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The Med With Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Journey

By Georgina Cruz

October 2013: Ancient Romans called the Mediterranean “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) but modern-day cruise passengers like my husband Humberto and me thought of it as not theirs, but our very own, during a seven-night voyage on Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey, an intimate ship that felt like our home at sea from the first day.

The ship sailed from Civitavecchia, near Rome, so we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing pre-cruise spending a night in the Marriott Rome Park Hotel conveniently near the Fiumicino Airport in the Eternal City.

The comfortable hotel in a quiet, park-like setting, has a seasonal outdoor pool, spa, and various restaurants and lounges. It also operates a scheduled shuttle into the center of Rome, so it was easy to take in the sights including the Pantheon, on Piazza della Rotonda, the best-preserved ancient Roman building, dating to 120 A.D. in its present form, and burial site for kings of Italy and master painter Raphael; the Colosseum on Piazza del Colosseo (arguably the most iconic site of Rome, inaugurated in 80 A.D., where gladiators fought in front of up to 50,000 spectators) and, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum with its noble ruins dating from the 7th century B.C.

Other sights we took in included the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna, a tourist magnet and popular Roman meeting point since the 18th century, with the Keats and Shelley house to the right when facing the steps. We continued our sightseeing in the Vatican (where the Marriott’s shuttle drops off and picks up) enjoying St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza and the Sistine Chapel filled with works of Michelangelo, and, of course, before ending our Roman holiday, we dropped a coin in the 18th century Trevi Fountain on Via del Corso, to ensure a return to Rome.

Already feeling like Romans ready to explore our own sea, we boarded the 694-guest Azamara Journey with its intimate and refined ambience—like a “floating country club” with lovely lounges and restaurants, elegant show lounge, spa, library, casino, expansive outdoor decks with swimming pool and whirlpools and attractive and comfortable accommodations. During an enhancement in spring of 2013, guests on Azamara Club Cruises enjoy, in addition to fine cuisine, more inclusive amenities, such as included gratuities; complimentary bottled water, sodas, specialty coffee, and teas, as well as complimentary red and white boutique wines from around the world during lunch and dinner; complimentary self-service laundry; English Butler service for suite guests; and shuttle transportation to city centers in ports, where available; as well as even more inclusive amenities including international beers and select standard spirits in the ships’ bars, lounges and restaurants during operating hours.
And on each voyage—in our case, at our first port of call, Livorno, Italy—guests are treated to a complimentary night out showcasing culinary delights and/or cultural aspects of the destination, an “AzAmazing Evening,” as the line calls these programs.

Our “AzAmazing Evening” regaled us with the sounds of Italy—Italy is synonymous with “opera” since the country has such luminaries as Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, and Bellini to its credit—and we were treated to the best of Italian opera music. It was a short bus ride from the ship to the Goldoni Theatre, in itself a masterpiece opened in 1847, and considered one of the most beautiful and historical Italian theaters as well as the “home”of Pietro Mascagni, one of Italy’s most beloved composers, known for his first masterpiece “Cavalleria Rusticana.” After being escorted to our seats, we enjoyed a performance of classical and popular selections including “O Sole Mio” interpreted by three tenors accompanied by a pianist—a lovely evening that had me humming arias on the way back to the ship, where a surprise pier-side reception with music and champagne awaited us. My husband, Humberto, and I would have expected to pay $150 or more per person for such a memorable cultural excursion like this—if we could find it in shore excursions offerings—but it was complimentary.

These custom-made night-touring events in 60 countries were launched with the Azamara Journey’s and Azamara Quest’s 2013 Europe season and are offered once during each voyage. They deliver a range of experiences for the destination-passionate upper-premium market traveler. It could be an exclusive night at the ballet while in Russia, or a waterfront party at Chanai, Crete, or a variety of other events, but the “AzAmazing Evenings” are a perfect fit on this line that specializes in destination-immersive voyages featuring longer stays and overnights in port and night touring.

AzAmazing Evenings are authentic, exclusive and bespoke experiences that showcase the best of local life and often times, surprising and delightful colors and flavors of intriguing destinations around the world,” said Edie Bornstein, the line’s former senior vice president of Marketing and Sales. “Azamara’s unique value proposition of longer stays, more overnights (some for up to three days) and night touring on every voyage is what makes an AzAmazing Evenings event possible. The Azamara difference is that we are still in port long after other cruise ships have left.”

This was certainly the case during our cruise—in addition to the overnight in Livorno, the ship stayed late into the night at two ports and until the following morning in Monaco.

In Monte Carlo, during the day we searched for sites associated with Grace Kelly (Hollywood royalty who became the princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier of the ruling Grimaldi family). Among the points of interest we visited is the Prince’s Palace in the Place du Palais, dating from the 19th century with opulent state apartments and an extensive collection of European art from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, 4 rue Colonel Bellando, is also where she is buried. Her tomb by the high altar is always adorned with roses, her favorite flower. One of Monaco’s loveliest gardens, the Rose Garden of Princess Grace in Espace Fontvieille, has more than 4,500 rose plants representing some 200 varieties. In the evening, we headed for the elegant Monte Carlo Casino and took advantage of an Oktoberfest Celebration at La Brasserie du Café de Paris, near the casino. The Oktoberfest Celebration featured German music—including yodeling, of course!—German beers, and German culinary specialties including delicious strudel. We could not have enjoyed the Oktoberfest celebration if our ship left port in the late afternoon or early evening as our seating’s program ended around 9:45 p.m., but the Azamara Journey was not scheduled to leave until 6 a.m. the following day, so it made all these memorable experiences possible.

Other highlights of our voyage? A day at the beach in St. Tropez on the French Riviera; sightseeing in charming St. Paul de Vence with its Chagall sites, and an afternoon tasting creamy and cool “gelatos” in Portoferraio, Elba’s cafes. All delightful experiences on “our” sea!

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