Smaller cruise ships with all the amenities


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pool

By Gerry Barker

Cruise vacations come in all sizes, from the “mega” ships like Oasis of the Seas to the yachts of Windstar. If you are looking for something in between, with the amenities of a larger ship but the personal attention you get on a smaller one, Azamara Club Cruises is just what you’re looking for.

Part of the Royal Caribbean family, Azamara operates two ships – Quest and Journey. At 30,000 tons and a little less than 600 feet in length, each accommodates almost 700 passengers and around 400 crew. Both ships underwent a recent refurbishment.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to experience Azamara first-hand when my wife and I boarded Azamara Quest in Miami for a cruise to the West Indies. It was a chance to visit the more out-of-the-way islands which the larger ships have to mostly pass by. Here are my impressions of the trip:

The Ship: The size is just right if you seek a more intimate, personalized setting for your cruise vacation. You can pretty much get to any place you want to go in short order. It isn’t adults only; children are certainly welcome. But it clearly caters to adults, which is a positive for several we spoke with. There was one child on our voyage and outside the pool and ice cream, not a whole lot kids would find interesting.

The Attire. It’s pretty much all resort casual, all the time. Of course the ladies enjoy dressing up for the evening meals, as do many of the gents. But guys, you don’t have to pack your tux for this ship. There are no “formal” nights, and speaking for myself, I found the laid back dress code a real bonus. It added to the relaxed vibe for the whole trip.

The Staterooms. You will find them on a smaller side, as you might expect, but with very comfortable bedding and serviceable balconies on most. There are suites as well. A word to the wise: If you have personal electronics or other devices that require plugs, throw in an extension cord or two. We have yet to go on any cruise where the staterooms had a sufficient number of plugs conveniently located.

The Food. Uniformly very good or excellent. Whether you opt for the main dining room, Discoveries, or the more casual Windows Café for the buffet, we found everything to be high quality. There are also two specialty restaurants: Aqualina and Prime C. We tried both and were impressed by the level of food and service, particularly the former. Another good option is the Mosaic Café on 5, a boutique sandwich, dessert and coffee bar with a more upscale motif. Room service is also available 24/7, plus during meal times you can order anything served in the dining rooms for your stateroom.

The Guests. Definitely mostly an older demographic of well-seasoned travelers, many making return visits to Azamara (for one couple, their 10th trip). Again, it’s very much a family vibe among both guests and crew. Relaxed, quiet and maybe a throwback of sorts to old-school cruising back in the day.

The Entertainment. The main show room is the Cabaret Lounge on deck 5, adjacent to the casino. The Azamara singers and dancers perform there as an ensemble and individually, along with a few other select acts. Not flashy or Las Vegas, but certainly enjoyable and well suited for the various venues around the ship.

The Amenities. On Azamara, the price of the cruise includes all gratuities, red and white house wines (which change every day and are very good, by the way) at lunch and dinner, bottled water, sodas and the self-serve laundry. No doubt in the end the cost is comparable with other cruises that charge a la carte for these things, and probably a little more, but just having everything included makes life so much simpler, without that feeling of being “nickeled and dimed.”

Getting Around. Since it is cruising on a smaller scale, expect the stairways to be narrow and the elevators smaller. But it’s almost just as easy to walk if you are located anywhere mid-ship. One thing to note if you are physically challenged: The ship is probably not as wheelchair-friendly as you would find on newer, larger vessels.

The Spa. It has one, along with a fitness center and a jogging track.

The Pool. There is a small heated pool and adjacent hot tubs. But the headline here is the wonderfully luxuriant and comfortable deck chairs, which seem brand new and are in great abundance. They also enforce the rules for not reserving lounges when the occupant is gone longer than 30 minutes. Applause, applause.

Random Notes.  My wife fell in love with their hi-tech coffeemaker which creates a Cappuccino and other popular coffee selections in a flash … the gelato in Windows is more my style – new flavors every day … our two favorite spots were Looking Glass on deck 10, with its panoramic views and dance floor at night, and the Sunset Bar on deck 9 (where Danijel from Brazil took good care of us), a great place to enjoy a drink or a meal any time of day … there is E-Connections if you want to hook into the Internet, or you can connect and use the ship’s Wi-Fi with your own devices at the published rates. The connection was surprisingly good throughout our voyage … a shout-out to Errol in Land Discoveries, whose soothing admonitions to “walk with love and care” sent us out on our shore excursions … kudos to Nathalia in Guest Relations and Philip, the hotel manager, for all their help and kindnesses … praise for Tanja from Macedonia in the Casino Luxe Bar for her martini mastery – best on the ship … and special thanks to Capt. Stig, who expertly guided us throughout our journey.

Bottom line: We are totally sold on the perks of “smaller scale” cruising: The friendly, efficient service, the variety in the ports of call and the camaraderie created between crew and guests — not to mention the five-star meals and wines. If you are looking for more relaxation, more quiet and a more personal cruise experience, Azamara Club Cruises will more than meet your expectations.