A uniquely different holiday!
Cruising the Baltic in Style by Clare Dunne
Because I’m a Travel Agent and travel is what I do all day long I often leave planning our own family holiday to the other members of my family, but this year was a little different. I decided I wanted to try cruising as so many of my clients love it and despite having been on many ships on inspection tours I had never actually managed to go cruising. Of course, I was looking for something a little different!
Having made the first decision so easily I then needed to decide where to go? There are so many choices, Alaska, Caribbean, Far East, South America, Australia, each offering new and exciting destinations, mystique and magic. However, for this trip I decided to stay in Europe so that, at least, narrowed my choices down a little. I eventually chose a Baltic cruise as it offered the opportunity to explore many destinations new to us all and promised bright blue skies and sunshine, without too much heat.
Choosing the cruise line was the next decision and I already had my list of ‘Must haves’. My list was short but pretty specific: a small ship with personal service and attention to detail, interesting itinerary, ample time to explore the destinations, at least two ‘Sea days’ and of course really good food. ‘Azamara ’ ticked all of the boxes and the included: teas & coffees, wine with meals and gratuities just served to reinforce my conviction that I had chosen well.
A quick email to the other three family members, setting out the planned itinerary and dates of travel elicited swift and affirmative responses and so we were set to go!
The cruise I chose began in Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy and our arrival there by train from Paris on a beautiful July afternoon was the perfect beginning to our adventure. As we rounded a bend of the Seine we caught our first sight of Azamara Journey waiting for us and our excitement mounted.
On our arrival at the ship side we experienced our first taste of what we very quickly came to accept as normal ‘Azamara’ service. Our suitcases were swiftly labelled and whisked away, we were escorted to the check in area where tea and coffees or cold drinks awaited us although the formalities were completed so fast that we didn’t have time to avail of them and suddenly we were on board, champagne in hand and on our way to our staterooms.
The memory of sailing down the Seine that first glorious evening, whilst enjoying dinner outdoors on the aft deck still makes me smile. Eldest daughter immediately got to indulge her new found love of Sushi, handmade especially for her by the Sushi chef and we very quickly incorporated a stop at the Italian Gelato station into our everyday routine.
The next day was our first full day at sea and we were determined to relax and enjoy it. Sunshine or shade was available by the pool so we were all happy to read, nap or listen to music on the pool deck. Cool drinks were continually provided along with cold cucumber slices for our eyes and refreshing facial mists. Relaxation was setting in!
When we arrived in Amsterdam the following morning we were completely relaxed and ready for some activity. We started by having a quick chat with a very helpful lady from the Amsterdam Tourist Office prior to disembarking and armed with city maps we caught a tram directly to the Van Gogh museum. Having spent a very interesting day strolling around Amsterdam, enjoying the canals and winding streets we returned to Azamara Journey in the early evening and were very pleasantly surprised to be greeted by crew members who all welcomed us ‘Home’.
Other destinations followed, two days exploring Copenhagen where the ship over-nighted, a hectic day racing around Berlin trying to experience as much as possible from’ Checkpoint Charlie’ to the Brandenburg Gate, sailing through the incredible Kiel Canal and then Helsinki, where we were met by a friend at the quayside and treated to our own personal guided tour. St Petersburg followed with its fabulous buildings, the incredible priceless art collection at the Hermitage and a spellbinding Swan Lake performance. Returning to the ship from the theatre at midnight allowed us to witness the famous St Petersburg ‘White Night’ phenomenon where almost broad daylight means the streets are bustling with as much atmosphere and activity as if it was midday. Our last destination was Talinn the capital of Estonia which charmed us with its medieval winding streets and castles, yet another destination we have promised a return visit.
Our disembarkation port was Stockholm and once again we were delighted with the ease with which the process was handled. Our luggage was collected on our last night and the following morning we enjoyed our usual delicious breakfast feast and disembarked without any fuss.
Throughout our voyage on Azamara Journey we were constantly wowed by the attention to detail and incredible service we experienced. Although breakfast and lunch were ‘Buffet’ style Azamara staff were always at hand offering to carry plates and provide drinks, made to order eggs or smoothies or whatever else we wished for. We were greeted by name by many of the team and many took the time to get to know us and spend a few minutes chatting. The complete absence of any queuing or waiting coupled by the sheer variety and quality of the food in the buffet restaurant, from fresh pasta stations to ‘Made from scratch’ Indian curry one evening meant that we dined there frequently – especially when we returned late in the evening to the ship having spent the day exploring a new destination.
On other evenings we dined in the exquisite speciality restaurants Aqualina and Prime C where the quality of the food was matched by the impeccable service but no unnecessary formality. There are no ‘Formal nights’ on Azamara, just wonderfully fresh and enticing food, constantly refilled wine glasses and unrivalled views. One family member even indulged herself with a room service dinner one night, while watching a movie. On another evening as we enjoyed our dinner in the main restaurant ‘Discoveries’ the captain announced he was about to turn the ship 360° so that everybody could enjoy the spectacular sunset!
Entertainment on board co-ordinated by the incomparable Cruise Director Eric, varied from Broadway song shows to comedy, opera or jazz. A movie under the stars complete with fresh popcorn one night or a poolside barbeque with live music and dancing another. Unfortunately during our time on board I never made it to the Gym or to try out the Spa. I never had time to enjoy the library with its incredible book collection nor did I ever get to enjoy Afternoon Tea in the Looking Glass Lounge. I did, however, manage to enjoy many cocktails, coffees and tasty snacks in the Mosaic Cafe, we caught an Introductory Spanish class one afternoon and even a Line Dancing class another day. I guess I’ll just have to book another Azamara cruise to catch up with what I missed!
Truly a holiday of a lifetime.
Clare Dunne is Managing Director of The Travel Broker on Vernon Ave, Clontarf.
Contact us on 01-8333921 or enter your details below to get a personalised quote on an Azamara cruise!
REASONS TO CHOOSE AZAMARA:
Few cruise lines talk about Destination Immersion because they’re never in port long enough to deliver it – we are!
• Azamara arrive earlier, stay later, do night tours, and often spend a night or two in the world’s greatest destinations.
• But it’s not just more time. It’s more time without the crowds, because the big cruise ships leave earlier, or we sail to places they can’t reach.
• Consider any destination. Then ask yourself what you’d miss if you never saw it by night?
• On Azamara you can enjoy nightlife ashore – dinner, evening entertainment, summer festivals, music, theater, nightclubs, night tours and more.
• One-of-a-kind, AzAmazing Evenings℠ event included on every voyage (except transatlantic): AzAmazing Evenings℠ take you to ancient castles and chateaux, private gardens, exclusive museum events and more. See and taste the best of local culture—dining, ballet, music, and traditional sports like jousting and polo – in a way few others do.
• Compare Azamara’s inclusive fares with confusing “add-on-everything” fares, or with luxury cruise fares. Either way, Azamara offer better value. Other up-market and luxury cruise lines offer inclusive amenities as well. Most often their fares are higher than Azamara’s. And their fares DON’T include richly immersive destination experiences, or an AzAmazing Evening onshore.
• Share the experience of Azamara’s club-like atmosphere, and the unique camaraderie between guests, staff and crew. A cruise is an entire 10-day or 2-week experience and Azamara’s international staff and crew add remarkable depth to this experience: Representing more than 60 different countries, they share great insider’s knowledge of different ports and cultures.
Officers and crew often join guests at meals, on the deck, for impromptu astronomy sessions, and even for onshore excursions.
• Azamara has just two small ships, but has won the HIGHEST accolades for service, onboard experience and itineraries from Cruise Critic Conde Nast.
• Incredible added value.
You spend a good amount of money on an Azamara voyage. So make your cruise worthwhile by choosing the best possible value. We can often help maximize that value with: special savings offers and reduced fares on Extended Voyages and booking Land Discoveries, Beverage and Spa packages BEFORE sailing.