My husband and I love cruising, and we aren't old farts - yet. Being travel
writers and critics, we find cruising offers the best of both worlds -
relaxation (read: unpack for the week and someone makes your bed and serves
your fabulous meals) along with the adventure aspect of a new destination
each day as you sail into some new fabulous port. We have done several
cruises, a few fun ship passages with the kids on
Carnival, and some relaxing voyages without them aboard
Royal Caribbean - Freedom of the Seas being
one of our favorite boats. As a travel writer, I scrutinize the services
provides by the cruise ship staff, sometimes I even get invited to the
Bridge to meet the Captain - not to steer the ship of course. Well, in Italy
I found the most fantastic cruise line few have ever heard of...
We had never heard of Azamara, but took a chance and a trip from Maine to Italy to experience this smaller, elite cruise line - having read that they actually refurbish old cruise ships and down size the passenger capacity. More deck chairs and dance floor space for me... sailing the Adriatic Sea - I'm on board with that.
We arrived in Venice Italy and explored this classic canal enclave for a few days. Venice is amazing on your first visit, the centuries old architecture, the flowing canals at every turn, the bridges and the beautiful little boutiques selling art, Venetian lace and masks are magical at first pass. But after two sweltering summer days navigating through the throngs of tourist we were ready to navigate our way out to sea.
Boarding our Ship, the Azamara Journey we were immediately impressed by this mid-sized beauty. You couldn't' tell this was a reclaimed ship from the 70's - sparkling crystal chandeliers gave way to beautiful big windows and elegant seating areas on every deck - we felt like royalty on this adults-only voyage bound for the Italian and Dalmatian coast. Our stateroom was ready when we boarded (that doesn't happen with Royal or Carnival). Our room was very spacious, part of the ship renovation included making staterooms bigger, modern amenities, a couch, desk, lounge chair, beautifully made bed with high thread count linens (I checked) and a huge veranda reached through a sliding glass door framed by beautiful drapery. I could already picture sitting out on our balcony during passages in one of those chaise lounges. Our stateroom butler graciously introduced himself and even offered to unpack for us - above and beyond!
Azamara's ships are anything but standard - they more resemble a boutique floating hotel that sails you to a new port every few days. The staff is uber attentive... and so much is included (mind you its pricey). Guests don't pay for beer, wine, cocktails, soda, top shelf coffee and cappuccino, laundry service, even gratuities are included!
We toured around the grand ship, and began seeing familiar faces from check in - a bonus of being on a big ship with just 600+ passengers, and 400 crew.
As we sailed out of Venice, the city looked once again magical as the sun sparkled off the rooftops of St Mark's Square. We chilled by the pool on fluffy blue cushions, enjoying that there was no battle for lounge chairs like bigger cruise lines. Fresh towels are plentiful, didn't even have to sign them out. That night after freshening and dressing up, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, seated with a cool couple from Nice France - where I went to college as Junior. That evening we enjoyed jazz in a piano bar and a fantastic comedy show in the theatre.
The Adriatic is stunning, ironic that the Mediterranean gets all the love - I vote this Croatia the next great destination along the Dalmatian Coast. Our first port was Hvar - a beautiful fertile island loaded with lavender and ancient olive vineyards. We disembarked, no lines, no waiting and toured the beautiful old city streets, lined with cafes and boutiques selling their beautiful lace made by local Benedictine nuns. Then we hopped aboard a speed boat we had chartered for a day exploring the outlying islands... the mesmerizing turquoise water color met the dramatic rocky shores that lead to lush hillside orchards.
Our charter captain brought us to several sparsely inhabited Elaphiti Islands of Sipan and Lopud to explore- the families living there were eager to see us, wanted to show us their lace and handmade rafts... I have never seen such beautiful blue eyed children. An extraordinarily lunch, at a humble shack on Lopud Island of farm raised (and freshly slaughtered) lamb was delicious with the owners wine. Wow.. the bill looked huge at 1200$ Kuna, but was priceless once converted to US $50.
Dubrovnik was our next stop over, a marvel of fortified walls, fountains, palaces, churches, and monasteries dating to the 13th - 17th century. The charming city streets are car free, and you can walk around the city on the old stone walls.
Kotor was yet another amazing ancient Croatian city, where ewe climbed to the Fort atop this idyllic village to enjoy stunning views of the harbor, the village church towers and our beautiful ship in the bay.
Another port, Split, represented the largest city in Dalmatia, dating to 295
AD. The cobblestone streets, and Gothic chapels loomed of legend of the
struggles an treasures of these people.
Our final port of call was back in Italy - Trieste on the eastern most border as we made our return toward Venice. Not as charming as the other places we had visited, Trieste's large neo-classic government buildings lined the Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia. We visited the Roman amphitheater - or its remains. Finding Trieste busy and populated, we hopped a ferry to the nearby town of Muggia to find "my big fat Italian wedding" - only real... so we sat at a cafe and watched the families celebrate, dance, drink and devour delicious food for a few hours. Even dogs were invited to the wedding, we considered joining since the mood so merry and inviting. JK.
That night back on board was bittersweet, as we discussed our amazing adventures in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and our splendid treatment by the crew of the Azamara. I will add the absence of little kids on the cruise was nice... adult conversation, ambiance, a nice mix of Americans and Europeans... very stimulating yet relaxing. For sure we were the only visitors from Kennebunkport Maine.
We highly recommend Azamara cruise lines, and we didn't even take advantage of the 24-hour room service, spa services, and or fitness classes. Next time.
Read more Cruise Vacations Reviews:
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas
Carnival's got the fun ships
Cruising Royal Caribbean's Freedom Cruise Ship Spa and Salon Reviews
All Photography by Greg Burke