurt station. Generally, we prefer to eat ashore for lunch and have
waiter-service for dinner, but we did enjoy an Officers’ Barbecue at the Patio on day three, and a veritable smorgasbord of food from the
buffet at Window’s Café for lunch on day four. The range of food available at
Window’s Café was impressive, similarly the Discoveries Restaurant offered a delectable range of dishes each night,
and the waiters were always polite and friendly.
We would generally start each day
with a room-order breakfast to our balcony, taking in the stunning views and
relaxing in our Azamara bathrobes; perfection! Azamara offer a large range of complimentary drinks,
including a daily rotation of white and red wines, and sparkling wines
(frankly, there is no real need to indulge in a drinks package as so much is
already included), although there is a charge should you request a glass of
sparkling wine on your room order. However, at the same time, Azamara also
allow you to bring on alcohol for
private consumption in your stateroom, and so we bought a couple of bottles
of Cava in Barcelona before embarking, knowing that we would like to begin each
day with some Buck’s Fizz. On our first night, however, we forgot to pre-order
our room service, and so decided to head on down to the Discoveries Restaurant
for breakfast, but it turned out when we woke up that we were too late for
breakfast, but just in time (give or take a delicious coffee and biscotti at
the Mosaic Café) for brunch. Set up
buffet-style in the middle of the restaurant, and accompanied by a jazz band, there was a beautiful selection of
brunch items, and it was the perfect first morning as we sailed in to St
Dinner in Discoveries Restaurant
Dessert in Discoveries Restaurant
Room Service on Balcony
In addition to these included dining venues, Azamara offer some speciality dining at a supplement. When booked individually, Aqualina and Prime C both incur a cover charge of $30pp, whilst the Chef’s Table can be reserved for $95pp. There’s a number of dining packages which offer some savings on multiple reservations, which can be pre-paid before your voyage, but reservations for dining are done onboard. Both situated on deck ten, Aqualina offers a contemporary twist on Italian classics (and a limoncello soufflé to die for), whilst succulent steaks and seafood are the order of the day at Prime C. Beautifully appointed and resplendent in silvers, greys, creams, and blues, Aqualina has a light, fresh air about it, whilst Prime C oozes the warmth and earthy tones that are synonymous with a steak restaurant, adorned with framed photographs of movie stars. The prosciutto-wrapped scallops in Aqualina were a delicious way to start off our meal, whilst the lobster bisque was rich and full of flavour, and my Arborio risotto with crispy duck confit (but, as requested, without mushrooms) was beautifully finished and lifted with the white truffle oil. Our meal at Prime C was also excellent, starting with Maryland lump crab cakes (Lauren enjoyed Tuna tartare and popcorn shrimp), followed by a flavoursome pumpkin soup, and an utterly mouth-watering and succulent rib-eye steak, accompanied by a number of side dishes, all of which were wonderful. These speciality restaurants offer decadent dining options with fantastic views, and make for a great treat.
Whilst the main dining is open seating, and you’re free to come as and when you please between 6.00 and 9.00pm in Discoveries Restaurant, or 6.30 and 9.00pm in Windows Café and the Patio, you reserve the time you want for Prime C and Aqualina, but the Chef’s Table starts from 7.00pm. A five-course meal paired with wine, and with intimately small numbers of guests, the Chef’s Table was our culinary highlight of the cruise, and something very special and different. There are three set menus: French, Italian, and Californian, each served on a different night of the cruise, and we reserved ours for the last night, which happened to be Californian. Situated at a long table opposite the bar in Prime C, the Chef’s Table is beautifully set out, with named places and personalised menus, and could perhaps fit up to six couples. We were joined by two other couples, so with just six at the table, it was an intimate affair, but laidback, too. The executive chef, Fabio D’Agosta, introduced himself to us, explaining the menu (and even posed with Bedford Bear, something he no doubt had not bargained for!), whilst our sommelier, Eduard, explained each wine which was paired with each course as he served, showcasing an incredible knowledge, and friendliness. The food served up was stunning; beautifully presented, and utterly delicious, from the lobster and avocado salad delicately rolled in a Lebanese cucumber, to the rich flavours of the smoked tomato veloute, followed by the ‘surf and turf’ dish, which featured a sautéed giant prawn, savoury braised beef short rib croquette with asparagus, before our palettes were cleansed with a refreshing grapefruit sorbet. The main course was choice of New potato crusted California sea bass (which we all, except for one gentleman chose), or herb-roasted prime Angus centre-cut strip loin, followed by a cheese course accompanied by a Port Wine from the Douro Valley, whilst the Macadamia Nut Chocolate Mud Pie (or, Chocolate Mud Pie without the Macadamia Nut, for me) was a suitably delicious ending. Most of the wines were Californian, in keeping with the menu, and perfectly complimented each course. The Chef’s Table really was the perfect end to our cruise, with fine dining and a chance to get to know new people.
Relaxing on a balcony, glass of sparkling wine in hand, is one of my favourite things to do on holiday, but that could apply to many other cruises. What made Azamara special for me was a concoction of different ingredients: the destination-rich itinerary , which opened up the possibilities of exploration with overnight or longer stays in port, and when we were docked, we were docked in the ideal position, closer to the heart of cities; the contemporary style and elegance of Azamara Quest was impressive; the generous variety of included drinks and the quality of dining; the unique little touches, such as the famous White Party and the Jazz Brunch; the homely, laid-back ambience onboard, with its unpretentious air; the friendliness of service; the diversity of fellow guests, and the exuberant nightly dancing; and the sheer amount of possibilities and choice open to us, in terms of how to spend our time onboard and ashore. It truly was an azamazing cruise holiday.
If you would like to find out more about Azamara Club Cruises or book a cruise, contact our friendly and knowledgeable cruise specialists today
01234 819 668