CRUISE THE PLANET
Two weeks from now, we will be on our way to Sweden for a 12-night sailing with Azamara Club Cruises that begins in Stockholm and ends in Southampton. On board Azamara Quest we will stop in eight countries along the way, overnighting in three of them and staying late in two others. Looking forward to the experience we begin with an examination of the destinations we will visit along the way, much like we did before our Azamara Journey sailing last month. Different this time, an energized confidence in what Azamara is all about. Let’s start there.
Before our 12-night Croatia/Greece/Italy tour last month, it had been several years since sailing with the tiny two-ship cruise line. The memory of our Azamara Journey voyage from 2012 served as the benchmark for destination-focused cruise lines and few had come close to matching the experience. On that sailing, themed Castles, Pubs and Distilleries, we sailed from Edinburgh, Scotland to Invergordon, Kirkwall and the Isle Of Skye, over to Ireland where we stayed two nights in Dublin before moving to Holyhead in Wales then the Isles of Scilly. We visited the Channel Islands stopping for a glorious day in St Peter Port before three nights in Rouen, France which would serve as our gateway to Paris before ending in Southampton.
This was a stellar experience, but it did not start out that way. Flying to Edinburgh, Scotland to begin, the airline experience was riddled with the unexpected. Still, in all things, we focus on the positive and roll with changes as they happen. That’s just the way we go through life which works out nicely in the world of travel where unexpected events can define a trip. Inconvenient at the time, two very good things came out of that flight schedule as enduring memories. One was meeting United Airlines’ Rick Chase and a great story for Gadling. The other was arriving at Azamara Journey where Captain Johannes Tysse met our bus and very calmly explained “We know you have been through a lot on the way to the ship but I want you to know, everything is going to be just fine from here on”. And it was. Tysse reflected on our last day aboard Azamara Journey, speaking of the line’s many loyal guests, “they come for the destinations, they come back for the crew.” And that was where my last live memory of Azamara ended.
Apprehension Blown Away
Fast forward to last month and our 12-night sailing of that same ship. To begin, I was a bit apprehensive; hoping the experience would be close to the quality of what was experienced previously. It was. Actually, it was better. The 2012 sailing was a press trip with other journalists along for the ride and Azamara public relations people there to oversee our small group and insure everything went well. On this summer’s trip, there were no PR people or other journalists, just me. On this summer’s sailing, my Facebook friend Captain Tysse was on vacation too. Disappointing initially, getting to know fill-in Captain Borsheim proved to be a stellar experience. Azamara Club Cruises very quickly went from a peculiar little two-ship line that I might have lucked into a good experience with, to one that has evolved into providing press-trip quality experiences for all.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of value in a press trip as the cruise lines put their best foot forward for us to experience…as long as the experience is looked at in that way: their best foot being forward. Taken a step further, that best foot forward experience should be exactly what every passenger gets when sailing that cruise line. Without exception. That’s the standard we should hold them to. A lot of my job here is to describe what it is like to sail with a given cruise line. That’s my part in an effort to match the right traveler with the right cruise line. When that happens, magical travel experiences ensue and you thank me for that.
Where we run into problems with cruise travel is when there is disparity between the actual experience and what we anticipate the experience to be. I like cruise lines where that disparity level is very low if not nonexistent. Better yet are cruise lines that exceed the expectation, leaving it in the dust. That’s exactly what I experienced on Azamara Journey and now have confidence that I will experience on Azamara Quest on this upcoming sailing. So going into this second sailing in three months, hopes are high. Looking at the itinerary alone, hopes receive another bump.
|THU 13-AUG||Stockholm, Sweden||Embark|
|FRI 14-AUG||Stockholm, Sweden||Docked||2:00 pm|
|SAT 15-AUG||Helsinki, Finland||Docked||9:00 am||4:00 pm|
|SUN 16-AUG||St. Petersburg, Russia||Docked||7:00 am|
|MON 17-AUG||St. Petersburg, Russia||Docked||6:00 pm|
|TUE 18-AUG||Tallinn, Estonia||Docked||9:00 am||8:00 pm|
|WED 19-AUG||At Sea||Cruising|
|THU 20-AUG||Copenhagen, Denmark||Docked||8:00 am||8:00 pm|
|FRI 21-AUG||At Sea||Cruising|
|SAT 22-AUG||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Docked||8:00 am|
|SUN 23-AUG||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Docked||7:15 pm|
|MON 24-AUG||Zeebrugge (Bruges), Belgium||Docked||7:45 am||3:00 pm|
|TUE 25-AUG||Southampton, England||Debark||6:00 am|