LuxeGetaways Magazine – Fall/Winter 2017 | One of the year’s hottest travel trends is not a private jet or overwater bungalows, but it is the mainstay of the travel world – the cruise. Cruising has taken on new life this past year thanks not only to retiring Baby Boomers and their desire to see the world, but also as a flexible travel option for Gen X-ers and Millennials. Cruise lines are constantly one-upping each other trying to provide the best and flashiest experiences on the high seas. Waterslides, robot bartenders and even more over-the-top extravagances abound. But for the luxury traveler, the trends have been different. Smaller ships, incredible culinary teams and a focus on local experiences and destinations are what the modern luxury cruiser cares most about – one of the cruise lines that is rising to the top of this trend is Azamara Club Cruises.

If you are not yet familiar with the brand, it is okay as an individual and low-key experience is exactly what they want as a company; but if you want to travel the world in style and enjoy immersive experiences, then this is one cruise line to consider.


Azamara

Every travel entity says they are different from their competitors but, sadly, few actually are. Azamara is one of those rare examples of a cruise line that is indeed unlike most others in the industry. With only two ships in their fleet, it is easy to overlook Azamara but, as I learned, there is strength in keeping things small. It allows the cruise line to focus intensely on the passengers, and their travel experiences; making sure that every detail is taken care of, and that they have the best staff for the job. Not only is the fleet on the smaller side, so are their ships. Carrying only 690 passengers, they are a far cry from the 4,000 person mega-liners sailing today, but again, that is to their distinct advantage.

Smaller ships allow for greater intimacy, better service and, ultimately, a better experience for the guests. No one feels like a number, or just another person passing through for the journey. Cruises, in general, are an increasingly popular option for solo travelers, and Azamara makes it easy for those of us who travel as a party of one to still enjoy the high life, and not feel like the proverbial third wheel. While the onboard accouterments are indeed impressive, they ultimately do not matter though unless they are backed up with outstanding service and quality.


Azamara Quest

Sailing onboard the refurbished Azamara Quest, I could not help but be impressed almost immediately after stepping onboard. There were plenty of common areas to unwind and relax, as well as the spa, theater and casino. Also, the cabins are inviting, instead of being a forgotten aspect of the overall cruise experience.

For those who like to be pampered, there are plenty of suite options to match any personality. The Club World Owner’s Suites are a massive 603 square feet with 233 square feet of veranda area, guaranteeing plenty of room to stretch out and relax. A large living room, separate bedroom, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and a marble master bath will feel more like a five-star boutique hotel instead of a cruise ship stateroom. Suites also come with special amenities like complimentary Internet, specialty dining, butler services, spirits and much more. This is the most luxurious way to enjoy what is already a boutique luxury travel experience.

If the Owner’s Suite is not for you, there are several other suite packages available that offer a lot of value to guests, like the new Club Spa Suites. At 414 square feet with private verandas, there is still plenty of space in these cabins; and their emphasis on healthy living is ideal for the spa lover in all of us. Located next to the tranquil Sanctum Spa, the cabins offer all of the normal amenities, but with a special spa twist. A spacious glass-enclosed spa soaking tub and separate rain shower provide the perfect way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. With included spa credits and treatments, these staterooms are about slowing down and allowing yourself to be pampered.


Immersive Experiences

While the Azamara Quest is indeed impressive, at the core of the experience is immersive travel, and a keen focus on the destinations. An important reason to sail with Azamara is the ability to access many destinations that the larger ships are unable to visit because of their size. Azamara ships can visit ports of call (and even docking locations) that other cruise lines simply cannot manage. This in turn provides unique experiences to their passengers that they will not find on many other ships. Because of this distinction, I wanted to sail with Azamara on their Western Mediterranean itinerary, and have the opportunity to visit destinations I would probably never otherwise see.

It is not only about where the Azamara ships visit, but it is also about the activities offered to passengers once the have arrived. Connecting locally is a very important focus for Azamara, and they accomplish this key tenet of the travel experience in a variety of different 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 of everything available, 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 unique, and create opportunities for guests to “go local,” and feel like a member of the community, which is exceptionally rare. However, you do not have to join an excursion to feel more connected to the communities when sailing with Azamara since their policy of staying longer in ports of call means that guests have plenty of time to explore on their own. Walking through town or, more usually, finding the perfect local restaurant for dinner, staying overnight (or longer) at port gives passengers one of the greatest travel luxuries there is, time.

Constantly moving ships means itineraries throughout the year are almost bespoke, offering guests a cruise experience that is not cookie cutter. But visiting the Western Mediterranean offers special travel opportunities you cannot find anywhere else.



Barcelona, Spain

A popular cruise port, and the start (or finish) for many cruise lines; Barcelona is much more than a city to just pass through. Be sure to arrive a day or two early to enjoy the best that the capital of Catalonia has to offer.

Visit the many works of Antoni Gaudí, including the massive (and unfinished) Cathedral, the Sagrada Família.

Join a food tour highlighting the best tapas in Barcelona, and learn more about this unique culinary style in the process – offered via Context Travel.

Do some shopping along the grand boulevards of the city with stores rivaling the best that Paris or New York has to offer. Stay at the boutique five-star Hotel Omm to enjoy the ideal location from which to base your city explorations.


Palma, Mallorca

The largest of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca has long been the sunny getaway for Europe’s fashionistas, and anyone looking for some time on the beach. There is a lot more to the capital city of Palma though, in addition to just the palm trees and great weather.

Head to Bellver Castle to enjoy 360-degree views of the city and harbor, as well as to explore one of the few round castles in Europe.

Visit La Seu, the city’s massive Gothic Cathedral to see one of the world’s great cathedrals, as well as some unexpected Gaudi design elements.

Relax along the colorful side streets and alleyways of the city, sip some wine and enjoy a leisurely meal in true Spanish fashion.


Ajaccio, Corsica

As the birthplace of Napoleon, the capital of the French island of Corsica has long been a must-see destination, but it is also the ideal place to connect with the local community.

Join a special Azamara excursion to the daily markets where you will learn more about local cuisine, and eat more than your fair share of Corsican delicacies.

Relax on the beaches made famous by French sun-worshippers over the years.

Yes, do visit the birthplace of Napoleon, and learn how this transformational leader had an impact even on this tiny island.


Monaco

Fast cars and the world’s most fashionable people crowd the streets of Monte Carlo, where millionaires are on the low end of the economic totem pole. The French Riviera lies just beyond the borders of the Principality though, making Monaco a port of call begging for exploration.

Take a ship-offered excursion to experience the best of the region with time spent in Nice, small coastal villages and, of course, Monte Carlo.

Trek up to Monte Carlo’s famous 19th century Casino de Monte-Carlo, but be sure to have your passport handy if you want to go in.

For the best views of Monte Carlo (and the harbor), visit the hilltop where the Prince’s Palace is located, and be sure to stick around for the changing of the guard.


Livorno, Italy

Though a popular cruise port, Livorno has an interesting history to tell, with the real popularity being its proximity to both Florence and Pisa.

Explore Livorno with an Azamara chef-led excursion visiting local markets and taking fresh ingredients back to the ship for a meal you will never forget.

Spend the day in Florence, one of the world’s great cities to enjoy everything from the Duomo to Michelangelo’s David.

If you have not yet been, then make the easy trip to Pisa to not only see the famous leaning tower, but to also to enjoy this entire complex around the leaning tower.


Rome, Italy

The Eternal City needs no introduction, and it is an ideal stop for any cruise sailing the warm waters of the Mediterranean. If it is your first time though, there are a few experiences not to miss.

Spend time in Vatican City, and tour the famous museum, and a walk around the massive square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Go on a do-it-yourself gelato crawl; you will find more than you could ever eat while in Rome.

If you are staying on after the cruise, do not miss a day trip to the laid back Amalfi Coast, with stops in towns like Positano and Ravello.


Boutique Luxury

Though one of my least favorite words in the travel world is bespoke, this is the word that keeps coming to mind when describing Azamara Club Cruises. Unlike so many of the other cruise lines, the company prides itself not on creating cookie cutter experiences, but with one-of-a-kind journeys that are difficult to otherwise replicate. That is important, rare, and just one of many attributes that helps to separate Azamara from other cruise lines. A major criticism I hear about cruising (as a travel style) is that people fear losing their independence. They fear turning into travel sheep, but after having cruised many times with many companies, I can say with certitude that not only is Azamara a great choice for the independent traveler, but they actually help to facilitate an active and independent experience.

Travel should be all about learning and growing as a person, and many times that means finding a connection with the local communities. Instead of traveling inside a bubble, we want to get our hands dirty, and to experience a culture different from our own. That is, I believe, at the heart of the Azamara experience – to connect locally, and in the process not only have fun, but have a meaningful experience as well. The days of doing nothing but lying by the pool when we vacation are over. The modern traveler wants to relax, but also to be engaged. Thanks to the incredible onboard staff, the ship-based enrichment elements, and of course the destinations themselves, Azamara did not only rise to the challenge, but they excelled in nearly every way imaginable.

Fun Fact: In 2017, Azamara will take passengers to more than 200 ports, in 68 countries, including 195 late night stays and 82 overnights.



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