I’ve just disembarked a luxury 5* cruise where I saw and did things I’ve never experienced on a cruise before.
Even though I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old, this cruise took me by surprise and changed my mind about a few things in ways I didn’t expect.
In the past I’ve always cruised with the budget or mainstream cruise lines, usually, I cruise out of season to make it cheaper and almost always in the cheapest inside cabin.
Although I’ve always been interested in trying a luxury cruise, I never thought I’d be able to afford one.
What Azamara Cruise Did I Book?
That was until I found a week-long cruise on a cruise line called Azamara for £819 including flights and transfers from the UK.
Usually, luxury cruises are at least double or triple this price so I decided to give it a go.
I was amazed to see that they did have inside cabins onboard as lots of luxury lines don’t.
There were only 23 inside cabins total on the ship, but I managed to book one. I did wonder how they’d be able to make an inside cabin luxurious if they could at all that is, but finding out was all part of the fun.
I Didn’t Know if I’d Like Luxury Cruising
I didn’t know if I’d feel out of place on a luxury cruise, I wasn’t sure if they had strict dress codes and I didn’t know if find a small ship like the Azamara Onward boring.
I usually cruise on ships with 4000 passengers and the ship only had 645 guests, I knew that there was no theatre or casino or water slides like I’m used to on the big ships so I was curious about what the daily schedule would be like.
Like most cruises, things didn’t always go to plan on this one.
We had bad weather and port changes and, for the first time ever, I had a big problem with my cabin.
I hoped that the cruise would be relaxing and that the food and service would be good, but only time would tell.
Embarkation Took Over 2.5 Hours
Embarkation definitely didn’t get off to a luxury start, we were picked up by the transfer bus which was great but from the bus dropping us off to us getting on the ship took over 2 and a half hours.
The only time I’ve experienced an embarkation that long was on the first cruise back after the Covid shutdown where we all had to wait for PCR test results.
Usually embarking on a cruise takes 10-20 minutes, maybe 30 on a bad day.
I Did a Little Ship Spotting While I Waited
For the first hour of waiting, we weren’t allowed inside the terminal so everybody just sat around outside. I took the time to do a bit of ship spotting as we were docked in Barcelona alongside :
- 2 Costa Ships.
- 1 Ritz Carlton Yacht
- 1 MSC Ship.
I’m definitely more used to cruising with Costa or MSC but Onward looked so cute and fancy and I couldn’t wait to get on board.
My friend Scott was on a Seabourn ship nearby and I hoped that our itineraries would cross later in the cruise.
I Hoped The Ship Would be Worth The Wait
I was reading reviews about the ship while I waited and some said that it was fantastic and would change my life. Others said that it shouldn’t call itself a luxury ship because everything was a complete disaster.
My cruise experience turned out to be something in the middle.
I’d been up since 4am at this point and was really hungry so I definitely was getting a bit fed up. My brother actually fell asleep in the terminal at one point.
Anyway, it was what it was and I was sure that the ship would be worth the wait. It just goes to show how even luxury lines can have issues.
Walking Into The Ship Was AMAZING
As soon as we walked onto the ship the luxury element was obvious.
I hadn’t even got in off the promenade deck yet before I had a cruise member approached me and showed me to my muster station.
This is where you do a safety drill on a cruise and, usually, you have to find your own way there. This time, however, I was taken to the muster station and given a glass of champagne!
I’ve never had champagne at the safety drill before.
They explained to us what to do in an emergency and that was it, it was all very easy and the little bit I’d seen of the ship so far, looked very glamorous.
Of course, I’d pretty much only seen the stairs at this point, but the stairs perfectly summarise the style of the rest of the ship. Fancy!
We Headed Straight to The Buffet
At this point, we were really really hungry and had only had champagne so headed up to the buffet.
The tables in the buffet were all beautifully laid out which definitely isn’t something that budget or mainstream lines do.
Usually, you pick up your own cutlery and cups but here everything was ready and it looked beautiful.
As soon as we sat down we were offered a drink and I ordered a Diet Coke.
Azamara Do Include Drinks as Standard
I knew that drinks were included on Azamara cruises but didn’t really know which I could have at this stage.
I didn’t want to pay any more for extra drinks if I didn’t have to and I did find out properly later what was included. I found one bar later on where nothing was included which was very odd.
It was a kind of speciality bar and I definitely felt out of place there, more about that later.
The Buffet Food Was INCREDIBLE
The food in the buffet was the best food I’ve ever had in a cruise ship buffet and not just because they had vegan nuggets and a whole jar of cookies.
As well as the meaty dishes there were so many vegetarian and vegan choices. More than I’ve ever found on a cruise before.
Everything was very clearly labelled too so if you are gluten-free this would be an easy buffet to eat in and the staff were always there to help and were so friendly.
You don’t even have to put your own toast in the toaster, they do it for you.
The Buffet Was Small in Size, But Big Enough
The buffet is quite small, but I found more things that I’d like to eat in the small space than in bigger buffets that are 5x the size on other cruise lines.
I hoped that this would be a sign of the food to come and to be honest if the food was this good for the whole cruise, no matter what else happened on board I would be happy, or so I thought at that time.
I thought the buffet food was surprising but I was taken even more by surprise by the main dining room a little bit later.
The Living Room Was a Large Bar at The Top of The Ship
We moved onto an area called the living room for a drink.
It’s a big beautifully decorated lounge with a bar, some snacks and board games and books.
Even just looking at the books I could tell this ship was luxurious. Usually, a cruise ship library is an odd collection of books guests had left behind but here it was all the latest books and all hardcover editions, some even had gold edges.
Looking at the menu I found the included cocktails and soft drinks, there’s also a few wines and a couple of beers included too.
You can upgrade to buy a more expensive drinks package, or pay as you go if you want but I just ordered from the included list.
I didn’t plan on spending any extra on drinks and I also didn’t want to spend anything extra on excursions or WiFi.
I Didn’t Purchase a WiFi Package
I did have work to do onboard, but luckily I had 4G most of the time and propping open my inside cabin door was usually enough to get it inside my cabin.
I shared this on Instagram as an inside cabin hack and I did have a few questions from people saying ‘why can’t I do that in a balcony’, I mean you can, but opening the balcony cabin door would make more sense.
We were in port every single day of this cruise, and usually until 8 or 10pm.
Who Was on This Cruise?
It was then that I really started to look around at the other guests.
One of my greatest fears with luxury cruising was that it would be formal and stuffy but I saw a lady in the lounge wearing the platform pink crocs which suggested otherwise.
I didn’t know if this was just because it was embarkation day though, or if it would always be a casual cruise.
There Was a Good Mix of Nationalities Onboard
I found out at the end of the cruise that out of the total 636 guests onboard, 238 were from the UK, 132 were from the US, 53 were from Germany, and 52 were from Canada.
In total there were 33 nationalities onboard, but everything was just done in English.
We Headed to Deck 7 to Find Our Cabin
Next on the agenda was to find my cabin, I’d booked the cheapest cabin on the ship and was assigned cabin 7069.
To explore the cabin in more detail, check out this video:
My Friends Had an Incredible Suite
While exploring the ship I met a couple of friends who had a suite right at the back of the ship.
They very kindly invited me to have a look around and we were there at sail away.
The suite had a huge lounge, a bedroom with more storage than I could ever use and two bathrooms. The balcony itself was huge and the fog in Barcelona when we sailed away made it look very mysterious.
At this point, I knew that I hadn’t seen all of the ship yet but I was exhausted from my 4am start so I had a cup of tea from the cafe and called it a night.
My plan for the next day was to properly explore the outside spaces, try a main dining room dinner and go to see a show.
I had no idea what the entertainment would be like given that there was no theatre but I didn’t expect much.
My Daylight Alarm Clock Woke Me Up
I slept for 14 hours and probably would have slept more if I didn’t have my daylight alarm clock set.
I forgot this the last time I cruised in an inside cabin and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. It slowly brightens the room so you don’t wake up so suddenly. It’s one of the best things I own.
To find out more about the lamp, check out my post here.
I Slept Through Breakfast
Unfortunately, this did mean that I had slept past breakfast in the buffet.
The buffet closed at 10am and the main dining room breakfast closed at 9.30.
At this point, though I thought I might as well just wait for lunch and I’m glad I did.
On smaller ships it’s pretty common for the buffet to close more than on the bigger ships, the buffet closed in the evening at 9.30 but we weren’t often up much past that anyway.
It was quite different from my recent MSC cruise where we would get pizza at midnight each night.
Room Service is Included!
Room service is free on Azamara so I could have done that but I really don’t like breakfast anyway and room service in an inside cabin isn’t as fun as in a balcony.
There were 2 speciality restaurants onboard that cost extra but there’s plenty of included food, as well as room service there’s a main dining room, a buffet and a pool side grill.
The Patio Was my Favourite Restaurant Onboard
Poolside Grill really doesn’t describe it as well as it should.
We went here for lunch, the menu here was huge and the food was absolutely incredible. This is the best burger I’ve ever had on a cruise, without a doubt.
They had veggie hot dogs, burgers and lots of sides.
This fast became one of my favourite places on the ship and I would sometimes get nachos here for lunch. It was right beside an ice cream machine with the most impressive selection of toppings I’ve ever seen.
Sometimes I’d just eat the toppings.
Azamara’s Crew to Passenger Ratio is High
We never had to wait long for anything and Azamara does have a higher crew-to-passenger ratio than most mainstream cruise lines.
On this ship theres typically 60 crew members for 100 guests.
On a cruise line like MSC, the ratio would be 60 crew members to 156 guests.
Our First Port Was Port Vendres, France
Our first port was in Port Vendres, this was followed by Sete and Marseille, all in France.
Later in the cruise, we had an overnight stay in Nice and we were meant to visit Corsica but things didn’t go to plan as the cruise went on.
Port Vendres is a tendering port meaning that the ship can’t dock directly against the land so guests have to use little boats, usually the ship’s lifeboats, to get to land.
Big cruise ships quite often have tender ports and on a recent Princess cruise I took we had 5.
Sometimes it would take a couple of hours to wait for the tender.
I hoped that because our ship was much smaller we wouldn’t have to wait long, and we never had to wait at all. On the way out we had the tender almost to ourselves!
It was at this point that I really started to understand what luxury meant; it isn’t all just about good food and service, but it’s about not having to stand in a queue for things for ages!
Port Vendres was a pretty little town, we wandered to an old fort and had brilliant views from the ship there.
Next up Was Sete, Also in France
We didn’t have to tender in Sete and here I found my fabulous friend Scott from the Scott Singer YouTube channel.
He lives in Alaska so I always thought I’d meet him there, or perhaps in the UK where I’m from, but we met in France of all places.
He was cruising with Seabourn which is an even more luxurious cruise line, they’re ultra-luxury and we were just regular luxury!
We waved as Scott sailed away which was fun and shouted goodbye.
We Docked In Marseille, Which I Didn’t Even Know Was Possible
We next visited Marseille which is the 2nd most populated city in France and to my surprise, we docked right in the middle of the city.
Whenever I’ve visited Marseille in the past with the big cruise ships like the MSC Mervaiglia we’ve always docked miles away in an industrial port.
That is one massive benefit that I hadn’t thought about before of being on a small ship and a luxury line.
What Was The Entertainment Like?
I had heard that there wasn’t much entertainment on an Azamara cruise.
I’m very used to cruising with the big American cruise lines so I did wonder if I would be bored.
I did notice that they had the Downton Abbey movie playing over and over 11 times on the cabin TV. Great if you like that movie, but I don’t so it’s safe to say I didn’t use the tv at all during this cruise.
Plus, my tv in my cabin was parallel to my bed, so I could only see a tiny bit of it.
We could check out our onboard account on the tv though which was good.
The ‘Theatre’ Shows Were Impressive
When we went to the first theatre show put on by the Azamara team I was very impressed.
Despite not having a theatre the show was every bit as good as a theatre show, the only difference was that it was in a lounge and there were only 6 people in the show.
Because it was in a small lounge though, we really were up close to the dancers and singers.
This same entertainment team also ran things like trivia and put up the Halloween decorations on our cruise, they were a busy and very friendly bunch.
At this point, I didn’t know how involved the cruise director would be in the shows but our amazing cruise director Eric actually had his own show later in the cruise and he skated around the dance floor in a sparkly dress, now that’s dedication to a job role!
It Was Different Cruising on Such a Small Ship
Many of the people I spoke to onboard said that they liked ships of this size because of how well they got to know the crew and the other guests.
I suppose a small ship in that way is a blessing and a curse, if you make a new friend you’ll see them everywhere but if you want to avoid somebody, you’ve not got much chance.
They also bought on local entertainment too which reminded me of a river cruise as they quite often do that on the rivers.
Every evening there would be at least 1 in the lounge and we never struggled to get a seat here or anywhere.
The Parties Were Well Attended
Although the ship was smaller so there were fewer things happening at once, all the events I went to seemed very well attended and the crew went all in with the parties, like our white night party.
The dance floor was full by the end of the evening and we enjoyed a few included drinks.
Unfortunately, bad weather towards the end of the cruise did mean that they had to move the white party inside.
It wasn’t the only problem that the weather caused, but more about that later.
Were There Any Children Onboard?
I was surprised to see that there were a few children and younger people onboard.
I always assumed that luxury cruises would have an older passenger demographic but the guests on this cruise were younger than on mainstream cruise lines I’ve sailed with like Princess or Cunard.
It does depend of course on the itinerary and time of year but I didn’t feel out of place at any time and I met other people younger than me.
Azamara doesn’t have kid’s clubs or go-karts or anything like that so you won’t really see many families, there were a few children on our cruise but my new friend Alan told me that there usually weren’t any on Azamara cruises.
Our Next Port Stop Was Nice – We Docked For Two Days
Our next port was in Nice and we spent 2 full days in port.
In the past, I’ve taken cruises that promote ‘2 days’ in a place but it’s always been one afternoon and one morning, here we docked at 8am and left at 8pm the next day!
We Headed to Monaco On Day 1
The sun was shining and we decided to head to Monaco on the first day in port.
The train station was easy to walk to and the train only took 17 minutes each way.
From the station, we could easily explore Monaco in a day as it isn’t very big. It’s actually only 3 miles long and the population is 40,000.
Monaco seems to be a playground for rich people who love fast cars, gambling and yachts.
We saw lots of glamorous people wandering around probably with bags that cost more than my house, and then you’d see people like me just happy to be outside wandering around in my trainers and backpack with a drink that I bought from the ship.
The soft drinks in the mini bar are included on Azamara cruises and it was restocked every day. They also had lots of bottles of water that you could take as you walked out of the ship.
In Some Ways The Ship Was Showing Her Age
I did love the luxury touches like this, I’m so used to cruising on budget lines where there’s an extra cost for everything.
I will say though that the ship was built in 1999 and it wasn’t really as luxurious as I expected in the way that sometimes the cabinet doors would be hanging off, or the public toilets just didn’t look very luxurious, they had these old style door handles so there’s no way to know if the stall is occupied or not.
Nothing was ever a problem but I just was surprised given that this was a luxury cruise ship, maybe a bit more renovation when Azamara took her over from Princess would have been a good idea.
We Stayed in Nice on Day 2
On the second day in Nice, we decided to stay in Nice and we walked around the harbour; along the seafront, and up to the castle on the hill.
From here you can see how close we docked.
This is a major benefit of smaller ships, they can dock in places the bigger ships can’t.
It started to rain as we got back to the ship but we didn’t know how bad the weather was going to get. A little later our captain made an announcement saying that our next stop had been cancelled and replaced with Genoa.
I was looking forward to Corsica because I’ve never been but I knew I’d much prefer not to sail in bad weather and I’d definitely prefer to go somewhere warm.
In the evening we decided that we would check out the bars that we hadn’t visited yet. Up until this point we had spent most of our time in the living room where we did trivia most days, the carousel lounge where we watched our evening shows and the mosaic cafe where we would get tea.
We settled quite nicely into a routine and I was used to seeing the same people at the same events.
Trivia Was Great Fun – We Even Won!
Trivia was a big one and there would be 2 trivia sessions each afternoon and more in the morning.
I will say that the questions all seemed to relate to things or music that happened decades before I was born but we did pretty well and actually won the 80s pop trivia!
We weren’t so good at 70s soul or astronomy but we always gave it a go.
You actually get prize points every time you do trivia which I loved.
They could be exchanged for prizes on the last day of the cruise and I got a t-shirt and a mirror which I’m giving away to my channel members and patreons.
We Headed to The Atlas Bar – That Was a Mistake
We decided to head up to a nice-sounding bar on the top deck called the atlas bar and it was here that things got really weird.
I saw that the menus were all cocktails but didn’t think anything of it; usually on a cruise you’ll find a mojito bar or a Bellini bar that has a unique menu, but it doesn’t mean that’s all it serves.
Here though we asked for a regular glass of wine, the wine that was included in the cruise as standard and they said that there was nothing that was included that we could have in the bar.
I’ve never encountered anything like that on a cruise before, a cruise that includes drinks everywhere as standard but not one bar?
I guess it was like a speciality bar, but a note on the door or the menu or something would have been nice.
We didn’t want to spend more money on drinks when we were perfectly happy with the included drinks, so we went to another bar.
Did I Feel Out of Place on This Cruise?
I did worry pre-cruise that I would feel out of place on a luxury cruise and to be honest this was the only place where I did.
It was awkward and bizarre and I’ve heard that this space used to be a library, to be honest, I wish they kept it as that so that I could have gone there, most of the reviews I’ve read said the same thing.
There Was a Full Vegan Menu That Changed Daily!
There is one big main dining room onboard and to my surprise, there was a full vegan menu that changed each day.
I thought that my food was absolutely incredible and my brother who still eats meat said his dishes were of similar quality to what he was used to on Princess or P&O.
We liked sitting by the windows are looking out at the place where we were docked as we were usually docked into the evening.
The service was sometimes a little slow but we weren’t ever in a rush and the crew were fantastic.
My full food review (with photos and pictures) can be found here: Everything I Ate on my Azamara Cruise (Photos and Menus) – Food Review
What Were The Dress Codes Like?
The dress codes were very relaxed and this was the only dress code that I saw during the cruise.
Basically, as long as you’re wearing nice jeans, or clothes that aren’t designed for the beach, you’ll be totally fine. I had always assumed that luxury would mean stricter dress codes, but it seems to be the opposite in reality.
People who cruise on luxury cruise lines don’t seem to like being told what to wear and when, and I loved that.
Our Next Port Was Genoa
When we docked in Genoa to my surprise there was a free shuttle bus to take us into the town.
I’ve docked in Genoa before and have always just walked from the ship but I was curious where the bus would take us, so we did get the bus into town.
It’s things like this that would cost extra on the mainstream or budget cruise lines.
Given the price that I paid for this cruise, I’m sure if you compared it to a mainstream cruise line and added on the all things that I got from the cruise, like the drinks and the mini bar and the shuttles, it would be a similar price.
My Cabin Had a Problem
It was around now that my cabin door started to make a horrible noise, it honestly sounded like my cabin door was about to take off and it was so loud at points.
It was as if the door had been left open to the balcony or something, but I didn’t have a balcony I was in an inside cabin.
The ship was built in 1999 so it’s not a surprise that things occasionally do break.
I went to reception and took them a recording of the noise, they were very helpful and sent two people to my room within the hour to fix it.
It turns out that the air conditioning was broken and this was causing the noise, I can only guess that it was firing the air at the door too hard because it felt like our cabin was in a wind tunnel.
I think it’s important not to assume that everything will always be 100% just because you’re on a luxury cruise, things still go wrong, people still hog the sun loungers, and I have no idea why – there were plenty enough to go around but the way that problems are dealt with, that’s what matters most and Azamara did a great job there.
We Docked Beside Regal Princess
We docked next to the Regal Princess in Genoa and it was amazing to look up at this huge ship.
Regal isn’t one of the biggest Princess ships but she’s still around 4x bigger than the Azamara Onward. All of this footage was taken from the top deck of the Azamara Onward.
As much as I loved cruising on a smaller ship, I’m definitely not giving up the big big ships.
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