What’s it like to cruise with Azamara?

What’s it like to cruise with Azamara?

Azamara is small-ship luxury cruise line which operates 4 Renaissance-class cruise ships – all of which carry under 700 passengers at full capacity. Size really isn’t everything and let us tell you why. This is our Azamara Onward Review, based on our Croatia Intensive voyage in May 2023.

Feel of the ship

Azamara Onward’s interior design is uniformed with her other sisters in the fleet. It has this feel of a luxury boutique hotel – it’s classy. With the exception of the beautiful lobby, Azamara Onward’s décor is pretty neutral and unconfrontational on the eye – with lots of light colours, premium fabrics and dark woods throughout; which pay homage to traditional ocean travel. Azamara Onward is not a ship of wow-factors, her elegance is subtle and refined. Class whispers, it doesn’t shout – and take it from us, Azamara Onward is a classy ship.

Grand Lobby Azamara Onward
Grand Lobby Azamara Onward, Credit: SAIL AWAY

Comfortable & Cosy

Azamara is not your usual cruise line. They fall into the luxury cruise category, and with that in mind you would expect to see some clear differences in service, dining and the overall experience – as you’re paying a pretty hefty premium to be onboard compared to mainstream cruise lines. So, it’s fair to say we were expecting some big differences with accommodation.

During our cruise to Croatia and Montenegro, we had a Club Veranda Stateroom on Deck 6. The décor was like the rest of the ship, traditional and refined. This stateroom measured around 175 square feet, and featured a 40 square foot veranda – both of which are very much on the small size when compared to other ship’s which sit in the premium and luxury cruise categories.

Club Veranda staterooms such as this feature two single beds which can be converted into a queen size, as well as a single sofa bed in the sitting area – meaning this cabin is able to sleep up to 3 passengers if required. The beds on this ship are some of the most comfortable we have ever slept in. From the mattress to the pillows, they are exceptionally sumptuous and comfortable, and could give the beds on Princess ship’s a good run for their money. Storage is more than ample for two passengers, but if there’s three to this cabin it could all get a bit cosy.

Not only was this cabin comfortable and cosy, but one of the most practical we have ever stayed in. You can expect generous wardrobe space, a decent range of cupboards and drawers about the cabin including in the vanity unit and writing desk – a good selection of light sources to make this cabin feel cosy in the evenings, and as for power outlets; there are 11. That is quite unprecedented for a cruise ship cabin.

Azamara Onward Club Veranda Stateroom
Azamara Onward Club Veranda Stateroom, Credit: The Points Guy

All grades of stateroom aboard Azamara Onward include 24 hour room service, daily housekeeping both in the morning and nightly turndown, all cabins feature a safe for storing valuables, an interactive TV, a small fridge with mini bar, a hairdryer and icy-cold air conditioning. All staterooms feature luxurious cotton bed linen, and come with luxury bathrobes and slippers, feature fresh cut flowers, a tote bag for you to keep and use ashore, an umbrella, shoe shine service – and you can expect some turndown treats too.

The bathroom looks okay until you see The Pontins-style shower curtain. We hate to see shower curtains on any cruise ship, but for a luxury cruise line it is a bit deplorable. And because the shower is so small, you will find that the shower curtain will keep sticking to you, which makes us wince. Additionally, you get a wash basin with foam tap, a large mirror fixed to the bulkhead, a small magnified mirror, a cupboard, some shelving, a shaver plug socket –  some bog standard complimentary toiletries and a bar of soap. These unbranded toiletries are another area where Azamara are falling a little short of the competition. Where’s the luxury-branded toiletries you get with the likes of Cunard, Holland America and P&O? A luxury cruise line needs to be at least matching what mainstream and premium cruise lines are offering. Azamara must try harder.

Entertainment

Entertainment – okay, it’s not very good. The Cabaret Lounge puts on Full Stage musical shows, classical musicians and local entertainment from the destinations you are visiting – adding to that Destination Immersion which Azamara put so much emphasis on. The shows put on by the Azamara singers and dancers do come across as pretty amateur, particularly if you have been on the likes of Celebrity where the theatre shows are out of this world. Other entertainment going on around the ship was basically limited to the onboard music group Caravan, who performed on the pool deck and in the living room each day. It made for easy listening, rather than genuine audible pleasure like the singers you get on Holland America ship’s. If you’ve sailed with Holland America, you will know just how sensational that music entertainment is.

White Night Party aboard Azamara Onward
White Night Party aboard Azamara Onward, Credit: SAIL AWAY

White Night is something Azamara are renown for, and it’s something everyone needs to experience. It’s laid on at the pool deck once per cruise, and it’s a really enjoyable night. There is an extensive buffet of international cuisine laid on near the patio, and they place tables and chairs all around the pool deck while singers perform well known classics. They are the same singers and dancers from the Cabaret Lounge, and there were a few odd moments where they didn’t quite hit the notes. But, eating amazing food, alfresco to a band as you sail away from Montenegro – is about as good as it gets on a cruise for us!

Let’s be honest, people don’t book a cruise with Azamara for great entertainment. They do it for the good food, great service and for that destination immersion which Azamara pride themselves on. Yes, entertainment on Azamara Onward is probably some of the worst we have experienced – but it pales into insignificance when we consider just how good other areas are.

Children

Children – how would they fair on Azamara Onward? We wouldn’t advise taking children on an Azamara cruise full stop. There are no children’s clubs, and no activities for children beyond board games and sliding into a very small pool. If you’re looking for a premium cruise experience but with all of those activities and facilities to keep children amused,  maybe consider a cruise with MSC aboard one of their newer ships which feature MSC Yacht Club. This would offer you the best of both worlds, but it does mean cruising on a mammoth ship.

Food & Dining

Food and dining aboard Azamara Onward is certainly one of the key areas which impressed us, and felt very much superior to much of the dining we’ve enjoyed recently on many other cruise ships.

Main Dining at Discoveries Restaurant was superb! It’s fair to say, the food served in Discoveries Restaurant is some of the best food we have ever eaten in a main dining room on a cruise ship – presentation of dishes was clean, food was always well cooked, and you could tell that the galley was using good quality ingredients. The great food was also matched with excellent service – friendly and attentive, always.

Tofu Pad Thai Noodles at Discoveries Restaurant
Pad Thai at Discoveries Restaurant, Credit SAIL AWAY

Windows Café is the buffet-style restaurant aboard Azamara Onward, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – with menu choices changing each day. Because of the size of the buffet, variety isn’t the most substantial we have come across – but the quality of the food we ate was excellent. It also makes a nice change that you get proper orange juice in the mornings, juice that has come from a freshly squeezed orange and not a ghastly Nestle Vitality machine. You can also order freshly made smoothies at the bar in the buffet, which we took advantage of each morning. In the evening, the nationality of food offerings changes. The Indian Night was unbelievably good, and could easily rival a curry house found on most UK high streets. All tables are laid at Windows Café, and waiter service is nothing short of exemplary – bringing a whole new meaning to a meal in a buffet restaurant on a cruise ship.

The Patio can also be found on Deck 9, and is Azamara’s version of a poolside grill – and we loved it. For lunch, you can grab all your poolside grill favourites including burgers and hot dogs, as well as a fresh salad just the way you like it. You can either “dine in” so to speak at the beautifully laid tables and be waited on, or grab your food and take away. There are also frozen yoghurt and ice cream machines at the Patio, with an extensive range of sauces and toppings to make the most perfect ice cream. With the Patio so close to the pool and hot tubs, the pool deck offers the most amazing sea days!

Best Carrot Cake EVER!
Best Carrot Cake EVER! Credit: SAIL AWAY

There are three extra charge dining options aboard Azamara Onward. The first, is Prime C – which is the speciality steakhouse onboard. This venue is charged at $30pp for a three course meal, which is a very fair price for a steakhouse when compared to other steakhouses which we have tried. You’ll find a comprehensive menu of meat dishes, as well as fresh seafood including crab and lobster cakes and Chilean sea bass. There’s also a handful of vegetarian courses too. Overall, it was an enjoyable meal – with service as impressive as the food served.

Aqualina is the Italian extra-charge restaurant onboard, which also costs $30pp for a three course meal. You can choose dishes such as the insanely good lobster and grilled shrimp ravioli in a creamy lobster sauce, and the grilled shrimp risotto. The food served here is very good indeed. Aqualina serves authentic Italian cuisine using the very best ingredients, which shines through every course. The desserts were also out of this world. Don’t go expecting Pizza or carbonara pasta on the menu though, it’s not that sort of place.

As good as the speciality restaurants are on Onward, you don’t need them! The food at inclusive restaurants onboard is so good, in hindsight we wouldn’t have bothered with them.

Service

In a word – fantastic! It is some of the most phenomenal service we have experienced at sea – fast, efficient and highly personable which we value. Bar service on the pool deck is super quick and was always friendly. Within just one day, a waiter became familiar with our drink preferences. Service in both inclusive and extra charge restaurants was faultless. With the exception of Holland America, we can’t recall going on a ship where crew were so friendly and outgoing – it honestly felt as though nothing was too much effort for them.

Good Value For Money?

We paid £4800 for this Croatia Intensive 7 night cruise, which included flights with British Airways, transfers, gratuities, 120 minutes of complimentary WIFI, $800 onboard credit and a basic drinks package. We easily got what we paid for! So yes, Azamara offer exceptional value for money when we weigh up what was included, and how good the food and service was on this cruise.

Did we fall for Azamara?

The disrepair and maintenance issues about the ship are inexcusable, we don’t think there are enough perks with having a suite, entertainment is a bit mediocre and the shower curtains are gross! Putting all that aside, we had a great time. Fantastic food, comfortable and practicable accommodation, incredible ports made even better by all the information Azamara give you and the longer stays in port – and with regards to service, top notch. Azamara are one of the cheaper luxury cruise lines out there, and you need to factor that in when reviewing Onward as a whole. When important elements such as dining, service and value for money are so strong – they compensate for the handful of niggles we did have. A shower curtain and poor entertainment isn’t going to stop us from doing another cruise with Azamara, in fact we’ve already booked another one.

Azamara Onward Ship Tour