This is a special guest post from Chris Owen of ChrisCruises.com.
Looking back on our 12-Night Summer Russia and The Baltics sailing on board Azamara Quest, a number of thoughts come to mind when reflecting on the experience. Where we saw a huge difference between Azamara and other cruises lines was in how they treated the destinations. From beginning to end, they did not miss a beat.
That Azamara is focused on destinations came as no surprise; they talk about it all the time and have since they began operations. It makes sense for a boutique two-ship cruise line to focus on places they visit as opposed to the onboard experience, for a number of reasons.
But what we found on Azamara’s ships this summer was an intense focus on destinations like no other cruise line we have yet experienced. They take these places seriously, allowing abundant free time on tours, staying late in port after all other ships have left for the day and staying overnight in ports that just can’t be seen adequately in one day.
On Azamara Journey, we stayed later than scheduled in Croatia to allow time for experiencing a Sea Organ that came to life after dark. On Azamara Quest, delays getting in and out of Amsterdam due to the once-every-five-years Sail Amsterdam event caused us to leave later and gave more time in the interesting port of call.
On our Summer Russia and the Baltics, there were a number of ports called at which we had never been to before. How nice it was to have Azamara’s knowledgeable experts onboard to help craft our tours and time ashore…and “craft” they did, considering what we had done, what we had scheduled, where there were openings for unique onshore experiences for us to consider. These were not order takers who manned the shore excursion desk, focused on filling up tours without regard for our personal enrichment.
Frankly, some of the most interesting time I spent on the ship was at the Azamara Shore Excursions desk, listening to Azamara’s destination experts talk to passengers about ports. I can’t recall a trip to a tour desk ever being anything but a task to check off a list of things to do. On more than one occasion, I asked “Can I do that too?!” They are just that good.
Destination focus verified, I have not yet experienced a cruise line more focused on making connections ashore too. That’s huge. It’s one thing to visit places, step off the ship and onto their soil saying “I have been there”. It’s quite another to make a local connection be that meeting a waiter at a café we hope to see again some day, enabled by plenty of free time on tour.
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