Reviewed by Luxury Marketing Executive Jade
I was recently invited on board Azamara Pursuit® for four nights to experience part of the Med Highlights Voyage from Lisbon to Rome. Azamara is classed as a luxury cruise line offering an inclusive small-ship experience. I’d heard so many good things and was keen to really understand why so many people love Azamara Cruises.
Day 1 – Lisbon, Portugal
After a very early start – and a long morning of travelling – I was pleased to see Azamara Pursuit® on our arrival at Lisbon port. Within 20 minutes, we were checked in, handed a glass of fizz from the welcoming crew, and eagerly joined an optional guided tour of the ship.
The interior of the ship was sophisticated yet modern, and the stunning array of art pieces immediately caught my attention. I was impressed at how many diverse areas there were on board, from the spacious spa and fitness area where the list of indulgences is endless, to the several bars, lounges and dining places each with their own unique flair. I particularly loved the Mosaic Café, a coffee lounge serving speciality drinks such as my favourite vanilla latte accompanied by pastries, cakes and light bites – of which you can have as much as you want. Next, we headed to the deck for some much-needed sun and the renowned sail away. With no long queues in sight, I picked up a drink menu from the bar and was delighted to see a whole list of included beverages from beers, wines, spirits and even cocktails. Pina coladas were served straight to our plush sun lounges, and, as we listened to the brilliant voices of the Marvelous Funk band, I knew at that moment how incredible this voyage would be.
Day 2 – Gibraltar, United Kingdom
With the luxury of 24-hour room service, we took advantage of breakfast in our suite most mornings. The breakfast arrived at the time I requested, and the table on our balcony was set up by a waiter who presented something delicious every morning. We watched the sunrise in our cosy robes whilst tucking into pancakes, fresh bagels with salmon and cream and of course a well-cooked full English. After yesterday’s excitement, we finally had time to appreciate our Balcony Stateroom. It boasted a generous amount of space for two people filled with natural light from the large balcony. There was also an inside seating space, a vanity area and the most comfortable of beds. The room was cleaned both in the morning and evening, towels were refreshed as and when we wished, and the fridge was stocked with the soft drinks we requested. What more could you ask for?
Before arriving in Gibraltar, we tuned into a destination lecture to help sway our decision on what to do in port. It was interesting to find out the history of each port, with facts and stories a general tourist would be unaware of. In comparison to your big cities for example Rome, Gibraltar is a less-visited port, so it was extremely insightful to find out that a climb up the rock would mean crossing paths with monkeys!
That evening we watched the IMAGINE show, which was inspired by the 1960s. I loved the diversity of the evening performances, which focused heavily on destinations and genres that inspired music. Afterwards, we headed to the DJ set in the Living Room to dance into the early hours. It was great to see so many people socialising and enjoying themselves, this carried on throughout the cruise, never a dull moment in sight.
Day 3 – Malaga, Spain
The next day we arrived in Malaga, docking right in the heart of its city centre. In almost every port, the ship berthed where others can’t. No waiting around to get on and off the ship, or for transfers, just the freedom of being able to walk straight into the hive of a destination. A benefit to cruising on a smaller-sized ship!
We headed back on board for lunch before hopping off again. The open-air Sunset Bar was the perfect spot to bask in the 22-degree sun and admire the sparkling port whilst enjoying lunch. The inside Window’s Café served a buffet-style lunch with daily options including pasta, salads and stir-fries, to a carving and ice-cream station. Alternatively, you could order from the nearby Patio Deck for made-to-order dishes. I opted for the tuna wrap, which was made with the most fresh and delicious tuna steak, none of the canned stuff which I’m used to eating at home!
In the evening, we dined at the Discoveries Restaurant where you could find a changing a la carte menu serving classic favourites. One thing that caught our attention was the destination-themed section of the menu which was tailored to food from around the world. The chefs would even prepare a ‘destination dish’ to reflect the place we were docked that day. That evening we opted for the three-course Japanese taster. For starters, we had sushi and miso soup, for mains chicken yakitori and for dessert a Japanese cheesecake. I loved how creative the dishes were, yet they still tasted delicious, and you could tell how fresh the food was. The service here was impeccable, too. We had not one, but two waiters, both of whom went out of their way to ensure we had a great experience. Our plates were cleared in good time, we never had to wait to be served, and most importantly our wine glasses were never empty!
Day 4 – At Sea
Days at sea are always my favourite, and this was one to remember. Throughout the day, we made the most of an extensive list of free activities from games to quizzes. We also spent time around the pool area, which offered an intimate atmosphere. The ship wasn’t overcrowded, which made it easier to engage in conversation, this along with the music and table service offered a relaxing beach-club atmosphere.
Earlier in the week, knowing we had a full day at sea which meant no spending money on shore, we decided to make a reservation at one of two speciality restaurants, Prime C. We’d also purchased a premium beverage package, wanting to make the most of our experience.
The premium beverage package cost $24 per person a day and considering the wealth of options, I thought this was incredible value for money compared to many ships which offer like-for-like bar tabs. The package opened so many more options for us, including Irish coffees at Mosaic Café, my favourite New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and a unique cocktail menu which we accidentally came across in The Den. The Atlas Bar menu featured a creative list of cocktails that I’d never heard of before, but these weren’t just any cocktails. Each was an artisanal display using one-of-a-kind techniques, much like the ones you see in a popular UK bar called the Alchemist. We opted for the Scottish Sour, which was infused with smoke using an unusual machine. Not only did it taste brilliant and look brilliant, but it was entertaining.
The evening at Prime C was the most memorable part of the cruise. As you can imagine, the food was out of this world with the best steak cuts and seafood infused with fresh and unique ingredients. Of course, the food blew me away, but it was the overall experience that elevated the restaurant – from the perfectly placed location of Prime C at the aft of the ship which allows views of sunsets and ocean waves through floor-to-ceiling windows, to the dedicated wine sommelier who carefully explained which wine would match each dish. This whole evening was charged at $35 per person, which for a fine-dining experience back home the bill would exceed hundreds of pounds. I’ve dined on luxury ships where all restaurants are speciality at no extra cost, but I preferred the contrast of such a special evening that I’d appreciate and remember forever.
Reflecting on an incredible voyage
It’s impossible to summarise my time on board Azamara. This is one of those ‘you’ve got to experience it for yourself’ moments for it to make sense. Somebody said to me once you cruise with Azamara you never turn back, and I totally understand why. The value for money is incredible for the experience you receive. This is achieved through the way in which you are immersed in destinations through dining, entertainment and proximity to port, and not to mention the level of service which felt genuine and so apparent through the almost one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, and finally the intimate and relaxed club-like atmosphere that everybody refers to. My Azamara cruise truly delivered the laid-back luxury for which they are renowned.