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Small ship cruise line Azamara was among the first to introduce late departures and overnight stays in ports so passengers could get more than just a daytime feel for certain destinations. It also prides itself on getting local performers onboard to entertain guests for cultural evenings, often with themed food and drink to reflect the area its ships are in. All-inclusive cruises were introduced in 2009 and since 2013 it has included AzAmazing Evenings, bespoke experiences such as classical music concerts or wine tasting that passengers wouldn’t normally get to do. The cruise line was set up in 2007 with two ships from the defunct Renaissance Cruises – Azamara Journey and Quest – with Azamara Pursuit (previously P&O Cruises’ Adonia) joining in 2018 and Azamara Onward (previously Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess) joining in 2021 but only relaunched in 2022 because of the pandemic.
Both passengers and crew have to be double jabbed to get on Azamara Onward and during the check-in process guests have to have PCR tests and wait for the results before being allowed onboard.
Once on the ship masks are not required, although some people choose to wear them, but if ports visited require masks to be worn these are handed out free to passengers before they leave the ship.
Guests are allowed to serve themselves in the buffet, something that most European-based cruise ships were avoiding in 2021, and daily temperature checks are not required.
But passengers who need to provide a PCR test result to return to their own countries are offered these onboard a day before disembarking. The UK currently does not require this.
What’s it like onboard?
Azamara ships are aimed at the well-heeled traveler – an international mix but mostly North American – who like small ship sailing.
There are a maximum 684 passengers with a ratio of 1.7 staff to every guest and the crew are supremely helpful.
Every cabin, suite, bar, lounge and restaurant has been refurbished in fashionably tasteful neutrals – grey, greige, coffee and cream with warm olive green or dark mustard armchairs and sofas in some of the bars as a stylish contrast.
The pool deck and bar is also an oasis of calm and after dinner there are shows every night in the Cabaret room, live music in The Den and dancing to bands or a DJ in The Living Room at the top of the ship.
However post-pandemic global supply problems have delayed the launch of several ships in 2022 and although Azamara Onward began its inaugural season on time, some cabins had no balcony chairs or hairdryers.
The WOW factor
Azamara’s White Night party exceeds all expectations and is definitely the highlight of a week onboard any Azamara ship – and Azamara Onward doesn’t disappoint.
Guests channel John Travolta in their white outfits as they sip a few drinks around the pool deck – dressed with white linen-laid tables – before helping themselves to a barbecue feast.
There are tables heaving with lobster tails and shell fish, steak, lamb, lemon-chicken and more, plus a dozen or so salads to choose from and if you have room for more food there are tables piled with desserts.
The ship’s band belts out disco favourites from the sun deck stage and wine waiters tour around topping up glasses while the sun slowly sets and the ship sails off to its next destination.
All the staterooms of this 1999-built ship were refurbished during the 2021/2022 refit, with new carpets, beds and furniture including a sofa, coffee table and desk in the standard balcony cabins.
There is plenty of storage room, although the wardrobes and drawers are still the original dark wood, which doesn’t match the other décor and looks a bit outdated.
Similarly, the bathrooms have been attractively redecorated, with new flooring and wall covering, but although the new showers are powerful they are small, with curtains rather than glass panels.
Cabins do have a fridge and tea or coffee making facilities, though, with a large TV on the wall, bathrobes, slippers and lovely chocolates left out for you every night.
Interior cabins are similarly decorated but smaller, while there is a range of suites including two spa suites, 10 Club World Owners Suites – the biggest on board – six Club Continent Suites and 10 Club Ocean Suites.
As well as being larger, these get extras such as a butler service, complimentary wifi and an in-suite afternoon tea service.
Discoveries Restaurant, the complimentary waiter-served main dining room, is open every day for breakfast and dinner, with lunch available on sea days.
It’s stylishly understated, with white chairs and starched linen-covered tables radiating out in a circle from the overhead modern chandelier in the middle of the room.
Typical evening meals might offer salmon with pan-seared scallops, filet mignon steak or quinoa pasta pesto for a main course and desserts such as fig almond olive oil cake with cinnamon whipped cream.
Discoveries is on deck 5, near the buzzing central atrium, and has its own bar so you can have a drink before dinner.
Windows Café buffet restaurant, also complimentary, is on deck 9 beside the pool and has a lovely open terrace at the back where the tables are snapped up for a sunny breakfast or lunch.
The terrace is also a fabulous place to watch the sun set at night while waiters bring you choices from a themed menu often with dishes based on the country you’re visiting.
The choice at lunch and breakfast is vast. There’s even a smoothie bar in the morning and at lunchtime there’s usually a good choice of Indian dishes as well as the normal salads and roasts or fish dishes.
To mix things up you can get a Destination Burger from The Patio, just before the entrance to Windows Café. They’re made to order with toppings that reflect the ship’s destination port that day.
You can also get a light breakfast or early evening tapas and pastries in deck 5’s Mosaic Café, which serves speciality tea and coffee and there are sandwiches and pastries or tapas in deck 10’s Living Room observation lounge with floor to ceiling windows.
The two paid-for speciality restaurants are both next to each other at the back of deck 10. Aqualina serves exquisite Italian dishes with an emphasis on fish and seafood, while Prime C has a meatier menu and specialises in steaks. Both have a $30 cover charge but are free for suite guests.
New for Azamara Onward is deck 10’s Atlas Bar, next to the speciality restaurants, which serves cocktails and tapas-like dishes that are paired with the drinks.
Most drinks in Azamara restaurants are complimentary but you have to pay for Atlas Bar cocktails, even if you have upgraded to a Premium Liquor or Ultimate Liquor packages that include better-quality spirits and wine.
Azamara is all about exploring the ports its ships visit and cruises are usually destination-heavy so during the day most people will be off the ship.
However, at some smaller ports the cruise line organises an AzAmazing Day event. This might be musicians or singers dotted around a walkable area in a small port or section of town and a beautiful spot where you can get a glass of fizz or barista-made coffee and snack on local delicacies – all complimentary.
But if you prefer to stay on the ship, daily life includes free fitness classes in the gym or studio next to The Sanctum spa, quizzes and activities such the Cake Decorating Challenge, Golf Putting Challenge or cocktail making in the early evening.
After dinner there is always entertainment in the Cabaret Lounge, usually from the inhouse singers and dancers but sometimes from local performers brought onboard when the ship is leaving late or staying overnight.
These late departures mean you can stay out for longer and eat out, or return to shore after an early dinner for an evening promenade before the ship sails.
Every night, though, there’s dancing in the top deck Living Room – where there’s either a band or DJ – or for the less energetic there might be a pianist or singer to entertain you in other lounges, such as The Den.
Azamara Onward is spending the summer in the Mediterranean then heading to the Caribbean for the winter. A seven-night France Intensive Voyage from Barcelona to Monte Carlo, departing October 29, 2022, and calling at Marseille, Nice, Sete, Portes-Vendres and Corsica, starts at £828pp, cruise only, including drinks. For details go to azamara.co.uk
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