Azamara is a leader in small-scale luxury cruising with an emphasis on destination immersion. This summer sees the introduction of Azamara Pursuit: the third in the Azamara fleet. This Renaissance-class ship was built in 2001 and acquired by the line’s parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL) in March after 12 years with Carnival. With a history as Swan Hellenic’s Minerva II, Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, and most recently as P&O Cruises’ Adonia the Pursuit is firmly moving forward with its own identity after a major refurbishment in Belfast.
The maiden voyage for Pursuit will depart on 1 August 2018 and travel to eight Norwegian destinations, including Kristiansand, Flam and Haugesund, with overnight stays in Oslo and Bergen. Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, said: “We’ve seen unprecedented support from the UK market for Azamara Pursuit, so we are delighted to be able to show our recognition of this by allowing its transformational journey to take place here. We’ve seen double the UK demand for Azamara Pursuit than we usually see for its sister ships, so this is a really exciting time for us as a brand. The maiden voyage will depart from Southampton and provide travellers with the opportunity to enjoy a country-intensive voyage to Norway, visiting eight destinations in the Scandinavian country. We launched our country-intensive series last year as an opportunity for guests to explore countries on a more in-depth level, which is part of our commitment to Destination Immersion.”
Wave Season – the time of year when most cruises are booked and cruise lines offer tempting incentives, runs traditionally from January to March. Although not necessarily the cheapest time to buy a cruise, the combination of enticing perks and plenty of choice appeals to many people dreaming of their next holiday.
The key to a good deal is …. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Research air fares, weigh-up the real benefit of onboard credit and drinks packages, compare like-with-like and run your ideas past a travel agent as they can sometimes source better discounts and benefits.
Most cruise lines highlight offers on their websites with digital brochures available for download.
Here are our favourites:
Holland America – early booking offers, signature cruises and package deals
Azamara Club Cruises will embark on it’s first season to Alaska in 2019 with a selection of 11 cruises. The Azamara Quest is due to sail on 8 to 10 day voyages between May and September to include the popular AzAmazing Evenings, land tour options and late nights in port. Highlights include stops in Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Haines and Ketchikan on one-way tours between Seward and Vancouver.
Following on from our feature on Iceland we pick our top cruises to the Land of Fire and Ice.
Windstar: Around Iceland – Reykjavik to Reykjavik
Windstar, the niche provider of yacht-style ultra-luxurious cruises, takes the graceful Star Legend to Iceland on a circumnavigational tour of this magical place. With the cruise line’s ethos firmly rooted in traditional sailing Windstar offer a unique perspective on Iceland; finding secluded bays and rarely seen wildlife, able to stay longer in special places, giving guests an authentic experience and real sense of the true Iceland. Although the Star Legend is a motorised vessel, with no masts or sails, it still has the intimacy of the original Windstar brand, offering a small-scale private-yacht experience. Equalling any exploration cruise in terms of accessing remote places, the Star Legend also carries passengers in total style and comfort.
The trip, starting and finishing in Reykjavik, visits many geological wonders as well as the iconic Icelandic waterfalls, thermal waters and national parks. Highlights include Surtsey Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which rose from the sea in the 1960s making it one of the world’s youngest places and the Viking Sushi Experience where pristine seafood is caught and instantly prepared for guests onboard a small local fishing trawler as whales and sea-eagles glide and soar nearby. Departures in July and August 2017. www.windstarcruises.com
Lindblad Expeditions: A Circumnavigation of Iceland
This professional and well-rounded itinerary truly captures the drama, intrigue and history of Iceland as it takes guests on a ten-day voyage around the whole island. Visits to Reykjavik and the established (and busy) tourist sites on the famous Golden Circle tick obvious boxes but Lindblad, in keeping with their strong expedition focus, then seeks out the rugged western frontier and remote north-east coastline.
Sailing on either the National Geographic Orion or the National Geographic Explorer, the curious and adventurous traveller experiences world-class field geology, expert-led hiking and kayaking, Zodiac tours of hidden places and surreal scenery. Iceland is a first-rate photography destination after all. Of course itineraries can change, sometimes due to the weather, but with Lindblad this is more often to take advantage of rare wildlife sightings or to linger over exceptional light. Expeditions are scheduled for July 2017 and June/July 2018. www.expeditions.com
Azamara: Fjords and Iceland Voyage
Azamara Journey embarks on a summer voyage to Iceland with stops in Denmark, Norway, The Faroe Islands, Scotland and England – it’s common for an Iceland cruise to incorporate visits to other Northern European destinations. Three days are spent in Iceland, out of a total of twelve, with two of these docked in the lively and cosmopolitan capital, Reykjavik. This vibrant city is an excellent base to explore the waterfalls, geysers, lava fields and thermal waters of The Golden Circle; Iceland’s famous tourist trail.
A further day is spent in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, where the unexpected botanical gardens are located. Two thousand species of native and foreign plants grow here, surprisingly without greenhouse cover despite the Arctic location. Departure date is July 2017. www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk
Hurtigruten: The Elves, Sagas and Volcanoes of Iceland
With a heritage dating back to 1893 and widely regarded as a leader in Arctic exploration cruises, Hurtigruten is a popular choice for an Icelandic cruise. The Grand Arctic Traverse is a stunning nineteen-day voyage starting in the picturesque Lofoten Islands then travelling to the isolated island of Jan Mayen, followed by Iceland and finishing in Greenland. However, with only three days spent in Iceland, the alternative Elves, Sagas and Volcanoes of Iceland circumnavigates the island and is ideal for travellers seeking a comprehensive and exciting Icelandic experience.
MS Spitsbergen, a polar-class vessel, takes a full twelve days to sail around the coast. Itineraries are suggested only, with the final journey being determined en-route according to weather and opportunities – this is a true expedition cruise. As well as visits to the established thermal bathing sites and waterfalls, the captain usually stops at remote islands such as Siglufjörður and Grimsby, where guests can access wildlife and geological sites by Polarcirkel boats, and the Westman Islands which are famous for their volcanic activity and whale-spotting. Exploration cruises sail in June and July 2017. www.hurtigruten.co.uk
Images courtesy of Windstar, Lindblad, Azamara, Hurtigruten
The Mediterranean is one of the most established and enduringly popular cruise destinations in the world. This beautiful and diverse region stretches along the shorelines of Europe, Africa and Asia – bringing together many cultures and stunning scenery.
Cerulean sky, turquoise sea, superb beaches, Unesco World Heritage Sites, glittering casinos, lavender scented hillsides, pristine forests and of course … the food … enticed 220 million tourists here last year
But such ambrosia comes at a cost – the peak summer months draw huge crowds with most Europeans vacationing during July/August and families on school holidays travelling at that time too. Ports are congested and attractions swamped. Add stifling temperatures to the most expensive rates of the year and a summer Mediterranean cruise can start to lose its appeal. Instead, consider taking an autumn sailing. It’s a great alternative for those seeking a calmer experience, more comfortable weather and cheaper prices.
Viking Ocean’s Cities of Antiquity & the Holy Land voyage sets sail in October 2017 on the brand new Viking Sky. This ‘grown-up’ cruise takes passengers on a 15-day journey from Athens to Rome, visiting many ancient and intriguing sites, especially in the culturally rich Eastern Mediterranean. Naples, gateway to Pompeii, and Crete, home of the legendary Minotaur are particular highlights, as well as stops in Israel and an overnight in Haifa which puts the holiest sites within reach: Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.
Also this Autumn, Silversea sends the intimate and yacht-like Silver Wind on a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Venice. This gold-standard Mediterranean cruise visits key sites with plenty of glamour, cultural gems and European romance. Helicopter tours from Monaco swoop over the dazzling Cote d’Azure, Livorno offers truffle hunting in the Tuscan countryside, private tours of The Vatican City can be booked in Rome, the ancient city of Pompeii is easily reached from Sorrento, Mount Etna beckons when stopping over in Sicily, Dubrovnik opens up the beautiful Elaphite Archipelago for exploration and a gondola serenade in Venice is the perfect ending to a wonderful Mediterranean experience.
The Regent Seven Seas Explorer raised the bar for new cruise ships when it launched in 2016. Offering ultimate luxury, impeccable service, ultra-modern technology and superb cuisine it’s a shame sea days are so few and far between when cruising the Mediterranean on this vessel. This year it travels on a Western Mediterranean odyssey from Rome to Barcelona later in the season. The 14-day trip calls at the classic cruise ports of Rome, Pisa, Monte Carlo, Sorrento and Palermo as well as visiting the gorgeous Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica and the fabulous Spanish cities of Valencia and Barcelona.
Seabourn’s Autumn Isles is perhaps the ultimate late season Mediterranean cruise. 20-days of blissful travel on the brand new and totally stunning, Seabourn Encore. Leaving from Barcelona, the trip journeys at a gentle pace to the idyllic Balearics, Corsica and Sardinia taking in ultra-glamorous stopovers in legendary St.Tropez and Monaco. Cultural visits to Rome, Florence and Amalfi add interest and the chance to tick off those ‘bucket-list’ destinations. There’s even a whole day of scenic cruising – an unexpected and rare treat on a Mediterranean cruise.
For a taste of the exotic, Azamara’s 17-night Route of the Frankincense follows the ancient spice traders from Europe’s oldest city, Piraeus in Greece, all the way to the futuristic Dubai. The archaeological wonders of Athens including the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Temple of Olympian Zeus are early stops before traversing the Suez Canal for an overnight in Luxor. Sailing the legendary Red Sea leads to Jordan and the chance to visit Petra, an ancient city carved into the side of the Nabateans mountain. Oman and Dubai bring the trip up to the modern day.
If the Dalmatian Coast is on your ‘must-see’ list then Crystal’s Adriatic Adventure this September may prove irresistible. The 7-day round-trip on Crystal Serenity from Venice takes in Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and Corfu for one dazzlingly beautiful day after another. Medieval towns, serene beaches, ancient ruins and, of course, the romance of grand Italian canals offer a truly unforgettable Autumnal cruise.
European boutique-style ships focusing on destination immersion, often centred around popular world events. Late night departures or overnight stays in port allow guests ample time to explore and absorb the local culture, enhanced by complimentary AzAmazing shore events exclusively for Azamara guests. An impressive, and expanding menu of all-inclusive amenities include self-service laundry, gratuities, complimentary shuttles in many ports, butlers for suite passengers, house wines, beer, selected spirits, bottled water and soft drinks. Azamara Club Cruises is a brand of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
There are currently two identical vessels; the Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Originally the ships belonged to Renaissance Cruises, which ceased to trade in 2001 and the R6 and R7 vessels were acquired for the Azamara brand. Each has a tonnage of 30,277 and holds 690 guests with 408 crew. Both ships underwent extensive refurbishment in 2016.
The cruise line sails to European destinations, including the Baltic and Scandinavia, British Isles, Western Europe, French and Italian Rivieras, Greek Isles, Croatia, Holy Land and Black Sea, as well as Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies.
Staterooms are beautifully finished following the recent ReImagine refurbishment and available in a range of suites, veranda, oceanview and interior categories. Spa suites (above) have glass-enclosed soaking tubs and rainshowers with views over the ocean, and all suites come with personal butler service.
Food and Drink
The main restaurant partners with a selection of more informal eateries and cafes, operated with an open-seating dining policy and following a relaxed ‘resort-casual’ dress code, as well as 24-hour all-inclusive room service. The two speciality restaurants are complimentary to suite guests or charge a reasonable cover fee to other guests.
The Sanctum Spa is one of the main attractions on Azamara – a range of pre-bookable packages and complimentary fitness and nutrition classes enhance the ‘a-la-carte’ treatment list. Entertainment is otherwise standard and fairly low key, with the exception of a well-planned enrichment schedule of guest speakers and classes, and the popular ‘Nights in Private Places’. Designed for couples, a personal butler serves champagne and dinner on the private Sanctum Terrace before preparing an outdoor bed for a romantic night under the stars.
Le Club Voyage loyalty scheme offers benefits and discounts to regular customers including access to an annual LCV cruise open only to members. Onboard invitations, stateroom upgrades, fare discounts, free internet and spa treatment reductions are standard.
Parent company, RCI, has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to engage in a programme of sustainability measures, charitable giving, volunteering and mentoring.