Imagine being on a cruise ship without the crowds… We had never heard of Azamara, but took a chance and a trip 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 … sailing the Adriatic Sea from Venice to Croatia – who wouldn’t be 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. 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 would never guess this was a reclaimed ship from the 70’s – sparkling crystal chandeliers light up beautiful big windows. With elegant lobbies 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, with modern amenities, a couch, desk, lounge chair, beautiful King bed with high thread count linens (I checked) and a huge veranda reached through a sliding glass door framed by luxurious drapery. I could already picture sitting on our balcony during passages in our 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 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!
LOVE AZAMARA VENICE TO CROATIA CRUISE
We toured around the grand ship, and began seeing familiar faces from check in – Azamara feels more like a private club cruise with just 600+ passengers (compared to 3,000+ on most cruise ships), and an impressive 400 crew.
As we set sail, Venice 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, with no battle for lounge chairs like many cruise lines. Fresh towels are plentiful, don’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- the clientele is diverse and international. 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 Croatia as the next great destination along the Dalmatian Coast. Our first port was Hvar – a 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 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 led to lush hillside orchards.
Our charter captain brought us to several sparsely inhabited Elaphiti Islands of Sipan and Lopud to explore – kids there were eager to see us, wanted to sell us their handmade crafts… 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 owner’s wine. The bill looked huge at 1200$ Kuna, but was priceless once converted to US $50.
Dubrovnik was our next port, a marvel of fortified walls, fountains, palaces, churches, and monasteries dating to the 13th century. The charming city streets are car-free, walking the city on the old stone walls is ideal.
Kotor was yet another amazing ancient Croatian city, where we 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.
Next port, Split, represented the largest city in Dalmatia, dating to 295 AD. The cobblestone streets, and Gothic chapels loomed of legend of the struggles and 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 Muggia to find “my big fat Italian wedding” – only real… we sat at a cafe and watched the families (and their dogs) celebrate, dance, drink and devour delicious food.
Sailing back to Venice, we marveled at sailing on a mid-sized luxury cruise ship with the best dining on a cruise we have ever enjoyed, the finest furnishings and staff. Azamara gets an A+ in this travel journalist’s review. Azamara offers cruises to Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, London and Amersterdam, plus Alaska and Panama. Azamara was founded in 2007 and features just two ships, Quest and Journey, their parent company is Royal Caribbean.